Eschatology is the study of the "end" times - of the unfolding future according to God's plan. It is essentially a philosophy of history and is fundamental to our theology and worldview. There are basically four paths people take in their thinking:
- The Bible is not clear about how the future will unfold except for the fact that Jesus will physically return to judge the living and the dead. This is called "panmillenialism" because Christians should just believe it will all "pan" out in the end.
- The world is getting worse and the church is holding on by the skin of its teeth until the 2nd coming of Jesus. This is called "premillenialism," and has been a minority report within Christendom, but has been the most prevalent view among Evangelicals and Baptists for the past 150 years.
- The world is in stasis (at best) as the church grows and the world decays at roughly the same rates - effectively cancelling each other out. The promises of Israel's restoration are all spiritually realized in the Gospel. This view is called "amillenialism" and has been the most prevalent view in Roman Catholicism and most of Protestantism.
- The world is being progressively reconciled to God through the church. The promises to Israel are realized in the extension of the kingdom through the Gospel people. Jesus will return at an unknown time after the nations have been discipled through the church. This view is called "post-millenialism" and has been a minority report throughout church history - although arguably held by some of Christendom's most important theologians.
The problem with panmillenialsim, premillenialism, and amillenialism is that they miss the thrust of God's program from the beginning. From the beginning, God's program was to "heavenize" earth through His image bearers. Man's task was to take the "raw material" of the world and press down God's heavenly pattern upon it according to His Word. When man fell from this purpose through sin, God restored them to that purpose through the resurrection of the second Adam.
The redeemed people of God are not simply on a rescue mission for souls, but are on a restoration mission of the cosmos. Consider the following:
- The second day of creation (Gen. 1:6), when the heavens were separated from the earth, is the only day without a "benediction" from God. God's purpose from the beginning was to fuse heaven and earth through the agency of His image bearers (Gen 1:26ff).
- When God's image bearers fell from their ability to do their work, God promised a Savior to restore them to this task (Gen 3:15, 2 Cor. 5:19).
- God flooded the earth to begin a new humanity in Noah through which the promised Savior would come (Gen 6:11).
- God told Abraham that "all the families of the earth" would be blessed through the promised Seed (Gen12:3, Gal 3:16).
- Isaiah prophesied (Isaiah 2) that the mountain of the Lord's house (the church, eg. Heb 12:22) would be established on the top of the mountains, and ALL nations would flow into it. Sound familiar? Does the Great Commission (Matt. 28) come to mind?
- Daniel prophesied (Dan 2:31ff) that a stone without hands would smash the pagan nations and then become a mountain that filled the whole earth. Could that mountain be the new heavenly Zion which is the worshipping church (Heb 12:22)? Of course it is.
- Jesus taught that his mission was to bind the strong man (Satan) and plunder his house (Mark 3:27). It isn't the other way around.
- Jesus taught us to pray that His kingdom would come and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matt. 6:10). Will that prayer go unanswered? Certainly not.
- Jesus taught that His kingdom was like a mustard seed that grew to be a large tree in which the birds of the air (nations) would rest (Matt 13:31).
- Jesus taught that His church would assault the gates of Hades, and Hades defenses would not stand against the attack (Matt 16:18). Hell is on the defense, and it is losing to the advances of Christ's church.
- The book of Acts shows us that the plan for the advance of the Gospel was to go from Jersualem, to Judea, to Samaria, to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). Did the advance stop in Rome with Paul's imprisonment? Of course not. It is still growing today.
- In Acts, Peter preached that Jesus will remain in heaven and will not return again until "the restoration of all things." (Acts 3:21)
- At the end of Romans, Paul tells the church that "the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly." (Romans 16:20) The imagery of Gen 3:15 and Psalm 110 are being applied to Christ's church - which is His body. The church will progressively stomp-out the serpent that was dealt a death-blow by Jesus.
- Revelation 21 portrays heaven as the New Jerusalem (which is the church, Heb 12:22), the bride of Christ (which is the church, Eph 5:22ff), and the tabernacle / temple of God (which is the church, 1 Pet 2:4ff). The church is the visible manifestation of the kingdom of God heavenizing earth.
The Bible isn't agnostic about the future of the world. The Bible isn't pessimistic about the future of the world. The Bible doesn't teach that the church is in a stalemate with the world. No, this world is "passing away" (1 John 2:8, 17) as the kingdom takes the world by the force of Christ's preached Word (Rev. 19:15).