I’ve been doing some discussion of the prophecies of the book of Daniel recently on the Compuserve Christian Fellowship Forum. The discussion there is about the Seventh-day Adventist doctrine of the investigative judgment and the time prophecy of Daniel 8:14. But that is not what this post is about.
As I reviewed the many related prophecies about the time of the end, I couldn’t help but see the strong emphasis on one source of hope–the writers of Daniel and Revelation held up for themselves and their readers the hope that God was going to intervene and that everything was going to turn out all right. This kind of thinking is often described with the term “eschatological” which simply means that it has to do with the end of all things. In particular, eschatological thinking, speaking, and writing in theology refers to the notion that things will not end naturally as they run down due to the normal course of nature, but that there will come a point when things appear utterly hopeless, but at that point God will intervene and things will change.
For many Christians today, guided by the book and movie series Left Behind, this type of eschatological view is pretty much the only view. It is so pervasive that few understand that there are any alternatives. Now my topic is not these alternatives, but in order to understand what I’m about to say, you will probably need to realize that there are such alternatives. Many Christians believe that the kingdom of God will grow in the world and that the end comes by the victory of God in the world by means of the people of God. Even though this does deal with what might be called “end times” it is not generally thought of as eschatological thinking, because evil disappears slowly, forced out by the good, rather than suddenly at the other end of a major battle.
Often these kinds of thinking are contrasted. One either holds that the good of the kingdom is to be accomplished now, by us doing our duty in the world, loving our neighbors, and being witnesses. The kingdom of God, in this case, functions like seed, and grows like a plant, slowly displacing the wrong. On the other hand, eschatological thinking is supposed to take us away from the things of this world to a place where we spend our time thinking entirely of heavenly things, and looking for the count of souls that we have won, so that when God does intervene, the largest possible number will get taken to heaven.
Scholars in the search for the historical Jesus tend to see Jesus as either eschatological, based on Mark 13/Matthew 24/Luke 21, or they may see him as a wisdom teacher based on the many parables of the kingdom. If the kingdom grows like yeast (Matthew 13:33), then it’s sort of the non-eschatological view; if it comes violently, the eschatological.
And there is, of course, a substantial difference between the two views. One has the world getting very bad, and then being rescued. The other has the world slowly getting better.
But there are two similarities that I have noticed right away between the two views:
Both views emphasize hope, even certainty of a good final conclusion.
Both views call for current good, kingdom building behavior, though for different reasons.
What does this mean to individual Christians? It means simply that no matter what view we take of the end, whether we are premillenial, postmillenial, or amillenial, or whatever prefixes we add to the word “tribulation,” we all have the same requirements on us now. Those requirements are stated in the two great commandments to love God and love our neighbor, and in the gospel commission to be a witness.
I think that the problem frequently is in what we believe “witness” means. The eschatological view often seems to make people think that their form of witness must be to vigorously force people onto the list of those headed for heaven. The non-eschatological view tends to emphasize how we change people’s behavior here and now. But the Biblical view, even in the eschatological books, is that our primary witness is in our living a kingdom type of life here and now. Read Daniel 1 and 6, for example, to see the type of action that this definitely eschatological book is calling for.
The bottom line here is that as Christians we have hope. However it is accomplished, good is going to win. And no matter whether we believe God will intervene in a spectactular manner, or if we believe the kingdom wins by slowly growing and displacing people, our task as Christians is the same–be the body of Christ for the world.