The Old Testament is about Eschatology (?) – Part 4

In G.K. Beale’s book A New Testament Biblical Theology, we learn a lot about an Already Not-Yet perspective on the Bible. If this means nothing to, click here to find out why it matters. We’ve just learned about Adam’s commission, now Beale’s embarks on the theme of the presence of the future in the Old Testament (or inaugurated eschatology or already not-yet . . . or . . . just read below 🙂 )

While Adam’s Goal comprised reaching a consummative eschatology—or, to live obediently a receive the reward of escalated blessing—, he surely pouched it by failing to guard the guardian and falling into sin. Beale jots, “Thus, in Eden there was a beginning establishment of a priest-king in a sinless world order who was to be faithful and obedient to God until that first creation was consummated” (89). However, the fall into sin placed a hazard on the path to eschatological blessing. Now, Adam (and us) must receive “restoration from sin” before “a consummation of an eternal new creation” (89).

What does this mean in English? Basically, according to Beale, Adam’s goal in life was to obey God and receive blessings of eternal life and sinless rest. However, Adam let the snake scramble into the garden and deceive his wife. This was bad. In fact, it was really bad. So the God cursed the whole world, Adam and Eve being the first cursed couple. For Adam, then, and anyone after him to receive the blessing of eternal life and rest from sin, he (and we) first need to be restored from our sinful and cursed nature. Only when this happens can Adam (and we) enter into God’s rest from sin and eternal life. What Adam lost was his “semieschatological” or “inaugurated eschatological” state that could been brought to “eschatological completion by God escalating the conditions and blessings of the prefill state into a permanent, indestructible creation (Beale, 89). Phew.

Beale, then, briefs us about the Old Testament’s repeated eschatological storyline “that have the appearance of commencing an end-time process that is never completed” (91). The way in which he demonstrates this eschatological storyline of the OT is through the concept of the “latter days” in Scripture.

THE LATTER DAYS IN THE OLD TESTAMENT

Beale discusses the phrase “the latter days” (In Daniel, its near equivalent(s)) in the context which it is found. These passages include Genesis 49:1, Numbers 24:14, Deuteronomy 4:30, 31:29, Hosea 3:5, Isaiah 2:2 (Isa 41:18–23 and 46:10 speak specifically about eschatology), Micah 4:1–4, Jeremiah 23:20, 30:24, 48:47, 49:49, Ezekiel 38:14–16, Daniel 2:28–29, 45, 10:14, and 12:2, 13.

What Beale takes from all these passages, after understanding them in context, is that “the phrase ‘latter days’ occurs at points throughout the OT to refer not to the mere indefinite future but rather to the culmination of history from the various writers’ perspectives” (114). At this culmination of history, “an irreversible radical break with a former period” (114) occurs. Thus, “I define these uses of ‘latter days’ to be overtly eschatological because all refer to a permanent and radical break with the preceding historical epoch” (114).

Let’s put meat to the skeleton and see just what it looks like to experience eschatological fulfillment (i.e. be in the last days). Beale lists at least ten items that make up the last days:

1. a final, unsurpassed and incomparable period of tribulation for God’s people by an end-time opponent who deceives and persecutes, in the face of which they will need wisdom not to compromise; afterward they are

2. delivered,

3. resurrected, and their kingdom reestablished;

4. at this future time, God will rule on earth

5. through a coming Davidic king who will defeat all opposition and reign in peace in a new creation over both

6. the nations and

7. restored Israel,

8. with whom God will make a new covenant, and

9. upon whom God will bestow the Spirit, and

10. among whom the temple will be rebuilt. (115)

These descriptions fill out the sketch of what the final form of eschatological fulfillment will look; of course, this template of fulfillment, according to Beale, happens throughout the OT story without ever quite being a final fulfillment. Thus, “The subsequent chapters of Genesis and, indeed, of the OT show repeated allusion to Gen. 1:28 and hope for such a figure, but no significant fulfillment occurs. It had to await another who would come after the formal close of the OT period of expectation” (115).

Therefore, “The focus of the expression ‘in the latter days’ refers to a period at the end of history, but it also includes secondarily what we may call ‘protoeschatological’ or apparent ‘semieschatological’ events (e.g. tribulation, return from exile) that occur at points in the OT epoch before the climactic world-ending happenings and are inextricably linked to and lead up to such final happenings” (115–116). In other words, the latter days make up both epochs in OT history and also the final Epoch inaugurated by Christ.

For this reason, Beale updates his definition of the OT storyline: The Old Testament is the story of God, who progressively reestablishes his eschatological new-creational kingdom out of chaos over a sinful people by his word and Spirit through promise, covenant, and redemption, resulting in worldwide commission to the faithful to advance this kingdom and judgment (defeat or exile) for the unfaithful, unto his glory” (116).

CONCLUSION

The latter days refer to a time that radically distinguishes itself from a former epoch. This time includes tribulation, redemption and blessing. However, we shouldn’t think time only occurs in the future, according to Beale. Secondarily, it refers to the repeated eschatological storyline of the OT. So, we should observe this repeating storyline throughout Scripture as a framework that points to and is fulfilled by the Christ-event. The whole OT is held in a period of apparent semieschatological events that look forward to fulfillment.

In English, this means that Bible repeats the same basic storyline over and over: sin and chaos occur and God comes in a restores his people and gives order and blessing. This “eschatological” story really pictures what Jesus did by restoring the chaos of sin by his death and resurrection, so that his people could receive blessing.

And this is part of what it means to read the Scripture with an Already Not-Yet framework (ANY). Next up is Beale’s explanation of Judaism’s focus on the eschatological storyline in their non-biblical writings, composed during the time period between the Old Testament and New Testament.

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