Thinking About ‘Future Things,’ Part 1 (of 12)
“What will happen to me when I die?”
“Are we living in what the Bible refers to as the ‘last days’?”
“What does Bible prophecy say about the end of the world?”
Christians today seem just as interested in future prophetic events as at any time in church history—maybe even more so. Today, books on Bible prophecy are runaway bestsellers and the topic of the “last days” is a constant preoccupation of Christian television programming. However, because of the potential sensationalistic nature of this topic, Christians need to approach this controversial area of biblical theology with care and discernment.
On numerous occasions Bible prophecy and future predictions concerning the end of the world have led the church to lose credibility. Excessively speculative approaches to this area can, and have, significantly hurt the Christian witness before a skeptical world. Unfortunately, for some nonbelievers Christians’ irresponsible approach to the prophetic subjects of the Bible has made Christianity seem like a sham. Therefore, the topic of ‘the Bible and the future’ qualifies as an apologetics issue.
In this series I will discuss a variety of points relating to the historic Christian view concerning unfulfilled prophecy. I hope to offer helpful suggestions for navigating the controversial terrain of future things.
While Christianity is rooted in historical facts, with much to say about the importance of past events (such as the creation, the incarnation, and the atonement), it also projects to the future. The robust Christian world-and-life view answers the big questions about humanity’s origin and destiny by appealing to the biblical revelation.
Historic Christians believe that Jesus Christ inaugurated his glorious kingdom with his entrance into the world through the womb of the virgin Mary (circa 6–4 B.C.), a truth celebrated at Christmas. This First Advent (“coming”) changed the very course of Western civilization with the calendar of the day reflecting Anno Domini (Latin for “in the year of the/our Lord”). However, his kingdom has not yet come in its fullness because believers still anticipate the promised Second Advent. Distinguishing the first and second comings of Christ (inauguration and fulfillment) illustrates the well-known prophetic biblical and theological principle known as “already, not yet.”
Many Christians today are fascinated with the subject of eschatology (the study of “future things” or “last days”). Eschatology (from the Greek word eschatos, meaning “last,” and logos, meaning “study of”) is typically seen theologically in “individual” and “general” terms.
Two Eschatological Spheres
1. Individual Eschatology: This aspect of future exploration involves the biblical view of human death as experienced by individual people. For example, unlike the naturalistic philosophies, the Bible reveals death as being more than a mere biological phenomenon. This category of eschatology also involves discussion of the nature of the intermediate state—the period between death and the future final resurrection.
2. General Eschatology: This part of revelatory projections involves the biblical view of the final cataclysmic events of human history. These future happenings include the glorious Second Coming of Christ, the rapture of the church, the millennium, the final resurrection, the last judgment, and the eternal state.
I hope you will join me for future installments of this series as I will address further eschatological and apologetics issues.
For a general and popular introduction to eschatology, see George Eldon Ladd’s book The Last Things and Donald G. Bloesch’s book also entitled The Last Things.