Why is Studying End Time Theology Important?

Why is Studying End Time Theology Important?

by Bob Day

In 1981 the New York Times declared that the best-selling non-fiction book of the 1970s was The Late Great Planet Earth, which was written by Hal Lindsey and C.C. Carlson. The purpose of the book was to explain in simple, layman terms what was to occur in the final days of earth's existence according to the book of Revelation. The book sparked a great interest in "end times" or "last days" theology, referred to in scholarly study as "eschatology.” This is literally, "the study of last things."  It was so highly regarded that there were a number of Bible teachers and theologians who actually attempted to set a date for when these occurrences were to begin. Lindsay himself believed that the 1980s would be the last decade of the world's existence as we know it.
Obviously, he was wrong.
As a pastor and Bible teacher, I have noticed that over the last 30 years that most Christians fall into one of two groups concerning their interest and understanding, or the lack thereof, in "end times" theology. The first group I like to call "pan" theologians. These are believers who refuse to try to read through and study the book of Revelation or other apocalyptic literature found in the Scriptures because "it's too confusing and hard to understand."  They have decided that it doesn't really matter what someone may believe about the coming of the last days because it is all going to "pan" out in the end. The second group of believers diligently study the Scriptures in order to better understand what God is doing in the world in these last days. I consider myself part of this second group.
You may be thinking, "Why should I bother with trying to understand events (concerning the end of life and time as we know it on this planet) that will probably take place in some distant future?" You may think that being saved and going to heaven when you die is the only thing that really matters.
Here is something to consider. Reading and studying apocalyptic literature like Daniel, Joel, Ezekiel, and Revelation has important benefits for the follower of Christ. First, a blessing is promised to every believer who takes to heart the truth of the prophecies found in the book of Revelation (22: 6, 7). Second, the Scriptures were given to us so that we could know things about our God that would otherwise be unknowable by the human mind. The prophecies concerning the last days tell us something about God's will and work in this world. He has appointed a day when His Messiah will rule the world and eradicate evil once and for all. Third, it is the basis for the believers' future "blessed hope" of being saved from the wrath to come and that all believers will be with Jesus in a glorified future forever (Titus 2: 13).
Keeping these reasons in mind, let's consider what 1 Thess. 5: 1-11 has to say about future events in the last days. Apparently, there were Christians at Thessalonica who were confused about what the believer's future would be in the coming day of God's wrath. There were false teachers who were saying that those who are alive when Jesus comes back to judge the world will also suffer the calamities found in the book of Revelation. In 4: 11-18, Paul assures his readers that before the coming "Day Of The Lord,” Jesus will appear in the heavens and "rapture,” literally "snatch up," all believers who are alive at that time and resurrect all believers who have died before that time so that they/we won't experience God's judgment during the time of the tribulation as described in Revelation chapters 4 through 21.
Chapter 5: 1-11 describes God's judgment and destruction that will happen to those who have not put their trust in Jesus' sacrifice for salvation. Notice that in vs.1, Paul writes that the believers at Thessalonica didn't need to be told about what was going to transpire on the "Day of the Lord" because they were taught this when he first established this community. Here's a good reason to be familiar with end times theology. It appears that Paul found the reality of God's final judgment upon a world which has been irreversibly infected by evil just as important to teach and be understood as the Lord's gracious offer of salvation. He reminds his readers that those who live and thrive in the "darkness" or "night,” which is a biblical metaphor for evil and ignorance, are the ones who are going to be caught off guard and become the objects of the full force of God's wrath upon evil and sin (verses 3, 4). By the way, those who live in spiritual darkness like it that way because their thoughts, words, and actions are generated by pride and arrogance, and they really don't want to be found out (John 3: 19, 20).
Not so with true believers. Paul reminds his readers that they, along with all other true followers of Christ, live and operate in the realm of light (Col. 1: 10-14), which is also a biblical metaphor referring to goodness and righteousness, as well as knowledge and wisdom from and about God (Psalm 119). Believers won't experience the coming day of God's judgment because He unleashed the full force of His wrath on Jesus at the cross so that anyone who puts their faith and trust in Him for salvation and forgiveness of sin have already experienced all of God's wrath that they will ever experience (Gal. 2: 20). There is never going to come a time in the future when followers of Christ experience God's wrath on this earth. Otherwise, they would be punished for their sin twice, once at the cross and then again at the apocalyptic judgment in the last days (Rev. 3: 10).
While believers are prohibited from date setting, we are commanded to be aware of the "times and seasons" in which we live (Matthew 24 & 25). We must always be aware of the depths of evil that this world is rushing headlong into and be working to further God's kingdom here and now for the sake of those who haven't received the gift of salvation.
The truth of God's impending, final judgment on evil and the believers' salvific escape from it, because of our Lord's voluntary sacrifice at the cross, should be a constant joy and encouragement for all who have received forgiveness of their rebellion against God and will forever live in a blissful existence with Jesus in the new heavens and earth for eternity (Jn. 14: 3). This truth about the coming "Day of the Lord" should also be a part of our witness to those who are not yet saved. Those outside of the Christian faith should be constantly warned of the coming world judgment and their eternal destruction as a result of it. Read Acts 2 :14- 41 to see how Peter incorporated this truth into his call for those who have not been reconciled to God to immediately do so in order to escape His impending judgment on this earth, which all of the apostles believed would take place in their lifetime. Each day we make the decision to either be an example or a warning to those with whom we come in contact. Are you going to be an example of joy and contentment because of Christ in you, especially when life is not going well? Will you be a warning to the unsaved, urging them to flee the wrath to come? Perhaps we should be both so that we may be able to give the reason for the hope that is within us (1 Peter 3:15).
I wish I had a dime for every time I was asked if I thought that we were in the last days, right on the edge of the apocalypse. I can't tell you exactly when Jesus is coming back, but I do know this. We are closer now than when we first believed (Rom. 13: 11).

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