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The prevailing mindset of many Bible-believing pastors today is that eschatology, or the study of future things, is not only separate from the preaching of Gospel but detracts from it. They maintain that our task of fulfilling the Great Commission excludes teaching on prophecy, which they believe only confuses believers and stirs up unwelcome controversy.
Is this way of thinking biblical? No, it is not. This represents a myopic way of viewing both the commands and teachings of Jesus, who highlighted "eternal life" as the result of belief in Him and commanded His followers to watch for His return.
Let's explore these things in more detail.
JESUS EMPHASIZED ETERNAL LIFE
Jesus emphasized eternity throughout His earthly ministry. The Gospel of John records at least a dozen instances where Jesus promised "eternal life" to those who believe in Him.
We are all familiar with John 3:16, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." The foundation of the Gospel is the promise of eternal life versus the fate of everlasting punishment in hell.
Jesus did not die on the cross just so we would have a terrific Christian life in this uncertain world filled with sorrow and heartache; He sacrificed His life so we could receive eternal life with physical and imperishable bodies, reign with Him in a spectacular kingdom, and spend a glorious eternity with Him.
Many Bible-based preachers love to criticize Joel Osteen for his book, Your Best Life Now, but then reflect that precise idea with teaching that emphasizes Christian living in this life with only fleeting references to eternity. Does this not such preaching leave those listening with the singular hope of being a joyous and "good Christian" in the here and now? Where is the hope in that amidst a fallen world?
It's the specifics of our hope of heaven that encourage us each morning as we step out of bed to face a daunting and evil world. The "now-based" preaching that fails to do more than briefly mention the glories ahead for us in eternity does little, if anything, to console us in the midst of tragedy. It's the details of the Lord's return and our joyous eternity in heaven that comfort us in the midst of sorrow and provide bright hope for tomorrow.
JESUS INSTRUCTED US TO WATCH FOR HIS RETURN
Those who believe that teaching about future things detracts from the Great Commission ignore the other commands of Jesus, especially in the one in Matthew 24:44 where He said, "Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect." Jesus again stressed the need for watchfulness in 25:13, "Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour." The Lord commanded us to both be ready and watch for His return.
What does such watching imply? Jesus provides the answer to that in Matthew 16:1-4 where He chides the Pharisees for not recognizing the signs that He, the Messiah, was already with them. He blamed them for not knowing the Old Testament signs of His first coming. Does He not also expect that we also know and recognize the signs of His coming? I believe He does.
In Matthew 24, Jesus gave us many signs of the end of this age so we could recognize the nearness of His coming and not miss the signs as did the Pharisees. In Luke 21:28 He added this, "Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near." Jesus expects us as His followers to be watching for these signs so we will recognize the season of His return and look up with eager anticipation. This is now!
Those who compare the signs given to us in Scripture with current events are not performing an unnecessary task that diverts attention from fulfilling the Great Commission. They are obeying Jesus' command to watch for His coming.
JESUS TAUGHT ABOUT PROPHECY AFTER HIS RESURRECTION
Jesus stressed at least two things after His resurrection. First, He emphasized how He fulfilled prophecy (Luke 24:26-27, 44-47) and in doing so instructed His followers "about the kingdom of God" (Acts 1:3). Second, He told His followers to proclaim the Gospel (Acts 1:8).
What was the response of His disciples to His teaching during this time? They asked Him this question just before He ascended back to heaven; "Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel" (Acts 1:6)? Why would they ask this question if Jesus had not talked about this matter during the forty days when He emphasized "the kingdom of God?"
Jesus' teaching caused the thoughts of His disciples to race ahead to the time when they would rule with Christ in His kingdom. They expected Jesus to immediately fulfill the promise He made to them earlier, "Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel" (Matt. 19:28). Their timing was off, but not their ultimate hope.
There is one instruction in the Great Commission that I rarely hear mentioned in sermons on the Great Commission. The majority of messages on it overlook a key instruction embedded in it, ". . . teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you" (Matt. 28:20). Would this not also include the command of Jesus to watch for His return? I think so.
As we will see in the ministry of the Apostle Paul, he taught his new converts all about Jesus' imminent return as well as the future day of the Lord.
While C.S. Lewis might not agree with me on everything regarding my views on eschatology, he would agree with my connecting the dots between Jesus' command for us to watch and our urgency to proclaim the Gospel. Notice what he said on this topic:
If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since because Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.
You see, we do not detract from the Great Commission through our emphasis on Jesus' soon appearing and the signs of the times. Quite the contrary! Such an emphasis intensifies both the importance and urgency to reach the lost.
And, many are turning to Christ today precisely because they see how God fulfilled prophecy with the first coming of Jesus and recognize that He is doing it again with His Second Coming!