For at least eight years I have refused to stand anywhere eschatologically. I have wanted to ground myself in other fundamental realms of systematic theology first. Well, the day has come when I don’t have any further excuse to postpone nailing some of these issues down. I will begin my dive into the abyss with this article, by committing to six eschatological principles. They are in no particular order, although the first three do seem to be more essential to the Christian faith.
Principle One: There will be a resurrection.
If anything, it helps to know that I’m not a Sadducee. By “resurrection,” I mean a resurrection of the body. “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!” (Job 19:25-27). “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?” (1 Corinthians 15:12).
Principle Two: The resurrection will ensure that death robs those in Christ of no blessing.
Death may rob without reigning, but I am saying that death does not even rob those who sleep in Christ.
For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.1 Thessalonians 4:15-17
Christians alive when Christ returns will receive no greater blessing than those who die. Those sleeping in Christ miss-out on not a single heavenly blessing. For this reason, I say that death robs those in Christ of nothing.
Principle Three: Jesus will return bodily to the earth.
In the above quoted passage (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17), we read that “the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command” (v.16). Jesus will not raise the church by proxy, He will do it Himself.
Principle Four: The promises of the Abrahamic Covenant were not voided by Israel’s disobedience.
In 2 Kings 17:24-41, after Israel is sent into captivity, God is referred to as the God of Israel’s land (v.26). He judges the Assyrians in the land on this ground. This should not surprise us: it was “an everlasting covenant” that God made with Abraham (Genesis 17:7) and the promise finds ultimate fulfillment in the New Covenant (Galatians 3:14).
Principle Five: There is only one people of God.
The church of the New Covenant is not a new body, but has always been the same tree which was growing in the Old Covenant – into which the Gentiles are now grafted (Romans 11:11-24). “Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:12-13). The New Covenant is not made with the world, it is made with Israel: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah” (Jeremiah 31:31). Thus, the church and Israel are one and the same, with no distinctions.
Principle Six: The Old Covenant will not be reinstituted in any way whatsoever.
Some see in Scripture prophecies of a rebuilt temple yet to come (e.g. Daniel 9; 2 Thessalonians 2), where Israelites will once again worship God and offer sacrifices to Him. This cannot happen, because the Old Covenant has passed away, never to return. It would be abominable for the sacrifices of bulls and goats to be a pleasing aroma before the Lord, when Christ has died once for all and sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high (Hebrews 1:1-4). Therefore, whatever the future holds for the secular nation-state of Israel, it can only be in the New Covenant, in God’s church where the whole counsel of God is preached, where the Lord’s Supper and Baptism are rightly administered, and where there is no returning to the blood of bulls and goats.