Category Archives: Eschatology
So often in Scripture the presence of joy comes along with the presence of the Holy Spirit (Acts 13:52; 1 Thess 1:6; Gal 5:22; Rom 14:17; 15:13). Jonathan Edwards picks up and develops this link between the Spirit and joy all over in his works, particularly when he writes on the Trinity, heaven, and on the religious affections.
The link between the indwelling of the Spirit and our joy is especially noteworthy in an except like this one taken from his Writings on the Trinity, Grace, and Faith (Yale 21:190):
What Christ purchased for us, was that we might have communion with God in his good, which consists in partaking of or having communion of the Holy Ghost. All the blessedness of the redeemed consists in partaking of the fullness of Christ, their head and Redeemer, which, I have observed, consists in partaking of the Spirit that is given him not by measure. This is the vital sap, which the branches derive from the true vine; this is the holy oil poured on the head, that goes down to the members.
Christ purchased for us that we should enjoy the love, but the love of God flows out in the proceeding of the Spirit; and he purchased for them that the love and joy of God should dwell in them, which is by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
The sum of all spiritual good which the saints have in this world, is that spring of living water within them which we read of, John 4:10–14; and those rivers of living waters flowing from within them which we read of, John 7:38–39, which we are there told is the Holy Spirit.
And the sum of all happiness in the other world, is that river of living waters which flows from the throne of God and the Lamb, which is the river of God’s pleasure and is the Holy Spirit; which is often compared in Scripture to water, to the rain and dew, and rivers and floods of waters (Isaiah 44:3, Isaiah 32:15, Isaiah 35:6–7, Isaiah 41:17–18 compared with John 4:14, and Isaiah 43:19–20).
Notice a few key points drawn together by Edwards:
- Our joy is expensive, and the high cost is purchased for us at the cross.
- The Spirit’s joy is Christ’s joy first, shared with us by virtue of our union with Christ.
- The indwelling presence of the Spirit is the origin of spiritual joy in our lives.
- And perhaps most interesting to me, joy — both our joy today and our joy eternal — are both deeply embedded in our union to Christ and in the purchased permanency of the Spirit’s indwelling in our lives now and forever. Which is why for Edwards there are such strong ties of continuity to be discovered between our present experience of joy in this world (no matter how disrupted and faulty and fallen), and our perfected joy that will be fully revealed in the next world.
One of the more stimulating reads from 2012 was for me a short 130-page book written 45 years ago by Robert Tannehill, Dying and Rising with Christ. For its brevity the book punches hard and achieves a sketch of the sweeping eschatological structure in Paul’s writings, something I appreciate in the writings of G. K. Beale.
Tannehill seems to make a few points about the Christian life that are worth highlighting here. First, the book is strong on the large-scale eschatological framework of the Christian life in Paul, as you can see on page 30:
Christ’s cross puts an end to the dominion of sin, and so to the “old man.” It is an inclusive event, for the existence of men was bound up with this old aeon, and what puts an end to it also puts an end to them as men of the old aeon. When Paul speaks of dying and rising with Christ, and associates it, as he does here, with the end of the old dominion and the foundation of the new, it is clear that he is thinking of the death and resurrection of Christ as eschatological events. And because they are eschatological events, affecting the old dominion as a whole, they are also inclusive events.
But I think Tannehill’s work is especially valuable on the flip side of our entrance into the new aeon, in our battle with the tug and pull of the old aeon in the ongoing “eschatological discord” (Beale). Tannehill explains the discord on page 127:
The connection which we have noted between dying and rising with Christ and Paul’s eschatology provides the key to understanding the relation between dying with Christ as a past event and as a continuing aspect of Christian existence. Through dying with Christ the Christian has been released from the old world and has entered the new. If this were all that Paul wished to say about God’s eschatological act, he could only speak of dying with Christ as something which has already happened to the Christians. But the old world has not yet accepted God’s judgment of it and claim upon it, and the Christian is still bound to this old world through his present body.
This means that the Christian is still exposed to the powers of the old aeon. Therefore, the new existence which is based upon the past death with Christ takes on the form of a continuing dying with Christ. To be sure, Paul speaks of dying with Christ as a present process particularly, though not exclusively, in connection with suffering. However, he makes clear that the dying with Christ which takes place in suffering is also a dying to the old world, the world of “flesh” and of trust in self. It is because the decisive break with the old world must continually be maintained and affirmed that what happened to the Christian in the death of Christ also determines the present structure of his life, so that dying with Christ is not only the basis of the new dominion but remains a present reality within it.
Tannehill seems to be on to something here, and he’s not the only one to point this out. For a further discussion on this dual dynamic of our dying and rising with Christ, and how these twin realities shape our perception of our daily Christian lives, see the second half of my recent interview with Constantine Campbell in the Authors on the Line series (iTunes). And if you are looking for a brilliant chapter on the eschatological shape of the Christian life, see Beale’s A New Testament Biblical Theology, pages 835–870.
Richard B. Gaffin, By Faith, Not by Sight (Paternoster, 2006), page 78:
Ultimately, in the deepest sense, for Paul “our good works” are not ours, but God’s. They are his work begun and continuing in us, his being “at work in us, both to will and to do what please him” (Phil. 2:13). That is why, without any tension, a faith that rests in God the Savior is a faith that is restless to do his will.
In 1 Corinthians 4:7 Paul puts to the church those searching rhetorical questions, “Who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” (NIV). These questions, we should be sure, have the same answer for sanctification as for justification, for our good works as well as for our faith. Both, faith and good works, are God’s gift, his work in us. The deepest motive for our sanctification, for holy living and good works, is not our psychology, not how I “feel” about God and Jesus. Nor is it even our faith. Rather, that profoundest of motives is the resurrection power of Christ, the new creation we are and have already been made a part of in Christ by his Spirit.
On this blog I spend quite a lot of time discussing “inaugurated eschatology,” especially when it comes to understanding how Christ’s resurrection marks the dawn of the new creation. But, you may be asking, what is inaugurated eschatology in the first place and why should I care? And those are both very good questions.
The other day I discovered a brief interview published in 2008 in the Southern Baptist Journal of Theology with professor Dr. C. Everett Berry. The excerpt has two particular strengths; first, it explains the basic contours of inaugurated eschatology quite well, and, second, it explains how this inaugurated eschatology should shape our thinking and daily Christian living.
This is a longer excerpt, longer than most of my posts, but it is worthy of a careful, slow read.
SBJT: How can the theological construct of inaugurated eschatology help us in forming a biblical understanding of Christian sanctification?
C. Everett Berry: The term inauguration essentially refers to an act of ceremonial observance whereby a given party officially inducts another newly designated party into a special position of authority. Note also that this practice typically alludes to a significant transition wherein the subject being inaugurated represents a new phase of leadership or service. And it is here where insight has proven helpful to evangelicals as they attempt to conceptualize the theological flow of the biblical storyline and delineate the hermeneutical symmetry between Old Testament promise and Christological fulfillment.
Specifically, the concept known as “inaugurated eschatology” highlights a theological tension in the New Testament between the temporary co-existence of two mutually exclusive realms. First there is “the present age,” which is marked by all the consequences of sin upon the world including the divine curse as well as Satanic oppression. This era continues to wreak havoc upon humanity but now with one crucial difference. It exists on borrowed time because of the beginning of another age established by the finished work of Jesus Christ. His act of redemption defeated death, made atonement for sin, thwarted the works of the devil, and provided a means whereby the kingdom of heaven might eventually become a full reality on earth. Consequently, the completion of his Father’s mission marked the dawning of a new eschatological era that would bring salvation and restoration from sin.
The key though is that the full realization of this telos [ultimate aim] is not instantaneous. The biblical writers understood the resurrection and ascension of Christ as events that set in motion, or inaugurated, the gradual ushering of “the age to come” into the present. Now the present age commences on a divinely-set stopwatch ticking down the last days until the impending kingdom of God arrives in its consummate form on the last Day, which is otherwise known as the Day of the Lord when the glorified Christ returns to save his people and judge his enemies. Furthermore, believers in the early church were taught that this future was certain because of promises made by Christ and his apostles regarding the imminent parousia. They were also assured of this reality by virtue of the fact that Christ was currently executing in preliminary form the power of the future kingdom amidst the very time of spiritual darkness in which they still lived. While they existed in a world blinded by Satan and cursed because of Adam’s sin, they were likewise experiencing many of the blessings of the eschatological age. The forgiveness of sins, the indwelling of the Spirit, and the gift of eternal life were soteric foretastes that were indicative of future realities not yet received, such as resurrection from the dead, the absence of sin’s carnal influence, and a new creation.
Theologically speaking then, the concept of inaugurated eschatology obviously has tremendous implications for interpreting numerous motifs in Scripture. Yet one theme often overlooked is its relationship to the doctrine of sanctification. One notices when reading the ethical sections of the New Testament that biblical writers frequently allude to believers’ identity as kingdom citizens of the age to come in order to exhort them to live out their faith in the world now. The portrait given in Scripture is that believers are a people who live in the hostile convergence of two antithetical ages that overlap, thus creating a kind of parallel universe. On the one hand, our redemption is not experientially culminated because we still struggle with temptation, sin, and spiritual immaturity. Yet on the other, we have been born again, empowered by the Spirit, and thereby become new creations in Christ.
The net result of these dual truths is a clash of loyalties because now we as believers are admonished to repudiate the immoral ways of our old identity as children made in Adam’s image by walking in the power of the Spirit so we can be continually conformed into the image of the second Adam. The theological irony, however, is that we do not reject our former way of life so we can gradually achieve a new spiritual rank. We recognize instead that at conversion, we forfeit our spiritual link to the present age and became full citizens and heirs of the future kingdom. Therefore, because of the dynamic of inaugurated eschatology, biblical sanctification does not focus on maintaining a certain life style in order to gain something we do not have yet. Rather we are to grow in grace in order to reflect the identity that is already fully ours. This is why believers in the New Testament are not described as sinners who should change in order to be called saints one day. It is because they already are saints positionally that they are to exhibit a certain life practically.
So in a sense each ethical mandate placed before us as believers entails an eschatological context that validates its authority. For instance, we seek those things that are Christ-honoring because it is there where we have already been seated (Eph 2:6; Col 3:1). We forgive those who wrong us because we have been forgiven (Eph 4:32; 1 John 4:11). We do not take fellow believers to civil courts because we are to be judges of angels (1 Cor 6:2-3). We live as loving servants in all social contexts because the ones exalted in the future are the ones who serve in the present (Matt 18:4-5; 19:28-30). We maintain physical purity because we are indwelt by the Spirit who is given to us as a promise of a future eschatological reunion (1 Cor 6:19; 2 Cor 5:5; Eph 1:14). Moreover, in the end we see that because Christ’s kingship is a reality now, sin in our lives is not only to be understood as rebellion against God our Creator. It is also contrary to who we are as Christ’s redeemed people because in the age to come, kingdom citizens will walk in full obedience to their Lord.
Source: “The SBJT Forum: The Kingdom of God,” Southern Baptist Journal of Theology, 12/1 (2008), pages 109–111. Posted online with written permission from SBJT.
Richard Gaffin, WTJ 38.3 (1975), 299:
How many believers today understand themselves with the apostle as those “upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (1 Cor 10:11)?
How many experience that they are members of God’s eschatological kingdom not only at hand but already present?
How many grasp with some perception of its vast implications that in the interim between the resurrection and return of Christ the existence of the church in the world is determined by the overlapping tension between this age and the age to come?
Richard Gaffin, JETS 41.4 (1998), 585:
How many believers today recognize that the present work of the Spirit within the Church and in their lives is of one piece with God’s great work of restoring the entire creation, begun in sending his Son “in the fullness of time” (Gal 4:4) and to be consummated at his return?
How many Christians grasp that in union with Christ, the life-giving Spirit, the Christian life in its entirety is essentially and necessarily resurrection life?
How many comprehend that in terms of Paul’s fundamental anthropological distinction between “the inner” and “outer man” (2 Cor 4:16), between “heart” and “body,” believers at the core of their being will never be any more resurrected than they already are?
Richard Gaffin, By Faith, Not by Sight (2006), 75:
How many Christians understand that the Holy Spirit presently at work in them is nothing less than resurrection power, that the Spirit, through whom God “will give life to your mortal bodies,” is “his Spirit who dwells in you” (Rom. 8:11)?
How many believers grasp that the Holy Spirit indwelling them is an eschatological power, that, in terms of the metaphors Paul uses, he in his activity in the church is an actual “down payment” on our eschatological inheritance (2 Cor. 1:22, 5:5; Eph. 1:14), the “firstfruits” of the full “harvest” of his eschatological working (Rom. 8:23)?
How many appreciate that Christ himself, as “life-giving Spirit” (1 Cor. 15:45), is present and at work in our lives in his resurrection power?
But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.
Ben Witherington III, Grace in Galatia, 450:
Paul is saying his conversion to a belief in a crucified messiah entailed an enormous transvaluation of values, and an adoption of a new paradigm of what God was really doing in the world, how he was doing it, and therefore what the believer’s life meant. But notice Paul is not simply talking about an experience that happened to him. He also says that the world was crucified to him, by which he means that he believes that the death of Christ on the cross changed the world, it had cosmic effects. Paul has partially addressed this subject when he spoke about what the Galatians had been freed from — the elementary principles of the universe which enslave fallen human beings, and it is attended to even more fully in the later Paulines (cf. especially Col. 2:15 to Eph. 4:7–10). Here Martyn is quite right to stress the importance of this phrase and the mention of the new creation [v. 15] and connect them both with Gal. 1:4.
In Paul’s view the present evil age exists, but has been dealt a deathblow by the crucifixion of Jesus. All of the world’s basic values and assumptions and operating procedures have been put on notice that they are passing away (cf. 1 Cor. 7:31). What really matters are the new eschatological realities brought about because of the death of Christ. In Paul’s view, even the Law, as well as other good things about the material world, are part of the things that are passing away or are fading in glory (cf. 2 Cor. 3). Having lost their controlling grip on a human life when Christ came and died, one must not submit to such forces again, but rather live on the basis of the new eschatological realities. The new age has already dawned and Christians should live by its light and follow the path it illuminates.
2 Corinthians 5:17 (NRSV)
So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!
Richard Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament: A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics (HarperOne, 1996), page 20:
The apocalyptic scope of 2 Corinthians 5 was obscured by older translations that rendered the crucial phrase in verse 17 as “he is a new creation” (RSV) or — worse yet — “he is a new creature” (KJV). Such translations seriously distort Paul’s meaning by making it appear that he is describing only the personal transformation of the individual through conversion experience. The sentence in Greek, however, lacks both subject and verb; a very literal translation might treat the words “new creation” as an exclamatory interjection: “If anyone is in Christ — new creation!”
The NRSV has rectified matters by rendering the passage, “If anyone is in Christ there is a new creation.” Paul is not merely talking about an individual’s subjective experience of renewal through conversion; rather, for Paul, “creation” refers to the whole create order (Rom. 8:18–25). He is proclaiming the apocalyptic message that through the cross God has nullified the kosmos of sin and death and brought a new kosmos into being. That is why Paul can describe himself and his readers as those “on whom the ends of the ages has met” (1 Cor. 10:11). The old age is passing away (cf. 1 Cor. 7:31b), the new age has appeared in Christ, and the church stands at the juncture between them.
Paul in Galatians 6:12–15:
12 It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13 For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh. 14 But far be it from me to boast nexcept in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.
Thomas Schreiner comments on 6:15 in his Galatians commentary [(Zondervan, 2010), pages 379–380; my emphasis]:
Since the world has been crucified to Paul (and by extension to all Christians), whether one is circumcised or not is utterly irrelevant. What is remarkable is that circumcision is assigned to the old world order, to the old creation rather than the new creation. The law is part of the old age, while the cross inaugurates the new age.
The centrality of the new creation functions as an envelope with the introduction to the letter, where the death of Christ delivers from the present evil age (1:4). The new creation has dawned, in other words, through the cross of Christ.
We see the same dynamic in 2 Cor 5:14-21. There Paul also features the new creation, and again it is tied inextricably to the cross of Christ. The new creation has been inaugurated in Christ and will be consummated at the eschaton, when the groaning that characterizes the old creation will pass away (Rom 8:18-22).
Remarkably, in the midst of a great conflict over circumcision, Paul does not elevate uncircumcision either. Those who find significance in uncircumcision belong to the old world order as well. There is no particular virtue in uncircumcision, which explains why Paul was willing to circumcise Timothy (Acts 16:3). If circumcision is practiced for cultural reasons and not to achieve salvation, observing it is up to one’s individual conscience.
Verse 15 parallels both 5:6 and 1 Cor 7:19. The faith that expresses itself in love (5:6) is now a reality because the new creation has dawned. The ability to keep God’s commands is a reality in the new creation (1 Cor 7:19). Eschatology, then, plays a vital role in Galatians, for the Judaizers were attached to the old age and failed to see that the new has come. Their error, however, was not merely eschatological; there were anthropological corollaries and causes, for those who are attached to the old age cling to it because they desire to establish their own righteousness instead of receiving the righteousness from God (cf. Rom 10:3).
This is one way that eschatology reframes the personal struggle with self-righteousess and legalism (but without in any way diminishing the priority of personal obedience).
If you find it difficult to release your grip on your own self-righteous before God, you’re not alone, it is a problem we all face as sinners. The solution is found in turning away from the old age and living in light of the new age that began in the death and resurrection of the Savior. The eschatology of the New Testament, here in Galatians, will serve us well in our struggle to release our grip on self-righteousness.
Too often we don’t equate the gospel and justification with the theme of eschatology. These themes can get separated in our minds, and each individual doctrine suffers for the disconnect, and our souls suffer from malnourishment. The fact is that these themes are inseparable—the death and resurrection of Christ mark the inbreaking of the eschatological age and the inauguration of the new creation.
Yesterday I read what may be the best summary of these interwoven themes in the back of Thomas Schreiner’s new commentary on Galatians (Zondervan, 2010), pages 394–395.
Notice how he draws the themes together:
Justification is an eschatological verdict that has been declared in advance of the last day. This is not to say that the verdict announced now only refers to a future reality. Believers are already justified, and yet at the same time they await the final declaration on the day of judgment when the verdict that God has already announced becomes public (5:5).
In the same way, the cross of Jesus Christ has launched believers into the age to come, even though they live in the present evil age (1:4). In other words, the new exodus promised in the OT has become a reality through Jesus as the crucified and risen Lord (Isa 40:3–11; 42:16; 43:2, 5–7, 16–19; 48:20-21; 49:8–11; 51:10–11).
The resurrection in Jewish thought also signals the end of the old evil age and the coming of the new age of peace and plenty (cf. Isa 26:19; Ezek 37:1–14; Dan 12:2–3).
The resurrection is not a prominent theme in Galatians, and yet it appears in the first verse of the letter (1:1), signifying that the age to come has invaded the present age. The old evil cosmos has lost its hold over believers through the cross of Jesus Christ (6:14). Therefore, believers now belong to the new creation (6:15). The new creation has not been consummated (Isa 65:17; 66:22), but it has been inaugurated through the work of Jesus Christ. The gift of the Holy Spirit represents the arrival of the new creation (Isa 32:15; 44:3; Ezek 11:18–19; 36:26–27; Joel 2:28). The Spirit is a gift of the last days, and his presence and indwelling among the Galatians shows that the final days have begun.
Eschatological contrasts dominate Galatians, so that we have a contrast between the old age of the flesh and the new age of the Spirit. The flesh in Paul represents the old age and who human beings are in Adam, whereas the Spirit signifies the inbreaking of the age to come.
We see the same eschatological contrast between the law and the gospel. The Mosaic law belongs to the former era and believers are no longer under the law (see esp. 3:15–4:7). To be under the law is to be enslaved to the power of sin (3:10, 22, 23, 25; 4:3, 21–31; 5:18). Such slavery belongs to the former age. Now that the gospel of Christ (a fulfillment of the promise of the new exodus! Isa 40:9; 52:7) is proclaimed, the age of the law is obsolete. Believers live in the era of the cross, the resurrection, and the gift of the Spirit.
Second Corinthians 5:17 rightly summarizes Galatians: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has gone; the new has come!”
A summary quote like this one that weaves together so many key themes in Galatians and throughout the Old and New Testaments is worth printing out and studying carefully and meditating over devotionally.
(And his commentary is certainly worth the coin, in case you’re wondering.)
From Herman Ridderbos’s classic book Paul: An Outline of His Theology, page 57:
Paul’s kerygma [message] of the great time of salvation that has dawned in Christ is above all determined by Christ’s death and resurrection. It is in them that the present aeon has lost its power and hold on the children of Adam and that the new things have come. For this reason, too, the entire unfolding of the salvation that has dawned with Christ again and again harks back to his death and resurrection, because all the facets in which this salvation appears and all the names by which it is described are ultimately nothing other than the unfolding of what this all-important breakthrough of life in death, of the kingdom of God in this present world, contains within itself. Here all lines come together, and from hence the whole Pauline proclamation of redemption can be described in its unity and coherence. Paul’s preaching, so we have seen, is “eschatology,” because it is preaching the fulfilling redemptive work of God in Christ. We might be able to delimit this further, to a certain extent schematically, by speaking of Paul’s “resurrection-eschatology.” For it is in Christ’s death and subsequent resurrection that the mystery of the redemptive plan of God has manifested itself in its true character and that the new creation has come to light.