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THE IMPORTANCE OF ESCHATOLOGY

Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr. —  Leave a comment

Few doctrines of the Bible receive more attention among evangelicals today than the second coming of Christ. And since his return is a foundational doctrine of the historic Christian faith, it well deserves our notice. Unfortunately though, the second advent is more deeply loved and firmly believed than biblically understood and accurately proclaimed. Evangelicals too often tend to have a “zeal without knowledge” when approaching this great biblical theme. This is especially tragic in that properly comprehending it is vitally important for framing in a Christian worldview. After all, it exalts the consummate glory of his redemptive victory, completes God’s sovereign plan for history, and balances a full-orbed theology of Scripture. In this regard I would note:

First, the second coming exalts the victory of Christ in redemption. When Christ comes in his first century incarnation, he comes in a state of humiliation. That is, he dwells among sinners in the dust of the earth, suffers rejection, abuse, and torment from them, then dies in agony on the cross, experiencing even rejection by God the Father (Mt 27:46//), and is buried in a tomb in the dust of the earth. As Paul expresses it: “being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Php 2:8; cp. Mt 1:21; Lk 19:10). But Scripture does not leave him on the cross or in the tomb; it teaches his consequent glorification through four steps: resurrection, ascension, session, and, ultimately, return.

Christ’s return in glory is necessary for completing his redemptive victory, for then he returns as the all-conquering Redeemer-King. “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Php 2:9–11). But as Hebrews notes: “Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present we do not yet see everything in subjection to him” (Heb 2:8b). So then, Christ’s second coming is necessary for conclusively demonstrating his redemptive victory for all to see.

Second, the second coming completes God’s plan for history. Though Christ legally secures the defeat of sin, death, and the devil in the first century, all three evils remain with us (Ro 7:18–25; 1Pe 5:8–9). Just as we have been legally sanctified in the past (Heb 10:14), are being experientially sanctified in the present (Ro 6:19–22), and will be finally sanctified at the resurrection (1Th 5:23), so Scripture presents Christ’s victory in three stages: He vanquishes these enemies legally before God’s judicial bar (Col 1:13–14; 2:13–15). He continues vanquishing them historically through the gospel’s continuing progress (Ac 26:18; 1Co 15:20–23). He will vanquish then eternally at his second advent, when he concludes history (Ro 8:18–25; Rev 20:10–15).

One of the tragic consequences of the novel theology known as hyper-preterism is its leaving sin and death operating in the Universe so that God must endure their presence forever and ever. However, the Scriptures teach that history will conclude with a final, permanent conquest of evil: “according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2Pe 3:13). This occurs when Christ returns: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. . . . Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels’” (Mt 25:31–33, 41; cp. 2Pe 3:3–15). “The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1Co 15:26), which results at his return (1Co 15:23–25, 54). Thus, Christ’s second coming appropriately concludes history.

Third, the second coming balances the theology of God in Scripture. This glorious doctrine not only finalizes Christ’s redemptive victory (pouring eternal glory on his redeeming love) and completes the plan of God (demonstrating divine wisdom in his creational plan). But it also provides us with a full-orbed doctrinal system balancing out majestic biblical truths. Were it not for the second advent:

We would have a creation (Ge1:1; Heb 11:3) without a consummation (Ac 3:20–21; Rev 20:11), resulting in an open-ended Universe (1Co 15:23–24; 2Pe 3:3–4).

We would have a world eternally groaning (Ro 8:22; 2 Co 5:1–4), without any glorious perfection (Ro 8:21; 2Pe 3:12–13).

We would have a Savior quietly departing before his followers (Lk 24:50–52; 1Co 15:5–8), without ever enjoying a victorious exhibition before his world (Ro 14:11; Php 2:10–11).

We would have a redemption spiritually focused (Ro 8:10; Eph1:3), without a physical dimension (Ro 8:11; 1Th 4:13–18).

We would have a Redeemer bodily ascended into heaven (Ac 1:8–11; Col 2:9), without any physical family joining with him (1Co 15:20–28; Php 3:20–21).

We would have a gospel continually necessary (Mt 28:19; Ac 1:8), without any final victory (Mt 28:20; 1Co 15:24) — the number of the elect would never be filled.

Truly, the second coming is a “blessed hope” upon which we must carefully focus. Unfortunately, though it is “blessed” and hope-filled, “eschatology, perhaps more than any other branch of theology, is laden with divisiveness, and this is particularly true in conservative evangelical circles.”[1] Tragically, this issue “has been a matter of debate, sometimes acrimonious.”[2] Indeed, “perhaps no doctrine has more divided modern evangelical Protestantism.”[3] So, before we can properly understand all the implications of the second coming, we must establish our theological context.



 

Notes

1. Bloesch, Donald G. The Last Things: Resurrection, Judgment, Glory. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2004., 28.

2. Sauter, Gerhard. Eschatological Rationality: Theological Issues in Focus. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996 33.

3. Bloesch, The Last Things, 87.

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Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

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Ken is a Presbyterian pastor and the author or co-author of over thirty books, most on eschatology. He has been married since 1971, and has three children and several grandchildren. He is a graduate of Tennessee Temple University (B.A., 1973), Reformed Theological Seminary (M.Div., 1977), and Whitefield Theological Seminary (Th.M., 1986; Th.D., 1988). He currently pastors Living Hope Presbyterian Church (affiliated with the RPCGA) in Greer, SC. Much of his writing is in the field of eschatology, including his 600 page book, He Shall Have Dominion: A Postmillennial Eschatology and his 400 page, Before Jerusalem Fell: Dating the Book of Revelation (his Th.D. dissertation). He contributed chapters to two Zondervan CounterPoints books on eschatological issues: Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond (edited by Darrell L. Bock) and Four Views on the Book of Revelation (edited by C. Marvin Pate). He also debated Thomas D. Ice in Kregel's The Great Tribulation: Past or Future? His books have been published by American Vision, Baker, Zondervan, Kregel, P & R, Greenhaven Press, Nordskog, Wipf & Stock, and several other publishers. He has published scores of articles in such publications as Tabletalk, Westminster Theological Journal, Evangelical Theological Society Journal, Banner of Truth, Christianity Today, Antithesis, Contra Mundum, and others. He has spoken at over 100 conferences in America, the Caribbean, and Australia. He is a member of the Evangelical Theological Society and a Church Council Committee member of Coalition on Revival.

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