Inaugurated who? Inaugurated eschatology. Eschatology is generally understood as the “study of end times,” but when used with reference to inaugurated eschatology, it refers specifically to the kingdom of God and how it relates to Jesus’ first coming. This is the concept that the dawn of the “end of the age” has come in the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Jewish Messiah, Lord and Savior.The kingdom of God has been ushered in, though it is not yet consummated. A “bite size” definition is,
“Inaugurated eschatology sees the first coming of Christ as the beginning of the kingdom in the present, while acknowledging that the consummation or fulfillment of the kingdom of God is yet to come.” (Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms, 46)
Yes, we are talking about the kingdom of God being understood as both “already” (inaugurated) and “not yet” (not consummated). This is pretty much the standard view on the kingdom of God within NT scholarship and is considered essential for those of us who are Third Wave Continuationists (or in the Vineyard movement!). Think along the lines of George Eldon Ladd, or modern scholars such as N.T. Wright, Gordon D. Fee, or G.K. Beale.
At any rate, here are eight reasons, with corresponding Scriptures and commentary, that lead me to the conclusion that inaugurated eschatology is the best approach to understanding the kingdom of God. This is not an attempt to list every passage of Scripture that clarifies this eschatological view, as time would need to be spent examining the Gospels in more detail. So as a summary, I present eight different supporting reasons to view the kingdom of God through the lens of inaugurated eschatology:
- The kingdom of God is at hand (Mark 1:15).
- This is… the last days (Acts 2:16-17).
- The end of the ages has come (1 Cor. 10:11).
- In later times, the last days, some will depart from the faith and there will come times of difficulty, just as you already see (1 Tim. 4:1; 2 Tim. 3:1).
- In the last days, scoffers will come, and have come (2 Pet. 3:3-5).
- Treasure something eternal in these last days (James 5:3).
- In these last days, God spoke to us by Christ (Heb. 1:2).
- The powers of the future exist in the present (Heb. 6:5).
Let’s explore these different concepts and supporting Scriptures…
(1) The kingdom of God is at hand (Mark 1:15).
In Mark 1:15, Jesus said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (cf. Matt. 3:2; 4:17; 10:7). What does Jesus mean by “the kingdom of God is at hand“? James Edwards writes the following helpful words:
“Even though the kingdom is not yet fully realized, the contrite and sincere already stand on its threshold (12:34). Thus, not only is the kingdom of God the substance of Jesus’ teaching (1:15), it also corresponds to and is identified in the closest possible way with his own person and ministry. Mark’s verb choice appears to reinforce the linkage of the kingdom with Jesus’ person, for in declaring the kingdom “near” (v. 15) Mark employs a verb (Gk. engizein) that occurs frequently in the NT with reference to spatial rather than temporal nearness. In Jesus of Nazareth the kingdom of God makes a personal appearance.” (James Edwards, Mark, 46-47, emphasis mine)
He goes on to write that,
“”The time has come.” The announcement of the kingdom at Jesus’ debut in Galilee is presented by Mark as the definitive moment of history. The dawn of salvation, which Paul speaks of as “the fullness of time” (Gal 4:4; Eph 1:10), results from God’s providence and timing, kairos in Greek, which means the “critical or opportune moment” (as opposed to progressive time). God has brought the time of prophecy as represented in the quotation of 1:2–3 to a close and has inaugurated the final phase of history. Jesus comes not hustling or selling the kingdom. Rather, he has submitted himself patiently to the divine timing and waited for the propitious moment, so long prepared for, of which he is the herald. The arrival of God’s kairos demands a change in thinking. The new and unparalleled possibility presented to humanity in the gospel calls for a unique response. That response is contained in the word “repent” (1:15..), which demands a decisive change.” (ibid.)
Jesus was announcing that the kingdom of God had been inaugurated. It had come (and was coming). Hence, Jesus continued by saying, “Repent and believe in the gospel!” What better reason to repent and believe than to know that the dawn of the future had arrived; the promise of the OT prophets had come!
(2) This is… the last days (Acts 2:16-17).
Shortly after Jesus ascended to the right hand of the Father, the disciples experienced the Pentecostal experience par excellence (Acts 2). The disciples “were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Act 2:4). This brought about the attention of a large number of Jews and proselytes who were living in Jerusalem that had originally come from regions of the Jewish exile (diaspora). In fact, some of these people were “amazed and perplexed” (2:12) and others mocked the early disciples by saying that they were drunk (2:13).
“But Peter”… I love how verse 14 starts. Our beloved Peter is filled with the Spirit and begins to address everyone who has witnessed the coming of that Spirit. The amazed and perplexed along with those who were mocking… Peter had something to say.
What he says provides an interpretive grid for our understanding of the age we are living in. Peter, standing along with the other eleven Apostles, said:
“this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: ‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh… ‘” (Acts 2:16-17)
Interpretive grid laid. When Peter says “this is what was uttered,” he is simply saying that the activity of the Spirit at Pentecost was a fulfillment of what the prophet Joel had spoken. And Luke records that Peter connected this activity/fulfillment (the outpouring of the Spirit) with “the last days.” The “last days” are clearly eschatological (Gk. eschatais hemerais), as Peter quotes the entirety of Joel’s prophecy, including the eschatological “cosmic signs” (Acts 2:19-20; cf. Joel 2:30-31). Thus, in 30/33 AD (depending upon your dating of Jesus’ birth), the beginning of the “last days” was inaugurated.
(3) The end of the ages has come (1 Cor. 10:11).
If I had to define our generation, I could probably do it in several ways. On one hand, I might call this the “age of technology.” Or perhaps I’d call it the “age of globalization” or the “age of uncertainty.” There have been many “ages” throughout history, right? We’ve had the “age of reason” and the “age of industrialization,” among many other “ages.” There’s no shortage in ways that we can define our generation and the generation of our fathers.
The Apostle Paul had a unique perspective on what age the 1st century Christians were in. Writing about how Moses and the Jewish people’s exodus had hearings on idolatry, Paul wrote,
“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.” (1 Cor. 10:11)
The end of the ages was acknowledged as to having already come when Paul was writing to the Corinthians (c. 53-55AD). And as a caveat, let’s also note that we’re not talking about an over-realized inaugurated eschatology. Paul wasn’t saying that the end of the ages had come in it’s fullness. In vv. 12-14, Paul indicates that temptation and the sin of idolatry were still very real issues that Christians had to deal with and overcome. This is classic “already and not yet” theology.
Paul’s understanding of inaugurated eschatology shaped his perspective on reality as a “see the unseen.” Garland writes,
“The earlier generations lived at the beginning, when God’s promises were being announced. Christians stand at a point when God’s promises have been fulfilled in Christ and the veil has been lifted (2 Cor. 3:14–18). Hidden realities have been revealed (1 Cor. 2:9–12, 16)—for example, that Christ was the prime mover in these events (10:4). Christians need to recognize how these realities apply to the present.” (David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, 466)
(4) In later times, the last days, some will depart from the faith and there will come times of difficulty, just as you already see (1 Tim. 4:1; 2 Tim. 3:1).
Now if you read 1 Tim. 4:1 and 2 Tim. 3:1, you might begin to accuse me of reading into these two verses an alleged “inaugurated eschatology.” On first reading, it seems as if Paul is referring to a time in the distant future:
“Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons,” (1 Tim. 4:1)
“But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty.” (2 Tim 3:1)
Let’s agree that the context indicates that Paul had in mind some issues that he believed were going to occur at a time later than when he was writing these letters (c. 62-65AD). So on one hand, our first reading has some validity to it. Yet we need to also remember that many of us automatically resort to interpreting the terms “later times” or “last days” as being “distant future,” whereas Paul and other NT authors did not make that equation (as noted in the previous and following examples).
The reason why it’s safe to see these verses as indicating an “already and not yet” framework is because the very issues that Paul was addressing (apostasy and difficult times) were occurring during the time of Paul’s writing and shortly afterwards. In fact, Paul notes that Demas had clearly departed from the Christian faith (2 Tim. 4:10) and that one of the primary problems within the church of Ephesus was false teaching. Paul offers a number of warnings about the issue of false teaching throughout the Pastoral Epistles (cf. 1 Tim. 1:3-11; 6:3-10; Titus 1:10-14; 2 Tim. 4:3-4).
So what’s the point? My point is that while Paul was warning Timothy of these problems that would occur in the “later times” and the “last days,” they were already happening and have continued to be issues throughout the past 2,000 years. Therefore, the “later times” and “last days” have clearly been inaugurated. Unless, of course, you don’t believe that the plethora of nonsense that is flooding the airwaves of TBN are doctrinally deceitful and doxologically empty. It’s a given that times have been difficult since Paul’s writing too. Inaugurated eschatology? Check.
(5) In the last days, scoffers will come, and have come (2 Pet. 3:3-5).
This is similar to our previous examples from 1 and 2 Timothy. On first reading, it would appear that Peter is saying that scoffers will come in the “distant future.” He writes,
“knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires.” (2 Pet. 3:3)
We’ve already pointed out the problem of anachronistically reading a “distant future” understanding of “last days,” right? Yet this still seems to indicate that in the future scoffers will come. What do we have to say about this?
Of course this has application towards the future! Peter uses the future tense verb elesusontai (“will come”) in reference to these scoffers. Throughout the past 2,000 years, many scoffers have certainly come, all after Peter wrote this verse. Clearly the verse has application towards the future. It’s future tense, in both Greek and English.
But we need to read the whole context, right? Right. In v. 5, Peter writes that this group of scoffers presently “deliberately overlook” some significant truths about God’s past actions. In other words, while Peter was writing, there were scoffers coming and scoffers who were already scoffing. They had come and were coming. They were “already and not yet,” to use the popular kingdom concept.
The “last days” were coming, and were already established. Evidence? Scoffers were coming, and scoffers already existed.
(6) Treasure something eternal in these last days (James 5:3).
James is relentless at picking away at the problems that churches face with different social classes (i.e., the “rich” and the “poor”). It all boils down to doing the word that is heard (James 1:22). Apparently some of the Christians whom James addressed were caught placing supreme value upon transient and fading riches, riches of this world. Those riches, gold, and silver were rotted (present tense) and were staining the character of James’ readers (5:1-3). This was serious business. Fraud and greed was destroying them and James had nothing but warnings of judgment for the guilty and promises of redemption for the afflicted (cf. James 5:4-6).
And right in the middle of James’ scathing rebuke, he drops the eschatological hammer: “You have laid up treasure in the last days” (James 5:3). We don’t want to store up treasure in this manner.This is not a neutral reference to some of the early Christians saving money for their retirement, as if their concern was storing up treasure for their own personal “last days.” No, this was a very specific investment fail. Douglas Moo writes,
“… the preposition James uses before “last days” (en) is more naturally translated “in,” and all other occurrences of the phrase “the last days” in the NT refer to the present time of fulfillment. The application of this expression to their own time testified to the early Christians’ belief that they were living in an era of indefinite duration immediately preceding the climax of history. James shares this perspective, as his conviction about the nearness of the parousia makes clear (5:8). What James is saying, then, is that those who are avidly accumulating wealth in his day are particularly sinful because they utterly disregard the demands made upon people by the display of God’s grace in Christ, and especially foolish because they ignore the many signs of the rapidly approaching judgment. The REB captures the idea very well: “You have piled up wealth in an age that is near its close.” Like the rich fool, they failed to reckon with sudden judgment (Luke 12:15–21). “It is in the last days that you are laying up treasure!” As those who live in these “last days,” we, too, should recognize in the grace of God already displayed and the judgment of God yet to come a powerful stimulus to share, not hoard, our wealth.” (Douglas Moo, The Letter of James, 215)
Yes, we’re living in the last days. *insert eerie music from the film, A Thief in the Night. Okay*
(7) In these last days, God spoke to us by Christ (Heb. 1:2).
“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 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. 1:1-2)
Could you get any more explicit? “These last days” seems pretty specific, doesn’t it? If any verse in the New Testament makes clear that the “last days” began in the 1st century, Hebrews 1:2 does.
Those of you who take a completely futuristic approach to eschatology need to weigh this appropriately (are there really any scholars who do?!?!). Jesus ushered in the kingdom of God and was the means by whom God chose to speak through and by. He is the Word come down from heaven! And he came in these last days. Ellingworth explains the significance of the demonstrative pronoun tout?n (“these”) by writing,
“Hebrews’ distinctive (not Septuagintal) addition of touton indicates that the last days have begun. Touton should be taken with the whole phrase: “in these days which are the last days,” not “at the end of these days.” “God has spoken in the present, and … this present is also the end-time”…” (Paul Ellingworth, The Epistle to the Hebrews, 93, Greek transliterated)
Explicit? Yes. Specific? Affirmative. Inaugurated eschatology? What better way to explain the tension?
(8) The powers of the future exist in the present (Heb. 6:5).
There’s a lot of debate as to whether the people described in Hebrews 6 are Christians, whether Christians can “lose” their salvation, and whether or not this warning passage is an “Arminian” verse or a “Calvinist” verse. Let’s set that debate aside for now.
The author of Hebrews makes another amazing statement, in the same vein as Heb. 1:2. He writes of people who have “tasted… the powers of the age to come” (Heb. 6:5). Herein is our inaugurated eschatology. The powers of the future are experienced in the present. Our Hebrews author has already established the fact that the “last days” is part of this present time and now we’re told that people have experienced the reality of the future now, or more specifically, in the first century. If we take George Ladd’s definition of the kingdom of God as the rule and reign of God, we see in Heb. 6:5 an example where people experienced that rule and reign nearly some 1,944 years ago (assuming a 68AD dating for Hebrews).
Conclusion? All of this is to say that the end times have most certainly been inaugurated, ushered in, and have come.
What do you think? What conclusions do you reach by reading Scripture?