Eckhard Schnabel—Mary French Rockefeller distinguished professor of New Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary—is the author 40 Questions about the End Times (Kregel, 2011).
He gives the following advice—which he says should all be non-controversial—for followers of Christ who want to understand the biblical teaching and to avoid an unbiblical “party loyalty.”
[1. Emphasize what Jesus emphasized.]
First, we emphasize what Jesus emphasized.
Jesus predicted, apart from the particular event of the destruction of the temple and of Jerusalem, that history will continue to be tragic and chaotic and filled with human suffering.
And he predicted that he will return, after a potentially long delay.
The early Christians prayed, Maranatha, “Lord, come!” as they waited for Jesus’s return, which could happen quickly; so should we.
Christians do not wait for the Antichrist (whatever our interpretation of the Antichrist passages of the New Testament). They do not wait for the great tribulation or for a final battle (whatever our interpretation of the Gog and Magog and the Armageddon passages in the Old and New Testament). Christians wait for Jesus’s return.
[2. Don’t calculate the nearness of the end.]
Second, we take Jesus’s statement seriously that “about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matt. 24:36).
True followers of Jesus refrain from calculating the nearness of the end. They are always ready because Jesus will be “coming at an unexpected hour” (v. 44), like a thief comes unexpectedly and suddenly (Matt. 24;43; Luke 12:39; 1 Thess. 5:2, 4; 2 Pet. 3:10; Rev. 3:3; 16:15).
[3. Do what Jesus told you to do.]
Third, we do what Jesus told us to do. He emphasized that during his absence those who belong to him should work for him.
Followers of Jesus wait by doing what Jesus told them to do: taking the gospel to people who do not yet believe (Matt. 24:14; 28:18–20) and helping people who are hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, and in prison (Matt. 25:35–36).
[4. Emphasize what Scripture emphasizes as central.]
Fourth, we emphasize truths as central that are central in Scripture.
The prophecy that Jesus will return is central.
The prophecy that there will be a day of judgment is central.
Details concerning a coming great tribulation, the potential timing and character of a rapture, the interpretation of the Beast from the sea and of the Antichrist, and the timing and character of the millennium are all clearly not central.
It is legitimate to have opinions about these matters.
It is illegitimate to use one’s opinions about these questions to define what orthodox Christianity is, to divide churches, and to exclude Christians from ministry positions. In view of the fact that orthodox Christians have held different positions for centuries, it is foolish, even arrogant, to insist on the absolute truth of one’s position on these surely minor questions.
[5. Be willing to consider other views and to concede your interpretation might need adjusting.]
Fifth, we continue to read and interpret Scripture, willing to consider the truth of other interpretations of biblical passages, willing to concede that we may have to adjust our understanding.
Without this willingness, we are not really reading Scripture in order to understand Scripture: we are merely reading Scripture in order to confirm and defend our own position. The willingness to learn is a basic characteristic of followers of Jesus, who are called “disciples” (Greek, mathētai, best defined as “people who are engaged in learning through instruction from another”).
[6. Seek unity in faith and understanding.]
Sixth, Christians seek unity in faith and in understanding God’s Word, while never simply accepting different interpretations.
We should not abandon the possibility that we can come to a common understanding of God’s truth revealed in his Word.
This was Paul’s conviction: “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all” (Eph. 4:4–6).
And this was Jesus’s prayer: “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:20–21).
Eckhard Schnabel, 40 Questions about the End Times (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2011), 314–15.