Eschatology, 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