The story of our salvation is like a drama with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Eschatology is about the end of the drama. Eschatology is the doctrine of the last things. It’s how about how everything related to this age comes to a glorious close.
Out there you can find many complicated systems of eschatology. To make sense of many forms of premillennialism, for example, you really need to have charts. However, to make sense of the eschatology found in our Three Forms of Unity, you don’t need any charts at all, because it’s really quite simple. Article 37 of the Belgic Confession speaks of these main elements:
- At the time known only to the Lord, Christ will return bodily and visibly, with great glory and majesty
- He will declare himself judge of the living and the dead
- He will “set this old world afire in order to purge it.”
- All people who’ve ever lived will be summoned to appear before the Judge
- Those who have died before this moment will be raised from the dead
- Those still alive will be changed from perishable to imperishable
- Christ will judge
- Wicked unbelievers will be sent to eternal torment of body and soul in hell
- Believers will be vindicated and will be brought to eternal blessedness of body and soul
Reformed eschatology isn’t really that complicated!
Intermediate and Final States
However, we can add a couple more important biblical details to that picture. For example, we make an important distinction between the intermediate state and the final state. As human beings, we’re made up of two parts: body (material) and soul (immaterial). When we die, our soul departs our body – the two are separated. If we’re Christians, our souls go to heaven to be with the Lord. This is called the intermediate (“in-between”) state. Our bodies lay in the grave to await the resurrection. That happens at the return of Christ. When Christ returns, our souls and bodies are reunited and we again become complete human beings. If we’re Christians, we go to live in the new creation. This is called the final state. This is our ultimate destiny.
Events Preceding Christ’s Return
We ought also to note the events the precede Christ’s second coming. The Bible speaks of several things which will happen before Christ returns. The most important is the drawing in of the fullness of the elect (Matt. 24:14, Mk.13:10). Christ will not return until the full number of the elect has been brought into his church. Related to that is the fulfilment of what Scripture says about the Jews in Romans 11:25-32. “All Israel will be saved” means we can expect a large number of Jewish people to turn to Christ before his return. 1 John 2:18 speaks about the coming Antichrist and 2 Thess. 1:3 speaks about the “man of lawlessness.” These are one and the same. The Antichrist/man of lawlessness must appear first before Christ’s return. Who will this person be? We don’t know and we may not even know until after the fact. Nevertheless, Scripture warns us to be watchful. Similarly, various signs and wonders also instruct us to be always watchful: wars, famines, earthquakes, false prophets, etc. These things are always happening and, as such, they remind us to always be ready for our Saviour’s return.
Finally, one of the biggest disagreements in eschatology has to do with the interpretation of the 1000 years mentioned in Revelation 20:1-6. Is there a literal 1000-year kingdom of Jesus Christ and if so, when does it take place? Various forms of premillennialism say Jesus will return before the 1000 years/millennium. Postmillennialism says he will return after the millennium, which is a sort of Christian golden age upon the earth. One of the key issues here is how we interpret the book of Revelation. It’s important to remember that it’s apocalyptic literature. That means it uses rich symbolism to convey spiritual truths. The millennium is an example of this. It isn’t meant to be understood literally. It’s best understood as a picture of the present reign of our King Jesus. This position, held by most Reformed people today, is known as amillennialism.
Comfort and Expectation
Eschatology is a source of great comfort for true Christians. Thinking about the last things doesn’t give us anxiety, but hope and eager expectation. Christ is coming. We don’t know when, but we do know that when he comes our joy will be unbounded. So remember to keep praying, “Maranatha, come Lord Jesus!”