Eschatology is a big word. Just hearing the word gives some headaches. Others are inclined to tune out lofty verbiage. Its meaning is at the same time both simple and profound. Eschatology is "the study of last things." As we pointed out in a previous post, while eschatology is a study of the end, eschatology in the Bible begins in the very first verse, "In the beginning."
Why is this a big deal? Because if the New Heavens and New Earth have something to do with the Garden of Eden, then the way we think about the Garden and the creation story must account for the New Heaven and New Earth. In fact, everything between the Garden and the New Heaven and New Earth must take into account that what happens at the end of the Bible impacts all of the in-between.
Vos points out in "The Pauline Eschatology" that, from the beginning, all of redemptive history (the history we find recorded in the Bible) has been moving toward the end of all things as if the end of all things is the goal (emphasis is mine).
"Eschatology is the 'doctrine of the last things.' It deals with the teaching or belief, that the world-movement, religiously considered, tends towards a definite final goal, beyond which a new order of affairs will be established, frequently with the further implication, that this new order of affairs will not be subject to any further change, but will partake of the static character of the eternal." - Geerhardus Vos (Pauline Eschatology, p. 1)
Vos then wonders whether eschatology as the Bible describes it "is a purely chronological designation, or whether there enters into it likewise the idea of 'eventuation', 'issue of a foregoing process'." After giving numerous examples, Vos concludes that eschatology, which is most visibly seen in the Bible's use of the phrase "end of days" or "last days", indeed is the "idea of progression toward a fixed end..." (PE, pp. 1-2)
From Genesis to Exodus to Samuel to Daniel to Malachi, eschatology is a part of the written Word, moving toward the fixed end, the New Heaven and New Earth. It is a "progression." Even if the hints are faint, what is coming in the future (fueled by expectations set in Genesis 3:15) at the very least gives much hope when things look really bad.
God's promises given along the way keep the idea of the last days from being relegated to some vauge or "indefinite" point in a nebulous future (in spite of what some liberal theologians have claimed about Jewish theology of the Old Testament).
For Vos, eschatology "does not signify some indefinitely subsequent point or period or complication of events. The note of epochal finality is never missing in it. This should, however, not be confounded with the idea of chronological fixity. It is peculiar to the Old Testament that it makes this "acherith" (final or last days) a sort of movable complex, capable of being pushed forward along the line of prophetic vision." (PE, p. 5)
Seems like a theological mouthful, but it is simply this: "the last days" is not a fixed point at the end of time, but is always present and always moving toward the end of time. This "prophetic vision" term used by Vos is none other than a designation not only for the revelation handed down to Israel's prophets, but of the entire Bible. All of inspired revelation is intersecting with the "last days" in some form, whether it is anticipating the last days or describing it.
In fact, it is the progressive unfolding of revelation from Job to Moses to Samuel to David to Isaiah to Daniel that is carrying along the study of the last days and moving it along the Bible's unfolding historical and chronological trajectory. Because all of the Bible is the development and progression of an unfolding story that points to a reality in the future -- Christ, his work, his reign, and his people -- all of revelation (even those parts that are considered narrative literature, like Exodus or Samuel or Kings) is "prophetic".
Everything that is written down and everything that happens in the Bible is prophetically speaking of, or moving toward, or anticipating what is coming at the end: history's full and final realization in Jesus. Even as the events unfold God, through the writers, is narrating to us in the shadows: he is telling us what he is doing and will do in the coming Messiah.
This is why the Old Testament is thoroughly typological (another big word: shadows of the Old Testament are types of what is to come in the antitype, Jesus). The Old Testament is pre-Incarnate revelation which everywhere anticipates the Christ Event (the Second Person of the Godhead's humiliation in birth, life, ministry, death and exaltation in resurrection, ascension, and enthronement in time and space) and the eventual Consummation.
Further, Vos also sees the future pushing backward into the past and present, meaning the past and present are always eschatological in some fashion, just as revelation is: "The eschatological point of view is, of course, originally historical and dramatic; a new world can come only with the new age and therefore lies at first in the future. But the coming age has begun to be present with the death and resurrection of Christ. From this it follows that of the coming world likewise a present existence can be affirmed. Here, then, the scheme of two successive worlds makes place for the scheme of two coexisting worlds. Still further, it must be remembered that Christ has through His resurrection carried the center of this new world into heaven, where He reigns and whence He extends its influence and boundaries. The two coexisting worlds therefore broadly coincide with the spheres of heaven and earth." (Vos, Shorter Writings, p. 115; I would note that this is why it is important to note that Christ has carried into heaven a *physical* body. In bringing heaven and earth together, in taking this world into the heavenlies, there is a physical and "time-space" element now residing in the eternal heavenlies).
So what? For starters, the Old Testament isn't simply a collection of boring and not-so-boring stories. Or unrelated data points that have been collected as a record of a particular history. When I read about some woman driving a tent peg through a bad guy's brains or some Hebrew boys refusing to eat the bad guy's food I know there's something more. This history has something to do with the end goal and the end goal is actually affecting how the story unfolds. For example, in the case of the tent peg a foreshadowing of the "gruesomely grotesque" judgment on God's enemies; or better yet, a foreshadowing of the kind of judgment I will *not* experience because Someone Else has done so on my behalf. The last days have a vested interest in what happens to Sisera.
Second, God's an amazing story creator. He didn't just have men record history this way. He orchestrated history to be recorded this way. It's not an accident or incident of history that the birth of John the Baptist just so happens to look like the birth of Isaac (parents who are waaaayyyy too old to have kids). The later birth was set up by the previous. And God made it happen that way. God's sovereignty isn't some esoteric or transcendent reality with no bearing on the moment. All of history has been infused with his plan to glorify himself through Christ. He crafted history to be Christ's story, a story that culminates in the New Heaven and New Earth.
Last, we're in the midst of that story. The church is eschatological, a brief glimpse of the glorious end. Whether my life is mundane or dramatic, full of suffering or a season of relief, God has orchestrated my redemption and is orchestrating my affairs to move toward the end goal of glorifying Christ in the New Heaven and New Earth. My destiny is not my own. Christ's destiny has become my destiny, bought and paid for in his life, death, resurrection, and exaltation/ascension. That's some story.
God "working all things for our good and His glory" (Romans 8:28) isn't some impervious comfort phrase to throw around after the funeral or in the middle of a crisis. The promise is a summary description of the church's grand story. It is eschatological. I have confidence and comfort because I know life now, even if it doesn't look like it in any given moment, is being orchestrated to that grand "fixed end".
Don't fear the big word. Eschatology has everything to do with what is happening with you right now. We know this because Adam could say the same thing. Jael could say the same thing. Jonathan could say the same thing. Theophilus could say the same thing. Our salvation bears resemblance to the end because the end has always been involved; our new life in Christ is the "stuff" of the New Heaven and New Earth.