Putting First Things First in the Study of Last Things: Or, How to Find Eschatological Unity in Church

robert-bye-6PLB5SKWiIY-unsplashEschatology, by its etymology, is “the study (logos) of last things (eschatos).” Yet, when we let the Bible, instead of the Bible dictionary, define eschatology, we find a different priority and wider application than just fixing our attention on the end of time. As G. K. Beale helpfully reminds us, “The apostles understood eschatology not merely as futurology but as a mindset for understanding the present within the climaxing connection of redemptive history” (in Making All Things New: Inaugurated Eschatology for the Life of the Church, 4).

In other words, as I tell my theology students, eschatology begins in the beginning of the Bible and carries the storyline until the end. As Isaiah 46:9 says, God was planning the “final things (eschatos) before they happen” (LXX). And thus in Genesis 1–2, the setting (Eden), the commission (subdue and rule), and the command (be fruitful and multiply) are all realities that point to the end or goal of creation. Just compare Genesis 1–2 with Revelation 21–22.

As we know all too well, the First Adam failed in his duties, and set the stage for a long history of redemption. Into that history God spoke promises that would come to fulfillment at the end of time. And as most evangelical scholars agree, the end of time (i.e., the latter days) broke into the present in Christ’s death and resurrection. Accordingly, we who follow Christ, as well as those who currently reject him, live in a time between the times—the end has come, but the end is still coming. This is sometimes called the “already” and “not yet.”

Eschatology, therefore, is not just a study of what is going to happen in the future. As the New Testament shows again and again, the future has already begun (see Acts 2:17; Heb. 1:2; 9:26; 1 Pet. 1:20). At the same time, not all the promises of God have reached the final consummation, and so we await our blessed hope in the return of Christ and labor in his vineyard until he comes. And part of that labor includes studying the Word of God and understanding what eschatology is and is not. Yet, the study of eschatology often produces more heat than light, and local churches are often perplexed by how to best unite over the varied interpretations of the rapture, the millennium, the future of Israel, etc. What are we to do? Continue reading

Seeking the Kingdom of God with the Church of Jesus Christ

three kings figurines

Is the kingdom of God present or future? Is it now or not yet? Could it in any way be both? If so, how? These are important questions for anyone who has read the Bible, and for anyone who is studying the book of Daniel—a book that speaks of God’s kingdom throughout.

In evangelical circles the question of God’s Kingdom has been answered for the last half-century with a view called “inaugurated eschatology.” This view affirms Christ’s present royal position as seated at God’s right hand (Psalm 110), even as he rules the church by way of his Spirit (Matthew 28:20; John 16:7; Ephesians 1:21–23). At the same time, his kingdom has not been yet consummated, and the people who have believed the good news of the kingdom await the day when he will return to establish his rule on the earth.

Among the many names who have advocated this position, few are more important than George Eldon Ladd, the late New Testament professor from Fuller Seminary. During the middle decades of the twentieth century, his books on the kingdom of God engaged Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology alike. And in each, he provided a rich biblical exposition on the subject.

Ladd maintained that the kingdom of God is found in Christ’s reign more than the location of his rule (i.e., his realm).[1] He understood the kingdom as a future reality, but one that had broken into the present. Against a view of the kingdom of God as spiritualized in the individual—a view based on a poor translation of Luke 17:21 (“the kingdom of God is within you,” KJV; rather than “the kingdom of God is in the midst of you,” ESV)—Ladd centered the presence of Christ’s kingdom in the church, without confusing the church with the kingdom. In this way, Ladd opposed both the replacement theology of Covenant Theology and the radical division of God’s people (Israel vs. Church) in some forms of Dispensationalism.

Today, Ladd’s work remains invaluable for students of eschatology. Indeed, those who are unfamiliar with him or inaugurated eschatology, in general, are missing some of the best exegetical research on the kingdom of God for the last two generations. While certainly fallible—as Ladd’s biography shows—his studies have been a major catalyst in evangelical theology.

In what follows, I will offer a summary of five points from a chapter entitled “The Kingdom and the Church” in his A Theology of the New Testament.[2]. In these five points, he shows how the Kingdom of God does and does not relate to the Church of Jesus Christ. As we consider the kingdom of God throughout the book of Daniel, these basic points of theology can help us from going astray from Christ and God’s plan to unify all things in him (Eph. 1:10). Continue reading

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. Continue reading