Awaiting the Last Things of this World

Over the next few weeks, before we enter the Advent season, I am going to publish a lecture series I gave at the Saint John’s Anglican Church in Brownwood, Texas. The series has to do with eschatology, a study of last things.  There are eight lectures.

Eschatology:  Lesson 1

The term “last days” is used 5 times in the New Testament

The term “the end” is used 33 times  However, when we focus on the finale of this world the term eschatology is used most often. I believe this is a mistake and one of the reasons there can be so much division and confusion about the future of humanity. Two key words are, eschatos (last) and teleos (end). So, eschatology is the area of theology that studies last things. Last things can mean a time, location, type, an event. Teleos means complete, end, a finality of process, fulfillment, and/or achievement. Eschatos can have a meaning like, he came in last (location), or, she is the last person (type), or it is the last minute of the auction (time). Teleos as an accomplishment, “She persevered to the end (goal).” 

The meal brought a pleasant end (perfect). They finally found the end (finality of process) they had predicted would occur. Eschatos as an event gets attention. We wonder when and if the events of the prophets or apocalyptic language will take place. The disciples were always asking Jesus when, when will the events take place? When teleos is viewed as a process, escatology can be overlooked. Yet every one of us is moving toward an end. And will the end will likely be an event, failing to pay attention to the process that gets us there is a spiritually dangerous mistake.

Many denominations focus on salvation solely as an event. Once the event has taken place then the main work is done. I believe this is not what I understand Jesus and the Apostles taught. I perceive they understood salvation as a process. Relationships (loving the Lord God) as not event-oriented but a process, growth-oriented. Event-oriented theological thinking looks for events as signs. Process-oriented theological thinking looks at movements, changes, developments, relationships, and linkages. Event orientation asks us when.  Process orientation asks us how and why.

Now, why do I believe this is important? Discipleship is not event-oriented. There are event passages, but it is the process that brings us to where we need to be. Faith does face events, but faith is more of a process of trust and the development of belief. We can speak of the divine dance as an event to which we are invited, but the dance itself is a process of movement and guidance.

There will be an end to this world. Jesus will return. God will create a new heaven and a new earth, but these events are a part of a process that is grounded in God’s love and faithfulness revealed to us in the incarnation of Jesus Christ and the Scripture, developed through the process of the Holy Spirit’s preserving and maintaining the orthodoxy, orthodidache, and orthopraxis in the lives of the called out people, the Church, through the process of growth and fellowship of the faithful in the universal church. Each of us are included in our hope of the events through our choices, and of the submission of our wills, as well as the commitment of our obedience to God’s righteousness.

Most of the individuals of the past who are known for mystical experiences as contemplatives paid little attention to the concept of last things other than speaking as a prophetic voice calling others to a deeper relationship (an actual intimacy developed through prayer and service) with Christ that enable them to experience the positive promises of last things now and made worry of what is to come worthless.  Most had gone through the suffering that comes with the dark night of the soul and so the physical fears had no real merit. They did still watch for the spiritual dangers which ultimately will end this current age of death, but we are more focused on the process of life. I will try to include some of them in our study.

I want to tell you a true story. To many, “Edgar Whisenant” has recently become a household name. Whisenant, a former NASA rocket engineer turned prophecy teacher, became famous through a booklet that included two of his works: 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Could be in 1988 and On Borrowed Time. In this booklet, Whisenant predicted that Jesus would return to rapture His church sometime during the Jewish holiday of Rosh-Hashanah in 1988, which was from sunset, September 11, to sunset, September 13. Before those dates, The World Bible Society, which published the booklet, printed 3.2 million copies and distributed 200,000 of them to pastors throughout the United States. Christian radio stations broadcasted this event as though it would happen.

However, the prediction of the last day turned out to be false. However, on May 16, 2001, Edgar C. Whisenant experienced the reality of every human’s last day, the certain event we will face, he died.  I hope he had paid attention to the process in his life as well.

This happens again and again. People make predictions, creating theological systems which are based on events that must happen or have happened. Most often, this type of theological thinking is founded upon general eschatology rather than another form of Eschatology that is focused on the personal. Every single one of us is living in the last days. From the moment we are born a countdown begins. No one knows how long this countdown will last. We do know that each day that passes brings us closer to the final day. As to when the reality of General Eschatology will take place. That will remain a mystery, but some (human beings being the ego-driven creatures we tend to be, will make predictions and seek to interpret events as to when this will take place.

In the Olivet Discourse Jesus tells the disciples: Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. (Matt. 24:42 NRS) Jesus uses the phrase “be alert” twice and Luke records its use by Paul in Acts. Keep awake is used 7 times in the Gospels and once in 1 Thess. Four times in other epistles are we told to be alert.

But what do we watch for? Events or a process?  I am hoping in the next 8 weeks to get us to reflect and focus on developing a personal eschatology that will enable us to better understand a general eschatology without dependence upon systematic theological systems that are as much speculative as they are biblically based. I believe that if we can become more aware of our own personal eschatology we can be more enlightened when we encounter the multitude of differing views on what eschatology means. 

Next week (posting) I will look at the views of the early church and church Fathers on the subject of eschatology using these early views to understand what value the study of end things were to the church then  Then we will seek to develop a theology of death and life. This will also involve a study of what the Bible says about what we can look forward to or fear about our own last things in the light of the reality of the soul and the resurrection of the dead. Psalm 49, as a psalm of personal eschatology, will be studied. This will be followed by a move toward general eschatology by first looking at how often there is an eclipse of Christ in most eschatological studies.

After this, we will look at those OT Scriptures pertaining to last things and to the NT Scriptures which contain the promise of Jesus’s return and his literal physical existence joining with those who are part of the kingdom and the fellowship of the saints. I believe it is also essential to examine Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24-25) in detail. Then we will finish up with the rest of Jesus’s words on “last things” and in the context of the blessed hope in a fallen world awaiting final redemption. My purpose of a study of eschatology is founded upon the certainties of revelation rather than the ambiguities and speculations. Now I will speculate (especially on the issue of time) but am hoping for fostering an interest in the process rather than the events of what is to come.