Three Important Components to Eschatology

This post is aimed at exploring three aspects of eschatology : history, faith, and epochs.

  1. History–eschatology is the study of the last things, but as I wrote previously here ( it’s not always the very last things, but more like the latest things, so the last to come so far. The only way the last things come is by God’s intervention into man’s existence which is mediated by space and time–God works in history for man’s redemption. Eschatology is a historical reality lived out in the present lives of God’s people, not in the world because unbelievers haven’t partaken of God’s historical work by faith. As God is working for believers’ redemption and he does it in history, we often refer to his work and the biblical revelation in terms of “Redemptive History”. That’s a term you’ll want to hold on to as well.
  2. Forward looking faith–believing something happened in the past that you didn’t see is a start, but trusting God for the future is where the rubber meets the road, isn’t it? Forward looking faith isn’t just something you muster up inside of you because doggone it, you know you should. No, forward looking faith is a gift from God (James 1:17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.). So, this kind of faith and trust is both anxiously waiting and hoping for Jesus’ return and is partaking of the resurrection strength available to believers, we believe not by our strength, but by Christ’s strength in us. That work being wrought in the believer’s soul is an eschatalogical work inasmuch as it is part of the inheritance earned by Christ on the cross in history for us.
  3. Epochs or eras, generally speaking, are distinct periods of time. For our purposes we see these periods of time in the Bible, and importantly we see records of the transition into new epochs too. The Exodus of Israel from Egypt didn’t see the nation go straight from Egypt into The Promised Land, there was an epoch in which the “Wilderness Generation” lived. 40 years they wandered the wilderness of the Sinai Peninsula (probably, though the Bible doesn’t make that clear, because that wasn’t the point of recording it) because they failed to believe God could deliver the Canaanites into their hands (Numbers 13-14, it’s a great story you should read it!). There were different epochs from the patriarchal age to Sinai, which includes the wilderness as a transition period and epoch to itself in a sense, and then The Promised Land, the consummate epoch. Canaan, The Promised Land is a place, for sure, but as a biblical concept we can see it as an epoch as well. It was a type of the ultimate eschatological promise of he New Heavens and New Earth. In these epochs, there was something to look forward to, because not all God’s promises had been fulfilled. At the same time, there was an historical aspect, because each epoch was based on/begun by God’s historical work. So, this is why epoch deserves a mention all its own, because there’s a sense in which the next epoch of redemptive history “breaks into” the present one throughout the Bible.

Our understanding of realized eschatology is an incredible boon (I’ve always wanted to use that word!) to our daily living in God’s presence. This doctrine reminds us that, as the church in Christ we are his body and bride because of his accomplished work (history), living by his resurrection power (forward looking faith), and through that power we are the New Creation even though we are living in the midst of the Old (epoch). Now, if only I can “believe the things I know to be true!” (My friend Conley Brown would always ask me to pray that for him–hopefully he’ll come our way one day and yinz can meet him) Lord, help us to believe! Grant us strength–the same strength that raised Jesus from the dead is the strength that gave us life in him, grant that strength to poured out upon us again! Amen.

The Already and Not Yet?

In this article I hope to explain what “Realized Eschatology” means and why it’s important

So, let’s begin with some definitions. The word Eschatology (from the Greek language) means “study of the last things”.

Compart eschatology to biology: they are both compound words originating from the Greek language, each have the ology ending. First, let’s deal with ology, you’re likely aware means “the study of”. The second part, which is actually the first part of the word, is not nearly as familiar as bio is in biology (most of us know that means “life”), but not many of are familiar with eschat[os] (the on is in brackets because the ending is left off when combined with ology). Eschatos means “the last things”.

In general, the modern Christian and many non-Christians too, think of eschatology in terms of the that final day in the existence of the world. Whether it’s the return of Christ with the recompense of God, the secret rapture taught by dispensationalist Christians that precedes (or less commonly is in the middle or end of) “The Great Tribulation”, or is an asteroid or “Zombie Apocalypse” believed to be the end by non-Christians, eschatology has come to mean the final day of existence on earth. That’s not a wrong view–well, one of those is the particularly right view, but in general thinking about eschatology as the final time before Christ returns bodily to make all things new is a big part of eschatology.

But that’s not everything that eschatology is. There’s also realized eschatology. This is the idea presented throughout Scripture that God’s blessings will be finally and perfectly fulfilled one day, but for now the blessings are only partial. In this way we can say eschatology deals with “the latest things”. It’s not muddying the waters to think about it this way. The high-powered Greek Lexicon abbreviated BDAG1 explains that eschatos can refer to the last, or latest, in a series.

So as we consider the latest things revealed in the New Testament, we see a drastic difference between our present and the promised future of the New Heavens and New Earth. But in the meantime, there is an aspect of the New Heavens even now at work, but only partially. Even though they are only partial the blessings are still wonderful and powerful. One of the major issues some peoople have taken with classic dispensationalism (for a discussion of dispensationalism see this link ) is that it tends to “push” all God’s heavenly realities (blessings) past the present so that they are only future.

What I’ve taken a long time to say is that there’s an aspect of God’s heavenly blessings that believers share in now, that’s realized eschatology. Ephesians has some of the best statements of this doctrine: we were dead but now we’re alive in Christ, in him we have obtained an inheritance…might be to the praise of his golory, and he raise us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places. Those are the currrent blessings we share in through Christ Jesus’ work by the instrument of faith–praise be to God!

In this state of realized eschatology, the new creation has already begun and believers are the “first fruits” by nature of their belief and God’s work of regeneration which granted new life. It’s helpful to think of salvation as re-creation, just as God breathed into that pile of dirt we know as Adam, so did the Spirit breathe divine breath into your soul and make you alive in Christ! And just as the “first fruits” of the OT calendar (Pentecost) pointed to the full harvest (Trumpets marks the beginning) which has not yet come, so, too are the believers (who are the new creation) on earth now pointing to fullness of the new creation to come when Jesus returns.

This is an important doctrine, because it’s what the Bible teaches about what God is doing in his believers now–granting an otherworldly power to do an otherworldly work. How else will a sinner be able to live a holy life? How else will your words help another sinner see the beauty and excellency of Christ? If the heavenly blessings of being a believer have to wait until Jesus brings heaven, then your faith is a “white-knuckled” done in my strength kind of faith, and believing that weakens your dependence on Jesus your Savior.

Why do we call it a “Covenant Relationship”?

Often we hear the Christian’s relationship with God and with the Church and congregation as a “Covenant Relationship”, maybe you wonder why.

A covenant is an agreement between two parties–you can think of it in terms of a contract, like when you buy a house, or a marriage license.

In faith terms, God and his people are in a “Covenant Relationship”. God agrees to be their God and they agree to be his people. This is the pattern throughout the Bible. Even in the Garden of Eden God and Adam and Eve had this kind of relationship. God’s part of being the god of his people is: a promise to provide a redeemer and ultimately do all things for the good of his people who love him. His people’s part is: trust God for his provision and keep his law.

This means that, if you are a Christian, you are in covenant (i.e. a “Covenant Relationship”) with God. You have agreed to trust in God and to keep his law. And God has agreed to provide redemption for you through Jesus and to work all things out for your ultimate good, as one of his covenant people. That’s each individual’s ultimate responsibility in the covenant, which children of the covenant are expected to grow into. Children of Covenant People are in Covenant Relationship with God through their parent’s relationship. As faithful parents, they should worship God corporately, and as a family, trust in Christ alone for salvation, and seek for the whole family to observe God’s law. As children, they are on the “coattails” of thier parents’ faith, which is good and pleasing to God, but it isn’t enough for salvation. One day most of those covenant children, by God’s grace and covenant provision (Rom. 3:1-2, 9:1-5), will have true faith of their own and hold on the covenant for themselves. Individuals are responsible for their own faith in God.

As we are in covenant with God Almighty we have agreed to be his people. This has many day to day, practical implications, some of them are: do all things to his glory, deny yourself, live as a citizen of heaven, and keep his law. Why do we know these things are part of the relationship–don’t we just figure out a relationship as we learn the person’s personality, their likes and dislikes? We know these are part of our obligation because God has revealed his personality in his Word.

  1. Do all things to God’s glory–every thought, word, deed should be done for God’s glory, not yours. We begin to do this as we begin to worship God and grow in our worship of God. When you go into the congregation to worship, do you do so with God’s majesty in mind? Do you prepare for worship before Sunday morning’s car ride–I confess many times I do not. God is the creator and sustainer of all things, am I really going to enter his presence without an extra measure of awe inspired devotion and deference?
  2. Deny yourself, as God sent his Son to die for your sins so, too, should you as one of God’s children live with other’s good in mind. Deny your desires so others might have theirs fulfilled. Deny your well guarded time-table in the interest of building a relationship, healing one, or making it stronger. Deny yourself by allowing that insensitive word to be forgiven without a word or correction.
  3. Live as a citizen of heaven, not just in terms of holy living, but keeping one eye on heaven and looking forward to Jesus’ return. This attitude helps us see all of life as God’s purposeful aim toward his glorious end. The trials that are so hard here serve to point us to the day Jesus will return. Trials and suffering aren’t the way God made the world, they are the way our sin caused the curse. So, trials point us to the hope of Jesus’ return which helps us to live spiritually as well as physically.
  4. Keep his law. Do you know God’s law? Find the summaries in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5 if you don’t. Read the Westminster Larger and Shorter Catechisms on the law for greater insight into them. Do your earnestly endeavor to keep God’s law?

These are just part of the requirements we have as God’s people, and hopefully you see your failure. Not that I want you to be discouraged, but because apart from knowing you are a failure you won’t know your need. That’s why God sent his son, Jesus, because his people are sinners, failures. Our Covenant Relationship is founded on Jesus’ perfection and ability–not ours. As we live our lives before God, let us never forget our need for Jesus–we won’t ever stop sinning before we die or He returns, so we’ll need his work for us every day until then. The Covenant calls on you to give God everything He is owed in worship and obedience, and the Covenant provides a shelter for you because you fail in Jesus. Thanks be to God!

What is meant by “Covenant People”?

On Sunday we’ll be looking at Matthew 15:21-28, a passage the ESV captions as “The Faith of a Canaanite Woman”. It’s easy on one level and incredibly difficult on another.

Why it’s easy: faith alone is the instrument of salvation

Why it’s hard: Jesus doesn’t treat her in the way we expect Jesus to treat her (yeah, I’m throwing you under the bus with me by assuming what you think)

The hard part can be helped by using/understanding the term “Covenant People”. Let’s briefly explore this concept as a preparation for Sunday’s Sermon. We’re restricting the idea of covenant here to Israel and the Church, even though as God’s creatures in God’s world all mankind owes God worship and obedience, which are the characteristic covenant traits. In a sense, that introduces the concept really well, though, because worship and obedience mark a person as a covenant keeper which means he is a covenant person.

Covenant People means:

* a group of people bound to God by his covenant

* his covenant includes who God says it does

~ this is why children of believers are baptized in the Reformed tradition

* it is essentially corporate–a group of people, which is made up of individuals

~ an individualistic religion would say you can believe without joining the people

or being incorporated into the life of the group. That’s not so with God’s

people and individual.

~ OT examples of faith often include the individual being identified with the

corporate people. For instance: Ruth doesn’t just join Naomi in her

struggle, she joins herself to Naomi’s people and God (Ruth 1:16). And when

the Syrian general Naaman returns to Syria after being cleansed of his

leprosy, he takes Israel dirt with him as a demonstration that even though he

must return to Syria, in his heart he is bound to Israel and her God (2 Kings


~ NT examples of faith always include a person joining him or herself to the Church

* those within the covenant aren’t always converted, but all of the Covenant People

are a whole lot closer to conversion (i.e. true faith) than the world outside of the

Covenant People

~ historically we see this is true–there are always people leaving the Church and

leaving the faith, but most everybody who believes has had a background of

faithful Christians influencing them. Those who are converted from a life of

unbelief are typically converted due to the efforts of the Covenant People

(the Church) in proclaiming the gospel.

~ biblically we see that God reserves many benefits for his Covenant People that

the world doesn’t receive. Romans 9:4-5 “They are Israelites, and to them

belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the

worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their

race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed

forever. Amen.” All of those benefits belonged to all of physical Israel, none

of them belonged to the world at large–though they were never kept from

receiving them either. All the outsider has to do is demonstrate he is a

covenant person through faith, worship, and obedience to God, all which

mean a joining of the corporate people of God.

~ Romans 9:6-8 goes on to speak about Israelites who didn’t believe: “But it is

not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended

from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because

they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” This

means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God,

but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.” The Covenant

People enjoy some blessings of God, but being in the covenant doesn’t

guarantee salvation–true faith is required, which is something the sign

(OT=circumcision, NT=baptism) points to.

The Covenant People doesn’t mean:

* automatic salvation based on your parents’ blood or faith

~ the Reformed Tradition practices covenant baptism. Reformed churches

baptize children based on God saying they are covenant people and are

entitled to all the blessings of the covenant–who are we to withhold the

blessings God has given? It is a matter of submission to God’s Word.

* those people outside the Covenant can’t come in (sorry for the double negative–for

clarity’s sake, let me restate: People outside the covenant can enter in, like the

Canaanite woman in Matthew 15)

~ think of the covenant boundary as “squishy” not solid.

~ think of the truly regenerate, those true believers as being in a solid, never

yielding boundary

~ the “squishy” boundary allows for movement in and out–some Christians

leave the faith, and some non-Christians come into the Church; but the

solid boundary of faith is never broken. (1 John 2:19 They went out from us,

but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have

continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they

all are not of us.)

An Illustration that might help:

As I was walking the dogs this morning I thought of the difference between the covenant boundary and salvation boundary in a political way. The Covenant boundary is similar to the United States’ borders–we allow immigrants in provided they adhere to our laws, and they can even become citizens if they meet certain conditions. It’s “squishy” or maybe porous is a better word. There’s a certain amount of movement in and out, it’s not totally free, but it’s not closed either.

Salvation’s boundary, I thought, is more like Iron Curtain pre-1989. You’re only getting in or out if the Kremlin says you are. I’d rather not compare God to the USSR like this, but I think it makes the point clear. Jesus’ true believers will always believe and no one, not even Satan can pluck them from his hand.

How does this relate to the Canaanite Woman:

  1. She’s not a Covenant Person–born outside Israel she doesn’t have a right to the blessings of God (Matthew 15:26 And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”)
  2. Jesus was sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, not to Canaan. This assumes that Israel does have a right to the covenant blessings, but final salvation must still be received by faith (Deuteronomy 10:16 Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn.)
  3. This woman demonstrates true faith and is finally saved as all who possess faith are, but she doesn’t become a faithful person to herself, she becomes one attached to the Covenant People.

How it applies to us:

  1. We’re covenant people if we’re in the Church, we’re duty bound to worship God and keep his commandments.  If we fail to do that, then we’re failing to be one of God’s people and it is incumbent on the Church to seek to reclaim the errant believer.
  2. God keeps the covenant perfectly, but we do not.  This is both frightening and comforting.  There are curses associated with breaking the covenant—some for disciplining the errant believer and some for those who never really believed.  That’s frightening.  But when God initiated this covenant, he took the responsibility for keeping all the laws perfectly upon himself and he took responsibility for paying for our mistakes on himself too (Gen. 15).  That’s comforting, and it’s only available in Jesus, our Covenant Head and Mediator!  Thanks be to God.