Q&A: Already Enjoying the Kingdom, but Yearning for Second Advent

Already Enjoying the Kingdom, but Yearning for Second Advent

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

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Answer

You'll hear theologians use this term, "inaugurated eschatology." And what they're referring to is a way of understanding what the New Testament writers were depicting when they talked about the significance of Jesus' first advent, his coming, his death on the cross, and his resurrection. And the relationship that that had with the way the end of things were considered, or the last age — the "eschaton" is the sort of technical term — the age of the Messiah, the messianic kingdom. And what these theologians find, in the New Testament, is that there's a tension, that there is, on the one hand, what seems to be statements of the full arrival of the messianic kingdom, that it's here, that it's come, that the aspects that were associated with this great anticipated age — the presence of the Holy Spirit, the nations coming to worship God, the resurrection occurring — that those items were supposed to be part of "the coming of this age." And so, in a sense, it has begun. It has been inaugurated is the idea. But at the same time, believers feel the tension of this brokenness of creation. People still get sick. People still die. People still sin. Satan is still unbound. There is this aspect of how this kingdom isn't fully here yet, or fully consummated is the idea, that the wicked age still exists. And so, this teaching in the New Testament where you'll have, for example, Paul talk about salvation and redemption and reconciliation as if it's already occurred, and then almost immediately speak to you as if it's coming, gets into this idea of what is called "inaugurated eschatology." You'll also hear it referred to as "already, not yet." It's already happened, but it's not yet happened, or not yet fully arrived.

And this concept, that the New Testament writers have, is in stark contrast to what you would see in mainstream Second Temple Judaism, especially in the Pharisees. The idea was that there was a wicked age, and at the end of the wicked age would come the messianic age. And it's just basically two ages. But what the New Testament speaks to is that there's a wicked age, and into this age comes the age of the Messiah, but for a while there's an overlap, there's a living in between both ages. Now, the wicked age is destined to fall away and we look forward towards when there'll only be the full kingdom. Jesus speaks to this in the Gospel of John. Think about the story of when Lazarus is dead and Jesus' coming is going to raise him out of the grave, and before he gets there Lazarus' sister, Martha, comes to him and is pleading with Jesus, "If you'd only been here things would have been different." And Jesus says to her, "Your brother will rise again." And she says, "I know, I know, on the last day." She's working within that eschatology idea of a wicked age, and that at the end will be the new age when the resurrection occurs. But Jesus wants her to understand so much more, wants us to understand so much more, that it isn't at the end of history, that, when this resurrection will occur, but that it's actually in the middle of history and it's occurring in Jesus, in his coming, that he is the resurrection, that he brings this new age. And I think this impacts us as believers, that we don't think of eternal life as something that will happen. We don't think of the kingdom as something yet to come, but that we already are enjoying the eternal age, we already are living in this kingdom. And at the same time, we yearn and we hope for that great second advent, that second day when Christ comes in his glory, when the inaugurated eschatology gives way to just the kingdom of God.

Answer by Dr. Mark A. Jennings

Dr. Mark Jennings teaches New Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Boston MA.