Three More Helpful Points On Eschatology

Last week I began this post by giving you two helpful introductory points on eschatology, today I want to give you three more.

Third, the New Testament is God’s inspired commentary on the Old Testament.

Hence, Jesus can say the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms all speak of Him on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24:27 and 24:44. Which leads Sam Storms to say, “Old Testament authors prophesied of events that would occur in a distant time and in a new world inaugurated by Jesus. From their original context they might not fully grasp how their words would find fulfillment in a history radically transformed by the coming of Christ.”[1] So, the New Testament shows how Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled at Christ’s first coming, and how they are then ultimately fulfilled at Christ’s second coming. The authoritative guide to understanding and interpreting the Old Testament is the New Testament. Dr. Derek Thomas once told us students at Reformed Theological Seminary that the reason the apostle Paul arrived the conclusions he did throughout his letters wasn’t because he was a theological innovator, but because he knew his Old Testament very well.

Fourth, when it comes to prophecy we should remember that “our ideas about things we have never experienced are largely controlled by things we have experienced.”[1]

This fourth, like the third statement gives us more background on the original intentions of the biblical authors. When the Old Testament authors sought explain a future they hadn’t lived in, they explained it with images and language from the world they did live in. For example Isaiah 2:4 speaks of a time when God’s people will “beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.” Did Isaiah mean that one day we will literally hammer out weapons of war into tools for agriculture? Or is it more likely that Isaiah is speaking metaphorically of a time when God will bring such a lasting peace that war will be no more? I think the metaphorical reading is the correct one. But see that Isaiah describes this future with words and images from his own time.

This brings us face to face with a larger issue which many people wrongly interpret when it comes to the biblical language: the meaning of metaphor. On the surface of every metaphor there is an untruth used to teach a truth.[2] If a student says ‘That class was a breeze’ they do not literally mean the class itself was a light wind, they intend to communicate the easy nature of this class. Or if I say neglecting true and sound doctrine is a ‘slippery slope’ I do not mean that you’ll literally slip and fall down a slope. No. I intend to communicate the grave hazard it is to neglect the sound teaching of the Bible. All of this to say two things: first, to approach the Bible using a ‘wooden literalism’ is to interpret the Scripture in a manner God never intended. And second, to approach the Bible understanding the metaphorical nature of prophetic and apocalyptic passages is to interpret the Scripture in the manner God intended. I do think most of the errors interpreting the book of Revelation (and much of the nonsense we see today about prophecy and Israel) misunderstand this very thing.

Fifth, typology and eschatology go hand in hand.

In Romans 5:14 Paul says, “…Adam was a type of the one who was to come.” This word ‘type’ in Greek is tupos which means ‘type’ or ‘pattern’ or ‘example.’ Typology then, is the study and recognition of certain types (people, actions, institutions) in the Old Testament that are complemented and transcended in the New Testament.[3] So in Romans 5:14 we see that Adam is a type of Jesus Christ. Since this is the case, we should learn much of the Person and Work of the second Adam Jesus Christ by looking at the person and work of the first Adam. We can learn much of the Church, or the helpmate of Christ, by looking at Eve, Adam’s helpmate. We can learn much of heaven by looking at the promise land of Canaan. Types of all kinds abound in the Old Testament and they all find their fulfillment in the New Testament. We can not only learn much in this way, but often the New Testament authors will specifically point out that these former Old Testament patterns existed in order to prepare the way for the greater reality to come.

Now, to bring this back to eschatology. Of all the books in the New Testament do you know which one contains the most quotations, references, and allusions of the Old Testament? The book of Revelation. Thus, one cannot properly understand eschatology if we don’t know of typology. Or to say it another way, the more we know our Old Testament, the more glory we’ll see in the New.

These three, coupled with the previous two points about eschatology, will do much to help guide us in our study of eschatology.

 

 

Citations:

[1] Brent Sandy, Plowshares and Pruning Hooks: Rethinking the Language of Biblical Prophecy and Apocalyptic (Downers Grove: IVP, 2002), page 25.

[2] Ibid, page 63-64.

[3] Leonhard Goppelt, Typos, page 10.

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