Eschatology: The End Comes at the Beginning
Normally we get to the end of the story at…well…the end of the story. Perhaps you are one of those folk who like to read the end of the story before beginning at the beginning? With the Bible there is no real need to do that. Let me explain to you why.
The reason is that the end of the biblical story is weaved throughout various strands of the fabric long before the conclusion. In fact, the end comes at the very beginning. In the creation account (Genesis 1-3) we can catch a glimpse of where the story is going. If only we have eyes to see.
In Genesis 2:15-17 we read that God placed Adam in the Garden of Eden to guard and tend it. God told Adam he could eat of every tree of the garden except one. God told Adam that his diet was not to include fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In fact, God went so far as to tell Adam that “in the day you eat of it, you shall surely die.” It is this test (sometimes called the “prohibition” or “probation”) which gives us insight into the biblical story will end.
We readily see that God forbids Adam to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We might even ponder why God threatens such a severe punishment for a seemingly innocent gesture. The fact of the matter is that if Adam disobeys God’s command he will suffer eternal consequences for this mere temporal act. Have you ever thought about this? Why does God put so much stock in this command? Adam was being tested and God had offered no rationale save his own command.
The eternal consequences of this temporal act are very explicit. But there is more to this story than meets the naked eye. Implicit in the command to abstain from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is a promise. The promise, like the warning, seems all out of proportion to the potential temporal obedience commanded. If Adam had obeyed God and not sat back while his wife Eve entered into a fruitless conversation with the serpent and plucked the fruit of the tree, he would have been confirmed in righteousness. He would have entered into eternal life then and there and would have been given access to the tree of life.
In other words, instead of dying an eternal death Adam would have inherited eternal life with its consummate gift of God himself. However, we know from Genesis 3 that Adam and Eve in fact ate from the tree and experienced eternal death (although not in a way we might immediately expect). So, this is how we capture a glimpse of the end at the beginning. Adam could have inherited eternal life by his obedience to God’s command. Instead, though, he experienced certain death.
With the fall, we would now need to be saved by the obedience and death of someone else in order to inherit eternal life with its consummate bliss of fellowship with God. The remainder of the Bible’s unfolding drama of redemption is about God’s patient bringing about the circumstances that would allow us to be confirmed in righteousness. But this time it would not be our own. Jesus Christ, God’s Son, would be faced with another tree of testing. This tree was not a lush tree in a beautiful garden. It was a brutal piece of wood. Jesus would live a life of meticulous loving and joyful obedience to God the Father. He would do this for us. And he would be nailed to a cross to satisfy divine justice for us.
On that bright and early Sunday morning many years ago when the Son rose from the grave, he was raised in newness of life. He would never experience death again. By faith in this same Son we too can inherit eternal life in fellowship with the Triune God in the new heavens and the new earth. We finally experience what was offered at the beginning of the story here at the end.
Jeffrey C. Waddington (Ph.D., Westminster Theological Seminary) is stated supply at Knox Orthodox Presbyterian Church. He also serves as a panelist at Christ the Center and East of Eden and is the secretary of the board of the Reformed Forum. Additionally he serves as an articles editor for the Confessional Presbyterian Journal.
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