New Testament epistles are sprinkled with eschatological references which have led to confusion and the belief that the rules of hermeneutics must be re-written to accommodate particular eschatological systems. We will now survey how these Epistles make eschatological references and how we might best understand them.
A Sense of Imminence
¶ The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.
First Peter 4:7
The eschatology found in the New Testament Epistles conveys an expectation of imminence. Each of the writers had a sense that something was about to happen very soon. It could be argued that they were misguided and that the Scriptures accurately recorded their misinformed views. We see evidence of this sort of thing throughout the Old Testament where misinformed human perspectives were accurately recorded in God’s inspired Word. This includes such statements like, “from the rising of the sun” (Psalm 50:1; Isaiah 45:6; Malachi 1:11). Of course, we know that the sun doesn’t rise but from the perspective of the human authors it appeared to. But this doesn’t seem to be the sort of thing happening in the Epistles. Unlike the genre of the Psalms or Prophets, these eschatological statements found in the Epistles are not poetic. They are presented as statements of fact – often linked to an injunction (1Peter 4:7; Hebrews 10:24-25). If it is the New Testament perspective is actually just the accurate recording of misguided human opinion, it then makes the linked injunctions (moral commands) redundant.
The End. That’s what the Greek word “eschaton” means. But a question that some are now asking is, “The end of what?” Up until recently most Christians would have said- the world, but now good Biblical scholarship is shedding greater light upon this highly controversial word and revealing that most of us may have been wrong!
When I went to church as a young boy, ‘End Times’ teaching was all the rage. Afterall, there were wars in the Middle East, famines in Africa, natural disasters in Asia, and economic struggles in Europe and America. There were conspiracy theories, global uncertainty, a worldwide fuel crisis, and the emerging cashless society. All of these things were apparently predicted in the Bible many thousands of years ago as being the last signs before the end of the world. As the last three decades have unfolded however, it has become obvious that none of these things have led to the end of the world, and now most people realise that the Bible doesn’t even make reference to them – let alone pinning the triggers for the end of the world upon them! With so much error in this speculation it’s little wonder that many Christians have put eschatology (the study of ‘final things’) either in the too-hard basket or now regard it as not worth worrying about because nobody knows anyway.
For LEFT BEHIND to be true it has to invent it’s own set of rules for Bible interpretation. What most LEFT BEHIND fans may be shocked to discover is that the pivotal sections of Matthew and Revelation upon which LEFT BEHIND is based was fulfilled by 70AD! And it had to be since that’s what Christ said!
“Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.”
Matthew 24:34 (NKJV)
The highly aclaimed atheist, Bertrand Russell, said this verse alone was enough to discredit both the Bible and Jesus Christ!
Preterism comes the Latin word “praeter” which means “past”. When it comes to understanding Bible prophecy all Christians are Preterists to one degree or another. It is only logical and reasonable to examine the past to see if a prophecy has already been fulfilled. Most Christians would acknowledge that Isaiah 7:14 describing a virgin giving birth has been fulfilled in the past. But not all Christians would agree about the nature of prophecies relating to Christ’s “second coming”. Preterists argue that all of the prophecies relating to Christ’s return (as described in Matthew 24) have already been fulfilled. This contrasts with two other schools of prophecy interpretation.
Essentially there are then three general schools of eschatology: