Friday, May 18, 2012

Important Eschatological Passages

I would say that the most significant texts in developing a Christian eschatology may be categorized into different groups. The most significant of these groups would be the teaching of Jesus as recorded in the gospels, especially in Matthew 24-25, but as well as throughout the gospels. The second group would be the teachings recorded in the epistles, particularly when the apostle Paul attempts to explain to different churches, such as the Thessalonians, (2 Thes 2:1-12) certain eschatological ideas. Especially important in these writings is the idea of the resurrection of the dead. (1 Cor 15) Also, in 2nd Peter, I feel it is important to mention that the writer of this letter believed that we who are a part of the kingdom of God play a role in when Christ will return. He says that we not only wait for the Day of the Lord, but we “speed its coming,” (2 Peter 3:2) presumably by our actions and prayers, though it is not exactly clear from this passage alone.

The third group I would point to would be the prophetic works of the Old Testament, particularly the last portion of the book of Isaiah. In this section of Scripture especially one may see a vision of the kingdom of God colliding with this world. Such an idea was revealed further in the incarnation of Christ – the idea that the kingdom is and is yet to come – but I would say that this idea is for the most part first revealed in Isaiah, who writes that in the future God’s kingdom would be established on earth as a new creation.

The last of the categories would be placed in the category of apocalyptic biblical literature. Yes, all of the previously mentioned categories would appear to contain apocalyptic material. However, I am referring to those books of the Bible which have been specifically categorized as being apocalyptic in nature. These would be the books of Daniel and Revelation. These last two books are the most difficult to place. Daniel may be considered simply prophetic or historical, or as just one of the Writings as it is categorized in the Hebrew Bible. Revelation may be considered an epistle, or even simply a prophetic book. This book as well is most difficult to place. Important details that I take from Revelation include the ideas of a new heaven and a new earth, (Rev 21) as well as the resurrection and judgment of the dead. (Rev 20: 11-15) However, these ideas can be seen throughout the New Testament. They are not unique to Revelation. The idea of a second death, I feel, is pictured strongly in Revelation. In Revelation, Death itself is destroyed. However, Paul also talked about this in his letters (1 Cor 15).

The first category in my grouping contains the teachings of Jesus. When reading what Jesus had to say about eschatology, one may quickly find that many of Jesus’ teaching were truly apocalyptic in nature. The first section of Jesus sayings on eschatology that I would like to point to is the long section Matthew records in his gospel in chapters 24-25. At this point in the narrative Jesus tells his disciples that the large stones in the temple that they had been admiring will all be torn down in the future. Later, his disciples, apparently intrigued by eschatological dates and speculation, ask him when all of this is going to take place. Jesus warns his disciples that in the future there will false messiahs and people claiming to be the Christ. He also warns them that there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. However, he says that these sufferings are “only the beginning of birth pains,” meaning that these things do not mean that the end has come. The end, Jesus seems to say, will be much worse than these things. He seems to say that there will always be war on earth up until the end. Jesus continues by saying that those who follow him will persecuted greatly, and he seems to imply that this persecution will be the worst right before the end. He says that before the end “wickedness” will increase and “the love of most will grow cold.” He also says that end will not come until the gospel of the kingdom has been “preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations.”

At this point in Matthew, Jesus quotes from the book of Daniel, further complicating Daniel’s status and the genre in which Daniel ought to be categorized. His words become harder to understand at this point. He refers to what Daniel called “the abomination that causes desolation” without saying what precisely that it supposed to be. He says that it will stand in the holy place and at that time those who are living in Judea ought to flee to the mountains because apparently that particular point in history will the worst time the world has ever seen or ever will see again. Again, Jesus appears to be vague about the details of this event. It is difficult to know just what exactly he was talking about since we are so removed from the time and culture in which he spoke these words.

After speaking these rather foreboding words, he goes on to add a bit of hope to what he has already said. He says that God will cut short those terrible days for the sake of the elect, and that if God did not intervene at some point no one would be left alive. Jesus also says that there will be people in the future who will perform signs and wonders, again pretending to be the Christ, but he says that the elect should not believe in these people or in the signs and miracles they perform. Jesus then seems to say that the physical world itself will begin to fall apart “immediately after the distress of those days.” He quotes from the Old Testament prophets, which it makes it difficult to keep the prophetic writings in the category in which I have ranked them. Jesus quotes from them, making them easy to rank on the same level as the teachings of Jesus. This should not be surprising. Jesus did after all say that he had not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it, and that all of the law and the prophets were summed up in him. So it would seem ridiculous even to try and rank these different section of Scripture as to which is the most important in regards to forming a Christian eschatology. They are all important. However, personally I would like to start with the words of Jesus and work from there. Christ is the center of our faith so it only seems natural that Christ should also be the center of our eschatology, seeing as how eschatology is an important and defining part of our faith.

Jesus also tells many parables relating to the kingdom of heaven and they very often have an eschatological twist to them (Matt 24). Passages that stick out to me that I feel I should mention are the passages where Jesus implies through parable, and even outright says that the Day of the Lord will come unexpectedly. I feel as though this is important to remember, especially when people claim that they know when Jesus is going to come back. Jesus himself said that no one, not even he, knows, but only the Father (Matt 24:36).

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