The Salt Shakers is pleased to present the second installment of Prof. Engelsma’s notes on eschatology. In this installment, the esteemed professor explains his (and the class’) interest in the book of Revelation, and the increasing lawlessness that abounds in the world and in the church.
The Nature of the Specific Study
Many years ago, when I came back to Grand Rapids to teach in the Seminary, this Reformed Doctrine class began with the truth of eschatology. At that time, I framed the study and my instruction along the lines of a systematic order of things. I taught the class the same way a professor would teach it to his seminarians, following a logical order. I am not going to repeat that method in this class. I am going to do something different. This time I want to work as much as possible with the book of Revelation, the outstanding book in the Bible of the truth of the last things. In light of the teaching of the book of Revelation, I want to take note with you the certain events that are happening in present history that are fulfilling biblical prophecy, and affirming that the end truly is near.
Although I restrain myself from making any predictions on dates (which is utter folly), I make bold to venture that the end is nearer than we sometimes suppose as we go about our day to day business. When we look at the book of Revelation and take a hard look at developments in our culture, we will be impressed with the truth that the end is very near indeed. I will do some explaining of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 24 and Luke 21, but my main interest in this class will be the book of Revelation.
Helping our study at this time (AD 2015) is that certain events that belong to the end that are foretold in Revelation are taking place today. It has long been recognized by Reformed preachers and teachers that of all the main doctrines of the Christian faith, eschatology is the truth that is the least known and developed. Of the six major doctrines, this is the least developed. This is evident in our Reformed creeds, although they are quite extensive, sharp, and detailed. They are quite brief and noticeably general about the truth of the last things. They do not have much to say about the truth of eschatology.
That eschatology is the least developed is also evident in Reformed writings about the last things. You may know that neither Luther nor Calvin wrote a commentary on the book of Revelation. They wrote on almost all the other books except Revelation. Calvin admitted that he did not do so because he did not understand the book – it was too dark and deep. That is why there are also very few Reformed commentaries on the book.
Someone has said that the church will not be able to grasp the truth of the last things as she ought to until those truths of the last things are actually taking place and happening. I am suggesting that we are living in the time when the truths of the last things are beginning to take place in their final development, so that we are able to understand the biblical teaching of the last things that the previous generations who have gone before us could not. I intend to prove that a number of prominent and extremely important events that are a part of the last things that are figuratively described in Revelation are happening today before our eyes. This implies that the very end, with the dramatic events that immediately precede the very end (the antichrist) is very near, nearer than we commonly suppose.
I am very well aware that Christian teachers like to prophesy on the exact date of Christ’s coming. Church history warns against that. I am not going to fall into that mistake because Jesus forbids us. When He was on earth, Jesus did not know that either (Matt. 24:36). Jesus also gives us signs of the end with the purpose that they will alert us concerning the time of his coming. It is a danger when we ignore those signs and put them off into the distant future. We get used to those signs, we take them for granted. Admittedly, those are sinful things, and we fail to relate them to the last days and the end.
An example of the sheer, abounding lawlessness in the last days is the sin in Western society with regard to marriage (Matt. 24:12). Iniquity in the Greek is literally lawlessness. Lawlessness shall increase. Lawlessness is different from just failing to keep the law. Failure to keep the law is bad enough. But lawlessness is deliberate trampling upon the law of God with the purpose to disobey and to flaunt that disobedience as an indignity against the Lawgiver. A child who does not go to bed on time is disobedient to the law, but a child who shakes his fist at his parents and tells them that he will do everything contrary to what his parents teach him is lawless.
We can take this lawlessness for granted. Young people can simply have sex before marriage, but they flaunt their fornication. That married people divorce freely, and divorced people remarry freely is an outstanding example of the lawlessness that Christ taught will be a sign of the last things. We easily do not react to such things because they are so prevalent.
Besides, we also live in a time when this lawlessness takes place in the churches. When this is approved by the churches, it is lawlessness. That points to the second aspect of the sign of lawlessness. Because iniquity shall abound, the love of many toward God and Jesus Christ and the truth shall wax cold. That is Jesus’ way of describing apostasy among nominal Christians and in churches that have the name of being Christian churches. If love for God cools, that must take place in the churches. That is the only place where love for God and the truth ever took place. Love there used to be warm and ardent. Now it cools. The cooling of that love is due to the abounding of lawlessness. Because lawlessness abounds, the love of many becomes cold. So prevalent is lawlessness in marriage and sexual morality that church members become used to it. They take it for granted. The result is that love for holiness and sexual chastity cools – holiness such as fidelity to one’s spouse, and hatred for divorce and remarriage.
My dear friends, this is what you are seeing today in so-called conservative Reformed and Presbyterian churches. The abounding of lawlessness with regards to marriage, don’t take that for granted. That is the way it is; don’t get used to it. You must realize it as the sign that lawlessness shall abound, and the love of many will cool. So cool is love for God and Christ in the matter of marriage that good church members today never get angry about divorce and remarriage. Let a preacher preach the truth once about divorce and remarriage, and these same people will become plenty angry with the preacher. The explanation is that the love of many will cool. Don’t take for granted that among us in the PRC, lawlessness does not abound. Lawlessness with regard to the holiness of marriage does not abound in our churches, but let us not take that for granted. We must not assume that it is always going to be the way. Rather, see the sign of lawlessness in the church and world around us that the end is near. Therefore, let us resolve to maintain the law and the love of the law in holiness of life, specifically with regard to marriage.
Content: Prof. David Engelsma | Issue 41
(Class Notes taken by: Aaron Lim)