Chalcedon’s recent piece on conspiracy theories raised the issue of how we are to understand the spiritual and cultural forces at work in our world in the context of trends and “the end of the age”. Reactions to the study of eschatology fall along a spectrum, from the one extreme of obsession to the other of complete avoidance. Michael Heiser has written an excellent series on why an obsession with eschatology is a waste of time (Part 1: http://drmsh.com/why-an-obsession-with-eschatology-is-a-waste-of-time-part-1/). His overall point is that people bring a set of presuppositions to the Bible that influence how we interpret it. Often we fail to notice that we have these presuppositions, and failing to notice what they are, we do not realize that it is equally possible to have quite different presuppositions. This leads to friction and a lack of charity in certain circles of discourse.
In this piece I do not intend to go over all the ground covered in Heiser’s series of excellent blog posts. They are worth reading slowly, with plenty of room for digestion and reflection. Rather, I wish to think about the nexus between eschatology and current events, which is sometimes derogatively referred to as “newspaper exegesis”. Why does this matter? Why should pastors and influencers within the Church give space to this controversial topic? There are a number of reasons, but one of them is the prophetic ministry of the Church.
The prophetic voice of the Church can be understood in a number of ways. The proclamation of the Gospel is a prophetic act: it communicates the will of God to fallen humanity. He desires to be reconciled to them and has done this through the Cross of Christ. The prophetic voice can also be a voice of encouragement and rebuke within the believing community, just as Jeremiah and others called Israel to reform their ways and return to God. Outside the Church, the prophetic voice can be a call to society as a whole, a warning that evil deeds bear evil fruit, while good deeds bear good fruit: “You reap what you sow.” A third application of the prophetic voice is the apocalyptic genre, the revelation of what goes on in the spiritual realm and what is to come in “future history”.
The proclamation of the Gospel often involved the comment that Jesus would one day return to judge all mankind. He has the right to do this because He is Yahweh and has lived as a man: the same experience that makes Him fit to be our great High Priest, also makes Him fit to be the final Judge. In His teaching ministry, Jesus made the point that the words that men utter and their response to the revelation they received will serve as witnesses for or against them on the Day of Judgement. The men of Sodom would have a more bearable judgement because they did not have the revelation of Christ that the town of Capernaum did.
We need to take these preaching points on board for our proclamation of the Gospel and engagement with the world. No-one will escape the Last Judgement, and people should know that. People should also know what hope for the future Jesus offers. Our Gospel is not just “you go to heaven when you die”; we preach the restoration of all things, the Age to Come, when Jesus will reign on the earth and abolish our corrupt systems and practices. He will make all things new, and will right all wrongs. He will wipe away the tears from our eyes, tears incurred by living in this vale of sorrow. When you pray or sing “in hac valle lacrimarum”, remember that the valley will not last forever.
As to our current situation, we should be warning the world of the spiritual dangers it faces. Whether Christ comes thirty years from now or three thousand, there are very real dangers that people should consider. These are not just the abstract terms that get used in newspapers and blog posts. These are the concrete actions and values that people hold and live with on a daily basis. We offer people genuine liberation from the woes that enslave them under the powers of darkness. Our kingdom is a kingdom of light and its King will one day judge the world for how they treated “the least of [His] brethren”.