Eschatology Should Never be Left Behind

  • eschatology


In the primeval garden, Adam and Eve rebelled by trusting in the word of the serpent rather than the Word of God. God immediately pronounced judgment on his fallen image bearers and the ultimate, eschatological judgment on the serpent (Gen 3:14- 19). The tragic events in the Garden of Eden disrupted the harmony of the entire created order. The shame and alienation experienced in the presence of God after the fall into sin would not be the final word— God’s grace would be. Yahweh announced a promised future seed, who would be born of woman, engage in mortal combat with the serpent, and ultimately victoriously crush his head (Gen 3:15, Heb 2:14).

The promise of God in Genesis 3:15 is not only the first gospel; it is the first eschatology. The unfolding of that promise in the biblical narrative means that all of redemptive history generates an eschatological or Christotelic pull. Van Groningen explains the eschatology of Genesis 3:

To think of eschatology is to think of the messianic task. Biblical messianism and eschatology are inseparable. The seed of the woman will determine the full dimensions of the restored fellowship between the sovereign Lord and his viceregents. It will determine the future of mankind’s status, position, and function in the cosmos, and because of that, a future cosmos as well (Messianic Revelation in the Old Testament, 114).

The entire Bible is rightly recognized as Christian Scripture because every part is organically connected to the telos (end, goal) of Scripture in the eschatological kingdom of Christ. Theologian Thomas N. Finger asserts, “Biblical narrative directs all divine and human acts toward a cosmic climax” (A Contemporary Anabaptist Theology, 512). Therefore, expository preaching that treats eschatology simply as a doctrinal category or an addendum to the biblical story fails to adequately acknowledge the entire Bible as Christian Scripture.

Jesus is the eschatological man and his people, the church, represent the eschatological kingdom community who heed his voice and eagerly await consummation of his kingdom. As Russell D. Moore writes,

The overarching story—with a beginning, a middle, and an end—makes sense of all of the smaller stories of our individual lives. In Scripture the eschaton is not simply tacked on to the gospel at the end. It is instead the vision toward which all of Scripture is pointing—and the vision that grounds the hope of the gathered church and the individual believer.

Moore also asserts,

The future has a name: Jesus of Nazareth, like all doctrines of the faith, eschatology is the outworking of Christology. God’s final purpose with his creation is to “bring everything together in the Messiah, both things in heaven and things on earth in Him” (Eph. 1:10). (“Personal and Cosmic Eschatology,” in A Theology for the Church, ed. Daniel L. Akin, 858, 892-893).

Biblically faithful expository preaching does not excise a passage from the biblical metaplot to stage it for application. Christ-centered expository preaching takes the hearer to the text in its natural habitat, so to speak; the task is not to fit the text to the world of the reader as much as it is to fit the reader to the world of the text. Faithful preaching drags hearers into the amazingly diverse but unified biblical storyline so they can find themselves in Jesus and the story of his Kingdom (Col 3:3).

George Eldon Ladd notes that New Testament eschatology has a vertical and horizontal dimension. The vertical dimension reveals that, “The world below is the realm of darkness, of satanic power, of sin, and of death. The world above is the world of the Spirit, of light, and life. In Jesus’ mission light and life have invaded the darkness to deliver people from darkness, sin, and death, to give them the life of the Spirit.” The horizontal dimension reveals that the invasion of the world above “is an invasion into history,” which focuses on present and future. (A Theology of the New Testament, 265).

When this Christotelic awareness is matched with a rigorous expository approach to preaching, inexhaustible Gospel riches are uncovered in the diverse biblical witness. A Christ-centered approach to expository preaching that accounts for the “already” and the “not yet” of the eschatological kingdom of Christ will strengthen the call to obey because it provides the only possible context for hope-filled obedience—faith. Herman Ridderbos explains,

This relation of the indicative and imperative is altogether determined by the redemptive-historical situation. The indicative represents the ‘already’ as well as the ‘not yet.’ The imperative is likewise focused on the one as well as the other. On the ground of the ‘already’ it can in a certain sense ask all things, is total in character, speaks not only of a small beginning, but of perfection in Christ. At the same time it has its basis in the provisional character of the ‘not yet.’ Its content, therefore, is not only positive, but also negative. At the same time there is in the ‘not yet’ the necessity for increasing, pushing ahead on the way that has been unlocked by the ‘already’ (Paul, 257-58).

The entire biblical narrative is infused with Gospel-centered eschatological hope. Tragically, eschatology is often considered a non-essential and specialized theological category, exclusively the domain of academic theologians, theology nerds, or wild eyed chart toting and date setting end times fanatics (who are often avoiding the genuine personal implications of biblical eschatology). But Stephen J. Wellum reminds us that there may be another reason some people avoid thinking about Christian eschatology. He writes,

 However, there may be an additional reason, which if we are not careful, may reflect our sad state of being more conformed to this world and its thoroughly secular mindset, i.e., a ‘this-worldly’ perspective, instead of being transformed by God’s Word (Rom 12:1-2). (“Editorial: Thinking Biblically and Theologically about Eschatology,” SBJT 14, no.1 (2010): 2-3).

Under demonic occupation, humanity’s only hope is the insurgency of the age to come led by Jesus of Nazareth. In his person the Kingdom of God was already at hand. Yet the Kingdom will not be consummated until the end. Thomas N. Finger explains that for the first Christians, “Their eschatology was not merely a set of beliefs concerning future events but also the attitude or atmosphere aroused by these events” (Christian Theology: An Eschatological Approach, 1:102). Effective preaching conveys this atmosphere of eschatological hope that pervades every text, a hope sourced in the triumph of the gospel of the Kingdom of Christ. The hope of the church and the hope it proclaims to the world is the triumph of the gospel of the Kingdom.

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