Time and Eschatology

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Because of the problems just discussed, I would like to describe some of the nuances of New Testament concepts of time in light of various eschato-logical concepts.

Mark conceives of Jesus' proclamation of the nearness of the reign of God in such a way that, in spite of its eschatological character, this reign already begins to be realized in the work of Jesus. "The future determines the present, but in a way that that which is consummated in the future can be partially experienced in the present."125 Things are indeed judged in light of the end, but the emphasis is on the Christian way of coping with the present.126 Mark narrates his story for this purpose.127

The connection between eschatology and ecclesiology is primarily found in Matthew.128 Jesus' lifetime on earth, "obviously in the state of still ambiguous lowliness," and the time of the Holy Spirit, which dawns with Jesus' exaltation, as the time of decision, belong to this eon.129 The time between the Resurrection and Jesus' parousia is the time of the Church, which exists as corpus mixtum until the separation at the Last Judgment. The coming eon then begins with the Last Judgment. The strength of this concept is its account of the paradoxical presence of salvation under the conditions of time, as a dynamic interlocking of kairos and chronos.

In Luke, the end of the world is energetically pushed into the distance. Luke deals more with the past than with the future. In Luke's conception of salvation history, the Una sancta apostolica130 conclusively replaces the escha-ton for an indefinite period. Jesus' absence is the normal state; proclamation is remembering the history of Jesus as the central epoch of salvation history. This is no longer about the two eons, but rather about a plan of salvation in two phases (age of promise and age of fulfillment) or three phases (age of Israel, age of Jesus, and age of the Church).131 Entrance into eternal life is depicted as an individual event.132 Eyewitnesses and apostolic succession guar antee the truth of Jesus' history in the present. Only in this way can the salvation situated in the past become the center of time.133 Thus, of all of the evangelists, Luke has the most chronological concept of time.

In John, the eschatological crisis occurs as a present event. "His eschato-logical confession of faith is the unique and tremendous protest against the trivialization and emptying of the present, that is qualified as eschatological by the coming of Jesus."134 What elsewhere is expected as future fulfillment is here already present, as individual appropriation of salvation. "The eschatological crisis is thus already decided in faith."135 This, of course, does not end the discussion about the future; but if eternal life has already been realized in this manner, then at least the delay of the parousia is no longer a problem. Wherever else eternity is thought of in light of (the consummation of) time, it is threatened by a quantifying definition presenting it as a magnified projection of time. In avoiding this train of thought, John promotes an understanding of eternity in terms of quality instead of quantity. Eternity can enter into time in transformative fashion precisely as—and only as—something qualitatively different from time (John 5:24).136

In Paul, eschatology is shaped christologically.137 Christ came when time was fulfilled.138 The present and the existence of Christians is defined escha-tologically by Christ's having already come. When Paul refers to the Law as paidagogos . . . eis Christon (Gal. 3:24), this definitely includes a temporal determination.139 Paul "fundamentally sees the present as the time of the beginning, eschatological saving activity of God."140 Those who are in Christ have already died with Christ, but their resurrection is still to come.141 Apocalyptic concepts of the eons hardly play a role here. The present eon does in fact still exist, and it threatens those who live in it, but in Christ the decisive redemptive act has already taken place. This is why, even now, the believer lives in the glory of Christ. Old and new, present and future not only touch each other; they even overlap to some degree. What is still to come, then, is not a new eon, but rather the reign of God,142 Christ's parousia,143 the revealing of the Lord,144 and of the children of God.145 An apocalyptic time scheme is replaced by the final salvation, that is, the communion with Jesus Christ that is no longer endangered or coming to an end.146

The Pauline "already" and "not-yet"147 describes not only the eschatological tension between present and future in Christian life. It can also explain the apparent contradiction between near expectation of the parousia and the anticipation of death. While Paul considers the impending parousia and the simultaneous reception of the spiritual body,148 he also speaks of individual death as the date when one receives final salvation;149 or he possibly contemplates a temporary waiting by the dead150 for the final appearance of

Christ.151 This seeming contradiction can be explained by the fact that Paul neither speaks antithetically of time and eternity nor permits eternity to appear as endless time. The breaking through of the new into the old, which is thematized as the tension between the "already" and the "not-yet," interests him more than the abstract forms of time and eternity.

In the later writings of the New Testament, we can see attempts to link eschatology, apocalypticism, and Christology to one another. With increasing temporal distance to Jesus' life on earth, thoughts about the events that are expected at the end of time are turned into a doctrine of the "Last Things," which moves to the margin of ecclesiastical instruction.152 Colos-sians and Ephesians replace eschatological expectation with spatial concepts and, in contrast to Romans, allow the resurrection with Christ to take place in Baptism.153 End-time expectation is less oriented toward the resurrection of the dead than toward the revelation of the doxa. Until then, the extended time of waiting is used for exhortation. The most obvious connection of es-chatology, apocalypticism, and Christology can be encountered in the Revelation of John: "The wealth of apocalyptic images is embraced by the Christological confession. Thus, the apocalyptic material has experienced a link to history that alters its character in a basic way, so that it now serves to illustrate the universality of the Christ event."154

Spatial and temporal conceptions in eschatological thought cannot simply be isolated from each other. Rather, a combination of the two ways of thinking should be assumed, although in apocalypticism the spatial components are more salient.

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