by Randy Corn
“Mr. Corn, I just don’t understand why we have to study this stuff.”
That was the objection of a student at Welch College where I served as an adjunct Bible instructor. The “stuff” was an introductory overview to eschatology (the doctrine of the last things) before our class surveyed First and Second Thessalonians.
My first thought was this was the typical college student objection to studying anything. I recalled the remark of one the longest-tenured teachers at my alma mater: A college student was “someone who paid for something and then hoped he didn’t get it!”
But this young man was not the class sloth; he would end up with a solid B at the end of the semester. Why did he object to spending a day discussing such things as the Second Coming of Christ, the differences between Amillennialism and Premillennialism, and the differences within Premillennialism about the Rapture?
Why Study Eschatology?
When the question was asked, my immediate response was because this was a biblical subject and we were in a Bible class. I was convinced that if the students could put First and Second Thessalonians in an eschatological framework it would give them a deeper understanding of what the apostle Paul was driving at in these epistles. I’m afraid it came across to my questioner as, “I’m the teacher, you are the student, and I get to decide what we will study.”
The question and the inadequacy of my answer stuck with me until I was back in my church office that afternoon. I wondered if this was one of those subjects I found fascinating but the next generation could dismiss with a yawn. Was the problem in my presentation? Had I unnecessarily complicated it with a number of hyphenated theological terms?
Maybe the problem was application. Perhaps that questioning student was voicing the complaint many feel when preachers and Bible teachers fail to show how a biblical subject touches their lives. There was probably some truth in all my ponderings. I decided what I needed to do was convince my class that eschatology really was in important Bible doctrine, one that impacts daily Christian living. I would present them with an apologetic for eschatology.
(1) Frequent Bible References
The next class period I met the students at the door with a single sheet of paper which gave my reasons for studying eschatology. The first was that the Bible gives a great deal of attention to the subject. Christians should be interested in anything God chooses to reveal in His Word.
Scholars have counted as many as 1,845 references to the Second Coming of Christ in the Old Testament and 318 in the New. In fact, 23 of the 27 New Testament books speak of the Second Coming in one way or another.
(2) Basic Elements of Faith
My second reason for studying eschatology is that the Bible speaks of it as one of the elementary things of the Christian faith. This is explained by such passages as Hebrews 6:1-2 :“Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us goo n unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.”
Note that the last two items mentioned in verse 2, “resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment,” are listed in what the writer of Hebrews calls “the principles of the doctrine of Christ. The word “principles” is literally “of the beginning.” Some translators even render this “the elementary principles.” Obviously then, eschatology is one of the foundational things Christians should learn.
The apostle Paul certainly believed this. He speaks often of the Second Coming in First and Second Thessalonians and seems to do so building upon the knowledge that the Thessalonian church already had of those doctrines. When we go back to Acts 17, we find that he only spent three Sabbaths there before being run out of town.
The only conclusion we can draw is that Paul had some basic teaching about eschatology in what we might refer to as his new convert course. If Paul the great church planter thought it was so foundational, eschatology certainly ought to be studied by Christians today.
(3) Guidepost for Tomorrow
A third reason I gave the class for studying eschatology is that it gives us insight into what to expect. Now some obviously make too much of this, going to the extreme of setting dates for the return of Christ. Still, it can be a reassurance to us that the very things which will shock the world are prophesied in the Bible.
On the Test
I shared a few more reasons with the class, and then a hand went up. “Mr. Corn, is this going to be on the test?” I had taught only two semesters, but I knew if I said “no” the students with rare exception would toss my notes in the waste can almost as quickly as they would dismiss my lecture from their memories.
“Probably” was my reply. I know that kind of answer frustrates students, but my hope was that in putting my reasons for studying eschatology into their short-term memory, a few might seep into their long-term memory as well.
Eschatology is important. The same reasons I gave my class for studying it should compel preachers to make it part of their pulpit plan. As long as we avoid being either too technical or too abstract, the insights of eschatology can be of real benefit to every believer. After all, if we take seriously the admonition to preach the whole counsel of God, then what excuse can we give for failing to instruct those under our care?
As we have pointed out, eschatology is one of the “elementary principles” with which all Christians should be familiar. Our church members may not be facing an exam over the sermons we preach or the lessons we teach, but a healthy dose of eschatology can help them pass the test of day-to-day life.