I love prophecy. To me, it is the clearest identifier of God as sovereign over the universe, the earth, humans, and time. He writes history in advance, because He is king of all, and what He says will come to pass.
I also love studying the bible. I believe it is the highest and best use of time, to get to know the attributes of the LORD, to seek His face through what He has told us. If you want ‘direct revelation’, the bible cannot be beat for informing us of our Lord and King, Jesus.
The bible is knowable and understandable to the Christian. We have the Holy Spirit in us to illuminate His word to us. (Ephesians 1:17-18). The Holy Spirit teaches us spiritual things. (1 Corinthians 2:10-13). Of course there are some things in the bible we cannot understand, such as the Trinity, One God in three Persons. We cannot understand the Spirit’s overcoming Mary and producing a child. We do not understand all the ways in which God thinks. However, for the most part, the doctrines upon which He has given to us, are understandable.
One such doctrine is the doctrine of eschatology. This is the doctrine of ‘last things’, or end times. Just because there are many people who won’t or can’t understand the various threads of prophecy does not mean there exists confusion about what He plans to do. The pre-tribulation rapture is one of these understandable doctrines, clearly outlined in the bible to those who care to learn. Some people say Revelation is difficult, I find it easy to understand. I do find Daniel difficult, but that does not stop me from studying it, nor from turning to other scripture to help me interpret Daniel’s book. It can be done, and it has been done. Oliver B. Greene’s commentary on Daniel is wonderful. John MacArthur’s book “Because the Time is Near” is a clear explanation of Revelation.
Even this is a doctrine! It is called the Perspicuity of Scripture. According to the Theopedia, the perspicuity of scripture means,
The doctrine of the clarity of Scripture (often called the “perspicuity of Scripture”) teaches that “the meanings of the text can be clear to the ordinary reader, that God uses the text of the Bible to communicate His person and will.”
“The witness of the Church throughout the ages is that ordinary people, who approach it in faith and humility, will be able to understand what the Bible is getting at, even if they meet with particular points of difficulty here and there.”
Yet there are some people who refuse to believe the doctrines of last things, because so many other people are mixed up over them. ‘They can’t be understood, so why try?’ I was told by one man in church. “I’m a pan-tribber, it’ll all work out in the end,” he said.
|Illustrator, Chris Koelle, The Book of Revelation|
That is a highly offensive statement, and I said so to his face. It is a blight on Jesus, the Spirit, and God who inspired it, and all the Apostles who wrote the inspired word, and all the martyrs who protected it, to be so blatantly dismissive of 30% of God’s holy doctrines. Jesus did not reveal last things to John, nor the angel to Daniel, so God’s people could mock them.
Did you know that every NT book except Philemon mentions last things?
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, (2 Timothy 3:16)
So I was so pleased when John MacArthur was asked about eschatology in his latest Q & A session at Grace Community Church. In Q&A session #62 it was stated by the interviewer that they had received more than a dozen questions regarding eschatology.
First, MacArthur noted that a church without a solid understanding of eschatology has got a huge loose end. Here are MacArthur’s words on the importance of the church understanding and teaching last things:
a church without a solid biblical eschatology, meaning understanding of the end of history has got a huge loose end. It’s huge. I said something about that this morning when I was kind of wrapping up. I said, the Jews wanted to force all the prophesies regarding the Messiah into His first coming. We have Christians who want to take all the prophesies concerning Christ and push them back into His first coming. They’re called pretrerists, amillenialists. So they have this theology with this totally open end. It just has no closure. They don’t seem to care particularly. It’s almost like a badge of Reformed loyalty to be unsure about how everything ends.
I am running into this attitude more frequently, the badge of loyalty to uncertainty. “I’m super-spiritually humble because I refuse to state how things will end.” Or, “I’m super tolerant of all the different interpretations, because who am I to say dogmatically? It’s all just beyond little ole me.” Uncertainty is the new loyalty. But is that right? Is that honoring to Jesus? Here’s more from MacArthur.
I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t work well with me. First of all, I don’t think God gave a clear beginning and just kind of lost Himself at the end. I don’t think if Genesis 1 says that God created in six days and there’s no question about it, and He lays out exactly how He did it; and you get to the book of Revelation and you hear about periods of certain weeks and certain months and certain years and a thousand year millennium, and then an eternal state. I don’t think God lost His way at the end. I don’t think He was confused at the end. I think the end is as precise as the beginning. To be honest with you, I am far more concerned about the end than I am the beginning. The beginning is over. I’m glad it was what it was, and it explains why things are the way they are.
This is an important point. God did not state it clearly in the beginning and then back away from clarity for the end. He is just as clear in Revelation as He was in Genesis.
As for the people who say, ‘There are so many interpretations, it’s just best to let go and let God. It’ll all work out in the end, anyhow,’ I say that’s just a bunch of lazy hooey. There are not many views of last things. There is only one view, God’s view, and He has shared it with us.
But I don’t think you can over estimate the value of a church with a clear ecclesiology and a clear eschatology. Clear understanding of the church, and a clear understanding of what the Bible says about how things are going to end. It does say something. It doesn’t say everything, and it doesn’t say whatever you want it to say. It doesn’t have ten views or five views or four views. There’s just one view.
MacArthur went on to describe a wonderful moment in Kazakhstan some years ago. Kazakhstan is east of Mongolia and north of Turkey. It is around the world. He was asked to teach 1600 men at a pastor’s conference. MacArthur taught 8 hours a day for 6 days a week. The men were hungry for the word, to be taught. They had been behind the Iron Curtain and now were released into more freedoms, including the freedom to practice religion, and to gather. They’d been denied a congregation, education, commentaries, access to internet or anything resembling study aids. They had each other, and the bible…and the Holy Spirit. So they wanted to know about all the doctrines, including eschatology.
I laid out; I went through the book of Revelation systematically and showed them the end. They said to me after that – I took a day to do that. The end of that day they said, “You believe what we believe.” I said, “I believe what you believe?” Same Bible. Guess what? It’s so clear that people with no training, no seminary, and no commentaries could understand what the book of Revelation said.
The reason I gave you the illustration about Kazakhstan is because that is as alien a place as you could ever be. Thirty-five hours to get there. You step off the plane. I’ve never been there. I don’t know what’s going on. I teach them a whole day on the end times, and they tell me that’s exactly what they believe. How did they come to that? They don’t have seminaries. They don’t have books. They don’t have anything. That’s what the Bible says. You have to go to school and listen to somebody who deceives you to undo that because that’s what’s there.
MacArthur has said before that any believer who landed on a desert island with nothing else except his bible can and would understand eschatology. The 1,600 Kazakhstan men were as close to desert island as you can get in this modern world, and eschatology was made understandable to them- because they studied it.
As a note, what a glory it is that we believers have this unifying thread! What a moment of recognition between a Scottish-descended pastor from Sun Valley CA and Kazakhstani men isolated behind the iron curtain, to know each other as brothers! This unifying thread is the holy word, the Bible.
For men to say, ‘Ack, it’s all too much for me, it’ll all work out in the end, anyway,’ is a direct rejection of the wonder of being able to recognize and commune with brothers via a common and eternal understanding of God’s word, wherever you are on earth.
Rejecting eschatology is also a rejection of the work that the Spirit has done in men that He has raised up. Many resources are out there, as I mentioned, commentaries, sermons, books, timelines…it is all there for us.
To continue what MacArthur said about eschatology,
I think it matters how it all ends. I think God is glorified when we acknowledge Him as the Creator, the beginning; and I think He is glorified when we acknowledge Him as the consummator, the end. I think that’s a huge benefit for Christians looking at the world and wondering where is this going? Where is this going?
In talking to Al Mohler when I was back there a few weeks ago, he said he’s more eschatological than he’s ever been. He’s almost apocalyptic because he sees a world that just there is no way to reverse this. This thing is in a massive free fall, and there is no way to stop this. He’s pretty well-attuned to the way things are, and he says, “I’ve never felt so eschatological, so apocalyptic about the way the world is going.” Well, if you want to understand where the world is going, you can as a believer. That gives us such a powerful confidence that all that is coming is laid out for us on the pages of Scripture. I think that’s a treasure that a church can’t underestimate.
Do not reject the treasure of eschatology. It is just as much a treasure as the Psalms and the Gospels. Do not reject the work we are to do through eschatology. We have the answer to how it will all end. Lost people are confused and frightened about where this world is headed. We know it. Do not be afraid to study, and then to share.
What message does it send when a mature man of the faith in church makes a public statement dismissing eschatology? It tells the next generation that it is not worth studying, and bible illiteracy increases, just at the time when the next generation may be the very generation to see these things come to pass and could have been more fervent and diligent about sharing the truth with lost and confused people.
John MacArthur is a unique individual and is in a unique position. It was common in the old days for a pastor to stay for decades. Not so any more, where the average pastoral stay is 5 years or less. MacArthur has been at Grace Church for 46 years. He is 75 years old. He has seen history unfold, prophecy fulfilled and apostasy rise. He said,
I’m seeing this world unravel. There doesn’t seem to be any way back. I mean this is totally out of control. This is a free fall down a black hole. So, you can’t just say, “Well, eschatology doesn’t matter.” That is not helpful. People want answers. Where is this thing going? It’s not fair to God, it’s a dishonor to God to say, “Well, the Bible is not clear.” It is clear. It is absolutely clear.
Yes, it is sad and offensive that there are so many people who refuse to study last things. Those who dismiss the Spirit’s work in inspiring that portion of the bible are simply missing out on so much glory. It is also sad that so many brethren have unfortunately come to different understandings of what God clearly laid out. But does that mean we reject it all? Does that mean that is is useless for us individually to study it? No.
I just wish that the church was unified on what the Bible says. I don’t like it that there are Christians who don’t believe in Creation, but believe in some form of evolution. I think that dishonors God and confuses people. I don’t like it that there are Christians who don’t accept what the Bible says about the end either. But I think it’s wonderful that we do, and the answers are there.
God’s word has all the answers, including last things. Please do not be afraid to jump in and read, learn, pray, and receive illumination from the Spirit. Do not be afraid to seek credible, quality study aids. Always remember the perspicuity of scripture. The bible is clear.
Academic Paper – The Master’s Seminary: The Perspicuity of Scripture
Sermon – Christmas Future: Last Things of Jesus Christ in Revelation
Sermon – The Clarity of Scripture, Part 1