Teaching on the "end times" or eschatology is one of those theological areas where good scholars will often have disagreements. Many of the points of contention are interpretation technicalities such as the rapture, tribulation, and millenial reign. It is one of those areas where I try to extend a lot of grace rather than be combative.
But several friends of mine who all attend the same church have recently approached me concerning a particular sermon that was preached there and how it troubled them. It was a message focussed on interpreting end time events. It is important to point out that I have not heard this particular sermon but based upon the consistency of eyewitness accounts I want to respond to some disturbing themes that emerged from this sermon (at least in the ears of those who heard it). Regardless of the preachers intended meaning, which I cannot state with certainty, I know that these ideas are out there in the market place of modern Christian ideas. They are interpretations that have serious ramifications on the Gospel and mission.
Those interpretive views I wish to respond to are as follows:
1. That the apocalyptic events foretold by Jesus in the gospels were fulfilled with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD.
2. That we don't need to fear or worry about future tribulation as end time events approach.
3. That we should be comforted and delivered of fear because of this understanding.
In response I do not wish to delve into deep theological debate or contend for my eschatological views. I also concede that some of the events Jesus foretold were specifically concerning the Roman attack on Jerusalem in 70AD. I do, however, wish to state three clear facts from Scripture that refute the dangerous tendencies of teaching the above mentioned views.
1. The book of Revelation was written after 70AD.
Revelation is a book loaded with horrific details of oncoming tribulation. I highly doubt that the tribulation and wrath that God sends in the book of Revelation are prophetic insights into something that happened twenty years earlier.
Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty (Revelation 19:11-15).
So how terrifying is the wrath of Jesus Christ when He returns to make war with His enemies?
Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb (Revelation 6:15-16)
2. Because of this we should fearfully examine our own salvation:
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12)
Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?--unless indeed you fail to meet the test! (2 Corinthians 13:5)
And fear for the fate of unbelievers:
And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15).
And burn to testify the Gospel to these unbelievers:
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!" (Romans 10:14-15)
Since all unbelievers will be cast into the lake of fire to be tormented forever then it should follow that:
a) any non-Christian should be very fearful about this.
b) Christians should be fearful for the fate of these unbelievers.
c) Christians should be energized to preach the Gospel, not lie down in relief because all the bad stuff already happened in 70AD.
3. Our comfort should not be in circumstance but in the Savior.
The New Testament continually reminds us that the Christian walk is one of trials, tribulation, and persecution.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds (James 1:2)
I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)
Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. (Revelation 2:10)
Jesus said, "Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel,
who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. (Mark 10:29-30)
For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2Corinthians 12:10)
Our comfort and refuge should be in Christ for He is a strong tower that can withstand the storms of this earthly life.
For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. (2 Corinthians 1:5)
Enough said - God's Word speaks well on His behalf.