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What do you think when you hear the word eschatology? If you are like many Christians, you think immediately of the second advent of Christ. But do you ever think of the birth of Christ? His first advent? Depending on the churches you have attended, you may think of the rapture and the great tribulation. But do you ever think of the day of Pentecost? You may think of the book of Revelation. But what about Genesis? Exodus? Leviticus?

The reason that most of us think about the return of Jesus rather than His birth when we think about eschatology is that eschatology is the doctrine of the last things. The word itself is formed from a combination of two Greek words: eschatos (meaning “last”) and logos (meaning “word” or “discourse”). When we put the two together, we have the word eschatology—a word or discourse concerning that which is last.

Because of this, systematic theologians have traditionally defined eschatology as that part of Christian doctrine dealing with “last things” in terms of individuals and in terms of world history. Individual eschatology deals with the “last things” for each individual human being. In other words, it deals with topics such as death and the intermediate state (the state between death and the resurrection of the body). General eschatology, on the other hand, deals with the “last things” in world history—the return of Christ, the general resurrection, the final judgment, heaven, and hell.

It is important to understand this definition of eschatology, but I would like to suggest that it is also impor­tant to understand eschatology in a much broader sense. The last things don’t merely happen out of the blue. All the events covered under the traditional heading of eschatology concern God’s purposes and goals, and all of God’s purposes and goals are related to the person and work of Jesus Christ. God’s purposes and goals are purposes and goals that God has had from all eternity. This means that those purposes and goals were purposes and goals when God created the heavens and the earth. It also means that everything God is doing from creation onward has been directed toward the accomplishment of those purposes and goals. When we think about this, we can begin to see how all of Scripture is eschatological.

Eschatology is about Jesus and what the whole Bible says about Him and His work.

One way that we can see this is to consider how forward looking all of Scripture is. Christian eschatology is rooted in the promises of God, and promises are inherently forward looking, awaiting fulfillment in the future. The promises of God begin in the earliest chapters of the Bible. After Adam and Eve are tempted by the serpent and fall into sin, God says to the serpent, “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” (Gen. 3:15). God promises here that He will graciously change the hearts of fallen people (putting enmity with the serpent in them to replace their enmity with God). He will judge and redeem, and this will be accomplished through the seed of the woman. This is the first of many promises that God makes concerning His redemptive purpose. It looks toward something that God is going to do in the future. In other words, it is eschatological.

Throughout the Old Testament, everything that God is doing with His people is related in one way or another to the accomplishment of His goals for creation and for humanity. We see this not only in God’s first promise but also in the promises that God makes when He establishes the Noahic covenant (Gen. 6–9), the Abrahamic covenant (Gen. 12; 15; 17), the Mosaic covenant (Ex. 19–24), and the Davidic covenant (2 Sam. 7). In addition, God makes promises concerning a new covenant that He will make with His people (Jer. 31). This new covenant promise includes promises that God will pour out His Spirit on His people (e.g., Joel 2). All the promises of God are forward looking in one way or another, and all these promises find their fulfillment in Christ (2 Cor. 1:20).

God’s eschatological goals and purposes are also seen in the various types and shadows that point forward to Christ. The entire sacrificial system centered on the tabernacle and temple, for example, points forward to Christ. He is the true High Priest (Heb. 4:14). He is the true atoning sacrifice, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29). He is the true temple, where God dwells with His people (John 2:19–21; see John 1:14). Not only were the Old Testament priests types of Christ, but so too were the Davidic kings. As the Son of David (Matt. 1:1), Christ has now been seated at the right hand of God and given the promised kingdom (Eph. 1:20; see Dan. 7:13–14; Acts 2:32–36). As the promised prophet like Moses (Deut. 18:15–18), Christ knew that He was to die in Jerusalem (Luke 13:33). Jesus is the second Adam (1 Cor. 15:45) and the Suffering Servant (Acts 8:32–35). These Old Testament types and shadows are all eschatological in that they are forward looking. They were means by which the people of the Old Testament could understand something about the coming Messiah.

Additionally, every major theme of Scripture that begins to be revealed in the early chapters of Genesis has an eschatological orientation. All these major themes are introduced in the early chapters of Genesis and find their consummation in the last chapters of Revelation. Between Genesis and Revelation, each of these themes is developed as God providentially guides everything toward the fulfillment of His eschatological goals. Let’s consider just a few of these themes.

God, of course, is more than a mere theme, but God is central to the storyline of Scripture. God is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. He is the One who decrees the end (eschatology) from the beginning. He is the One who providentially directs history toward His decreed ends. God creates the heavens and the earth for an intended purpose. That goal is fully achieved in the new creation, the new heavens and earth described in the last chapters of Revelation. As already mentioned, the covenant theme begins in Genesis and remains eschatologically oriented throughout Scripture. The kingdom theme points forward to the coming Messiah, the One who is born the King of the Jews. The Sabbath theme of Genesis points forward to the eschatological Sabbath described in Hebrews (see ch. 4). The theme of conflict between God and the serpent, introduced in Genesis 3, leads to a promise of judgment that points forward to the casting of Satan into the lake of fire. The death that was introduced into the world as a result of sin is dealt with in the eschatological resurrection. The entire work of redemption that begins with a promise of grace in Genesis 3 points forward to the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, who died for our sins and was raised for our justification. When we look at all these biblical themes, we can understand better how Jesus could begin with Moses and all the prophets and tell the two disciples on the road to Emmaus how all the Scriptures are about Him (Luke 24:27).

When we look at eschatology from this larger biblical perspective, we can understand how the first advent of Christ is just as much an eschatological event as His second advent. When the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, all the eschatological expectations that God’s people had for thousands of years began to be fulfilled. This is why Matthew says again and again concerning Jesus that something happened to fulfill what was spoken by the prophets (e.g., Matt. 2:15, 23; 4:14; Mark 14:49). It is why Mark begins his gospel by pointing back to what was spoken by Isaiah the prophet (Mark 1:1–3). It is why, when Jesus came to Nazareth and read the promises of Isaiah 61 in the synagogue, He concluded by saying, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21).

The first coming of Jesus Christ inaugurated the long-awaited last days promised throughout the Old Testament (Heb. 1:2; 9:26; 1 Peter 1:20). He is the Son of Man who ascended to the Ancient of Days and received the promised kingdom that will not be destroyed (Dan. 7:13–14). He is now the Mediator of the promised eschatological new covenant (Heb. 9:15). He has fulfilled God’s promise to pour out His Spirit on His people (Acts 2:17). He is the firstfruits of the eschatological resurrection (1 Cor. 15:20–22). On the last day, He will come again with glory (1 Thess. 4:13–18).

In short, if we want to understand eschatology, we cannot think about it as merely figuring out the order of a series of events. We have to understand that eschatology is about Jesus and what the whole Bible says about Him and His work.

Longing for the Future

Death and the Intermediate State

Keep Reading Last Things

From the December 2022 Issue
Dec 2022 Issue