The recent phenomenon of writing about your near death experience and the trip you took to heaven in between has become quite popular these days. I’ve always thought these books fall terribly short on a number of fronts, but in particular on the gospel. Tim Challies has a good survey of what the Bible actually teaches about these sorts of things and offers some wise counsel. Below is a quick snippet on 2 Corinthians 12. But you can read the whole thing here.
Paul shares this in a unique and specific context—the context of boasting in the gospel; none of these modern authors are boasting in the gospel in their accounts. In fact, they are preaching an inadequate gospel at best (Heaven Is For Real) and a false gospel at worst (To Heaven and Back).
This Sunday I will finish preaching through Matthew 24-25. Although, I’ve studied this passage many times; working through it again has really “firmed” up some conclusions for me. Below are some notes on what I’ve learned.
- The entire context has to be taken into consideration. Jesus is passing out judgment on the nation for their disbelief. He continues that judgment in Matthew 24.
- The disciples ask two questions in 24:3 (it looks like 3, but the Greek reveals it to be 2). Jesus answers these questions. No more, no less. When will the temple be destroyed and what will be the sign of your coming?
- The disciples seem to think that both events (the destruction of the temple and the close of the age) will happen at the same time.
- In Matthew 24:4-14, Jesus explains to his disciples that global and political upheaval will characterize the time until the destruction of the temple. When we read about the 1st c. world we see these things happen.
- These “signs” of 24:4-14 are not meant to determine the return of Christ, but to prepare his disciples not to be alarmed or deceived because the end is still not yet.
- The word to the church is the same: do not be alarmed or deceived because all these things will characterize the last days (the time since Christ’s resurrection and ascension).
- In Matthew 24:15-28, Jesus speaks directly to the destruction of the temple, which came to fulfillment in 70AD.
- I believe 24:15-28 has as double-fulfillment; a time in which the church will face intense persecution. But again, we must not assume that persecution is not happening now because persecution has always existed against God’s people. Rather, the church must not be deceived, the end is still not yet. The power of deception is such that even the church could be led astray if possible.
- Jesus speaks directly of his return in Matthew 24:29-35. The only discernible sign of his return is the return itself (24:30). Therefore, speculation and obsession about the “end-times” should not characterize the people of God.
- The language of 24:29-31 is the language of the OT. His return will be undeniable. His return is singular, powerful, and visible.
- The events surrounding 24:4-28 did come to fulfillment in the generation of the disciples (24:34). The people of God can take comfort in the fact that Jesus’ words will not pass away.
- The primary message of Jesus is do not be deceived because the end is not yet. He has told us beforehand.
- While Jesus spends the first part of the discourse on the theology of the end; the last part (which is significantly more) is spent on how to live in light of his return. David Turner is correct to say that, “Eschatological correctness is ultimately a matter of ethics, not speculation.”
- Jesus has told us what we are to know (don’t be deceived); but now he tells us what we don’t know (when he will return). As Jesus rests in the Father’s sovereign plan, so should we (24:36).
- As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man (24:37-42). In Noah’s day judgment came suddenly. In Noah’s day, the righteous were left and the wicked were taken away. When Jesus comes he will do so suddenly and in judgment. At the end of the age the righteous will be left to inherit a new heavens and earth, while the wicked will be removed.
- Jesus uses five consecutive parables to explain his return. The first admonishes his people that since they know he will return to stay awake and not busy themselves with other things (24:43-44). The second warns against worldliness while the Master is away (24:45-51).
- The third parable of the 10 virgins warns against being unprepared for his return and against laziness (25:1-13). Each person is responsible to prepare to meet the Lord. Unpreparedness will result in being excluded from the marriage feast (cf., Matt 22:1-14).
- The final two parables explain what believers are to do until Christ comes again. First, believers are to use the resources and gifts God has given to them (25:14-30). Failure to use these resource is a direct failure to know the Master. The final parable explains how love and care for Jesus’ people is a direct reflection on whether we know him or not (25:31-46). Our actions toward his people carry eternal significance. Kevin DeYoung rightly states, “if we are too embarrassed, too lazy, or too cowardly to support fellow Christians at our doorstep who depend on our assistance and are suffering for the sake of the gospel, we will go to hell.”
It continues to amaze me how much uproar there is when eschatology is discussed among believers. And yet, if we really listen to the Bible, it’s quite simple. Don’t be alarmed, don’t be frightened, and don’t be deceived; but be awake, sober-minded, and persevere in holiness.
And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him. See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. 1 John 2:28-3:3
In light of all the end-times hysteria; Calvin has some good counsel with his comments on Matthew 24:36.
We know how fickle our minds are, and how much we are tickled by a vain curiosity to know more than is proper. Christ likewise perceived that the disciples were pushing forward with excessive haste to enjoy triumph. He therefore wishes the day of his coming to be the object of such expectation and desire, that non shall dare to inquire when it will happen. In short, he wishes his disciples so to walk in the light of faith, that while they are uncertain as to the time, they may patiently wait for the revelation of him. We ought therefore to be on our guard, lest our anxiety about the time be carried farther than the Lord allows; for the chief part of our wisdom is confining ourselves soberly within the limits of God’s Word.
There are certain elements of eschatology that we should not divide on, but at the same time there are certain elements of eschatology that we should have strong convictions about.
Russ Moore reminds us why it is important to teach eschatology in our churches.
But eschatology and discipleship in the church is kind of like sex education in the home. Just because you don’t talk about sex with your kids doesn’t mean they will grow up ignorant of sex. It means they’ll hear about sex from somewhere else.
Just because you don’t preach and teach about the Christian vision of the future, that doesn’t mean your church is void of eschatology. It means your church is picking up an eschatology from somewhere else, sometimes from the local cineplex.
You can read the whole thing here.
I recently received my Spring 2010 copy of The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology. The issue is on “Understanding and Applying Eschatology.” Of particular interest is the article by Peter Gentry. Gentry writes on “Daniel’s Seventy Weeks and the New Exodus.” This article is available online. Read it here and enjoy.
I would suggest purchasing the recent SBJT and the spring issue of The Westminster Theological Journal for two more good articles on eschatology. In the SBJT Ben Merkle writes on “Old Testament Restoration Prophecies Regarding the Nation of Israel: Literal or Symbolic” and in the WTJ he writes on, “Who Will Be Left Behind? Rethinking the Meaning of Matthew 24:40-41 and Luke 17:34-35.” Order a copy of each and enjoy