Thursday, November 1, 2012
HARD TIMES FOR ESCHATOLOGY
Eschatology (from the Greek “eschaton” “last”), like the economy, is in hard times. Oh, there was plenty of buzz about 2012 and the Mayan calendar for a while. Of course, that buzz had already died down, ironically, before 2012 had even gotten started. (The Mayan “Armageddon” is supposed to occur on December 21, 2012. Most serious scholars of the Mayan civilization do not believe the Mayans thought any such thing.) Then, for a brief time Harold Camping’s predictions of the rapture in 2011 created a few news stories.
But, honest to God, pulpit-pounding, thief-in-the-night, airplanes-without-pilots, who-is-the-Antichrist Bible teaching on the last days is hard to come by these days.
I recall when I was a grade-schooler, my dad taught a series of lessons on last things. As I recall, he taught (in a little country church in Texas) every night for about a week. People came. Some took notes. It was fascinating stuff, and people were interested. That was the mid-1950’s. I think it may have been toward the end of a time when people in churches were genuinely interested in eschatology.
I want to recognize that some of the biggest-selling books on eschatology have been published since that time. The Late, Great Planet Earth, by Hal Lindsey and Carole C. Carlson, sold 28 million copies from 1970 to 1990, according to Wikipedia. Left Behind and the nine other books in the series—by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins—sold over 65 million copies (Wikipedia).
Despite the mega-best sellers, real interest in eschatology, I believe, is at a very low ebb. I think part of the reason for this lack of interest is the big press that some of the far-out groups, such as Harold Camping and his followers, have received (for example the disasters of such cults as Heaven’s Gate, the Jim Jones group, and the David Koresh group). As these phenomena have come and gone, they have become victims of the “news cycle.” That cycle begins with the attention of the news media, a quick digestion by talking-head experts, and a trampling under foot by the media rushing to the next story. So, the general public—of which the members of churches are full-participating members—are simply hardened to any sort of dooms-day reports.
Similarly, books like Left Behind create a great stir for a short time. Then, life goes on. It goes on even for those who are profoundly affected by such books (people received Christ through reading some of those books). No international conspiracy seems to show up. News of the economy and personal survival and relationships push aside thoughts of the Antichrist. Eventually, people are hardened toward any thoughts of the last days.
Implicit in this hardening is something profoundly spiritual that is going on. Certainly, there is a psychological-intellectual hardening, as people become cynical of anything that seems sensationalist. But, I believe, also, people’s hearts are becoming hardened to any thoughts of the second coming of Christ. That hardening is a spiritual condition. I find myself dealing with it in my own heart. I am haunted by II Timothy 4:8:
“Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.” (King James Version)
The “them…that love” is a perfect participle, so it should be “them also that have loved his appearing.” Jesus is coming for those who have loved His appearing—they have been loving His appearing for some time. He is not coming for those who will get a kick out of seeing Him when He gets here. He is coming for those who HAVE loved His appearing, who have longed for that Day.
You see, if I am so wrapped up in my little empire, I am not looking up for Jesus to come. After all, when Jesus comes, the agenda is going to change. What did He pray? “Thy kingdom come, THY WILL BE DONE ON EARTH as it is in heaven.” So, guess what? When He comes, God’s will is going to be done. That may not conform to my plans.
And so, if my spirit is geared to this present age, I am not going to be in tune with the age to come. I am going to be bored by talk of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. I once was with a group of pastors, and I read an eschatological passage. I really had hardly made any comment before two of them fired off at me. One said, “Bill, a friend told me that has already been fulfilled.” Another said, “I had a professor in seminary who said he was a ‘Pan-Millennialist’: he believed it would all pan out in the end.’” Now, that is a cute joke, but it also is an expression of disdain for eschatological thinking. Remember the words from II Peter 3:3-4: “Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. 4 They will say, ‘Where is this “coming” he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.’” (New International Version)
I believe the lack of interest in things eschatological is a symptom of deep spiritual malaise in the Body of Christ, of a slide into apostasy that is infecting the church. Eschatology must be approached and considered with much prayer and as part of a disciplined spiritual life (which is true of any study of spiritual things, of course). Although eschatology becomes deeply involved with technical discussions that require scholarly focus, it is always a study that, at its heart, is concerned with preparing ourselves to be faithful followers of Jesus Christ.
Finally, I would say that eschatology does not have to be popular to be important, and it does not have to be trendy to claim our attention. If you have read this far, I dare say you have some interest in the last days. I hope you will return to this blog, as I seek to share my studies of eschatological subjects.