Eschatology, literally the study of the last things, anywhere is a difficult topic. Nevertheless, the topic is of such magnitude and, whether we realize it or not, such real-world relevance that we must attempt to unravel the complexities [or dare I say absurdities] we too often find associated with ‘The End’.
Of course, volumes have been written about the topic: some great, many bad. As such, it is beyond the scope of this simple post to outline the historical evolution of eschatological thought, attempt the deconstruction of pop-dispensationalism, or present a comprehensive theology of the ‘Last Days’. Instead, I wish to discuss the practical relevance of eschatology for contemporary life in the Middle East and present, what I hope to be, an ‘understandable’ eschatological alternative.
Because whether we’re mindful of it or not, eschatology matters. Especially in the Middle East!
Why Eschatology Matters?
Eschatology matters precisely because ‘eschatology informs our ethics’. As Tom Wright explains:
Life in the present, with its responsibilities and particular callings, is to be understood and shaped in relation to the final goal for which we have been made and redeemed. The better we understand that goal, the better we shall understand the path toward it. 
Our beliefs about the future give shape to our interpretation of contemporary events, and motivate our present courses of action: morally, socially, politically, etc.
Consequently, I have been noticing the existence of what seem to be drastically different theological and ethical visions regarding not just our ultimate future, but the very essence of what it means to be a Christian/Christ-follower. In a sense, it is as if two different, even contradictory religious systems tenuously exist side by side, each masquerading under the same title: Evangelical Christianity.
And, the difference is eschatological.
As followers of Christ, we evangelicals are therefore presented with a choice: Apocalyptic Fatalism or Proactive, Self-Sacrificial Love.
For everyday Arabs, such differing visions of Evangelical faith can result in profoundly different outcomes, each bearing remarkably different fruit.
Why Eschatology Matters to the Middle East?
To repeat, our beliefs about the future give shape to our interpretation of contemporary events, and motivate our present course of action. This is especially true in the Middle East. Living here, I have seen first-hand how the beliefs that Western Christians hold can have a direct, often adverse effect upon the daily lives of many Middle Easterners.
The elephant in the room, to borrow a phrase from IMES MRel Faculty Colin Chapman, is of course the dire situation confronting the Palestinians, held in many respects captive to the apocalyptic fatalism of the American Evangelical voting bloc. The consequences of which ripple throughout the region.
I fully agree, therefore, with Colin Chapman’s assertion that “our very understanding of God, our witness to the gospel, and the credibility of the Christian church” are at stake in regard to our theology of Israel-Palestine.  It’s that serious.
Furthermore, like a bad movie played out on the international stage, Middle Easterners as a whole tend to get swooped up into this apocalyptic drama, loyal minions to the dark forces opposing God’s elect. [Re-watch Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” with this in mind]. ‘Axis of evil’ was of course the term used in history.
How then can we appropriately understand eschatology in a manner that does justice to scripture and the universal demands of self-sacrificial love?
To venture a response, I was recently fortunate enough to have been able to read John Paul Lederach’s The Journey toward Reconciliation, wherein Lederach employs what I consider to be one of the most illuminating [and concise] metaphors ever encountered in regard to both eschatology and our collective, reconciling mission as the followers of Christ. His words are simple, yet profound. He contends,
As we dream and work towards our dream, the world changes in response.
Although he may not use the exact terminology as such, Lederach presents his readers with a proactive, as opposed to fatalistic and escapist, eschatological vision whereby the tangible fruit of God’s Kingdom manifest themselves in and through the reconciling mission of Christ and his followers to the world. Our vision of the future determines our present.
Speaking personally, I have always found the language of ‘already and not yet’ (heard in seminaries across the planet) inadequate in regard to God’s Kingdom, in that it is both complex and difficult to understand for the average person AND in that it fails to provide dynamic terminology in regard to God’s in-breaking Reign as experienced in the present.
Lederach’s simple language, on the other hand, is perfect. God’s Kingdom is a Kingdom coming, a Kingdom transforming, a Kingdom in process.
Furthermore, I am heavily indebted to Tom Wright when it comes to the ability to understand and explain eschatology. In regard to Christ’s resurrection , the ultimate eschatological event, he asserts:
Jesus’ resurrection is the beginning of God’s new project not to snatch people away from earth to heaven but to colonize earth with the life of heaven. That, after all, is what the Lord’s Prayer is about. 
Eschatology, plain and simple, is this: “God’s name will be honored, His Kingdom will come, and His will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”. The future is invading the present. Heaven is invading Earth. It began with Christ, but as his followers this too is our purpose, our mission.
Ultimately, it was Jesus himself who spoke most succinctly and poignantly in regard to God’s Reign, declaring:
The Kingdom of heaven is like yeast, which a woman took and hid in a bushel of wheat flour until the yeast had worked its way through all the dough. 
As Jesus teaches us, God’s Kingdom is like yeast working itself through dough, hidden yet transformative upon everything it touches, such that as God’s Kingdom comes and His will is done on Earth as it is in Heaven, ‘Earth becomes colonized with the life of heaven.’
Therefore, in stark contrast to the apocalyptic fatalism of much popular Christian discourse, an alternate and in my opinion much more accurate and Christ-centered reading of scripture provides us with a proactive eschatological vision whereby, like yeast through dough, God’s Reign is actively manifesting itself in our world.
And as such, we Christians become, in our individual and collective contexts, proactive agents of grace, justice, reconciliation and peace, “with our feet planted firmly on the ground, connected the the pulse of real life challenges, and our head in the clouds with a dream that things can be different.“
Jesse Wheeler serves as Projects Manager for the Institute of Middle East Studies (IMES). Jesse, his wife Heidi, and their adorable son Nimer recently moved to Lebanon and see it as their personal (as well as institutional) mandate to help bring about positive transformation in the thinking and practice between Christians and Muslims in the Middle East and beyond.
 N. T. Wright. After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters (Kindle Location 39). Kindle Edition.
 Colin Chapman, “A Biblical Perspective on Israel/Palestine” in The Land Cries Out: Theology of the Land in the Israeli/Palestinian Context, ed. Salim J. Munayer et all. (Eugene: Wipft and Stock Publishers, 2012) 238
 John Paul Lederach. The Journey Toward Reconciliation (Kindle Locations 1777-1778). Kindle Edition.
 N.T. Wright. Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. (Kindle Location 4615). Kindle Edition.
Matthew 13: 33 (CEB)