What are the practical implications for you and me based on what we've studied so far?
That's the question we'll answer in this post.
Welcome to the 41st post in my series on rethinking Christian eschatology. We're nearing the end of our journey.
If you haven't read the previous posts, I invite you to do so, starting here. Otherwise it's like skipping to the last page of the book—you miss the whole story! :-)
For several years now, I've been pondering the practical impacts of my new understanding on eschatology.
I've learned a lot but still find new realizations regularly. I suppose this will continue the rest of my life.
But... I have a lot better grasp on it today than I did a couple of years ago.
The opportunity for continued learning—continued realization of deeper meaning—should feel excitement, like exploring a room full of treasures so big you can never reach the end.
Here are 10 practical impacts I've realized based on the information we've covered during this series.
Impact #1: We're all going to die
Wow, Tim! Way to start off on a real downer there.
Yeah, perhaps this isn't the best point to lead with.
But, when you talk about how these things practically impact you and me, this is at the top of the list.
When I previously held the view that Jesus hasn't yet returned, there was hope that maybe, just maybe Jesus will come back before I die.
But what we've seen from the Scriptures is that Jesus has already returned just as He promised. Contrary to widespread belief among Christians, the Scriptures do not teach that Jesus will return on the last day of life on earth. Nor do they teach that the universe will burn up. Those doctrines are based on a misunderstanding of key passages like Matt. 24-25 and 2 Pet. 3, as I have shown in previous posts.
We see that Heb. 9:27 wasn't kidding when it offered no loopholes, saying, "Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment..."
The reality is we will each experience physical death.
That also means our lives won't be prematurely shortened by the end of the universe. (That in no way guarantees our life won't be cut short by other tragedy, of course.)
Impact #2: At death, we'll immediately receive our reward
While it may be sad to realize we will definitely face physical death, the certainty that we won't have to wait around for a future judgment in order to receive our reward should be all the more encouraging.
As John wrote in Revelation:
13 Then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.”
“Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.”
(Rev. 14:13 NIV)
And as Paul comforted the Thessalonians regarding the (then-looming) second coming:
16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air [Tim: when we die]. And so we will be with the Lord forever.
18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.
(1 Thess. 4:16-18 NIV)
Before, I reluctantly believed that until Jesus comes back, Christians must have to wait in Abraham's bosom after death (see Luke 16).
Now I know that the wedding feast and judgments of Revelation happened in 70 A.D. and there is no more waiting after death. This is truly comforting.
Impact #3: Rest In Peace (RIP) is no longer an accurate expression
Rest In Peace: It's what you say when someone dies, right?
"May they rest in peace."
That expression is borne of the Christian anticipation that the deceased individual would lie in wait for the future resurrection, to occur at Jesus' second coming.
But since the mass resurrection and judgment already happened, there is no more RIP'ing.
So, if you've been using this phrase, you need to stop. It isn't accurate.
Impact #4: At least 30% of the spiritual songs I like are partially inaccurate
The belief that Jesus hasn't yet returned is predominant among believers.
Therefore, anticipation of that great event is a common theme in Christian hymns and spiritual songs.
You may not think this is a big deal at first. I thought that, too. But it is.
It's like the old joke about how you never see a yellow Volkswagon Beetle until someone mentions how you never see one. Then, all of a sudden, they're every fourth car you pass!
You'll probably sing some of your old favorites multiple times before one day it hits you upside the head like a 2x4: "Hey, wait a minute! This verse/chorus/song isn't accurate!"
Then comes the fun part.
Do you continue to sing the part you don't agree with?
It's pretty easy to skip over it when you're not the song leader. But what do you do when you are leading the song at church and someone suggests that number? Do you sing verses 1, 2 and 3 and omit verse 4—you know, the one that talks about Jesus coming back one day soon?
It's a real issue you have to wrestle with and decide for yourself. Be prepared for some awkward moments.
Impact #5: You'll read the Scriptures differently
This one is difficult to articulate so that it precisely communicates the intended point.
Through my personal journey into these things, I have become keenly aware that the Scriptures (and especially the New Testament) were written at the time they were written and to the people they were originally written for a specific reason(s). I realize now that in the past I have underemphasized and undervalued the special meaning of these writings to the first recipients.
Because of this realization, I have had to train myself to elevate my mental awareness and appreciation for the intended message for the first recipients of Scripture.
Let me give you a simple example to illustrate.
Consider these verses from Jesus' sermon on the mount:
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
(Matt. 5:10-13 NIV)
I used to read this and primarily think about what Jesus was saying to me.
I used to think thoughts like:
- Yeah, those who get persecuted for being righteous will receive the kingdom of heaven. Got it.
- We need to suffer well for Jesus. The prophets were really persecuted. I need to be like them.
- Christians are the salt of the earth. How are we salt (and light)? We have to retain our saltiness.
There is nothing inherently wrong with these thoughts and conclusions. They are valuable, in fact.
The problem is that they miss the depth of what Jesus was communicating because they fail to properly consider the primary audience.
Who was Jesus talking to when He spoke these words?
First century Jews.
What was going on with Jews in the first century?
They were suffering under Roman persecution and oppression from the Jewish religious leaders.
What was soon to happen to these people?
They were soon going to have to choose between serving GOD (by becoming a Christian) or continuing to follow their traditions. They were going to choose whether to:
- Submit to Jesus in order to escape the coming judgment upon Jerusalem and the wicked Jews who rejected Jesus as the Messiah, or...
- Suffer alongside their brethren who did what was popular among their people.
So, what Jesus meant in these verses was:
- Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Those who would choose the path of righteousness were going to suffer for Jesus' name. They would become those persecuted and martyred for their faith. They would become the Stephens and Jameses (the brother of John), who suffered martyrdom, the Peters and Johns (who were beaten by the Jewish leaders) and the Pauls, Silases and Timothys who suffered persecution from the violent, rebellious Jews.
Yet the reward these people would receive would be great. They were going to be the first recipients of the kingdom of heaven (as seen in the wedding feast and first resurrection of Rev. 19-20).
- Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
These people would be tortured, persecuted, beaten and killed, just like the prophets. That doesn't apply to every Christian in all generations (praise GOD!). But it did apply to these people to whom Jesus was directly speaking!
- You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
In the Song of Moses, Moses had prophesied that when Israel turned away from GOD destruction would follow, leading to their end as a nation. That end was 40 years away as Jesus spoke these words. These people to whom He spoke were going to live to see that 1,500-year-old prophecy come to pass.
Likewise, Malachi (and John the Baptist) had prophesied that if the people didn't repent, GOD was going to strike the land with total destruction.
Recall that the word "earth" means "land." So Jesus was saying here that these people—the very individuals He was talking to—were the salt that was preserving the land (i.e., physical Israel—the land of the old covenant). GOD had promised that they had one last attempt (with John's message) to repent, otherwise He would destroy the place.
But these people, at least the majority of them, lost their saltiness and didn't preserve the land. So it was trampled underfoot by the Roman Empire in 40 years, just as Jesus foretold.
Do you see the difference in the depth of understanding? And this is a mere four verses out of a sea of Scripture! The same principle is seen throughout the Scriptures, from cover to cover.
And now that you see this, you'll never read the Scriptures the same. And that's a blessing.
GOD pulls back the curtain to reveal what has been right under our noses the entire time! Amazing.
Does this diminish what Scripture means to us?
No, not at all.
The point is that we first figure out what the text meant to the first people who received it.
If we misunderstand what it meant to the original recipients, how in the world are we going to properly understand what it means to us today?!?
The Scriptures are just as important and meaningful to us now that we have this new understanding as they ever were. Our whole lives are guided by these words.
A helpful tip when studying
One thing that has really helped me has been to increase my utilization of the past tense when referring to what the Scriptures taught.
This will help you keep a proper perspective and avoid underemphasizing the primary audience.
For example, thinking about the passage we just discussed (Matt. 5:10-13), instead of saying...
"What Jesus is saying to us here is..."
"What Jesus was saying here is..."
This distinction might seem insignificant at first, but after consistently practicing this change for over a year, I've found it very helpful.
(I still slip up often, though, perhaps even in this very post.)
Again, let me reemphasize: We aren't reducing our consideration of how the Scriptures apply to us today. We are elevating to its proper place the consideration we give to what the message meant to the first century recipients so that we can then figuring out how it applies to us.
Instead of going straight to what this means for us today, we:
- first clearly understand what it meant for the first people to hear/read it, and then
- we identify what the takeaways are for us.
Impact #6: You might initially feel some disappointment
Remember how it felt when you first learned about Santa Claus? You know what I mean? ;-)
<deflating balloon sound>
If your experience was like mine, you were torn between feeling relieved to know the truth and maybe a bit betrayed.
<dramatic tone> "My whole life has been a lie!"
For many believers, the anticipation of potentially being the generation to physically witness the long-awaited visible return of Jesus in the physical clouds with an audible shout is exciting.
I mean, Jesus did promise to come soon, so now that it's been 2,000 years, it's gotta be getting close now, right?!?
I admit, I felt some of this initially, myself.
What I came to realize pretty quickly, though, is that by understanding what Scripture really taught on Jesus' second coming, death, the resurrection and judgment, I was trading the anticipation of possibly seeing some cool stuff and not dying physically with the certainty that, when I die physically, I'll immediately receive my reward.
When I think about the loved ones I've lost for whom I have high confidence that they died "in the Lord," as Revelation put it, it automatically puts a smile on my face to be confident that I know where they are now, that they are not waiting in Hades for the future resurrection and judgment, but they are in the very real presence of Jesus and the Father. For me, that tradeoff was a no brainer.
Even still, it often takes some time to work through the disappointment/betrayal feelings.
Impact #7: You'll wonder how so many Christians missed these things
Why did "nobody" (it isn't literally nobody) realize these things before me?
(The truth is that people have, they've just been the extreme minority.)
- Am I crazy?
- Have I misunderstood so badly all of these Scriptures?
- If so, why do they fit together so perfectly, as though only that which GOD created can?
If the apostles and first Christians understood these things, how did they not get passed down to subsequent generations?
I don't have a great answer, sadly. Yet, anyways. I'm still searching for a satisfying answer to this, myself.
One thing to bear in mind, though, is that alongside the death of the apostles, the direct inspiration of GOD through the written message also ceased. With Christianity spreading vast geographic distances—especially considering the technology and travel limitations of the day)—it is not surprising that Christian eschatological doctrine could get off track. After all, that is exactly what happened with other important doctrines.
We can look through history and observe how a handful of Christian leaders—great men to be much admired and appreciated—had tremendous influence upon the development of early orthodox doctrine, and yet which of these men can we not point to and see obvious flaws in their teachings/writings?
Ignatius over-emphasized the bishop as towering above the presbyters. Irenaeus once wrote that Jesus lived to 50 years old. Augustine introduced the doctrine of original sin which had massive consequences, including today's perverted gospel of "faith-only salvation."
These were all great men to whom we are indebted, yet they missed things that cause us to look back and say, "Wow! How could that happen?"
Furthermore, the writings of the Prophets are difficult to understand, and the early Christians didn't have anything close to the access of the totality of Scripture which we regularly enjoy, not to mention the tools which help us analyze and synthesize it.
When we consider all of this, it isn't all that surprising that early Christians misunderstood these difficult things.
Impact #8: You feel (even more) in the minority
I say it all the time: The more popular something is, the less likely it is to be true or right.
When it comes to developing godly character, following after Jesus is a lot like hiking up a mountain.
You start off in the valley below. The valley is where everyone seems to be. The crowd here is massive. People are wearing a nametag that says "Hi, I'm a Christian."
Seems cool at first.
But then, you start paying closer attention to what individuals are doing. You realize that they're behaving a lot like the people you know who don't wear the Christian nametag.
You spin around and notice that Jesus is standing there, over near the base of the mountain trail. He's got a much smaller group of people who are listening to Him. It's still a healthy crowd, though.
It's fairly quiet and a striking contrast to the hubbub in the valley.
So you make your way over. After all, Jesus is who you're there for, right?
So you join in with the group who starts up the mountain trail.
Everybody seems happy and welcoming. Jesus is in the front leading.
As He walks, He teaches about what it means to follow Him more closely—to become like Him.
He explains differences between how the majority of people think, speak and behave and what GOD wants. At first, this is no problem. After all, Jesus is talking about things that don't really relate to your situation. I mean, you're not addicted to drugs and you haven't killed anybody, so you're in the clear.
The pace is brisk and manageable.
You keep listening and following. Captivated by the Lord's presence, you lose awareness of what is happening around you. But you start to notice that Jesus' teachings are becoming a bit more challenging the further you walk. He starts talking about things that hit closer to home in your character. You find your pulse quickening and the climb is becoming more difficult.
At some point, Jesus stops to allow you to catch your breath. A cool breeze blows and you realize that the air has gotten thinner.
Spinning around, you look behind you and you realize:
- You've gone a lot further than you realized.
- There's a beautiful view from where you are.
- There are far less people with you now than when you first began the climb.
You quickly peer over the edge and look down the windy trail. Wow, look at all those people down there. You wonder, "Why'd they stop?"
You pay closer attention and you notice that some have gotten distracted, some ran into others they knew and got consumed with their conversation, and others gave up and either sat down or turned around because the climb wasn't easy.
After a few minutes, which seemed like a few seconds, Jesus says, "Hey, it's time to go. Are you coming?"
You have a choice:
- Do I follow the Lord further?
- Do I take a time out and celebrate how far I've come? After all, I did get further than most people, so that has to count for something, right?
- Do I go back down a bit where there are others? It sure is lonely here.
My point isn't about how far you made it or didn't make it—though our goal should be to follow upward for as long as GOD grants us life here.
Instead, my point is that the more upward you travel, the more lonely you become.
Don't you think Jesus felt very lonely at times when He was on earth?
We know He did. He even asked for friends to come with Him at times for this very reason. In His human nature, Jesus needed companionship.
If we are trying to imitate Jesus, do we not think we, too, will feel alone at times?
The more we approach His character, the fewer people we'll find who are making similar decisions. This is scary and humbling, but also well worth it.
Returning to our primary focus, when you believe that Jesus has already returned and that the mass resurrection and judgment has already occurred, you instantly place yourself in a small company of believers.
Finding others who think alike on these things, as of now, is difficult.
Someone says, "Well, at least this isn't a salvation issue."
Absolutely! And praise GOD that we can misunderstand these things and still be pleasing to Him, having our sins forgiven.
This does not need to turn into a point of division.
GOD forbid, in fact!
Yet it will. It already has, for some. And it will in the future for others.
Can you hold these views (based on your own private study and convictions) and still assemble with others who disagree? Yes. I do it today. I know it can be done.
Though we disagree, I welcome them as brethren as they also receive me.
Sadly though, history has taught us that people are generally awful at managing civilized disagreement over non-essential doctrines.
So it's often hard not to feel ostracized.
Yet, suppose you do manage to maintain a healthy relationship with your brethren among whom you disagree over these things.
As I've shown from this series, there isn't a book in the Bible that isn't connected to these things. We're talking about the entire big picture of the Bible here—GOD's eternal purpose.
From personal experience, I assure you, there is precious little that you can say or teach from the Scriptures that does not directly relate to these matters.
You probably won't want to be known as the person who only wants to talk about Jesus' second coming, the destruction of Jerusalem or the end of the old covenant.
I didn't and I still don't.
And yet it is hard to talk about the Scriptures for more than a few minutes without something coming up about these things. Not because you want to bring it up, but it happens because the teachings are so interwoven throughout the entirety of Scripture that you can't avoid the subjects.
No wonder Jesus said regarding the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.:
22 For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written.
(Luke 21:22 NIV)
Everything that was written pointed to these things. It's all interconnected.
You can't avoid it.
So what are we to do?
Well, we're to follow our Master:
- Love GOD and love our neighbor.
- Teach the truth as we understand it.
- Maintain a spirit of unity in the Lord.
- Be at peace with all men, as much as is possible.
- Go to those with whom we have a fault.
It isn't easy, but it is worth it.
Impact #9: You'll wonder what else you're missing
To Christians, it is hard to find more deeply and passionately held beliefs than those surrounding Jesus' second coming, the resurrection and the judgment.
When you (slowly, for many people) realize what you've believed has been incorrect, it shakes you. It foundationally shakes you.
I initially wrote this post in May 2017. In the seven years between the time we started the church that meets in our house until this writing, I have realized (and therefore have been forced to change my mind about) more things from the Scriptures that I had misunderstood than in the previous 30 years of my life.
In hindsight, I now realize that GOD wanted me to be in this environment where I could (and would) accept the challenge of rethinking things based solely on my studies from the Scriptures. I can honestly say that not one outside force beyond the Scriptures has caused me to change my mind.
Yes, I've had brethren who have helped me to understand certain things during (and before) this timeframe, but they did so from the Scriptures and using the Scriptures, alone.
But after all of this change, it forces you—it has forced me, at least—to rethink everything.
The experience of having been wrong on prior deeply held beliefs causes you to become less confident that there aren't other things you're currently misunderstanding.
As long as this prompts further personal study of the Scriptures, then such weakened self-confidence is a blessing and healthy.
So if you find yourself feeling wobbly about other matters, that's okay. Don't give up. Maintain an open mind. Pray for wisdom. Seek diligently.
Impact #10: You'll experience a more beautiful, rich, fulfilling perspective on the Scriptures than ever
I've tried to be direct and transparent about the challenges brought about by the truths in this series.
Change, especially that involving core, deeply held beliefs, is hard.
I've outlined some of those challenges in this post.
But here's the beauty: it's so worth it!
Since I began actively studying these things four years before initially writing this post, my depth of understanding of the Scriptures has vastly increased.
I mean, the Prophets totally make sense now!
That alone is "worth the price of admission," as the saying goes.
And once you understand the Prophets, you see how much GOD actually said about you and me as spiritual Israelites—far more than we ever realized! The promises are beautiful. My heart is drawn so much deeper in love with GOD because of His beauty, protection and provision.
As I've shown throughout this series, questions that never made sense quickly became clear. Questions like:
- Where is Satan now?
- Why would GOD wait thousands of years after Jesus' resurrection to punish Satan?
- What happens today when someone dies?
- Why would Paul say GOD was going to preserve the Thessalonians' bodies until Jesus returned?
- Why would John say that it was the last hour when the world has continued for another 2,000 years?
- If New Jerusalem were heaven, why would Revelation say New Jersualem came down out of heaven?
- Why would Jesus say He was coming soon only to wait thousands of years?
I could go on but I'll stop.
The good and honest heart cares about pursuing, discovering and applying truth.
GOD is truth. Finding truth is finding GOD and vice versa. One cannot exist without the other.
Discovering where we've been treasuring fool's gold can be painful and even disappointing sometimes, because we feel let down.
But when you assess the real gold you've discovered, any sadness quickly turns to joy.
I'm confident that, if you've traveled this journey with me, applying yourself throughout to a diligent search for truth and authentic perspective regarding GOD's written message to humanity, then you, too, can now say, "I see like I've never seen before."
And that view truly is amazing, isn't it? The journey was worth it.
Well, this long journey is now complete. For the moment, at least. Who knows when Jesus may turn to us again and say, "Hey, it's time to go. Are you coming?"
Although we've arrived at our intended destination, I do have three additional related posts I plan to share with you while we're here. These posts look at how our new perspective helps us better understand three additional Scriptures. I look forward to sharing these with you.
I am confident I'll have other things to say about these matters in the future, if GOD gives me opportunity. There are a number of additional points I want to make but they need to cook further before they're ready.
Got questions or comments? Leave them below. (I'm truly happy to help. But please, carefully read the entire series first.)