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The Doctrine of Last Things | Theology Matters

  • July 2015 Issue
Theology Matters

Eschatology is the branch of theology that is concerned with the end of time, the study of last things, and particularly (though not exclusively) matters related to the return of Jesus Christ. Eschatology is a major focus in Paul’s two letters to the Thessalonians. The Bible’s teachings about the return of Christ are meant to be a comfort to us. Paul directed the Thessalonian church to “encourage each other with these words” (1 Thess. 4:18).

Unfortunately, the church’s interest in this area of study has sometimes been too focused on speculation. Some have tried to use what the Bible says about eschatology to pinpoint the exact time when Christ will return. Believers are also divided in their views on the subject, and there is much that we don’t know about the end of all things.  Jesus warned His disciples that the times and dates have been set by the Father’s own authority. The details have not been given to us.

But Scripture gives us enough information regarding the end to help those who are grieving (1 Thess. 4:13). The hope of Christ’s coming is a powerful incentive for godly living (Luke 21:34; 1 John 2:28; 3:2–3). We should not be surprised that people disagree about the events surrounding Christ’s return. Even in the days of the Apostles, people had different opinions about events at the end of time. Peter warned that as the day approaches, more and more people will grow skeptical about Christ’s return and misinterpret the reason for the apparent delay (2 Peter 3:3–4). He tells us the reason Christ has not already returned: so that others may come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).

General eschatology focuses on the events associated with Christ’s Second Coming and the establishment of His kingdom. Personal eschatology focuses on what happens to someone after death and at the judgment. The biblical teachings regarding the resurrection of the body and final judgment both fall under the category of personal eschatology. Paul links the resurrection of believers to the reality that they will be gathered to Christ (1 Thess. 4:15–17; cf. 1 Cor. 15:23). Bodily resurrection is the capstone of the believer’s redemption (Rom. 8:23). In this final transformation our perishable body will be replaced with one which is immortal (1 Cor. 15:54).

The overall theme of biblical eschatology is hope. General eschatology concerns itself with the “blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13). Personal eschatology is concerned with “the hope of the resurrection of the dead” (Acts 23:6).

FOR FURTHER STUDY

To learn more about eschatology, read Understanding End Times Prophecy: A Comprehensive Approach by Paul Benware (Moody Publishers).

BY Dr. John Koessler

Dr. John Koessler, who retired as professor emeritus from Moody Bible Institute, formerly served in the division of applied theology and church ministry. John and his wife Jane enjoy living in a lakeside town in Michigan. A prolific writer, John’s books include The Radical Pursuit of Rest (InterVarsity), The Surprising Grace of Disappointment (Moody), and True Discipleship (Moody). John is a contributing editor and columnist for Today in the Word.

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