Eschatology

The doctrine of things to come is extensive indeed. It may be safe to estimate that as much lies ahead yet to be experienced as has transpired in the past. Biblical prophecy is virtually history prewritten. Apparently God delights to disclose that which He will do. To do so is an achievement which humanity can neither approach nor understand. In this competency God demonstrates the truth that He is superior to all others. The advantage to the human family of being informed respecting the future when ability to discern it for themselves has been denied them is exceedingly great; yet to the vast majority of people, including even Christians, God's revealed disclosures respecting the future are as though they had never been written. Those who habitually neglect the study of prophecy must of necessity go uninformed about the meaning of the past, the present, and the future. What God chooses to do is a sublime unity in itself. When the consummation of that unity is not envisaged, there can be no ground left for a right appreciation of the direction, value, and meaning of either the past or the present. God has not provided men with the material set forth by His predictions in vain. He expects that what He has said shall be welcomed just as all other portions of the Bible are received, and furthermore He has not left men to their helplessness in the understanding of His unfolding of future things. Among the things which the Holy Spirit has been appointed to accomplish for those in whom He dwells is to show the "things to come" (John 16:13). In the light of this provision and its practical outworking only wonder can be entertained concerning the real relation to the Holy Spirit of those who, professing to be saved, are not interested in God's proclamation of "things to come." Since the knowledge of the future so determines the right understanding of past and present, no man is prepared to "preach the word" who habitually ignores divine prediction. The claim that the prophetic Scriptures cannot be understood is never made by those who give due attention to them. No more difficulty has been encountered in interpreting the Scripture bearing on Eschatology than the Scripture bearing upon Soteriology. The supposed trouble respecting the interpretation of Eschatology originates in the fact that many theologians have from the first given themselves to the study of Soteriology almost exclusively, to the all-but-complete neglect of Eschatology. Since Eschatology bulks so largely in the text of the Bible—sixteen Old Testament books being universally classed as prophetic and from one-fourth to one-fifth of the whole Sacred Text appearing as prediction when written—Bible expositors who are free to move outside the bounds of static theological dicta have discovered vast fields of revelation in the prophetic Scriptures, which doctrine of necessity determines the direction of right Biblical interpretation. Because of this discovery, there is an evergrowing school of premillennial interpretation and a fast-ripening division between otherwise orthodox men.

The primary division in all prophecy lies between that which is now fulfilled and that which is unfulfilled. This division has never been stabilized, of course. The time word now is ever changing. Things that were future yesterday may be fulfilled by tomorrow. No Eschatology is complete which concerns itself only with that which is future at a given time. Since all prediction was future at the time it came to be written, a complete Eschatology should account for all that is fulfilled and unfulfilled.

Naturally enough, prophecy may be divided again between that which is found in the Old Testament and in the New Testament. At this point, however, it is essential to observe the doctrinal rather than the structural division between the Testaments. This doctrinal cleavage occurs between the Gospels of Luke and John. In other words, the Synoptic Gospels continue and consummate the unfulfilled portions of the Old Testament. Malachi had ended with expectation of Israel's King and His kingdom. The Synoptics relate the coming of the King and the offer of His kingdom to that nation, which kingdom was, according even to divine purpose, rejected by the nation and its realization assigned to the second advent. A far-reaching error of theologians generally is to relate the promised kingdom—in so far as they apprehend it at all—to the first advent, whereas it is always linked to the second advent except as it was offered and rejected in the days of the first coming. The development of any earthly kingdom in this age and by virtue of forces released at the first advent is a theological fiction.

It becomes imperative, if any right understanding of Scripture is to be gained, to trace the distinctive order of events as set forth in Judaism to their divinely appointed completion. This the Synoptic Gospels do. Beginning with John and continuing to the end of Revelation, a new people composed of both Jews and Gentiles, a new divine purpose in a hitherto unrevealed age, with new predictions bearing upon a heavenly glory, are introduced, though—usually by way of contrast—much is added respecting the divine purpose for Israel.

Under Eschatology in its larger treatment as presented in Volume IV, the major prophetic themes of the Old Testament and of the New Testament are outlined. It may be restated here that, in general, prophecy can be classified as pertaining to Israel, Gentiles, and the Church. To this large threefold division may be added predictions respecting angels, heaven, and the new earth. Israel from her beginning in Abraham continues as a divinely preserved people through this age of the Church on into her kingdom, and finally appears with her eternal glory in the new earth that is to be. That nation never loses its identity and in fulfillment of everlasting covenants and predictions is blessed on the earth. That nation, as such, is never seen in heaven. The Gentiles from Adam on, continuing through Israel's Old Testament history, through "the times of the Gentiles," through the present age of Gentile privilege in the outcalling of the Church, even through the coming Messianic kingdom age as sharers in that kingdom, are finally seen in relation to the new earth and the city which comes down from God out of heaven (cf. Rev. 21:24, 26). Very extensive portions of Scripture carry prediction regarding the Gentiles. Reference is made here only to Gentiles as a continuing body of people quite apart from those individuals among their number who are saved in the present age. The Gentiles as such remain Gentiles into eternity to come. Finally, the Church from her beginning at Pentecost is seen as a pilgrim people on the earth, and later as partakers of the heavenly glory.

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