Eschatology. It is a word that brings many images to mind. Most of them are reminiscent of fictional end times novels or complicated charts mapping out the final days before Christ returns. Thanks to my parents, the “end times” have been fascinating to me since I was very young, when we would exhaust Tim Lahaye and Jerry Jenkins Left Behind books on audio tape on every vacation we took. I am grateful for this, as Christ’s second coming is a wonderful thing to think on, and the hope of his return is a basis for our perseverance in faith.
However, I wonder if we might be missing something if we limit our understanding of “eschatology” to only a few years before Christ returns. “Eschatology” does mean “study of the last things,” and it is appropriate to speak of it as the final days before Christ returns in at least a narrow sense. However, as I touched on in the “about title” section of this blog, the last days actually began with Christ’s first coming. It was then that the new age dawned and the former things began to pass away. Consider a few passages:
Acts 2:17 ¶ “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams;
1Cor. 10:11 Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.
2Tim. 3:1 ¶ But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty.
Heb. 1:2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.
Heb. 9:26 for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.
In each of these passages the authors indicate that the last days prophesied in the Old Testament have arrived in Christ. These are the last days in which God has poured out his Spirit on all flesh (Acts 2:17), Old Testament prophecies were written down for the benefit of us, upon whom the end of the ages have come (1Cor 10:11), Paul warns his readers that the difficulty they are experiencing indicate it is the last days (2Timothy 3:1), and the author of Hebrews contrasts the former days with the revealing of the Son in these last days at the end of the ages (Heb 1:2; 9:26).
Therefore, we should recognize that the whole New Testament is permeated by eschatology. The last days are not a merely a temporal description of the last years on earth, rather they are salvation historical, being inaugurated when God’s promised messiah, Jesus Christ, brought the kingdom upon the world. In light of this brief discussion, I would propose this definition of eschatology:
“The in-breaking of the age to come into this present age so that Christ has brought about the eschaton in a preliminary way, such that the preliminary points to and guarantees that which will be fully and finally consummated at his second coming.”
Much more could (and will) be said, but this should suffice for a starting point. I will assume this broader understanding and definition of eschatology, beginning with Christs first coming and extending through his second coming, when discussing the issue from now on.