The Eschatological Nature of the Christ Event
The Old Testament looks forward, saying, "Behold, the days come. . . ." But the New Testament opens with a dramatic change of tense. The hour "now is." "The time is fulfilled." "This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears." In the fullness of time Christ comes to announce this decisive, redeeming act of God and to perform it!
We have seen that the Old Testament hope was fundamentally eschatological. The New Testament everywhere proclaims that Jesus is the fulfillment of that hope. The Christ event, therefore, is thoroughly eschatological. The kingdom of God and the life of the age to come are proclaimed as present fact in the Person and work of Jesus Christ. Eternity has already broken into history. Christ is the new Adam in whom the new creation has already become a reality (2 Cor. 5:17).
Unless we grasp the eschatological nature of the Christ event, we cannot appreciate why the New Testament message was such an electrifying announcement. Jesus opened His ministry with the arresting words, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand . . . " (Mark 1:14, 15). Jesus did not have to stop to define His words. The Jews to whom He spoke knew what He meant. "The Kingdom of God lay within the vocabulary of every Jew. It was something they understood and longed for desperately." — John Bright, The Kingdom of God (Abingdon), pp.17,18. Jesus was therefore saying, In My Person and work the decisive events of the last days have arrived. No wonder the hopes of the disciples were lifted to the highest pitch of excitement!
What can we say of Paul's preaching? Writes Ridderbos: "The coming of the kingdom as the fulfilling eschatological coming of God to the world is the great dynamic principle of Paul's preaching, even though the word 'kingdom of heaven' does not occupy a central place in it." — Herman Ridderbos, Paul: An Introduction to His Theology, p.48. Paul declares, ". . . when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son . . . " Gal. 4:4. Here is an echo of the words of Jesus recorded in Mark 1:14,15. "Nothing less is intended than that the decisive, long-expected coming of God has dawned, the hour of hours, the day of salvation in the fulfilling, eschatological sense of the word." Ibid., p.45. The apostle proclaims that the mystery which had been kept secret for long ages is now revealed (Rom. 16:25, 26; Col. 1:26; Eph. 3:4, 5; 2 Tim. 1:9,10). At the end of the waiting ages God's ultimate intervention according to His eternal counsel and purpose has taken place.
Then we turn to the writer of Hebrews and hear him declare: "God . . . hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son. . . ." " . . . now once in the end of the world hath He appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself." Heb. 1:1, 2; 9:26.
Peter, in order to show the significance of the events on the Day of Pentecost, seizes the eschatological prophecy from Joel which says, ". . . it shall come to pass in the last days . . . " (see Acts 2:16,17).
There are numerous New Testament expressions used to describe the Christ event — such as glory, light, justification, outpouring of the Spirit, resurrection, eternal life, etc. — which are thoroughly eschatological in character.1 The unified witness of the New Testament writers is that all the eschatological promises of the Old Testament find their fulfillment in Jesus Christ (Acts 13:32, 33; 2 Cor. 1:20). In Him the eschatological hope of Israel is realized.
This does not mean that all of the apostles express God's mighty act of salvation in Jesus Christ in the same manner. There is variety as well as unity in the witness of the New Testament. We have seen that the Old Testament hope was expressed in various ways. So is the New Testament fulfillment expressed in a variety of ways.
We suggest, however, that the New Testament uses four major Old Testament motifs to interpret the Christ event.
(1) The Synoptics2 employ the kingdom of God motif.
(2) Paul interprets the Christ event as the righteousness of God.
(3) The writer to the Hebrews uses the Yom Kippur motif to give his distinctive witness to Christ's Person and work.
(4) John sees the gospel as the coming of eternal life.
It is also suggested that these four major characterizations of the Christ event find their background not only in the Old Testament in general, but in the book of Daniel in particular.
1 See Alan Richardson, An Introduction to the Theology of the New Testament, pp.62-83; George Eldon Ladd, Art. "Unity and Variety in New Testament Faith," Christianity Today, Nov. 19,1965.
2Matthew, Mark and Luke.