Eschatology and hellfire preaching saved me. The first Christian book I ever read was by John Walvoord, a prominent end-times teacher. I can’t remember exactly what motivated me to buy the book. For whatever reason many people who are not Christians are fascinated by eschatology, and I was one of them. When I committed my life to the Lord a few months later, the eschatological/wrath of God type of verses in the Bible that I first encountered in Walvoord’s book spoke strongly to me and weighed on my thoughts as I made that most important of all decisions: to repent of my former patterns of thinking and live in exchange for something far better.
The verses that influenced me to do so were not the type of verses that most Christians today would use when attempting to share the Gospel message with someone in a sensitive manner. In many Christian circles today, if a preacher said something to the effect of, “Be saved from this perverse generation!” (Acts 2:40), he might be viewed as a radical or an old-fashioned hellfire-and-brimstone sort of preacher.
What I am trying to say here is that eschatology is part of the Gospel message. It was part of the Gospel message in the New Testament and it should remain part of today’s Gospel message as well. If it doesn’t seem seeker-sensitive enough, then so be it. We have our example in the New Testament.
Many pastors need to ask themselves: Why have I strayed from the New Testament model? As Christians, do we really think we can do better than John the Baptist, Jesus, and the apostles? So while I understand that there are numerous relevant issues to study and understand within the context of the normal, everyday, healthy Christian life—such as relationships and giving and gathering together and so much more—biblically speaking, eschatology cannot be excluded. To eliminate eschatology from evangelism or discipleship or the regular spiritual diet of any believer is to water down the complete New Testament/Apostolic Gospel message. Following are six more very basic reasons to commit to a healthy embrace of biblical eschatology.
Jesus, our example, studied eschatology. (What Would Jesus Do?) This may sound a bit too obvious, but please do think about this simple fact: Jesus studied eschatology. Of course the eschatological portions of Scripture were not the only portions of Scripture that Jesus studied, but nevertheless He did study them. If you are a Christian, then you have decided to be a follower of Jesus (Matthew 28:19–20). In the Gospels we often see Jesus quoting from the eschatological portions of Scripture. It was clear that Jesus not only knew the eschatological portions of Scripture but that He also understood and rightly interpreted the rich prophetic meanings of them.
At the onset of his earthly ministry we see Jesus rising in the synagogue to read from the scroll of the Prophet Isaiah: He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”1 (Luke 4:16–21)
In one of Jesus’ final messages to His disciples, He answered their questions, “when will this [destruction of the Temple] happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3). In answering their questions, Jesus makes direct references to the Book of Daniel, one of the most thoroughly eschatological books in the Bible: So when you see standing in the holy place the abomination that causes desolation spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand—then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. (Matthew 24:15–16)
In the same chapter Jesus also quotes from Isaiah again and makes allusions to the Prophet Jonah as well, the simple point being that Jesus had a thorough command of the eschatological portions of Scripture. Let me repeat my point: Jesus studied eschatology. Yet many believers today disregard the eschatological portions of Scripture for various reasons. Unless we think we are somehow more advanced or more in touch with reality than Jesus, then surely we as His followers should likewise earnestly pursue a solid command of biblical eschatology.
God put it in the Bible. Again, I don’t mean to sound like a wise guy here, but hopefully the strength of this point is its obviousness. If the Holy Spirit saw fit to fill the pages of the Bible with abundant (and I do mean abundant) references to the last days, then why do the vast majority of Christians pass over these portions of Scripture? Why do so many Christians tend to be a bit cynical or dismissive when it comes to, for instance, the Book of Revelation? While God never said explicitly, “thou shall study eschatology,” he may as well have said it by simple virtue of the fact that he gave it such a place of prominence in the Bible.
We must ask ourselves, “If God doesn’t want me to study and understand this stuff, then what is it there for?” Think about this fact: Over 25 percent of the verses in the Bible contain predictive/prophetic content.2 If we disregard that 25 percent (along with, of course, those infamous and pesky genealogies) then we can significantly whittle the Bible down quite a bit. But before we do that, I suppose we’ll have to first toss out that verse that says, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). Sorry, I guess I was trying to be a wise guy after all…my apologies.
This stuff is just too serious to ignore. Anyone who has read the Book of Revelation knows that the events that many of us may live to see are serious. There is the description of literally half of the inhabitants of the earth dying (Revelation 9:18). We read about plagues, wars, and earthquakes (Revelation 6). There is very little in the way of “your worst nightmare imaginable” that the Book of Revelation does not contain. But we don’t have to even venture into the Book of Revelation to realize the gravity of these events.
When we read the twenty-fourth and twenty-fifth chapters of the Gospel of Matthew, we see Jesus making one of the most terrifying and tragic statements in all of Scripture. Consider for a minute, the reality and the weight of what is being stated by Jesus here: Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. (Matthew 24:9–13)
If that doesn’t sadden and scare you to no end, then I simply cannot relate to you. I am firmly secure in the love of God. I am confident that Jesus died for my sins. I have no question that there is nothing in the universe that can separate me from the love of God. But I am also fully aware of my sin. I am aware of my propensity to slip into a self-deluded state that can indeed be compared to a state of drunkenness. The expression does not say “many will fall away from going to church,” but rather “many will fall away from the faith,” and “the love of most will grow cold.” This is absolutely terrifying. These are people that we know. These are people that we have experienced sweet fellowship with. These are our brothers and our sisters. This stuff is real and it is deadly serious and we simply cannot afford to ignore it.
We very well may live to see these events. This point cannot be underscored enough. The events that the Bible outlines are real. Many of us who read this material may quite possibly live to see the return of Jesus. Now, you may say that every generation has believed that they were living in the last generation. While many may argue that this universal feeling of the anticipation of Jesus’ return has always been the case in the church, I completely reject that notion. There have, of course, been numerous groups, many of them fringe, that have anticipated Jesus’ return in their generation, but far more did not anticipate Christ’s imminent return. In fact, a fair argument could be made that this generation is the first generation since the apostolic generation which has had such a universal witness to the imminence of the final hour.
Personally, whenever I hear someone emphasize the idea that every generation of the church has universally believed that Christ would return in their generation, I listen to see what they are about to excuse themselves and others from. It never fails that whenever that point is emphasized, it is done for the purpose of making an excuse for a life lived in a manner that does not anticipate His return.
Again, the question that we all need to ask ourselves, especially those who are leaders in the church, is: Are our attitudes the same as those of the members of the early church? Or have we adopted an attitude that looks less like the example that we see in the New Testament and more like the spirit of the age that we now live in?
To give us understanding and prepare our hearts. One of the primary reasons that we all need to make eschatology part of our regular spiritual diet is that through such, we become prepared. This preparation is not primarily a physical preparation. It is not about the stockpiling of food or finding a safe route of escape from your city (although, to a degree, it certainly could be). It is primarily a spiritual preparation. This preparation or “readiness” occurs for two reasons and neither should be ignored. The first and most important reason is based on the spiritual effects that the study of eschatology has on our hearts. These spiritual effects affect our actions and the way we live. One of these effects is a desire for personal holiness (Hebrews 12:14). When we read about the events as described in the Bible and the terrible and fearful events that will occur, followed by the glorious appearing of Jesus from heaven, we find ourselves desiring to throw off all sin and focus on the hope of one day seeing him face to face. Indeed, “everyone who has this hope fixed on him purifies himself, just as he [Jesus] is pure” (1 John 3:3).
When we read the description of us as the bride of Christ we desire to purify ourselves and maintain our chastity for our future husband: Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. (Ephesians 5:27) For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin. (2 Corinthians 11:2)
We will also most certainly develop a deep urgency for prayer and evangelism and maybe even church planting. We may find a deeper felt need for communion and community with fellow followers of Jesus (Hebrews 10:25). And there are many other positive spiritual benefits of studying eschatology as well. All of these effects are part of the greater cumulative effect that will make us “ready” through the great and terrible days ahead, and until the day when Jesus finally returns.
The second way that eschatology makes us prepared is through the foreknowledge and understanding that it imparts. Simply stated, to be forewarned is to be forearmed. If indeed we are the generation living just prior to the return of Jesus, then this factor could not be more crucial. The study of eschatology not only prepares our hearts but it also gives us specific descriptions of future events to watch for. Things will occur on the earth that we will need to understand mentally in order to escape or avoid them (Matthew 24:15–16; Revelations 14:9).
Richardson, Joel. The Islamic Antichrist: The Shocking Truth about the Real Nature of the Beast . Midpoint Trade Books. Kindle Edition.