These past 5 weeks we have taken a quick look at the 4 accepted systems of eschatology. I mentioned in the introduction that eschatology is not a standalone doctrine but the outworking of how we view Scripture. Our personal theology, including how that works out in our eschatology, will affect how we live and how we view the world and interpret the Word. Our main priority is to keep a proper focus on the Lord Jesus as the alpha and omega of our faith and of history. I want to emphasize again - I have no fight with brothers and sisters holding a sober-minded view of postmill or historic premill, though I think there are significant problems with those systems.
So if being this or that millennial is not the most important thing, why did we take this tour? Eschatology is not unimportant, as it is a study of a biblical doctrine. Since no system of eschatology is water tight, I've encouraged us to consider which system aligns best to Scripture, with a consistent focus on the glory of God in Christ. I am convinced that Amillennialism aligns with Scripture better than of any of the other systems. No distractions of looking to temporal things to determine how the golden age is progressing; no distractions of looking for a temporal halfway kingdom that elevate a people. In a book I recently read, the author points out that life and death are opposites; there is no third state between them. So it is with this and the age to come; there is no partially redeemed millennium between them.
This final message serves the same purpose as the conclusion of a sermon - answering the "so what?" question. In light of what we've learned, How Should We Then Live? As eschatology is the outworking of one's basis for interpreting Scripture, one's way of life is the outworking of one's theology. How we think about God and man affects how we live.
First a lesson from history. In the early years of the 20th century, dispensationalism was the hot topic in many circles. This nation's policies toward the infant nation of Israel was influenced to a large degree by dispensationalists. I read a letter from a dispensational Baptist preacher that was sent to Harry Truman, encouraging him to do all his could see to it Israel was given the land that is "theirs". This idea that the 20th century nation of Israel is the Israel of the Bible and is still owed prophetic fulfillment by God is the basis for the essential doctrine that defines dispensationalism - elevating national Israel to a place only the redeemed in Christ have, but reducing the inheritance of the saints from eternal bliss to earthly struggles under a renewed Davidic covenant. As Charles Ryrie asserted, viewing the separation between national Israel and the church as the foundation of dispensationalism, one cannot take his eyes off the ethnic group, elevating their millennium to the fulfillment of God’s redemptive purpose. Contrary to Ryrie, we are instructed to set our minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For we have died, and our lives are hidden with Christ in God (Col 3:2).
Here's a very practical example I use often. Far too many Christians advocate "sin management" although most of would never call it that. There is very good, solid teaching about our need to mortify the sin in our lives. But if such teaching focuses only, or even mainly, on how to kill sin, we will be drawn to our sin. It is a function of our being that we are drawn to that which we focus on. While we are clearly told to mortify, or put to death, the sinful deeds of the flesh (Romans 8:13, Col 3:5) – we should never take our eyes off the Savior. If we focus on killing sin without always keeping our eyes of faith on Christ, we will be drawn to the sin we hate. This is why the proper theology is Christ-focused: He has conquered sin and death, His righteousness is ours, He intercedes for us, and He will come and take us to be with Him forever! And if we don't, we end up trying to manage our sin - for we cannot mortify the deeds of the flesh apart from a deliberate focus on the glorious blessed hope we have been given to.
In a big picture way, that's the point. As for how our eschatology has practical applications, there are several ways. How many people do you know that are terrified of John's Apocalypse? I have a friend who belongs to a mainline protestant church. He told me he has never read Revelation; said the thought of that book terrifies him. Is that the reason God gave us that book? The right view of Scripture, including Revelation, is to show how awesome God is, how faithful He is, how terrifying it is to be without the right clothes on that great and terrible day, and how wonderful it is to have the God of all creation as your personal God, redeemer, and refuge!
Dennis Johnson has written a wonderful commentary on Revelation, Triumph of the Lamb. He learned that "God gave the Apocalypse shown to John in order to bless us — to do us good, to convey His grace, to fortify our hearts. In Revelation, God promises His blessing seven times (a symbolically significant number): to those who hear and hold Revelation’s message (Rev. 1:3; 22:7), who die “in the Lord” (14:13), who stay awake and alert (16:15), who attend the Lamb’s marriage supper (19:9), who share the first resurrection (20:6), and who wash their robes in the blood of the Lamb (22:14; see 7:15). God gave the book of Revelation neither to tantalize nor to satiate our curiosity about His hidden timetable but rather to arm us for the spiritual conflict that we face every day."
Johnson provides seven helpful things to bear in mind as we ponder the wonder and glory of John's Apocalypse. There had to be 7, right? And they are very practical:
1. REVELATION HELPS CHRISTIANS SEE OUR SITUATION IN ITS TRUE PERSPECTIVE
Appearances can be deceiving. We often gauge how “the war” is going by the way things look to us today based on headlines about political and economic trends or global crises. The paradoxes in Revelation’s visions remind us that “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). Christ’s cross looked like the slaughter of a helpless lamb, but it was actually the triumph of Judah’s Lion (Rev. 5:5–10). When faithful martyrs shed their blood, their foes seem to have conquered (11:7; 13:7). In fact, the martyrs are the true victors who vanquish Satan “by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death” (12:11).
2. REVELATION SHOWS OUR ENEMIES IN THEIR TRUE COLORS
Our enemy is stronger and savvier than we are: “the great dragon … that ancient serpent … the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world” (12:9). But the seed of the woman has come, conquered the Serpent, and ascended to heaven (v. 5). Satan can no longer accuse: his charges have been silenced by Christ’s sacrifice (vv. 10–11). Frustrated over his defeat at the cross, Satan vents his wrath against the church on earth (vv. 12–17). His weapons are violent persecution (the Beast), plausible deception (the False Prophet), and seductive pleasure (the harlot Babylon). The sovereign state, civil religion, and luxurious indulgences may seem to be “saviors.” Don’t be fooled: they aim to destroy. Revelation’s symbolism peels back the façade that often hides the grotesque hollowness of Satan’s counterfeits.
3. REVELATION REVEALS OUR CHAMPION IN HIS TRUE GLORY
As its title promises, this truly is “the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:1). It unveils Jesus and fixes our hearts and hopes on Him. He is the hero of each dramatic scene. He is the Son of Man foretold in Daniel 7, luminous in divine glory, who by His resurrection seized death’s keys and now walks among His churches. He is Judah’s Lion who conquered by being slain, redeeming people from all the earth’s peoples. He is worthy of worship from every creature everywhere. He is the Captain of heaven’s armies, riding into battle against His and our enemies, defending beleaguered saints, and finally destroying the Dragon and his beasts. Our Champion lifts our weary hearts with His promise: “Surely I am coming soon.” We reply: “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (22:20).
4. REVELATION ENABLES US TO SEE OURSELVES IN OUR TRUE BEAUTY
Jesus’ messages to the churches of Asia show that His fiery eyes (1:14; 2:18) see us accurately, commending our faithfulness but exposing our flaws (chaps. 2–3). Nevertheless, as mottled as the church’s spiritual complexion is now, our Bridegroom loves us and will not rest until He presents us to Himself “as a bride adorned for her husband” (21:2), clothed “with fine linen, bright and pure” (19:8). Revelation paints our coming wedding in such vivid colors that we long to pursue now the loveliness that will then be fully ours (1 John 3:2–3).
5. REVELATION SUMMONS US TO ENDURE AS WE SUFFER
Revelation was originally addressed to Christians who were suffering for their faith. They experienced poverty, slander, prison, and even death (2:9–10, 13). Writhing in his death throes in the aftermath of the cross, the Dragon escalates his assault against the saints until Christ returns to consummate history. Jesus does not promise a painless escape from this war of the ages. Instead, He promises His presence as the one who is “alive forevermore” (1:18). In response to that promise, we must heed the King’s call to patient endurance (1:9; 2:2–3, 10, 13, 19, 25; 3:8, 10; 13:10; 14:12).
6. REVELATION CALLS US TO STAY PURE WHEN COMPROMISE INVITES
Some of the first-century churches, like many churches in the twenty-first century, faced a subtler threat than persecution. Satan, the father of lies, tried to mislead believers through purveyors of false teaching (2:15, 20). Material comfort and compromise with the paganism of the surrounding culture also proved alluring (2:14; 3:17). Such insidious assaults on wholehearted allegiance to Christ are still with us. Against the Devil’s lies and invitations to idolize pleasure and prosperity, Revelation calls us to keep our hearts and lives pure as befits those who will be the Lamb’s white robed bride (3:4–5, 17–18; 7:9, 14; 14:4; 19:7–8; 22:14–15).
7. REVELATION ENCOURAGES US TO BEAR WITNESS AS GOD WAITS
Lest Revelation’s summons to endure and stay pure incline us to withdraw into bunkers, hiding from the dangerous and defiling world, we need to heed Revelation’s encouragement to bear witness to “the testimony of Jesus.” Our word martyr is derived from the Greek word meaning “witness” (martys, 2:13). John was on Patmos “on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus” (1:9). The church is symbolized in two witnesses who announce God’s word, sealing their testimony with their blood (11:4–12; 13:7). Christ’s witnesses suffer not in timid silence but for their bold declaration that Jesus is Lord of all. Through our testimony, God is fulfilling the vision of Revelation 7: “Behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb … and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb!’” (7:9–10).
God gave us the book of Revelation not only to inform our minds but also to transform our lives. It gives us insight into the realities of our situation, our enemies, our Champion, and our true identity, and it calls us to patient endurance, hopeful purity, and courageous witness.
Recall how I mentioned we should pattern our eschatology after Abraham? In Hebrews 11, after describing the faith of Abel, Noah, Sarah, and Abraham, we read, (verse 13 – 16, page 2380) These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.
Is this our perspective? Are we seeking a return to the land that these saints left? Or are we looking for and desiring a better country, a heavenly one, where our Lord dwells? The Author of life draws a line between these two countries and the people who dwell therein. Reminding the saints of the blessings and responsibilities that accompany our citizenship in heaven, we read (Heb 13:10) We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. The altar mentioned here in Christ, the eating mentioned here is the Lord’s Supper. Those who serve the tent, the earthly tabernacle, have no right to this supper. When the kingdom was taken from national Israel and given to a nation (a people) who will bear the fruit of true repentance, that people who were known as Israel lost their standing as a people. Ethnic Jews need Christ, not a rebuilt earthly place of worship.
Do you have faith like Abraham or like John Nelson Darby?
Here are a few short passages from Scripture that I pray will help us comprehend how now to live. Nothing is more practical than clear instruction from the Lord God.
2 Cor 4:16-18 (page 2229) So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
2 Peter 1:3-8 (page 2418) His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Romans 8:31-36 (page 2172) What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised— who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
1 Peter 4:12-14 (page 2412) Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.
Each of these short passages remind us of the temporary nature of this age and the eternal, immanent nature of the age to come. Knowing our standing in Christ, deliberately seeking to keep the eternal in plain site is the biblical means to our stability and usefulness while we yet have time here.
1 Peter 4:7-11 9page 2411) The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
This ought to be on our lips, day by day – to Christ alone belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen!