This is the sixth installment of a series that is reading G. K. Beale’s New Testament Theology. The point of these posts is simply to outline his beliefs and highlight some of his key arguments.
The Eschatological Storyline of the Old Testament in Relation to the New Testament: The New Testament Focus on the Latter Days
Beale continues to argue that eschatology is a key to understanding Scripture, and that eschatology does not speak of the end but the present also. He understands Eschatology as being already fulfilled but without all being fulfilled. One could term this an Already-Not-Yet view of Scripture.
Beale believes that “eschatology is a dominant theme in the NT” (129). The phrase “the latter days” and similar terms in the NT “often dos not refer exclusively to the very end of history, as we typically think of it” (130). In fact, argues Beale, studying the latter days will “demand that the popular and even often-held scholarly view be reassessed.” This view is that eschatology or the latter days refers to the end of history alone. For Beale, we are in the latter days.
He estimates that this reading will is not only correct but will totally revamp how one reads the Scripture. “The following survey of eschatological language in the NT,” writes Beale, “changed my entire perspective on the NT, and I hope that the same will happen with readers of this book” (my emphasis, 130).
*** My plan here is to be highly selective in Beale’s argument, because it is so vast. If one wants to have a truly unbiased assessment of Beale, one needs to read him first hand.
LATTERS DAY LANGUAGE IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
I list some key passages that Beale draws on but by no means all of them. Also, while Beale admits that the Gospels mainly speak about the Not Yet aspects of eternal life (130), the Gospel of John is the exception. And this Gospel is used a lot in his work. I also want to be clear that Beale does not gloss over the references in the Gospels and letters that refer only to the future, but he is quite balanced in showing past, present and future aspects of eschatology—at least according to his reading of Scripture.
John 5:24–29 is a unique passage that talks about the resurrection yet hints that it already happened.
Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.“Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.
Beale sees two ages in this passage: the age that “is now here” and the age to come. The now here age speaks about passing from death into life (resurrection?). John says the hour is coming and is now here for this happen. At the same time, he goes on to speak about the Son of Man (cf. Dan 7:13–14) who will come judge at the end.
Beale sees John 12:23 and 16:32 as equally significant: “And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (John 12:23) and, “Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me” (John 16:32). Again the language draws on Daniel—who is the quintessential Old Testament prophet of eschatology—and says the time has come.
In the book of Acts, 2:17 talks about the outpouring of the spirit that happens in the “last days. “ Beale argues that this happened at Pentecost. Interestingly, Beale talks about Acts 1:6–8, which is usually is taken to mean the kingdom promises are all future (in other words, it argues against an Already-Not-Yet view of the kingdom). The text says,
So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
For Beale, this actually argues for an Already-Not-Yet view (!). Jesus simply is correcting three misunderstandings. First, the disciples were not to know the time of the final physical form of the kingdom—“ It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority”. Second, they were to understand that the kingdom is not only physical but spiritual —“ But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you”. Third, they were to branch out beyond Israel and not be ethnocentric—“, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” This is a radically different take on the passage than most No-Not-Yetters have. In fact, this is usually a so-called “defeater” verse for Already-Not-Yet or covenantal reading of Scripture.
Other Scripture Beale uses include (but he uses many more also):
- “But in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” (Heb 1:2)
- “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come” (Heb 1:2)
- “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law (Gal 4:4)”
- “Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days “ (Jms 5:3).
- “He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God” (1 Pet 1:20–21).
- “knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires.”(2 Pet 3:3).
- “They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions” (Jude 18).
One of Beale’s key passages is found in 1 John 2:18 (the author of Revelation to boot!). The text says, “Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour.” So Antichrists have come and it is the last hour, while at the same time the antichrist is coming. 1 John has more to say about antichrist and the end times (1 John 2:18–23; cf. 1 John 3:4).
But let’s listen to a few conclusions Beale draws concerning these passages and especially I john. Antichrist has come spiritually. “Thus, although the antichrist has not yet come in his incarnate form, his spirit is here, inspiring his false teachers in antithetical parallelism to the work of Christ’s Spirit in his true people” (150).
Christ is true Israel and is our legal representative. Beale believes the antichrist can be “here” with the church. However, Daniel’s prophecy about the antichrist (Dan 7-12) was made to Israel; in order to show how a promise made to Israel can be fulfilled in the church, Beale employs “legal representative” hermeneutics (151). In other words, if Jesus is true Israel and his church is united to him, then these prophecies to Israel can be literally fulfilled in the church. Christ is our representative as true Israel, according to Beale.
According to Beale, we are in the great tribulation. “The upshot is that readers need to be aware that they are living in the midst of the “great tribulation,” which has been expressed among them in the form of false teachers so that they will not be caught off guard and be deceived” (153). Now, Beale believes the already form of the tribulation is through false teachers who possess the spirit of the antichrist; nonetheless, already aspects of the tribulation are here today.
The phrase “latter days” and its synonyms in the NT and the Apostolic Fathers refer in various contexts to inaugurated eschatology and in other context to a future period that is the consummation of the latter-day period. Thus, the well-known phrase “already and not yet” is a very apt description of the way that eschatology was understood by the NT writers and the earliest church fathers. (160)