Two Helpful Beginning Points About Eschatology

The word eschatology comes from the Greek word ‘eschaton.’ Used throughout Scripture in various forms and tenses this word means ‘last things.’ So when coupled with the ending ‘ology’ eschatology means the study of, or the doctrine of the ‘last things.’ Though eschatology deals with many things, the sum and substance of eschatology is this: “Jesus Christ has ascended into heaven and promised to physically return on the last day in order to raise the dead, judge the world, and then create a new heaven and new earth.”[1]

Eschatology indeed has much to say about the future, but what is often overlooked is that it also has much to say about the past and the present as well. Because of the grand scope of this branch of theology, it can feel daunting and overwhelming to begin. Here are two introductory remarks about eschatology that will help you get started.[2]

First, Israel’s prophetic hope is found in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ as well as in the Church. This is to say that all of the Old Testament’s prophecies and promises are fulfilled in Jesus and His Church, and once fulfilled we’re not waiting for any future fulfillment to come.

Take for example, Jesus as the fulfillment of the Temple. In John 1:14 the Word did not only become flesh, it says “He became flesh and dwelt among us…” This phrase doesn’t just mean He resided or settled among us, it means far more. In the closing chapters of Exodus we see God confirm and renew the covenant He made with Abraham to the people of Israel, we see God give Israel detailed instructions for the tabernacle, for all the items that would go inside the tabernacle, and for the priestly garments. God says these things were to be made for beauty and for glory. God commanded all these various things and the tabernacle to be made because He intended to dwell among, or to be present with, His people through the tabernacle in their wilderness wanderings. After Israel obeyed and made these things, God’s glory, the shekinah glory of God, came down and filled the tabernacle, bringing a terrible and awesome joyful fear among the people.

Now go back to John 1:14. That phrase ‘dwelt’ is the Greek word ‘eskonosen’ which literally means ‘tabernacled’ or ‘tented’ among us. So just as God formerly dwelt and made His presence known among His people in the tabernacle, now God dwells and makes His presence known in the Person of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. And more so, just as the result of God dwelling among His people in the tabernacle was a display of God’s glory, did you notice what the rest of v14 says? There is another and greater display of glory in our current wilderness of this fallen world. “And the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John is making clear that because God has tabernacled among us in Jesus, God’s glory is now revealed to us and has truly taken up residence among us in the Person of Jesus. Which means, Jesus is the true shekinah glory of God. Or we could say it all another way: God used to come, filling the tabernacle with His glory, to speak with Moses face to face. Now God has come to speak with His people and reveal His glory in a vastly more intimate way, as Paul says in 2 Cor. 4:6, in the face of Jesus Christ. Therefore, all the Old Testament symbolism of God dwelling with man in the tabernacle and the temple, all that God hinted at in a dim and imperfect fashion is now fulfilled in the coming of Christ.

What does all this mean? We’re no longer looking for a physical temple to be rebuilt in national Israel today that marks the beginning of the end times. God no longer lives in a temple or tent or tabernacle, and He won’t ever return to one. Divine space is no longer confined or located or seen in a place, but a Person. Now, it is entirely possible that modern day Israelites may build a new temple and take up the Old Testament sacrificial system again within it. If that happens, though it may cause all sorts of political and religious turmoil, it will have zero theological significance. To think God would do that to mark the beginning of the end of all things is to make a backward move in redemptive history.[3] The only temple God now dwells in and will dwell in forevermore is His Son. And adding glory to glory, Jesus is now by the Holy Spirit making His Church into a new spiritual temple as we embrace the gospel, treasure it above all things, and spread it to all peoples.

You could also see this first principle in Jesus being the fulfillment of all the priests, all the prophets, all the kings, all the feasts, all the ceremonies, even the Sabbath itself. He is the Person all of the Old Testament points to and finds its fulfillment in.

Second, the biblical authors view the fulfillment of God’s redemptive purposes as one act in two phases. That is to say, God’s redemptive purposes and His Kingdom truly came with the first advent of Christ, but will finally and fully come with the second advent of Christ. Which means, we now find ourselves in the ‘overlapping of the ages.’

The time commonly referred to as the ‘last days’ begins with the first advent of Christ and ends with the second advent of Christ. We’re not waiting for the end times to come upon us one day in the future, we’re here in them now. Take one example from Genesis 49 when Jacob was blessing his sons.

To his son Judah he says in 49:8-10, “Judah, your brothers shall praise you; your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons shall bow down before you. Judah is a lion’s cub; from the prey, my son, you have gone up. He stooped down; he crouched as a lion and as a lioness; who dares rouse him? The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.”

In this blessing is the promise that all Israel will submit to and bow before Judah’s descendant. Judah is called a lion that holds a scepter, which is an instrument of rule. And this ruling or kingly scepter will remain in the house of Judah until one of Judah’s descendants comes to take it, and once this coming One takes it, the obedience of the peoples will be to him. This promise is fulfilled and confirmed in the Davidic covenant, but it’s ultimately fulfilled in the royal reign of Jesus Christ. Now go back to 49:1 and notice Jacob says all these things will take place ‘in days to come’ or in Hebrew ‘in the last days.’

So what happens to mark the beginning of the last days? Jesus Christ, the long awaited descendant of Judah will come, and take the up the scepter to rule.

Some say this refers to the second advent of Christ when He will come to judge the world and usher in His Kingdom. I disagree and believe this to be speaking of the first advent and not the second. Why do I think this is referring to the first advent? Because Hebrews 1:1-3 confirms that the last days began when God began speaking (revealing Himself) through His Son. “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed the Heir of all things, through whom also He created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature, and He upholds the universe by the word of His power.”

So, when Jesus was born He brought His Kingdom with Him, He began exercising His rule in part, and the last days began. These last days will end the moment Jesus returns for the second time to judge the world and usher His Kingdom in full. Therefore in this sense we see that there is an ‘already but not yet’ tension in our current time. We have been saved (Eph. 2:8), justified (Rom. 5:1), adopted (1 John 3:1), resurrected (Rom. 6), glorified (Rom. 8:30), and redeemed (Eph. 1:4). And yet we’re awaiting the day when we will be saved (Rom. 5:10), justified (Rom. 2:13), adopted (Rom. 8:23), resurrected (1 Cor. 15), glorified (Phil. 3), and redeemed (Rom. 13:11).[4]

Two introductory points, that do much to guide us well on the road to properly understanding biblical eschatology.

 

 

Citations:

[1] Kim Riddlebarger, Reformation Theology, page 721.

[2] These two statements are from Sam Storms, Kingdom Come, pages 15-42.

[3] Ibid, page 20-21.

[4] Ibid, page 29.

Advertisements

One thought on “Two Helpful Beginning Points About Eschatology

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s