Too often we don’t equate the gospel and justification with the theme of eschatology. These themes can get separated in our minds, and each individual doctrine suffers for the disconnect, and our souls suffer from malnourishment. The fact is that these themes are inseparable—the death and resurrection of Christ mark the inbreaking of the eschatological age and the inauguration of the new creation.
Yesterday I read what may be the best summary of these interwoven themes in the back of Thomas Schreiner’s new commentary on Galatians (Zondervan, 2010), pages 394–395.
Notice how he draws the themes together:
Justification is an eschatological verdict that has been declared in advance of the last day. This is not to say that the verdict announced now only refers to a future reality. Believers are already justified, and yet at the same time they await the final declaration on the day of judgment when the verdict that God has already announced becomes public (5:5).
In the same way, the cross of Jesus Christ has launched believers into the age to come, even though they live in the present evil age (1:4). In other words, the new exodus promised in the OT has become a reality through Jesus as the crucified and risen Lord (Isa 40:3–11; 42:16; 43:2, 5–7, 16–19; 48:20-21; 49:8–11; 51:10–11).
The resurrection in Jewish thought also signals the end of the old evil age and the coming of the new age of peace and plenty (cf. Isa 26:19; Ezek 37:1–14; Dan 12:2–3).
The resurrection is not a prominent theme in Galatians, and yet it appears in the first verse of the letter (1:1), signifying that the age to come has invaded the present age. The old evil cosmos has lost its hold over believers through the cross of Jesus Christ (6:14). Therefore, believers now belong to the new creation (6:15). The new creation has not been consummated (Isa 65:17; 66:22), but it has been inaugurated through the work of Jesus Christ. The gift of the Holy Spirit represents the arrival of the new creation (Isa 32:15; 44:3; Ezek 11:18–19; 36:26–27; Joel 2:28). The Spirit is a gift of the last days, and his presence and indwelling among the Galatians shows that the final days have begun.
Eschatological contrasts dominate Galatians, so that we have a contrast between the old age of the flesh and the new age of the Spirit. The flesh in Paul represents the old age and who human beings are in Adam, whereas the Spirit signifies the inbreaking of the age to come.
We see the same eschatological contrast between the law and the gospel. The Mosaic law belongs to the former era and believers are no longer under the law (see esp. 3:15–4:7). To be under the law is to be enslaved to the power of sin (3:10, 22, 23, 25; 4:3, 21–31; 5:18). Such slavery belongs to the former age. Now that the gospel of Christ (a fulfillment of the promise of the new exodus! Isa 40:9; 52:7) is proclaimed, the age of the law is obsolete. Believers live in the era of the cross, the resurrection, and the gift of the Spirit.
Second Corinthians 5:17 rightly summarizes Galatians: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has gone; the new has come!”
A summary quote like this one that weaves together so many key themes in Galatians and throughout the Old and New Testaments is worth printing out and studying carefully and meditating over devotionally.
(And his commentary is certainly worth the coin, in case you’re wondering.)
One thought on “The Gospel and Eschatology”
Interestingly enough Jesus says at lest twice and possibly three times in Jn.14, “I am coming to you.” Thus, the heart of the age to come is in the process of daily, moment by moment, coming to us, to every one of us who truly believes. The future age is continually and constantly and consistently breaking into this present age in which we live and tinging it with the glory of the Lord’s future presence now. When I began praying for the Third Great Awakening in the Spring of 1973, I did not then realize that it would, indeed, involve praying for the whole earth and every last soul on it to be truly savingly converted and that by persuasion of the truth in the most compassionate manner humanly and divinely possible and that for a 1000 generations, perhaps involving mankind on a million, billion planets. The Puritan John Own with his particular redemptionist motif suggests this possibility with the infinite value of the atonement. Even so we must allow for the therapeutic paradox providing the empowering supernaturalism that restores man’s sense of responsibility and sole dependence upon God for true deliverance. The multitude in Heaven is a number no man can number…even if he counted for all eternity?? The statement is nonsensical humor, proving that God uses the cream of language even colloquialisms and ironies to communicate with human beings. Imagine what that does to the idiots who think the Bible is a primitive book written for primitives, not being able to perceive the shrewdest, subtlest intellectualism that is utterly beyond the minds of people to perceive and discern without Divine Help to that end.