Church Education Trust

Christian Belief

ST010/1 Eschatology Introduced.



(The Doctrine of the Last Things)

The word "Eschatology" comes from the Greek word for "last things" (eschata), with the usual suffix from the word "logos", andmeans "the doctrine of the last things". There is a sense in which it is the climax of all thought, for philosophy and science, as well as religion, ask not only the question, "Where have we come from?" but also "Where are we going to?", "What is the end of it all?". "What is the purpose of life and the universe?". 

Eschatology deals with these final events both in the life of man as an individual and in the universe as a whole. It seeks to show that God is relevant at the end, as well as at the beginning and in the middle. God has a purpose for man and for the world and is working to a plan. 

The doctrine of the last things is the crowning point of all our theological studies. All the purposes of God lead to this final redemption and consummation of all things. Life on this earth is but the probation for all that is yet to follow. There are some matters which are quite clear in Scripture, there is a life after death, Christ is coming again in Person, there is to be a final dissolution of the world as it is now, and there are to come into being new heavens and a new earth. All these matters come into the subject of Eschatology.

It is possible to divide the study into two sections; eschatology as it concerns the individual, or Personal Eschatology, and eschatology as it concerns the world and the universe, or Universal Eschatology. 

In the first section we have to deal with death or the culmination of this life; with life after death or immortality; with the intermediate state or the condition of the soul between death and the second coming of our Lord; and finally with the final destiny of the individual. In the second section we have the second coming of Christ, the resurrection, the judgment, the consummation of all things and the final destiny of the righteous and the unrighteous.

(I). Personal Eschatology.

a.The Culmination of this Life or Death.

In our consideration of the nature and penalty of sin, we noted that the word "death" is used in a number of ways in the Scriptures. In a physical sense it is used of the separation of the soul from the body or the culmination of this life, the final event in the probation of man.

It is used in a spiritual sense for the separation of the soul and body from God and His life-giving Spirit; and this separation viewed in a final and irrevocable way is spoken of as "eternal death" or "the second death". It never seems, however, to be considered as annihilation. In the Scriptures death is viewed as the penalty for sin (Rom.5:12); the death which was the penalty included all three aspects mentioned above; physical, spiritual and
eternal death. 

It is just as clear, however, that this penalty Is abolished in Christ and by His death (Rom.5:18; Heb.2:9; John 3:36). Provisionally this is true for all men (Heb.2:9), but it is true as an actual fact for all those who are in Christ (John 3:36). This abolition of death begins when first we trust Christ as our Saviour, but will not be finally completed till the last enemy is destroyed and the final blessedness of the righteous is obtained. 

Because of the coming of Christ death has lost its sting for those in Christ (1 Cor.15:55-57), and therefore it is but the gateway in to the very presence of Christ Himself (2 Cor.5:1,4).

b. Life after Death or Immortality

The word "immortality" can be used in more than one way. It can refer to God as in 1 Tim.6:15,16. Here it means God's essential nature; He always was and always will be in the fullest sense of the word "be".

It can be used to refer to man before the fall and if he had never fallen. It can be conjectured that man before the fall was immortal, body and soul; but this was different from the immortality of God. Man was a created being and had not always been in existence. It can also be used of spirits, whether the spirits of angels and those spiritual beings created by God, or the spirits of men. 

It is in this last sense that we use it here referring to the spirits of men. It has been the general conviction of man, even if not completely universal, that the spirit of man is immortal, that the life of man never ceases to be. The grave is only the entry to a further life beyond. 

Most men believe that the character of the life to come is determined by the character of the life in this world. The Christian further believes that it is determined by man's attitude to the Lord Jesus Christ and His atoning work.

The only authoritative teaching concerning immortality is to be found in the Scriptures.  While the teaching of the Old Testament is not so clear and joyous as that in the New, it is there all the same. The revelation of truth in the Scriptures is a progressive one, and it would not be expected that the Old Testament would be as clear on this point as the New. 

This is more so seeing that the final revelation of Christ had not yet come. The idea of extinction is foreign to the Old Testament. This is seen in the constant reference to necromancers and wizards. The Jew hoped for life beyond, however little he realised the full significance of it. 

This is borne out by such passages as Ps.16; 73; and 49. The words in Job 19:25-26, however difficult they may be to interpret, undoubtedly point this way, as also does the translation of both Enoch and Elijah. Ps.139 also contains words of certainty and Daniel 12:2 speaks definitely of a resurrection.

When we come to the New Testament, the certainty of the life to come shines through all. Our Lord Himself declared that man could not kill the soul, but only the body (Matt.10:28, Then in the Acts, in the death of Stephen as well as other places, and all through the epistles and Revelation, the same certain theme and expectation is present. 

The Christian is only passing through, he is a sojourner, he is looking for a city whose "builder and maker is God". The references are too many to give. In addition to the teaching of the Bible there are certain philosophical arguments for a life after death. These are five in number. The first is psychological, based on the "nature of the soul as immaterial essence, indivisible and thus indestructible". 

The second is termed the teleological argument. It maintains that the soul does not and cannot fulfil itself in this world; it requires a further world to reach the limits of its possibilities. The third is the moral argument, which produces the fact of the utter injustice there is in this world in every way. Many never receive the reward of righteousness that is their due and many get away apparently with awful iniquity and never suffer. An after life is essential to remedy the inequalities and injustices of this world.

There is also the argument from desire. According to this every desire that man has is able to be satisfied. For example there is that in the world which answers our desire for food, for knowledge, for aesthetic satisfaction. But there seems to be planted in man an innate desire for a life beyond, for something beyond this life. Surely this would not be there unless there were the reality that could satisfy it. 

And finally, there is the argument from value. Except for utter materialists, men generally are conscious that the soul is the most valuable part of us, it is that which makes us what we are. Surely, therefore, that part of us which is so exceedingly valuable will not be destroyed.

The following from Victor Hugo is a fitting conclusion to this section,"I feel in myself future life. I am like a forest that has been more than once cut down. The new shoots are stronger and livelier than ever. I am rising, I know, towards the sky. The sunshine is on my head. The earth gives me its generous sap, but the heaven lights me with the reflection of unknown worlds. 

You say the soul is nothing but the resultant of bodily powers. Why, then, is my soul the more luminous when my bodily powers begin to fail? Winter is on my head, and eternal spring is in my heart. They I breathe, at this hour, the fragrance of the lilacs, the violets and the roses as at twenty years. 

The nearer I approach the end, the plainer I hear around me the immortal symphonies of the worlds which invite me. It is marvellous, yet simple. It is a fairy tale, it is history. For half a century I have been writing my thoughts in prose, verse, history, philosophy, drama, romance, tradition, satire, ode, song - I have tried all.

But I feel I have not said the thousandth part of what is in me. When I go down to the grave I can say, like so many others, 'I have finished my days work', but I cannot say, 'I have finished my life'. My day's work will begin again the next morning. The tomb is not a blind alley; it is a thoroughfare. 

It closes in the twilight to open in the dawn. I improve every hour, because I love this world as my fatherland. My work is only a beginning. My monument is hardly above its foundation. I would be glad to see it mounting and mounting forever. The thirst for the infinite proves infinity."

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