The Prophets, Eschatology, and Two-Ages (Vos)

Reformed Dogmatics (5 vols.)
Vos: Dogmatics

This Q/A by G. Vos is so helpful for thinking about OT prophetic literature, eschatology, and the two-ages: 

In many of these passages [Is. 2:2, Mic. 4:1, Acts 2:17, 1 Pet. 1:20, & 1 Jn 2:18], is not something entirely different spoken of than what we understand by “the last days,” namely, the New Testament dispensation of the covenant of grace?

Considered superficially, this is indeed the case. See, for example, Acts 2:17, where the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is spoken of as taking place “in the last days.” Nevertheless one ought to maintain that here, too, the eschatological meaning is present. The explanation is as follows: From the perspective of the older prophets, the coming of the Messiah coincides with the culmination of the kingdom, the end of all things.

Isaiah, for example, speaks in one breath of the return from exile, of the coming of the Messiah, of the end of the world, and unrolls all these events before our eyes as in one great scene. He sees only the peaks towering above everything. Accordingly, the older prophets reckon on only two time periods: “this age” (οὗτος ὁ αἰών) and “the coming age”  (ὁ μέλλων αἰών). So, for Isaiah and for Micah the “last days” are the days that precede the end and at the same time precede the coming of the Messiah. The later prophets were granted in the Spirit to see more clearly how there would be a double coming of the Messiah, one for suffering and scorn and one in glory (Dan 7; 9; 12). Thus what in the older prophets was still combined or condensed into one coming was in the later prophets divided into two.

But now from this it follows as well that the time that elapses between the first and the second coming of the Lord can be viewed from a twofold perspective. If we fix our attention on the coming that is still expected and we include everything before that in “this age,” then we and all the New Testament saints live in the last days, that is, in the period that forms the eve of the second coming of our Lord in glory. If, on the other hand, we focus attention on the coming that is already past, and we draw the dividing line between the two ages at the first coming, then we in fact already live in the “age to come.” Consequently, since the time between the first and the second coming of the Lord is governed completely by the thought of His coming either as already having occurred or as still having to occur, one can call it “the last days.”

 Geerhardus Vos, Reformed Dogmatics, ed. Richard B. Gaffin, trans. Annemie Godbehere et al., vol. 5 (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012–2016), 251–252.

Shane Lems

Eschatology, Prophecy, and Foreshortening (Vos)

 When it comes to the OT prophets and eschatology, one area of discussion is the “literalness” of prophetic language.  Though not everyone agrees, in Reformed theology we see the prophets as speaking the truth in poetic and sometimes apocalyptic ways (similar to the Psalms, Revelation, and other parts of Scripture).  Therefore we don’t read the prophets with strict literalism, though we do read them with a view that they are part of the infallible Word of God.

There’s another thing about prophetism worth mentioning: it isn’t always chronological.  Sometimes prophecy is unchronological or non-chronological.  This matters in eschatology!  Here’s how Vos described it:

“Whenever the prophets speak in terms of judgment, immediately the vision of the state of glory obtrudes [imposes] itself upon their view, and they concatenate [join] the two in a way altogether regardless of chronological interludes.  Isaiah couples with the defeat of the Assyrians under Sennacherib the unequalled pictures of the glory of the end, and the impression might be created that the latter was just waiting for the former, to  make its immediate appearance.  The vision ‘hastens’ under their eye.  The philosophy of this foreshortening of the beyond-prospect is one of the most difficult things in the interpretation of prophecy in the Old Testament and New Testament alike.”

In other words, although it is a difficult aspect of interpretation, the words of judgment and glory in the prophets aren’t necessarily chronological.  For more helpful insight into OT prophetism, see Vos’ Biblical Theology, chapter six, part D (The Judgement and the Restoration: Prophetic Eschatology).

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

A Brief Summary of Micah

Minor Prophets, The: An Exegetical and Expository Commentary I found this short summary of the prophet Micah’s message helpful.  It was written by Bruce Waltke and can be found in The Minor Prophets, a commentary series that T. McComiskey edited (a series worth owning by the way).  Here Waltke discusses the three cycles of prophecy in Micah (ch 1-2, 3-5, 6-7).

“In the first cycle, Israel is threatened with exile on account of their sin (1:2-2:11).  The Lord, however, will gather his elect remnant into Jerusalem to survive the Assyrian siege and will become their King( 2:12-13).”

“In the second cycle, after threatening to dismantle Jerusalem for its failed leadership (3:1-12), the Lord promises to exalt Jerusalem high above the nations (4:1-5) and there reassemble the afflicted remnant, who will restore God’s dominion over the earth (4:6-8).  That prophecy finds fulfillment today in Jesus Christ who rules human hearts from heavenly Mount Zion (Acts 2:32-36; Heb. 12:22).  Moreover, while in Micah’s time, Israel with its failed leadership could not save itself from the invaders and exile in Babylon (4:9-14), God promised the birth and reign of Messiah who would regather the purged remnant and lead them to victory (5:1-14).  This too is fulfilled in Christ’s church (see 2 Cor. 2:14-16).”

“In the third cycle, from the spiritually depraved (6:1-16) and disintegrating nation (7:1-7), an elect remnant of the chosen people will be forgiven and saved by God (7:8-20).  That remnant now constitutes a part of Christ’s church (Rom. 11).  No matter how stained and tattered the world becomes, God’s purposes to triumph over Satan and his minions through his elect people will prevail (Rom. 16:20).

Bruce Waltke, in The Minor Prophets, p. 594-5.

shane lems