I am writing up reflections on my devotions every day for six weeks. This is one of those posts.
Eschatology is a big word, but it’s an even bigger concept. The things to come —the things we do not yet see fully—are hard to grasp. Not so hard for us, perhaps, as they were for those who came before us. In Genesis 15, Abram1 received a number of promises. None of them were exactly easy to believe: here he was, closing in on a century old, and his always-barren wife in the same category,2 and God promises him a child from his own body. More than that, God promised him descendants that would outnumber the stars, or the sand on the seashore.
That promise has been fulfilled. In fact, it has been fulfilled doubly: first by the nation of Israel, in the course of her long history from Abraham to the time of Christ, and then through those many of us who have been grafted in since then. Just as Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness (Genesis 15:6), so we have been counted righteous as we believe God, and now the number of those from the nations dwarfs even that of the Jews.
There is another promise there that wasn’t fulfilled, though—at least, not all the way. In verses 18–21, God promises Abram that his descendants will inherit a massive territory. Israel never did, though. The Hebrews’ national territory, relatively substantial though it was at its peak, certainly never made it anywhere near the Euphrates on its eastern edge. Some might take this an example of the Bible’s fallibility. I don’t; I take it instead as a picture of things yet to come.
This kind of eschatological situation is common in the Bible. A promise is made, and the fulfillment comes, but only in part, never wholly. Even the Messianic promises, which we often think of as fulfilled in Christ, remain incomplete. They found their first and partial fulfillment in his first coming, just as the promises to Abraham were fulfilled first, partially, in the nation of Israel, and then again more fully in the nations (you and me, unless you’re a Jewish convert), and then finally someday when Jesus returns and the New Jerusalem is here on earth.
It is not a stretch to say that “eschatological hope”—mouthful though the phrase may be—is one of the defining characteristics of Christians. We are the people of “already but not yet” who are incomparably glad of what God has already done and impossibly hopeful about what he will someday do.
The nation of Israel got a taste of what the final fulfillment will be like as Jesus walked among them. Matthew 15 reiterates what Matthew 11 first made clear: Jesus is the one who fulfills the promises of God’s final setting things to rights—the mute speaking, the crippled healthy, the lame walking, and the blind seeing. But they did not see it finished. Jesus did not heal every person on the earth; we still have the mute and crippled and lame and blind among us, and all of us yet will die.
But there will come a day when he comes back, and those promises to Abraham are fulfilled in their entirety at last, and the hopes engendered by a prophet offering healing in the first century in Israel are realized. No more tears, no more sorrow, and we will worship our King and enjoy unbroken fellowship with God and one another in the New Jerusalem.
Hallelujah. Lord, come soon.