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End Times and Jesus’ return

the-remainingThere is going to be a flurry of interest in the whole question of ‘End Times’ in the autumn, as two films are released on the subject. The first is a remake of the ‘Left Behind’ film, based on the idea of the ‘rapture’ which forms part of J N Darby‘s dispensationalism, interpreted through the best-selling books by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. (It stars Nicholas Cage, so that’s another thing to look forward to.)

The second is a ‘Christian horror movie’ called The Remaining. In it, the rapture is re-interpreted as Christians’ souls leaving their life-less corpses behind. We are assured by the director of this one that he has done his biblical homework:

“I went through the Bible. It’s biblically accurate,” La Scala said. “I used the timeline. And that was one of those things that was interesting. I could have made a completely different film if I didn’t make it biblically accurate.”

If you are not convinced that Christians need to read their Bibles more carefully before now, then you very soon will be! (Do tell me which page the timeline is on in your Bible!) So I include here summaries of the recent posts I have written which relate to eschatology.

The reason why we often get into tangles about the whole subject of eschatology is that we are often not very good at reading a small handful of critical texts, and largely because we fail to realise their context in the whole of Scripture, the way they take up and rework Old Testament ideas, which is the way the first generation of Christians would have read them.

The first set of texts form what is often called ‘The Little Apocalypse’ or ‘The Olivet Discourse’, and consists of Jesus’ teaching before his death whilst on the Mount of Olives outside Jerusalem. I offer overviews of these passages and how to read them in these posts:

Making sense of Matthew 24

How should we read Mark 13?

and I revisited some of the key verses in Matthew 24 in a more recent posting:

Making sense of the Second Coming

The whole idea of the ‘rapture’ comes from a misreading of not only Matt 24 but also 1 Thess 4, and I explore these here:

Why I want to be Left Behind

Popular readings also misread some key parables which are related, including the ‘sheep and the goats’ in Matt 25:

The meaning of the sheep and the goats

and the parable of the talents:

Five essentials of Biblical Interpretation 2: context

One part of the eschatological ‘jigsaw’ is the place of Israel as a nation; this has had a direct impact on current politics in the Middle East:

Does ‘Israel’ have a divine right to the land? part 2

A separate confusion lies in our understanding of the nature of the Book of Revelation:

Was Revelation written about the distant future?

and in particular our reading of the ‘millennium’, the thousand-year reign of Christ with the saints in Rev 20:

The meaning of the Millennium

And undergirding all this is often missing the centrality of bodily resurrection and its importance in the New Testament; our destiny is not to be disembodied spirits with God in heaven, but to be bodily resurrected in a new heavens-come-down-to-earth.

Resurrection

All this has implications for our understanding of other key aspects of Christian life and ministry. It affects how we understand the problem of evil and suffering:

Why does God allow people to do evil?

along with our struggles and disappointments:

Disappointment and the Sovereignty of God

as well as how we should pray for such situations:

How can we pray for the Philippines?

I have become convinced that the spiritual discipline of fasting is intimately connected with eschatology:

How often did Jesus’ followers fast?

And of course, the whole notion of our destiny as resurrected bodies shapes our engagement with questions of sexual ethics (you wouldn’t want me to leave that one out!):

Our bodies our sexuality

In fact, understanding eschatology aright is the foundation of all good Christian theology.


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