Thursday, September 13, 2007

Theology 101 Notes: Doctrine of the Future

These are notes from Week 7 of our Theology 101 group, Doctrine of the Future.


The Final Judgment
There will be a final judgment in which the dead will be resurrected and judged according to their works (Matt. 25:31-46 & Romans 2:1-9). Everyone whose name is not found written in the Book of Life, along with the devil and his angels, will be consigned to everlasting punishment in the lake of fire (Rev. 20:11-15). Those whose names are written in the Book of Life will be resurrected and stand at the judgment seat of Christ to be rewarded for their good deeds (I Cor. 4:5).
- From National Community Church Statement of Beliefs

Some Definitions

Eschatology: the study of the “last things,” or future events. (Grudem, Bible Doctrine)

Eschatology: the study of what happens in the afterlife and what happens at the end of the age and in the final state of both the righteous and the wicked. (Horton, Systematic Theology)

In Theology for the Community of God, Grenz encourages us to understand the word “last” in the sense depicted by the Greek term telos, which means “goal.” He explains, “In the doctrine of last things we speak about God’s goal or purpose for his activity in the lives of individuals, in human history, and in creation.” Thus, Grenz offers the following definition:

Eschatology: the study of the Christian understanding of the glorious future God has for his creation. It is the systematic-theological reflection on history as the narrative of God’s activity in bringing humankind to God’s intended goal. Corporate eschatology is reflection on history from the perspective of the consummation of the human story in accordance with God’s plan. (Grenz, Theology for the Community of God)

A distinction can be made between personal eschatology and general eschatology:

Personal Eschatology: the quest to know what lies beyond death (Grenz, Theology for the Community of God), it is the study of future events that will happen to individuals, such as death, the intermediate state, and glorification. (Grudem, Bible Doctrine)

General Eschatology: the study of future events that will affect the entire universe, such as the second coming of Christ, the millennium, and the final judgment. (Grudem, Bible Doctrine). It is the quest to understand God’s intention for humankind and for human history. It seeks to answer the question, “Is our corporate story going somewhere?” (Grenz, Theology for the Community of God)

Why Study Last Things
Because the apocalyptic writings are so difficult to understand and there are so many interpretations, one may wish to avoid the study of these things. If the timing and purpose of these events is largely irrelevant to our salvation, why should we consider their consideration important? Grenz offers three reasons:

Evangelism- the imminence of Christ’s return should move us to evangelism
  • Mark 1:15, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
  • Matt 24:14. “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.”
Holiness- the imminence of Christ’s return should move us to arrange our lives for holy living.
  • “Eschatology is not a projection into the distant future; it bursts forth into our present existence, and structures life today in the light of the last days.” (G. C. Berkouwer)
  • “They (New Testament writers) did not so much intend to offer data for charts depicting the chronology of future events as to produce proper conduct in the present” (Grenz, Theology for the Community of God)
  • Romans 13:11-14, “Do this, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. The night is almost gone, and the day is near Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.”
  • 1 John 3:2-3, “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.”
Steadfastness and Courage- the imminence of Christ’s return should summon us to live life with a steadfastness and courage that is built on the firm belief that Jesus wins.
  • 1 Peter 4:13, “but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.”
  • 1 Corinthians 15:58, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.”
Elements of Final Things
The following events are mentioned in the Bible and they are components of the last things.
  • Christ’s Return
  • Tribulation
  • Millennium
  • Resurrection of the Dead
  • Final Judgment
  • Creation of the New Heavens and the New Earth

The debate revolves around when, how, and why these things occur.

Christ’s Return
“And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory. And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.” (Matthew 24:30-31)

“For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.”
(1 Thessalonians 4:16)

“The goal toward which all history is rushing is the return of Christ, which will mark the establishment of community and hence the ultimate realization of God’s will, which is his reign.” (Grenz, Theology for the Community of God)

What we know about Christ’s return:
  • Christ’s return will be sudden, personal, bodily, and visible.
    • Matthew 24:44, “For this reason you also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will.”
    • Acts 1:11, “They also said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.’"
    • Revelation 1:7, "Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. So it is to be. Amen."
    • See also John 14:3, Hebrews 9:28, James 5:8, 2 Peter 3:10, and 1 John 3:2.
  • The timing of Christ’s return is unknown.
    • Matthew 24:36, "But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.”
    • Matthew 25:13, “Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour.”
    • Mark 13:33, "Take heed, keep on the alert; for you do not know when the appointed time will come.”
  • Christians should eagerly expect Christ’s return.
    • Philippians 3:20, “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”
    • James 5:7, “Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains.”
    • Titus 2:13, “looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus,”
    • See also 1 Thessalonians 4:16, Revelation 22:20, and Matthew 24:30-31.

The Millennium
“Then I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed. This is the first resurrection.” (Revelation 20:4-5)

This passage in Revelation is the only time that the Millennium is referenced in the Scriptures. Throughout church history, theologians have debated the interpretation of John’s millennial vision. There are three primary views:
  • Premillennialism- Jesus returns prior to the thousand-year reign and he will be physically present on the earth to reign during these thousand years.
    • Pessimism: “The world gets worse.”
    • A type of premillenialists, called Dispensational premillennialists, divide human history into distinct periods or “dispensations.” They assert that there are two different plans for the church and for Israel, and they believe that a pretribulational rapture will remove the church prior to the tribulation and the millennium. Dispensational premillennialists tend to take the most literal approach to prophetic Scriptures
    • Proponents: Don Carson, Wayne Grudem. John MacArthur is a dispensational premillennialist.
  • Amillennialism- there is no future millennium. Rather, Revelation 20 is now being fulfilled in the present church age. All major future events (Christ’s return, resurrection, judgment, and establishment of new heaven and new earth) will occur at once.
    • Realism: “The world is what it is.”
    • Proponents: Louis Berkhof, John Calvin and other Reformers
  • Postmillenialism- Jesus returns after an earthly golden age which is brought about by the work of the Church and the Holy Spirit.
    • Optimism: “The world gets better.”
    • Proponents: Augustine, B.B. Warfield
For further reading, see Across the Spectrum, Chapter 17: The Millennium Debate. See also Theology for the Community of God, Chapter 22: The Consummation of History.

Final Judgment
"But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.” (Matthew 25:31-33)

Judgment is a recurring theme in the Scriptures. New Testament passages that refer to the final judgment include Revelation 20:11-15, Acts 17:30-31, Romans 2:5, Matthew 10:15, Matthew 11:22-24, Matthew 12:36, Matthew 25:31-46, 1 Corinthians 4:5, Hebrews 6:2, 2 Peter 2:4, and Jude 6.

Scripture leads us to three definite conclusions concerning the final judgment:
  • Jesus will judge.
    • Acts 17:30-31, "Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead."
    • 2 Timothy 4:1, “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom.”
  • Unbelievers will be judged.
    • Revelation 20:5, “And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”
    • Romans 2:5, “But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God.”
    • Hell: a place of eternal conscious punishment for the wicked. (Grudem, Bible Doctrine) Passages that speak of hell include Matthew 25:41, Matthew 25:46, Mark 9:43, Luke 16:22-24, 28, and Revelation 14:9-11. Hell is a place of burning fire (Matthew 18:8, Matthew 25:41, and Jude 7), but it is likely a metaphorical picture of the “anguish generated by the awareness that a person has invested his entire life in what is perishable rather than imperishable and eternal (Matthew 6:19-20, Luke 12:16-21) (Grenz, Theology for the Community of God). Hell is a place of isolation, estrangement, and loneliness (Matthew 8:12, 22:13, 25:30)
  • Believers will be judged.
    • Romans 14:10-12, “…For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God...So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God.”
    • 2 Corinthians 5:10, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.”
    • Heaven: the place where God most fully makes known is presence to bless. It is in heaven where God most fully reveals his glory and where angels, other heavenly creatures, and redeemed saints all worship him. (Grudem, Bible Doctrine) Scriptures that speak of heaven include Acts 1:9-11, Acts 7:55-56, and John 14:2-3.
Other Views of the Fate of Unbelievers:
  • Universalism- ultimately, all will be saved and hell exists as a means of turning sinners toward God.
  • Annihilationism- punishment is eternal in consequence but not in duration.

For further reading on annihilationism see Across the Spectrum, Chapter 18: The Hell Debate.

Creation of News Heavens and New Earth
Revelation 21:1, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away.”

Romans 8:19-21, “For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”

The new creation will be a place of God’s presence (Revelation 21:3), a place of community (Revelation 22:2-3, Isaiah 65:25), and a place of glorification (1 Corinthians 13:12, 2 Peter 1:4, Revelation 21:4-5)

“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)
“This is eschatology at its Biblical best. The message about God’s future provides the foundation and motivation for proclaiming the word of God in the present. God reveals to us his promise for the future consummation in order to call us to proper attitude and action in the present…

As the study of God’s overarching purpose, the doctrine of last things forms the proper climax of systematic theology. Eschatology leads us back to where we started. It brings us to the God who desires that all creation share in the community of his presence and thereby participate in the eternal glory of the one God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. “(Grenz, Theology for the Community of God)
Does the vision of God’s eternal glorious future compel you to live differently?


At 4:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you much for your Biblical and well-thought-out comments. Have you ever read "Famous Rapture Watchers" or "Pretrib Rapture Diehards" (by historian Dave MacPherson) on Google etc.? His new book "The Rapture Plot" which I recently bought at Armageddon Books online, covers the entire history of the pre-tribulation rapture theory which originated in 1830 in Scotland. And, believe me, it is so informative and shocking that it is difficult to put down! Lord bless you. Clara


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