I ran out of time on Sunday morning, so I promised this blog post. I wanted to close with some thoughts on studying what God says about the return of Christ in a profitable manner. I was preaching on 1 Thessalonians 5, which urges us to be both sober and alert as we live in anticipation of Christ's return. It also cautions us against the practice of date setting- "you have no need to write to you of times and seasons..."
The AFLC (our larger church body) considers the manner of Christ's return (not the fact that He is returning) to be an open question. This is a bit unique in Lutheran circles. I am thankful that this allows us to consider such subjects with a Scripture first approach. So here are some thoughts on the subject.
First, whatever your view of eschatology (study of last things), eagerly anticipate Christ’s return
Second, God reveals Himself in Scripture. There was a book a while back called “Revelation: Unveiled." It's redundant. In other words, you can't possibly understand this, so let us help.
Third, read Revelation a lot, but books about it sparingly. In our seminary we have two separate views represented by strong theologians. They teach both of them. But what I remember about the approach both of them took was that they wanted us to read the Bible- over and over again- and avoid reading the latest book advocating for this or that position. Yes, those works have a place. But so many people read a book and allow that book to place a grid over their reading of Scripture. Read Revelation a lot, but books about it (or study notes in your study Bible) sparingly.
Fourth, read the Bible. This sounds redundant, but I mean not just Revelation, but all of it. Biblical topics aren’t studied in a vacuum. Here's an example: One class in seminary is called "Ecclesiology and Eschatology," that is, the study of what the church is and the study of last things. In ignorance, I commented to a friend, "Huh. That's interesting. What do those two things have in common?" The answer? A lot. But I didn't understand because I hadn't considered the whole Bible as a text on the last things. So consider the full picture, reading the whole of Scripture and asking what a certain viewpoint doesn’t address.
Fifth, be aware of unintended consequences. Most proponents of viewpoints are not courageous enough to tell you where the warts are on their theology. Remember, Jesus said that there would be things we don't know about His return. Therefore, if a theologian doesn't say "I don't know" sometimes about the subject he is probably bluffing. It is good to consider the unintended consequences of any view. If you don't you will accept something that "could be" true as "is true," then build upon a faulty foundation. Some examples to consider:
- Is the book of Revelation sequential/chronological, or cycles of visions?
- Is there a “second chance” for unbelievers upon Christ’s return?
- What is or is not symbolic? 1000? 7? 12? Why? Be consistent with the genre of literature.
- Getting into heaven- faith in Christ or genetically Jewish?
I'll comment on one of these: Apocolyptic literature is not necessarily sequential. Revelation is not, like the books of Luke/Acts, an "orderly account" meant to communicate the future as we would relate the past. While it is possible that the visions depicted in Revelation are sequential, it is not probable- and certainly not necessary. Forcing chronology on something that was not intended to be chronological will by necessity lead you astray. For instance, Revelation 1:19 ("Write, therefore, the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this.") could be an outline of chapters 2-22. But to say that it necessarily is, then interpret the book according to that grid, assigns a measure of specificity for which the sentence itself does not ask.
Finally, maintain humility- This is future, not past, and intentionally vague. While study of the last things is beneficial, the continued plea of Scripture is to leave details alone and anticipate Christ's return. Ken Ham (answersingenesis.org) makes a good point: Church bodies spend all kinds of time fighting over a specific view of the last things and not a lot of time talking about foundations- like the truth of Genesis. God gave us details in Genesis that many Christians doubt, but those same Christians will fight to the end about the end times, even though God has given us prophecy (not history) along with a caution to leave some of the deatils alone while we long for Christ's return.