There’s an obsession among Christians to know the future in a detailed way. They believe they can look at numbers and clues in Scripture and figure exactly how the end will come. They only thing they don’t know is when the end will come (unless they side with Harold Camping, *cough cough*). This study of the end times (otherwise known as “eschatology”) is intriguing, but it’s also confusing. Can the future really be known in such detail?
A couple months ago I began a study in the book of Daniel to try my hand at this prophecy stuff. The first 6 chapters were rather simple since they were mainly stories. The latter half, however, was a real headache. It was somewhat simple to pick up the gist of what was happening, but the digging deeper into the imagery wasn’t as nice. Why do rivers feature so prominently? What’s with the number 4? Can all these numbers be taken literally? What exactly does “times, time, and half a time” mean?
What I found is that end times prophecy isn’t child’s play. You don’t just barge into the heavenly conversation and instantly pick up what’s happening. Not even Daniel understood what was happening most of the time. He often had to ask clarification questions and do tons of fasting and praying in order to “get” what was going on. So to understand prophecy takes devotion, commitment. I’m afraid too many Christians are scared of prophecy and the weight it carries and so never bother to actually study the text. This can lead to bad doctrine or “wishful-thinking” theology.
I also noticed that to understand prophecy takes wisdom, the type that only can come from heaven. This goes hand-in-hand with the previous point. The more you devote yourself to understanding Scripture in general, the more you grow in wisdom. The more you grow in wisdom, the more your understanding of prophecy becomes. This in turn leads to the next point:
To understand prophecy takes time. In the final vision’s conclusion (Daniel 12), Daniel seeks an answer to how long the things mentioned in the vision will take. He wanted a specific timeline. None is given to him. Instead the answer is somewhat vague, but within it is this idea that as time passes and as the time of the end draws near, those who are wise will notice the coming end. Granted, this is harder and takes more discipline than simply putting together a bunch of numbers and deciding how long the end will be and whatnot, but it’s a more enriching course.
Of course, there’s so much more to learn from eschatology. I think i’ve only just set foot on the iceberg, but I’m willing to dive deeper. Maybe it’s a little uncomfortable to not have a tailor-made schedule for the end, but just knowing that God will be victorious regardless ought to be enough for me.