This post is part of a series. See part one here and part two here.
Rule One: It’s none of your business.
Rule Two: No one is right.
Rule Three: Know the Bible.
So you still want to study eschatology? Alright. So by know you realize and accept that you cannot figure it all out and no human ever has. Good.
Now read the Bible. All of it. Cover to cover. Genesis to the maps.
Unless you are willing to take in the whole counsel of God, you will never understand the End of Days. The great and glorious Day of the Lord is the culmination and consummation of all of God’s plans for humanity. It is a wonderful and complex event that will change everything, forever. Like the ending to any great novel or film, one cannot skip to the end and expect to understand what is going on.
First, most people believe that the go-to book is Revelation on the End Times, but this is not true. Revelation contains a lot of End Times information, but most of it is a rehash of more detailed information that was already inspired in earlier books of prophecy in the Old Testament. So trying to pull all your information out of Revelation is like trying to pass an essay exam on the Cliff Notes (hint: it won’t work). (If you do want a short version of the End Times, Jesus Himself laid out a concise view in passages like Matthew 24.)
Secondly, God is good to tell us plainly what we must know about things like salvation and the End Times in very clear language, but He tends to hide the deeper meaning within His Word for those with a thirst to actually seek it. For example, you can read just one Gospel and learn enough about Jesus and His work to be saved and spend eternity in glory with the Holy One, but if you read all four Gospels, you will be blessed with a deeper understanding of the Messiah. If you read the whole New Testament, you will gain more wisdom and an even greater blessing. And should you read the whole of Scripture, you will uncover that the entire codex is about Christ. From the moment of Creation through the Fall, the patriarchs, the Law, the judges, the kings and prophets, you will discover, to your blessing, that Christ is hidden in every page.
It is the same with the mystery of the End Times. There is important information in Genesis which is every bit as key to understanding the End of Days as the information in 2nd Kings as the information in Daniel as the information in Revelation. It’s all interconnected, and if you do not know it, you will not understand it. I will not sit down for a serious discussion of the End Times with anyone who hasn’t read the entire Bible at least once.
Thirdly, there’s this old proverb: “There’s a reason Revelation is in the back.” We chuckle at this, and while funny, it is also true. When the Church fathers gathered to make the final decisions on the Bible’s canon, they were torn over the issue of Revelation. It was a complex book that even they didn’t fully understand, and they feared that ignorant people would read it and draw terribly erroneous conclusions about it, creating heresies and leading people astray. In the end they were undeniably convicted that it was, without a doubt, the Word of God, and could not be excluded from canon. So they put it at the very end, hoping people would have enough sense to read the rest of the Bible first before reading it. Despite their best efforts, their worst fears did come true, and we suffer today from a near endless supply of madmen using Revelation as their weapon of choice.
While we have discussed much in earlier posts about how understanding the End Times is not essential to Christian life, it should follow than any serious student of the Word will have an opinion on the subject. Whenever I hear someone say “I really don’t have an End Times view,” I know that really means “I don’t study my Bible much.” Before my pastor challenged me to read the entire Bible, I too had no strong opinions on eschatology. “The major views all have merit, I don’t really know which one I believe.” was my reply. I did not begin my reading to uncover the answer to eschatology, I just wanted to know God’s Word and know His heart better. As I read, however, I uncovered something glorious. A story. A wonderful, beautiful story about a Hero who sacrificed everything to win the heart of a rebellious and sinful people. I also began (began mind) to understand something of how that story will play out in the end. I don’t know much, but what I know is glorious beyond reason. I also believe it will end just as it began, in suffering. For if we share in His suffering, we will share in His resurrection. (Philippians 3:10-11) I did not intend to build up my eschatology when I read through the Bible, but it happened anyways. You might not intend to try and figure out the plot to a mystery novel when you read it, but you do it anyways. It’s in our nature to unpack mysteries.
I’m not going to reveal my particular beliefs on eschatology here. That is just one of those things I will only discuss in a personal conversation face to face. What I have tried to do here is help you on your way to discovering the truth about the End. If my beliefs have any merit at all, then I can trust you to discover it for yourself in the Bible. Here are a few final bullet tips on studying eschatology.
1. Study eschatology as one not studying it. That is, you enter this study not to simply figure out the End of the story, but the truth about the Storyteller. Any venture I’ve made into Scripture to prove a point or figure out a mystery has failed. However, when I have studied the Bible to better understand God, I have often gained wisdom into those hard subjects I could not earlier discern.
2. Read the entire Bible without commentary. Don’t read any other books on eschatology either. Avoid any outside opinions and let the Holy Spirit teach you.
3. Pray often for discernment as you read.
4. Keep a journal on everything God teaches you while reading.
5. When you finish reading the entire Bible, I guarantee you will have your own, genuine opinion on eschatology, among other things!
6. Now, test your theories by comparing them to those of others. I strongly encourage you to seek out not only the latest authors, but those of bygone eras as well. There are many ideas which have only sprung up over the last 100 years or so that probably are nothing but hot air. Romanian Pastor Elijah Morar once told me, “If someone discovers something they believe to be totally new in Scripture today, then it is either not new or heresy.” It doesn’t hurt that many of the older books are also now free, either.
7. Never stop learning or reach a point where you become unteachable. Always be willing to change your views, but be unwilling that anything other than Scripture do so.
Those are my recommendations for approaching eschatological study. Enjoy the journey, remember all is for the glory of God.