This is one of a series of articles on what I am calling “The Basics” of end-times study. These are foundational concepts that help define the geography of eschatology. They are landmarks that help us get our bearings when we are entering an end-times passage.
Studying eschatology can be intimidating because, in any given end-times passage, there may be terms or expressions which we do not recognize and there is little in the context to give us a clue or to point us in a particular direction. In most genres of Scripture, the unknowns in the text can be deduced by looking at the context or by observing how similar words are used elsewhere in the Bible. In eschatology, however, there are times when the entire context is confusing, the words are used only in eschatological passages, and the contents of the passage yield no solid, unambiguous starting point. An example would be Revelation 9:13-19, where we read of four angels and two hundred million horsemen and hyacinth breastplates and fire and brimstone coming out of the mouths of the horses. How are we supposed to make sense of all this? (For the curious, the sixth trumpet is the most severe warning for the unrighteous telling of the fast-approaching final judgment and urging them to repent of their wickedness.)
In passages like the Revelation 9, the student of eschatology can take heart, because understanding every detail of a passage is not necessary for understanding the meaning of the passage. It is not necessary to unpack every single symbol in Revelation or Daniel or any end-times passage to understand their messages, and even to grasp the beauty of the individual visions and passages.
MYSTERIES REMAIN HIDDEN
The fact is that it may not be possible for us to understand or explain everything that is happening in all of John’s visions or Daniel’s dreams. Those details may be things which the Lord, for His own purposes, has chosen to leave hidden from us. Even Daniel, who was specifically gifted by God to interpret dreams and visions (Daniel 1:17; 4:9; 5:11-12), did not fully understand what he had seen, even after he had been given an explanation by angels (Daniel 7:15-22, 28; 8:15-19, 27; 12:8). Humility would say that, if Daniel and John did not fully understand all they recorded, there is a more than even chance that I, too, will need to accept some degree of mystery. For His glory, God has written mysteries into His Bible that may remain hidden or unexplained until heaven, and we joyfully and humbly bow before these mysteries.
RESIGN OURSELVES TO MYSTERY?
If we acknowledge that mysteries may remain until heaven and that there are details beyond our grasp, does that mean that we give up trying to understand and interpret eschatology? Absolutely not! Despite the effort involved, the disciple of Jesus continues to explore and pray through these difficult passages because these, too, are breathed out by the God he loves and are profitable for equipping him for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
SDG rmb 3/15/2021