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

Stretched Between Two Poles

 In the pages between the hunter-orange covers of Kevin Vanhoozer’s book, The Drama of Doctrine, there is some excellent biblical theology.  Andrew and I have both benefited from this book in several ways.  Here’s a quote from page 111 that talks about how Christians are ultimately citizens of the age to come who (for now) live in this present age.  What role does doctrine play in the Christian life?  Pay attention…

“The climax – crucifixion, resurrection, Pentecost – may be in the past; not so the consummation.  The church lives between the times.  A new age – characterized by the Spirit’s ministry of the new covenant – has dawned, but the dawn has yet to give way to full daylight.  Present-day Christians find themselves stretched between two poles: we are audience to the historical drama and participants in its ongoing development.”

“Yet in one important respect – the eschatological – the church’s situation in the twenty-first century is the same as that of the first-century church: like the primitive church, the present-day church lives between the times, between the advents of Jesus Christ.  Thanks to the missions of the Son and Spirit, the present evil age now stands in dramatic tension with the new creation, for the latter has invaded the former.  The theo-drama is eschatological.  The church is caught up in a ‘war of the world’ and a conflict of ‘economies’: on the one side, the city of man with its economy of self-aggrandizement; on the other, the city of God with its economy of peace and love.”

“The purpose of Christian doctrine is to direct Christians to speak and act in ways that correspond to the distinct eschatological ethos that characterizes the kingdom of God.  As the apostle Paul says, we do not contend against flesh and blood, ‘but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Eph. 6:12).  These powers include ideologies that compete for the hearts and minds of individuals and nations.  Doctrine directs us to perform otherworldly scenes on the dimly lit cultural stages of this world.”

Kevin Vanhoozer, The Drama of Doctrine, p. 111.

shane lems

Horton on Christ’s Real Absence

In Horton’s last of four volumes on Reformed Theology in today’s theological situation, People and Place, he discusses the doctrine of the church (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2008).  Along with the first three, this one shines.  In the first section, Horton wrestles with the truth that Jesus is not on earth, yet he is with us – not in the church as another incarnation, but by his Spirit.  Listen to this from page 23:

“The more we receive from the Spirit of the realities of the age to come, the more restless we become.  Yet it is a restlessness born not of fear but of having already received a foretaste of the future.  Only when we have caught the scent of everlasting life and joy that pervades the atmosphere of the consummation does the air of this present age seem stale and redolent of death.  Having tasted the morsels of the heavenly feast, we no longer find the rich banquets of this age satisfying. 

The Spirit’s presence always tantalizes us with the more still to be enjoyed, which makes Christian suffering different from either a nihilistic and cynical fate to be accepted with Stoic indifference or a reality to be denied in a spirit of triumphalism.  Those who are filled with the Spirit are characterized by struggle more than victory, since it is the Spirit’s presence that draws the two ages into conflict and draws out the insurgents of this present evil age to defend their new contested terrain.  Where the Spirit indwells, there is peace with God and conflict within, with the powers of sin and death within us and in the world.”

Click the box below for a good deal on the book.

shane lems

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