Scripture teaches us to develop what some have called an “apocalyptic spirituality” in which we so deeply sense the dawning of the age to come that we begin to realize its wonder in this present age. The Apostle Peter captures in a single phrase Scripture’s unified application of eschatology. In light of God’s plan to purify the cosmos, he asks, “What sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness?” (2 Pet. 3:11). With Peter, Jesus (Mark 13:35–37) and Paul (1 Thess. 5:6) call God’s people to respond to the coming of the end with watchful sobriety.
Eschatology, the study of the last things, is a fancy word for something we all already do. All of us think about the end. Yes, our culture and our fears push to the periphery thoughts of our death and the life hereafter. But count on it: at some point in your life, you are going to agonize over what will happen to you after you breathe your last. You can’t attend a funeral—whether of a religious or nonreligious person—without hearing somebody’s eschatology, their concept of what happens after death. We are all eschatologists. But that doesn’t mean we always engage the end times well. In at least three ways, we could go wrong in this most basic theological discipline.
1. We are tempted to engage in speculative eschatology. When end-times study is not rooted in Scripture, it becomes vain dreaming, the dogmatization of our wishes. In a time of unfathomable suffering and pain, Job asked his mostly well-meaning friends, “How then will you comfort me with empty nothings? There is nothing left of your answers but falsehood” (Job 21:34). When it comes to matters of eternal life and death, we need more than “empty nothings.”