“The great doctrine of the second advent has in a sense fallen into disrepute because of . . . this tendency on the part of some to be more interested in the how and the when of the second coming rather than in the fact of the second coming.” – Martyn Lloyd-Jones
From the Greek word eskatos, eschatology is the doctrine of “last things” or, better stated, the “goal-oriented redemptive work of the last One.” As Greg Beale points out in the excellent new book Making All Things New: Inaugurated Eschatology for the Life of the Church (Baker Academic, 2016), eschatology does not simply include future events; it subsumes what Jesus inaugurated with his first advent.
Eschatology is all about Jesus. While he has already paid the price for sin and victoriously risen from the grave, he has not yet returned. When he does, we will be with him forever (1 Thess. 4:18). Christians should encourage one another with these words and study eschatology with hope and joy.
Unfortunately, believers often cycle through a stock list of end-times errors. These mistakes discredit gospel proclamation and rob Christians of the blessings and wisdom God gives from meditating on this area of truth.
Here are 13 end-times errors to avoid.
1. Not being Christ-centered.
As I mentioned above, eschatology is about Jesus. We must not turn our study of his return, then, into a catalogue of events in which we’re more concerned about determining the relationship between the universal bar code and mark of the beast than worshiping the Lamb slain. Rather, we should be thankful that a study of eschatology gives us a fuller picture of the One who came first as a suffering servant but will return in majesty and power.
2. Not preaching the return of Jesus for fear of controversy.
Perhaps an overreaction to excesses in the recent decades, too many pastors refrain from preaching the Olivet Discourse or Revelation because of the controversy that may ensue. This reluctance results in pastoral failure to properly proclaim Christ’s return and to motivate God’s people by preaching his whole Word.
3. Not calling for missions and gospel urgency.
Jesus was clear. It’s not ours to know times or dates. Rather, empowered by the Spirit, we go into all the world to make disciples (Acts 1:6–8). What could more be more motivating for missions than to meditate on Jesus’s words in Matthew 24:14: “This gospel will be proclaimed throughout the whole world, as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”
4. Looking for secret codes as a way to unlock Scripture’s meaning.
My “favorite” code-breaking scheme was assigning the number 100 to the letter “a” and incrementing this number by one for each letter of the alphabet. You can do the math for yourself, but the name “Hitler” adds up to 666. During any presidential election, one wonders how many candidates can compete for the role of Antichrist. But it’s an error to project a winner. And it’s a hermeneutical nightmare when we start trying to determine which apocalyptic image in Revelation is a helicopter.
5. Basing beliefs on near-death experiences.
Our culture’s persistent tendency to prefer a child’s dreams about heaven rather to the truth of God’s Word betrays a lack of confidence in the sufficiency of Scripture. It suggests laziness and a desire to have questions answered that the Bible doesn’t address. God has given us all we need in the Word (2 Pet. 1:3; 2 Tim. 3:15–16).
6. Not seeing enough continuity between this creation and the new earth.
It’s a mistake to picture our eternal future as hovering in the clouds rather than walking on earth. This error is based on Greek philosophy, not Scripture. Scripture says creation will be liberated from its bondage to decay (Rom. 8:23). Mike Wittmer is right: “We’re earthlings for heaven’s sake.”
7. Making a particular view of eschatology a test of orthodoxy.
While we should seek to understand the clear message of Scripture, we should be cautious about holding millennial positions with the same tenacity with which we defend the virgin birth.
8. Setting dates either narrowly or broadly.
Jesus couldn’t have been clearer: “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Matt. 24:36, cf. Matt. 24:44, 50; 25:13; Acts 1:1–8). Paul repeated the point (1 Thess. 5:1–3). Nevertheless, some continue to predict.
Date-setting reached a fever pitch following the improbable triumph of Israel in the Six Days War of 1967. A theory based on Matthew 24:13–14 posited Jesus would return no later than 1988. There have been numerous theories since involving everything from the moon to Y2K. Each distracts us from the true purpose of biblical prophecy.
9. Failing to remember Jesus did describe the signs of the age.
If it’s wrong to set dates based on wars or rumors of wars, it’s also a mistake to be unsettled by them. God’s people shouldn’t be surprised or dismayed by political unrest and natural disasters. Christ told us they would come (Matt. 24:6–8).
10. Failing to justly evaluate Israel’s political actions.
The modern state of Israel should be evaluated against appropriate standards of justice rather than interpretations of how they fit in the end times.
11. Writing fiction that speculates too much about end-times details.
This results in writing theology on our own terms rather than the Bible’s. (And, in one case, it makes us remember an unfortunate era in fashion during the 1970s.)
12. Embracing either extreme optimism or extreme pessimism about current events.
At points postmillennialism has been wildly optimistic about the direction of history. On the other end of the spectrum, premillennialism has occasionally espoused a pessimistic, escapist mentality that leaves little room for the possibility of revival or Christians being salt and light. Anthony Hoekema’s remarks are instructive regarding the attitude Christians should maintain, regardless of whether one agrees (I don’t!) with his amillennial view:
Yet, since we know that the victory of Christ over evil was decisive and that Christ is now on the throne, the dominant mood of amillennial eschatology is optimism—Christian optimism. This means that we view no world crisis as totally beyond help and no social trend as absolutely irreversible. It means that we live in hope—a hope that is built on faith and that expresses itself in love.
13. Calling the book of Revelation “Revelations.”
For related articles on many of these points, see:
- How Much Is Left to Do in the Great Commission? (John Piper)
- Heaven Is for Real review (Tim Challies)
- Should Churches Require All Members to Affirm Pretrib and Premill Views? (Andy Naselli)
- An Evening of Eschatology (Sam Storms, Doug Wilson, Jim Hamilton, John Piper)
- Israel, Gaza, ‘Divine Right,’ and John Piper (Matt Smethurst)
- 6 Areas of End Times Agreement (Chris Brauns)