Ever heard someone complain, “Christians seem to never get along! They are always hopelessly divided over doctrinal issues.”
One theological area where Christians experience significant disagreement involves eschatology (the study of “last things” or “future things”).
Five Eschatological Essentials
1. Second Coming of Jesus Christ
All historic Christian traditions affirm the literal, bodily return of Jesus Christ to the earth at his Second Advent (Matthew 25:31-32; Acts 1:10-11; 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17; Titus 2:13). This personal coming (or advent) is not a mere spiritual phenomenon. Instead, Christ’s physical return will impact the entire cosmos and will end human history as we now know it. The entire New Testament was written in anticipation of this wondrous event. Yet no one knows the exact time of Christ’s return. In fact, setting or implying dates for this event is contrary to Scripture (Matthew 24:36). The promise of Jesus’ return should not result in excessive speculation about the future. Rather, its anticipation should encourage believers to live lives of faithful gratitude to God.
2. General Resurrection of the Dead
Historic Christians avow that following Christ’s Second Coming, God will resurrect the physical bodies of all the human beings who have ever lived (John 5:28-29; Acts 24:15; 1 Corinthians 15:51-52). This general resurrection will involve a form of physical existence for both believers and nonbelievers. According to individual eschatology, the intermediate state (the period between death and the general resurrection) will involve a temporary disembodied existence where the souls of believers reside consciously in the presence of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:6-8; Philippians 1:21, 23-24) and the souls of nonbelievers are held in divine judgment (2 Peter 2:9). After the general resurrection and final judgment, all people (both believers and nonbelievers) will enter the eternal state in a physical type condition.
3. Final Judgment of Humankind
Different theological traditions may vary over exact timing, but all historic Christians believe that after Jesus raises humanity from the dead he will proceed to judge human beings (Matthew 25:32-33; John 12:47-48; Acts 17:31). Nonbelievers will face a conscious eternity separated from God because of their rebellious sinful actions (Matthew 25:46). Believers will undergo a judgment of their works in terms of obedience (rewards), but not in terms of their destiny (2 Corinthians 5:10). Jesus Christ has already rescued his people by paying for the sins of the believers while on the cross at Calvary (Romans 5:10; 1 Peter 2:24).
While important end time differences remain, all historic Christian theological traditions affirm these three core eschatological events. The next installment of this series will include two more eschatological essentials.
For an introduction to the topic of general eschatology, see Donald G. Bloesch, The Last Things.