In the study of the history and development of eschatology, emphasis is placed upon the importance of the recovery of last-days biblical prophetic truths during the time period following the Protestant Reformation. This has occurred alongside the parallel discovery of other key doctrines such as salvation by grace, justification through faith, and becoming spiritually reborn (John 3:3), which were partially lost during the dark and middle ages of history.
One of the key biblical doctrines that still has not made a full recovery in practical application to this day, in my opinion, is the concept of a divinely planned and guided challenge of adversity contained within a God-composed journey of faith, which beneficially separates the believer from debilitating self-sovereignty. The Christian set free from self-in-control in a walk-of-faith through the cross and the resurrection is then able to step into a biblical quality of life to match on some level the experiences of an Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Gideon, David, Ruth, Esther and Mordecai, Daniel, Peter, and Paul.
In the current emphasis in developed countries for “church growth” and the effort to find the right tone to reach out and successfully evangelize the “unchurched”, one key element of our discipleship…of picking up our cross and following Jesus…is all too often homogenized out of the message for the sake of not offending worldly-minded potential converts. Sadly, in too many churches today the idea that every Christian can have an individualized adventure of faith composed and guided personally by Jesus Christ starting at the foot of the cross is not even clearly and powerfully taught as applying to our everyday lives here and now, much less factored into the calculus of the upcoming tumultuous end-times prophetic scenarios.
In my opinion, the Christian church must experience some portion of Daniel’s seven-year tribulation. As I interpret the narrative stories of faith in the Bible, this viewpoint does not adversely affect our blessed hope, or undermine the doctrine of imminence at any time of an immediate rapture of the church, or call into question the purity of God’s love for us (Psalm 34:19). Confronting and overcoming dark challenges is an integral and inseparable part of the process of a journey of faith life-script that God lovingly composes for our eternal good, as patterned in the narrative stories of faith recorded in the Bible.
Jesus Christ actually tells Peter at the beginning of Peter’s ministry that he will someday in the future be martyred through crucifixion rather than be raptured (John 21:18-19), yet this seemingly negative prophetic information does not discourage Peter, diminish the power of his ministry, or destroy his blessed hope in the slightest (1 Peter 1:3). Paul tells Timothy (2 Timothy 4:6) he suspects that he (Paul) will be martyred, not raptured, soon. Yet Paul presses forward in this knowledge with unwavering hope and determination to honorably complete his mission and calling (2 Timothy 4:17). Because Paul enjoys the status of being a Roman citizen, historical tradition tells us that Paul is finally executed by beheading (parallels Revelation 20:4) in Rome under Nero’s decree sometime around A.D. 62-64, instead of being crucified like Peter, a Jew and a non-citizen of Rome.
If two of the greatest Christians and chosen authors of New Testament letters to the churches, Peter and Paul, did not allow a foreknowledge of their future deaths as martyrs to adversely affect the commitment to their calling and their fidelity to Jesus Christ, how is it that many Christians today believe that experiencing some portion of the tribulation will destroy their blessed hope of Titus 2:13?
In John 15:11, Jesus says: “These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.” Moments earlier, Jesus told the disciples: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you; not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” These words Jesus spoke the night before His crucifixion the following day.
In John 11:7, upon hearing of the death of His friend Lazarus, Jesus says: “Let us go into Judaea again.” The disciples respond by saying: “Master, the Jews of late sought to stone thee; and goest thou there again?” In verse 16, one of the disciples Thomas (the much maligned “doubting” Thomas who would not accept the resurrection until he saw Jesus with his own eyes) then says with characteristically clear-sighted appraisal of the situation: “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
Yet the disciples do not perish with Jesus during His trial and crucifixion, but after Pentecost go on to preach courageously of the bodily resurrection of Christ in the very heart of danger in Jerusalem. The narrowest of gates opens for the disciples to form the early Christian church, amidst the most lethally adverse circumstances, a church which has flourished and survived down to our present day to provide salvation and deliverance from sin to Spirit-born Christians worldwide.
Jesus Christ fills all-in-all so that we can follow Him safely into the deepest valley and up to the highest mountaintop, in our singular and unique callings. We must factor this honest and straightforward reality into our interpretation of biblical end-of-time prophetic scripture if we are to come reasonably close to what God intends us to understand ahead of time as God prepares us for the upcoming end-times.
Peter and Paul exemplify the true, biblical, divinely authorized foreglimpse of the overcoming attitude of faith and trust in the Rock that is Christ, in response to whatever challenges lie ahead in the future for Christians. This is the hope-built foundation of our faith, no matter what is occurring in the outer world.
For the Spirit-born Christian, our eternal life with Jesus Christ in heaven is forever, without end. It is already secure. The cross of Christ experience, therefore, in our short-lived lives now is priceless beyond reckoning (Romans 8:18). This is the part of the discussion relating to eschatology that has not yet been fully recovered. It is certainly an opinion and a viewpoint worthy of examination, discussion, and argument from scripture. The cross of Jesus Christ in our lives, as it applies to the end-times, is the theme of this book.