Why We Should—and Can—Teach and Preach Eschatology

St. John of Patmos, Gustave Doré

 

Walter Kaiser Jr. is a renowned Old Testament scholar, and this month his book Preaching and Teaching the Last Things is free. You can also get two others by him for $3 and $4. (And if I remember right, the $4 one was a textbook I found quite helpful in seminary.)

But when there is so much to read, why invest time reading about preaching and teaching a controversial topic like eschatology?

Kaiser actually speaks to this in the book’s introduction.

1. End times passages are there for our instruction

Taking down common objections to teaching and preaching eschatology—such as it being too difficult or inciting too much speculation and division—Kaiser reminds us why we preach anything in the Bible:

Why is prophecy and the study of ‘last things’ so often demeaned by some, when our Lord saw fit to include material of this doctrine amounting to almost one half of the Bible? We need the teaching of the whole counsel of God if we are to be fully equipped for every good work.” (Emphasis mine. See 2 Tim 3:16–17)

Not only does eschatology make up a large portion of Scripture (to avoid it would be to avoid much of God’s counsel), but God put it there for our instruction. As the apostle Peter says:

We have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” (2 Pet 1:18–19)

God has spoken. He tells us to listen and affirms he will bring understanding “as to a light in a dark place.” When we say eschatology is too confusing to be of much use, we demean God’s revelation.

Further, we demean our own competency.

2. We are competent to understand and teach end times passages

Kaiser reminds us that we do have competency—both spiritual and hermeneutical—to interpret eschatological passages.

On spiritual competency, he quotes Paul:

Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter [not the graphē, “writing,” but “letterism”] kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2 Cor 3:5–6)

Has God not equipped us with the Spirit to understand what he has spoken? Of course, he has.

He has also equipped us with a sufficient understanding of how language works. Kaiser writes:

Others might complain that we are not always sure how we should interpret prophetic passages, for we have heard that these types of texts must be spiritualized or allegorized if we wish to hear them correctly. However, it is always best to begin by taking the words of the text in their natural sense unless we see a signal, found in the text itself, that the words are meant in a figurative or typological sense. If one sees the words “as” or “like,” then we are assured that a “simile” or a “parable” is being offered, for it wishes to make a direct comparison between the subject and the abstract truth it points to.

However, if there are no words such as “as” or “like,” and yet an animate subject is being put with an inanimate description, then it most likely is an unexpressed comparison, called a metaphor, or if made into a larger story or developed more extensively, it is an allegory. Such are some of the rules of figurative language, rules that are not invented as we go, but are clearly part of all writing and speaking, which can be identified, defined, and illustrated in classical and biblical sources.

In short: interpreting prophetic writing is not guesswork. There is plenty interpretive history to go on to arrive at a tenable interpretation. (There is also, Kaiser reminds us, plenty of ancient history that aligns with biblical prophecy.)

So why teach and preach the last things? Because God has revealed them for our instruction, and he has given us the Spirit and skills of language to comprehend them.

Even if in a mirror dimly.

Get Preaching and Teaching the Last Things free this month only.

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