Sunday, 29 November -0001 18:42

The Doctrine of the Last Things (9) General Eschatalogy

Written by Rev. C.A. Schouls
The doctrine about the last things can be divided into two sections. We have dealt with the first: Individual Eschatology. Now we go into the second: General Eschatology. Basically, we will deal with such topics as: The Signs of the End, The Second Coming and the events associated with it, the Millennium and the position of the State of Israel. In dealing with all these issues, we should look back to the first chapter issued, in which various principles of Scriptural interpretation were laid out. It is important to refer to these from time to time.

Our Attitude: We can approach this whole matter in one of three basic attitudes. These attitudes are described for us in Scripture and are referred to as those of the believers of Laodicea, Thessalonica or Smyrna.

The Laodicean Attitude
This attitude (described in Revelation 3:14-21) is characterized by one word: "lukewarm." Perhaps the Laodiceans were simply too occupied with earthly matters to be excited about spiritual things. The blessed hope of Jesus' return did not cause their hearts to beat with joy; they did not try to look through the clouds, they did not strain their ears to hear the angel's trumpet blast. The message of cheer produced little reaction in them; their own sinfulness had little effect on them. They were lukewarm. This caused the Lord to be quite disgusted with them and He threatened to spew them out of his mouth.

Indifference to spiritual matters and a lack of concern about the signs of the times mark many people today. Let the Lord's warning to the Laodiceans be taken to heart.

The Thessalonican Attitude
Generally, the church at Thessalonica did well spiritually, but there were some people who had taken Paul's exciting doctrine about the return of the Lord in the wrong way. They thought the Lord would come any day and their attitude was one of nervous excitement. Some left their jobs--why work any longer when the end can happen any moment? Heavenly treasures were just around the corner--why work for earthly riches? In case of pressing and immediate needs, the church could provide. All they were concerned about was "eschatology"--the knowledge about the end of all things. In his letters to the Thessalonians, Paul tries to set these people straight and reproves them for their disorderly conduct.

Also today, some Christians are overly excited or concerned about the return of the Lord. They speculate about the future and ignore the present. They flock in droves to people who can speak about the future of Israel or of the church; they buy books on these topics by the thousands; they know exactly what this or that war means and when Christ will return. In our own days we have seen some of the foolishness of this all--there were many who looked for Communist Russia to give us the Anti-Christ while others thought the short but vicious Gulf War of a few years ago would be the Battle of Armageddon. And do you remember the sad affair of Harold CampingÕs prediction that the Lord would return (Òprobably,Ó he had added in small print!) in the Fall of 1994? What a shame that a man who seemed to have such a grasp on Scriptural doctrines and such a wide audience via his radio programs, could be so mistaken and so misleading!

What should our attitude be? "The Lord is at hand; be careful for nothing" (Phil.4: 5,6).

The Smyrnian Attitude
The people in Smyrna displayed the only proper attitude (Rev.2: 8-11). They were neither lukewarm nor nervous; they were faithful. They had experienced many troubles and trials, especially from those who were of "the synagogue of Satan," but they had remained faithful to the Lord. Materially poor, they were spiritually rich. The devil might persecute, but the Lord would give them the crown. They were fully alert with respect to things to come while, at the same time, they attended to their spiritual duties in the here-and-now in such a way that, should the Bridegroom come suddenly, they would be ready to receive him.

This is the only proper attitude, also in our own day. Many things indicate that the coming of the Lord is approaching. With the mind we should study these things, but only in light of the Scriptures. As to the heart, the right approach is told us by the Lord in Luke 21:28: "And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up and lift up your heads, for your redemption draws nigh."

The Signs
There are two preliminary signs:

1. the ÒGospel AgeÓ--in which the gospel will be preached to the entire world. This coincides with the millennium and the binding of Satan (more on this later);

2. "Satan's Little Season" which includes:

a. the Great Apostasy

b. the Great Tribulation

c. the Reign of Antichrist

d. other Concurrent Signs.

B.The Great Final Sign--the Son of Man appearing.

C.Israel--restored and/or saved?

D.The Millennium

The First Preliminary Sign: The Gospel Age (Matthew 24:14)
The question regarding this first sign is asked in a certain setting: on the Tuesday of the Passion Week the disciples, marvelling at the beauty of Jerusalem, are astounded at hearing Jesus say that all of that will be destroyed. They, in typical Jewish fashion of the day, assume that the destruction of Jerusalem means the end of the world and they ask the Lord when this will be and what will be the sign of his coming and the end of the world.

Partly, they were right, for they combined the Lord's return with the end of the world; however, on the destruction of Jerusalem they needed to be set straight. The Lord made this clear to them as we can read especially in Luke's account (Lk.21: 9-20). Wars and rumours of wars, famines and earthquakes, etc. will be signs, but they do not signify the immediate end of Jerusalem. When foreign armies lay siege to the city, that will be the sign of her impending destruction. (It is known that this was a very unsettled time for the world around the Mediterranean Sea: not only were there various wars, but there was also great volcanic activity at this time which, coupled with earthquakes, brought much devastation. The Church has always seen these events as types of the last judgment.)

But the disciples had also asked about the end of the world. Jesus also deals with that question. His coming will be preceded by two great signs: 1) the preaching of the gospel to the whole world; and 2) great tribulation.

The preaching of the gospel to all nations does not mean that every person "will have a chance to be saved," as it is sometimes put. The meaning is not that each person, head for head, will hear the gospel but that the nations of the world, during the course of their history, will all receive the gospel. We can see that the gospel has spread in an ever-westward direction--from Israel to Europe to America to the Orient. Some of the most vibrant churches today are found in the Far East. There is a Presbyterian congregation in Seoul, Korea, numbering 80,000 (!) members. Missionaries from the East are targeting Europe.

Further, this gospel proclamation will be a testimony--the nations' reaction to it will be decisive. There will not be a second chance. There will not be a gospel age after Jesus returns. The "Millennium" is now (we will deal with this later).

Jesus is not proclaiming anything new. It had always been part of GodÕs plan that the gospel would go worldwide. Already to Abraham God had said, "In thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed" (Gen.12: 3). Israel was to have been a missionary nation. The Psalms and the prophets are full of missionary statements (Ps.72, 87, 100, etc.) Wherever mention is made of "the ends of the earth" or similar words, there is this perspective. Isaiah speaks of the nations coming to the light of God (60:3) and many instances can be found in other prophets (e.g. Amos 9:11, 12; Micah 4:1, 2; Malachi 1:11).

Israel was to have been the missionary to the world. Its failure is its great tragedy, the results of which are evident to this day. It is when the fullness of time has come that the breadth of this prophecy is revealed and its scope begins to be realized (see especially Eph.2: 11-20).

In our age we witness that this promise is being fulfilled in a most telling manner. In 1792 William Carey helped found the English Baptist Missionary Society and started mission work in India the next year. Since then, the church has been much more involved in this task than ever before, with dramatic results. The fact that in some cases the descendants of missionaries are apologizing for the actions of their fathers who Òstripped people of their cultural heritageÓ is a sad reflection on the mind of some in the church today. Yes, there have been mistakes made by mission workers. There have been cases of cultural insensitivity, and worse. But wherever the gospel has been preached and obeyed, the lot of people, in general, has been improved! That improvement has been worked by believers who took the Word of God seriously. And through this sometimes flawed mission work, the message of salvation in Christ has nearly reached all nations. A sign that the end is near! Let us continue to work and pray that this promise may be brought to complete fulfilment.

1. What do the following passages have in common in their teaching about the Lord's return: Matthew 24:48; Hebrews 10:37; Revelation 22:7 (and implied in Matthew 24:42; 25:13; Revelation 16:15)? How does this fit together with the idea that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years and vice versa? (Where in the Bible do we find this?)

2. What would be the reason(s) for the church's lack of missionary effort before 1792? Why did our churches wait more than 30 years before doing mission work?

3. Can we say that we must do mission work to hasten the return of the Lord? Why or why not?

4. Which of the three attitudes (Laodicea, Thessalonica, Smyrna) do you find prevalent amongst us? What evidences can you provide to prove this?

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