Five Reasons Why Eschatology is Particularly Pastoral
Sometimes the language of Scripture seems strange. We don't quite understand it all. However, a little patience will often produce some good exegetical fruit. Take eschatology for example. This is a word which can mean "last." But it can and often does mean more. For instance, it can and does mean "ultimate things." Eschatology is about ultimate things. Let me give you an example.
You are perhaps familiar with the fact that Scripture speaks of two different epochs or periods. There is “this age” or “this present age” and there is “that age” or “the age to come." Both appear in Matthew 12:32, "Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come." So, what do we make of the language? Specifically, to what do these ages refer?
If we persevere, we learn that the answer is not very difficult. “This present age” corresponds to what is earthly and “the future age” corresponds to what is heavenly. A little more study yields the conclusion that the present age is an evil one whereas the age to come is glorious and eternal. However, with the coming of Christ and specifically at the resurrection, “the age to come” broke in upon “present age,” and the last days are between the resurrection and Christ's second appearing.
Now, those who are in Christ are, in principle, living in the overlap of the two ages. To say it another way, according to Paul in I Corinthians 10:11, believers living in the present evil age are those "upon whom the end of the ages have come." This means that though we continue to live in the world we have been lifted up to where Christ is, in the heavens, by virtue of our union with Him.[i] We live in the over-lap of the ages already possessing in principle what is yet to come in fullness. God has brought ultimate things to bear upon us in Christ.
This raises another question. How shall we live in the overlap of the ages? Let me frame the question differently. Of what practical help is eschatology? It's this question that I want to answer. There are five things to notice.
First, eschatology prompts us to think about God's power rather than our own frailty. Think of what Paul told the believers in Ephesus. He told them of God's surpassing power toward them that believe "which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come." Brothers and sisters, our spiritual resurrection, our ability to believe, is an expression of God's sovereign power breaking into the present age.
Second, eschatology acquaints us with Biblical expectations in the midst of present difficulties. Yes, the age to come has broken in on the present age. But we still live in the present age. Therefore, says Peter, "[do] not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing…"[ii] We live in the present evil age. Evil is unsurprising. Joy is not only the surprise but God's abiding expectation for those who live in the overlap of the ages. And because joy is the result of God's breaking in - joy is possible!
Third, eschatology helps us to have a living hope in the midst of the humiliation of this present age. Peter says that by the power of God we were born again "to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead."[iii] The power of God, which brought about our spiritual life, also brings to us a living hope - and a living hope is a growing hope. Friends, we need a growing joy and an abiding hope in this present age.
Fourth, eschatology presents us with past examples for present circumstances. When Paul tells us that the things that we read about in the Old Testament were examples "written for our instruction, upon whom the end of the ages have come" we must remember that we are not alone.[iv] Others have lived in the overlapping ages and we must follow their example. This is an encouragement for us to study the lives of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and many others. So, study to nurture hope and cultivate joy!
Fifth, eschatology is really a proclamation of the gospel. Brothers and sisters, every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places has been made ours in Christ.[v] How can the possession of these ultimate realities not move us to rejoice in our only Savior, Jesus Christ?
[i] Colossians 3:1-4.
[ii] I Peter 4:12.
[iii] I Peter 1:3.
[iv] I Corinthians 10:11.
[v] Ephesians 1:3.
Jeffrey A. Stivason has been serving the Lord as a minister of the gospel since 1995. He was church planter and now pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Gibsonia, PA. He also holds a Ph.D. in systematic theology from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA. Jeff is the Managing Editor for Place for Truth.
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