The church in which I grew up talked a lot about the imminence of the Second Coming and the Day of Judgment. We focused on being personally prepared—confessing our sins and our faith in Jesus, and cultivating our particular forms of piety. Our drive was to convert souls for heaven.
In preparing so assiduously for the last days, we missed something important: our responsibility to address the real needs of desperate people. If the world and its ills will soon pass away, these needs will feel less urgent. I have come to believe, however, that the Bible's vision of eschatology discourages such forgetfulness. Living in the last days means relieving the needs of particular people, and confronting the ills of all humanity.
The Bible frames help for the needy as a sign that God's kingdom has invaded this present age. In this light, acts of justice and compassion are a form of gospel proclamation. What follows are six big ideas that connect biblical eschatology, biblical justice, and gospel proclamation.
1. Biblical eschatology is about justice.
It is impossible to believe that a good God would ignore injustices committed against the people and the planet he loves. The psalmist frets over the fact that the wicked prosper. "[A]lways free of care, they go on amassing wealth," laments Psalm 73. "Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure …."
It is all so unfair! The evil amass wealth by grinding the face of the poor, but I have kept myself pure—and look what my life is like! Yet the psalmist finds comfort in a passionate belief that somehow God will set things right: "Surely you place them on slippery ground; you cast them down to ruin."
Only later in biblical history, in the shadow of Babylonian captivity, would such intuitions ...