This article is part of the 10 Things You Should Know series.
1. Eschatology, from eschatos (last), refers to the last things.
Traditionally eschatology consists of the return of Christ, the resurrection, the final judgment, heaven, and hell.
2. In reality, eschatology pervades the Bible.
From the promise of Genesis 3:15 through the OT to the present there is a persistent orientation to the fulfillment and future consummation of God’s purposes of redemption.
3. There are a range of happenings predicted for the future before the return of Christ.
These include the existence and growth of the church (Matt. 28:18-20, 1 Cor. 15:24-26), the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost, the destruction of the temple in 70 AD, the evangelisation of the world, and the restoration of Israel to faith in the Christ (Rom. 11:1-36).
4. Futurist eschatology considers that most of the future-oriented statements in the New Testament concern events connected in some way with the return of Christ.
While many such references exist, we must ask how far, if it were the only perspective, would that have been relevant to the immediate needs of those who received the New Testament documents?
5. Realized eschatology considers that New Testament references to the future relate to events surrounding the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70 AD and the situation of the church at that time.
Its focus is on the definitive accomplishment of Christ in his death and resurrection. Indeed, there is much in the New Testament related to this, especially in Hebrews. However, there is far more pointing to the ongoing work of the church and the return of Christ.
6. Inaugurated eschatology, in contrast, points both to elements relating to the immediate inauguration of the kingdom of God in the death and resurrection of Christ and also to other aspects which are not to be fulfilled until he returns.
This perspective is probably the most widely recognized view of the Bible’s eschatological outlook. It indicates a tension, commonly described as ‘already’ and ‘not yet.’
7. References to the temple’s destruction indicate that the Mosaic covenant was abolished, Israel judged, and the new covenant inaugurated in fulfillment of God’s eternal purpose and the historical outworking of his redemptive plans.
8. The continuing future reference of inaugurated eschatology indicates that we have not yet attained to the goal that has been set.
As the Nicene Creed says, we look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.
9. Inaugurated eschatology points to the harmony and unity of God’s plan of redemption, fulfilled by Christ, centered in and brought to realization in his church.
10. The fact that I have given only nine things you should know about inaugurated eschatology deliberately demonstrates that there is a lot we don’t know about the future.
This should inculcate a good measure of reserve.
Robert Letham is the author of Systematic Theology.