PROF. JOHN O. ENYINNAYA
Eschatology is one of the doctrines that was brought to the fore by COVID-19. It is also a doctrine that many consider complicated, and so they try to avoid it. Many reasons are responsible for the difficulty we encounter in articulating the doctrine of the end-time. First, it deals mainly with the future and humans do not have the capacity to know the future. Second, the Bible passages that talk about it are usually apocalyptic utilizing drama, symbols, numbers and metaphors. Third, we are separated from the writings by about two thousand years and the distance in time and culture introduce many challenges in clearly understanding the teachings. These difficulties produce disagreements among believers on this doctrine.
Having said that, it is pertinent to state that there are many points at which mainstream Christianity is in total agreement on the doctrine of eschatology and the second coming of Christ is one of them. For over two thousand years, an overwhelming majority of Christians have believed and taught that Jesus Christ is returning to this earth in a bodily manner that will be visible to all. They have taught that this second coming of Christ will mark the end of time and the beginning of eternity. Christians have also consistently taught that the second coming of Christ is imminent and will happen suddenly. These points of agreement are clear deductions from the copious Scriptural passages that address the issue (Matthew 24: 30-31; Acts 1: 11; I Thessalonians 4: 13-18; Revelation 1: 7).
In presenting its teachings on the second coming of Christ, the Scriptures urge preparedness and readiness on the part of God’s people. There is a plethora of Scriptural affirmations, by parable and clear teaching from the Lord and His apostles that Christians ought to be in a state of constant expectation, preparedness and readiness for the second coming of our Lord (Matthew 25: 1-13, 14-30; Revelation 22: 12-15).
It is the burden of this paper to discuss ways that the churches of the NBC can help to prepare their members for the second coming of Christ. The paper is divided into two parts. First, we shall discuss some theological perspectives that affect people’s views about the second coming of Christ and then make some suggestions as to what churches should do to prepare their members for the second coming of Christ.
The Urgency of the Second Coming of Christ
The general testimony of the Scriptures is that the second coming of Christ will happen soon and unexpectedly. However, a person’s sense of urgency about the second coming of Christ is usually determined by one’s understanding of Revelation chapter 20 and the time of its fulfilment.
Revelation 20: 1 – 10 speaks of a thousand-year reign of Christ during which Satan is to be bound. At the end of the one thousand years, Satan is released to wage war against God’s people, which will bring God’s final intervention that ends world history. Historically, there have been various interpretations of this passage which in turn determine one’s understanding of events surrounding the second coming of Christ.
Some assume the binding of Satan mentioned in this passage has already taken place as the binding is to enable the preaching of the Gospel to go on. They teach that the preaching of the Gospel will continue until the world becomes wholly Christianized leading to a long period of peace (that is, the one-thousand-year reign of Christ) at the end of which Christ will come back (this view is called postmillennialism). Not many Christians follow this teaching today. Although this viewpoint places a significant premium on the preaching of the Gospel, the sense of urgency about the second coming of Christ is not very strong. The events the view anticipates to take place before the coming of Christ are mostly utopian and do not resemble anything we have known at any time in history.
A second group affirms with the first group that the binding of Satan has already taken place at the first coming of Christ (cf. Luke 10:18 where Jesus says “I saw Satan fall from heaven like lightening…”) to enable the church to grow and preach the Gospel. This binding is only a restraining of Satan’s ability to deceive people, and the reign of Christ spoken about in the passage is a spiritual reign in heaven which began at His ascension. It, however, deviates from the first group by stating that whereas the preaching of the Gospel will enable the elect to become saved and join the fold of Christ, rebellious people will continue in their rebellion until near the time of Christ’s second coming, Satan will be released for a final onslaught against the church (the Great Tribulation) which Christ will bring to an end at His second coming. The second coming of Christ will usher in the final judgment, the reward of the faithful children of God and the end of time (the view is called amillennialism). The sense of urgency about the second coming of Christ is very high with this view because it holds that the coming of Christ can occur at any time, and it will be the end of time. There is no second chance to repent or take make amends.
A third group understands the binding of Satan spoken about in Revelation 20 to be an event that is in the future. It teaches that things will continue as they are until towards the end, and then great turbulence will arise against the church (the Great Tribulation). At the end of this time of distress, Christ will come to bind Satan and to establish a physical rule on earth that will last a thousand years. During this time of Christ’s physical reign on the earth (presumably from Jerusalem), unbelievers will still be around, other nations and governments will still be intact, and evangelism will continue. Some will become converted during this time, including many Jews. Towards the end of Christ’s thousand-year reign on the earth, Satan will be released to gather the entire unbelieving world in a final battle against Christ and the church but Christ will crush them. Then, the final judgment will take place (the view is called historic premillennialism). The sense of urgency of the second coming is also high with this view, but this urgency is toned down by the idea that after Christ’s coming evangelism will continue and it will still be possible for people to become converted.
The fourth perspective is similar to the third. It holds that the time of Satan’s binding is in the future; that the reign of Christ mentioned in the passage is physical; that unbelievers will still be around during Christ’s one thousand-year reign, evangelism will continue, and Satan will be released at the end to lead a final revolt against Christ and the church. Many of its teachings are like the third group. However, it deviates from the third group by dividing the coming of Christ into two. The first coming will occur before the time of distress (the Great Tribulation). Christ will come to take the church away. In other words, the church will not be part of the Great Tribulation. Christians that will experience the Great Tribulation will be those converted during the time of the Great Tribulation. At the end of the Great Tribulation, Christ will come back with the church to establish the thousand-year reign during which other nations will still be around, and evangelism will continue. When Satan is released at the end of the one thousand-year reign, he will lead a revolt, be defeated by Christ and then the end will come (the view is called dispensational premillennialism). Like the third view, the sense of urgency of the second coming is high with this view but toned down by the possibility of conversions during Christ’s thousand-year reign on the earth. The fourth view is further diminished by its teaching that the church will not be affected by the Great Tribulation. Many passages of the Bible seem to suggest that the church will be around during the Great Tribulation.
The above is a simplified summary of the way different Christian groups approach the second coming of Christ. From my findings, the fourth view discussed above (dispensational premillennialism) is the most popular in Nigeria. Many Nigerian Christians are not even aware that there are other perspectives. It is also worth stating that this popular view is the newest (it was not taught in the church until about one hundred years ago while amillennialism, for instance, has been taught in the church since the second century A.D.). It is also the most problematic.
The popularity of the dispensational viewpoint will not be unconnected with the fact that most of the materials available on the subject, both print and electronic, reflect the perspective (such as Tim Lahaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, Left Behind: A Novel of the Earth’s Last Days, 1995 and onwards. Chris Okotie, The Last Outcast, 2001. Paul Yonggi Cho, Revelation; Visions of our Ultimate Victory in Christ, n.d. Films that reflect this dispensational perspective include “The Beginning of the End” by Mount Zion Film Ministries; “Left Behind series”, “Megiddo”, and “The Omega Code”). The fact that many films and books have been produced from the dispensational perspective has contributed to the popularity of this viewpoint.
The popular dispensational premillennial view, apart from difficulties connected with its teaching of Christ setting up a physical government on earth while other national governments are still in place, creates additional discipleship challenges for the church with its teaching that the church will be taken out before the Great Tribulation. This makes it difficult for members to be prepared and ready for the difficult days that are coming.
Preparing Members for the Second Coming
There are many things Christians are in agreement about the second coming of Christ. Amid many difficult Bible passages regarding the second coming, many texts are clear and straightforward. For example, Matthew 24: 36-51 states the following about the second coming of Christ:
- That day will take many by surprise, for no one can ever know the time (vs 36-41). Thus, all projections and so-called revelations about dates of Christ’s coming are to be discountenanced by all well-meaning believers.
- That day is imminent; it is closer now than at any other time in human history (vs 44). (Historic premillennialism and dispensational premillennialism which speak of a literal physical millennial reign of Christ on earth present an additional challenge in this regard. They claim that while Christ is away with the church for seven years or three and a half years, as the case may be, [dispensational premillennialism] and during the one-thousand-year reign [both historic and dispensational premillennialism] evangelism will still continue, and people who were not saved previously could be saved as a result. This sounds like a huge theological gamble, teaching that some people can even be saved after the second coming of Christ has taken place).
- Believers need to be alert, watchful, ready and expectant (vs 42-44). Many Bible passages that talk about the second coming of Christ urge alertness and watchfulness.
- The believer must be busy with the Master’s business (vs 45-46). Believers are urged to be expectant about the coming of the Lord, but they are not allowed to engage in idle anticipation and speculation. We must get on with the kingdom mandate of evangelism and missions, including societal engagement for the transformation of the world in light of the coming kingdom of Christ. It is best if the Lord finds us working when He comes.
- Faithfulness will be rewarded; unfaithfulness will also be rewarded (vs 45-51). The Bible talks a lot about rewards. Unlike salvation, rewards are not based on grace but on actual work and sacrifices made for the Lord and His kingdom.
- In light of the above, churches need to help believers sustain a vibrant eschatological consciousness, just like the early believers did. With the concept of Maranatha (meaning “the Lord is coming” or “Come, Lord Jesus”) the early church kept their eschatological expectations constantly in focus.
- At present God is restraining the devil so the Gospel can be preached to all nations. When the restraining power is removed, Satan will be able to gather the whole unregenerate world against the church (i.e. the Great Tribulation). Things will be more challenging then, and only the spiritually strong can stand. This will be just before the final intervention by God that will bring history to a head (cf. Revelation 12). We need to disciple and grow a church that is ready for the challenges that are coming.
- Our preaching and teaching need to prioritize Christ’s second coming- teaching correctly about the end-time and doing so regularly and systematically. A balanced presentation of what the Bible teaches about the second coming as highlighted above will help Christians to be ready.
- One way of helping members maintain this balanced view about the second coming of Christ is through the creative and didactic use of Christian music. Many of the hymns in our hymn books include a stanza on heaven, the second coming of Christ, eternity, life after death, earthly life as a pilgrimage, et cetera. (Examples include, but not limited to, 1. Sweet hour of prayer; 2. Stand up, stand up for Jesus; 3. My faith looks up to thee; 4. We walk by faith and not by sight; 5. I am Thine, O Lord; 6. Jesus, keep me near the cross; and 7. Solid ground). This was an intentional and theological use of Christian music for preaching and teaching purposes. Church music today has lost its didactic edge and has become an instrument for emotional catharsis for people reared in a bread and butter Christianity. We need to restore the focus on eternity in our contemporary church music.
The second coming of Christ is inevitable and imminent. About this, the Bible is very clear. It will indeed be the end of time and the beginning of eternity. Life on earth is at best temporary and only a preparation for that which is unending. May we so live and serve that both us and those we minister to will be ready when the Master returns. Maranatha!
John Enyinnaya, “The Millennium: Contemporary Trends in the Nigerian Church” Betfa: Journal of the Ogbomoso Circle, no. 4, 2005. Also available at https://www.researchgate.net/publication/342870353_The_Millennium_Contemporary_Trends_in_the_Nigerian_Church.
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Tim Lahaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, Left Behind: A Novel of the Earth’s Last Days, (Wheaton; Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, 1995).
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