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).

God is Patient and Kind

At the end of one of his lectures, Gordon Fee recalled a time when he was writing his commentary on 1 Corinthians, especially the morning he arrived at the famous words in 13:4, “Love is patient and kind.”

I remember the morning when I came to this passage: “Love is patient, love is kind.” It’s actually a verb: “Love does patience.” Or better yet, the KJV: “love suffers long.” Patience is what you show when your computer doesn’t work. Long-suffering is what you show when people don’t work, and you’ve been around them a long, long time. That’s what it means to suffer long. And I looked at those words and then realized that Paul was here describing God’s character. Those are exactly the words he uses of God back in Romans 2. Then it dawned on me, the first (long-suffering) is the passive side of His love; the other (kindness) is the active side of His love. And then I started to cry for a long time. It took me a long time to return to my computer. What if God was not like this toward us?

New Testament Theology

In his biblical theology of the New Testament lectures Gordon Fee proposes a unifying principle that must include at least four items:

  1. The church as an eschatological community, who form the new covenant people of God.
  2. The eschatological framework of their existence and thinking.
  3. Their being constituted by God’s eschatological salvation effected through the death and resurrection of Christ.
  4. Their focus on Jesus as Messiah, Lord, Son of God.

Or to put in another way:

  • Foundation: A gracious and merciful God, who is full of love toward all.
  • Framework: Eschatological existence as already/not yet.
  • Focus: Jesus, the Son of God, who as God’s suffering servant Messiah effected eschatological salvation for humanity through his death and resurrection, and is now the exalted Lord and coming King.
  • Fruit: The church as an eschatological community, who, constituted by Christ’s death and the gift of the Spirit, and thus restored into God’s likeness, form His new covenant people.

Fee puts this together in a condensed summary:

Through the death and resurrection of his Son Jesus, our Lord, a gracious and loving God has effected eschatological salvation for his new covenant people, the church, who now, as they await Christ’s coming, live the life of the future by the power of the Spirit.