Beale, G.K. (2002). The New Testament and New Creation. In Hafemann, S.J. (ed), Biblical Theology: Retrospect & Prospect. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity.
The phrase “latter days” occurs approximately twenty-seven times in the NT, and only sometimes does it refer exclusively to the very end of history as we typically think of it. The phrase “latter days” and its synonyms are used more often to describe the end times as beginning already in the first century (Beale 2002:160).
One would hardly imagine that the consensus of NT eschatology is that we are in the last days right now. The emergence of dispensational eschatology has placed most eschatological expectations into the future, whereas a full preterist would view the last days as already having been fulfilled. The consensus of the NT is somewhere in-between.
…in the NT, the end days predicted by the OT are seen as beginning to be fulfilled with Christ’s first coming. This means that the OT prophecies of God’s deliverance of Israel from oppressors, God’s rule over the Gentiles and the establishment of his kingdom have been set in motion by Christ’s death and resurrection and the formation of the church. On the other hand, the persecution of Jesus and the church indicated the beginning of the final tribulation. What the OT did not foresee so clearly was the ironic reality that the kingdom and the tribulation would coexist at the same time…Therefore, the latter days do not take place only at some point in the future but occur throughout the whole church age, right up to the present (Beale 2002:160-161).
This tension and mystery is great indeed, that God’s deliverance of Israel and rule over the Gentiles in a new kingdom would converge through Christ, who makes Abraham the father of the faithful, who are the truly constituted Israel, consisting of Gentiles. It is indeed ironic that God would be at work in advancing a kingdom, subduing enemies, and at the same time subject His people to persecution. God will vindicate His people perfectly and finally in the second advent of Christ, whereby all of God’s enemies will be made His footstool.
The first time the actual wording “last days” appears in the NT canon is Acts 2:17. Here Peter understands that the tongues being spoken at Pentecost are a beginning fulfillment of Joel’s end-time prophecy that a day would come when God’s Spirit would gift not merely prophets, priests and kings but all of God’s people (Beale 2002:161).
The implications of Pentecost within the plot of redemptive history can’t be stressed enough. When Peter is asked from the inquiring crowd what is taking place in the manifestation of the Spirit upon the disciples of the ascended Christ, his response ushers in an eschatological framework that is evident throughout the rest of the NT. Peter is careful to root the Pentecostal experience in the promise motif of the OT by quoting Joel and declaring that this promise is indeed being fulfilled through the outpoured Spirit from a Davidic King that reigns in heaven. The “charismatic” indwelling of the Spirit is inextricably linked with the “latter days” in that it serves as the primary characteristic of eschatological Israel and actually empowers this eschatological Israel to advance the kingdom of God to all of the nations.
The outpouring of the Spirit was therefore a “missional” empowering of a renewed Israel that would be successful in her witness to God’s glory, in stark contrast to the failures of Israel as God’s witness in the former Israel.
In this initial phase of the end times, Christ and the church begin to fulfill the prophecies concerning Israel’s tribulation and end-time kingdom because Christ and the church are seen by the NT as the true Israel (Beale 2002:162).
This thought is repulsive to many Evangelicals today who have been largely shaped by dispensational theology, however one must reckon with Christ as being the true Israel and thus founding a new people that are considered the “Israel of God” (Gal. 6:15-16). Paul goes to great lengths in his epistle to the Galatians to prove how Gentiles are made recipients of the Abrahamic covenant because the promised blessings are fulfilled in his seed, Christ, not his seeds. In Paul’s epistle to the Romans he also shows how Abraham is the father of both the circumcised and uncircumcised (Rom. 4:9-12). This was not accidental, but purposeful in God’s providence precisely because God has wanted to gather a unified people from Jew and Gentile under Abraham, through Christ, as a father to all who believe.
The church is not a parenthetical period in redemptive history, but rather the “latter days” culmination of God’s kingdom within redemptive history, only to finally culminate in that “last day”.
…the apostles understood eschatology not merely as futurology but as a redemptive-historical psychology for the present. They understood that they were already living in the end times and that they were to understand their present salvation in Christ to be already an end-time reality. Hence every aspect of their salvation was to be conceived of as eschatological in nature (Beale 2002:163).
We posses “eternal” life. We have already arrived to Zion. We are already enrolled. We posses the Holy Spirit, the great eschatological sign. We must be “latter day” kingdom people. We must advance the kingdom through the empowering presence of the Spirit. The disciples questioned Jesus about “times and seasons” just before his ascension and Jesus essentially told them not to worry about that stuff, but to instead wait for the “dunamis” of the Spirit, whereby they will then be witnesses to the ends of the earth. Our eschatological concerns are to be occupied with the present more than the future.
…Christ had placed eschatological lenses on his disciples, so that everything they looked at in the Christian faith had an end-time tint (Beale 2002:163).
This pivotal event of death and resurrection is eschatological because it launched the beginning of the new creation (Beale 2002:163).
We are this new creation…this new Israel…ever closer to the renewed paradise and tree of life. Christ is the greater Noah, confronting sin and populating the earth with a new people. The remnant is ever growing under the great head Christ, who pours out the life-giving water of the Holy Spirit upon all who ask. The whole earth will be filled with life once God has fully completed the full restoration of His kingdom!!!
© 2009, Rick Hogaboam. All rights reserved.