I didn't have to write many papers this semester, but I did just finish with one. It's my eschatology position paper for my systematic theology class. I am unsure in a couple of areas; but as you read this, please lend me some advice as to where I may look to increase my understanding of what God's Word teaches concerning this subject. Well, without further ado, here's the goods:
I. Second Coming of Christ
I affirm that Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Head of the Church, will one day return to this earth in order to judge the unbelievers of the past, now present and then future. This will happen at a time unknown to anyone but God Himself. At the time when Christ returns, He will gather His people (living and dead) to Himself before He unleashes His fury on the world.
Jesus, when asked by His disciples what the time was that He would return (Matt. 24 and Mk. 13), says that there will be numerous signs to look for before He actually returns.
i. Wars/rumors of wars (Matt. 24:6; Mk. 13:7)
ii. Famines (Matt. 24:7; Mk. 13:8)
iii. Earthquakes (Matt. 24:7; Mk. 13:8)
iv. Tribulation (Matt.24:9-29; Mk.13: 9-25
v. The Gospel will be preached to all nations (Matt. 24:14;13:10)
We can see the signs, and have been able to see them throughout the history of the Church. We cannot deny the fact that many wars have been fought between many nations, and famines and earthquakes have been common occurrences as well. Tribulations in areas where Jesus’ followers have been in the minority have been frequent, and in areas where they are considered to be the largest religious group they are receiving increasing levels of persecution. This has been accompanied by an increased desire by many people in the world to be able to do whatever they want to do without having consequences from the government, and part of that includes being given benefits exclusive to married couples without getting married. These two things display a desire for and pursuit of lawlessness and a loss of love for one another in that they don’t want to commit to a monogamous relationship. The last sign that we have to look for is the Gospel having been preached to all nations/people groups. It seems, at this point in history, that we are very near to this goal; therefore, we must be very near to the time which Christ will return.
When looking to the same passages as a guideline, we notice that Jesus told His disciples that there would be false Christs and wars and many of the other signs appearing which He calls “the beginning of the birth pains” (Matt. 24:8; Mk. 13:8 ESV). Directly following this statement in Matthew, He says “then.” This would indicate a chronological sequence directing us to find out what happens next by reading the next statement. So, the next thing He says is that there will be tribulation, and He gives many examples of how things will play out during this time including one very significant sign that I mentioned before: “The Gospel will be preached to all nations.” Then He seems to digress a bit in order to elaborate on the details of the tribulation period. He formerly mentioned that many will fall away, hate each other, and be led astray by false prophets. In elaborating on this, He mentions the abomination of desolation and the fact that the time will be a great tribulation in which many will be led astray. Finally, Jesus tells us that “Immediately after the tribulation” (Matt. 24:29 ESV; “after that tribulation” Mk. 13:24) they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds and sending out His angels with a loud trumpet call to gather in His elect.
At this point, I would say that Christ would most likely be wiping out those who are disobedient to the Gospel. The reason I would say this is because He uses the scenario with Noah as an illustration to describe what it will be like when He comes (Matt. 24:37-39).
I believe that Christ will return to gather in His people “immediately after the tribulation” and before the final wrath which He will pour out upon the disobedient, unbelieving remainder of the human race. This doctrine, I believe, is taught in I Thessalonians 4:13-17 where Paul assures believers that the Lord will return for His people; and from this point we will forever be with Him.
I do not believe that this will happen until all of the previously mentioned signs are manifested, and the Antichrist (Man of Lawlessness) is revealed. It seems to me that Paul is correcting a mistaken view that the Thessalonian believers had by letting them know that this would be the order of things. In chapter 3 of II Thessalonians Paul corrects some who were under the impression that they didn’t need to be working. I’ve heard it said that those lazy ones seemed to be under the impression that they were going to be raptured out soon (imminently), and this seems to be plausible to me. If that is the case, Paul didn’t simply tell them to get to work until that happens; rather, he added a significant sign for them to look for before they would be gathered together to the Lord. He told them in II Thessalonians 2:1-4 that they would not be gathered together (raptured) to the Lord until the Man of Lawlessness came.
I understand that some people in the past history of the Church have believed that many political or religious leaders have been this Man of Lawlessness, but it seems more likely that he will be recognizable enough to all if Paul is pointing to him as the sign to look for to know that the Lord would be there soon.
When the returns to inflict His wrath upon the earth and everyone left in it, He will destroy everything that’s left as the flood destroyed everything in Noah’s day. This time, though, He will destroy everything with fire (II Pet. 3:7).
a. I honestly have not been able to determine my position on this one. I can say that I need to do much more study in the area of the last times, including the tribulation; but I believe that the Scriptural evidence is clear enough for me to point to the time which Christ will return in relation to the tribulation period. I cannot say the same thing for the millennium, though. I see passages like Revelation 20 that speak of a thousand year period, and I read passages that point to the New Covenant as being something very similar to what’s going on now with Jesus reigning in the world among His people. I have studied too little on this subject to this point to make any solid claims based on passages that seem to have so much symbolism surrounding them, but I assure you that I will keep studying.
III. The Eternal State
Without a doubt, those who deny the Son will end up in a literal place of separation from God and torment for eternity. “This is the second death” as the book of Revelation calls it (Rev. 20:14; 21:8). The passages in Revelation can be substantiated by the words of Jesus (Matt. 13:40-42; Lk. 16:19-31), so I think that there is something more to them than some vivid illustration of a time in the future when unbelievers will simply be annihilated or kept from the presence of God alone. No, this seems to me to be a literal place of torment inflicted upon those who spent their entire lives rebelling against their Creator and choosing themselves at every opportunity.
b. The New Heavens and New Earth
The renewing of God’s creation seems to be an inevitable event. When God created all things, He pronounced the good, and I believe that He is working all things together for the purpose of bringing it all back to a perfect existence again. I read passages like Romans 8:19-23 and Revelation 21:1-7 which seem to teach that the earth and the heavens (the whole creation) will be renewed upon the passing away of the corrupted creation. These two passages also indicate that the redeemed of the Lord will be the inhabitants of this renewed creation.
These final things, I believe are the culmination of the whole of history, and we will all see (believers and unbelievers alike) the magnificently intricate details that went into this timeline that we were a part of. These things will bring all things to an ultimate head wherein Christ will receive recognition as Lord before all, and God will get the most possible glory as He graciously escorts His people into an age of peace and joy while justly condemning those who rejected Him. These who He sends into condemnation will recognize the position that they have chosen as the one that they deserve, and God’s redeemed will glorify Him and humbly enjoy the gift that our Lord has bestowed upon us undeservedly for the rest of eternity.