Grasping the ‘Already’ and the ‘Not Yet’: Four Quotes on Inaugurated Eschatology

kingA few weeks ago I mentioned inaugurated eschatology in a sermon on 1 Corinthians 15:20–28. While this “three dollar word” can at first seem confusing or unnecessary—“let’s just stick with the simple gospel,” I can hear someone say—the concept of Already and Not Yet is so important for understanding New Testament eschatology, I couldn’t pass it by.

So in the sermon I used the term, defined it, describe it, and employed the obligatory D-Day / V-Day illustration. Today, I want to point out four quotes that further explain the place and importance of this concept. In short, inaugurated eschatology is a concept that relates to way God’s kingdom has come to earth and yet awaits its final consummation. As I understand it, this concept is most clearly seen in regards to Christ’s resurrection (the topic of 1 Corinthians 15), the Holy Spirit, and the kingdom of God.

Indeed, it is safe to say any theology of the Spirit, the kingdom, or the resurrection that does not take into consideration the already and not yet mismanages God’s economy and distorts the way God is working and will work in the world. Therefore, this idea is of the greatest importance for reading the Bible and doing theology. So, take time to consider these quotes. They will help solidify the concept which covers nearly every page of the New Testament.

Four Quotes on Inaugurated Eschatology

[Full disclosure: These four quotes are all found in Stephen Wellum’s outstanding The Son of God Incarnate]

Stephen Wellum,The Son of God Incarnate (2016)

The storyline of Scripture divides all history into these two ages. “This present age” began when God created all things and continued through humanity’s corruption of all things, such that this age is characterized by sin, death, and opposition to God. “The age to come,” though it sounds entirely future-oriented, has already broken into the present (inauguration) with the coming, redemption, and reign of God’s new man. Yet this final, eternal age will come into its final fulfillment at the telos of all history (consummation).

This two-sided reality of redemptive history leads to an already–not yet dynamic in the structure of the Bible’s self-presentation. To be clear, the already is not “this present age” in itself but the presence of “the age to come” in “this present age.” Theologians use the concept of inaugurated eschatology to describe the significance of the fact that the final fulfillment of God’s plan for humanity and all creation has begun: the way things will be forever has crashed into the way things are now temporarily. (p. 123)

[fn: For an in-depth treatment of inaugurated eschatology, see Gentry and Wellum, Kingdom through Covenant, 591–602; Thomas Schreiner, New Testament Theology, 41–116; see also Herman Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology, trans. John Richard deWitt (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1975), 44–90] 

D.A. Carson, The Gagging of God (2011, 15th Anniversary Edition)

“Kingdom” no longer primarily conjures up a theocratic state in which God rules by his human vassal in the Davidic dynasty. It conjures up the immediate transforming reign of God, dawning now in the ministry, death, resurrection, ascension, and session of Jesus, the promised Messiah, and consummated at his return. Eschatology is thereby transformed. The locus of the people of God is no longer national and tribal; it is international, transracial, transcultural. If the Old Testament prophets constantly look forward to the day when God will act decisively, the New Testament writers announce that God has acted decisively, and that this is “good news,” gospel, of universal, eternal significance and stellar importance. (p. 254)

Anthony Hoekema, The Bible and the Future (1994)

We may say that in the possession of the Spirit we who are in Christ have a foretaste of the blessings of the age to come, and a pledge and guarantee of the resurrection of the body. Yet we have only the firstfruits. We look forward to the final consummation of the kingdom of God, when we shall enjoy these blessings to the full. (p. 67)

William Manson, Eschatology in the New Testament  (1957)

When we turn to the New Testament, we pass from the climate of prediction to that of fulfillment. The things which God had foreshadowed by the lips of His holy prophets He has now, in part at least, brought to accomplishment. The Eschaton, described from afar . . ., has in Jesus registered its advent. The supreme sign of the Eschaton is the Resurrection of Jesus and the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Church. The Resurrection of Jesus is not simply a sign which God has granted in favour of His Son, but is the inauguration, the entrance into history, of the times of the End.

Christians, therefore, have entered through the Christ into the New Age. Church, Spirit, life in Christ are eschatological magnitudes. Those who gather in Jerusalem in the numinous first days of the Church know that it is so; they are already conscious of tasting the powers of the World to Come. What has been predicted in Holy Scripture as to happen to Israel or to man in the Eschaton has happened to and in Jesus. The foundation-stone of the New Creation has come into position. (6)

If you are interested in a further consideration of Inaugurated Eschatology, here is an unpublished paper tracing the history of eschatology in Post-WWII evangelicalism, summarized from Russell Moore’s The Kingdom of Christ

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

3 thoughts on “Grasping the ‘Already’ and the ‘Not Yet’: Four Quotes on Inaugurated Eschatology

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