Resurrection and Eschatology

Gordon Fee, God’s Empowering Presence (Hendrickson, 1994), pages 803 and 805:

Probably the one feature that distances the New Testament church the most from its contemporary counterpart is its thoroughly eschatological perspective of all of life. In contrast to most of us, eschatology—a unique understanding of the time of the End—conditioned the early believers’ existence in every way.

The first clue to this outlook came from Jesus’ own proclamation of the kingdom—as a present reality in his ministry, although still a future event. But it was the resurrection of Christ and the gift of the promised (eschatological) Spirit that completely altered the primitive church’s perspective, both about Jesus and about themselves. In place of the totally future eschatology of their Jewish roots, with its hope of a coming Messiah and the resurrection of the dead, the early church recognized that the future had already been set in motion.

The resurrection of Christ marked the beginning of the End, the turning of the ages. However, the End had only begun; they still awaited the final event, the (now second) coming of their Messiah Jesus, at which time they too would experience the resurrection/transformation of the body. They lived “between the times”; already the future had begun, not yet had it been consummated. From the New Testament perspective the whole Christian existence—and theology—has this eschatological “tension” as its basic framework.

A little later Fee focuses his attention on the eschatological significance of the resurrection.

The resurrection of the dead is for Paul the final event on God’s eschatological calendar, the unmistakable evidence that the End has fully arrived. For Paul the resurrection has already taken place when Christ was raised from the dead, this setting in motion the final doom of death and thereby guaranteeing our resurrection. Christ’s resurrection makes ours both inevitable and necessary—inevitable, because his is the first fruits which sets the whole process in motion; necessary, because death is God’s enemy as well as ours, and our resurrection spells the end to the final enemy of the living God who gives life to all who live (1 Cor 15:20–28). Believers therefore live “between the times” with regard to the two resurrections. We have already been “raised with Christ,” which guarantees our future bodily resurrection (Rom 6:4–5; 8:10–11).

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