Some people may wonder whether or not there’s a purpose to studying eschatology. Some may think it’s a foolish endeavor that comes with a mild thrill from decoding symbols and numbers; some may think it’s a worthless venture, something we’ll never figure out; some may love reading the Left Behind series but don’t let it shape how they live at all. If God, in Christ, is reconciling the world to himself (2 Corinthians 5:17-21), and in that reconciliation he is freeing creation from its bondage instituted by Adam (Romans 8), how does that affect the way we live today?
The basis of my eschatology is the Trinitarian God. I know that God is the masterful worksman who built the universe, creating by his Word (the Logos) and by his breath (the Spirit). Adam’s sin that brought death into the world will not have the final say against the Creator’s word of life. The Son became man to redeem fallen man because “that which has not been assumed cannot be healed”. The death and resurrection of the Son of God, King Jesus, is the firstfruits of the coming resurrection for man and the restoration of all creation as we know it. Through the resurrection we know that Israel’s God, in Jesus Christ, the creator of the world, is reconciling all of creation to himself to establish his kingdom of Jew and Gentile united in the Son, guided and provided for by the power of his Holy Spirit, until all of the nations of the world are under his feet. The subjection of the nations to his rule is not only a future endeavor: Christians work now to establish God’s justice in the world (see Christians working with the Black Lives Matter campaign or against abortion). This is an example of inaugurated eschatology: what we know about the future is creeping into our current lives now. But we as Christians should practice forms of inaugurated eschatology in our lives: what we know about the future must shape our growth in holiness now.
Here are some of the ways eschatology frames my life in no particular order:
- It lets me practice forgiveness. God will not let sin and death have the final say about what happens to his creation; he will judge the world and purge evil from his good creation. Based on God’s promise to restore the world and remove crying (Revelation 21-22), I can trust him to deal with the evil that plagues me. I need not repay evil for evil when I know that vengeance belongs to God and he will repay and enact his perfect justice. But there’s hope even for the oppressor: there’s still time for the enemies of God to be reconciled with him. Because God does not revel in the death of the wicked, God will act to both heal and restore me and desire the salvation of the one who hurt me. As I grow in the image of God, I can live peacefully with others hoping that they come to the knowledge of the truth of the Gospel, without thinking that justice will be denied. (Romans 12:17-21). I am not a new creation unto myself; I am a new creation to bring light to others (Ephesians 2:9-10) and in that I must forgive as Christ has forgiven me (Colossians 3:13; Ephesians 4:32).
- It lets me be more generous. One of Jesus’ biggest promises in his earthly ministry is that, in the eschaton, all of creation will be restored and turned upside down. Those who were rich would be poor, those who were poor would be rich; all who were poor in spirit would inherit the kingdom of God; the mourners would be comforted; the meek would inherit the earth. Because I am united to Christ in his death and resurrection, I can work with him to enact the Great Reversal to restore the downtrodden to a higher place in the world knowing that my work won’t be in vain. Whatever work we perform for the poor in spirit and the orphan and the widow will have a twofold good: they will be partially restored now and fully in the Resurrection and we will be repaid our work because God blesses our work (Luke 14:12-15)
- It lets me be more hopeful about the state of the world. I don’t lose hope when I see the news of another genocide, another victim of police brutality, or more starving people because I know that God cares and I know that God is at work to fix those problems. Knowing that the eyes of God are darting to and fro across the world to enact his justice now, I don’t sit and wait for him to work: because I know what God wants me to do, I can get started. Rather than just praying “God, break my heart for what breaks yours”, watch the news knowing that God wants to end the injustice you see and get to work in building the kingdom in that area with the hope that it will finally be finished later.
- It informs my ethics. Because the Lord’s coming will be like a thief in the night, we cannot expect or foretell when his return will ultimately be (despite what most end-time fanatics would say – even the most plain readings of Scripture seem to deny their soothsaying abilities in this case). We have been saved, not ultimately heading toward wrath, instead living as children of the light so we should be sober and vigilant, working out good while we look out for the coming Day of the Lord (I Thessalonians 5:1-11). Paul pulls some violent war imagery out from the Scriptures (Isaiah 59, 63; Ephesians 5-6; Wisdom of Solomon 5:17) to describe how we partake in the divine warfare of the Lord, fighting as obedient and loving people, full of faith, encouraging each other with the hope of the return of the Lord that we may be sober-minded and alert. Other areas of ethical concerns involve sexual ethics (I Thess 4:1-5), our work (5:12-14), encouragement toward the weak (5:15), and our rejoicing and thanksgiving (5:16-22).
- It informs my ecology. In his essay “Jesus is Coming – Plant a Tree!” collected in his book Surprised by Scripture, NT Wright talks about our ecological obligation to restore the creation. “I don’t know how my planting a tree today will relate to the wonderful trees that will be in God’s recreated world … but I know that God’s new world of justice and joy, of hope for the whole earth, was launched when Jesus came out of the tomb on Easter morning.” What is involved in this hope? Well, consider the third world countries who rely on the earth for their sustenance, including food, materials, supplies, and basic living needs like housing. How does our ecological damage affect them? Can we start helping God restore creation now and work for their good? What about our non-human neighbors like animals in rain forests? Can we work against deforestation to allow them the hope of the gospel (as the alternate ending to Mark says – Go and preach the gospel to all of creation!).
These are only a few that only begin to scratch the surface. Look forward to posts by me exploring in more depth how Christians should relate to the environment and how we should live in light of the gospel of Revelation. How does eschatology inform your future?