Gary DeMar has written a profoundly helpful book titled Last Days Madness: Obsession of the Modern Church. In it, he illustrates just how obsessed Christians in the last century or more have become with end times prophecies, which has led to all sorts of fanciful interpretations. People have built entire ministries around particular interpretations of end times events. Sadly, much of this has proven decidedly counterproductive to the gospel message.
The gospel is not simply a message that, if believed, delivers us from the penalty of sin. It does that, thank God, but its design is far deeper. Through the gospel, God also delivers us increasingly from the power of sin in this life until, in the resurrection, we will be fully delivered from the very presence and the passing pleasures of sin. The gospel, in other words, teaches us “to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” as we wait “for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:11–14). Eschatology, properly interpreted, has the same goal. Peter makes this point in 2 Peter 3:11–13.
These verses have been the subject of much speculation and a great variety of interpretation. On the one end of the interpretive spectrum, some interpreters believe that these verses prophesy the compete destruction of the cosmos as we know it. On the other end of the spectrum, other interpreters believe that these verses are a prophecy of the first-century dissolution of the Jewish religious system with the destruction of the temple. There are a range of interpretive approaches between these two. While I don’t want to undermine the importance of correctly interpreting these verses (2 Timothy 2:15), that is not the focus of my consideration of this text today.
Peter was aware of the danger of “end times madness.” He knew that his readers might focus so narrowly on the judgement he has described that they would neglect the lifestyle to which the promised judgement pointed. He therefore reminds them of “what sort of people” they ought to be “in lives of holiness and godliness.” In other words, everything he wrote about the coming judgement was supposed to make a difference in the way they lived. Rather than inspiring a tunnel vision on eschatological interpretation, the reality of eschatological judgement was to inspire “holiness and godliness.”
Too often, eschatological texts seem to do little to inspire godliness. When that happens, it is not the fault of the text but the fault of the reader or interpreter. Eschatological texts, like any text, point us to Christ. As we see the beauty and glory of Christ, it moves us to holiness and godliness. If we miss Christ in our interpretation, we will not be moved to holiness and godliness. If, for example, we read Revelation with a narrow focus on trying to figure out timelines and the identity of the Antichrist, we will have missed the purpose of the book. Revelation is “the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:1). It is meant to reveal Christ to us, which will certainly move us to holiness and godliness. The goal of biblical eschatology is to make us better Christians here and how. Any text that deals with last things also instructs us how to live in the present world.
Karl Marx called Christianity “the opium of the masses.” He accused Christians of being so obsessed with the life to come that they neglected any healthy societal focus in the here and now. This should not be the case. Instead, eschatological texts, properly interpreted, should move us to at least three things in this life.
Properly interpreted, eschatological texts will move us to holy and godly evangelism. When we realise the reality of final judgement, we will be moved to warn sinners of the wrath to come. It is not about “scaring people into heaven,” but if we believe that the Judge of all the earth intends to do what is right, surely we should warn people to repent. As God appointed Ezekiel as a watchman for the house of Israel, and expected that he would warn of God’s judgement to come (Ezekiel 3:16–21), so he has appointed his people in this world watchmen to warn of his final judgement to come upon all those who persist in their sin and resist his grace and forgiveness offered in Jesus.
Properly interpreted, eschatological texts will move us to pursue holy and godly justice. I realise that “social justice” is something of a swearword in some Christian circles, but Christians have for centuries been moved to strive for a better society based on their understanding of the gospel and of the perfect society to come in the eternal state. One thinks of William Wilberforce, who was moved by his Christian convictions both to labour for the end of the slave trade and to establish the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. A truly Christian eschatological outlook is not content to let the world go to hell in the proverbial handbasket.
Properly interpreted, eschatological texts will also move us, as Peter suggests, to personal holiness and godliness. As we realise that we will one day stand before God to be judged for every deed have done and every idle word we have spoken, it will surely move us to live lives that honour, rather than dishonour, the name of Christ.
As you reflect on 2 Peter 3:11–13 this morning, pray to be delivered from eschatological tunnel vision and ask God for the grace you need to pursue holiness and godliness in light of the great eschatological truths of the Scriptures.