An Eschatology Study Guide
December 13, 2020 · C.E. Carter
Things have been spotty on here for a number of reasons, but mostly because I’m attempting a bit of a new project. A lot of what I do on here, though somewhat intellectual, is fairly casual. For the sake of having fun, that’s great, but it’s not so great for developing as a writer. I decided a few weeks ago to embark on something a little more ambitious, formal, and rigorous, namely a semi-extensive exposition of the eschatology of Christmas (eschatology, by the way, is the study of “last things”). It’s been a new challenge for me, and a lot of my writing energy has been going that direction lately, so I apologize for spotty progress over here. I hope to publish that here on Christmas day, and maybe share it via email to some of my friends. If you’d like an email, fill out the contact form on my page or donate a coffee at the link above. I won’t spam you, I promise.
The whole process of preparation and research for this project has been nothing short of a rich time of revelation from the scriptures. Many things are clicking together as a result of this research, and though not all of the details are ironed out quite yet, I’m settling on a distinctly partial-preterist postmillennialist (read: profoundly optimistic) theory of historical progression from the cross to the eschaton. This essay is almost entirely a meditation on scripture, and I believe scripture presents this position, or something close to it. As such, I’d like to share some of my mental notes below for those who are interested in how I’m approaching the study of eschatology.
Many Christians think of the book of Revelation when they think of eschatology. While that’s an excellent resource, it’s a bit like trying to understand the ending of a book just by reading the last few pages. There’s no context. The key to eschatological research seems to be the laying of that context, which requires knowing some details of the grand narrative of scripture. Doug Wilson recommends starting with the New Testament and reading it as if it were a commentary on the Old Testament, and then going back to the Old Testament to read the parts of it that are most referenced in the New Testament (hint, that’s going to be Deuteronomy, Isaiah, Psalms, and Daniel). There are also a couple key passages to focus on, and I’ll list them below.
Most importantly, you must commit to temporarily abandoning your current eschatological theory for the sake of reading the text as it is. For example, if you think that most eschatological events in the Bible are going to happen in the future, or that things are just going to get worse and worse until the Second Coming of Christ, put those theories on hold while you study. If you are correct in them, then Scripture will affirm them, but you must let that process happen naturally.
Matthew 24. This passage, called the Olivet Discourse, started me on my eschatological journey. Pay attention chiefly to the timeframe references (“then”, “immediately after”, “this generation will not pass away”, etc.), especially in context to the events of the passage, (the destruction of the temple, the sun will be darkened etc., Jesus’ coming, and so on). You’ll notice (in my opinion) that there are only two possible interpretations: either this is all going to happen in the future, or it has all or mostly all happened in the past. Look at parallel passages in Mark 13 and Luke 21 to get ahold of fuzzy terms (e.g. the “abomination of desolation”). If you get tripped up on verses 29-31, that’s good, since you are about to learn some important lessons in Biblical hermeneutics and apocalyptic language. What are the meanings of “the sun will be darkened etc.” (hint: read Isaiah 13) and “the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory” (hint below)? When did Jesus say this would all happen? Is there any extra-Biblical historical evidence to support this (perhaps written by a guy named Josephus)?
Daniel 7. This is a key passage to understanding Matthew 24, especially the part about the coming of Christ. Pay attention to verses 13-14. Who is coming with the clouds of Heaven? Where (to Whom) is He coming to? What happens after He comes? When did this happen? How does this reading compare with the Second Advent of Christ in Revelation 19 (hint: they are different events)?
Isaiah 9. This is such a clear presentation of so much of the whole work and person of Christ, and it’s so succinct. Who is the child born and the son given to us? What does it say about who He is? What does it specifically say about the kind of government He would have?
Daniel 2. Read some commentaries on the four kingdoms mentioned in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. There is some disagreement here about who these kingdoms are, but I don’t really have a dog in that fight; the important detail is the identity of the stone cut out of the mountain without hands. What/who is it? What does it put an end to, and what does it establish? What do verses 34-35 imply, and how do they compare with the government of the son mentioned in Isaiah 9, or the parentheticals about Christ’s ascension in Ephesians 4:7-10 (especially the last few words of verse 10)?
Ephesians 4. This is a passage that R.C. Sproul calls “too high and too holy for him to comprehend”, and I agree…it is too profound for me to fully grasp. Who is Paul quoting (and why might there be a difference in translation here)? Who did Jesus lead captive during His ascension? Do you think a certain serpent with a bruised head might be among the captives?
Luke 3-4. The central message of John the Baptist’s preaching was “repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”. I’d wager this is the same kingdom Isaiah and Daniel talked about. Who was John the Baptist? What title did he call himself, and from whom he get that title? What wrath were the Pharisees fleeing? Where is the axe? How does the passage that Jesus reads in 4:18-19 compare with Isaiah 9? For what purpose does Jesus say He came?
Matthew 28. What is the Great Commission, and what does Jesus say about the authority that He has? What does this imply for the timing of the coming of the kingdom mentioned by Isaiah? Where is Jesus now?
Other Questions. After reading these passages, is scripture pessimistic about the future, or optimistic? Where is the kingdom of heaven and what is it doing? How has the course of history and Christianity looked over the past 2000 years? Where is the general trend of history headed?
That’s enough for now. Cheers.