Are you familiar with the term eschatology? It refers to the study of the end-times, an area of focus that has intrigued Christians throughout the centuries.
Interest in eschatology may prompt questions such as: Are we living in the last days? How long will it be until Jesus returns? What are the signs of the time?
This is hardly an abstract theological topic of little relevance for the here and now, for how we think about tomorrow greatly affects how we live today.
For example, if you were absolutely convinced that Jesus was coming at any moment, would you be thinking about a multi-generational business plan? Would you be concerned about environmental issues? Would you be making financial investments on behalf of your infant grandchild?
Many Christians do, in fact, live like this, unable to think in multi-generational terms because they are convinced they are living in the last generation. But what if they are not?
When I came to faith in 1971 at the age of 16, I was told that Jesus was coming at any minute. All of the signs were lining up, and prophecies were being fulfilled. You could feel it in the air.
The bestselling Christian book of the day was Hal Lindsey’s “Late Great Planet Earth,” where everyone could see how the Bible seemingly predicted even the even the newspaper headlines.
Suffice it to say, this feeling was back in 1971, over 50 years ago, and Jesus has yet to return to Earth . Whereas I was 16 at the time, my youngest grandchild is now about to turn 16. The calculations were clearly a little off!
In 1988, Edgar Whisenant published a book titled “88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988.” Hundreds of thousands of copies were given away to pastors, and millions of copies were sold. The rapture being the second coming of Jesus at time that is unknown, which Whisenant believed would take place between September 11-13, 1988.
Many readers were convinced that the end was near, and they subsequently went into debt or quit their jobs, thinking they could leave their bills for the Antichrist. Instead, they left those debts for the collection agency.
Of course, it’s rare to find errors this glaring or that one eschatological belief can lead to such extreme folly. Though, that doesn’t mean the possibility of serious consequences are absent from our own end-time beliefs.
To give another case in point, many who believe that Jesus could come at any minute also believe that the world will only become worse until He returns. Morals will lower and lower. Spiritual confusion will only grow. People will become increasingly wicked as the years pass.
These Christians, therefore, reason to themselves, why bother fighting the inevitable? Why engage in the culture wars? Why get involved politically? It’s all going downhill from here!
To this day, this attitude has led many Christians to abdicate their social responsibilities, leaving a void that other groups have been only too glad to fill.
This is a very serious error, one that steals initiative, freezes inertia, and paralyzes action.
On the other hand, this attitude of end-time urgency has also fueled the fires of missions, evangelism, and outreach, as Christians think to themselves, “Since the world is about to collapse and Jesus is about to return, let’s save as many souls as we can.”
However, to reiterate, this attitude has also led to a serious failure in social responsibility, wreaking havoc on the next generation.
In stark contrast, Christians who have believed the gospel will ultimately transform the world have thought in multi-generational terms, believing good will triumph over evil in the end.
This mentality inspired American Christian leaders like Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) and Charles Finney (1792-1875) to work for social reform, to the point that Finney was a major abolitionist leader in the war against slavery.
According to the Christian History Institute, and with specific reference to Finney’s end-time beliefs, “This led in the years before the Civil War to unprecedented evangelical social and religious reform: temperance, antislavery, peace, women’s rights, education, as well as dramatic expansion in home and foreign mission work.”
Finney and Edwards believed that they were living near the end of the age, but they thought it would be ushered in by the success of their Christian efforts, rather than by the failure of those efforts.
Of course, none of this changes what the Bible does or does not say about the end of the age.
You might be convinced Jesus could come at any minute, that the world will only get darker until then, or you might believe the Lord’s return will be centuries in the future and that things will increasingly improve until that time.
My point here is not to tell you what the Scriptures do or do not say about the end. That’s for you to study and decide.
Instead, my point is that our eschatology affects how we live and think in the here and now, and that is something worth considering.
That being said, if I might offer a suggestion, I would encourage you to think pragmatically, since there is so much debate surrounding eschatology.
First, while the timing of the Lord’s return is uncertain, death has been certain for every generation, and death’s inevitability can affect anyone at any time. So, all of us should be preparing to meet our Maker now. One ancient Jewish teaching says, “Repent one day before you die.” Since you don’t know the day of your death, though, you should be repenting every day.
Second, we know there are multiple generations alive right now, from the very elderly to the newborns. Therefore, while living in readiness to meet God at any time, we must think in multi-generational terms. This is simply accepting reality. The generations are here.
Third, while we can debate how long it will be until Jesus returns and whether the world will become better or worse until then, we must still live in the here and now. So, how should we be living today?
I say it is far better to believe in the power of God than in the power of Satan, knowing that light always dispels darkness and, in the biblical calendar, morning always follows night.
So let’s shine brightly while we have life, and let’s fight the good fight rather than cave in and cower. And if we go down, we go down swinging, spiritually speaking.
Isn’t that the mentality the Lord would want us to have? We must choose action over inaction, even as we continue to debate the end-times. As long as God is God and Jesus is risen from the dead, we should choose hope over despair, faith over unbelief, and confidence in Him over fear.
Dr. Michael Brown (www.askdrbrown.org) is the host of the nationally syndicated Line of Fire radio program. He holds a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from New York University and has served as a professor at a number of seminaries and is the author of 40 books. Connect with him on Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.
The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.