Be4 I sign off learned a new word in church today: Eschatology. Anyone?
— Katie Couric (@katiecouric) December 1, 2014
Couric, a television host took a lot of heat for admitting that she did not know what “eschatology” means. That’s unfortunate because first, I’m was glad to see that she wanted to know what it means and second, that she was in a congregation where the minister used the word. That’s something. Whatever the cultural politics of the Twitter skirmish, the term eschatology and what it signifies is most important. It refers to “last things” and to “end times.” There is some distinction between “last things” or “ultimate things” and “end times.” The latter refers to a specific set of events in the future. “Final things,” however, is more inclusive. It includes things that have already happened, that are now, and that shall be. In that sense, eschatology refers to heaven and the study of the relations between the final state of things and history. The Apostle John speaks about eschatology this way. When he wrote that “the law came through Moses but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17) he was teaching us an eschatology, a way of thinking and speaking about the relationship between heaven and earth. What Moses brought, to the degree it was distinctly Mosaic, was temporary, provisional. It had what we used to say about certain cars: “built-in obsolescence.” It was never meant to be permanent. To be sure, some of what came through Moses was intended to be permanent. The moral law given at Sinai is permanent. Indeed, all the narratives and laws are God’s Word and they always have something to teach us but the 613 commandments, apart from the moral law, were never intended to be permanently binding on us. They had a specific function that was fulfilled in Christ. Thus, our Lord explained that “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven” (John 6:32). Notice how Jesus identified the “true bread” with that which is from heaven. As Gerhard’s Vos (1862–1949) explained in 1927, “true” and “truth” in John do not always refer to true as distinct from false but sometimes to heavenly as distinct from provisional.
Eschatology also speaks to those events that are associated with the end of all things. Nothing is more essential the “end times” than the resurrection of Christ and our resurrection. With Jesus’ death and resurrection the end, in principal, was inaugurated. Jesus said, “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out” (John 12:31). Nevertheless, there is still an end to be realized.
Thus, we confess:
45. What benefit do we receive from the resurrection of Christ?
First, by His resurrection He has overcome death, that He might make us partakers of the righteousness which He has obtained for us by His death. Secondly, by His power we are also now raised up to a new life. Thirdly, the resurrection of Christ is to us a sure pledge of our blessed resurrection.
The third benefit of Christ’s resurrection is that it promises that we too shall also be bodily, literally raised at the last day. Scripture is marvelously clear about this. Our Lord repeatedly affirmed the bodily resurrection. When the Pharisees tried to trap him on the nature of post-resurrection (Matt 22) existence he denied the false premise of the question while affirming the bodily resurrection. He raised Lazarus by the power of his Word (John 11:43). It became a well-known fact that Lazarus had been raised from the dead (John 12:9). Those must have been interesting conversations. There were bodily resurrections at the moment of Christ’s death:
And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!” (Matt 27:51–54; ESV).
These were hints of what is to come. There is an entire chapter of Scripture devoted to the reality of our future bodily resurrection. Christ’s resurrection was the “firstfruits” (1 Cor 15:20) of the future resurrection. When Christ returns bodily, visibly, audibly (not secretly) the dead in Christ shall rise (1 Thess 4:16) and then those who are alive will be taken up to meet our returning King as he descends. The angel promised that Jesus would return as he was seen rising (Acts 1:11). After the resurrection the Son will deliver the consummated kingdom to his Father (1 Cor 15:23).
We must affirm that the bodies with which we are buried as the same bodies with which we shall be raised. There is a significant change, but not the sort of change that is sometimes imagined. It is sown perishable and raised “Spiritual” (1 Cor 15:43). The S in spiritual should be capitalized. The word does not mean “immaterial” but “conformed to the Holy Spirit” or conformable to the realm of the Holy Spirit. This is the very state of existence of which Jesus spoke (above) when he distinguished between that which is true or heavenly and that which is provisional or temporary. Our bodies shall be human, finite, and glorified. We shall be as we were intended to be had we passed the covenant of works. We shall be as our Lord Jesus is. We know that, after the resurrection one of the women grabbed him, Thomas touched him, and he ate. His humanity is real not apparent, i.e., we do not become docetists about his humanity because if the resurrection. “Spiritual” refers to the putting on of immortality (1 Cor 15:53).
We shall be raised. It is as certain as Jesus’ resurrection. It’s as certain as the empty tomb.
This is part 4 of a 4 part series on Heidelberg Catechism question and answer 45. In part 3 we considered what Christ’s historical, actual, literal, bodily resurrection means for our spiritual life.