The Hermeneutics of Eschatology - Part III
Seven Foundational Principles
These foundational principles are all interrelated and to some degree overlap.
1. The fulfillment of Israel’s prophetic hope as found in the OT documents is found in the person and work of Jesus Christ and the believing remnant, i.e., the Church, which he established at his first coming. The point is that Jesus Christ and his Church are the focal and terminating point of all prophecy.
2. Whereas the OT saw the consummation of God’s redemptive purposes in one act, the NT authors portray it as coming in two phases or acts. This is often portrayed in the NT in terms of the “overlapping” of the ages. The consummation of God’s redemptive purpose has begun in Christ but we still abide in the present evil age. Some refer to this as the “inauguration of the end”. God has acted in Christ to “fulfill” his prophetic promise but the “consummation” will come only when Christ does for a second time.
3. Essential to this perspective is that “the New Testament serves, as it were, as the ‘lexicon’ of the Old Testament’s eschatological expectation. In a nutshell, the Old Testament anticipates realities which are unpacked and explicated by the apostolic writings from the vantage point of salvation-historical realization in Christ” (Donald Garlington, “Reigning with Christ: Revelation 20:1-6 and the Question of the Millennium,” in Reformation and Revival Journal, vol. 6, no. 2, 1997, p. 56).
See especially Luke 24:25-27 (and 1 Peter 1:10-12). In sum, Jesus is himself the inspired interpreter of the OT. His identity, life, and mission provide the framework within which we are to read and approach the OT.
4. When reading the OT one must reckon with the placement of events in close proximity, as if they happen simultaneously or in quick succession. The fact is, as both the NT and history have proven, events are often separated by significant intervals of time. This has often been called prophetic foreshortening. Garlington provides this example:
“The classic illustration is that of the advent of Messiah. The Prophets saw only one coming, with no distinction made between two phases of that coming. Thus, what is represented by the Prophets as transpiring once-for-all in ‘the latter days’ is realized over an expanse of time which is already virtually two millennia in length. Therefore, it is in light of the New Testament we discern that Messiah’s coming is in two stages, corresponding to the inauguration and consummation of God’s eschatological purposes” (60-61).
5. The unfolding fulfillment of God’s promises thus may be seen in terms of what G. Vos called a “binary configuration” (“The Eschatological Aspect of the Pauline Conception of the Spirit,” 93-94). That is to say, human history reflects a tension between what was accomplished at the first advent of Christ and what awaits consummation at the second. Thus we live in “this present evil age” but partake, in part, of the glories of “the age to come.” Hence there is a tension between what has “Already” been fulfilled (or at least partially inaugurated) and what has “Not Yet” been consummated. Examples of this abound:
Salvation is now, but also future (Eph. 2:8 / Rom. 5:10)
Justification is now, but also future (Rom. 5:1 / Rom. 2:13)
We have been raised with Christ, but the resurrection is also yet future (Eph. 2; Rom. 6 / Phil. 3; 1 Cor. 15)
We have been glorified, but will be glorified (Rom. 8:30 / Phil. 3; 1 John 3)
We have been redeemed, but redemption is yet future (Eph. 1:4ff. / Rom. 8, 13).
6. One of the most foundational principles in the interpretation of prophetic literature has been described in various ways. Consider the following:
“Prophecy can only depict the future in terms which make sense to its present. It clothes the purpose of God in the hopes and fears of its contemporaries” (Richard Bauckham).
“Prophecy is characteristically cast in terms of the limited understanding of the person to whom it was given. That is to say, the language of prophecy is conditioned by the historical and cultural setting in which the prophet and the people found themselves. . . . [Thus] the future kingdom is beheld as an extension and glorification of the theocracy, the most common representation of which is its condition in the reigns of David and Solomon. The prospect for the future, accordingly, is portrayed in terms of the ideal past, in terms both familiar and pleasing to the contemporaries of the prophet. This phenomenon has been termed ‘recapitulation eschatology,’ i.e., the future is depicted as a recapitulation or repetition of the past glory of the kingdom” (Donald Garlington).
“The prophet paints the future in the colors and with the lines that he borrows from the world known to him, i.e., from his own environment. . . . We see the prophets paint the future with the palette of their experience and project the picture within their own geographical horizon. This appears in the Old Testament in all kinds of ways” (Herman Ridderbos).
7. Any and every prophetic utterance must be interpreted in the light of the entire canon, with the understanding that the New Testament provides decisive hermeneutical guidance for the interpretation of Old Testament utterances and expectations.
“The Old Testament is no longer the last word on end-time prophecies since the Messiah of prophecy Himself has come as the last Word. The New Testament has been written as the ultimate norm for the fulfillment and interpretation of Israel’s prophecies. A Christian would deny his Christian faith and Lord if he reads the Old Testament as a closed entity, as the full and final message of God for Jews irrespective of the cross and resurrection of Jesus, the Messiah, and apart from the New Testament explanation of the Hebrew writings” (Hans LaRondelle, The Israel of God in Prophecy, 8).