I have taken a lesson from the emphases of economists like Nobel laureate F. A. Hayek and applied it to the study of eschatology. I have deliberately chosen to focus my attention on the individual rather than on the collective. I have turned from macro-eschatology (God's plan for the nations and the world) to micro-eschatology (God's plan for individual people), not only because it is, in my view, a more profitable study, one more suitable for a theological pilgrimage, but because it is a subject upon which Scripture is more clear and accessible. Young theologians, I am convinced, would be better served if they sought to master the Bible's teachings on personal destiny rather than global destiny. And, with regard to micro-eschatology, nature is a far better model than is a bus schedule.
When Paul, for example, explains the coming resurrection to the Corinthians, he resorts to agricultural imagery, to seeds planted in the ground now and to the coming harvest. What is planted (or buried) a material body is harvested (or resurrected) a spiritual one. Jesus does the same. When He teaches micro-eschatology, He also employs natural, or agricultural, images, such as farmers at work separating sheep from goats and wheat from chaff. Even when He addresses Himself to macro-eschatology, nature images predominate, as when He introduces lessons drawn from fig trees or from the atmospheric conditions that precede a storm.
In that sense, because nature is a fertile source of images and analogies, it can be a useful means of prophetic pedagogy. It also can help to decipher some of the more puzzling micro-eschatological phenomena in Scripture. One such puzzling detail concerning which nature can be an aid actually occurs at least three times in the New Testament: why Mary could not recognize the resurrected Jesus while standing at His empty tomb; why the disciples, fishing from their boat, could not recognize the resurrected Jesus, beckoning them from the nearby shore; and why the disciples on the road to Emmaus could not recognize the resurrected Jesus, the very man about whom they were speaking and to whom they spoke.
Imagine, if you will, a caterpillar and a butterfly, one crawling, the other perched, upon the same twig. Even had he a mind able to do so, the caterpillar would not recognize in his winged companion the same friend with whom he used to share a tasty leaf. The transformation wrought in the cocoon would have masked his friend's true identity. Nor would the caterpillar recognize in his companion his own destiny, even though it stood before his very eyes in all its Monarch splendor. But something in the way that butterfly moved, or something in the way it nibbled at its food in the bright sunlight would stir the caterpillar deeply, would make his heart burn within him. It would awaken the memory of twigs he'd travelled and leaves he'd tasted in the past, and of those with whom he'd shared summer days. The welcome and revered image of his old friend's homely, wormlike countenance would cross his mind, and for an instant, for one brief but electric moment, charged with expectation and softened by nostalgia, he would catch a glimpse of both past and future, and he would understand.
But moments of such transcending significance and insight are rare. Only the keen-sighted or the visionary among us can see the seed that once was in the rose that now is. In the oak trees towering above them they can see the destiny of humble acorns lying in the dirt. They see in the green stalks of corn that sway in the breezes of a warm August morning, while they stand in an Indiana cornfield that fills their vision on every side all the way to the horizon, the very same kernels they buried in the earth just months before. And if, like the caterpillar, they are blessed with a moment of insight, they will see their own destiny. They will learn what graveyards really are: not long lines of weathered headstones standing as silent testimonials to broken dreams or to separation without remedy, but rows and rows of planted seeds, awaiting the harvest of the last day. They will understand that what is harvested far exceeds that which they laid in the ground. They will see that caterpillar and butterfly, acorn and oak, kernel and stalk, bulb and tulip, and egg and rooster, are merely two stages in the development of the same life. They will see that the transformation wrought in the unseen darkness behind the veil of death is so magnificent that what they themselves will become is hardly recognizable in what they now are.
But they have a clue: they know that they shall be like Christ. And they know that some have actually seen the resurrected Jesus and have left behind an account of that amazing sight. Then, the next time they read the inspired description of the awesome Christ in John's vision, they will understand why even Jesus' best friends did not recognize Him at first. And they will catch a glimpse, at the same time, of their own Monarch destiny.
And what will that world be like?
I don't know. But I imagine it will be as startlingly and breathtakingly different from the one we now enjoy as the one we now enjoy is from the dark wetness of the womb we once inhabited, or as the brilliant blue skies and fresh warm breezes in which the violets now bloom are different from the dirt and darkness of the flower bed from which they arose.