Q&A: The Last Days have Begun with the First Coming of Jesus

The Last Days have Begun with the First Coming of Jesus

What do theologians mean by the term "inaugurated eschatology?"

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Answer

"Eschatology" refers to the "last things," so the last days, the age to come, the kingdom of God. And "inaugurated" refers to the fact that these things have begun already. Inaugurated is different than consummated. It's not fully here, but it's partially here. It's already here in principle. So, "inaugurated eschatology" is the viewpoint of the New Testament that, surprisingly, the last days have begun with the first coming of Jesus. And we see this throughout the teaching of Jesus and throughout the entire New Testament. So, Jesus says — he's talking about his ability to cast out demons — and he says, "If I cast out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you," past tense. It's already here. The writer of Hebrews says, "In these last days," referring to his own time period. Now, Paul says, "The ends of the age have come upon us." And Peter, the apostle Peter, in his Pentecost sermon quotes the Old Testament prophet Joel, prophesying things that are going to happen in the last days, and says, "This is coming to fulfillment already in our day; the last days are here." So, the teaching of the New Testament is that the last days, the age to come, the kingdom of God, has come already in part, not fully, but in part. Maybe a helpful illustration of this would be a tic-tac-toe game, or knots and crosses, for people from the UK. You can get, as you're playing tic-tac-toe, you can get to a point, if you play your moves right and the other player plays his moves wrong, where the game is won in principle. If you play out the rest of the game properly, it doesn't matter what your opponent does, you're going to win the game. And so, if I held a board up like that to you and said, "Is this game over or is it not over?" the answer would be yes and no at the same time. The victory is achieved in principle, but you still need to play out the victory. And similarly, at his first coming, through his life, death, resurrection, Jesus already has won the decisive victory over sin, Satan, death, but it's not fully implemented yet. Jesus needs to come again a second time. And this was totally scandalous for the people of Jesus' day. Jewish people of his day understood the kingdom of God as a fireworks display of God's judgment and wrath and vindication for his people. And Jesus comes saying the kingdom of God is here, and yet history is continuing on as it always was. And Jesus doesn't back away from this scandalous teaching. He presses in on it. He gives parables of the mustard seed, a little bit of leaven. He says the kingdom of God is like a little bit of leaven that's hidden in a lump. For Jews to hear that the kingdom of God is hidden would be unthinkable. But Jesus, this is very important for Jesus in his first coming to teach that the kingdom of God is here even though it's not fully here.

Answer by Dr. Stephen E. Witmer

Dr. Stephen E. Witmer is senior pastor of Pepperell Christian Fellowship in Pepperell, MA. He also teaches New Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary