The following is the beginning article in a series of notes on eschatology by Prof. David Engelsma. These notes were taken by Aaron Lim while he was attending Prof. Engelsma’s Reformed Doctrine class at Faith Protestant Reformed Church between the fall of 2015 and the winter of 2016. The notes are presented in the first person, that is, from the viewpoint of Prof. Engelsma speaking. We hope that they will be of spiritual profit to our readers.
Introduction to Eschatology
Not antichrist, not persecution, but Jesus Christ is the most important in eschatology. He is the truth about the end. The prevalence of errors on the millennium are not the most important thing. This truth concerning the end is taught in Rev. 20. Two main errors regarding the millennium – premillennialism and post-millennialism – must be pointed out because thousands of Protestants have fallen to this error.
We will also discuss the signs of the end and its nearness. Lawlessness, apostasy, and the second coming of Jesus Christ. The awesome events that accompany his coming – the resurrection of all the dead, the inheritance of the new world by elect believers, and the recompense of all the wicked. These are importance topics concerning the last things. We believers must beware of these things. There is eternal punishment. We will end this season by looking at the practical implications of the truth of eschatology for our Christian life before the end comes.
Scripture passages in connection with the class: Matt. 24, 25, Mk. 13, Luk. 21, 1 Thess. 4:13-18, 5, 2 Thess. 2, 2 Tim. 3,4, 2 Pet. 3, 1 Jn. 2:18-29, Revelation. Creeds: HC Q52,57,58, 123, BC Art. 37.
The subject is eschatology. This is the Reformed doctrine of eschatology. The word itself derives from the Greek word “last” (eschatos). Therefore the Reformed churches have called this doctrine eschatology – the study/word about the last things.
1 Jn. 2:18. There the apostle is warning the church that antichrist is coming. It is the last time. The word translated “last” is eschatos. In Jn 6:39, we are told that Christ will raise us from the dead “at the last”. So at the last when history comes finally to its conclusion, when the present creation has run its course, there will take place a resurrection of the people of God by Jesus Christ. That will happen only at the last day.
Eschatology is the doctrine of the last days, the last time, the last of the present creation, the last of human history, the last of human life, and the last of the history of the present creation.
Our study is also going to concern what the Bible speaks of as the end. This is also how the Bible refers to these last things – the end. Jesus waited until the very end of his ministry to teach us the truth concerning the last days, or the end. Everything Jesus teaches in Matt. 24 concerns the end of the world. Matt. 24:13-14. The main sign of the nearness of the coming of Christ is the preaching of the gospel in all the world. Europe, Asia, China, and everywhere. When that happens, then the end will come. What is elsewhere referred to as the last is here called by Jesus “the end”.
1 Cor. 15:24. There are a certain number of people who belong to Christ in all the world, not just in Judea. When all of them have been born and brought to a living faith in Jesus Christ, then comes the end. The end is controlled by the salvation of the church. It cannot come until the whole church of Jesus Christ has been gathered and saved.
1 Pet. 4:7. Everything is not going to continue as it has for thousands of years before. Peter said already in his time that the end is at hand; it is near. The truth of the end must affect us spiritually, not just satisfy our curiosity about these puzzling things. It makes a differences in our life from Monday morning to Saturday night and the Lord’s Day. Everything has an end. We are going to answer the question: how could Peter answer 2000 years ago that the end of all things is at hand already in his time? If it was true already then, how much more is that the case with us? Here the last things are referred to as the end. That is a different word from “last”.
This word “end” has an important meaning. History is not just going to stop. It is not just going to be the case that this world is not going to be here anymore. But this word teaches us that all things on this day will finally reach their goal – the goal that God has appointed for all things, the goal that He has decided for history and creation, and the goal that He has appointed for your life, and my life.
We must emphasize that the end of history and this present creation is also the end of each one of us personally. This is the goal that is finally attained. When you say that this world will come to an end to your children, be aware that you are not merely saying that it is going to stop, but you are saying much more than that. This world is going to reach its goal, its purpose that God had for the entire creation when He created it in the beginning.
The Importance of the Subject
The subject of the last things is important. It is recognized by Reformed churches and Reformed theology. Reformed theology observes that there are 6 major doctrines/truths taught by the Bible. The doctrine of God, man, Christ, salvation, the church, and the last things. In the PR Seminary, when the professors teach Reformed Doctrine, they teach 6 courses in 6 semesters.
The importance of this subject is simply obvious to everybody from the nature of the topic or subject itself. Is it not important how history and the world will end? And what the signs preceding the end of the world and history are? Certainly the beginning of the world is important. But the ending of the world is important as well. Is it not important that we know and live in the consciousness of the goal of God with everything – the universe, history, and the life of each of us in history? If anyone is still inclined to doubt the importance of the truth of all things, let him or her consider that to eschatology also belongs the truth of an everlasting heaven and an everlasting hell. Every human being will either enjoy an everlasting heaven, or suffer the torments of an everlasting hell. That should make this topic of great interest to everyone who calls himself a Christian, and makes this study important.
Such is the importance of this topic for every believer that it shapes and controls all his earthly life. I am talking to myself first of all before I talk to you. If the truth of eschatology does not have this importance in my life that it shapes and controls all of our earthly life, something serious is lacking. We must allow the truth of the end to dominate and control our life and the important decisions we make – whom my friends are, whom I will date, how I will conduct myself with my husband or wife, how I will raise up my children, how I conduct myself with my brethren in the church. That is the importance of eschatology. It shapes and frames and controls our entire life.
2 Pet. 3:11-14. The whole earthly creation will be dissolved. Since we know the truth that there is coming an end – the second coming of Jesus Christ for our salvation and the renewal of the creation – because you know this, what difference does it make to you when we go home tonight, when we wake up tomorrow, all our recreation and planning? There is something dreadfully wrong about my life if this truth does not affect me. This is what we have to be concerned with, and to be busy with.
Before I was appointed to teach at the PR Seminary, one of the major issues in both congregations that I served was marital problems. Warfare between husband and wife, even though both claim to be Christians. More than once, especially when I did not think I was getting any where, I would quote this text. Don’t you think that Jesus is coming? Don’t you think that the end is near? For everyone of us who is married, the end is at the most 50 or 60 years away before our life comes to an end. Leave your own misery out of view. When your end comes, do you want to be found fighting and hating your own spouse? Hating and rebelling against your own parents? The truth of eschatology is important because it controls and shapes our whole life.
Eschatology is not only a truth that we study a couple of times a month, or think about once in awhile. But it is a truth that shapes our life to be holy and godly, in dating and marriage, what we read and watch, our friendships and more. We live in the light of the truth of the end of all things. The human being is a fool if he does not live in the light of the truth of all things. That is the way most human beings live, as though there is never going to be an end, as though they are going to live on forever, as though there is never going to be a return of Jesus Christ and a final judgment, resulting in eternal life or death, as though there is not going to be a reward for the obedience of God and a recompense for disobedience. It is to live foolish, apart from the truth of the end of all things.
Content: Prof. David Engelsma | Issue 40
(Class Notes taken by: Aaron Lim)