Eschatology is a common term in theology to speak of “things to come” according to Biblical prophecy.
Eschatology is a sub division of Systematic Theology, which seeks to fulfill the Biblical mandate to teach the whole counsel of God. In his departing speech to the elders of the Ephesian church, Paul says, “Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27).
In the area of Eschatology, there is vast disagreement within the Church, and little unified consensus apart from the fact that Jesus Christ is coming again to earth some day, according to promise. There is not a universal consensus even on that major point, but it is a prevalent view, and so it is important.
Because of the intense disagreement in the Church over Eschatology, there is something of a crisis in Christendom, because the body of Christ is divided over this controversy. Eschatology can become a very emotional subject. Dispensational Fundamentalist are notoriously passionate in defending their view of a coming Rapture, Anti-Christ, Great Tribulation, and Millennial Reign of Christ. A reasonable alternative to Dispensational Eschatology can be found in the book written by R. C. Sproul, “The Last Days According to Jesus.”
Some of the major classic issues studied in Eschatology concern the nature, time, and relationship of Israel to the Church, the Millennial, the identity of the Antichrist, and the Rapture.
What is often overlooked, or ignored in the study of Eschatology is the question of credibility of two distinct objects: the Bible, and Jesus Himself. What Jesus taught about “last things” should be given preeminence.
Special attention should be paid to these two subjects because, for the past three hundred years there has been a consistent assault against the trustworthiness of the Scripture, which in turn makes Jesus Christ out to be either a lunatic, or a liar.
For the last one hundred years, much of the criticism against the Bible has come from within the Church itself. In 1978, Harold Lindsell became concerned enough to write about The Battle for the Bible. A large part of the attack against the Bible from Higher Criticism focuses on Eschatology. If prophesy is suspect, then serious questions are raised about the nature and credibility of the Bible. Conversely, if prophetic utterances can be sustained, then the integrity of Scripture is maintained and enhanced.
United with the credibility of the Bible is the integrity of Christ Himself. There are those who affirm that Jesus was a Great Teacher, even while denying His divinity. But there is a problem. Great Teachers do not lie to their disciples. If something Jesus said was ever proven to be false then His status as a Good Teacher, and a Good Person, is diminished, even if it is not totally destroyed. The question must be addressed. “Was Jesus a Prophet?” The follow up inquiry asked, “Was Jesus a true prophet?”
The Torah provided for a way to test whether a person was a true prophet or a false prophet. “When a prophet speaketh in the name of the LORD, if the thing follows not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him” (Deut. 18:22). A true prophet of God would speak authoritatively in the name of the LORD about future events. If they came to pass, they were a true prophet. If they were not a true prophet, they were to be stoned.
The critics of Christ argue that the prophesies of Jesus did not come to pass within the specific time frame that He said they would come to pass. If that was true, if His prophesies did not come to pass within the time period He said, Jesus would be reduced to being a false prophet and worthy of stoning. “And that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams, shall be put to death; because he hath spoken to turn you away from the Lord your God” (Deut. 13:5).
One example of the assault upon the Bible is illustrated by the British philosopher Bertrand Russell (May 18, 1872 – Feb. 2, 1970). On March 6, 1927 at Battersea Town Hall in London, Russell gave a lecture, “Why I am Not a Christian.” In his lecture, Russell defined what he meant by the term Christian, and then explained why he did not “believe in God and in immortality” and why he did not believe “that that Christ was the best and wisest of men.” Russell was not even certain that Jesus of Nazareth was a real historical person. Despite his doubts about the historical Jesus, Russell argued against Him, and His prophetic utterances. Russell offers the following example of why he questioned the wisdom of Jesus, and His prophesy.
“He [Jesus] certainly thought that His second coming (parousia), would occur in clouds of glory, before the death of all of the people who were living at that time.”
Russell was alluding to the words of Jesus to His disciples in Matthew 10:23. “Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come.” In context, Jesus told His disciples that they would not finish their missionary work among all the cities of Israel before the Son of Man [Jesus] be come.”
On another occasion Jesus said, “There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom” (Matt. 16:28).
A third time period passage that troubled Russell was Mark 13:30. “Verily I say unto you, that this generation shall not pass, till all these things be done.”
Russell did not know how to understand these time period passages, and so concluded that Jesus was either a liar, or delusional. At the very least, Jesus was not a true prophet, and was not trustworthy.
Russell concluded, that since Jesus did not return within a span of forty years after His death, He was not a true prophet. Jesus was not wise for having even made such a bold prediction.
Russell went on to declared that religion was harmful to the human race, because it was founded upon fear. Christianity insists on the fear of God, fear of hell, and fear of eternal punishment.
Ironically, Bertrand Russell did have some positive things to say about Jesus and His moral character, if He was real. What it all means, is that no one has ever accused an unbeliever of being logically consistent.
The challenge for conservative Christians is to respond to the critics of Christ, while defending the Lord of Glory, and the Scriptures. If that is not done, the prophetic crisis in the Church will continue.