What comes to your mind when you hear the words “end times”? Does it make you think of that chart someone gave you a while ago that supposedly maps out how everything is going happen before and after Jesus comes back? Does it make you think about a fictional series of books that dramatically depicts events surrounding something called the rapture? Maybe it makes you think of that crazy guy wearing a sign yelling at people, “Repent!!!” Or like me, maybe you get that R.E.M song stuck in your head—“It’s the end of the world as we know It….” Depending on how long you’ve been following Jesus and what your church background is, you probably have some sort of presuppositions about what’s going to happen in the end. This week we will be jumping into Mark 13, which brings us in contact with some end times stuff. Besides reading and praying over the chapter before Sunday, I thought this excerpt from Tim Keller would be very helpful to prepare us for our time together in the Word. Hope it serves!
Introduction to Eschatology
There is little consensus among Christians with regard to the details of what the Bible teaches about the “end times.” (The theological term for this area of inquiry is eschatology.) On the one hand, we must remember that the basic teaching of the New Testament on this could not be clearer: Jesus Christ will return visibly and personally at the end of time to judge and renew the whole world. There is very little disagreement about this fact among those who accept the basic trustworthiness of the Bible. Some estimate that almost one quarter of the New Testament is devoted to proclaiming this fact. If you reject the concept of the Second Coming of Christ, you essentially have to reject the reliability of the entire New Testament. Jesus is coming back.
But on the other hand, beyond this essential teaching, Christians with very similar commitments and beliefs have not been able to agree on most of the details regarding the Lord’s return. One reason for this is because much Biblical prophecy comes in a literary genre often called “Apocalyptic.” Every literary genre comes with its own set of interpretive rules. We do not interpret poetry the same way we interpret history. But what are the “rules” for interpreting prophecy? “Apocalyptic” looks seductively like simple historical narrative, only written “ahead of time.” But it is also much like poetry in its images and ambiguities. In short, it is very difficult to understand Biblical prophecy. (When we see how New Testament writers interpreted Old Testament prophecies about the birth of Christ, we see just how tricky such interpretation is. For example, see Matthew 2:14 citing Hosea 11:1 as a prediction that Jesus would go to Egypt. Would you have ever interpreted Hosea 11:1 as a Messianic prophecy if Matthew hadn’t explained it?)
What does this mean? First, it means we must hold any of our convictions about eschatology with a certain amount of tentativeness and humility. If we hold our views of prophecy and end-times with the same assurance and conviction with which we hold our views of Christ and the Gospel, we are simply giving ourselves too much credit. What makes us think that we are so much wiser than most of the rest of the Christian church? (Any particulary view of the end is virtually a minority position — that is how fractured the church is over the interpretation of details!)
Second, however, we should not simply avoid any discussion of details. Our views here do have some impact on how we live our lives in the world. Our “eschatology” (as we shall see) can make us either very optimistic or very pessimistic about life in this world, and that affects how we spend our money and our time.
Therefore, we should study this subject with humility, but we should study it.
The gospel of Mark, Copyright © Timothy J. Keller, and Redeemer Presbyterian Church 2005