Jürgen Moltmann once said that Christianity is eschatology. Eschatology frames the entire Christian faith. The eschaton [end] is the direction in which the story is going. All Christian life is to be lived under the pervasive NT hope of the future arrival of the new age of the kingdom, ushered in by the return of the King.
Michael Bird pretty well agrees with Moltmann in this chapter of his book on Paul. The eschaton has broken in with the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus – and what he has started he will finish at the Parousia (appearance) of the Messiah and his eternal reign begins and death is finally vanquished.
Paul was a believer in the overlap of the ages. The ‘present evil age’ (Gal 1:4) and the age to come; the latter has already begun events surrounding Jesus’ incarnation, life, death and resurrection. It is also confirmed and visibly seen in the arrival of the Spirit, who is a deposit of the future.
This is ‘the now and the not yet’. Or what Oscar Cullmann called the difference between D Day [the victory of God in Christ] and VE Day [complete victory and the ultimate vanquishing of God’s enemies]
This overlap of the ages means that believers participate now in salvation, redemption, freedom, inheritance, righteousness – with the future hope that they will experience these fully and completely in the future age to come when God will be ‘all in all’ (1 Cor 15:28).
Events associated with this will be:
– Time of trials and persecution: before the advent of Jesus when the ‘lawless one’ of 2 Thessalonians 1-12 is active. Such oppression calls all believers to pray for the persecuted church.
– Israel: Bird proposes that the future holds out the hope of a return of a remnant of Jews to their Messiah so that ‘all Israel will be saved’ and God’s dealings with the Jewish people will have a fitting climax.
– A final general resurrection (Phil 3:21)
– Possibly a millennial reign of the Messiah following this general resurrection, based on seeing three stages within 1 Cor 15:23-25 and how it might tie in with the millennial imagery of Rev 20:1-10 [ummm – he says he wouldn’t bet his house on this one, and with good reason – this is very tentative stuff]
– The day of judgement for believers and unbelievers follows.
– The final end game is a redeemed and liberated creation of Romans 8
This hope means that believers have nothing to fear about the world to come – rather they look forward to it with enthusiasm and longing. Bird ends with Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s final word’s “This is the end, but for me, the beginning.”
This is all described well. If it is true that Christianity is eschatology (and I think it is) I wonder about how ‘future orientated’ our church and individual Christian life is? Gordon Fee, in his marvellous book on the Holy Spirit, said he hoped it would help Christians understand their calling as members of the ‘eschatological community’ of the church.
I wonder how many churches understand themselves that way?