How Can You Make Sense of the End Times?

Matthew 24:24 – For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. 

There are two primary ways that history has been perceived by academics. 

  1. A cyclical view of history, whereby there is no clear beginning or end to human history, but rather a series of repeating cycles and events. 
  2. A linear view of history, which is the storyline of the Bible – that God created history with a beginning, is ruling over history with the purpose of overcoming human sin and returning to His divine design plan in Genesis 1-2, and is bringing history as we know it to an and ushering in a new beginning for an eternal reset of history with the resurrection of the dead, return of Jesus Christ for judgment, and His rule forever and ever over all. 

The most controversial and complex area of Biblical study is the end times, or what theologians refer to as, “Eschatology, from…[Greek]…eschatos, ‘last’; the term refers to ‘the doctrine of the last things’.” (1)

Godly Christians with the Holy Spirit who love Jesus and have studied the Bible intently come to a wide array of very different conclusions. This reality should give us humility and grace. We should be humble with our conclusions and gracious with those who disagree. There are at least four reasons why the study of eschatology is difficult.

One, the prophetic portions of the Bible referring to the last days include a lot of apocalyptic imagery. There is a debate if these images, including periods of time, should be taken figuratively or literally. Sometimes, English translations of the Bible use words such as “like” or “as” to indicate that what is being described is difficult for the person who saw something in the Spirit to explain it with words. 

Two, since the end times have not yet happened, it is complicated to anticipate the future in detail. Furthermore, since the events promised by the Bible at the end of time have not happened, we cannot be sure who was right and who was wrong until it actually happens. 

Three, the end times are painted in massive epochal imagery that is difficult to fully comprehend because of its’ sheer scope. A Bible Dictionary says, “Two main principles underlie the Bible’s images of the end. One is their cosmic scope. Prophecies of the end times are not stories of individuals but of natural forces and nations, both political and spiritual. Events at the end are happening on a huge scale, creating an impression of a stampede of masses toward a terrible destruction. The second pattern is that the images of the end are predominantly images of terror – a terror made all the more forceful by their power or hugeness (e.g., earthquakes, floods, invading armies, demonic forces) and the suddenness with which they inflict destruction on the earth. The major lessons that these visions of the end teach are the predictable spread of evil, the certainty of God’s wrath and judgment against evil, the need for endurance (Rev 13:10) and a stance of preparedness for what is coming (Mt 24:25).” (2)

Four, the last book of the Bible, Revelation, is one of if not the most difficult and complicated books for scholars in the entire Bible. The scenes shift from the seen to unseen realms, the past, present and future, and are the reports of John the disciple, who is trying to explain in words what he saw as a vision in the Spirit (Revelation 1). In the book of Revelation alone there are many numbers (3, 3.5, 4, 7, 10, 12, 23, 42, 666, 1000, 1260, 12,000, 144,000), colors (gold, white red, black, green, purple, blue), things (robes, belts, crowns, starts, swords, eyes, horns, wings, lampstands, stones), places (Babylon, New Jerusalem, New Zion, New Eden, divine counsel room, throne), and creatures (angels, demons, horses, lamb, beastly woman, a beast, harlot, serpent, lion, bear, birds). Determining whether these are all literal or figurative, and how they might relate to other appearances throughout the Bible is incredibly complicated, to say the least. 

We will start to skim the surface over the next couple of days on the study of eschatology or the end times.

Which of the four reasons do you find eschatology to be so difficult to study? Ask God to help reveal more about Himself to you as you study this area of theology. 

  1. Sinclair B. Ferguson and J.I. Packer, New Dictionary of Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 228.
  2. Leland Ryken et al., Dictionary of Biblical Imagery (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 233.

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