I was in the Philippines enjoying a lively conversation about prophecies with friends hailing from different continents when one of them asked me about the role of the new Roman Catholic pope in the context of end-time prophecies, since he is Argentinean, like me.
I was improvising a rather general answer, when another friend said: “Anyway, we are a heartbeat away from the Second Coming, since all of us may pass away suddenly. The next time we open our eyes we hope will be at the Second Coming.” It wasn’t the first time I got such an answer; I have heard the same line of thought repeatedly.
The main point of this argument is that the prophetic times we are living in do not matter that much; rather that we need to be personally prepared for our death. This argument, however, fails to differentiate two different perspectives of anticipating last days events. Scholars have long recognized that eschatology—the doctrine of the last things—involves two main dimensions: individual and cosmic. Let’s review both of them, focusing particularly on the relevance of cosmic eschatology.
Individual eschatology refers to the destiny of individual believers after death. Jesus not only compared the intermediate state between an individual’s death and resurrection morning to an unconscious sleep (John 11:11, 14), but He also emphasized that both those who are believers and those who are wicked will receive their reward after resurrection (John 5:28, 29; Matt. 25:46; cf. Luke 14:14).
Christ explained, however, that our final destiny after resurrection is being decided while we are still living here on earth. He highlighted the necessity of being prepared for death, since our eternal destiny depends on this preparation.
Jesus told a parable about a rich man whose main concern was to figure out how to store his crops so he could live a carefree life later. “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ ” (Luke 12:20, NIV).
According to Jesus, then, we must be prepared for a sudden end of our existence, since eternal life depends on the decisions we make here, and the priorities we have set in our daily living. The focus of this passage is on the personal timing—with no reference to the historical timing of cosmic events.
Jesus, however, also referred to a second sphere: cosmic eschatology.
Jesus’ best-known reference to cosmic eschatology is found in His discourse on the Mount of Olives (Matt. 24; Mark 13; Luke 21). This sermon focusing on last things came in response to the disciples’ question about the signs of the time of the end. Jesus’ sermon covers the uninterrupted, historical continuous from His days until the Second Coming and beyond.
Among the Gospels, the Gospel of Luke places more emphasis on this historical unfolding of last days prophecies. For example, Jesus mentions that the “abomination of desolation” would be fulfilled in the historical siege of Jerusalem by military forces (Luke 21:20) and that it would be followed by “the times of the Gentiles” (verse 24), characterized by distressful times for God’s people. Immediately after that, Luke lists the cosmic signs that preannounce Christ’s second coming (verses 25-28). It seems clear that Luke focuses on the historical course of last days prophecies.
In the context of this historical unfolding of these prophecies, Jesus emphasized the necessity of being prepared for His second coming—a real, literal, historical event in the end-time. What is more, Christ compares the unexpectedness of the Second Coming to the Flood, which found people unprepared (Matt. 24:37-39).
Since no one knows the day and hour of His second coming (verse 36), the right attitude for believers is to “take heed, watch and pray” (Mark 13:33). Jesus’ second appearing, however, cannot happen at any given moment, because Jesus emphasized that some prophecies must be first fulfilled, such as the coming of the “abomination of desolation” (Matt. 24:15), the “great tribulation” (verse 21), the preaching of the gospel to all the world; “then the end will come” (verse 14).
Christ’s main concern in this discourse was to sketch a rough divine schedule for end-time prophecies, so that people living at the end of time can be prepared for this climactic event. In reality, the preparedness for a person’s death is different from the preparedness for the Second Coming. While the former can happen at any moment—regardless of the historical time or the prophetic schedule—the latter, although unexpected, will happen only after some historical prophecies are fulfilled.
Why Cosmic Eschatology Matters
“If, as believers, we must be daily prepared for an unexpected death, which can happen at any time,” some may say, “why should we be worried about cosmic eschatology? After all, if we are ready to die, we are also ready for the Second Coming.”
First, it’s important to remember that Christ Himself distinguished both kinds of readiness. Judging by the number of times He repeated the need to be prepared for the Second Coming, He highlighted the preparation for the cosmic event in contrast to the individual one.
Besides, cosmic eschatology is closely linked to our identity and mission as God’s end-time remnant. Prophecy reveals that the end-time remnant would be raised in a specific time of history—after the end of the persecution of the saints by the little horn (Dan. 7; 8) and just before the Second Coming—to proclaim the closeness of the hour of God’s judgment (Rev. 14:7) and the imminence of the very end of time. Therefore, the three angels’ messages of Revelation 14 constitute the very mission of the end-time remnant.
The core of this message is God’s last call to be ready for Jesus’ second coming. In other words, cosmic eschatology tells us who we are, in which moment of salvation history we are living, and what our mission is in the context of the great controversy between Christ and Satan.
We must be ready for both an imminent death and an imminent Second Coming. Our eternal destiny is closely linked to individual eschatology, but also to cosmic eschatology. If we fail to see the latter, we will lose our identity and mission as well. n
Marcos Blanco serves as the editor in chief of the South American Spanish Publishing House (ACES) and lives with his family in
Buenos Aires, Argentina. He is finishing a Ph.D. in Systematic Theology.
Fundamental Belief #25
The second coming of Christ is the blessed hope of the church, the grand climax of the gospel. The Savior’s coming will be literal, personal, visible, and worldwide.
When He returns, the righteous dead will be resurrected, and together with the righteous living will be glorified and taken to heaven, but the unrighteous will die. The almost complete
fulfillment of most lines of prophecy, together with the present
condition of the world, indicates that Christ’s coming is near. The
time of that event has not been revealed, and we are therefore
exhorted to be ready at all times. (Matt. 24; Mark 13; Luke 21;
John 14:1-3; Acts 1:9-11; 1 Cor. 15:51-54; 1 Thess. 4:13-18; 5:1-6;
2 Thess. 1:7-10; 2:8; 2 Tim. 3:1-5; Titus 2:13; Heb. 9:28; Rev. 1:7;