Preaching as an Eschatological Event

Comments Off March 4, 2014

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Paul declares that God has given him, “the least of all saints,” a mission of preaching the mystery and unsearchable riches of Christ to the Gentiles (Eph 3:3, 8). Further, he asserts the cosmic significance of the preaching ministry in the church of Jesus Christ. He contends that God called him to preach the riches of Christ “so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Eph 3:10). Faithful preaching extends beyond the pew and is a declaration to demonic hosts that their authority is broken and their final defeat is imminent because of the presence of the kingdom of Christ.

Preaching plays a unique, indispensable, and eschatological role in God’s cosmic plan for “the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on earth” (Eph 1:10, NASB). Thus, preaching that declares the manifold wisdom of God to the rulers and authorities is preaching that sums all things up in Christ and his kingdom. Because of the incarnation, life, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, the apostles were conscious of the fact that they were living in the “last days.” In him, they had entered the eschatological age (Acts 2:17; 1 Cor 10:11; 2 Tim 3:1; Heb 1:1-2, 6:5; 2 Pet 3:3). We live and preach in the same age as the apostles, the already-but- not-yet of the kingdom of Christ, the overlap of the present evil age and the age to come.

Every faithful sermon is eschatological because in Jesus, the end has begun. The eschatological cruciform community of the church serves and proclaims the Gospel in the tension of living in the overlap of the ages. The reality of the final outcome of the gospel of Jesus Christ—the eschaton, provides the indispensable context for understanding the biblical text and for rightly thinking about what it means to live faithfully as a citizen of the kingdom of Christ. Archibald Alexander provides an ominous warning to preachers who fail to preach Christ and his Kingdom in all of the Scripture: “Ministers might spend their lives explaining the Scriptures, and yet never truly preach the Word” (Pastoral Duties: Preaching the Word,” The Archibald Alexander Manuscript Collection [Special Collections, Princeton Theological Seminary Library, 1791-1880], 24:27).

When contemporary preachers refuse to retell biblical history in light of Jesus’ inauguration of the kingdom, they displace the gospel in the life of their churches. Eschatologically static sermons structurally suggest that the hearers are the center of the biblical narrative. Jesus becomes, in our thinking, a supporting actor in the story of our lives. We must take biblical history seriously: it is purposive; it is going somewhere. Faithful expository preaching drags hearers into the amazingly diverse but unified biblical story-line so they can find themselves in Jesus and the story of his kingdom (Col. 3:3). Simply put, the eschatological kingdom of Christ makes every story in the Bible one story. Faithful preaching is not only eschatologically oriented; it is itself an eschatological event (Eph. 3:7-13).

Image credit: Felix Just, S.J

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March 4th, 2014
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