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Eschatology in Light of the Gospel
The gospel must determine our view of eschatology. The reason is this: The gospel is the report about 'the finished work of Christ." And if "the finished work of Christ" is a reality rather than an empty slogan, it means that the last things are simply an unveiling of what has already been done. The Christian hope is nothing less than this and nothing more than this.

It is true that the church is presently deluged with a lot of apocalyptic literature on the end of the world, and in this all kinds of events are hoped for. But wherein those expected events are not an unveiling of what has already been done in Christ, they cannot properly be called the Christian hope.

How many books and sermons would have to be thrown into the fire as non-Christian if we would honestly and ruthlessly apply this gospel principle to eschatology! All sorts of fantastic ideas are entertained which have nothing to do with the gospel — that is to say, nothing to do with an unveiling of God's finished work in Jesus Christ.

Promise and Fulfillment

God entered into a covenant with Abraham whereby He promised to do certain things for him and for his posterity. He renewed this covenant to Isaac, Jacob and Israel (Ex. 2:23, 24; 6:1-8; Ps. 105:8-10). He promised them a great inheritance. He promised to make His people great. He promised them wisdom. He promised them victory over their foes. He promised them peace. In short, He promised them all kinds of blessings (Deut. 28:1-13).

Many centuries later (about A.D. 50) a little company of Jews were huddled together on the Sabbath day in a strange city. They were still waiting for God to fulfill His promise (or promises) which He had made to their fathers. They were not a great people. They had no victory over their foes, for the iron heel of Rome was heavy upon them. They had no peace. They had no king and no kingdom. They had none of those things which their Scriptures promised God would do for them.

There were a couple of visitors in the synagogue that day, apparently visitors from the home country who might bring them some encouraging news. When invited to speak, Paul stood up and said . (Are you listening? The news he brought to these people must have been the most astounding thing any congregation had ever heard. Listen!):

    . . . we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this He has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus [from the dead] . . . Acts 13:32,33, R.S.V.
The resurrection of Jesus from the dead was declared to be the fulfillment of what God had promised to Abraham, Israel and David. Here were these people still waiting for the fulfillment of what God had promised Israel, and the apostle came and told them the absolutely startling news that it had already been fulfilled.

Did God promise Israel victory over all her foes? The good news was that Jesus had obtained the victory for them. Did God promise He would give them peace . . . and wisdom? Jesus was their peace (Eph. 2:15) and their wisdom (1 Cor. 1:30). Did God promise to make Israel great? All power in heaven had been given to the King of the Jews, Jesus Christ. Did God promise them land an inheritance? Christ had been resurrected and on their behalf had become "heir of the world" and "heir of all things." Rom 4:13; Heb. 1:2. God, who fulfills His word in surprising ways, had fulfilled what He had promised to the fathers far abundantly above what any Jew had ever asked or thought.

If those Jews are to be considered backward for not realizing this about twenty years after Calvary, what might be said of Christians who are still waiting for God to fulfill His promises to Israel two thousand years later? Yes, Christians who say they meet once a week in honor of the resurrection are denying what God really did when He raised Jesus from the dead — namely, He fulfilled what He had promised to Israel. It took the Holy Spirit's illumination to see it when Paul preached to the gathering at Antioch, and it takes the Holy Spirit's illumination to see it now! The gift of Jesus and His resurrection from the dead was a finished work. In it God fulfilled what He had promised to the fathers. More than that, Christ was Heaven's gift to the Gentiles — the whole human race. In Christ, God answered every true prayer, every worthy aspiration of every heart, as it is written, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ . . ." Eph. 1:3.

Fulfillment Only in Christ

The blessings which God had promised to Israel were all given on condition — the condition of obedience:

    Now therefore, if ye will obey My voice indeed, and keep My covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto Me above all people: for all the earth is Mine . . . Ex. 19:5.

    And it shall come to pass, if thou shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to observe and to do all His commandments which I command thee this day, that the Lord thy God will set thee on high above all nations of the earth: and all these blessings shall come on thee, and overtake thee, if thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God. Deut. 28:1, 2.

    And the Lord shall make thee the head, and not the tail; and thou shalt be above only, and thou shalt not be beneath; if that thou hearken unto the commandments of the Lord thy God, which I command thee this day, to observe and to do them . . . Deut. 28:13.

    If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land . . Isa. 1:19.

    Blessed are they that keep judgment, and he that doeth righteousness at all times. Ps. 106:3.

At Sinai Israel had pledged obedience, saying, "All that the Lord hath spoken we will do." Ex. 19:8. Israel could inherit all the covenant blessings only if she rendered obedience to all the commandments of God. But the history of the nation was one sad record of falling short of the mark. At best she fell far short of perfect obedience, and at worst she fell disgracefully short.

At last the mysterious voice was heard in heaven, "Lo, I come (in the volume of the Book it is written of Me,) to do Thy will, O God." Heb. 10:7. This was the prophesied "Servant of Yahweh," the One in whom all Israel was represented.1 He was the Messenger of the covenant (Mal. 3:1), the Surety of the covenant (Heb. 7:22), the Mediator of the covenant (Heb. 9:15), the One given "for a covenant of the people." isa. 42:6. That is to say, He would not only be the One through whom God would fulfill all His promises to Israel, but He would be the One through whom Israel could fulfill all her promises to God.

We will say this again: God had entered into a covenant with Israel — He had covenanted to do certain things for them. On the other hand, the people had entered into covenant contract with God—they promised to do certain things for Him. Now we must see that Christ was not only the means of God's fulfilling His word to Israel; He was the means of Israel's fulfilling her contract to God.

Standing as "a covenant of the people," Christ fulfilled the promise of the people, "All that the Lord hath spoken we will do." This obedient, suffering Servant stood before God as Israel, to do for Israel — in Israel's name and on Israel's behalf — that which Israel was utterly unable to do. "Then said He, Lo, I come to do Thy will, O God." Heb. 10:9. He did the will of God when it was the delight of His heart, His daily meat and drink. He did the will of God when that will was an exceedingly bitter cup. Though confronted by apparent failure, defeat and, at the end, the darkness and blackness of eternal night, He plodded on. He "became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Phil. 2:8. Finally, with the full consciousness that He had drunk the cup of suffering on behalf of His people and had finished His work, He addressed His Father, saying, "It is finished." He had kept covenant faith. In Him Israel had carried out all that the law (the terms of the covenant) demanded. In His life Israel had kept all the precepts of the law, and in His death Israel had born all the curses of the law (Gal. 3:10-13).

In dying, Christ had fulfilled Israel's promises to God. His great work accomplished, He rested in Joseph's tomb, waiting for God to fulfill His side of the covenant. In raising Christ from the dead and giving Him power and glory, God fulfilled His covenant promise. To the Jews Paul positively declared "that what God promised to the fathers, this He has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus." Acts 13:32, 33, R.S.V. In his great Pentecostal discourse the apostle Peter declared that God raised Christ from the dead and gave to Him "the promise of the Holy Ghost." Acts 2:33. Just as Jesus gave a life of obedience to God on behalf of His people, so in His resurrection He received the promise of the Holy Spirit on behalf of His people. So Peter declared to Israel,". . . the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to Him." Acts 2:39, R.S.V

Thus, Christ is the Mediator of the covenant. Through Him and in Him Israel fulfilled all her promises to God. All this was completed by Christ's death on the cross. Also, through Him and in Him God fulfilled all His promises to Israel. All this was accomplished in Christ's resurrection from the dead.

God's promise to Abraham not only included Jews of physical descent, for Abraham was plainly told, ". . . in thy Seed [Christ — Gal. 3:16] shall all the families of the earth be blessed." Gen. 28:14; cf. 12:3. ". . . Gentiles . . . being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise . . . should be fellow heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ by the gospel . . . " Eph. 2:11,12:3:6. Thus, Paul declared to the Corinthians, ". . . all the promises of God find their Yes in Him." 2 Cor. 1:20, R.S.V. That is to say, when God raised Christ from the dead, He fulfilled not only His promises to Israel but every promise which He ever made to the human family since time began. In Christ He has blessed us with every conceivable blessing (Eph. 1:3).

Unless we can take out our pen and write "Fulfilled" across every one of the three thousand promises of the Old Testament, we deny 'the finished work of Jesus Christ'.

Shadow and Substance

By now it should be very clear that the substance of every promise was Jesus Christ. When God promised Abraham a seed, He was really promising Him Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:16). When He promised peace, wisdom and power, He was really promising Jesus Christ (see Acts 3:25, 26).

We say again, Beginning with Abraham, Christ was promised to the Hebrew nation, and it was their great privilege and responsibility to keep that hope alive in the waiting centuries.

Four hundred thirty years after God confirmed the promise of Christ to Abraham, another great event took place. God gave the Law to Israel. Since it was given through Moses, the Law is sometimes simply called 'Moses." Moses (or the Law) embraced the whole corpus of instruction given for the existence and governance of Israel as God's special nation. It included laws that were ceremonial, judicial, hygienic and moral.

It is important that we correctly relate these two great events — the giving of the promise to Abraham and the giving of the Law to Moses. St. Paul says that the Law (Moses) added nothing to the promise (Gal. 3:17). The Law was given "because of transgressions, till the Seed should come." Gal. 3:19. Without the Law, Israel would have degenerated into a pagan state and lost the hope of Christ's coming. The Law was therefore necessary to help Israel nurture and keep alive the hope of the coming Messiah. How did the Law do that? In two ways:

1. Its stern, unbending moral requirements served as a constant reminder of sin and kept God's people sensitive to their need of redemption.

2. Its ceremonial aspects foreshadowed that needed redemption. For example, the Passover not only commemorated Israel's redemption from Egypt, but it pointed forward to the real redemption by the blood of Jesus Christ. Every offering at the tabernacle served to be a shadow of the one great offering of the body of Christ (Heb. 10:10-14). The giving of manna, the water from the rock, the healing by the brazen serpent and many other things which took place under Moses were a type of the coming Seed. They were a "shadow of good things to come." Heb. 10:1. These shadows and types of the coming Seed were what the writer to the Hebrews calls the "old covenant." The things under the old covenant could not be the reality or the fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant. Aaron, the high priest, was only a shadow of Christ. The earthly tabernacle was only a figure of the heavenly reality (Heb. 8:1-5). The land of Canaan was only a type of that "better country, that is, an heavenly," which the worthies looked forward to (Heb. 11:16). Jerusalem and the kingdom of David were at best only a shadow of the "city which hath foundations, whose Builder and Maker is God." Heb All:10.

We say again: That which God gave to Israel in the Law and under the Law — tabernacle, Canaan, Jerusalem, kings, etc. — was the old covenant, and at best it could only point to something better. It was not the reality of what God promised Abraham. The Jews in Christ's day tried to turn the shadow into the reality, and not a few are still trying to do this today. Since the Seed has come, how can we go back to a temple ritual, blood of animals, Palestine or old Jerusalem as if these things were any part of reality? Now that the full light of the gospel has come, we must see that real circumcision is of the heart (Rom. 2:29), the real Jerusalem is "above" (Gal. 4:26), the real Mount Zion and the real Jerusalem are heavenly (Heb. 12:22), the real tabernacle is in heaven (Heb. 8:1-5), the real country promised to Abraham is not any part of "this present evil world" (Heb. 11:10-16), and the real children of Abraham (Jews) are those who believe in Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:29; Rom. 2:28).

Summarizing: The promise of Christ was given to Abraham. The Law (or old covenant) was given to help Israel keep the hope of Christ's coming alive. The Law was not the fulfillment of the promise but a shadow that pointed forward to its realization. To take anything of the Law (including Jerusalem and the land of Palestine) and call that the promise made to Abraham is to utterly miss the purpose of the Law.

When Christ finally came, the dispensation of the Law (Moses, or the old covenant) had fulfilled its function in history. The blood of animals, feast days, the Jewish temple, Jerusalem and the "holy land" had fulfilled their function, and any return to those things now is a denial of the reality brought to us by Jesus Christ. It is to exchange substance for shadows.

Correctly Relating the First and Second Advents

Correctly relating the gospel and eschatology means correctly relating the first and second advents of Jesus Christ. When we place these two advents side by side, we discover a remarkable parallelism. Namely:

First Advent. At His first coming Jesus "visited and redeemed His people." Luke 1:68. He saved His people from their sins (Matt. 1:21). He brought in everlasting righteousness (Dan. 9:24) and by one offering perfected forever them that are sanctified (Heb. 10:14). He put away sin (Heb. 9:26), "abolished death, and . . . brought life and immortality to light." 2 Tim. 1:10. Thus, through His redemptive act in Christ, God has given to His people redemption, salvation, righteousness and perfection. In Christ He has already done away with sin, abolished death and given to His people the gift of life and immortality. All this is plainly stated by the apostle's proclamation of the gospel.

Second Advent. Now let us look at what the apostles tell us about the second advent. It is called the day of redemption (Eph. 4:30; see also Rom. 8:23). ". . so Christ. .. will appear a second time... to bring salvation to those who are watching for Him." Heb. 9:28, N.E.B. Here Paul and all who love His appearing will receive their "crown of righteousness." 2 Tim. 4:8; cf. Gal. 5:5. Here believers of past ages together with those of the present age will be made perfect (Heb. 11:40; Phil. 3:10,12). When Christ comes, God's people will put off the sinful mortal state, the last enemy — death — will be swallowed up in victory, and God's people will put on immortality (1 Cor. 15:50-56). All this will take place when "Christ, who is our life, shall appear." Col. 3:4. Thus, the very things that Christ did for us at His first advent (gospel) are said to be brought to us at the second advent (eschatology).

The eschaton (second coming of Christ) is simply an unveiling of what has already taken place. This unveiling will overtake the unbelieving world as a thief in the night. It will come to them as an overwhelming surprise. But it will be no thief in the night and no overwhelming surprise to the children of light (1 Thess. 5:1-4). They know that these things have already taken place in Jesus Christ. They have already had all these blessings reserved for them in heaven in the person of Christ (1 Peter 1:4). And by the gift of the Spirit they have an earnest of their inheritance, a taste of the powers of the world to come (Eph. 1:13,14; Heb. 6:5). We may even say that eschatology has already been fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Says George Eldon Ladd in an excellent article published in Christianity Today (Nov. 19,1965):

The early Christians proclaimed 'in Jesus the resurrection from the dead" (Acts 4:2). It is strange that this message should have so grievously annoyed the Sadducees, for this doctrine was also held by the Pharisees. The point is that the early Christians were not teaching a doctrine of resurrection at the end of the age; they were proclaiming an eschatological deed that had occurred in history. They were not teaching a truth; they were witnessing to an event. The same idea is expounded more clearly by Paul, who speaks of the resurrection of Christ as the 'first fruits" of the eschatological resurrection at the end of the age (I Cor. 15:23). First fruits in an agrarian economy were the beginning of the harvest itself. The resurrection of Jesus was not an isolated event; it was not merely promise of a future event; it was itself the beginning of the future event. The first act of resurrection had already occurred in the resurrection of Jesus, and this placed the Christian proclamation in a new and startling light

The same eschatological dimension is found in the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The prophecy of the outpouring of the Spirit in Joel belongs to the eschatological consummation of God's redemptive purpose (Joel 2:28ff) at the Day of the Lord. When God finally redeems his people and makes himself known as God in all the world (Joel 2:26, 27), one of the gifts of his eschatological salvation will be the outpouring of his Spirit. This event, Peter declared, had now occurred in history (Acts 2:1 6ff), because Jesus has been exalted to heaven and enthroned at the right hand of God as messianic King (Acts 2:3Off). The blessings of Messiah's reign no longer belong exclusively to the Age to Come and the Kingdom of God; they have come to men in history to bring into existence God's new people — the Church. The Church is therefore an eschatological community, a people who not only are destined to inherit the consummated Kingdom but also have already experienced the powers and blessings of that Kingdom through the coming of the Holy Spirit in history. The Old Testament hope has been fulfilled before the consummation; eschatology has become history.

Paul interprets the significance of the eschatological event of Jesus Christ primarily in terms of justification by faith and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Here again, although in yet different terms, Paul expounds the meaning for believers of the eschatological dimension of what had happened in history in Jesus Christ.

Justification focuses attention upon the meaning of Jesus' death. His propitiatory sacrifice on the cross is the ground of justification by faith. Justification, as we have seen, is the decree of the divine Lawgiver and Judge that a man is free from all guilt and condemnation. As such, it is an eschatological event that belongs to the day of judgment at the end of the world. This is clearly seen in a saying of Jesus: "On the day of judgment men will render account for every careless word they utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned" (Matt. 12:36, 37, RSV). Acquittal or condemnation in the eschatological day of judgment—this is the destiny of all men.

The death of Christ has provided the basis for the acquittal of men in history. Before the day of judgment, before the end of the age, the righteous Judge has rendered his decision. The man of faith is acquitted of all guilt; he is 'justified by his {God's] grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 3:24). In effect, the eschatological event has already occurred in history; the Judge has rendered his final decision. The man of faith is freed from all condemnation.

Accompanying this eschatological event is another: the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to impart new life. That this gift of the Spirit indwelling every believer is also an eschatological event is shown by the words Paul uses to describe it: first fruits and down payment. The Holy Spirit is the first fruits (Rom. 8:23) of the final redemption. Creation is in bondage to decay, and believers share the burden of pain, suffering, and death. Both await the eschatological glory of consummated redemption. But God has given more than hope and promise; he has imparted the Spirit of life in the midst of corruption and decay, thus providing a beginning of the eschatological consummation.

The Holy Spirit is also called a down payment. The King James Version renders the word "earnest" and the Revised Standard "guarantee." The word 'arrabon' in popular Greek meant a down payment that not only guaranteed the final full payment but also provided an actual but partial payment. Thus the Holy Spirit is a partial experience of the believer's eschatological inheritance until he will finally acquire full possession of it. (Eph. 1:14; see also II Cor. 1:22: 5:5). This means that everything that the Holy Spirit does, both in the fellowship of the Church (Acts) and in the lives of individual believers, is a real anticipation of the life of the Age to come. The Old Testament hope has been fulfilled. Eschatology has become history.

All New Testament writers look forward to an eschatological consummation of all that was promised by the prophets. The Kingdom of God, eternal life, the resurrection of the dead, the vindication of the righteous in the day of judgment, and their transformation by the gift of the Holy Spirit (Ezek. 36:26, 27) all await the Age to Come. Yet because of the person, mission, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. all these eschatological events have witnessed a fulfillment in history. The kingdom of God awaits the Age to Come: but it has invaded history in the person and mission of Jesus. Eternal life will follow the resurrection at the end of the age: but in the resurrection of Jesus, the eschatological event has begun and eternal life has come to mortal men in history. The day of judgment will introduce the Age to Come; but by virtue of the atoning death of Jesus, the judgment of acquittal has already been pronounced on men of faith. The eschatological redemption will mean "spiritual" — that is, Spirit-transformed — bodies for the redeemed (I Cor. 15:44; Rem. 8:23); but the transforming gift of the Spirit has already been given to men in history.—"Unity and Variety in New Testament Faith."


The eschaton (the second coming of Christ) is an unveiling of what has already taken place (gospel). Therefore, the gospel should determine our view of eschatology, and if it does, there will be no place for carnal speculations about things unrelated to the finished work of Jesus Christ.


1 1n Isaiah 42,44 and 53 the Servant of Yahweh is sometimes called Jacob (the nation of Israel), and other times it is clearly the person of Christ who is referred to. This shows us that Christ, as the suffering Servant, was representing and acting for Israel.