Eschatology

Preaching and Worship Resources about Eschatology

When we know where we're headed, we have the best possible chance of fashioning our journey in that direction. Eschatology is the study of last things, a way of defining a destination for the world, for human history, and for our own bodies and souls. After confusing experiences with Christian teaching on the end times, some people have given up on eschatology, but there is power and beauty awaiting those willing to re-engage a strange topic with a new perspective.

In Scripture

Judgment for the Holy Ones "As I looked, this horn made war with the holy ones and was prevailing over them, until the Ancient One came; then judgment was given for the holy ones of the Most High" (Dan. 7).

Seven Weeks "Know therefore and understand: from the time that the word went out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the time of an anointed prince, there shall be seven weeks" (Dan. 9:20-27).

Good News "This good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world, as a testimony to all the nations; and then the end will come" (Matt. 24:1-14).

"False messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce great signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, even the elect" (Matt. 24:15-28).

"But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father" (Matt. 24:29-51).

"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats" (Matt. 25:31-46).

"Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven" (Mark 13).

Archangel's Call "For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel's call and with the sound of God's trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air" (1 Thess. 4:13-5:11).

"The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place; he made it known by sending his angel to his servant John,[ ]who testified to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw" (Rev. 1).

Revelation 4-7 "Then I saw between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered" (Rev. 4-7).

Seven Angels "And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them" (Rev. 8-11).

Wisdom "No one can buy or sell who does not have the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name. This calls for wisdom: let anyone with understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a person. Its number is six hundred sixty-six" (Rev. 12-16).

Another Angel "After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority; and the earth was made bright with his splendor. He called out with a mighty voice, "Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!" (Rev. 17-19).

"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband" (Rev. 20-22).

Points to Ponder

Apocalypse: Frequently, apocalypse is used as a synonym for prophecy. However, they are distinct literary forms rooted in the ancient Near-East. The difference between the two can be summarized by repurposing a quotation from author and humorist Finley Peter Dunne. Prophecy is intended to "afflict the comfortable." Apocalypse is intended to "comfort the afflicted." Prophecy calls out sin, cries out for repentance, and longs for the restoration of right relationship with God. Apocalypse raises up the pain and suffering of powerless and marginalized people and craftily subverts the oppressors with a statement of God's ultimate and eternal reign. When we preach from apocalyptic text, we do well to calibrate our preaching toward the original comforting intent of the text.

Time Frame: People often read apocalyptic texts as future history. As in, "This is what will happen someday in the future." However, apocalypse is most often concerned with the pressing present moment of its recipients, with their very real suffering. It is a "forth-telling" rather than a "fore-telling."

The End: In New Testament texts, like Mark 13 and Matthew 24, there is a strong concern with the end of the world. In our culture, this concern is sometimes manifested by people wearing signs or reading books that teach us "The end of the world is near." The Greek word for end is telos, the root for the English word teleology, the study of the purpose of things. Rather than thinking of "The End" as two words at the conclusion of the history of the world, we might rather think in terms of "the goal" or "the purpose" of the world.

Rapture: A strange scene, not duplicated elsewhere in the New Testament, is found in 1 Thessalonians. Its most logical scriptural connection is the Old Testament practice of citizens flooding out of the city gates to meet a warrior or army returning from battle, escorting them back into the city in an ancient version of a hero's welcome or a ticker-tape parade. This image flips popular conceptions of the rapture on their head. We are not raptured, teleported away from the world. Rather we are "enraptured" of the king who is coming to rule among us.

Empire and Kingdom: Since apocalyptic literature is most often written to afflicted and marginalized people, it is also designed to slip by the censors, as it were. The images of terrifying creatures, the scenes of a world other than our own, read as nonsense to those in power. To those who are oppressed, the images are an inside joke, subverting the empire and proclaiming the kingdom.

Does It Even Matter? What is at stake in the study of eschatology? The character of God — is God biding time before setting the world on fire? Or is God waiting and working toward the establishment of Christ's kingdom on earth? The creation — is it all destined for extinction while we "fly away, O glory"? Or is Christ's kingdom going to be established on earth? The answers to these questions impact whether or how we care for the planet. Citizenship and power — does God have anything to say about the violence of corrupt, exploitative nations and entities? Is God on the side of those with power or those without it? Where will we stand as a result of where we understand God to be standing? Vocation — is it only going to be souls that make it to eternal life, in which case any activity but evangelism is a waste? Or do all things that reflect God's beauty, justice, and compassion last into Christ's kingdom? Do we really believe what we sing at Christmastime: "he comes to make his blessings known, far as the curse is found?"


Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.