I mentioned in passing when speaking of Christo-centrism that the whole of the Bible seeks to answer the question of how God can dwell upon the earth in unadulterated glory. For this reason, much of the Scripture is eschatological in nature. This is especially true for the New Testament. Just about every concept – if not every concept – in the New Testament is an eschatological concept. When Paul speaks of justification, we cannot come to conclusions of what that concept means apart from an eschatological understanding.
The reason that the New Testament is written in an eschatological mentality is twofold. First, they believed that they were in the last days. This is firmly attested to in just about every book of the New Testament. Second, under the New Covenant, the understanding of these theological aspects was supercharged by the fulfillment of many eschatological Scriptures through Christ. Because Jesus had fulfilled many of the Messianic prophecies, the majority of them considered to be end time prophecies, the apostles believed and taught that what remained was simply the outworking of these other remaining prophecies. Once all had been fulfilled, there would be nothing left but for Jesus to return and establish His Kingdom upon this earth.
This created a dynamic in the first century ecclesia. Everything about the Gospel was eschatological. For what reason did the first saints sell their possessions and devote themselves to fellowship, prayer, and the apostles’ teaching? Why do we not find people doing this today? I think the answer is simple. They fully believed that Jesus would return in their lifetime, so why do they need all of their possessions? It is the end time piece of the puzzle that opens up as a key the interpretation of all Scripture.
In this, we have a few things to go through. First, we need to wrestle a little bit of eschatology just to know and understand what it is that I’m implying. Second, we need to establish the hermeneutic precisely. Third, we need to find a couple examples of how this works and why it is important.
Maybe the proper place to start would be Daniel 2. It has been the most common way of translating end time passages as “now, not yet”. By this, also sometimes considered “already not yet”, we mean that we find fulfillment “already”, but there is a fulfillment “not yet” accomplished. In Daniel 2, Nebuchadnezzar has a dream. Daniel gives the interpretation of the dream in exactitude. The dream says there will be four world kingdoms, represented by four elements on a statue, and the fourth is divided into two: legs of iron and feet of iron and clay. He then tells us that Nebuchadnezzar is the head. We then infer from other parts of Daniel that the chest is Medo-Persia. The thighs are Greece. This leaves the legs to be Rome.
Let us think this through. If the legs are Rome, then what could the feet be? You see, Jesus’ first advent was during the reign of Augustus Caesar. It would make sense that the feet were signifying Rome under the Caesars instead of the proconsul. Thus, Daniel 2 seems to have been fulfilled, because Jesus did come and establish the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God has been growing since the advent of Christ. There is, therefore, no reason for us to not believe that the Kingdom of God is “now”. It is “already” here. This is what many of the preterists actually claim. They will use this interpretation of Daniel 2 to show that it has been fulfilled in the first century.
What is left to take place? In the interpretation, we see a stone cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands, and it strikes the feet of the statue. The statue crumbles, and the stone grows into a large mountain. It is precisely here that we say we find our “not yet” principle at work. Have the kingdoms of the world truly become the kingdom of our Lord and His Christ? Has it actually happened that these kingdoms have been crushed to powder, no longer existing, so that all is left is the Kingdom of God? Some would say yes, simply because in Daniel 2 and 7 these world empires are being addressed, and not all the kingdoms of the world. I would say no, because there seems to be real expectancy in the verse quoted above that all the kingdoms of the world are included in that statue.
So, when we read our Bibles, what is the eschatological key to interpretation? What exactly is the hermeneutic principle that I believe has been misunderstood? The Old Testament progresses. The details aren’t fully disclosed from the beginning. We all know this. When we come to the New Testament, the advent of Christ is the breaking in of the Kingdom of God as declared by Daniel. Yet, often what is then declared is that we use the New Testament to decipher the meaning of the Old Testament. I think this is our blunder. There is a foundation given with the Pentateuch, which if we neglect we cannot understand the rest of the Bible. We begin with Genesis and work our way forward in the story, not three quarters of the way in and work backward.
You don’t come into a movie over an hour after it starts and expect to be able to explain what the movie is about. You might get a general gist, but a general gist is not the same as being able to express precisely all of the plot. Our hermeneutic principle is one of progressive revelation. Why do we use the New Testament in order to understand the Old, rather than using the Old Testament as foundation for the New? Why do we stress that the New Testament describes fulfillment of the Old, but then reject the possibility of the Old pertaining to the New? The bottom line is that we cannot interpret the New Testament without the Old, and we cannot rightly understand the Old without the New. They work hand-in-hand together, and not one over the other. There is a progression that God has Divinely prescribed for us to be able to interpret and understand correctly.
What are some examples in order to better understand what I’m getting at? Let us start with the Old Testament, and then we’ll come to the New Testament. In Genesis 3:15, we read of a “seed of the woman” who will bring humanity back into the Garden of Eden. Therefore, when we read the prophets, we find statement after statement regarding Eden-like conditions after the coming of the Messiah. The Messianic figure throughout all of Scripture is one who will take us back unto Eden, and yet also forward unto Zion. Thus, when we read Genesis 4, we find that Eve has a son. Could this be the deliverer? Could this be the messianic hope? Instead, Cain slew Abel, thus showing that this hope was vanity. How does Genesis 4 end? Seth is born, and it is at that time that men and women began to call upon the name of the Lord. Could he be the rescuer?
We continue. We find Noah being the only one, with his family, to be preserved through the flood. It is then Noah’s son Shem who gets the greatest blessing. Could Shem be the deliverer? Could it be Shem who is the seed of the woman? It doesn’t take long before we’re reading about this Abraham. Could this be the Messiah? Is Abraham the promised one? No, because God promises Abraham a “seed”, thus signifying that Abraham’s “seed” is the deliverer. This puts the premium on Isaac, who then begets Jacob, who then begets twelve sons. Notice that. We thought this Messiah would be one person, but the book of Genesis ends with the seed of the woman being an entire people.
As we come to Exodus, we find the seed of the woman in Moses, that this man is the one who delivers Israel from Egypt. Notice, though, that Israel is still somehow the “seed of the woman” along with Moses. There is a man who represents Israel unto Pharaoh, and also is the “leader” of Israel, who alone talks to God face-to-face, and delivers Israel from Egypt, but is not the full statement of the seed of the woman. Similarly, we find Jesus being the King of the Jews, the one who delivers us from darkness, sin, and death, and is the full representation of all that Israel is supposed to be. Christ is the seed of the woman, and we thus find the progression quite explicit.
For this reason, when we come to the New Testament, we find that the authors continually insist upon Jesus being the fulfillment of this end time hope. We find an “already” fulfillment through Christ for this seed of the woman. Yet, don’t forget the principle learned through Genesis and Exodus. There are a people that must also be the seed of the woman. God didn’t allow for one man to be the absolute fulfillment. Instead, He designated an entire nation. It is because of this that we cannot put all fulfillment upon Jesus, as the fulfillment theologians desire to do, but must instead expect that, as Paul tells the Church in Rome, God will crush Satan under our feet. The debate lies from there as to whether it is “our” feet as the Church alone, or “our” feet means all Israel.
In Exodus 25:9, we find that the Tabernacle and the instruments within it are being patterned after heavenly counterparts. Therefore, when we reach the New Testament, and we read how we are “living stones” being built together as the Temple of God, we understand that the heavenly counterpart was the believing people of God. God dwelt “in their midst” instead of “in the Tabernacle’. Jesus came and “tabernacled” with us, rather than what we would expect: Jesus to rule from the Temple. Thus, it is often concluded that the Tabernacle and Temple, and all of the instruments and articles with them, are obsolete under the New Covenant.
Here is the fatal flaw: The Old Testament seems to indicate that God establishes His name upon the Temple forever, and the prophets even seem to indicate that God will rule from Jerusalem and Zion. David is promised an heir to sit upon his throne. If we take the spiritual applications given in the New Testament and establish them as the end all be all, we then make these promises and prophecies null and void. Will there be fulfillment of these things as was expected, or did God only promise them in earthly terms, but He knew that it would be fulfilled spiritually? Are they physical promises and prophecies, or are they spiritual? If spiritual, then by what exegetical precedent can we conclude that God did not lie to the people of the Old Testament?
When we read the story of Hannah and Samuel, we need to ask why it is that this woman so desired a son? Here is the thing, I know that it was considered “a curse” (if you could use such language) if you aren’t able to bear children. But, the question only changes slightly. Why is it considered a curse? Why do people believe that God is against a woman if she cannot produce children? It goes back to our discussion of the seed of the woman. Within the thinking of the Hebrews was the consideration that the child you bear might be the Messiah. When Hannah is crying out to God, it is indeed because she was being mocked and couldn’t continue, but there is something happening behind the scenes, so to speak. There is a messianic hope, and in bearing a son, and not just a child, there is a hope that maybe this is the Messiah.
Why was David’s victory over Goliath such a big deal? God has promised one who would deliver the people and take them back into the Garden of Eden. Could this be the Messiah? He delivered Israel from the Philistines, and Saul wasn’t even willing to do that! What about Solomon? David was promised a son to reign on his throne forever. Could this be Solomon? The kingdom of Israel had more splendor than any other time in Israel’s history. Solomon dies. His son Rehoboam splits the kingdom. What happened to the blessed hope?
This is where the New Testament comes in. We could continue through the Old Testament, but I think you get the point. Jesus’ coming is the end cap of all these messianic expectancies. We see that now the Messiah is revealed, and therefore the Kingdom of God is here. This is the blessed hope, right? Here comes the teaching of Jesus and the apostles. When we come to the New Testament, we have a lot of Old Testament background that is still presupposed. Jesus taught of His death and resurrection. He taught of “when the Son of Man comes”. Have you ever wondered why Jesus is teaching about “when the Son of Man comes” when it is blatantly clear that He has already come?
The Old Testament expectancy saw a time where the messianic hope would take us back into Eden. The two kingdoms, Israel and Judah, would be reunited, and the son of David would rule over them. These prophecies and promises aren’t really addressed in the New Testament. Instead, the apostles spend the majority of their time teaching about how the Kingdom already has broken in. Yet, there is always a hint in the background, and sometimes put forthright, that we don’t see the absolute fulfillment yet. Because the Kingdom of God has indeed broken in, we see an eschatological fulfillment of many prophecies and promises, but we don’t see the fullness of those prophecies and/or promises. The degree to which was proclaimed is lacking.
Just like Daniel 2 doesn’t seem to be fully accomplished, there are many promises and prophecies that are referenced in the New Testament that we can’t honestly embrace as being fulfilled. In Acts 2, Peter claims that what is happening before the crowd is what Joel prophesied. When you go back to Joel 2, you see exactly what Peter is saying, but the problem is that the extent of what Joel prophesies is impossible to accept as being fulfilled in Acts 2. Joel 2 is speaking of all nations, not just representatives from all nations, having the spirit poured out upon them.
It is through the Old Testament context that we find the extent of new covenant promises. Though we find these passages quoted and taught, and even at work among the saints, the new covenant promises were originally intended for the whole House of Israel, and they worked out from that unto the uttermost parts of the earth. This presents a couple problems for certain interpretations. For they who advocate replacement or fulfillment theology, saying that somehow the old covenant is fulfilled in Christ, Israel is replaced by the Church, and/or Jesus is the representative of all true “people of God”, I have a question that I have not heard sufficiently addressed or answered. If one were to take the notion that the kahal (assembly) in the Old Testament is the ecclesia (church) in the New Testament, exactly when is it that the kahal went from representing all of Israel to only representing the believing remnant? In this case, precisely when did the kahal change from both believing and unbelieving Israel to only meaning they who believe in Jesus? Was it in the Gospels? On the day of Pentecost? A.D. 70? When is the transfer from all of Israel to only the believing remnant, whether Jewish or Gentile?
The other difficulty is how we can advocate that these things are truly fulfilled in Christ, only to they who are in Christ? Please understand the question. This is not to suggest that you can be saved through law, nor that outside of Christ you can obtain the promises. All nations were going to participate in the blessedness, and not simply Gentiles that have been grafted in. How do you account for this? Can it be that the New Testament completely disregards it, or is it possible that because we attempt to read the Old Testament strictly through the lens of the New Testament that we have misrepresented the whole understanding? When it says, “and all nations shall know the Lord”, does that only mean certain Gentiles who are saved?
When it says in Zechariah 14:16 that all nations will send a representative to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles, does that mean that there will be at least one person in Christ from all nations? This kind of spiritualizing of these prophecies seem to undercut the weight and significance of those prophecies. When it is said in Isaiah 2:2-4 that all nations shall stream unto the mountain of the Lord’s temple, and that the law will go forth from Zion and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem, and that nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore, is this physical peace on earth, or is this spiritual unity in the Body of Christ?
I understand that Paul exhorts us to be one in Christ, and that this comes from Jeremiah 32:39 under the new covenant, but does that then infer that all of these other prophecies are fulfilled in the Church? Jeremiah 31:31-34 is speaking directly about the House of Israel, and not some ‘body’ called “the Church”. When you continue reading Jeremiah 31:35-37, you find that God actually explicitly decrees against that interpretation. We can only come to two conclusions. Either the New Testament is nothing but lies, or the apostles considered that all of this that I’m suggesting was presupposed. If the apostles declared something contrary to the Old Testament, then how is it possible for the New Testament to be Scripture?
The New Testament’s use of the “new covenant” passages should cause us to seriously reconsider the faith. It is not that they are deceiving you, but that our interpretations are commonly the deception. The apostles are revealing to us the magnanimity and magnitude of the Kingdom of God broken in. There is a real sense in which the Kingdom of God is “already” and “now”. We don’t need to wait for a future time of glory and splendor before we can exercise the promises of the new covenant. It is all at our disposal, because Jesus has already triumphed over the principalities and powers and established the Kingdom of God upon the earth. Yet, with that being said, to then negate the fact that there is still missing components to the Old Testament promises and prophecies is absolute error.
When we read the New Testament, we need to understand it is entirely eschatological. Everything is pointing toward a future event that will cause for all things to be restored. All teaching of the New Testament presupposes a future glory that is beyond what we currently know. That isn’t to rectify what is available to us, nor to downplay it, but instead to encourage us. If what you and I experience here and now in Christ is not the final statement, then eye has not seen, nor has ear heard what God has planned for those He loves. It is far beyond our comprehension. It is enough to be given what we have – and indeed far beyond what we deserve. To consider that there might be something greater that God has purposed is the blessed hope that the apostles are striving for us to consider and pursue. Through that lens the New Testament makes all the more sense, because they teach us how to live “now” in expectancy of what is “not yet”.
In the book of Ephesians, Paul masterfully explains to us the future time of glory in a way that is hidden to the wise and arrogant. In the first chapter, Paul opens up by telling us that we have every spiritual blessing in Christ Jesus. There we have it, right? That’s the end of the story, right? And yet, it cannot be the end, because Paul then uses this statement as the means to entertain how we have an inheritance that we shall inherit. What is the inheritance?
If you continue to read, you eventually come into chapter 2. Paul explains how we’re no longer under the prince of this world, no longer in darkness and sin. We’ve been redeemed, and that redemption is of grace. Yet, our concept again is small, because it is from this discussion that Paul begins to explain how we’ve been brought into something already existing. We’re now a part of “the commonwealth of Israel”. While we were once far off, once Gentiles, once at enmity with God, we’re now brought nigh through the blood of Christ, and we’re now a part of His Body, that the wall of hostility and separation has been broken down.
It is from here that we enter into the discussion of Ephesians 3. The glory that is being expressed is not that we have an inheritance in heaven, and that we’ll have a mansion all to ourselves. What is being expressed is that we have an inheritance, which the inheritance of Joshua foreshadowed. A Prophet was promised in Deuteronomy 18:15, one to come after Moses who shall be like Moses, and at the end of Deuteronomy it is said that no such one had risen. Joshua wasn’t the fulfillment. They waited for one who would bring them into an inheritance that is eternal, and as Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28 demanded, it would be such a blessed hope that God Himself would walk in their midst.
While you have passages like Hebrews 12:22-24 that say that we have already inherited Zion, and that we’re already a part of this promise, Ephesians 1:13-14 with 3:3-6 tell us quite the opposite. We have not yet inherited, and there shall be an inheritance. The controversy to the Jews is that this inheritance is not solely a Jewish inheritance. Rather, God has determined that the Gentiles in Christ, those who have been grafted in, they who are now a part of “the commonwealth of Israel”, shall also inherit. The eternal inheritance promised and prophesied unto Israel is now opened wide for the Gentiles in Christ. That eschatological inheritance that is given at the coming of the Messiah, with the resurrection of the dead, is granted to the Gentiles who come to Messiah here and now, and experience that inheritance by “coming unto Zion”, and by being raised with Christ through the glory of the Father.
Everything of the New Testament is eschatological. It all surrounds this end time view of the resurrection and the return of Christ. It all looks unto the climax, which isn’t something that already happened, but it has broken in. This is the struggle of revelation. God has been revealed, and His Kingdom has broken in from the foundation of the earth. Yet, so often we think of it as far away and in a distant future time. The answer of the New Testament is “yes”. God has broken in, and the Kingdom has come, but God will come again, and bring the Kingdom with Him.