It is widely reported (but may not be true) that the great 16th century Protestant reformer, Martin Luther, once said: “If I knew for sure that Jesus was coming back tomorrow, I’d plant a tree today.”
Luther wasn’t trying to be cute, nor did he think that his words were contradictory. He was simply pointing out that no amount of speculation or confidence or doubt or belief about when Jesus might return should ever undermine the fulfillment of our basic ethical obligations or lead us to abandon the routine responsibilities set forth for us in Scripture.
Sadly, many Christians through the centuries have taken an altogether different and unbiblical approach to this problem. Convinced that Christ was to return very, very soon, they abandoned their daily tasks and embraced a form of hyper spirituality that served only to bring reproach on the name of Christ and disaster to their own lives.
How often have we heard and seen something like this:
“The end of all things is at hand! Therefore, let’s shave our heads, adorn ourselves in white robes, and run to the hills!”
“Christ is coming back soon! Therefore, let’s sell our possessions, quit our jobs, and turn our backs on a culture that is hell-bound!”
“The end of human history is just around the corner! Therefore, let’s refuse to bathe, learn how to cry on cue, and contort our faces in a show of deep concern for the plight of all lost souls!”
“We are certain that Jesus is coming back before we die! Therefore, let’s set a specific date for Jesus’ return, write it up in a best-selling book, and then make sure we’ve got an excuse for why he doesn’t return on the day we said he would, in order to protect our reputations!”
“The end of all things is at hand! Therefore, let’s abandon the local church, launch a para-church movement that will gather thousands of followers, and forget about higher education, paying our taxes, getting married, having children, and mowing the grass!”
“The second coming is surely on the horizon! Therefore, let’s host a seminar and work hard at identifying the Antichrist and figure out ways that 666 applies to all the people we don’t like!”
Well, not exactly. The Apostle Peter’s advice is of a different spirit. “Yes,” said Peter. “The end of all things is at hand! Therefore, be level-headed and sober-minded as you pray for one another. The end of all things is at hand! Therefore, love one another, and be hospitable to one another without grumbling about it, and use your spiritual gifts to serve and minister to one another, always seeking the fame of God’s name, not your own.” Look again at the passage itself.
“The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 4.7-11).
Eschatology is one of those technical, ten-dollar terms that theologians like to toss around to impress people with their intelligence. But it’s really a very simple and very important word. The Greek word eschatos simply means “last” or “final,” and thus Eschatology is the study of last things, final things; it is the study of events leading up to and including the second coming of Christ and the end of human history as we know it.
What most Christians don’t grasp, however, is that the primary purpose of eschatology is two-fold. First, it is designed to deepen our confidence and faith in God as the sovereign Lord over history who will bring his purposes to their proper consummation in such a way that righteousness will prevail and evil will be defeated and Jesus Christ will be glorified. Eschatology is important because it tell us that God wins! And because he wins, he is to be worshipped.
But eschatology has a secondary purpose as well. It is also designed to encourage and sustain us in practical righteousness. It is precisely because we know that Christ will return and put the world to rights that we are to be obedient to the Word of God.
Did you see the word “therefore” in v. 7? It is because the end of all things is at hand that we are to pray for one another and love one another and be hospitable to one another and to serve one another. Countless other texts affirm the same thing. Here are a few:
“Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Rom. 13:11-14).
After describing the return of Christ and how our bodies will be gloriously transformed, Paul says:
“Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58).
“Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet. 3:11-13).
“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 3:2-3).
So that is what I want to address in this article and in a few that will follow. I want you to think about how you should react to the reality of Christ’s impending return. I want you to think about what kind of person God wants you to be in view of the end of all things. As Peter put it in his second epistle, chapter three, I want to focus on “what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness.”
Follow up posts here and here.