How do people view eschatology? Some people get all worked up and go in the ditch of panic, fear and speculation. They see the Beast around every new election. They get wrapped up in playing the dating game. Most are smart enough to avoid setting a specific date, but they do tell everyone that we are living in the last days. If it is said often enough then it must be true.
Others try their best to ignore the subject all together. Many of these will claim to be panmillenialists — that it will all pan out in the end. Essentially this is an agnostic position. I think the issue is more than simply a matter of chronology, such as where do you date the battle of Armageddon? Do you place it in the first century or do you place it at the end of time, or the end of the world? Do you project the anti-Christ and the beast figures into the first century or do you think they are yet to arrive on the scene of history?
The issue that is at the heart of all of this discussion of end times is your doctrine of the cross. The doctrine of eschatology and end times considered alone is peripheral. However the doctrine of the cross is, to take the Latin word for cross, at the crux of the matter. Your Christianity is going to be healthy or sick depending on whether or doctrine of the cross is healthy or sick. If your doctrine of the cross is healthy then it will spread out and affect everything including your doctrine of eschatology. If your doctrine of the cross is sick, it too will spread out and affect everything in your understanding and thinking.
Consider 1 John 4:14, "And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world" (NIV). What does this have to do with eschatology? What does this have to do with the future course of the world? What does this have to do with the end times? We are Christians and it is our duty to testify to the same things as the apostles testified to in the first century. Those things they saw we should see and those things they testified to as true we should be able to testify to them as truth as well. "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched — this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ" (1 John 1:1-3).
We fellowship with them in Christ and in the testimony of Christ. What is the testimony? The testimony is that Christ is the savior of the world. The Father sent the Son into the world with a particular mission. That mission was to save the world. Jesus went to the cross to die for a purpose. Jesus came on purpose, He died on purpose and He was resurrected on purpose. What is that purpose? To save the world. We are supposed to testify to this truth, but unless we acknowledge it as truth we will not testify about it. The modern church does not testify to this as truth. We don't treat this verse like the liberals and rip it out from the Bible. Instead what we do is just ignore this verse and others like it. If we want to be consistent Biblical Christians, we need to testify to the same thing.
Are we willing to say Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world? Evangelical Christians seem to have found a number of ways to slip off the point of this truth. In the Reformed tradition they find themselves redefining "world." They make "world" mean only the elect. Combine that with another doctrine that the elect are tiny in number and you have a pessimistic view of this truth. Sure Jesus is the savior of the world but the world is only the elect and we probably do not have many more than a few hundred who are part of the elect.
In other traditions we find this interpretation, God sent His Son to offer salvation to the world. So this group does not redefine "world." They say "world" really means world. But the cop out by saying "savior" does not really mean savior. They redefine "Savior" as "Potential Savior." And their conclusion is Jesus is the potential savior for anyone who believes, but we know most will not believe. So they dilute the word "savior." The reformed position dilutes the word "world" and another group dilutes the word "savior." The Bible gives us no indication that we should dilute either word.
In John 12 we find a theme, which runs throughout the New Testament. "Yet at the same time many even of the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they should be put out of the synagogue; for they loved praise from men more than praise from God. Then Jesus cried out, ‘When a man believes in me, he does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. When he looks at me, he sees the one who sent me. I have come into the world as light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness. As for the person who hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge him. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save it'" (John 12:42-47).
Jesus clearly teaches in the next verse that there will be some who are judged. So we are not trying to teach some form of universalism. The question we need to answer is why did Jesus come into the world? To fulfill the mission that the Father had for Him. Why then did the Father send Jesus into he world? Very simply, to save the world. Not in order to try to save the world, He came into the world to save the world. This does not necessarily mean every last man, woman and child, for we know there is a hell for those who reject the salvation offered to them. It may not include every last man, woman and child but it does mean the world.
"For God so loved the world, that He gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him" (John 3:16-17). Notice this salvation is not automatic. It is for those who believe. There is a clear distinction between those who believe and those who do not. There is a distinction between the sheep and the goats. There is a clear distinction between Judas and Peter. The one who believes has life and the one who does not believe has the wrath of God to face. The recipient of God's redemptive love is not this individual person and that individual person. Rather the recipient of God's redemptive love is the world.
Most evangelical Christians believe that when everything is said and done the world will be destroyed. The world will be condemned when all is finally finished. This belief of ours that we will have a damned world flies in the face of what Jesus is trying to teach us. Jesus came to bring salvation, not damnation to the world. Make no mistake, individuals are damned for rejecting God's salvation but the world is not damned. The world is the recipient of God's saving love. When we ask ourselves why we have the wrong concept, I believe the answer lies in the fact that we have been affected far more than we realize by the pessimism that is promoted by modern evangelicals. We hear it on the radio, we read it in the best-selling books and we start believing it over the truth found in Scripture. If we look only to the Scriptures we see a triumphal and a conquering through the cross of Christ. Jesus did not come into the world to try to save the world. He did not come to put out another option to the world. He came to save the world.
"Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman's testimony, ‘He told me everything I ever did.'" So when the Samaritans had come to Him, they urged Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days. And many more believed because of His own word. Then they said to the woman, "We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man is the Savior of the world" (John 4:39-42). A lifeguard on the beach is not called a savior unless he saves someone. Just because he is positioned to save potential drowners does not make him a savior. We don't call him a savior if he tries unsuccessfully to save drowners. Christ is not the savior of this world if He does not save the world.
It seems quite simple to me. How much more clearly could the biblical writers have made this point? The Samaritians seems to understand this point. This is the Messiah, the Christ, the Savior of the world. "Jesus said to them, ‘I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world'" (John 6:32-33). Who came down from heaven to give life? It is none other than Jesus. Who does Jesus give life to? The world. It does not say He tried unsuccessfully to give life to the world. "I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If a man eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I give for the life of the world" (John 6:48-51). Jesus is very particular. If you do not eat, you will die. If you do not eat, you will spend eternity in hell, but if you do eat you will have life forever. He says He has given His flesh for the world. He has given His bread to the world so that they may have life.
"My dear children, I write this to you, so that you will not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense — Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the [propitiation] for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world" (1 John 2:1-2). What is propitiation? It is the turning aside of wrath. Propitiation is the turning away of God's judgment. We see Jesus is the propitiation not only for our sins but also for the sins of the whole world. What does this mean? The judgment or the wrath of God still rest upon individuals who do not believe. However it is not resting upon the world, because Jesus Christ is the propitiation for the whole world. Again, this is not to say every last man, woman, and child are automatically saved. Those who continue in high-handed rebellion, Judas, Pharaoh and the like, will perish.
How is this consistent with what I see all around me? When I look around the world, I see many more who do not believe than those who do believe. How is this consistent with my eyes? How is this consistent with what I read in the newspapers? First of all we need not use our newspapers as the standard. We have only one standard and that is The Word. The real question becomes are we seeing things consistent with the Word? Secondly, once we start seeing things as God sees them we need to be like John and testify to the truth. The truth revealed in God's Word. Do we believe the truth of God's Word? If so then we need to live it. If so then we need to proclaim it.