When I think of the issues in eschatology that are important for the church, I do not think about the rapture or restoration of the state of Israel. While there are many who think about these things faithfully and sober-mindedly, the eschatomania associated with them has, I believe, caused many to be disgruntled with eschatology. As Trevin Wax said in a recent blog, “Left Behind was perhaps the best and worst thing to ever happen to Dispensationalism. The books popularized it for the masses and made it a punchline for the next generation.” Perhaps I am a product of that “next generation.” Perhaps the appeal that Amillennialism has to me is partly due to my embarrassment with contemporary Premillennialism. I want to say, however, that the appeal is primarily that, when I read the Bible, I do not see that Left Behind brand of prophecy as the hope that the church is to long for. Here are some of the eschatologically matters that I think are of primary importance for the church.
The first principle is judgment. This seems, on the surface, to be the issue that many people hate the most. When reflected upon, however, I think we would all agree that it is necessary, and even glorious. Without the justice of God, we cannot deal with the injustice in this world. One reads the news and one cannot help but ask “why,” and cry out, “Lord, intervene!” Christians know that he will. In fact, this is part of the biblical basis for the ability to resist vengeance. Paul writes, “never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’” (Rom. 12:19). Tim Keller quotes Miroslav Volf speaks powerfully on this:
If God were not angry at injustice, that God would not be worthy of worship. The only means of prohibiting all recourse to violence by ourselves is to insist that judgment is legitimate only when it comes from God. My Thesis that the practice of nonviolence requires a belief in divine vengeance will be unpopular with many, but it takes the quiet of a suburban home to believe that human nonviolence results from the belief in God’s refusal to judge. In a land soaked in the blood of the innocent it will invariably die with all the pleasant captivities of the liberal mind.
The second eschatological principle, almost paradoxically, shines sweetly up against the scales of justice: future grace. As the Apostles’ Creed, the earliest of known Christian confessions, states, “I believe in…the forgiveness of sins.” It is foundational to the Christian hope. Without this hope, we find ourselves amidst the aforementioned judged. With this hope we find ourselves acquitted, both presently and, ultimately, in the future. On this doctrine the church stands or falls. Just as the church cannot cease retaliation if judgment is not the Lord’s, the church cannot help but show mercy when mercy has been received (Mat. 21:31-35; cf. Mat. 5:7; 6:14-15).
The last words of the great creed state, “I believe in…the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.” The solid hope on which the church stands is the hope of the our bodily redemption (Rom. 8:23-24) and of the redemption of the cosmos (Rom. 8:19-22). “For it is in this hope we were saved” (Rom. 8:24a) (notice the solid past-tense amidst the glorious future realities). This is what gets the church through hardship. We all groan. We all reach points – some of us more than daily – where we feel that we cannot bear this world. The Christian shouldn’t despair in these moments, but know that they share in the groanings of every saint, along with all the cosmos. The Bride of Christ should allow these longings to look to the future and deepen her desire for her Bridegroom, praying that he will come like a thief in the night.