Technical jargon created and employed by insiders, while useful and appropriate within a given field of expertise, often has a way of shutting down the conversation whenever such terms are tossed around by “the common folk.” In the case of biblical study, this failure to communicate can be especially disheartening if a new believer encounters a weighty word like dispensationalism or premillennialism, and then decides that it’s too complex and not for them to know.
After all, if the experts can’t agree, what makes me think that I can understand something like eschatology? Does holding to a specific view of eschatology even matter anyway? Sure, I’ll assent to the belief that Christ is coming back, and I know that I’m going to heaven when I die, but what does a thousand-year reign have to do with the here and now?
All good and relevant questions. And if you have asked, or are currently asking, yourself something along these lines, then this post is for you.
For starters, a proper understanding of biblical eschatology [end-times] does matter. Some pastors and teachers may not think that end-time specifics are all that important for life and practice today, but they should reconsider and ponder the implications of this proverb from Solomon’s pen:
The end of a matter is better than its beginning; likewise, patience is better than pride (Eccl. 7:8, NET).
Keep this verse in mind, because there is a strong correlation between a misunderstanding of our current age and a prideful heart. There are those preaching in pulpits today who say that we can have our best lives now. There are pastors teaching that suffering and illness have no place in the daily life of a child of God, and that if you only had enough faith, or if you would just say the right word, then you would be healed and could then receive God’s blessings in full.
My friends and fellow heirs in Christ, we should not be of the opinion that eschatology is a buffet— a free-for-all, whereby we can pick and choose the best option that suits our current lifestyle. A right view of future prophecy matters for life and practice now. Conversely, an errant view is like a deadly disease that goes undetected by the untrained eye and spreads throughout the body if allowed to run its course (see 2 Tim. 2:17-18).
Thankfully, those who have sharpened their senses (Heb. 5:14) can spot this pervasive eschatological error effecting the body of Christ today. One might identify this doctrinal disease in its various strains as: Kingdom Now, Christian Dominionism, Prosperity Theology, etc. I’ll also go one step further and label a couple of soft-forms of “kingdom now” theology: Amillennialism, Post-millennialism, and Preterist interpretations of the Olivet Discourse and the book of Revelation.
Regardless of how we label and identify this disease, it’s effect on the true body of Christ has been devastating. And it’s not a recent phenomenon either! We can find traces of the “kingdom now” doctrine all the way through the New Testament, which is largely set in the context of the 1st-century churches in modern day Greece and Turkey.
As you’ll see from this brief study, the eschatological errors plaguing the earliest churches are still alive and well in the 21st century. Eventually, and one day soon, the final and only cure will be to forcefully remove the true body of believers and leave the rest to go into unrelenting judgment and purging by fire.
In short, after reading this post, it is my hope that you will gain a greater appreciation for how one’s eschatology effects their mindset and behavior at the present [i.e. sanctification], for better or for worse. Also, my aim is to inspire those who are eagerly awaiting the return of the Lord Jesus Christ to persevere in suffering now, so that when He appears, you will rejoice and look forward to reigning with our King on the earth in the coming millennium and beyond (Rev. 5:10; 20:4-6; 22:5).
Early Detection in the First Century
“Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast permeates the whole batch of dough?” (1 Cor. 5:6, HCSB).
In order to arrive at a sound interpretation of a verse or passage of Scripture, you have to start with the immediate context of the original author and his audience. One of the most helpful techniques for interpreting epistles, I learned from a professor in the Bible Exposition department at Dallas Seminary.
Dr. Charles Baylis suggests that we should first discover the problem, or problems, which the author addresses in the letter. Usually this is some form of false teaching (bad theology) that has taken hold in one of the churches. The church at Corinth, notorious for its carnality, had its fair share of problems, but most of these issues appear to stem from a single, major misunderstanding about this current age and whether the kingdom of God had come in full or not.
Once you grasp this theological root issue, the whole letter of First Corinthians opens up. The immense knowledge and spiritual gifts given to these new believers in Christ led them to a point where they became prideful and conceited [kinda like a “gifted and talented” teenager who might rebel against his parents after being granted certain freedoms].
A sampling of the background issues that the apostle Paul addresses in the letter include:
1) Some among the Corinthians were questioning the legitimacy of Paul’s apostleship because of his lack of worldly eloquence and how much he was suffering; thus, they deemed themselves to be more “spiritual” because of their own knowledge, wisdom, and prosperity (chapters 1–4).
2) Thinking that the kingdom of God had already arrived on earth, they no longer had the final judgment in view, and so sexual immorality spread and was even celebrated (chapters 5–6).
3) Thinking that they were already “like the angels in heaven” (c.f. Matt. 22:30), some considered the institution of marriage to be irrelevant or outdated (chapter 7).
5) Perhaps most relevant to addressing their “kingdom now” mindset, Paul affirms the necessity for a future bodily resurrection of the dead in Christ, which some were denying (chapter 15).
Do you see how the Corinthians’ false eschatological beliefs affected their daily lives? Anyone care to assert that eschatology isn’t that important or relevant to the present time? Right, it’s just a secondary issue, and we’re all just “prophecy nuts.”
And for good measure, here are some quotations from a few scholarly sources to confirm the strength of this underlying eschatological error within the church at Corinth:
Commentary from Charles Baylis:
These Corinthians had made the same error that many make today in their theology. They had misunderstood the age and the delay of the implementation of the kingdom. Thus they thought that since the age of the Law was gone, and they were in a new age, then they were enjoying the rewards of the kingdom now. Since Paul had explained that they were free from the Law (of the Jews) and everything was done, forgiveness of sins, new life, they thought that they were enjoying the kingdom now in this body. Thus, they denied the future earthly kingdom in a resurrected body, saying that everything was given to them by God…now! This is the kingdom, and they were enjoying its benefits…freedom from authority, law…and they were rewarded with riches, honor…and if they were not rewarded with these items, then they were not spiritual” (“Book of First Corinthians,” pg. 1; to read the rest of his commentary, go here).
Commentary from Benjamin Merkle:
From the evidence found in 1 Corinthians, it appears that the Corinthians were basing their Christianity on an erroneous view of spirituality caused by an embrace of over-realized eschatology. This doctrine affirms that the kingdom of God has come in all its fullness and therefore rejects the notion that the kingdom has ‘not yet’ fully arrived…[t]he influence of over-realized eschatology either directly or indirectly caused most of the problems that Paul seeks to correct in his first epistle to the Corinthians” (“Paul’s Arguments from Creation in 1 Corinthians 11:8-9 and 1 Timothy 2:13-14, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 528-29).
Commentary from Michael Vlach:
Paul viewed the kingdom reign as future in 1 Corinthians 4 and 6. With 1 Cor. 4:8 he chided the Corinthians for thinking they were reigning already when they were not…in 1 Cor. 6:2-3 he stated that the kingdom reign of the saints involves judging angels, something that clearly was not happening in the present. So even before we arrive at 1 Corinthians 15 Paul already indicated that the kingdom is future” (Premillennialism: Why There Must Be a Future Earthly Kingdom of Jesus, pg. 103).
Ready for a little sanctified sarcasm? In order to get his point across, the apostle Paul gets a little feisty toward this rowdy group that was “puffed up” and “inflated with pride” (1 Cor. 4:6, 18; 8:1). This next passage not only exposes the “kingdom now” error of the Corinthians, it also reveals the apostle’s desire to be reigning with Christ in the coming millennium:
For who makes you so superior? What do you have that you didn’t receive? If, in fact, you did receive it, why do you boast as if you hadn’t received it? You are already full! You are already rich! You have begun to reign as kings without us [the apostles]—and I wish you did reign, so that we could also reign with you! (1 Cor. 4:7-8, HCSB).
Paul’s statement really captures the Corinthian confusion perfectly: They had already begun to reign like kings with no regard for the age to come. And the apostle wishes they were right, because that would mean he, too, would be reigning along with them. But he knows better. The kingdom is yet future (c.f. 1 Cor. 6:9-10 – note the future tense, “…the unjust will not inherit God’s kingdom”).
The Corinthians weren’t the only ones who were “full” and “rich” and living it up as if they already had their crowns. A little ways across the Aegean, you had the Laodiceans…
Terminal in the Twenty-First Century
“So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I am going to vomit you out of my mouth!” (Rev. 3:16, NET).
In First Corinthians and the book of Revelation, I see some interesting parallels between the underlying beliefs at Corinth and Laodicea. I don’t think it is a stretch at all to say that Laodicea most likely had the same eschatological error as the Corinthians. Echoing Paul’s language in 1 Cor. 4, the Lord Jesus rebukes the church at Laodicea in a similar manner:
For you say, ‘I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (Rev. 3:17, ESV).
Compare Jesus’ words with Paul’s statement in 1 Cor. 4:8, “…you are full…you are rich!” The “kingdom now” cancer had spread from Corinth and latched on to the Laodiceans. And since Revelation 2–3 prophetically summarizes the entire Church Age, and given that we are rapidly approaching the conclusion of this age, the current forecast looks grim for the inheritors of the Laodicean legacy.
Christ has no words of commendation for this end-of-the-age church. Prophecy wasn’t welcome in ancient Corinth and Laodicea, and nor is it welcome in the mega-churches of today. Prosperity theology isn’t just an American phenomenon, either. This errant “kingdom now” doctrine that had humble beginnings has now spread all over the world.
Perhaps, we have Roman Catholicism to thank for adopting the false eschatology of the Corinthians, Augustine’s amillennialism, and exporting its “Christian” dominion from Rome to the four corners of the earth. And as stated earlier, the only cure to correct the haughtiness and pride of these last-days “Christian” churches is a swift and surgical removal of the true believing remnant while leaving the remainder to go into the Tribulation (c.f. Rev. 2:22-23; 3:10).
The ironic end of those who identify themselves as “Christian” and say in their hearts, “I am full, I am rich, and I need nothing,” will be the shocking exposure of their spiritual blindness and poverty.
Remember the Solomonic proverb, “The end of a matter is better than its beginning…patience is better than pride” (Eccl. 7:8). In a similar vein, those who correctly understand the times will patiently wait for their King to return. However, those who live like kings in this present evil age (Gal. 1:4) will be sorely disappointed when the King of kings returns and ends their party. They did not learn the principle of “cross before crown,” and they skipped over the last part of verses like Rom. 8:17, “…if indeed we suffer with Him…” and Php. 1:29, “…you should not only believe in Him but also suffer for His sake.”
Continuing with the parallels of First Corinthians and Revelation, I find it interesting that Paul says in 1 Cor. 4:18, “Now some are inflated with pride, as though I were not coming to you” (HCSB). And in the letters to the seven churches in Revelation, we find the same attitude among those who are either asleep (Rev. 3:3), or inflated with pride (Rev. 3:16-17). Both are not expecting the Lord to return.
It’s no coincidence that Jesus identifies himself as “the ruler of God’s creation” to the Laodiceans in his opening address (Rev. 3:14; the Greek word arche can also be translated as “first” and “ruler/principality” in addition to “beginning”). He lets them know right away who’s really in charge. For those in Laodicea who heed His message, they are promised Christ’s throne at His return (Rev. 3:21). Again, not a coincidence.
So, as Paul would say (1 Cor. 4:21), which way would you rather have it? Jesus is coming back soon whether you’re ready or not. Do you want the rod of iron, or gentle staff of the Shepherd? (c.f. Rev. 3:19-20). If you want to escape the Tribulation and be ushered immediately in to the King’s table, then you had better check to see if you are clothed with the King’s righteousness (“What is the gospel?“).
If you are already a believer, clothed with Christ’s righteousness, then I pray that you have your eschatology straight. Hopefully, after reading through this study and traveling from Corinth to Laodicea all the way to our present day at the end of the Church Age, you get the picture. A sound doctrine of the future [eschatology] matters today.
In closing, here are three key takeaways:
1) Premillennialism is a fancy way of saying that you agree with the teaching of Scripture that the kingdom of God has not yet come in its fullness. We still await the return of the Son of God, Son of David to rule on earth from Jerusalem—the duration of this future reign having been disclosed in the last book of the Bible, which the apostle John states explicitly as 1,000 years (Rev. 20:1-10).
2) Though some textbooks, commentaries, preachers and teachers present eschatology as if it were choosing a soup de jour, don’t be fooled. All views are not equally valid, and you have to land somewhere. As shown in the study above, orthodoxy precedes orthopraxy (i.e. right doctrine leads to right practice). Therefore, a correct eschatology should result in faithful obedience to God’s will during this present age [dispensation], which includes suffering for Christ before reigning with Him.
3) Now that you are equipped, help set others free who are trapped in prosperity theology. Minister to those coming out of a “kingdom now” mindset who are reeling from the shipwreck of their faith. Finally, look forward to your future crown without envy for those who call themselves a Christian and yet live like they are already reigning in the millennium.
God, our Father, may Your kingdom come and Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. And, come Lord Jesus! Gather us together and get us ready to reign with You!
Amen. (Click to Source)
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