The word eschatology ( es · ka · tál´ · a · ji · ) is derived from two Greek words, eschatos (“last”) and logos (“discourse”), meaning the doctrine of last things. Though there are Christians who seek to undermine this field of theology, the study of eschatology is important because it fits the totality of Scripture. For instance, one out of every ten verses in Scripture is prophetic (meaning 27 percent of all Scripture is predictive of future events).
Furthermore, prophecy is important to study for at least six reasons. First, Bible prophecy demonstrates the veracity of God’s Word (Isa. 40-49; 2 Pet. 3:13). There are over 300 prophecies that speak of Christ’s first coming and about ¼ of the New Testament is prophetic. Second, Bible prophecy demonstrates the sovereignty of God in real history. God has stated history before it commences. Third, Bible prophecy demonstrates the believer’s responsibility in the current age. One’s view of the future will determine how he lives in the present. Fourth, an understanding of Bible prophecy should be an impetus for evangelism. Christ will judge the world of sin and unrighteousness, thus the gospel message needs to be proclaimed loudly and clearly. Fifth, Bible prophecy should be an impetus for godly living. One does not want to be caught in shame when Christ returns for His church. Sixth, Bible prophecy gives comfort in the midst of sorrow and facilitates perseverance with a hope of the future.
The Prophetic Word
The issues in Bible prophecy are important because they deal with the whole counsel of God’s Word and the eschatological hope of the Christian. The study of Bible prophecy also follows biblical admonitions (cf. Mt. 16:1-3; 24:3). Hebrews 11:13-16 (cf. Lk. 21:34, 36) refers to those who lived in light of God’s future promises. Second Peter 3:11-14 emphasizes the urgency of being ready when Christ returns. First Thessalonians 5:1-11 contrasts the “you” (those who are able to understand the times in which they live) and “they” (those who are unaware of God’s prophetic decrees).
Bible prophecy is important because Jesus commended the study of prophecy. The world today wants to make sense of the events currently transpiring. In Matthew 24-25 answers the question concerning the sign of His coming and the end of the world. The Jewish understanding of the end of the age and Messiah’s subsequent coming are intricately related. The reference to the “coming” in verse 3 (also vv. 27, 37, 39) would have meant the kingdom of God being established by Messiah as a literal, earthly reign. It is when Christ establishes His kingdom on earth that the unconditional promises made to Israel in the Abrahamic covenant will be fulfilled. Prior to that time, Jerusalem will be “a cup of trembling unto all the people round about” (Zech. 12:2). The present turmoil in the world today is leading toward the fulfillment of Bible prophecy.
Though many signs are given for Christ’s second coming, none are given for the rapture. There is nothing that must precede the rapture, and yet nothing that precludes prophesied events from transpiring before the rapture of the church prior to the tribulation—it is an imminent event (Phil. 3:20; 1 Thess. 1:10; Tit. 2:13, et al). Despite all the signs of the second coming, there will be “scoffers” in the last days (2 Pet. 3:3, 4). Peter exhorts those living in the last days that the heavens and the earth are stored up, “reserved unto fire,” for the day of God’s judgment and destruction of the ungodly (v. 7). Furthermore, he warns that the reason for the Lord’s delay is that God is not willing that any should perish, but for all to come to repentance (v. 9).
It is important to note that there are professing Christians today who are actively engaged in “world evangelism” believing that the church will convert the world and hand over the kingdom that they have established to Jesus Christ. They are not expecting the rapture. They would also interpret Matthew 24:20 to refer to carnal Christians who are not a part of the “last days move of God.” These carnal people are believed to be holding back Christ’s return with their “doom and gloom” message of the rapture and end-time events. This perverted teaching states that the Lord will suddenly remove them so that great revival will enter the land because it will be unhindered by such “negativism.” Christians who rightly believe in the rapture and Christ’s judgments are not pessimistic, rather they are optimistic realizing that the only hope for mankind is to be found in Jesus Christ.
Identity of the Antichrist
The Antichrist is known as the “beast” (Rev. 13:1), “the man of lawlessness” (2 Thess. 2:3), “the son of perdition” (2 Thess. 2:3), “Wicked” (2 Thess. 2:8), “the abomination” (Mt. 24:15), the “little horn” (Dan. 7:8), “a king of fierce countenance” (Dan. 8:23), “the prince that shall come” (Dan. 9:26), “a vile person” (Dan. 11:21), the strong-willed king (Dan. 11:36), and the worthless shepherd (Zech. 11:16, 17). The Antichrist (Greek prefix anti) not only stands against the true Messiah, but also in the most diabolical manner he comes in the place of Christ. The Antichrist will likely be the one who is able to make the peace process in the Middle East work. He will bring about a false peace that will end in sudden destruction (1 Thess. 5:3).
The man of lawlessness (2 Thess. 2:3), or the “wicked,” is diabolical in his nature and deeds. He is certain to break any and all laws that God has commanded. Specifically, his rebellion is against God and His law. The Antichrist will actually exalt himself as God and set up an image of himself to be worshipped (Dan. 11:36; 2 Thess. 2:3; Rev. 13:8). The New Age movement will find great joy in this world leader as he will likely encourage the lie that man can become a “little god.” Through “lying signs and wonders” he deceives a wicked and unrepentant world (2 Thess. 2:9-10).
The Nature of the Tribulation
The Jewish understanding of the “end of the age” was directly related with a future resurrection and Messiah’s reign on earth (Lk. 20:34-40; Dan. 12:2; Ezek. 37:12-14; Isa. 26:19). The “end of the age” is a reference to judgment at the end of the mystery kingdom that is illustrated in the parable of the wheat and tares (Mt. 13:39, 40). The parable teaches that both wheat and tares will grow side by side as a result of the true sowing of the gospel and false counter-sowing which will culminate in the saved of God entering the blessings of the millennium and those who have rejected the gospel of Christ’s death and resurrection for sinful man will suffer eternal punishment.
The tribulation period is said to be “cut short” (24:22), otherwise “no life would have been saved.” The shortening of the days does not mean that it will be less than seven years; rather, it means the time of wrath will be cut short. Surely, mankind deserves more than seven years of tribulation for his rebellion against God. Although the judgments intensify in sequential order (The seventh seal is the seven trumpets and the seventh trumpet is the seven bowls), the intensity of those judgments is restricted primarily to the last three-and-one-half years (Dan. 7:25; 12:7; Rev. 11:2; 12:6, 14; 13:5).
Throughout the tribulation there will be an unprecedented number of conversions through the ministry of the 144,000 (Rev. 7:1-8) and the two witnesses (Rev. 11:3). The reference to “he that shall endure unto the end” (v. 13) is speaking of the time of Christ’s second coming (note Rev. 7:9-17) and not the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ doctrine of salvation by works. Only those believers who endure, that is, live through the horrors of this period (Rev. 6-19) will be “saved.” The “saved” will enter the millennial kingdom in their natural bodies.
After the Tribulation
Peter writes of the Day of the Lord coming as a thief in the night (v. 10). John also uses the same terminology with reference to the Lord’s second coming (Rev. 16:15). The Day of the Lord is the same as the “day of God” described in verse 12 as the time including the burning of the earth in which the elements will melt. This judgment with fire is contained in the seal, trumpet, and bowl judgments.
After the millennium there will be the new heavens and the new earth in which righteousness dwells. The new heaven is spoken of in Revelation 21:1. It will be established at the end of the millennial kingdom, and its creation is to be eagerly anticipated by believers (v. 13). At the end of the millennium all of the effects of Adam’s fall and sin will be erased in the creation of the new earth (v. 10, 12; Rev. 22:3). The new Jerusalem will then descend from heaven as the eternal dwelling place of the redeemed of all the ages (Rev. 21:1-3).
Bible prophecy is as an impetus to believers to warn the lost. Since these events have not occurred yet it proves “that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation” (v. 15). Peter’s words of exhortation are both dramatic and sobering as he prioritizes the believer’s responsibilities to live a diligent life, in peace, spotless and blameless in Christ.
The future is certain for all those in the Lord Christ Jesus, and the duration of all the saints in eternal fellowship with the God of peace who has reconciled the elect unto Himself will be eternal. Surely, with such a great hope for the church God’s people should take comfort that “God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thess. 1:9; 2 Tit. 2:13). Christians are to warn those that do not have such hope that the coming of God in judgment will be swift (2 Thess. 2:1-3).
The early church would greet each other (in the form of a petition) with the word “maranatha” (1 Cor. 16:22) meaning “our Lord come.” It was spoken to indicate their eager expectation for the coming of the Lord Jesus to deliver the church from the coming Day of the Lord (1 Thess. 1:10). As Christians, we should live each day with an eternal perspective knowing that our future in Christ is certain. Maranatha.