I'll be teaching this Saturday on the topic of "Man in the Covenant of Works" as treated in Louis Berkhof's Systematic Theology. After reading through the chapter, I decided to supplement my knowledge with some free, downloadable lectures from sermonaudio.com.
The first two lectures I got were those delivered by Dr. Carl Trueman. I was only a bit surprised to find that the structure and over-all content of his presentations were almost equivalent to Berkhof's. I then got four more lectures, this time by Dr. Lane Tipton. Both men are from Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia.
I was very much enriched by both men, but I got something more from Tipton on just the first lecture. What I got was the better, more biblical definition of eschatology, and how it relates to the Covenant of Works and actually to the entirety of God's economy in redemptive history as revealed in Scripture.
The default understanding of most on the meaning of "eschatology" is bound up in the phrase, the last things, which traditionally deals with death, the intermediate state, the millennium, judgment, the second coming, the new heavens and the new earth, etc. Tipton argues, taking off from Vos, that the better definition would be the ultimate things. He then offers this very helpful elaboration:
The eschatological is:
1. Eternal reality of the kingdom paradise promised to Adam in the CoW.
2. Immutable state of perfect life in the presence of God.
3. Heavenly goal of the promised kingdom under the CoW.
4. The final stage of the kingdom of God, the telos point, the omega point.
Summary: The eschatological is the eternal, immutable, heavenly, and final state of the kingdom of God.
Reproduced below are two articles that might prove helpful in the better understanding of the concept.
The Eschatological Aspect of Justification (Romans 4:25) by James T. Dennison, Jr. [Kerux:NWTS 10/1 (May 1995) 10-16]
The doctrine of justification is not central to Paul's theology. It may be central to Luther's theology, but not to the theology of the apostle Paul. In fact, justification is not a forensic category in Paul. Forensic justification may be crucial to Luther's theology, but not to Paul's. Luther misread Paul in the light of his experience with post-medieval Catholicism. Catholicism of Luther's day urged the securing of God's favor by good works. Luther then read this Roman Catholic view back on to first century Judaism. But Luther completely misunderstood first century Judaism. First century Judaism was not a religion of meritorious works; rather it was a religion of grace and mercy from which good works flow. In fact, first century Judaism balanced grace and works as much as Luther himself wished to do. We must stop reading Paul with Lutheran glasses. We must stop seeing first century Judaism through reactionary sixteenth century Protestant binoculars.
Now that I have your attention, let me acknowledge that the preceding summary of Paul's doctrine of justification and Palestinian Judaism is not mine. It is the gist of a bombshell which burst upon New Testament studies in 1977 from the pen of Edwin P. Sanders. Sanders' revisionist crusade against the Lutheran doctrine of justification in Paul has been seconded and advanced by numerous scholars—most notably James G. Dunn. Sanders and Dunn are unabashed in the revisionist interpretation of Paul. Paul's doctrine of justification is not primarily forensic. Paul's view of the "works of the law" in first century Judaism does not attribute Pelagianism to the Jewish system. Luther was, quite simply, wrong!
The Sanders thesis represents a paradigm shift in Pauline theology. To date (to my knowledge), no Reformed scholar has answered Sanders' reconstruction. I do not propose to fill that vacuum in twenty minutes.
The doctrine of justification is no barrier to joint Evangelical-Roman Catholic mission. In the face of a hostile post-modern world, Evangelicals and Catholics must unite in their common commitment to the gospel. Since Evangelicals and Catholics jointly confess justification by grace through faith because of Christ, surely that is sufficient common ground to declare an end to centuries of Protestant-Catholic polemics. Furthermore, if the polemics are no longer relevant, mutual proselytizing is inappropriate if not downright un-Christian. Evangelicals and Catholics should recognize one another as in a state of grace and put aside differences which keep us apart.
The preceding summary of Evangelical and Roman Catholic relations is not mine. It is the gist of a bombshell which burst upon the Protestant and Catholic world last spring in a document entitled "Evanglicals and Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium." The document "Evangelicals and Catholics Together" represents a paradigm shift in Protestant-Catholic relations. The doctrine of justification has been defined in a Roman Catholic sense with the result that Evangelicals are signing a statement which repudiates the Reformation principle of sola fide.
We are being pressed by the radical revisionists in New Testament scholarship to redefine the Pauline doctrine of justification. We are being pressed by the radical pragmatists in conservative Catholic and Evangelical circles to redefine the Pauline doctrine of justification. We have been blindsided by the radical scholars of the left. Revisionist liberalism is ever kicking the traces in the interest of destroying the past for the progressively enlightened future. But we have been betrayed by the pragmatic scholars on the right. Evangelicalism, in its lust for cultural power and influence, has surrendered the heart of the Pauline theology to indifference and irrelevance. Perhaps modern Evangelicalism is as liberal, progressive and revisionist at heart as the radical New Testament scholars themselves.
The fatal flaw in both these approaches to justification is the failure to comprehend the centrality of Christ. Sanders and Dunn are majoring in the quest for historic Judaism—interestingly, that Judaism turns out to be amazingly similar to their own modern brand of Protestantism. The signers of Evangelicals and Catholics Together are majoring in Christian mission reduced to the lowest common denominator—namely cultural counter-attack. Both sides have de-emphasized Christ himself and particularly the eschatological aspect of Paul's doctrine of justification.
The eschatological aspect of Paul's doctrine of justification should not be construed as a threat to the forensic formulation essential to historic Protestantism. The eschatological aspect of justification does not supplant the forensic—it deepens and enriches it. The forensic aspect has been classically associated with Christ's active and passive obedience, that is, his life and his death. The eschatological aspect is associated with Christ's vindication, that is, his resurrection. Paul's classic conjunction of justification and resurrection is found in our text Romans 4:25—"[Jesus] was raised again for our justification." This dynamic of resurrection and justification is alluded to by the apostle in 1 Timothy 3:16 ("[Christ] was justified in the Spirit"), Romans 1:3-4 ("[Christ] was declared to be the Son of God with power by resurrection from the dead"). And Paul concretely identifies the life of the believer with the risen Christ in Romans 6:4 ("as Christ was raised from the dead . . . so too may we walk in newness of life"), Colossians 3:1, 2 ("if then you have been raised up with Christ, set your minds on things above"), Ephesians 2:4-5 ("God . . . because of his great love with which he loved us . . . made us alive together with Christ and raised us up together").
But specifically what does the resurrection of Christ have to do with our justification? It is easy for us to understand what the righteous life of Christ has to do with our justification—it is the righteousness which, when imputed to us, constitutes us right with God. And it is easy for us to understand what the bloody death of Christ has to do with our justification—it is the covering for our guilt whereby we are forgiven all our sins. But how does the resurrection of Christ account for our justification? The resurrection of Christ accounts for our justification because the resurrection of Christ was his justification. His story is our story—his justification is our justification. What do I mean by the statement "Jesus was justified"?
Well perhaps we should begin with the condemnation of Jesus. Jesus was condemned—condemned to bear the wages of sin—condemned to the curse of the grave—accounted worthy of death—accounted to be sin itself. And that means he descended into hell—he was separated from God—he endured the wrath of the Father—he was judged "guilty".
But sin, and guilt and the grave could not hold him. The curse could not bind him. The final judgment of Jesus could not sustain the charge "guilty of condemnation." He rose—Jesus of Nazareth rose up from the grave—God did not leave his soul in hell. The resurrection of Jesus is the declaration that he is not guilty. The resurrection of Jesus is the declaration that he is righteous. The resurrection of Jesus is his justification. No more condemnation for Jesus of Nazareth—no more death for Jesus of Nazareth—no more curse for Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus has been justified by resurrection.
The last things fell upon Jesus—death, condemnation, wrath. But Jesus lives! The eschatological realities fell upon Jesus—the grave, judgment, punishment. But Jesus is alive forevermore! The resurrection of Jesus is the display of the eschatological realities in advance of the consummation. The resurrection of Jesus is the moving forward of the end-time realities into the midst of time. He goes through the final judgment on the cross. He goes to the grave—in the garden. He descends to the hellish torments of God's wrath—in his agony. But his body is raised from the dead on Easter morning. His soul is released from God's wrath and reunited with his body—on Easter morning. His body and soul stand before his friends and disciples declaring that the last judgment is past for him and he has been justified by the Father—all on Easter morning.
The eschatological has appeared in the Christological. Eschatological judgment is past—for Christ. Eschatological wrath is past—for Christ. Eschatological resurrection is past—for Christ. Eschatological justification is past—for Christ. The resurrection of Jesus is the eschatological declaration that he has been justified—justified once and for all! The resurrection of Jesus is his justification.
But Paul says in our text "he was raised for our justification." Do you see it? Do you see what Paul sees? Christ's justification is our justification. We are justified in his justification. When he was made sin, he was made sin for us. When he died, we died with him. When he entered into the judgment and was condemned, we were condemned with him. When he endured the wrath of God, he took that wrath in our place. And when he was acquitted by resurrection, we were acquitted. When he was declared not guilty by resurrection, we were declared not guilty. When he was raised up, we were raised up together with him. When he was justified—justified by resurrection—we were justified. The eschatological has appeared for us—in the Christological. Eschatological death is past for us—Jesus paid it all. Eschatological judgment is past for us—Jesus endured it all. Eschatological wrath is past for us—Jesus bore it all. Eschatological righteousness is present for us—Jesus has it all. Eschatological forgiveness is present for us—Jesus gives it all. Eschatological life is present for us—Jesus lives it all.
Even now to those who are in Christ Jesus—no condemnation!
Even now to those who are in Christ Jesus—no more wrath!
Even now to those who are in Christ Jesus—no more death!
Even now to those who are in Christ Jesus—you are justified!
Even now to those who are in Christ Jesus—you are forgiven!
Even now to those who are in Christ Jesus—you have been raised from the dead!
Well then, why do we appear in the final judgment at Christ's second coming? Certainly not to jeopardize the eschatological character of his justification and our justification in him. Rather we will be, together with Christ, the justification of God, for we shall reveal that we are the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus on that great day.
He was raised for our justification—we have now been justified and
yet will be justified.
He was raised for our justification—we have now been raised up and
yet will be raised up.
He was raised for our justification—we have now been seated in heavenly
places and yet will be seated in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.
It is precisely at this point—the eschatological character of justification that neither broad evangelicals, Roman Catholics or radicals like Sanders and Dunn grasp the unique character of the Pauline theology. In interpreting Paul through the grid of first century Judaism, the radicals fail to understand the unique role of the resurrection of the Son of God—for you see it was a resurrected Christ that stopped Saul of Tarsus on the Damascus Road. In interpreting Paul through the grid of twentieth century pragmatism, broad Evangelicals and Catholics fail to understand the "once and for all", the eschatological character of Jesus' own justification by resurrection. What could any sinner—even one in a state of grace—add to it?!
We, upon whom the end of the age has come, we can follow neither deviation. For we know—even now—we know that Jesus was raised for our justification. And we know that He will yet raise us up justified to behold the face of his Father forever.
Suggestions for Further Reading
Charles W. Colson, "Evangelicals & Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium." First Things 43 (May 1994): 15-22.
James D. G. Dunn, "The New Perspective on Paul." Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library 65/2 (Spring 1983): 95-122.
______________, Christian Liberty. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1994.
______________, The Justice of God. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1994.
E. P. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977.
___________, Paul, the Law and the Jewish People. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1983.
Geerhardus Vos and Eschatology by Lawrence Semel [Kerux:NWTS 10/2 (Sep 1995) 25-40]
In Ephesians 1:3 the apostle Paul writes: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ." Here, in this statement, in a nutshell, is the eschatology of the New Testament that Geerhardus Vos wants to help us understand and appreciate. In connection with the first coming of Christ—his life, death, resurrection and ascension into heaven Christ has brought his church to the possession of the blessings of the age to come. The work of Christ has delivered his people from their former existence in which they were dead in trespasses and sins (2:1), and walked "according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air." "But God," Paul says, "being rich in mercy . . . even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ . . . and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus" (2:4-6).
In his article, "The Eschatological Aspect of the Pauline Conception of the Spirit," Vos states the following: "There are two worlds, the lower and the higher, and it is affirmed of the believer that he belongs to the latter and no longer to the former reality. Each has its own pattern, but the pattern after which the Christian patterns himself is that of the other world, not that of this world (Rom. 12:2). The world has been crucified to the Christian and he unto the world (Gal. 6:15) .... The Christian has his citizenship in heaven, not upon earth, and therefore should not mind earthly things (Phil. 3:19, 20). Being raised with Christ, he must seek and set his mind upon things that are above, not upon the things that are upon the earth (Col. 3:1, 2)."1 The work of Christ has removed the believer's life from the earth to heaven and he has made us participants in the blessings of the age to come. Paul in the rest of Ephesians 1-3 expounds upon the nature of these heavenly blessings. They constitute the believer's call of God in Christ. In his prayer at the end of chapter 1, he prays "that the eyes of the believer's heart may be enlightened so that they may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints." Paul views his ministry as helping the church see and understand the enormity of the blessing which is already theirs by virtue of their faith in Christ, so that they might see that these blessings are the gracious gifts of the Triune God. In response, he hopes that the church would be moved to worship God and be motivated to live the new life that answers to their heavenly calling.
We have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ. Paul's emphasis is on what the church already has, the blessings it now possesses by virtue of the work accomplished by Christ at his first coming. This is the eschatological perspective. It was the apostle's ministry to declare and unfold the blessing to them. It is our ministry to do the same. From the Bible there is created in us an interest in eschatology and this creates an interest in studying the writings of Geerhardus Vos whose career was devoted to the exposition of the grace and glory of the end of the ages that has come upon us. As teachers in Christ's church, what Paul was anxious to do among the saints of God, "to enlighten the eyes of their hearts . . . to know the hope of His calling, and the riches of the glory of His inheritance," Geerhardus Vos will help us to do as well.
A. The Bible is Central
Vos's writings are extensive and they are difficult to understand. At the outset, it might be helpful to try and summarize what are for Vos the central concerns of his teaching. At the center of all Vos's teaching is a thoroughly Reformed commitment to Scripture. The Bible is God's self-revelation. For man to know anything about God, God must reveal it to him. God reveals himself in nature, but it is in special revelation, even before the fall "that God communicates to us that knowledge of Himself that brings us to the deepest and most intimate knowledge of Him."2 This self-revelation of God culminates in the self-disclosure of Jesus.
This view of the Bible stands against what Vos calls the "destructive critical theories now prevailing."3 In modern criticism of the Bible, the evolutionary view of history prevails and this evolutionary view destroys the Biblical message. In this modern view, Scripture is the product of man's evolving, subjective projections about God and religion. "The Bible is the history of man seeking to supply a religious explanation to his own life and history. This makes the Bible a revelation of men, by men who are in development of their own religious self-awareness."4 In other words, the Bible is only another book. It is ancient Israel's subjective ideas about God. Other people have their ideas—one is no better than another. All people at the various stages of evolutionary development must project for themselves who they imagine God to be, how he is to be worshipped and what ethic to follow. Man's own modern setting determines everything.
Vos dedicates himself to fighting such an approach. "The Bible is not a story of human progress and discovery in religion."5 He sees the Bible as the objective revelation of the God who is really there (to coin a phrase). The Bible is divine speech that comes with divine authority. God's self-revelation comes in the company of redemptive events. "Word and act always accompany each other."6 Redemptive events and revelation unfold progressively throughout the Old Testament and culminate in the coming of Christ. The coming of Christ is the final event and with it, God speaks his final Word to us. "Progress in revelation resembles the organic process through which out of the perfect germ the perfect plant and flower and fruit are successively produced."7
The Bible is therefore a prize beyond anything the earth can confer. In the Bible God gives himself to us as our inheritance to enjoy, a treasure more desirable than gold yes than much fine gold. In the Bible God gives himself to us for our internal delight. To taste the word is to taste the sweetness of honey and the drippings of the honeycomb (Ps. 19:10). "O taste and see that the Lord is good. Blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him" (Ps. 34:8).
B. The Covenant is Central
Throughout Vos's writings is found a thoroughly Reformed exposition of the covenant. Because the Bible is central in Vos's teaching, then also the doctrine of the covenant is central. "The content of God's self-revelation is expressed as a covenant."8 For Vos, because the covenant is at the center of Scripture, then the doctrine of the covenant is the centerpiece of Reformed Theology. Vos singles out the Westminster Confession of Faith because, he writes: "The Westminster Confession is the first Reformed confession in which the doctrine of the covenant is not merely brought in from the side, but is placed in the forefront and is able to permeate at almost every point."9 The first question and answer of the Westminster Shorter Catechism captures the concern of the covenant and its eschatological goal: "Man's chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever." In this famous statement is reflected the covenant refrain in Scripture that states: "I will dwell among you and I will be your God and you will be My people" (Lev. 26; Jer. 31; Rev. 21). The highest end or goal for man is this relationship of mutual possession. That God might be our possession to enjoy. And that we might be God's possession and show it by glorifying him forever.
It is by way of the covenant that God ordains to bring man to the eschatological goal. In the covenant of works made with Adam, as the Children's Catechism states, God promised to reward Adam with life if he obeyed him or to punish Adam with death if he disobeyed him.10Adam has a goal set before him. When sin threatens this goal, then the reward of life is reasserted and extended to Adam on the basis of grace. "God cannot simply let go of the ordinance which he once instituted, but much rather displays His glory in that He carries it through despite man's sin and apostasy."11 Only he who is of clean hands and pure heart who has not lifted up his soul unto vanity nor sworn deceitfully can ascend into the hill of the Lord and stand in His holy place (Ps. 24:4). The gates of the heavenly Jerusalem will only open to the redeemer king who leads in procession all his people who only gain entrance by virtue of their attachment to him.
"This gaining of eternal life by the Mediator has also a covenant arrangement behind it."12 The covenant of grace is made between the Father and the Son in the Council of Peace. "After the fall man will never again be able to work in a manner pleasing to God except a completed work of God be performed on his behalf. Earning eternal life has forever been taken out of his hands. The obtaining of eternal life thus comes to lie in God as a work that is His alone, in which His glory shines and of which nothing, without detracting from that glory, can be attributed to the creature."13 Preceeding every work of man, is the work of God so that in all things God's glory might be preeminent.
C. God is Central
At the center of Vos's teaching is the Bible. For Vos at the center of the Biblical message is the covenant. And for Vos at the center of all is God. Reformed Theology takes hold of the Scriptures and takes hold of the doctrine of the covenant and finds in these the root idea that distinguishes the Reformed Theology from all other theologies. "This root idea which serves as the key to unlock the rich treasures of the Scriptures is the preeminence of God's glory in the consideration of all that has been created. This explains the difference between the Reformed tradition and all others. In all others, they begin with man and in the Reformed, it begins with God. God does not exist because of man, but man because of God. This is what is written at the entrance of the temple of Reformed theology."14 God does not exist to serve man or to do his bidding or to be man's instrument. Man exists to serve God and to do his bidding and to be his instrument. God who enters into covenant with man and in sovereign grace and mercy saves him from his sin, does so to make us his worshippers.
This distinction is for Vos what ultimately distinguishes true religion from false religion. In false religion, man and his interests and needs are always at the center and God orbits around him. In true religion God and his glory are always at the center. Vos is most discerning in this area. From his treatment of the first four commandments in his book Biblical Theology, to the Jewish/Pharisaical problem of boasting which makes God indebted to man, to the contemporary reduction of all the divine attributes to the love of God, Vos unmasks the blatant reversal of true religion. On the subject of the modern emphasis on love, he writes, "The modern religious subject thirsts for love as such, not in the first place for forgiving, justifying grace. But this in itself is but a symptom of the general abandonment of the Geocentric attitude . . . Love is magnified because at bottom God is conceived of as existing for the sake of man. "15
Found throughout Vos's teaching are these basic commitments. The Bible is central and at the center of the Bible stands the covenant and at the center of the covenant stands God himself. The Bible is God's self-revelation to man. The content of that revelation is the covenant and it is by way of covenant that God purposes to bring man to his chief and highest end, to glorify God and fully enjoy him forever.
III. Adam and Eschatology
It has been said that "the Bible teaches us to define eschatology as everything that happens between the first and second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ." Yet Vos not only helps us to see this truth, but he also shows us how eschatology shapes the whole biblical message. In fact a full appreciation of what takes place in the coming of Christ can only be had by viewing with Vos the sweep of the whole history of redemption.
For Vos, eschatology is not the last thing in the Bible to come into consideration. It is the first thing. All of Vos's insights into Biblical eschatology originate in his understanding of Genesis 2 and 3. In the chapter in the volume Biblical Theology on "The Content Of Pre-Redemptive Special Revelation," Vos contends that God set before Adam in the garden of Eden, an eschatological goal. He points out (a fact often missed entirely) that the garden was not heaven, it was not the dwelling place of God. You know this from the text that tells us that God would come and visit Adam in the garden and would then depart. The garden was not heaven but rather an earthly anteroom, a place of entrance into heaven, a gateway to heaven if you will.16 In other words, Genesis reveals to us that Adam was first to have an earthly/natural existence and then after his earthly task was completed, he would enter heaven and into a heavenly/spiritual existence. This is the divine plan for Adam even apart from the entrance of sin. God's intent is to bring Adam from the lower sphere of the earth, to the higher sphere of heaven. Vos and others see this original scheme of things confirmed in the mind of the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 where in speaking of the natural body and the spiritual body, Paul says that Christ as second Adam has brought his people to the possession of the spiritual existence intended all along. God ordained the natural first to be followed by the spiritual.
In the garden, Adam is created in a changeable condition. He is created righteous but he can sin. He is created with life but he can die. A higher state is set before him as a goal to attain. This higher state is represented in the tree of life. In association with it the confirmed state of eternal life would be given. Vos writes: "The tree was associated with the higher, the unchangeable, the eternal life to be secured by obedience throughout his probation."17 Interwoven in Scripture with the possession of eternal life is nearness to God, a dwelling with God in God's own dwelling place, namely in heaven. Dennison puts it this way: "It was the eschatological end that was threatened by sin's intrusion but reasserted in the promise of a new work of God.''18 God will graciously bring man to the goal. God will graciously bring him to heaven and to the possession of eternal life, a condition that can never be threatened or interrupted again.
This perspective helps us to understand the gospel clearly. To believe in Christ is not to be returned to the garden still facing a probation as the Jehovah's Witnesses and others teach. No, the gospel tells us that Christ brings us to the goal of heaven and eternal life that Adam failed to reach.
IV. Old Testament and Eschatology
The eschatological goal for Adam of dwelling with God forever in heaven is the same as the goal of the covenant. The attainment of this goal is the focus of the whole content of Old Testament revelation. The covenant promise from Moses to Revelation appears like a refrain: I will dwell among you and I will be your God and you shall be my people. Eschatological rest is the longing throughout the Old Testament of the people of God. And God in a progressive manner leads them to this goal.
The goal is rest. Throughout the Old Testament history, the movement towards this goal progresses and develops in stages. The first stage is one of covenant making and all the initial steps toward the covenant's goal. From Abraham to the borders of Canaan, God has joined with his people to fulfill the promises of the covenant to them.
In the second stage, under the leadership of Joshua, the nation takes possession of the land in the power of God's might. Joshua announces to them that God has given them rest (Josh. 23:1). Yet it soon proves to be only a temporary stage along the way to the goal. In the book of Judges, Israel repeatedly falls into sin, is harassed by enemies, delivered by God through the hand of a judge, only to repeat the cycle again. The loose federation of the twelve tribes leaves much to be desired. Every man does that which is right in his own eyes. There is no king in Israel. Canaan in the time of the judges shows that it is not the permanent rest for the people of God and it cries out and points forward to the need for something better.
The next stage is the monarchy in Israel. Israel wants a king but they are driven by untheocratic motives. God gives them Saul and the experience of failure for a king so that they will next long for a righteous king. David is declared to be a man after God's own heart. David defeats and pacifies Israel's enemies and in 2 Samuel 7 we read that God gives David rest. The covenant is renewed with David promising that a descendant of David would reign forever over an eternal kingdom. Under David and Solomon, the kingdom reaches its golden age. Jerusalem is the capital, the temple is built and government is centralized: all giving a sense of permanence. But no sooner is this pinnacle of Israel's history reached than the slide downward begins. Internal division along with apostasy brings the two kingdoms to destruction and captivity and exile from the land. Once again, this stage manifests itself to be only temporary. The prophets are raised up to keep the nation on track as the covenant people, an earthly representation of the heavenly kingdom of God. When disintegration sets in, the early prophets call for repentance, reconstruction and a return to former Mosaic faithfulness. But with the latter prophets, though they still proclaim a message of reform, now the message begins to shift to a hope that lies in the future. Even when Israel returns from the captivity, though Jerusalem and the temple are rebuilt and the worship ritual reinstated and the life of the community reformed, still what characterizes the whole period is the failure to recapture the former glory. At this point, the message is given to the nation that a future is coming that will be so glorious that the former glory of Solomon will pale in contrast to it.
The great future is called by the prophets "the day of the Lord", "in that day," "in those days" or "the last days". And for the prophets, this will be the time when what they prophesied will be fulfilled (Jer. 33:14). It will be the time of the coming of the Lord. The time when the blind will see, the lame will walk, the lepers will be cleansed, the dead will be raised and when the captives are set free and the poor have the gospel preached to them. It is the time when a new covenant is established, the new and final/eternal one beyond which nothing better can be conceived.
The prophets see off in the distance the arrival of the last days, the arrival of the eschaton. They see the arrival of the final stage of redemptive history in which the goal of the covenant, the goal of rest, the eschatological goal of communion with God in the heavenlies is finally realized. They see the time when the promise of communion with God in heaven, of the establishment of the everlasting covenant, will be realized, never to be interrupted or threatened again.
Redemptive history moves through stages. Each one is not merely a return to a former state of affairs, but rather, incorporating what has proceeded, each stage moves on to a higher stage, one never seen or realized before, until the final stage is attained.
V. New Testament and Eschatology
The New Testament in general proclaims that the last days of Old Testament prophecy have arrived. The writer of Hebrews declares the biblical view of history (1:1-2). There are but two historical eras to redemptive history. "Long ago" when God spoke to the fathers through the prophets (the Old Testament era) and "these last days" when God has spoken to us in his Son (the New Testament era). For the writers of the New Testament, the church in every generation lives in the same age as the apostles themselves. "The last days" is the period of God's final speech to us in his Son. Christ's first coming is his appearance at the end of the ages (Heb. 9:28). Peter speaks in the same way. Christ has appeared in these last times for the sake of you (1 Pet. 1:20). John speaks of the opposition to Christ that is present in his day and will be in the future, as a sign that it is the last hour (1 Jn. 2:18). Paul exhorts the Corinthians (1 Cor. 10:11), to heed the example of judgment that befell Old Testament Israel for their unbelief—"for these things were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come." For the apostle Paul, "the sending forth of Christ marks to him the fullness of times, a phrase which certainly means more than that the time was ripe for the introduction of Christ into the world: the fullness of the time means the end of that aeon and the commencement of another world period."19
From this reading of the New Testament, Vos concludes that the traditional place assigned to eschatology did not do justice to the New Testament revelation. Traditionally, eschatology was understood as the "study of the last things" or "the end times." The things considered under the heading of eschatology then included death, the state of the soul and body between death and the judgment, the millennium, the second coming, the resurrection of the dead, the judgment, and the consummation, the new heavens and the new earth and the eternal state."20 Vos, over against this traditional view, Dennison writes, "rises from his Bible asking if the second coming or the eventual destiny of the soul and body are alone the eschatological focus of the faith. He concludes that they are not. Along side of the future hope of Christ's promised return is the impact of his first appearance in the flesh and his Spirit's descent at Pentecost. His first advent is no less eschatological than his second."21
Vos contends that this is the message of Christ revealed in the gospels. In passages that are familiar to us all, Jesus declares that the promised day of the appearance of the Kingdom of God has come. The Kingdom has come because the King has come. Jesus' first message is: "Repent for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Mt. 4:17). It is very close and in fact already present. In response to the Pharisees who ask him when the kingdom of God comes, Jesus answers that the kingdom is in their midst (Lk. 17:21). When Jesus is accused of casting out a demon by the prince of demons he replies, "If I by the finger of God cast out demons then the kingdom of God has come upon you" (Lk. 11:20). When John the Baptist in prison has doubts about Jesus, Jesus tells his disciples to go and tell John what they see Jesus doing. What the Old Testament prophesied would signal the arrival of the great future, Jesus is doing. "Go and report to John what you hear and see: the blind receive sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them" (Mt. 11:4-5).
John's problem is the one that all Old Testament prophets, limited to the Old Testament vision of the coming future, would have. Prophetically they saw the arrival of the last day, the final age as one event, consisting of both salvation and judgment. The coming to save and the coming to judge are separated. It is one event but it comes in two installments. It comes with the coming of the first advent of Christ who comes first not to be served but to serve and give his life a ransom for many. "Jesus did not come first to bring the judgment but to bear the judgment. He did not come to strike down the wicked with the spear of retribution but to receive the thrust of the spear in his own side."22 From his pierced side flows blood and water that atones for and cleanses from sin. During this whole period since his first coming, his disciples and the church that arises from their witness through the preaching of the gospel, causes every generation to look on him whom they have pierced. Repentance and faith from among every tongue, tribe and nation, is the result. The judgment is delayed. During this eschatological period, the elect will be gathered to Christ. When this harvest is complete, then Christ will return as conquering King in glory to finally judge the earth. But everything in between the comings of Christ is properly understood as eschatology. It is this consideration that Vos develops so brilliantly.
"Vos perceived that our present life, as life in the kingdom and life in the Spirit is one in which we already participate in eschatological blessedness. Nor did he fail to grasp the content of that eschatological blessedness. It is nothing less than the possession of God."23 The benefits of Christ's comings are one piece with the eschatological goal and prize that Christ has attained. Christ by his perfect work in humiliation and exaltation has received the reward. The reward of life, eternal life in the presence of God, forfeited by Adam, is in the last Adam achieved. On resurrection day when the disciples see him again, they will understand that because he lives they shall live also (Jn. 14:19). Jesus tells his disciples that on that day, on resurrection day when they see him again, then "you shall know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you" (Jn. 14:20). Through Mary Magdalene Christ sends the message to his disciples, "I ascend to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God" (Jn. 20:17). The eschatological goal of life in communion and fellowship with God never to be interrupted or threatened again has been realized. Christ has received the promised reward and he does so in order to share the reward with his church. In Christ, we are "children of God, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ" (Rom. 8:17).
Christ's reward is what he pours out upon his church so that the church might be filled up to all his fullness. Grace bestows all this eschatological reward upon us. Thus understood, grace is not unto the possession of eschatological blessing, it is one piece with it. Grace is not unto glory, but rather grace is a piece of eschatological glory. Two images in the New Testament dominate in making this point clear to us. One is that of Christ's resurrection as the firstfruits (1 Cor. 15:20). The firstfruits were the initial part of the harvest inseparable from the rest of the harvest. Christ's resurrection is the beginning of the resurrection harvest that includes all of Christ's people. Vos writes that Paul "views the resurrection of Christ as the beginning of the general resurrection of the saints. The general resurrection of the saints being an eschatological event, indeed constituting together with the judgment the main content of the eschatological program . . . to Paul . . . the eschatological course of events had already been set in motion, an integral piece of the Last things has become an accomplished fact."24
The other figure that demonstrates that our present life in the kingdom is one in which we already participate in eschatological blessing is that of the Spirit as the down payment of our inheritance. The coming of the Spirit to indwell the church is the deposit that secures in advance the whole inheritance (Eph.1:14) that comes to the believer through Christ. The down payment is one piece with the full amount. The Spirit that is poured out on the church is the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead. What the Spirit did for Jesus, he does for us. We are already raised with Christ in the inner man at the point of our conversion by the regenerating power of the Spirit. We are yet to be raised in the outer man, in our body, at the coming of Christ. The same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead will also raise our mortal bodies. Our full inheritance is reserved in heaven for us (1 Pet. 1), but the down payment has already been given.
Grace describes the manner in which we come to share in eschatological blessing. The eschaton brings the eternal kingdom of God. Grace tells us that we receive that kingdom as a gift. "Do not be afraid little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the Kingdom" (Lk. 12:32). The eschaton brings the goal of eternal rest. Grace imparts this rest as a gift. "Come to me all ye who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest" (Mt. l l:28). The eschaton brings the possession of eternal life. Grace bestows eternal life as a gift. "I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish" (Jn. 10:28). The eschaton will bring peace. Grace confers this peace as a gift. "Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives, do I give to you" (Jn. 14:27). The eschaton establishes the new covenant. Grace bestows on us all the benefits of that covenant. "This is My body which is given for you. This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood" (Lk. 22:19-20). Grace is not unto eschatological glory, it is one piece with that future glory brought to the believer in his present life.
It is by virtue of union with Christ that the believer has been transferred from this world into the kingdom of heaven, into the age to come. True to his commitment that God and his glory are central, Vos contends that the believer must see that all of his work is preceeded by the work of God. "Only when the believer understands how he has to receive and has received everything from the Mediator and how God in no way whatever deals with him except through Christ, only then does a picture of the glorious work that God wrought through Christ emerge in his consciousness and the magnificent idea of grace begin to dominate and to form in his life. For the Reformed, therefore, the entire ordo salutis, beginning with regeneration as its first stage, is bound to the mystical union with Christ. There is no gift that has not been earned by Him. Neither is there a gift that is not bestowed by Him that does not elevate God's glory through His bestowal."25 For Vos then, we are only justified because of the justification of Jesus. We are adopted in the adoption of Jesus. We are sanctified in the sanctification of Jesus. We are glorified in the glorification of Jesus. Jesus' history becomes his people's history. Everything that Jesus experiences, he experiences on behalf of his people. He takes upon himself our nature. He becomes sin for us who knew no sin. He is condemned for us and the guilty go free. He dies the death that the sin which he became deserves. We die with him, are buried with him and resurrected with him and ascend with him and are seated with him in the heavenly places. His story is our story.
In his infancy, he flees to Egypt with his parents to escape Herod. Matthew quotes Hosea that it is because "Out of Egypt I will call my Son." Jesus in his history repeats the history of Old Testament Israel. But where Old Testament Israel fails, he succeeds. The exodus that he leads will not end in the wilderness or even in Canaan. But his exodus leads his people from this world into heaven. The work of Christ brings his people out of captivity to sin and Satan and into the freedom of the sons of God—from death to life; from the domain of darkness into the kingdom of God; from this world, the order of existence that arises from the first Adam, sin, condemnation and death to heaven and the new order of existence arising from the last Adam, of righteousness, justification and life. "If any men be in Christ, there is a new creation; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come" (2 Cor. 5:17).
Vos speaks and even diagrams for us this overlapping of the ages.26 The present age continues while by virtue of the death and resurrection of Christ, the age to come has become a reality for believers. The Holy Spirit communicates the blessings of the world above to us. Christ has ascended there and we are ascended there also in Christ. Our lives are semi-eschatological. Our citizenship is in heaven; we are already risen with Christ; our lives are hidden with Christ in God; we live our whole life before God's throne; yet we live in our flesh and await the day of the full redemption of our bodies.
The church is therefore an embassy of heaven. Those who were once strangers to the covenant promises and were citizens of this world, are now in Christ citizens of heaven and strangers and aliens in this world. We are here upon the earth, but our home country is heaven and our king is Christ. During our temporary stay on earth (1 Pet. 1:17), we are to proclaim the excellencies of him who has called us out of darkness into his marvelous light (1 Pet. 2:9). To proclaim our King and his excellencies, we are to keep our behavior excellent while we sojourn in this world. Our religion and our ethic and conduct are to conform to our home country. We are ambassadors of Christ through which God entreats the world to be reconciled to him. The church declares the faith, it preaches Christ and him crucified and risen from the dead. It invites the nations of the earth to subjectively appropriate Christ and his work and in him to come into a new existence and to live the new life that arises from being in Christ.
The church's existence is already transferred from the darkness to the light. We are children of light. We are to walk according to the light. The church by virtue of her Savior belongs to the eschatological day. The new creation has dawned and we belong to it. The church is like the birds. When we sit and sip our coffee at five o'clock in the morning and it is still dark outside, the birds are singing away. Why? While it is still dark outside, the birds from their position in the tops of the trees already see the dawn. They already see the light of the sun and feel its warm rays. They are already in the light. In the Savior, the church has been brought into the light. Even while we continue in this dark world, we sing, for we already see the eschatological light, we feel its rays and know of a certainty that we belong to that light. Jesus is the light of the world. He who follows him shall not walk in the darkness, but shall have the light of life (Jn. 8:12).
Reformation Orthodox Presbyterian Church
Morgantown, West Virginia
1 Geerhardus Vos, "The Eschatological Aspect of the Pauline Conception of the Spirit." In Redemptive History And Biblical Interpretation: The Shorter Writings of Geerhardus Vos (ed. R. B. Gaffin, Jr.). Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1990, p. 115.
2 Charles G. Dennison, "Reformation and Eschatology" (Unpublished paper, n. d.), p. 23.
3 John F. Jansen, "The Biblical Theology of Geerhardus Vos." The Princeton Seminary Bulletin 66:2 (Summer 1974), p. 31.
4 "Faculty Memorial Minutes," Princeton Seminary Bulletin, 43:3 (Winter, 1950), p. 45.
6 Jansen, op. cit., p. 25, citing Vos's inaugural address.
8 Dennison, op. cit., p. 25.
9 Vos, op. cit., p. 239.
10 Q/A 25&26, Catechism For Young Children (Great Commission Publications), pp. 6-7.
11 Vos, op. cit., p. 245.
13 Ibid., p. 246.
14 Ibid., p. 242.
15 Ibid., p. 399.
16 Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1948), p. 27.
17 Ibid, p. 28.
18 Charles G. Dennison, "Thoughts on the Covenant." In Pressing Towards The Mark: Essays Commemorating Fifty Years of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (ed. by C. G. Dennison and R. C. Gamble). Philadelphia, PA: The Committee for the Historian of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, 1986, p. 8.
19 Vos, Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation, p. 93.
20 Dennison, "Reformation And Eschatology," p. 10.
22 Edmund P. Clowney, Living in Christ's Church (Great Commission Publishing, 1986), p. 62.
23 Dennison, "Reformation And Eschatology," p. 11.
24 Vos, op. cit., p. 93.
25 Ibid., p. 248.
26 Geerhardus Vos, The Pauline Eschatology (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1961), p. 38.