Topic: “eschatology”

The End of the Beginning

I am making an ongoing discipline out of writing up reflections on my devotions—hopefully a majority of the days each week. This is one of those posts.

Tonight I came to the end of the book of Genesis. (I would have done so last week, had I not gotten sick. Alas.) The last four chapters of the book range from the proasic details of Joseph’s dealings with the Pharaoh and the Egyptian people to the poetic content of Jacob’s blessings for his sons. As far as conclusions go, the book ends, but there is not exactly a sense of denouement: Jacob dies, and then Joseph dies; this part of the story is at an end, but there are so very many promises unfulfilled. Indeed, the ending is something of a cliff-hanger for the attentive reader, who will have in the back of his or her head Yahweh’s promises to Abraham—both that his offspring would inherit Canaan and that first they would be slaves in a different nation. There are other promises, too: of the “offspring” (or “seed”) of the woman who will crush the serpent’s head, of future kingship in Judah’s line, of blessings not only to Abraham’s family but also to the nations.

There are a few passages that highlight the God at work throughout the book as this first section of the Torah comes to a close. Jacob, blessing Joseph’s sons, speaks of Yahweh: “The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, / the God who has been my shepherd all my life long to this day, / the angel who has redeemed me from all evil…” Jacob began his journey speaking of God wholly as his father’s God, surprised to find him still present far from his family’s worship. He ended his journey aware that the God of his fathers had watched over him from Canaan to Padan Aram and back again, and then on the trek down into Egypt. Yahweh was no longer only his father’s and grandfather’s God, but his God.1

Finally, of course, one cannot—or at least, ought not!—pass over these chapters without stopping to read Jacob’s blessing on Judah very carefully:

Judah is a lion’s cub;
from the prey, my son, you have gone up.
He stooped down; he crouched as a lion
and as a lioness; who dares rouse him?
The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until tribute comes to him;
and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.
Binding his foal to the vine
and his donkey’s colt to the choice vine,
he has washed his garments in wine
and his vesture in the blood of grapes.
His eyes are darker than wine,
and his teeth whiter than milk.
(Genesis 49:9–12)

This language is evocative in its own right, but how it grows in power as one considers the rest of the Scriptures! The glimpses of fulfillment that come in David and Solomon—too quickly shattered by their fallenness and foibles, and then wrecked almost entirely in the kings that followed in their wake—only make the longing for the real king that much stronger. And right here is the font of so much imagery throughout the rest of the scriptures, both of messianic hope and fearful judgment. It is hard to read of garments washed in wine and in the blood of grapes without thinking of sin staining Christ on our behalf and the pure white garments he has given us instead.

If Genesis ends with the conclusion unwritten, bidding us look forward into Exodus to see what will come next, this particular prophecy still bids us look forward to see what will come next. Jesus has filled it up with meaning, and the Revelation gives us a glimpse of how he will fill it up finally—but that ultimate reality of “the obedience of the peoples” awaits our proclamation of the gospel to the ends of the earth and his coming again to reign in glory. Genesis looks forward; and so do we.

Maranatha. Lord, come soon.

  1. I believe this is also this very first time that the image of God-as-shepherd appears in the Bible. The way the Pentateuch in general and Genesis specifically establishes the baseline for the rest of the Scriptures is nothing short of amazing: this kind of internal unity and consistency is hard to come by from a single author—still less the dozens who authored the Bible. 

Be Teachable. Jesus is Coming Back.

I am writing up reflections on my devotions every day for six weeks. This is one of those posts.

Cease to hear instruction, my son,
and you will stray from the words of knowledge.
—Proverbs 19:27

This admonition from Proverbs 19 seems to me to be at the heart of many young people’s struggles with their parents, their teachers, and their churches. By “young,” I mean “under the age of 30,” so I’m in that list, too, as are most of my closest friends. This is a perennial struggle, and the reason every generation ends up relearning the same lessons its parents (or their parents; things tend to go in cycles) already learned. Simply put: young people (I include myself) are not particularly good at listening. It doesn’t matter how smart I am, how widely I read, or how well-educated I am; if I refuse to be instructed, I will wander away from truth.

I have, sadly, seen this born out in others’ lives, and it was a chastening experience. I have seen smart young people who love God walk deeper and deeper into folly simply because they will not be corrected. There are few things more dangerous to our spiritual health, and therefore few things more foolish, than refusing to listen to the counsel of those who have gone before you. Age does not always equal wisdom, and experience does not always make one right… but they do give one a much better shot, especially when coupled with diligent pursuit of God and holiness. Perhaps my cohort ought to take James’ admonition to heart: “let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger…”

Matthew 24, as one of the central prophetic texts in the New Testament regarding Jesus’ return, is of course hotly debated. Those debates, while interesting,1 can sometimes distract us from the point of the passage. Matthew spent a substantial part of his book on this section, and it comes at an interesting point in the narrative. Jesus’ increasingly public embrace of his role as the Messiah has culminated with his smashing condemnation of the spiritually blind religious leaders of his day (in chapter 23), and this prophetic section (chapters 24–25) is folloewd immediately by the plot to kill Jesus, the Passover, and the Passion narrative. So why the sudden pause on prophecy? It seems almost a detour, but if we assume Matthew was a competent author who knew what he was doing, he had a reason for turning to the only extended prophetic section in the book.

First, this future-telling cements Jesus’ role as prophet. Given the role that prophets played in Israel’s history and Matthew’s portrayal of Jesus as the fulfillment of each Jewish archetype (prophet, priest, and king), this makes sense. Moreover, the placement in the text makes sense here, as well: just as the prophets condemned religious blindness and empty ritual in their day and foretold God’s future works, here Jesus does exactly the same.

Second, this extended narrative provides a cap to Jesus’ teaching in the book. He has covered ethics (especially in the Sermon on the Mount), outlined a theology of the coming kingdom (mostly through parables), and now explains in greater detail what the coming of that kingdom will be like. From here on out, the book turns almost entirely to pure narrative, with no more extended teaching sections. Jesus, Matthew shows us, cared about the state of his followers after his death, resurrection, and ascension. He gave them (us) an idea of what to expect—not the nitty gritty details we all might like,2 but the big picture that we need. Jesus will come again, after his followers suffer trials and tribulations so fierce that many will be tempted to (and indeed many will) fall away. Believers must endure, and hold fast to their faith in him, and be ready. He will come when we could not predict, and he will come indeed.

A final thought: if our anticipation of Jesus’ return—with its attendant end to wickedness and suffering and sorrow—is great, how much more so is his?

Lord, haste the day.

  1. Complete futurism or partial preterism? Pre-, mid-, or post-tribulation return of Christ? Pre-, post-, or amillennialism? You get the idea. Fun discussions to be had. 
  2. Be honest: how many of you know that guy who is always talking about the End Times?

    And, for that matter, how many of you are that guy? 

One Day, Hopefully Soon

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.

  1. Not Abraham yet. That’s still a ways out. 
  2. Has it ever struck you as slightly curious that this old woman was so attractive that Abram kept worrying about her getting taken away from him— apparently rightly given that she gets taken as a concubine twice? 

When you hear that we look for a kingdom, you rashly suppose that we mean something merely human. But we speak of a kingdom with God, as is clear from our confessing Christ when you bring us to trial, though we know that death is the penalty for this confession. For if we looked for a human kingdom we would deny it in order to save our lives, and would try to remain in hiding in order to obtain the things we look for. But since we do not place our hopes on the present [order], we are not troubled by being put to death, since we will have to die somehow in any case.

—Justin Martyr, First Apology

Just get along and work together

A friend recently posted as her facebook status a sentiment familiar to us all:

[I hate] politics. Why can’t we all just get along and work together? Today, I’m thanking God that this place is not my home.

“We are foreigners and strangers in your sight, as were all our ancestors. Our days on earth are like a shadow, without hope.” 1 Chronicles 29:15

I’m with her on the majority of that status. That first bit, though? I understand the sentiment; I think we all feel that desire for peaceable cooperation in love, and we all look forward to the day when our many differences no longer divide us, when our unity in Christ really does supersede all else and our disagreements fall away.

There’s are many reasons we can’t all just get along and work together, though. Read on, intrepid explorer →

If you knew Jesus were coming back on Friday…

“If you knew Jesus was coming back at the end of this week, how would you live your life? Okay, so, why aren’t you living your life like that? He might come back at the end of this week!”

I’d ask you to raise your hands if you’ve heard a variation on this theme from a pulpit in your lifetime, but I’m blogging, so I couldn’t see your hands. It doesn’t matter: they’d all be up. We’ve all heard a variation on this theme. It’s a good theme, in a way: the people who preach this way usually have a strong sense of the urgency of the Great Commission and a real grasp on the doctrine of Christ’s imminent return – both good things. But as with many good things, they can become bad things when carried too far, or carried thoughtlessly without regard to other good things. Read on, intrepid explorer →

Short, interpretively challenging, or both

One of the more interesting aspects of my life right now is leading a small community group for our church. Or, well, not so small – though attendance varies week to week according to people’s life circumstances, we have close to 20 regulars. We’ve been working through what I originally called “The Epistles Less Traveled,” getting our heads and hearts around portions of the New Testament most believers just don’t spend much time on. Our journey so far has taken us on an interesting trip. Read on, intrepid explorer →