It has often been observed that the “last days” are not just some future event of tribulation and doom but are instead the days of Christ’s church, inaugurated by his resurrection. Thus, as Acts 2:17 and Hebrews 1:2 teach us, the last days have begun with the finished work of Christ and will culminate when he comes again to consummate what his resurrection began.
Such an observation stands behind the notion of an inaugurated eschatology, the belief that the kingdom of God is already and not yet. Indeed, coming out of the debates with George Eldon Ladd in the mid-twentieth century, evangelical theology has found a large consensus on this fact—the kingdom is not only present and it is not only future; rather the kingdom of God has been inaugurated but awaits its culmination.
Certainly, this view of the kingdom is different than the way the Old Testament Prophets foresaw the coming kingdom. To them the coming of the messiah meant the restoration of Israel’s kingdom, the outpouring of the Spirit, and a new age marked by resurrection and life. What we find in the New Testament, however, is that this new age would come in the midst of the old, and that the last days of the old age would coincide with the era of the church, whereby the people of God would bear witness to Christ’s future return.
Biblical evidence for this two-phased kingdom is found in the Gospels where Jesus speaks of the kingdom as already (Matthew 12:28) and not yet (Matthew 24:35). It is also found in the arrival of the Holy Spirit which has made born again believers new creations in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), but without restoring the whole cosmos yet—what Isaiah 65 describes as a new heavens and new earth. Likewise, the resurrection of Christ—the first-fruits of the new creation—indicates a redemptive-historical shift from the old age to the new. And its this resurrection shift that is picked up by certain language in the New Testament.
Beginning with Paul’s speech to in Athens (Acts 17), there are two words that mark the change brought about by Christ’s resurrection. These words are nuni de, “but now.” As Fleming Rutledge observes in her provocative book on Christ’s crucifixion (and resurrection), “this radical newness, this transformation, is epitomized by the very frequent appearance in Paul’s letters and the epistles of Peter of the phrase “but now” (nuni de)” (The Crucifixion, 60).
Her observation reflects the apocalyptic nature of the New Testament, that the future has invaded the present (to borrow Ladd’s language), the kingdom of heaven has come to earth, and the resurrection of Jesus has marked a new stage in redemptive history. Indeed, the kingdom is not consummated yet, but neither is it absent. And importantly, the presence of the kingdom and the resurrection power of Christ is witnessed through the apocalyptic phrasing “but now.” Continue reading