The theological term for the end times is eschatology, the study of last things. This includes not only the return of Christ and the kingdom, but also “personal eschatology,” what happens to individuals after death, what judgments await the believer and the unbeliever. I think that the study of the “end times” has mutated into “what is going to happen to those people left behind after the Rapture?” While I do believe in a Rapture / Tribulation / Second Coming scheme, I think it is more helpful to see the overall themes of Revelation rather that try to get ever detail of the Tribulation lined up on a chart.
I want to let Revelation speak for itself as much as possible, and to do that the book must be read in the context of the Hebrew Bible and Second Temple Jewish expectations. John is remarkably consistent with the Judaism of his day, with the exception of identifying Jesus as the Messiah.
The most general teaching of Revelation concerning personal eschatology is that the righteous are to be rewarded and the unrighteous are to be condemned. This is consistent with the Hebrew Bible. When the messianic age begins, there is a judgment of the nations and of Israel. Not everyone participates in the messianic age, as a text like Isaiah 25:6-8 makes clear. While many will gather on Zion to participate in the inaugural banquet at the beginning of the age, Israel’s prototypical enemy Moab will be trampled in the mud (25:10-12). Jesus also described the beginning of the new age as a harvest, where the wheat will be gathered into the barn (where it belongs) and the weeds gathered and thrown on a fire (where they belong). This theme of eschatological separation is common in Jesus’ parables (Matt 13:24-30, for example).
Prior to the beginning of the eschatological age, the Hebrew Bible expects a time of persecution of the people of God. In a book like Daniel, this period of persecution will separate the true Israel from the false. The capture of Jerusalem by the Babylonians initiated a long sequence of conflict with pagan rulers which reached a climax during the reign of Antiochus IV Epiphanies. The struggles of the Maccabean period become a paradigm for future persecutions.
In Revelation, there is a persecution of those who refuse to worship the beast or take his mark. Revelation 13:7 describes this as a “war on the saints” which will result in the death of many who are followers of Christ (13:10, 20:4). This persecution is a time when a choice must be made to worship the beast (taking his mark) or to worship the Lamb. There is no middle ground, the time of great persecution is a sifting of the true followers from the false.
In Revelation 20, there is a judgment at the beginning of the Kingdom of God, or the eschatological age. John’s vision turns to a scene of thrones, thrones for those who were martyred during the tribulation, and thrones for those that endured until the end. In this vision, it is the souls of those who were faithful during the tribulation that sit upon thrones. The souls that John is seeing in these verses are those that were under the altar in 6:9 crying out to God asking to be revenged for their death at the hands of the beast and his kingdom.
With respect to the future, then, Revelation promises that God will judge with justice. Those who persecute will be judged and separated from the Kingdom of God, while those who were persecuted will be vindicated and enter into that Kingdom.
Does this constitute a “hope for the future” for those who are suffering? I think it does, in the same was 1 Peter or Hebrews held out hope for those suffering Imperial oppression. But how does Revelation theology of hope speak to Christians today? Is it simply “suffer in silence and let God sort it out?”
9 thoughts on “What does Revelation Say about the Future?”
Reblogged this on Talmidimblogging.
I do not think that Christians today are simply left to suffer in silence. I think that the judgement of those who have persecuted and oppressed in Revelation gives meaning to those who are suffering today because it gives us a purpose to our suffering. Without knowing what will eventually happen to our oppressors in the end, suffering for God does not have as much purpose because it seems fruitless. Not that the fruit is to see others be punished, but to know that we are right in our beliefs, and can stand in the midst of suffering because we know we are standing up for what is right. If it was only suffering and the persecutors not being punished, then which side is wrong or right? We have the hope and faith that we are right in what we are standing up for, and those who oppose it will be told they are wrong eventually, even if they do not listen to us presently. This gives Christians courage and strength to be persecuted because in the end, the accuser of our faith will be hurled down (Revelation 12:10).
“that God will judge with justice” is a direct quote from the Psalms (and it is repeated in the Psalms many times). Revelation as a book underlines the work of Jesus in his self-giving for the life of the world. Predictions of rapture seem to me to be out of whack with the reality portrayed – the suffering of the Lamb who absorbed the implications of our sin and worship of power and money. We tend to refuse the cost today even when the cost is presented to us in the economic burden of our self-defense and the personal burden in blood of the same self-defense. This Lamb did not defend himself.
People naturally want to take it upon themselves to retaliate to those who have wronged them. Why else would there be the retaliation law, which sums up as “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” Except Jesus refuted that by saying we are to resist retaliation(Matthew 5:38-39). Still today we struggle in a society enthralled by retaliation; as my high school professor said, “we live in a suing society.” If we retaliate we keep the issue earthly and continue to perpetuate it. It will just be a cycle of retaliation. If we do not take it in our own hands and leave it to God then we are breaking the cycle. This resistance sets us apart from the earthly desire to retaliate. We are to do everything to glorify God (1 Corinthians 10:31). This is why I do not think we should suffer in silence. We should take the suffering in a way that shows others the glory of God. Taking things in our own hands does not make us any better then those persecuting us. God is the only one who can (James 4:12), and because of that we should let God handle the ones persecuting. To sum it up, I do not think we should suffer in silence, but instead use it to glorify God, and leave the consequences of the persecutors for God.
I think that during the end times our role as Christians is to simply suffer. I do not mean this in a particularly negative way but a positive. I think that it is important to consider why we are suffering. We are the elect that refuses to serve anyone other than the one who deserves it. Also, take note in the fact that our suffering will be a temporary requirement for us to get into Heaven. This is our eschatological living. Karen Jobes said it best when covering the book of James. She said we are supposed to be motivated to live right in the present so that our future may be better benefitted (Jobes, 225). There is no point worrying about the future but to live in the present with our personal eschatology in mind. Keep Matthew 6:34 in your head while you read Revelation and worship God for giving you eternal life with him.
I think Christians can have hope for a future, but in a way that we cannot experience here on earth. Our hope is for our heavenly future because we will never, as Christians, be able to experience complete peace here on earth. As Christians we do not have to suffer in silence because that would imply that our suffering was in vain. We do have hope, we have something to suffer for, and we have an awaited glory. We can boldly stand up for what we believe because we will be rewarded for that. When we boldly suffer, and speak up, we show the confidence we have in God. However, suffering in silence could be from humility and could be a good thing as well. I think Revelation offers us so much hope that we can shout it out!
As Christians, we have a reason for hope, and this means that we have a reason to suffer. It is worth it to suffer for our God, because he is greater than any suffering that can be incurred on this Earth. However, there is certainly a tension between boldly speaking out during persecution and suffering silently. I don’t think this is a black and white issue, and I think both can be right or wrong depending on the situation. There are times when Christians should be speaking boldly, and there are times when we should let our actions speak instead of our words. In my mind, it all comes down to motivations. Are you speaking out to glorify yourself or God? Obviously speaking out to bring glory to God or spread his gospel is good. However, many will speak out to bring attention to themselves, which is not good. While we can rely on God to sort things out in the end, this does not necessarily mean that “suffering in silence” is a black and white issue, in my opinion.
I agree that often the view of Revelation is skewed by those who have been somewhat blindly led to believe that it is all about the time after the Rapture. It seems as though a majority of people I know believe the first chapter talks about Christians getting raptured and the rest of the book is about what comes after that. It blows my mind how many people haven’t even read Revelation. That being said, I think the focus of Christians when reading Revelation should partially be in the fact that God has already won. So often the end times are looked at as God and Satan going toe to toe in the final round of life. But Satan never even stepped into the ring. Jesus beat this a long time ago by dying on a cross, this is just the last manifestation of the story.
On another topic (I couldn’t see a post) how do you read the 31/2 years? Literal or describing the period of the church or perhaps another option.