The Already and the Not Yet

Question
Some time ago I read something by Lowery on "The Already and the Not Yet." Can you cite what he stated so eloquently?
Answer
I must develop the concept in the title of this section gradually. This will permit us to see how John's writing fits in with the rest of the New Testament. An analogy first offered by a theologian decades ago is helpful. Oscar Cullmann argued that God has revealed himself in history through a series of redemptive acts. For the Old Testament believer, the midpoint of history lay in the future, but for the New-Testament-era disciples and succeeding ones, this midpoint now lies in the past. The first coming of Jesus is the great midpoint of history; it lies behind us.

Cullmann's analogy is a stirring one because he compares the position of the disciple of Jesus with that of a person living between D-Day (June 1944) and V-Day (Spring 1945) during World War II. D-Day was when the allied troops invaded Europe and began to push the German army back to Germany, while V-Day was when they actually claimed victory:

The decisive battle in a war may already have occurred in a relatively early stage of the war, and yet the war still continues. Although the decisive effect of that battle is perhaps not recognized by all, it nevertheless already means victory. But the war must still be carried on for an undefined time, until "Victory Day." Precisely this is the situation of which the New Testament is conscious, as a result of the recognition of the new division of time; the revelation consists precisely in the fact of the proclamation that that event on the cross, together with the resurrection which followed, was the already concluded decisive battle.

Scripture clearly teaches this perspective: Christ has already won the victory (1 Cor. 15:1ff.; Eph. 1:15ff.; Col. 2:15; and Heb. 2:14ff.). The crucial battle has been fought and won in the incarnation and the resurrection. The cease-fire is yet future. Jesus' followers continue to fight against the principalities and powers (Eph. 6:10ff.) until he comes again to bring about the final end of the war. We do not know how long the warfare will continue. As we battle the forces of evil, we also witness in the shadow of Christ's victory on the cross and his ultimate victory to be achieved at the final coming. We fight with the conviction that someday all weapons will be placed at the feet of Jesus. This concept should encourage all believers. It can also exhort all to be faithful to Jesus and his cause.

There is an additional emphasis offered by Cullmann that can help us understand the nature of the Christian life and the place of Revelation in scriptural context. He believes that we live in the overlap of two ages, this present age and the age to come. We already live in the new age, and yet we do not fully live in the new age since Christ's final coming has not yet occurred. He writes:

The new element in the New Testament is not eschatology, but what I call the tension between the decisive 'already fulfilled' and the 'not yet completed,' between present and future. The whole theology of the New Testament, including Jesus' preaching, is qualified by this tension.

D-Day is past; V-Day is in the future. Meanwhile, we who follow Christ live "between the times." We know that Christ is Victor and Deliverer now, but we also know that there is more to come. This fits in with the definition of "eschatology" and a proper understanding of "the last days." The biblical notion of eschatology embraces both an "inaugurated" emphasis (we are already in the Kingdom and enjoy blessings as disciples of Jesus) and a "future" accent (we await future events like the final coming, the resurrection, the Final Judgment, the new heaven and new earth, and so forth).

I am reminded of the cartoon depicting a person walking around the city, carrying a sign that reads "The End is Near!" According to Scripture, there should be three characters carrying signs. Their messages would communicate Scripture's testimony: The End has come! The End is near! The End has not come! We live confidently with this tension between what we already enjoy and what we do not yet possess, all with the sense of expectancy that the end is always near.

This notion of living between the times is developed in the writings of the nine authors associated with the New Testament. Actually there is not a New Testament writer, John aside for the moment, who does not speak about what it means to live between Christ's first and final comings (e.g., Matt. 28:16-20; Mark 13:32-36; Acts 17:30-31; Titus 2:11-15; Heb. 10:19-25; James 2:1; 5:8; 1 Pet. 1:13-25; Jude 1:3, 14-16, 18, 21).

Consider some specific themes in which this already and not yet tension is found. Christians are already in the Kingdom, and yet they await the coming of the Kingdom in its totality (Col. 1:13-14; Rev. 11:15). Already we experience God's presence through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, but we await the complete presence of God (Eph. 1:13-14; Rev. 21:3). Already we worship, but we know that someday there will be perfect worship (Rom. 12:1; Rev. 22:3-5). Already we have fellowship with God and one another, but the perfect fellowship is yet to come (1 John 1:5-7; Rev. 21:1-22:6). Already we experience peace, joy, and love, but these will be perfect some day (Gal. 5:22-23; Rev. 22:3). Already we have experienced a resurrection, but we await a future one (Rom. 6:110; Rev. 20:4-6, 11-15). Already we participate in a special meal with Christ, but we await the wedding supper of the Lamb (1 Cor. 11:23-26; Rev. 19:9).

We find this theme in the writings of John as well. The tension between the now and the not yet is found in such passages as John 6:39, 40, 44, 54; 11:24; 12:48 and in 1 John 1:2; 2:18, 22, 28; 3:2-3. We already have eternal life, but we await the total fulfillment of eternal life (John 6:26ff.; 11:25; 12:23ff.; 14:1ff.). We already receive blessings because we belong to Christ, but we anticipate even richer blessings at his coming.

In Revelation, John writes about the victory that Christ has won in the past (Rev 1:5, 18; 5:5-7, 9-10; 12:1-4, 7-12), as well as the final victory at the final coming (Rev 1:7; 6:12-17; 7:1-17; 11:15-19; 16:15-21; 19:1-21; 20:7-15; 22:7, 12, 20). Reflect on the following examples in the next few paragraphs.

In Revelation 1:5-8 there is a clear reference to Christ's first coming (Rev 1:5 announces that he is the one who is "the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth" and the one who "has freed us from our sins"). There is also mention of Christ's final coming in Rev 1:7 ("Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him"). Wedged between the references to the past and the future is a call to Christians to realize that now they are part of the Kingdom and now they are priests who belong to God (Rev 1:6).

Further, consider the structure of the messages to the seven churches in chapters 2 and 3. The descriptions of Christ found at the beginning of each communication draw from the vision in Rev 1:12ff., one that is rooted in the first coming of Christ and all that he accomplished when he lived on earth, along with the ongoing consequences of his death, burial, resurrection, and ascension. Each message ends with a promise concerning the future where final victory and blessing will be experienced. Between the two comings, the followers of Jesus are called upon to overcome such temptations as doctrinal error, immorality, idolatry, and complacency and such pressures as rejection and persecution. The term translated "to the one who overcomes" has a military background and connects nicely with Cullmann's analogy of D-Day, V-Day.

Finally, we can ponder this scheme from another vantage point. The following passages focus on the tension of living a life in the middle, that is, a life between the two comings of Christ as depicted in Revelation:

Because of Christ's first coming, how much richer are we than the Old Testament people of God (1 Pet. 1:10-12)! Even though we enjoy blessings now because of Christ (Rev. 1:5ff.; 2:9; 3:7ff.; 5:9ff.; 12:10), there is still the "not yet." We still are not free from sin (Rev 2:4ff., 14ff., 20ff.; 3:1ff., 15ff.; 18:4), and many Christians still suffer even to the point of dying for Christ (Rev 1:9ff.; 6:9ff.; 11:1ff.; 12:11; 13:9-10; 14:13; 17:6; 20:4-6). And yet we anticipate even richer blessings (Rev 7:9ff.; 21:1ff.), looking forward to a new heaven and earth where there will be no evil or sin (Rev 20:11ff.; 21:1-22:6).

Any signs John provides with regard to the final coming of Christ are sufficiently ambiguous to keep us living as if Christ's coming is possible any day, even if we do not know the timing (Rev 3:3; 16:15). As one reads through Revelation, it appears as if the world will grow increasingly worse (e.g., Rev 16:16ff.; 20:7ff.), that there will be a succession of evil kingdoms in the image of Rome leading up to the end. In the meantime, the church is reminded of its responsibility to worship and witness and make war against the forces of evil as it waits for Christ to come.

In Revelation the disciple's life is one of imitating the life of Christ, a life that bears faithful witness to God (Rev 1:2, 9; 6:9; 11:7; 12:11, 17; 19:10; see also Rev 14:4ff.) while also acknowledging that the disciple will not achieve perfection in this life. Nevertheless, there is a persistent pressing on in the pilgrimage (Rev 2:10; 17:14; 22:11). John summarizes the Christian life in terms of salvation as a past fact, a present duty, and a future hope. Because Christ has saved us (Rev 1:5b) and because someday that salvation will be complete (Rev 19:1ff.), Christians must be faithful in living out the implications of their salvation.

Just as there was still conflict between D-Day and V-Day in the final days of World War II, so there will be conflict between Christ's first and final comings. The conflict involves God and his servants and the Dragon and his servants. Accordingly, Revelation was written to help Christians remain loyal to Christ, a notion that we will explore more fully in the chapters dealing with genre and the historical setting.

Reference:

Lowery, R. (2006). Revelation's Rhapsody: Listening to the Lyrics of the Lamb: How to Read the Book of Revelation. Joplin, MO: College Press Pub. Co.

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (IIIM).