Re-Thinking Eschatology

Millennium

Millennium (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

Related Articles:

AmillennialismWhich End Times Theory Stands Up?

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4 comments on “Re-Thinking Eschatology

  1. Jack says:

    Your Acts 2:17 cite reminds me to ask you something a bit off topic, but Daniel and I were discussing it over breakfast on my bachelor party weekend (sounds like a wild one, huh?). Anyways, do people receive the same measure of the Holy Spirit as those christians in the New Testament who received miraculous gifts through laying on of the apostles’ hands (Acts 8:18)? Do the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit still exist today? How are they received? When will they, if ever, “cease” as mentioned in I Corinthians 13? I’m off topic, so email me or somethin some time.

    • Yes it sounds like all kinds of debauchery took place..I hope you’ve repented. I haven’t done a whole lot of study regarding the spiritual gifts, although I have looked into it some fairly recently. I would say first that I don’t think the Holy Spirit is given in measures. When someone trusts Christ, they receive the fulness of the Spirit. But I do think the Holy Spirit works in ‘measures’ in peoples’ lives.

      Ҧ For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching;
      the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.” (Romans 12:3–9 ESV)

      So, we are each given a measure of faith, and different fits according to the grace given to us. So we all receive the same spirit, but different measures of gifting.

      Also, I think we can make a distinction between the miraculous works of the Spirit in Acts, and the gifts talked about in Paul’s letters. The former seem to be for the purpose of demonstrating the apostles authority and validating their message, while the latter are those given to every believer for use withing the local body, for it’s building up and edification.

      Finally, I don’t think there is any explicit Biblical evidence that the gifts talked about by Paul have ceased. I think the ceasing of these gifts which are specific to the church will cease when Christ returns, because the church will have been perfected. At best one could say, based on church history, that the gifts in Paul’s day were unique based on the context of the early church (i.e. before the closing of the canon and the church’s establishment and original growth).

      So I can’t be dogmatic on this issue, but I would neither call myself a cessationist nor a full-blown charismatic. It seems I’m waiting for a nice middle ground position in which to be comfortable🙂

      Here is a link to a series of podcasts done called “Why I am/am not a charismatic.” I am friends with all three of the individuals in the podcast. Sam Storms, the charismatic, speaks in tongues on a regular basis, so he represents the full blown charismatic position. (Not to be confused with the crazy televangelists!).

      Click http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/what-we-do/theology-unplugged-podcast/, then scroll down about half the page and you’ll start seeing the series. They also did some back and forth articles which can be found at the same website.

  2. […] mattmcmains82 on Re-Thinking Eschatology […]

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