On Sunday, we’ll be looking at Mark 13, a chapter that focuses on Jesus’ teachings on the last days – the period of time between His ascension and second coming. The purpose of this brief article is to prepare you to listen to the Sunday sermon.
Studying the End Times
The subject of the future/last days has been at the center of countless debate and conversation over the centuries. It seems that the longer the Lord tarries in His return, the more theories and speculations about the end times have arisen, many of which have resulted in much disagreement and confusion.
What is the reason for the diversity of opinions on the matter? Well for one, the bible doesn’t provide us with a neat order of end time events. God has given us what we need to know, but in His wisdom He gave it to us in such a way as to keep us focused on the essential matters (which we’ll talk about on Sunday), and not on nonessential matters. Secondly, the bible uses a lot of symbolism in its apocalyptic sections (apocalyptic is a form of biblical literature that focuses on the end times). In light of this, there are some on one side of the spectrum who interpret apocalyptic imagery strictly symbolically (e.g. stars, horses, etc. are a symbol of an actual object or figure); and on the other side, there are those who interpret it strictly literally (e.g. stars, horses are actually stars and horses).
With no uniform agreement on the “proper” method of interpretation, this has led to an overabundance of positions, debates, and sadly, division.
Responding to One Another’s Perspectives
Because, then, there is a wide range of perspectives on this subject, as Christians this should cause us to refrain from quickly judging a person who disagrees with us, but rather to respond to one another with patience and charity. Paul instructs us not to quarrel over opinions but to welcome one another, for we all answer ultimately to God (see Romans 14).
In his book Conscience, Andy Naselli suggests some helpful guidelines for how Christians ought to “welcome” each other regarding our theological perspectives. I find these to helpful for all Christian discussion, not just end times stuff. He says that every biblical issue falls into one of three categories: essential, important, and nonessential (issues of conscience).
- “Essential matters” are those doctrines that cannot be eliminated and still be truly Christian. For example, the deity of Christ (including Christ’s eternality, the Trinity, and the incarnation), salvation by grace and not by works, and the bodily resurrection of Christ are essential doctrines. When these truths are removed or are altered, biblical Christianity ceases to exist.
- Then there are teachings that fall under the category of “important matters.” These are important scriptural truths, but believers may have differing perspectives on them. Examples of this category include water baptism (paedo vs. credo), gifts of the Holy Spirit being for today, and positions on the millennium and last days.
- Lastly, there is the category of “nonessential matters.” Often times these are very practical, conscience issues that provoke questions, for example, like: What activities should a Christian do or not do on the Sabbath? What are appropriate ways of worshipping in song? How should I use the possessions I’ve been given? These are conscience issues that we hold based on our own Spirit-led reading of the scripture.
Naselli says that disagreement on third level issues (and I will add, many important, second-level issues), shouldn’t cause disunity in the church family. He goes on to say that even in a doctrinally-robust, gospel-centered church, we may disagree on many matters. Because of this, he says, “Christians don’t always need to eliminate differences, but they should always seek to glorify God by loving each other in their differences” (p. 87).
My Prayer for Us
So certainly, this is just as true concerning the way we approach studying the end times. This Sunday, while we’ll be unable to deeply dive into this subject, as we approach the sermon my prayer is that the Spirit cause us to come with the readiness and appropriate humility to hear Jesus teach us. What He says will prepare us to live as more faithful followers in these last and uncertain times. Join me in praying to this end.