When I was growing up, and even in Bible College, eschatology (the study of “last things”) was something we studied to understand the details and timing and order of events that would take place at the end of history. Would Christians go through the great tribulation? Was our outlook on the thousand year reign of Christ premillennial (meaning Christ would return before the millennium), amillennial (meaning Christ has already inaugurated his reign on the earth), or post-millennial (meaning the gospel will spread around the world until Christ’s reign over human hearts brings in a kind of perfect society)? Eschatology, in our approach, had to do with “the end” and was unconnected to everyday life now.
In one of my doctor of ministry classes our teacher (Brian Cooper) made this observation: “Unless we shift our thinking about eschatology from regarding it as peripheral to regarding it as a core theological emphasis that is key to appreciating the work of God in the world, we will miss the mark when it comes to understanding Christian discipleship and mission. And we may end up being wrong about the millennium, too…” (class notes). Eschatology, he correctly suggests, invites us to live in light of what God has accomplished, what has already begun, but what has not yet come to completion. We are already in the last days. The New Testament’s message is a call to surrender to the Lord Jesus Christ and enter into Christ’s reign as his subjects and as agents bringing the message of reconciliation to others now. The work is complete but its effects are being felt incrementally.
The most wonderful thing about eschatology, properly appreciated, is that it points us to biblical texts that remind us what the glorious end point will look like. We will be perfected and live on a new heaven and earth with God! We are to live in light of what will be when the kingdom is fully fulfilled. We know the destination of our lives and can reverse-engineer what growth and maturity in Christ look like. Finally, we live in the hope that we will share in Christ’s glory (Romans 8:17, 18). We will one day “shine like the sun in the kingdom” of our Father (Matthew 13:43), according to Jesus. That’s the real place of eschatology.