Friday, June 18, 2010

The Inherent Practicality of Eschatology

As I have been studying and preaching from Micah, one thing that has struck me over and over again is the role that eschatology and history play in Micah's prophecy.  In Micah there is a constant interaction between the two in a way that many of us are not used to thinking.  Typically when we think of eschatology and history we think of eschatology as the end of history or we think of history leading to eschatology.  But Micah sees it another way.  He sees eschatology shaping and guiding history.  But even here, he does not do so abstractly, but rather grounds it covenantally.  And he does this in two basic ways: through the covenant history of Israel and through the covenant history of the world.

First, he utilizes the covenant history of Israel.  Micah as the Lord's prophet serves as the administer of the covenant that God cut with Israel at Mt. Sinai in Exodus and that was renewed in Deuteronomy.  This covenant by way of typology was eschatological.  It was given in Exodus 19 in the context of a theophany, which means that God manifested his presence, his eschatological presence, in history.  This theophanic presence revealed the Lord of the covenant but also what was at stake in the covenant.  On the typological level, life and death were being revealed in the covenant.  Obedience would lead to life in the land of Canaan, which was typological of life in heaven.  Disobedience would lead to being cut off from the land of Canaan, which was typological of hell. 

But this arrangement was not just in the covenant, but was already present in the giving of the covenant.  God's eschatological presence was both a potential blessing and curse for Israel.  So, in his grace and mercy, he revealed to Moses how the people could remain safe (blessing) rather than dieing (curse) in his presence--they were to gather at the foot of the mountain but not touch it.  So we see eschatology intruding into history at the giving of the covenant where the substance of the covenant is revealed in the very situation of its ratification.

But the eschatology of the covenant was also manifested in the forward looking expectation of the covenant.  The fact that the covenant had terms that were to be kept directs us to understand that God would return at some point to execute the terms of the covenant.  In the future, God would judge and meet out either blessing or curse.  So, there was a forward looking expectation concealed in the covenant.  That which was revealed at the beginning would be manifest again in the future.

Second, he utilizes the covenant history of Israel to teach us about the covenant history of humanity.  Now, as I have said, this covenant with Israel, though administering earthly blessing or curse tied to the geographical land of Canaan, serves to help us understand the higher and greater realities of heaven and hell, but also serves to remind us of the more cosmic covenant that God had established with Adam and all his posterity.  In the second verse of chapter one, Micah calls for all the nations to hear and pay attention to what God is doing with his covenant people Israel.  The reason is because the time of Israel's looking forward to God's return to execute of the terms of the covenant with Israel is at hand--the future day of the Lord is about to no longer be future, it is about to be present.  The judgment that God is bringing upon his people for the rebellion of their covenant breaking is to direct the nations to understand the judgment he is going to bring upon them for the rebellion of their covenant breaking.

God had established the covenant of works with Adam in the garden of Eden, and this included everyone who would be born from Adam by natural generation, i.e., everyone human ever born in history that could trace his lineage to Adam.  Adam failed this covenant and as a result plunged all of humanity into the misery of sin and death.  This covenant in Genesis also had a forward looking expectation of God executing its terms.  Adam and all of humanity that fell in him rebelled and so are now liable to the curse of that covenant, which is eternal death.  The future judgment is going to intrude into the present and God is going to judge all the nations, and we know this because the future judgment of Israel that was built into the fabric of their covenant intruded into their present.  Through God's historical dealings with Israel, we see a portrait of God's historic dealings with mankind.  Eschatology that intrudes in history past that speaks of the eschatology of future history will become eschatologically present in the history of all of mankind.

Now, for many, this view of history seems very complicated.  It seems difficult to understand.  It seems very abstract.  So how is it inherently practical?  What does this have to do with the mom at home raising her children, or the person at work at their job, or the student at school?

Eschatology is inherently practical because it forms and shapes everyone's life.  Our present lives are to be lived in light of God's eschatological intrusions in the past as they help us to understand the consummate intrusion still coming in the future.  The stage in which our lives, and every seemingly mundane detail of our day to day existence, is lived out is the stage of God's eschatological intrusions.  Each day that we are alive is to be lived presently in the recognition of what God has done in the past and what God will do in the future.  We cannot live faithfully as the covenant people of God without constantly reminding ourselves of the terms of the covenant.  But we also cannot live faithfully without constantly reminding ourselves of the future consummation of the covenant. 

When we don't remember these foundational truths, we only see our lives in the present here and now.  And when we do that, we find ourselves tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine and the wisdom of this present world.  For what is there to ground our faith?  Our vocation?  Our worship?  Our mission?  Everything we do is contingent on remembering the future that broke into the past and the future that still awaits the present. 

In Micah, the life of Israel was lived between the two advents of God--his advent at Mt. Sinai at the giving of the covenant and his advent in judgment when he utilized Assyria to wipe out the northern ten tribes in 722 B.C. and Babylon to take the southern two tribes into captivity in 586 B.C.  And yet, the message of Micah in calling us to see life this way is not to discourage but to give hope as his message reveals the hope that comes in that judgment.  For in this judgment, which is another type of the coming day of the Lord, we are directed to the day of the Lord that broke into history in the past that now shapes our present.  When the Lord, in another theophany, intruded into history and lived among men.  When the future became present in his bringing the curse of the covenant--only not against his people, nor against the nations, but against himself as he died the cursed death of the cross.  It is this day of the Lord that shapes our present and directs us to the future consummation that is coming. 

There has been an execution of curse that leads to life for sinners of all the nations.  And yet, there is still a future Day of the Lord that is coming.  And as believers find themselves united to Jesus Christ by faith, they are to live between these two advents ever looking backwards and forwards, so that they may live presently, as mothers and fathers and children and employees, etc., with their faith, obedience, vocation, worship and mission grounded firmly in Christ.  And so they may not find themselves living under the tyranny of the present and forgetting who they have been made and called to be in Christ. 

Geerhardus Vos once wrote, "Only one thing more, and that of supreme importance, needs to be remembered: all eschatological interpretation of history, when united to a strong religious mentality cannot but produce the finest practical theological fruitage," (p. 61).  Everything we know about God, our very relationship with God and everything you do in your relationship with God is rooted in eschatology. Eschatology is the beginning, the end and the middle step in living in a saving relationship with God--you cannot live a faithful life in Christ apart from eschatology.  Eschatology, then, is inherently practical for living a life of faith in Christ.

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