Rome still carries the marks of its past of power and glory. Palaces, millennial arches, immense gates and columns of temples scattered throughout the city make us wonder what this city once was. Students, hurried drivers, visitors and workers from all over the world daily contemplate monuments, stones and the vestiges of the greatest empire of antiquity. While the largest cities in the world did not have a population of more than 15,000 in the first century of the Christian era, more than a million people walked the crowded streets of Rome.
The so-called Eternal City was the relentless capital of the empire that crucified Jesus, destroyed the second temple, outlawed the Jews, beheaded Paul, crucified Peter, barbarized Christians in the Coliseum, and made countless martyrs who refused to worship the emperor. More than 500,000 Christians were buried in more than 160 kilometers of catacombs that remain today. Call of Babylon by Peter (1 Peter 5:13), it was in this city that Christianity gained official status in the fourth century and, from the Vatican that this city houses as an independent country, the figure of the Pope projects a religious influence and global politics in our day. The city that was destroyed by the barbarians resurfaced, just as the Roman church, heiress of the old empire, was reborn to marvel the world, according to the book of Revelation (13: 3).
Perhaps like no other city on the planet, Rome spoke of the past, is heard in the present and will play a crucial role in the future. In this city, from June 11 to 21, theologians, administrators, editors and stakeholders from all over the world gathered at the 4th International Biblical Conference, with the theme of eschatology. Eleven presidents of the church’s 13 administrative regions were present at the event, including Pastor Erton Köhler, leader of the Seventh-day Adventist Church for South America. The event is organized by the Biblical Research Institute (BRI) ) and carried out every five years. It is a unique opportunity for study, worship and reflection. More than 370 participants presented approximately 100 researches on topics related to all areas of theology (biblical, systematic, pastoral and historical), as well as transversal themes in the so-called «Adventist studies». The South American delegation had 53 people, including Division leaders, directors, coordinators, seminary professors and editors. The CPB sent four pastors who work in the editorial office.
The importance of biblical eschatology was highlighted at the conference. In the lectures, theologians discussed fundamental questions such as what it is, its role in the larger picture of biblical theology and its methodology. The basic differences between classical and apocalyptic prophecies were presented. It also emphasized the historicist approach to prophecy as well as current trends and concerns. In Saturday’s sermon, Pastor Ted Wilson, world church president, emphasized that eschatology is not stuck between the past and the future, but it involves our present through our individual participation in the church’s prophetic mission. Theology is performed in the preaching of the message to the whole world, which is the final sign for Jesus’ return. As Elias Brasil, director of BRI, stated, «practice is the mother of theology.»
The group, divided into eight buses, also had the opportunity to take guided tours of historic sites such as the Via Appia, the catacombs and the Coliseum. The on-site visit and instructions gave life to the knowledge acquired through the books. The word «palace», for example, comes from the temple built on the Palatine Hill, becoming a name known and used in the world. Another detail: The destruction of Jerusalem and the sacking of the Temple helped finance the Colosseum, which was built in eight years, housed more than 65,000 people seated and had a mobile cover. There countless humans and animals died violently. Even today it is astonishing.
Unlike the Coliseum, the study of eschatology does not serve to haunt, to generate fear, but to animate and produce hope. It deals with the so dreamed reunion with Jesus, the reparation of all injustices and the establishment of a new kingdom in which all suffering will end. That was the emphasis of the conference, which ended with a new sense of responsibility for all those who deal with theology, influencing other leaders and therefore the church and the world with which it has contact.
* A print version of the August Adventist Review will address this topic in the cover story.