The Eschatological Push in Scripture
Let us turn our attention to another prominent theme in Scripture - eschatology. This theme, along with the themes of kingdom and covenant, has been posited as the most overarching theme of Scripture by various Christian authors. We will define the scope of our assessment of the eschatological theme, and then look at examples through the Pentateuch, Prophets, Gospels and Acts, and Epistles.
Eschatology is, of course, the study of future events / last things. There are a number of associated terms and ideas that intersect and overlap with eschatology and each other. For example, the idea of the “last days” is visible throughout Old and New Testaments, particularly in the Prophets. If one was to trace and study all the occurrences of that term, they would cross paths with a significant portion of Scripture relating to eschatology. However, they would also miss out on sections of Scripture with major eschatological ties that don’t use that term. Another idea is that of new creation. This idea, which ties into the Kingdom theme of Scripture, would require an analysis of components present in the first three chapters of Genesis and tracing those components’ recurrences through the Bible. Unfortunately, that task necessitates its own project and is beyond what I hope to discuss here. The reason this article is titled “Eschatological Push” rather than “Eschatological Theme” is that if I were to use the latter, I would be compelled to include the various terms and ideas associated, such as those already mentioned – “last days” and “new creation”; and that would be a daunting endeavor indeed. Rather, my goal is to keep this discussion more generic; aiming to show the recurring pulse in Scripture concerning events to come.
Let us look at some key passages with an eschatological push in the Pentateuch,
“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” - Genesis 3:15
Here, in God’s curse on the serpent, we hear of the promised descendent of Eve who would ultimately crush the serpent, crush Satan. The inaugurated fulfillment of this promise comes to pass in Jesus’ death and resurrection, and its consummated fulfillment comes to pass at the Second Coming. From the first few chapters in Genesis, we already see a future facing hope and expectation.
We see another eschatological push at the end of Genesis,
“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.” – Genesis 49:10
Here we see referenced the impending king who would come through the line of Judah. Its more immediate fulfillment eventually comes with the Davidic kings and its ultimate fulfillment in the greatest Davidic king and ultimate king of God’s people – Jesus Christ. However, before Israel would see the fulfillment of this idea, she would have to go through hundreds of years of slavery, wilderness wanderings, and the period of the Judges.
In the book of Deuteronomy, we see another push,
When you father children and children's children, and have grown old in the land, if you act corruptly by making a carved image in the form of anything, and by doing what is evil in the sight of the Lord your God, so as to provoke him to anger, I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that you will soon utterly perish from the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess. You will not live long in it, but will be utterly destroyed. And the Lord will scatter you among the peoples, and you will be left few in number among the nations where the Lord will drive you. And there you will serve gods of wood and stone, the work of human hands, that neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell. But from there you will seek the Lord your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul. When you are in tribulation, and all these things come upon you in the latter days, you will return to the Lord your God and obey his voice. – Deuteronomy 4:25-30
Amazingly, we see here in Deuteronomy, before the Israelites had even entered the promised land, a foretelling of what would eventually befall them. It took hundreds of years, but the Israelites did eventually get destroyed out of the land due to provoking God via sin, were scattered, and to some degree returned to the Lord and returned to the land.
In the time leading up to the Israelite’s exile from the promised land, and during that exile, we enter the period of the writings of the Prophets. The books in the Prophets contain many eschatologically focused verses and the idea of the “last days” is quite prominent. Isaiah contains some well-known references to the future,
It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. – Isaiah 2:2-4
Here we see prophesied a time of great peace with no need for weapons of war; a time when all the nations trek to the “house of the Lord”. The final fulfillment of this is still future; yet, does not such a reality excite our hearts!
The book of Ezekiel contains its own bevy of eschatological pushes,
Therefore, son of man, prophesy, and say to Gog, Thus says the Lord God: On that day when my people Israel are dwelling securely, will you not know it? You will come from your place out of the uttermost parts of the north, you and many peoples with you, all of them riding on horses, a great host, a mighty army. You will come up against my people Israel, like a cloud covering the land. In the latter days I will bring you against my land, that the nations may know me, when through you, O Gog, I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. – Ezekiel 38:14-16
In this section of Scripture, we read of a prophesied time of Israel’s security when Gog is hostile to God’s people; and, yet, God alludes to his victory and subsequent vindication over this opposing nation. This nation of Gog is also referenced in Revelation 20 in describing the defeat of Satan. Given that in the period of the Prophets, the nations of Israel and Judah are either in spiritual and physical decline or exiled abroad, we shouldn’t be surprised to see an eschatological drive towards an optimistic future.
We see this eschatological push continue in the Gospels and Acts, especially in Jesus’ own ministry,
Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment. – John 5:25-29
The eschatological passages in the New Testament are often described with an “already – not yet” paradigm or an “already inaugurated, not yet consummated” dichotomy. Many verses describing future events or realities are often said to be coming yet at the same time already present. The idea being, the fulfillment of eschatological promises has already started but isn’t yet complete. We see such a description in the above verses. Jesus references an hour coming, yet already present. Scripture also often connects individual, future eternal destiny with how people respond to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
“For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” – John 6:40
“Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.” – Acts 3:19-21
Post resurrection and ascension of Jesus, in the inauguration of the church age and onwards, does the eschatological push falter? No. Rather, it persists in the Epistles and the rest of the New Testament. The following passages are a sampling of the continued future events and last days push.
“Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.” – 1 Corinthians 10:11
“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” – Hebrews 1:1-2
“Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days.” – James 5:3
“Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour.” – 1 John 2:18
The eschatological push continues into the very last book of the Bible. Notice the overt motif of new creation.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. – Revelation 21:1-4
My goal in this discussion has been to show the eschatological push that is present throughout Scripture. Repeatedly, from the first book of the Bible to the last, we see a recurring expectation for future events. Perhaps we’ll dive into those overlapping and intersecting concepts of new creation and the “last days” more fully in the future. There is hardly a time in this grand story wherein God’s people weren’t looking forward to some future, promised reality. Even today, we patiently wait for the second coming of Jesus and thedawning of the new creation.