Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Biblical Theology: Eschatology

Here is my 300 word entry for my biblical theology notebook:

The goal of New Testament eschatology is no doubt new creation. This new creation presupposes that the current creation is not as God wants it to be. The current creation, not least humanity, is alienated from God. Humanity was created to have glory and honor in the creation (Ps. 8:5), but because of sin humanity does not currently experience this glory (Rom. 3:23; Heb. 2:8). So the telos of the creation, including that of humanity, is glorification and restoration. The image of God in humanity, currently marred, will finally be restored. Indeed it will be more than restored. It will be consummated, along with the creation.

If those in Christ will be glorified along with the creation, the enemies of God face judgment (e.g., Heb. 10:27). The sermon called Hebrews suggests that it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (10:31), and it has former believers in view. So we can hardly imagine what it would be like to face the Judgment outside the house of God. 1 Peter 4:17 says that the suffering Christians were then experiencing was the beginning of judgment, and it pondered how awful it will be for those who are not followers of Christ, given how bad it is for those who are God's people.

Most of the New Testament gives a unified sense of how the judgment will begin. Christ will first return from heaven with those in Christ who have been raised from the dead (1 Thess. 4:16). The resurrection of the righteous thus precedes the return of Christ. 1 Thessalonians suggests that those in Christ who are alive when Jesus returns will then be caught up to join him and the resurrected in the skies. Because Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:2-3 that believers will participate in the judgment (cf. also Matt. 19:28), we can infer that we meet Christ in the air only to return to the earth, not to go off to heaven.

There will also be a final judgment for all the living and the dead (e.g., Rev. 20:11-15). Most of the New Testament then pictures eternal life on a renewed and glorified earth. Since so much of the imagery of Revelation appears only in that book (e.g., the millennium), since Revelation is so highly symbolic, since it is so difficult to relate a literal interpretation of Revelation to the rest of the New Testament, it seems very likely that we should take most of its imagery as highly symbolic rather than literal.

Nowhere in the New Testament is a seven-year Tribulation explicitly mentioned. Much of the imagery of a man of lawlessness and a beast is rooted in the Roman Empire. Thus while it is possible that there will be a final persecution with major opposition to Christ by a key figure before his return, we will have to wait and see.

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