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What does the two-age worldview teach us about eschatology?
"[I pray that] the God of our Lord
Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of
wisdom and of revelation in the true knowledge of Him, that the
eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know what
is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of
His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing
greatness of His power toward us who believe according to the
working of the strength of His might which He brought about in
Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and seated Him at His
right hand in the heavenlies, far above all rule and authority
and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in
this age, but also in the one to come. And He put all things in
subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things
to the church which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills
all in all."
Eschatology is the heart of the Christian faith; the comprehensive environment of the Christian life. For it is at the end of all things that we come into full fruition of God Himself, our imperishable covenant inheritance: God Himself, our fullness of joy, our life, our glorious and holy Father-King. Much more than information about future facts, signs, and promises concerning this present world-age, biblical eschatology encompasses our lives now by placing us before the eternal throne of God Almighty in the risen Christ. Eschatology is the boundless ocean into which the river of all of history flows, achieving its final goal and realizing its thorough-going purpose. It is the consummate Spirit-environment in which God is our God, and we are His people perfectly and eternally.
Eschatology is the branch of theology which deals with last (or final) things. The dogmatics tradition has generally treated subjects including human death, the intermediate estate, the second coming and its surrounding events, the judgment, the resurrection of the body, and the final estate under the heading of eschatology. Recently the identification of Old Testament eschatology has transformed our thinking on the subject. What was, in Old Testament prophetic idiom, identified as the final age, the age to come, inaugurated by the climactic "Day of Yahweh," spoken of as "in that [those] day[s]," must be considered eschatological. The advent of Christ marked this transitional event. What the prophets foretold, what every true Israelite earnestly looked forward to, the greatest of the prophets, John the Forerunner, identified as the coming of the kingdom of God. And the Eschatos Prophet, Jesus of Nazareth, the Angel-of-Presence-prophet incarnate, came with the simple message "the kingdom of God is at hand," the great world-ending event.
This incredible end-of-the-world event, however, took place in a most unexpected manner. Indeed the age found its climactic conclusion in the person and work of Jesus Christ, but the earth did not pass away, the cycle of days and seasons and years continued, the great and consummate kingdom was not visibly established in this world. This explains the imprisoned John's perplexity. According to the prophets, the coming of the kingdom would mean victory and honor for all of God's faithful servants, but John was sitting in prison awaiting his execution. What was not explicitly announced by the prophets was that the coming of the kingdom would occur in two stages. Thus Jesus' answer to John, "The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the gospel preached to them,"1 was testimony that the kingdom had indeed arrived. Victory was John's if he believed, even though he die in prison. His public liberation and vindication which corresponded with the coming of the kingdom would be postponed until the second episode of the kingdom-event.
The two-episode kingdom-coming-event corresponds to Jesus' first and second comings: once in humiliation and once in glory. With the ascension of the risen Christ into heaven, the preeminent arena of the Spirit, the administration of His priestly-kingdom and its redemptive blessings are removed from our sight (hid with Christ in God). Thus, Christ's heavenly session presently is the firstfruits presence of the age to come. Moreover His death on the cross was an intrusion of the final judgment and His resurrection from the dead an intrusion of the new creation, both eschatological events. Believers, entering into union with Him in those events, have been translated from the kingdom of this world into the kingdom of our Lord. Thus, because He has overcome and lives never to die again, believers in Him partake of all the blessings of His resurrection life, "blessed with every Spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ," and "seated with Him in the heavenlies."
The situation created by the postponement of the consummation-event is an overlap of the ages. In Christ the age to come, the new creation, the kingdom, has become a present reality. This overlap of the ages is illustrated by Geerhardus Vos's two-age diagram. The two-age construction helps us to understand what God yet promises to do for man through the revelation of what God has already done by Jesus Christ, to Jesus Christ, and through Jesus Christ. In other words, the two-age worldview recognizes God's own personal coming in Jesus Christ as the particular and definitive, final (i.e. eschatological) action of God for saving His people from their sins and bringing many sons to glory. Man cannot truly apprehend himself eternally before the loving presence of Jehovah Adonai unless he is first apprehended by God through Christ's own once-for-all death-resurrection-ascension. In this manner, we understand that Christ's advent and finished work to have inaugurated the kingdom of God, the eschatological arena-age for all those given entrance by the Holy Spirit through faith, even while this present evil world-age continues for a time.
The Already/Not-Yet aspect of Eschatology
"I AM the resurrection and the life;
he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies and everyone who
believes in Me shall never die."
Jesus' startling response to Martha, whose Jewish conception of the resurrection requires a new understand, is one of many affirmations of the Scriptures that Christ's own coming marks the inauguration the eschatological kingdom of God. All those who are united to Him partake of the final-kingdom (resurrection) blessings of the heavenly Spirit-arena of Christ's reign. This already aspect of the enjoyment of the kingdom of God finds its typical expression in the view of eschatology commonly known as amillenialism2. Amillennialists identify the present church-age as the millennium spoken of in Revelation 20, not a literal thousand years, but an era inaugurated by the Christ's resurrection victory and pouring out of the Spirit, in which the church, by virtue of their union with their risen Lord, is participant in Christ's glorification and heavenly session, seated with Him (royally seated) in the heavenly places. The alternative view to amillennialism, chiliasm, expects a future "golden age" of blessedness (whether a literal thousand years or no) in which the heavenly reign of Christ will find concrete expression in the social and political structures of this present age, whether through gradual evangelization or through a glorious interposition of Christ before the consummation. Thus chiliasts interpret the promises of Scripture to indicate a period of superlative mundane blessings before the final coming of the Lord. Amillennialists, on the other hand, expect an advance of the gospel into all nations combined with an expanse of ungodliness in the world, such that Christians in every generation will be subject to hatred and persecution by the world (John 17:14, 2 Cor 1:7), until the glorious second coming of Christ when the covenant promises of Scripture will find their full expression in the resurrection-glorification of their bodies and the inheritance of the God whom Christ inherited before them and for them, as their sufficient covenant reward, such that God should be everything to all men.
In other words, the Church's call for perseverence to the end is to hold onto the double portion of the final possession of glory already given her in the Spirit, for the express purpose of obtaining the not-yet consummate glory of the physical eternal embrace of Jesus Christ when He comes. He has given her the end (already) that she would attain to the end (not yet). Geerhardus Vos called this overlapping period of the two ages the semi-eschatological era.
This semi-eschatological period provides believers participation in a dynamic drama pioneered by Jesus Christ testified in all Scripture. And it involves an antithetical tension between the realms of heaven and earth, eternal and the temporal, fruit and dust, sin and righteousness, suffering and glory. Most characteristically it is a period where citizens of heaven pilgrim in a wilderness-world dominated by fleshly existence, pride, enmity, strife, sufferings, sin, persecutions, weakness, death, and the prince of power of the air. But in all these things we are more than conquerors now, enabled to glory and boast in our Lord who triumphed over us sinners through the obedience of the cross, thus leading many captives to glory through His resurrection. So we now are being led in His triumphant procession as an aroma of death to death for those who are perishing and from life to life to those who are being saved; we being conformed to His death-ministry daily might finally be conformed fully to His resurrection-glory.
The Beginning and the End
"I AM the Alpha and the Omega,"
says the Lord God, "who is and who was and who is to come,
All of God's mighty acts revealed in Scripture penetrate the plane of this world-age, bringing redemptive revelation of Himself to mankind. This revelation is more than mere cognition concerning God's eternal attributes, his holiness and divine power. God binds Himself to His actions, incarnating Himself with them, in such a covenantal manner as to provide for man a comprehensive age-environment for life and godliness. By identifying Himself with the beginning and the end God consecrates everything in between by His name, vowing that if His purposes for history should fail He would have to cease to exist. As the Alpha-Source and the Omega-Consummator of all things, God stands as divine witness that we who have our being in Him, who find in Him our tabernacle in every generation, should finally find our consummate being in Him at the end, and find in Him our consummate dwelling place, world without end. Thus, God's promises to be our God and to take us to Himself as a peculiar people for His own possession is bound up with the of flow of history, such that God spreads His name-banner aegis over us, and we become is name-image bearers in our pilgrimage through time, with all the privilege and obligation that brings, in the expectation of the perfection of God's image in us through the resurrection. This legal, intimate, mutual relationship is known as the covenant, and it is the dominating theme in the whole of Scripture. To understand God's revelation in redemptive history, then, we must learn to view all of history as the progressively unfolding historical realization of God re-creating His image-likeness upon His fallen people, that they might glorify Him and enjoy Him forever.3
The coming of God, the revelation of His Presence, consummates all preceeding revelation, fulfilling and establishing. He is the Subject and Object of revelation. And therefore His coming marks the end, the end of a way of life, the end of way we previously understood the world. Nothing can be the same after the coming of God; all things must become new. The shadow is dispelled as it is interpreted by the light; the witness gives way to the substance; the eschatological consumes the provisional, for the blossoming flower of revelation is jealous for our eyes not to remain forever upon the seed, root or stem. Nothing could be the same for Abraham after God came to him and called him out. Nothing could be the same for Moses after God appeared to Him, and made him His messiah. Nothing could be the same for Israel after God appeared at Sinai with flames of fire and terrible thunder-voice, transforming the Mountain into a three-tiered prototype of the tabernacle, to give the Law. Therefore, nothing can be the same again for all men after God came climactically and once-for-all (eschatologically) in the person of His Son, the Lord Christ. And nothing will be the same when He comes again, consummating the kingdom established at His first coming. Dispensation grows out of dispensation until all ages give way to the substance of their growth: His eternal covenant, we in Him and He in us, who was, is and is to come.
Therefore redemptive history, its events--past, present, or future--cannot be viewed as isolated in themselves. Every divine prophecy (word and event), every sign and miracle, every promise, every new dispensation of grace, every epochal covenant, every revelation must actively search out and achieve its eschatological resting place, having accomplished its purpose in history, and returned to the One from whom all things came and to whom all things are. His word cannot return to Him void. Geerhardus Vos puts it this way, "...The 'dabar Jahweh' (the word of the Lord) is never in its entire course separated from the God who spake it; it possesses and retains a divine efficacy that cannot fail to precipitate itself into a new reality. It is, as it were, semi-hypostatical."4 Thus, history must be viewed in terms of its end. Only in this light does the history of revelation find its full and final significance. For only in this light will we recognize from all the Scriptures the One who speaks to us from heaven in His Son, to whom and through whom all the riches of glory were given through His historical death-resurrection-ascension, into which all God's divine dealings from Adam till John flowed and from which all present dealings proceed; it being the eschatological covenant-testament activity by which God forever purchased a people for His own inheritance, bringing final peace, reconciliation, redemption, and promises to conform and confirm His elect to the image of His Son, the Overcomer Adam, and that they might mutually possess one another forever.
The Fullness of Time and the Fullness of God
"But when the fullness of the time was
come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law."
"The time is fulfilled and the Kingdom
of God is at hand. Repent and believe the gospel..."
The Old Testament prophetic expectation of the coming day of the Lord is essential for a full-orbed understanding of eschatology. The complexity of God's prophecies concerning the coming of the Lord is often apparent by their cataclysmic vision of final judgment and final blessing. These final things found expression proleptically in the temporal judgments which befell Israel and the temporary seasons of restoration. According to the Apostle Peter, the prophets "inquired what person or time was indicated by the Spirit of Christ within them when they testified beforehand of the sufferings of Christ and the glory to follow. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things which have now been announced to you by those who preached the good news to you through the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look." (1 Pet 1:11). As the prophets foretold the judgment of the world, they announced the judgment which fell upon Christ on the cross; when they foretold the glory of Israel, they announced the resurrection-glorification of Christ from the dead in whom the Israel of God was constituted. Thus in the Old Testament prophetic message, the end-of-the-world (eschatological) character of the gospel-event was testified.
In Mark's witness to the gospel, the Evangelist reports the beginnings of Jesus' ministry thusly: "After John had been handed over, Jesus came into Galilee preaching the gospel of God and saying, `The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.´" We are meant to understand by this that the Old Testament administration, subsumed under the heading "the law and the prophets" (cf. Matt 11:11-13) had reached the its end with the end of John's public ministry by imprisonment, and the new day, the day of the kingdom of God, had dawned with Jesus' public proclamation of good news. (cf. Luke 11:20)
II. The Creation and New Creation
"This is the main theme of Paul's ministry and epistles, "If any man be in Christ he is a new creation. Old things are passed away, behold, all things are made new." What in ancient times had been promised by God, this had now been revealed. And of this 'fullness of the times' of this now of the day of salvation, Paul is the herald." -- paraphrase Ridderbos When the Time had Fully Come, p. 48.
III. Israel and the Church
"But may it never be that I should
boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which
the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world, for
neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new
creation, and those who walk by this rule, peace and mercy upon
them and the Israel of God."
We believe that the salvation of the church is founded upon the organic growth of the same promises made to Israel concerning their inheritance and position in the Kingdom of God, and that the Scriptures teach that the death-and-resurrection of Christ is the final event which unites all believers from all ages without distinction for the common purpose and entrance into God's kingdom of heaven. In regards to the Church and her relationship to Israel of old, we find that the body of Christ was/is God's final plan for Israel. The covenant made with Israel was fulfilled in the death and resurrection of Christ and raised to its final mediation from glory. Jews and Gentiles have been united by the same cross-event which demonstrated that there is no distinction for all sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God (Rom 3:22,23); that all men are called to count as dung their earthly privileges and riches in light of the riches of knowing Christ and His resurrection (Mt 19:21ff, Phil 3:8,Gal 6:14ff). Jews and Gentiles alike now look forward to the same hope and glory, which is the living hope, the one true inheretance of God in Christ, in whom circumcision and uncircumcision are nothing (Col 3:10f), and based upon the same everlasting promises which are all Yes and Amen in Christ, who is Lord over all.
We do not believe that God promises Israelites a distinct temporary, provisional, earthly-political future with David-Jesus their king; nor is their another future dwelling place of God in a temple, but that Christ's own body is the final temple of God, where God has chosen to place His name forever. And that the corporate identity of Israel has undergone a transformation from the incarnation of the flesh (Rom 1:3,4; 2 Cor 5:16) to the last body now made of heaven (1 Cor 15:47), so that it is certain that as church receives the fullness of the nations, in this manner all Israel shall be saved, by the choice, promise, and power of God, under the Kingship of Christ.5
There are many dynamic aspects and perspectives of the coming Kingdom which has been revealed in the present time in Christ so that all of God's promises might be fulfilled just as His sovereign counsel desires. Here are some suggestions for exegetical considerations:
A) The mystery of the kingdom of Heaven, exegeted by the Son of David:
Kingdom Parables in Matthew:
The "mystery" in Paul:
B) The Promise to Abraham's seed
C) God is one, and therefore His everlasting covenant is with one body of people, under/in one new Man.(Eph 2:16ff)
D) The common Goal of God's people
F) God's promises to establish for Israel a king on the throne
G) The church's specific relationship to the promises of Israel and the kingdom
IV. The Law and the Prophets and the NT Scripture.
1 The list of "evidences" that the kingdom had arrived is an allusion to the prophesies of the coming day (cf. Isaiah 35:5, 61:1ff.) and is arranged by Jesus in ascending order of glory, culminating with the announcement of the preaching of the gospel to the poor. Notice from both passages how Jesus limits his news to the blessings of the day of vengeance, and deliberately ignores the declaration of prisoners being liberated (61:1b). Jesus' penetrating exegesis is obviously fine-tuned for John's needs.
2 Amillenialism -- The word literally means "no thousand years", to suggest that the reference of Revelation 20:4 to Christ's thousand year reign is a meant to communicate the complete and encompassing present rule of Jesus Christ and all those presently united to His death-resurrection-ascension awaiting His final return, and is not inspired to confine Christ's reign to some exclusive time in the future for the exclusive time of a thousand years on earth for political Israel or a political Christian rule.
4 "The Idea of 'Fulfillment' of Prophesy in the Gospels," Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation, p. 353.
5 See Rev. Lee Iron's article on Romans 11, "PAUL'S THEOLOGY OF ISRAEL'S FUTURE"
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