Category Archives: Eschatology
What does the Holy Spirit do for the Christian? The short answer is “a lot!” In his work The Bible and The Future (one of my personal favorites) Anthony Hoekema highlights one of the things the Spirit does in the life of the believer: He brings God’s future into the present their present life experience.
Another way of putting this is to say that, for Paul, the Spirit means that breaking in of the future into the present, so that the powers, privileges, and blessings of the future age are already available to us through the Spirit…”… In other words, on the basis of the work of Christ, the power of the redeemed the future has been released to act in the present in the person of the Holy Spirit.”
For Paul, therefore the reception of the Spirit means that one has become a participant in the new mode of existence associated with the future age, and now partakes of the “powers of the age to come.” Yet Paul would insist that what the Spirit gives is only a foretaste a far greater blessings to come. It is for this reason that he calls of the Spirit the “firstfruits” and the “guarantee” of future blessings which shall far surpass those of the present life. (Anthony Hoekema, The Bible and the Future, 58)
For more, see:
In his magisterial work, The Resurrection of the Son of God, N.T. Wright comments on the famous “love chapter” in the apostle Paul’s work 1 Corinthians with the following remarks:
Love is what will hold the church together when various pressures threaten to pull the Messiah’s body apart- when those with different gifts, or enthusiasm for a particular teacher, or a sense of their own rights and a disregard for other people’s conscience, or a failure to recognize those of different social standing as equal at the lord’s table, seem to want to go their own way. This chapter [1 Corinthians 13] has a claim, alongside chapter 15, to be considered the real heart of the letter. If the church can only grasp this, it will solve at least half the problems Paul has been grappling with. And yet even this exquisite chapter looks forward, particularly in the section just quoted [verses 8-13] to the final discussion, which will concern the resurrection, the new world that God will make, and the continuity between the resurrection life and the life here and now. The point of 13:8-13 is that the church must be working in the present on the things that will last into God’s future. Faith, hope, and love will do this; prophecy, tongues and knowledge, so highly prized in Corinth, will not. They are merely signposts to the future; when you arrive, you no longer need signposts. Love, however, is not just a signpost. It is a foretaste of the ultimate reality. Love is not merely the Christian duty; it is the Christian destiny. To hold the Corinthian church together, Paul needs to them love; but to teach them love he needs to teach them eschatology.
Christ’s resurrection implies that one day creation itself will be resurrected, renewed. This present heaven and earth will not be utterly destroyed and ultimately replaced. The great early twentieth-century Reformed theologian Herman Bavinck (who had many wonderful thoughts on this topic) further clarifies the logic behind my denial:
In the same way, the New Testament proclaims that heaven and earth will pass away (Matt. 5:18; 24:35; 2 Pet. 3:10; 1 John 2:17; Rev. 21:1), that they will perish and wear out like clothing (Heb. 1:11), dissolve (2 Pet. 3:10), be burned with fire (3:10), and be changed (Heb. 1:12). But none these expressions implies a destruction of substance. Peter, for example, expressly teaches that the old earth, which originated as a result of the separation of waters was deluged with water and the so perished, and that the present world would also perish, not – thanks to the divine promise – by water but by fire. Accordingly, with reference to the passing of the present world, we must know more think of a destruction of substance than [we would] with regard to the passing of the earlier world in the flood. Fire burns, cleanses, purifies, but does not destroy. The contrast in one John 2:17 (“the world and its desire are passing away, but those who will do the will of God lives forever.”) teaches us that the first statement does not imply a destruction of the substance of the world but a vanishing of the world in its present, sin-damaged form… Only such a renewal of the world, for that matter, accords with what Scripture teaches about redemption. For the latter is never a second, brand-new creation but a re-creation of the existing world. God’s honor consists precisely in the fact that he redeems and we news the same humanity, the same world, the same heaven, and the same earth that have been corrupted and polluted by sending it. (Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 4, 717)
Hoekema does it again. Here he highlights the New Testament teaching on the role our expectations of Christ’s Second Coming should have upon our daily living. It doesn’t get much more practical than this:
What do the New Testament writers have to say about the practical significance of the expectation of the Parousia [i.e. the second coming of Christ] for faith in life? Most common is the emphasis that our expectation of the Lord’s return should serve as an incentive to holy living. So we hear Paul telling us in Romans 13 that the nearness of that return should motivate us to cast off the works of darkness and to put on the armor of light, to make no provisions for the flesh but to conduct ourselves becomingly as in the day (vv. 12-14). In Titus 2:11 – 13 Paul makes the point that our living between Christ’s two comings means that we must renounce worldly passions and live sober, upright, and godly lives in this present world. Peter, it his first epistle, tells us that setting our hopes fully on the grace that is coming to us at the revelation of Christ means for us the diligent pursuit of self-control, obedience, and holiness (I Peter 1:13 – 15). And in his second letter he puts it this way: “since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of persons ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening (or earnestly desiring, mg.) The coming of the day of God…” (II Peter 3:11 – 12). The Apostle John, in his first epistle, after telling us that when Christ appears in glory we shall be like him, adds “and everyone who does hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (I John 3:2 – 3).
In various other ways our anticipation of the second coming should affect the quality of our living. The future appearance of our Lord should move us to be faithful to the commission God has given us, as it did Timothy (I Tim. 6:14). If we continue to abide in Christ, we shall be confident and unashamed before him when he appears (I John 2:28). The realization that when the Lord comes he will disclose the purposes of our hearts implies that we ought not to utter premature judgments about people (I Cor. 4:5). Being faithful and wise managers of what ever the Lord has entrusted to our care is another way of showing that we are ready for the Lord’s return (Luke 12:41 – 48). In the parables of the Talents and the Pounds the point is made that readiness for Christ’s return means working diligently for him with the gifts and abilities he has given us… And in the light of the portrayal of the last judgment found in Matthew 25:31-46, the best way to be prepared for the Second Coming is to be continually showing love to those who are Christ’s brothers.
Our expectation of the Lord’s return, therefore, should be a constant incentive to live for Christ and for his kingdom, and to seek the things that are above, not the things that are on the earth. But the best way to seek the things above is to be busy for the Lord here and now.
For more, see:
The following is taken from Anthony Hoekema’s The Bible and the Future, to my mind one of the best works on biblical eschatology (the doctrine of the “last things”) in print. In his chapter “Physical Death,” Hoekema takes up the question of why do Christians still die even though they have been forgiven their sins through the work of Christ. Here are his (always) insightful comments:
The conquest of death, therefore, is to be seen as an essential part of Christ’s redemptive work. Christ not only redeems people from sin; he also redeems them from the results of sin, and death is one of them. And so we read in II Timothy 1:10 that Christ has “abolished death and brought life and immortality to light.” It is therefore a fitting culmination of Christ’s redemptive work that in the new Jerusalem there will be no more death (Rev. 21:4)
But then the question arises, why must believers still die? Why couldn’t they just immediately ascend to heaven at the end of the earthly days without having to go through the painful process of dying? As a matter of fact, this is what will happen to those believers who will still be living when Christ comes again. They will not have to die, they will be changed “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye” (I Corinthians 15:52) into the state of incorruptibility. Why can’t this happened to all believers?
This question is, in fact, asked in the Heidelberg Catechism, question 42: “since, then, Christ died for us, why must be also die?” The answer reads as follows: Our death is not a satisfaction for our sin, but only a dying to our sin and entering into eternal life.”
Death is for us who are in Christ not a satisfaction for sin. It was for Christ, but it is not for us. Since Christ was our Mediator, our second Adam, he had to undergo death as a part of the penalty for sin which we deserve, but for us death is no longer a punishment for sin. For Christ death was part of the curse; for us death is a source of blessing.
But then we ask, What does death now mean for the Christian? “A dying to sins,” the catechism goes on to say (literally, “an extinction of sins”). In this present life sin is the heaviest burden we have to bear. The older we get, the more it grieves us that we keep on falling short of doing the will of God. One feels something of the weight of this burden when he reads Paul’s words in Romans 8:23, “And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” But death will bring an end to sinning. …Our death will also be en “entering into eternal life.” These words are not intended to deny that there is a sense in which the believer already possesses eternal life here and now, since the same catechism teaches in Answer 58 that we now feel in our hearts the beginning of eternal joy. But what we enjoy now is just the beginning. We shall enter into the full riches of eternal life only after we have passed through the portal of death. Therefore Paul can say, “to me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21), and “we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8).
All this implies that death, our “last enemy” (I Cor. 15:26), has through the work of Christ become our friend. Our most dreaded opponent has become for us the servant who opens the door to heavenly bliss. Death for the Christian is therefore not an end but a glorious new beginning. And thus we understand why Paul can say,
All things are yours,
whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas
or the world or life or death
or the present or the future,
all are yours;
and you are Christ’s;
and Christ is God’s (I Cor. 3:21-23).
Recently there has been much discussion online about the doctrine of universalism. Universalism comes in various forms, from the belief that 1) all people are already saved regardless of whether they place their faith in Jesus to 2) a modified form that teaches that some will be punished for their sins in the afterlife but will ultimately be reconciled to God via some spiritual process of purging. Being that there are several stripes of universalism it can be difficult to speak broadly about it. Nevertheless I will. For the purposes of this discussion I will refer to universalism as the belief that every living human being (with possible one or two exceptions) will ultimately find forgiveness of sins, restoration and reconciliation with God in his blessing. Notice that this definition is fairly broad. It can include those who do not believe in eternal bliss with God, nor does he delineate God’s method for saving everyone.
The historic Christian position on salvation is found in best known (and often abused) verse in the Bible, John 3:16:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
Those who place their faith in Christ find “eternal life,” while those who do not “perish.” The following verses clarify this movement from wrath to grace:
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. (John 3:17-18 ESV)
The incarnation was intended to deliver the people of God from God’s righteous judgment. As it now stands all people are “condemned already “and under the rightly-deserved displeasure of God. How is one delivered from this wrath? Through believing in the Son of God, Jesus Christ. The doctrine of universalism denies the necessity of faith in Jesus Christ as the means of obtaining forgiveness, reconciliation, and right standing before God.
The doctrine of universalism is spiritual poison, and the kind that makes you feel good as it kills you. It contradicts all of the Bible in general and the New Testament in particular. We still have verses like Dan. 12:2:
And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.
and Rev. 20:11-15:
Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:11-15 ESV)
The question is often put this way: how can God be good if he condemns people to hell? Questions like this should not be off limits. We shouldn’t make people feel condemned simply by raising the issue. Nevertheless, we also shouldn’t give the impression that the church (as it listens to Scripture) hasn’t addressed this issue and provided a strong response at that. This question of God goodness in relation to hell needs to be rethought and the underlying assumptions challenged. First, the question should be seen from another perspective. I think this way of asking the question is more helpful (and biblically faithful): How can God be good if he rightly judges the wicked for their sin? When asked that way we can see that of course God is righteous if he condemns the wicked. In fact, God would not be good if he didn’t judge the wicked. And that is the point I think is overlooked by the universalist position.
Here lies a temptation: We want a good God, but one without wrath. But this just doesn’t follow from Scripture. Scripture teaches that God’s holiness demands wrath against sin as an expression of His goodness. How could we call God good if he didn’t judge sin? Would we call a human judge good if he released murders, liars, thieves, and rapists? No, we would rightly call him corrupt. And this is the glory of the gospel and the central point of Rom. 3:23-26. On the cross God (the Father) shows himself to be just, righteous, and good because he doesn’t even let Christians “off the hook” for their sin. Instead he condemns it, pours out his wrath against it…in the body of Jesus Christ on behalf of the people of God. So our forgiveness is the result of God’s wrath being satisfied against us. For those who trust in Christ (and them only) no divine wrath remains, “For there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).
Lastly, this is directly tied to 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us of all unrighteousness.” Think about that for a minute. John says that this is a justice issue. God’s goodness is on the line here. When Christians sincerely repent from their sins God would be unjust not to forgive them. Why? Because Christ suffered the penalty already for them and it would be unjust of God to require double payment.
The universalist position denies the necessity of repentance and the justice of God for the sake of holding up an unbiblical understanding of love.
All that is true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, and commendable in the whole creation, in heaven and on earth, is gathered up in the future city of God-renewed, re-created, boosted to its highest glory.
The substance [of the city of God] is present in this creation. Just as the caterpillar becomes a butterfly, as a carbon is converted into diamond, as the grain of wheat upon dying in the ground produces other grains of wheat, as all of nature revives in the spring and dresses up in celebrative clothing, as the believing community is formed out of Adam’s fallen race, as the resurrection body is raised from the body that is dead and buried in the earth, so too, by the re-creating power of Christ, the new heaven and the new earth will one day emerge from the fire-purged elements of this world, radiant in enduring glory and forever set free from the ‘bondage to decay’ (…Rom. 8:21). More glorious than this beautiful earth, more glorious than the earthly Jerusalem, more glorious even than paradise will be the glory of the new Jerusalem, whose architect and builder is God himself.
Just yesterday, I finished teaching a 7 week, intensive course on Christian theology. Yesterday’s topic was on the doctrine of “last things,” otherwise known as Christian eschatology. Elsewhere, i’ve shared how in the past I’ve been extremely reluctant to “get into the mix” on these issues. What helped me to get through the fog is the very thing that I suggest to my students, and that is to expand the definition of eschatology.
Protology is the study of “first thing,” and explores what I call seedbed for a multiplicity of themes that are developed and expanded throughout the rest of the story told in the Bible. Just a few of these these would include the seed of the woman, the people of God, human dominion over the earth, sin, judgment, and the word of God, to name a few. Eschatology, in the expanded definition, is the study of where these developing themes “end up.” What’s the final goal of these themes? That’s what eschatology studies. It’s more than merely about the debates over the timing of the return of Christ (though, of course, it’s not less than these debates).
Eschatology, when properly understood, also helps to develop a biblically-informed philosophy of history and is a huge worldview shaper. Where is history going? What are the forces working behind the curtain unfolding of God’s drama? Want to know? Study the “doctrine of the last things”!
Here are some wonderful places to being:
I once heard a sermon in which the speaker preached from the book of Revelation. The primary theme of his message was on the Christian as an over-comer (which is without a doubt a biblical idea), Yet, before he got to the “meat” of his sermon, this gentleman veered off the immediate subject and started to get into the issue of the “end times” (i.e. the study of biblical eschatology). This triggered off some thoughts, most of which I thought I should share.
There’s something that you should know about me and it’s this: eschatology isn’t my thing. There once was a time in which I totally avoided the subject. Now, while that’s not the case, I still wrestle with what the Scriptures teach regarding the ordering of events near Christ’s second coming. What interests me most are worldview and apologetic issues. Readers who have been Christians for any substantial period of time most likely know somebody for whom the Christian faith is centrally about the end times and biblical prophecy. Especially in light of the “Left-Behind“ craze of recent years, most lay-Christians as well as non-Christians think of biblical eschatology and premillenial dispensationalism (the view presented in those books) as one and the same. Now please understand me, my purpose here is not to attack or refute premillenial dispensationalism (PD hereafter). I simply would like to draw attention to a danger that lurks for those who enshrine this model of eschatology. My focus is primarily on how these beliefs have functioned for many, not the truth-value of the model (that debate I’ll leave for others).
My own personal observation has been that those in the PD camp tend to have a truncated, narrow view of the gospel that leads to a passive attitude towards worldview thinking. Its what I call the “rapture-outlook.” This is the view that seems to hold that “blessed-hope” spoken of in Scripture in the taking of the church from the face of the earth (i.e. the PD understanding of the rapture). This “rapture” then leads to greater and greater cultural and moral depravity worldwide. Unfortunately in some this leads to an “I-can’t-wait-to-get-outta-here” attitude with the sad results of viewing salvation as little more than a matter of going to heaven to be with Jesus. Of course, this is a Christian truth; escaping the wrath of God through the perfect work of the Lord Jesus Christ is a blessed thing. But we need not push this to its Gnostic limits (think material world vs. immaterial world). Salvation is about so much more than merely going to heaven. God also made the physical world and declared it good. Like its spiritual incubator, Judaism, Christianity, at it’s best, is a naturally earthy religion.
This attitude can also lead to much difficultly in evangelism. For instance, one objection that many religious Jews have against Christianity is that Christians have acquired a quasi-platonic view of physical reality. Though I would deny that this is the teaching of Scripture, sadly, I can see the kernel of truth in it. Mainstream Judaism focuses on the reality of living according to God’s word (the Old Testament) and making a difference in this life, in the here and now. If we speak to them simply of “going to heaven,” then we’re speaking right past them. One person is looking up and the other is looking down and never do their eyes meet for significant dialogue.
Scripture speaks of the Kingdom of God as a present reality and a future one. In theological terms we call this the already-not yet nature of the kingdom. God is working not just to renew individual souls, but the whole of creation. Christians need to see God as working through His church for pan-creational renewal. This means renewed hearts in relation to God, transformed relationships, a heart turned toward social justice, a concern for the alien, fatherless and the widow. If the Fall has warped it, God seeks to restore it! Religious Jews are right; our relationship with God now counts. Jesus has united us with God in order to transform us in this life, with perfection as something to look forward to.