The Way It Happened

Revelation 21:22, What is Eschatology?

And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

//I write so often about “eschatology” that I often forget it’s a big, confusing word that most people write off to the world of Bible scholarship. In my upcoming book about John’s Gospel, I define eschatology straightforwardly:

The doctrine of the last or final things, as death, judgment, and the events therewith connected.

But I actually prefer this practical definition by scholar N. T. Wright:

If there is one god, and you are his one people, but you are currently suffering oppression, you must believe that the present state of affairs is temporary. Monotheism and election thus give birth to (what I call) eschatology: the belief that history is going somewhere, that something will happen through which everything will be put right.*

Our Bible abounds in eschatological thinking. Simply turn to any passage that deals with the suffering of the Jewish nation, Old Testament or New, and you find there a promise of better things to come. Wright’s observation is brilliant: eschatological thinking is the belief that history is going somewhere.

Prophets, apologists, and followers have expressed views for 3,000 years about just where history is going, but nearly all agree that something will happen to set things right. Maybe a New Jerusalem will float down from heaven and replace the old (today’s verse in Revelation). Maybe the good guys will float up to heaven and find a new city waiting there. Or, maybe we’ll figure out that our future is in our own hands, and go to work with what we have, to make it better.

Whatever our beliefs about what is to come, there is a question that we must ask ourselves. Are Christians called to participate in the inauguration of the new age, what Jesus called the Kingdom of Heaven? Is Christianity an active or a passive belief system?

Your choice.

*The Meaning of Jesus, c. 1999, p. 32

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