Books on Bible prophecy make runaway bestsellers, and the topic of the “last days” preoccupies Christian television programming. With care and discernment cast aside, prophecies and future predictions about the end of the world have proven wrong and have caused the church to lose credibility.
Unfortunately some nonbelievers view Christians’ irresponsible approach to the Bible’s prophetic subjects as confirmation that Christianity is a sham. For example, does the name Harold Camping ring a bell? Therefore, the topic of “the Bible and the future” qualifies as an apologetics issue.
Biblical prophecy—or in systematic theological terms, “eschatology” (the study of last or future things)—is a big and challenging topic.1 This brief article offers suggestions for navigating the controversial, difficult terrain of Scripture’s teachings on future things.
Eschatological Principles and Applications
These 10 Commandments of Christian Eschatology are broken up into principles followed immediately by the respective application of those principles.
1. Principle: Appreciate that the Bible can be misunderstood and that the apocalyptic writings (the Books of Daniel and Revelation and other passages) pose special challenges to one’s understanding.
2. Application: Therefore approach Scripture and its interpretation (hermeneutics) responsibly—especially the eschatological sections that often involve an elaborate and extensive use of symbolism (2 Peter 1:20–21;3:16).
3. Principle: Appreciate that, throughout church history, biblical scholars and theologians have come to a variety of positions on eschatological matters.
4. Application: Therefore avoid being dogmatic—especially about the most hotly debated areas of eschatology—and instead study all of the major views (pre-, post-, and a-millennialism) and weigh their strengths and weaknesses accordingly (Acts 17:11; 1 Thessalonians 5:19–21).
5. Principle: Resist the temptation to engage in excessive speculation over the Bible’s prophetic writings and what it seems to say about the future.
6. Application: Focus on the Bible’s essential eschatological teachings or “Mere Christian Eschatology” (the consensus of Christ’s second coming, general resurrection, the last judgment, eternal state, and new creation).
7. Principle: Recognize that all attempts to set dates (either approximate or exact) for the second coming of Christ directly contradict the clear teachings of Scripture.
8. Application: Therefore, rather than speculating on the issue, ask the following question: “What did Jesus say when asked about the time of his coming?” (Matthew 24:44; Mark 13:32; Acts 1:7).
9. Principle: Realize that in stark contrast to crystal ball gazers (Christian and otherwise), the Bible’s eschatological teachings implore believers to affirm sound doctrine and to pursue a godly lifestyle (Titus 2:11–13).
10. Application: Therefore trust in God’s sovereign timetable concerning future events and dedicate yourself to honoring the Lord Jesus Christ in thought, word, and deed (Ephesians 1:11; 1 Thessalonians 5:23).
Here’s a prediction of a different sort: every person who has predicted a date for Christ’s second coming has been wrong; therefore, and in light of Scripture, we can conclude that anyone who repeats this dangerous mistake will also be wrong. Recognizing and applying these principles might help prevent further embarrassment from eschatological blunders and can encourage believers to grow in sound theological discernment.