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Unfolding Eschatology

Dear Church Family,

On Sunday mornings at 9:15-10:15 am in the sanctuary, we have Sunday school for all ages. We are using a video series called “He Gave Us Prophets,” combined with teaching and discussion, in order to better understand, interpret, and apply the prophets of the Old Testament. If you’re interested in reviewing the video lessons that we are using for this class, you may find them online here: https://thirdmill.org/seminary/course.asp/vs/HGP. Also, if you’re interested in reviewing the summaries that I’ve been writing in these weekly emails, you may find those on the HCPCA church website here: https://www.hillcountrypca.org/pastors-blog/category/he-gave-us-prophets.

Continuing with these reviews, here is a summary of some of the things that we learned and covered in our most recent Sunday school class.

Overview of Lesson #8 – Unfolding Eschatology

Eschatology may be simply defined as “the study of last things or end times.” When most Christians think about eschatology, they think about the future in general and specifically, the return of Christ. However, when we examine the Scriptures, a very different – and broader – definition arises. In this lesson, we focused on four broad chronological phases of how the Bible talks about eschatology or the end times.

  1. Mosaic Eschatology

Mosaic eschatology refers to the view of the end times as found in the first five books of the Bible written by Moses. As we learned in lesson 4, God revealed through Moses that if the people continued to disobey Him, there would be repeated, seven-fold increases of His judgment which would ultimately culminate in exile (Leviticus 26:14-39).

Additionally, as the people of Israel prepared to enter in the Promised Land, the Lord spoke through Moses to warn them about the consequences of their disobedience and idolatry (Deuteronomy 4:25-26). He warned them that He would scatter them and send them into exile (Deuteronomy 4:27-28). But, in the “latter days” the God’s people will seek and return to the Lord and listen to His voice (Deuteronomy 4:29-30).

  1. Early Prophetic Eschatology

Early prophetic eschatology refers to the view of the ends times as found in the writings of the Old Testament prophets up until the time of Daniel. The writing prophets of this time depended upon the writings of Moses to inform their thinking and writing about eschatology. They continued to reiterate the Lord’s threats of judgment should they disobey, as well as promises of blessing for their obedience. The threat of exile, along with the future promise of return to the land were their constant themes.

While leaning heavily on the Mosaic writings, the prophets also added three particular emphases regarding God’s promises for the future. First, kingship played an important role: God promised to judge disobedient kings and remove them from the throne (Isaiah 39:5-7), while also promising to one day raise up a future king to the throne of David who would be faithful to the Lord (Jeremiah 23:5-6). Second, the prophets emphasized the central role of the Temple in the worship of God’s people: God foretold that the Temple would be destroyed when the people were carried off into exile (Jeremiah 7:4), while also promising that the Temple would be rebuilt during the restoration and return from exile (Ezekiel 40-48). Third, the prophets foretold of a time in the “latter days” when God would bring in and save people from the Gentile nations (Isaiah 2:2-3; 9:1).

  1. Later Prophetic Eschatology

One of the key insights from this timeframe of the writing prophets is found in the book of Daniel. In 605 BC, Jeremiah had declared that the Lord would send the people of Israel into exile for seventy years (Jeremiah 25:11-12), but Jeremiah also promised that that the Lord promised to bring His people back from exile at the end of those seventy years (Jeremiah 29:10-11).

While exiled in Babylon (around 538 B.C.), Daniel recounts how he was reading in the Scriptures of the word of the Lord that was given to Jeremiah about the seventy years of exile (Daniel 9:2). While this was certainly good news for Daniel, he immediately began to mourn and plead for mercy from the Lord (Daniel 9:3-19) because he recognized that God’s people had not repented of their sins and returned to the Lord (Daniel 9:13-14).

In response to Daniel’s prayers, the Lord dispatched the angel Gabriel to deliver a message to him (Daniel 9:20-23). Gabriel told Daniel that the duration of the exile of God’s people would be multiplied by seven: “Seventy weeks [or ‘seventy sevens’] have been decreed for your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy place” (Daniel 9:24). This judgment was in keeping with what God had promised through Moses to do: “If also after these things you do not obey Me, then I will punish you seven times more for your sins” (Leviticus 26:18).

As the Old Testament comes to a close, we find that the prophets looked forward to this time of a return from exile when the Lord would come to His temple and bring blessing to His people (Malachi 3:1). And, of course, we know that Jesus, the Son of God, was the One who fulfilled this prophecy (John 1:29-34; 2:19-21).

  1. New Testament Eschatology

The eschatology of the New Testament may be defined as “inaugurated eschatology,” which means that the New Testament explains how Jesus’ first coming marked the beginning of the last things or end times. When we come to the New Testament and the final revelation through Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:1-2), we find that Jesus brings immediate judgment and blessing to God’s people as was foretold through the prophets (Luke 3:16-17). And, the New Testament writers interpret the prophetic predictions of the “latter days” in the Old Testament as being inaugurated at the coming of Christ (Acts 2:14-21; James 5:3; 1 Peter 1:3-5; 2 Peter 3:1-4).

Here, we will quote directly from lesson 8 of our video lesson:

“The New Testament perspective on eschatology taught by Jesus and his disciples has come to be known as inaugurated eschatology. This inaugurated eschatology has been described in many ways, but it helps to view it as a three-fold structure. First, the coming of Christ was the inauguration of the kingdom. Christ’s life, death, resurrection, ascension, Pentecost, and the ministries of the apostles formed the foundation, or the beginning, of the eschaton. The second stage of the restoration, according to the New Testament, may be called the continuation of the kingdom. This is the time in which we live today — after the first coming of Christ, but before his second coming. The third stage of the restoration may be described as the consummation of the kingdom. When Christ returns, he will bring the full measure of the restoration promised so long ago by the prophets. The whole of the New Testament fits within this basic structure of inaugurated eschatology.”

Conclusion

As we have been studying the prophetic writings of the Old Testament, it is important to keep in mind that we must always interpret and apply these texts through the lens that is given to us in the New Testament. The judgments and blessings spoken of by the Lord through the prophets are fulfilled and applied in three phases: at the first coming of Christ, in these “latter days” in which we live, and finally at Christ’s return.

In our final lesson this coming Sunday, we will review what we have learned in these lessons and then illustrate how to put these interpret principles into practice by examining the 14th chapter of Zechariah.

The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch