The Message of Jesus offers hope.
Jesus’ Message focuses on the advancing Kingdom of God as the pivotal factor in a hopeful eschatology. Thus, it imparts faith, not fear—stirring catalytic hope, not fatalistic despair.
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What is a Hopeful Eschatology?
The Kingdom message is good news. Fantastic news.
In Jesus, we are restored to the Father and recommissioned as custodians of this earth. God’s original plan revealed in Genesis 1:26-28 is now made possible through the Gospel.
Our task as God’s people—the ekklesia (Matthew 16:18, 19)—is to faithfully steward the earth and advance the Kingdom of God until Jesus returns.
The question is, does Jesus return to rescue a defeated church barely holding out against the unrestrained flood of wickedness … or does His return consummate the rising tide of righteousness established through the faithful and fruitful work of a prevailing ekklesia?
This brings up the topic of eschatology.
Eschatology is simply the study of “last things” or “last days.” The word stems from the Greek word eschatos, meaning “final.” There is, however, nothing simple about this area of study.
It ought to be simple. It could be simple. Jesus taught us to pray,
Our Father in heaven, hallowed by Your name. Your Kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
(Matthew 6:9, 10, italics added)
The subject? His Name, His Kingdom and His Will. The object? On earth as it is in heaven.
If we believe Jesus meant these words, if we believe He intended us to pray for God’s Kingdom to manifest on earth as it is in heaven and to then work towards aligning earth with God’s will in His Name, eschatology becomes very simple. Inspiring and hopeful.
And importantly, it then remains consistent with the apostles’ teachings, the views of the early church fathers and the perspectives of the great reformers in church history such as Luther and Wesley.
To put it bluntly, Jesus gave us a job. He’s returning when we’ve finished the job.
Simple as that.
So, What Happened?
This may surprise you, but the more convoluted end times view so popular today only emerged in the middle of the nineteenth century from the teachings of a former Anglican preacher, John Nelson Darby (1800-1882), who founded a new denomination called the Exclusive Brethren in England.
Without doubt, Darby’s teachings would have gone largely unnoticed had his escapist eschatology not been published in The Scofield Reference Bible in 1909.
Due to the cleverness and success of Cyrus I. Scofield’s study Bible, some of the significant Bible colleges in America, including the Moody Bible Institute and Dallas Theological Seminary, chose Darby’s dispensational theology at the core of their end times curriculum. This happened even though it was not consistent with the apostles’ teachings and neither the early church fathers nor the reformers taught dispensational concepts.
It’s simply staggering how popular and entrenched this “modern” dispensational viewpoint has become despite its utter lack of historical credentials.
From the 1970 book The Late, Great Planet Earth by Hal Lindsey, to the 1972 movie A Thief in the Night, and to the more recent Left Behind book series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, which has sold close to 80 million copies and spurned four movies, this fear-based dispensationalist viewpoint captured the culture’s collective appetite for conspiracy theories, drama and histrionics. Against the backdrop of The Cold War and the paranoia around the end of the twentieth century, mainstream Christianity swallowed end times mania hook, line and sinker.
While there are several variations within dispensationalism, generally hinging around when one factors in the “rapture”, they all promote a fatalistic, escapist eschatology. Sadly, the simplicity of the get-the-job-done Kingdom mandate is obscured by these arcane, esoteric theories that require self-proclaimed end times gurus to expound and explain.
In sharp contrast, the Kingdom message inflames our hearts with hopeful expectancy, reminding us of the sublime privilege we have in cooperating with an ever-increasing, advancing Kingdom.
Here. Now. On this earth.
For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of His government and peace
There will be no end,
Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom,
To order it and establish it with judgement and justice
From that time forward, even forever.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.”
(Isaiah 9:6, 7, italics added)
So, let’s look at why eschatology matters.
Why Eschatology Matters
While a large sweep of Christendom obsesses over left behind eschatology, a growing number are left benumbed by the cry-wolf mania of the last hundred plus years. For many in this camp, eschatology is best avoided and often dismissed in statements like, “I’m pan millennial. Everything will simply pan out in the end.”
However, as tempting as it may be to bag the whole concept, eschatology matters, and it matters for at least two reasons.
On the one hand, Biblical hope is tied to the return of Jesus.
Yes, we cannot properly understand Biblical hope without a Kingdom eschatology.
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
(Hebrews 11:1, italics added)
This is a frequently misquoted verse. It’s often used as a description of the way faith works and it’s frequently used in prosperity theology circles as the ‘formula’ for activating faith to get what you want. This completely misses the point the writer to the Hebrews was making.
Hebrews Chapter 11, often called the Hall of Faith, describes those in the Old Testament who lived heroically in hopeful expectancy of the (first) coming of the Messiah. Let me explain.
After first raising the topic of Jesus’ return (10:35-39), the writer to the Hebrews recounted example after example of those who courageously lived by a faith anchored in hope of the coming Messiah (11:1-40). Inspired by their example, we are called to run our leg of the race anchored to the unequivocal hope of Jesus’ return (12:1, 2).
The entire point of this passage is to motivate us to live heroically in this age fuelled by the hopeful expectancy of the coming of Jesus. Biblical hope is not ‘wishful thinking’ but an earnest expectancy in an indubitable, forthcoming reality. We live in “blessed hope”, to use Paul’s phrase (Titus 2:13), because He will return. Thus, an eschatology anchored in hope—not fear—is a critical component of the Kingdom message.
The Message of Jesus
On the other hand, eschatology matters because it informs how we approach and apply the Message of Jesus to the times in which we live.
Sam Harris, infamously considered America’s leading atheist, said:
“We have a society in which 44% of the people claim to be either certain or confident that Jesus is going to come back out of the clouds and judge the living and the dead sometime in the next 50 years. It just seems transparently obvious that this is a belief that will do nothing to create a durable civilisation. And I think it’s time someone spoke about it.”
(Interview with Steve Paulson, The Disbeliever, 7 July 2006)
Upon first reading this, I got defensive. Then, after the blood rush to the head subsided, I found myself challenged by his comments. Worse was to follow. I had to agree, he had a valid point.
If we believe everything is going to get worse and worse; if everything’s going to come apart at the seams, why bother doing anything at all? Why not just wait-it-out, survive it, escape it? Actually, if this is our end times worldview, wouldn’t it be more logical to allow or even help things to get worse?
Of course, I’m being ridiculous to make a point. Who, in their right mind, wants to allow or help things to deteriorate? A fatalistic, escapist perspective, however, does nothing to halt the slide. Paralysed by fear, its abdication of responsibility makes it culpable and at complete odds with the Message of Jesus. Make no mistake, our eschatology affects and informs how we approach the Kingdom mandate.
The First Followers of Jesus
The first believers certainly lived in hopeful expectancy of Jesus’ imminent return—even a casual reader of the New Testament would come to this conclusion. Of course, He didn’t come that soon … 2,000 years later and we’re still here. Were they deceived?
Moreover, the apostolic writers exhorted the early church to live large for God anticipating His second coming. Were they also deceived … or worse, were they manipulative? Did they use this teaching to compel the early believers to a certain way of life even though they knew it wasn’t going to happen?
No, they were neither deceived nor deceptive.
They understood something we by and large don’t.
The coming of Jesus is not about a convoluted timeline of end time events; rather, it is an attitude of hopeful expectancy that enlarges our vision and fuels our faith.
Peter said it best.
Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God.”
(2 Peter 3:11, 12, italics added)
He urged us to not merely look for but to hasten the coming of Jesus; that is, to live with such purpose and godliness that we manifest and usher in God’s expressed will on earth as it is in heaven.
Animated with this hopeful eschatological attitude, the early church lived with a mesmerising sense of destiny and a riveting sense of responsibility. They lived believing that they could be, not necessarily would be, the generation for which Jesus returned.
Read that last sentence again. It explains why the early believers were not deceived and why the apostles were not deceptive.
Jesus gave them a job.
They gave themselves to completing the job knowing Jesus would return at the culmination of it.
If their generation couldn’t finish the job, they hoped to serve as the foundation upon which the next generation would get closer to mission accomplished. This is one of the core applications of the Hebrew value of “fathers and sons”—a gender-neutral phrase—that animates both Old and New Testaments.
It’s captured so well in Paul’s instruction to Timothy:
And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.”
(2 Timothy 2:2 NIV, italics added)
That’s four (spiritual) generations:
Paul → Timothy → Reliable People → Others
And thus, line by line, generation to generation, they transformed the all-powerful Roman Empire from the bottom up with compassion and grace, heroically opposing social injustice and oppression—and wicked social ills such as infanticide—sacrificially healing and selflessly feeding the poor, marginalised and needy.
In doing so, the early believers turned the Empire on its head. Today, we call our sons Peter, James and John. And we call our dogs, Caesar, Brutus and Nero.
Digging in for the long haul, they embraced their Kingdom mandate as custodians of the planet and built a beachhead upon which, if Jesus tarried (and He did), the next generation could achieve more.
Nurturing this hopeful eschatology, the early believers avoided the fatalistic ideology that Harris correctly, in my opinion, chides our generation for.
They transformed their world, creating a “durable civilisation”—to use Harris’s words—and so much so that their heroic example inspired much of what is good and sustainable about our civilisation 2,000 years later.
In stark contrast, Christendom, at large, and Evangelical Christianity, in particular, has turned this raw and robust attitude of expectancy into a convoluted, confusing timeline of end times events.
We anticipate everything getting progressively worse until things are so bleak, the return of Jesus amounts to a rescue job, evacuating a browbeaten church from this God-forsaken planet, whipping us off to heavenly bliss, leaving the unbelieving on earth to be nuked along with the planet’s destruction. (Or something to this effect, various timing of the rapture notwithstanding).
All too frequently, modern believers miss their Kingdom purpose as they bank on escape. “Well, why bother if we blow this joint in the nick of time and we’re absolved from any responsibility for the planet? Isn’t ol’ terra firma headed for the incinerator anyway?” (Spoiler alert: No, it’s not.)
In fact, the notion of escaping some forthcoming tribulation period reeks of Western conceit. While believers in some third-world countries continue to suffer horrendous persecution—and believers have suffered horrifically throughout the centuries—dispensational teachers first stoke fear with the idea of a hyped-up Great Tribulation but then claim we get to dodge it. How convenient.
Moreover, by turning eschatology into a date that we speculate about or a prescribed order of events to debate over, we slide into a fatalism rank with resignation, cynicism and despair.
We become defeatist and prone to conspiracy theories. We dabble in titillating speculation and traffic in embellished claims. Paranoia takes over and the rot sets in quickly. Gripped by fear, we become super-spreaders of dread.
Instead of revealing the light, we curse the darkness. Rather than serving as a beacon of wisdom, hope and peace in a troubled world, we’ve become associated with the loony fringe.
Sadly, we fail as witnesses of the Message of Jesus, we neglect our responsibilities as custodians of this planet, and we botch our Kingdom mandate.
A Hopeful Alternative
However, there is an exhilarating alternative. Enlarged by an eschatological expectancy, we become catalytic.
A hopeful eschatology acknowledges that while evil people will continue to get worse and worse (2 Timothy 3:13), in a redemptive backlash of abounding grace (Romans 5:20), Jesus envisioned a prevailing ekklesia against which the systems of this world fail (Matthew 16:18).
This Kingdom-advancing juggernaut of compassion, humility and good deeds cooperates with God’s express intention to bring heaven to earth, manifesting His will on this planet (Matthew 6:9, 10; 16:19).
Jesus is coming back for His Bride, a glorious bride in her prime: “without spot or wrinkle” (Ephesians 5:27). His return consummates the increasingly fruitful work achieved by the ekklesia.
To put it bluntly, Jesus will come back for a generation who has finished the job.
And in returning, King Jesus will establish His Kingdom in fullness on planet earth.
For this reason, we refuse to peddle conspiracy theories or promote half-truths. As Peter said, “we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:16).
So, we’re not escaping, we’re taking responsibility. We’re not evacuating; we’re fulfilling our God-given destiny to steward the earth.
So, Why Does Eschatology Matter?
Our eschatology affects and informs how we approach the Kingdom mandate. Paralysed by end times mania, we shirk our responsibility and shrink from opportunity.
The Parousia of Christ
In this short section, we simply define the Greek word parousia.
The Coming of Jesus
Interestingly, “the return of Christ” and “the second coming of Christ” are not phrases used in the New Testament. These are turns of phrase Christendom has introduced to distinguish Jesus’ first coming from His second.
Instead, the writers of the New Testament refer only to His “coming,” a Greek word (parousia) used to describe the official coming or arrival of an emperor or a king.
In the ancient world, the arrival of royalty was accompanied by an extravagant celebration of the sovereign’s rule and often, new eras were started from the date of the Parousia (Light from the Ancient East by Adolf Deissmann).
This is the beautiful, celebratory and triumphant word chosen to capture the hope of Jesus’ return.
Thus, the Parousia of Christ refers to the arrival of the King whose return is celebrated and who, in coming, consummates the present age, ushering in the “age to come” or the Parousia age.
The implication is that King Jesus is returning to celebrate the fulfilment of His mandate entrusted to His people, and in so doing, to establish His Kingdom in fullness on earth. Of course, the glorious vision of the marriage supper of the Lamb conveys this incredible sense of celebration and consummation (Revelation 19:7-9).
Hence, we’re to prepare for the King’s return, not for our own escape. In gripping expectancy, we’re to plan for occupation, not bank on evacuation.
The Last Days
The Bible does not use the phrase, “the end times”. The closest we get to this phrase is Paul’s statement: “upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (1 Corinthians 10:11).
Instead, the Bible uses the phrase, “the last days”.
The Last Days
The first time it’s used in the New Testament is when Peter quotes the prophet Joel:
And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, that I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh.”
Then several other phrases also refer to the urgency required ahead of the coming of Jesus:
- Paul spoke of “the last days” (2 Timothy 3:1) and “in latter times” (1 Timothy 4:1).
- Peter also used the phrase, “the last days” (2 Peter 3:3).
- John referred to “the last hour” (2 John 2:18).
- The writer to the Hebrews said, “God … has in these last days spoken to us by His Son” (Hebrews 1:1, 2).
- Jude refers to the teaching of apostles concerning “in the last time” showing that an essential part of the apostles’ teaching concerned eschatological passion (Jude 17, 18).
When is the Last Days?
So, what period of time does “the last days” refer to?
The phrase “the last days” refers to the church age: the time period between the first and second coming of Christ.
In other words, we are in the last days today just as Paul and the gang were in the last days in the first century.
Some use the phrase, “the last of the last days” implying that we are living at the edge of time; that is, the return of Christ is “imminently” imminent. While this is not necessarily wrong, it’s not necessarily correct either.
As Jesus emphatically explained,
But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only.”
No one knows. Be wary of those who say they do.
Thus, it’s important to note that the phrase, “the last of the last days” is a modern, speculative phrase.
And it’s not necessary.
To live as truly eschatological people means that we’re animated with a hopeful expectancy whether we feel we’re in the last of the last days, or just some point in the last days’ unfolding.
In fact, living as an eschatological people means we don’t concern ourselves with a fatalistic linear timeline of events at all. Rather, we live as Kingdom stewards knowing we’ll give an account of our stewardship to the King upon His return.
We live every day in light of that Day.
The Biblical Response
Debating theories of how the end times unfolds only serves to muddy the waters and detract from our goal of keeping our focus on the Message of Jesus. Thus, the question of what our Biblical response to all this end times chatter looks like is critical.
If a hopeful eschatology isn’t about a convoluted timeline of end times events but an attitude of expectancy, what is an appropriate response? What is our responsibility?
Jesus answered this question in Matthew 24:36-51, and He offered two points that are important to hold in tension with one another. Let’s look at each in turn.
The first point is found in this passage:
But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only. But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left. Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
(Matthew 24:36-44, italics added)
Jesus stated categorically, “no one knows” the day and hour of His return, “but My Father only”. It seems silly that He then repeated it twice more, but even that’s not enough. Too many doomsday soothsayers suggest they know better. Who can forget the best-selling book entitled, 88 Reasons why the Rapture will be in 1988?
When the year 1988 passed, there was no retraction, and the author made no apology for crying wolf. But there was another book. The Final Shout: Rapture Report 1989. Fortunately, there was no sequel in 1990. (There was again sadly no apology either).
Jesus was crystal clear: “you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect”.
Thus, the first crucial point is this:
(1) Live a faithful life anticipating His coming at any moment.
How would you live if you knew Jesus was returning today? What wrongs would you right? What grievances would you settle? Who would you forgive? Who would you seek forgiveness from? What restitution would you make?
Then do it! Do it today.
We are to live this day and every day in anticipation of that Day.
The second point is found in the subsequent passage:
Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his master made ruler over his household, to give them food in due season? Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, will find so doing. Assuredly, I say to you that he will make him ruler over all his goods.”
(Matthew 24:45-47, italics added)
Jesus defined His followers as stewards of His household, who faithfully and wisely use the time they have before His return. He said, “Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, will find so doing”.
Thus, the second crucial point is this:
(2) Live a faith-filled life realising that He may tarry.
How would you live if you knew Jesus was returning in your children’s children’s generation? What would you build to ensure your progeny inherited a better world? What would you study to ensure you’re most equipped to make the best of your time on earth for humanity’s sake? What injustices would you challenge or problems would you solve to make a better future now? What part can you play to align this world a little more closely to God’s Kingdom?
Then get started. Today!
We are to selflessly serve our generation so that we leave a legacy for the next generation to go further in fulfilling our Kingdom mandate should Jesus tarry. Jesus gave us a job and every generation has a role to play in getting closer to job done.
Our Twofold Response
Therefore, what we essentially learn from Jesus’ instructions about our response to a hopeful eschatology are these two simple but profound lessons:
- We are to live faithful and humble lives anticipating His coming at any moment.
- We are to live faith-filled and fruitful lives should He not come in our lifetime.
These are the salient issues: expectant of His coming, yet effective should He tarry.
While balancing the tension between these two statements is often a challenge amid so much end times mania, we must not forget these two crucial bottom-line truths that Jesus taught us. More than anything else, whatever version of the end times we hold to, it ought to lead us to this two-pronged conclusion: expectant yet effective.
Two Eschatological Parables
It’s telling that Jesus immediately followed up these twofold instructions with two parables that press home their urgency.
Firstly, He told the Parable of the Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13), urging Response #1:
Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.”
Expectant of His coming.
Secondly, He told the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30), urging Response #2:
Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.”
(Matthew 25:21, 23)
Yet effective should He tarry.
These two well-known parables are often shared separately from each other. In fact, this may well be the first time you’ve connected them together. Yet Jesus told these two compelling parables back-to-back to capture our twofold response.
But wait, there’s more.
A Third Eschatological Parable
On the back of these two parables, Jesus launched into a third and final parable, a moral knock-out punch that concludes this entire body of eschatological teaching. It’s a parable often quoted out of context but when seen as the conclusion to this long discourse, its true value becomes evident.
In this third parable, The Parable of the Judgement of the Nations (Matthew 25:31-46), Jesus divides the sheep and the goats. And the two are separated based on one issue.
How they treated others, specifically the poor, needy and marginalised.
And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’
“Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’”
(Matthew 25:33-40, italics added)
It’s important to understand that this is not a parable about heaven and hell. This is a parable about motivation.
The nations are judged based on their concern for others. While the sheep are honoured for their self-giving love (vv. 33-40), the goats are judged for their self-concern (vv. 41-45).
The parable probes at our core motives: are we living for ourselves, or are we living for Jesus and embodying His concern for others?
Think about it. Jesus’ gripping conclusion to His end times teaching is a challenge to live as channels of His self-giving love to others.
This is where an escapist eschatology fails so spectacularly. It’s myopic and self-preserving, and it leaves one utterly preoccupied with personal concerns. Obsessed with end times mania, it’s too easy to retreat into the safety of religious preservation and care for little else but one’s own wellbeing.
In doing so, we miss the heart of God. And that’s the warning in Jesus’ third and final parable.
Only an “expectant yet effective” approach to our Kingdom stewardship enables us to die to self-preservation and self-occupation. Faithful and fruitful, we demonstrate the Message of Jesus with self-giving love backed up by good deeds.
A Balanced Response
Biblical hope-filled teaching on the coming of Jesus enables us to live as faithful and faith-filled believers, empowered by His self-giving love to cooperate with God’s unfolding Kingdom plan in this present age, “then the end will come” (Matthew 14:14).
Whether we find ourselves in the last of the last days or simply somewhere in the last days’ unfolding, we have a job to do. It’s as simple and elementary as that.
Faithful to God and fruitful with all He has entrusted to us, we’re inspired and enlarged by a hopeful eschatology.
Living at The Edge of Time?
(Overcoming End Times Mania through a Hopeful Eschatology)
The above sections of this article come from Chapters 1, 2, 4, 5 and 9 of my Book, Living at The Edge of Time?
In this book, we look at why the Gospel of the Kingdom produces a hopeful eschatology, one that imparts faith, not fear—stirring catalytic hope, not fatalistic despair.
In contrast to the popular dispensationalist view that obsesses fatalistically over a timeline of end-time events and deteriorating affairs on the world stage, the Message of Jesus focuses single-mindedly on the advance of the Kingdom of God as the pivotal factor in a hopeful eschatology.
End times mania has paralysed so much of modern Christianity with fear and confusion. Not only has it stilted our initiative and blinded us to our Kingdom mandate, it has also spurned a mindset susceptible to paranoia and conspiracy theories.
Jesus is not coming to bail out a defeated church barely holding out against the rampant flood of evil.
Jesus’ coming will consummate the rising tide of righteousness established through a prevailing church undistracted and undeterred by global events.
[Summary opens in a pop-up lightbox]
If you haven’t yet explored the Message of Jesus series, I recommend starting there first, as it provides the platform for all we cover on this website.
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