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

Seeing the Streams of Scripture: A Biblical-Theological Approach to Philippians 2

trail-wu-2a1TKBuc-unsplash.jpgBy myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: ‘To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.’
— Isaiah 45:23 —

And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
— Philippians 2:8–11 —

Whenever we read the letters of Paul we are sure to encounter quotations from and allusions to the Old Testament. Often in the same passage, there are multiple layers from the Law and the Prophets. Commentators are usually in agreement when there are explicit citations or linguistic repetitions. Interpreters of Scripture are much more at odds when there are not direct biblical parallels.

One example of this kind of interpretive difference is found in Philippians 2:5–11. In Paul’s famous “hymn,” there is an unmistakeable quotation from Isaiah 45:23 in verses 10–11. There are also many connections with the Servant in Isaiah 53. But one connection that is more tenuous is the relationship between Christ who obeyed God unto death and Adam who disobeyed God unto death.

In a remarkably balanced presentation on Adam and Christ in Philippians 2:5–11, Matthew Harmon rightly affirms the many conceptual connections between Adam and Christ. At the same time, he rightly denies any linguistic connections between Philippians 2 and Genesis 1–3. This helpfully sets up a discussion concerning what it takes for allusions to be recognized in the Scripture.

Yet, instead of siding with a narrow reading of Philippians 2 which denies all connections between Christ and Adam (a Pauline theme developed explicitly in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15), Harmon shows how the explicit connections between Philippians 2 and Isaiah 53 stands a servant typology that goes back to Israel, and from Israel to Adam. Continue reading