STUDY FOUR: THE ESCHATOLOGICAL CONNECTION – NEW TESTAMENT

© Rosemary Bardsley 2015

When we come to the future elements in Revelation it is particularly critical to apply sound principles of biblical interpretation, and to resist being governed by our pet theory or by beliefs inherited without thought from our family or our church. Here in this highly symbolic book we must ensure that the clear teaching of other parts of Scripture, that are not symbolic, are kept firmly in mind. For example, the mysterious symbols in Revelation should never override the clear teaching of Jesus and the apostles.

The term ‘eschatology’ refers to the study of the last things. ‘Eschatos’ is a Greek word meaning ‘last’.

When we look at ‘eschatology’ we need to remember that teaching about the last things is one of the five common areas of understanding in which people have consistently gone astray. The Old Testament prophets challenged wrong thinking about future events. Jesus and the apostles confronted and corrected wrong teaching about the last things. Contemporary pseudo-Christian cults have teaching about the last things that has highly unbiblical elements. Mainstream Christianity is seriously divided about the ‘end of the world’ and related events and figures.

In this study our purpose is to look at the eschatology of the Gospels, Acts, and the Letters. What is clearly taught here serves as a necessary and cautionary boundary within which to interpret the eschatological symbolism of Revelation [and also the eschatological symbolism of the Old Testament.]

A. JESUS – THE ESCHATOS

In Revelation Jesus Christ is termed ‘the Omega’, ‘the end’ and ‘the last’. This tells us that at its centre eschatology is not about the ‘last things’ but essentially about a person – Jesus Christ. This tells us that Jesus Christ is the eschatos. In him all of God’s purposes find their fulfilment and their consummation:

Consider:

He is the last messenger sent by God [Matthew 21:33-46; Hebrews 1:2]. In him the mystery of God embedded in the Old Testament has been revealed, and in him all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are found [Colossians 2:2,3].

With his first coming the last days have come [Hebrews 1:2; 9:26; Acts 2:17; 1Peter 1:20; 1John 2:18].

He is the last Adam [1Corinthians 15:45], the one perfect, true man.

He is the last, final, perfect and eternal sacrifice for sin [Hebrews 10:18].

He is the last, permanent and eternal High Priest [Hebrews 7:17-25].

He is the last Passover Lamb [1Corinthians 5:7].

In him the purpose of God is achieved:

He came and accomplished the will of God [John 6:38; Hebrews 10:7].
He came and brought the purpose of God to its appointed goal [John 19:30].
He came and fulfilled all that the Old Testament Scripture had prophesied [Luke 24:27, 44,45; John 5:39,46; 2Corinthians 1:19].

What Jesus Christ achieved during his incarnation is described by Jesus himself and by the apostles with a very definite note of finality. From this point on, he is building and refining his church by his Spirit [Matthew 16:18; John 16:7-11; 2Corinthians 3:18]. Apart from his return in glory and judgment, there is no expectation of any additional, still pending, work of God.

As Revelation affirms, Jesus is the last, the end, the goal. In him God’s eternal plan is consummated. There is nothing else. Nothing beyond. No other story to be finished, for the Bible is the story of Jesus.

B. JESUS’ TEACHING ABOUT THE ‘LAST THINGS’

In this section an attempt is made to summarize what Jesus taught about the ‘last things’. Of necessity this will be brief and non-exhaustive.

B.1 Jesus’ teaching in his parables
Jesus made it quite clear that he is coming back. Many of his parables have three clear emphases:

The fact of his return,
The judgment that will occur at that time,
The need to be ready.

These three facts are presented in a variety of parabolic images, all of which stress the same truths. The repeated reference to these three facts makes them both clear and indisputable.

In addition to these three repeated facts, each of the following is clearly taught in one or more of Jesus’ parables:

That believers and unbelievers live together in the world until the return of Christ.
That Christ’s return is a return in glory.
That the date and time of his return is unknown.
That the final separation of believers and unbelievers occurs at the return of Christ.
The equal blessedness of all who are in the kingdom.

Read these Scriptures:
The Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds: Matthew 13:24-30, 36-32
The Parable of the Net: Matthew 13:47-50
The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard: Matthew 20:1-16
The Parable of the Wedding Banquet: Matthew 22:1-14
The Parable of the Virgins: Matthew 25:1-13
The Parable of the Talents: Matthew 25:14-30
The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats: Matthew 25:31-46

[Note: Refer back to Section D in the previous study, where ‘the kingdom’ is discussed. This Kingdom is the focus of most of Jesus’ parables, where it has both inaugurated [‘already’] and future [‘not yet’] aspects – that is, because ‘the last days’ began with Christ’s fist coming, the Kingdom has already begun, but because ‘the last day’ as not yet come, there are aspects of the Kingdom yet to be consummated.]

B.2 Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21
Jesus’ teaching in these three chapters seems to speak of two distinct events – the destruction of Jerusalem (which occurred in AD 70), and the ‘end’ that will occur on his return. It is difficult to distinguish completely which verses refer to which. [It is at this point that we encounter some of the controversies and divisions in Christian thinking about ‘the last things’ and the ‘millennium’. But we will not go into that here.] Jesus also speaks here of many things that are occurring in the interim between his first coming and his return at the ‘end of the age’.

Check the references listed in each section below:
[Note: teaching in Mark 13 and Luke 21 is included only where it is additional to the Matthew content.]

B.2.1 Statements that appear to predict the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70:

Jerusalem surrounded by armies [Luke 21:20].
The abomination that causes desolation in the holy place [Matthew 24:15].
The destruction of the Temple [Matthew 24:2].
The need for an immediate and urgent flight [Matthew 24:16-18].
Very great difficulties for those attempting to escape [Matthew 24:19,20].
The destruction of Jerusalem as a ‘time of punishment’ and ‘wrath’ [Luke 21:22,23].
The destruction will be done by ‘Gentiles’ [Luke 21:24].

[Jerusalem, including the Temple, was destroyed by the Roman armies in AD 70. That is fact. Whether or not Jesus intended the above references to describe only that attack, or whether these references are also symbols of the final judgment and destruction of all things, is not clear from the context.]

B.2.2 Truths about the interim time before his coming at the ‘end of the age’:

Many deceivers will come in his name, claiming to be ‘the Christ’ [Matthew 24:4,5,23-26]
Many deceivers will say ‘the time is near’ [Luke 21:8]
Their deception will be backed up by powerful miracles [Matthew 24:24]
Those who believe need to stand firm to the end [Matthew 24:13]
There will be ‘wars and rumours of wars’ [Matthew 24:6,7a]
There will be famines and earthquakes in various places [Matthew 24:7b]
There will be pestilences, fearful events and great signs from heaven [Luke 21:11]
Believers in Christ will be persecuted, killed and hated both in their families and by all nations [Matthew 24:9]
Believers will be witnesses to kings and governors [Luke 21:13]
The witness of believers will be unanswerable [Luke 21:15]
There will be widespread apostasy [Matthew 24:10]
There will be sin and false teaching within the church [Matthew 24:11,12]
The gospel will be preached to all nations before the ‘end’ [Matthew 24:14].

It is very easy to see all of these present at any time between the first coming of Christ and the present time. This is the reality of the interim. This is the reality for the Church of every age. This is the world we live in. This is the age of grace, in which the voice of the Lord says ‘… now is the time of God’s favour, now is the day of salvation’ and ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts …’ [2Corinthians 6:2; Hebrews 2:15]. This is the overlap of the ages in which suffering and kingdom both exist, and in which there is still the opportunity for repentance and salvation [2Peter 3:3-10].

It is about and because of this interim, this overlap of the ages, that Revelation is written.

B.2.3 Truths about Christ’s return at the ‘end of the age’:

The sun and moon will be darkened; the stars will fall, etc [Matthew 24:29]
He will appear in the sky [Matthew 24:30]
His return in power and glory will be visible to all [Matthew 24:27,30]
He will send his angels to gather his elect from the earth [Matthew 24:31]
Only the Father knows the hour of his return [Matthew 24:36,42]
Life will be going on as usual up to his sudden return [Matthew 24:38-41]
Because the date of his return is unknown he should be expected at all times [Matthew 24:42-51]
His return is a thing of horror for unbelievers and vindication for believers [Matthew 24:30; Luke 21:26,28].
His return means judgment and punishment [Matthew 24:51].

All of these are reiterated in Revelation in the several passages which describe the return of Christ and the final judgment.

B.3 Jesus’ teaching about the final judgment
The parables listed in B.1 above include significant teaching about the final judgment. In addition to this, Jesus also taught [sometimes using symbols]:

Study the Scriptures noted below:

That genuine faith secures access to the kingdom [Matthew 8:10-12].

That exclusion from the kingdom means being in ‘the darkness’ [Matthew 8:12; 22:13; 25:30].

That exclusion from the kingdom causes ‘weeping and gnashing of teeth [Matthew 8:12; 22:13; 25:30].

When he returns he will ‘be ashamed of’ any who have been ashamed of him [Mark 8:37].

The fate of those who are not ready is being ‘cut to pieces’ and assigned ‘a place with the unbelievers’ [Luke 12:46].

That he is the one to whom all judgment has been given [John 5:22-27].

That his word is the basis on which judgment takes place [John 12:47,48].

[Even in these few references we can see that Jesus used a range of images to depict the fate of unbelievers. This use of multiple images to depict the one reality is common in the Scripture, including Revelation. This warns us against interpreting these images and symbols as if they refer to different realities. It also warns us against a strictly literal interpretation of any one image or symbol.]

B.4 Jesus’ incidental teaching about his return
This section contains teaching Jesus gave about his return that does not fit into any of the above sections.

Study the Scriptures noted below:
The glory he comes with is ‘his Father’s glory’ [Mark 8:38].

He will be accompanied by his holy angels [Mark 8:38].

The need to be always ready [Luke 12:35-40].

The visibility of his return [Luke 17:22-24].

The unexpectedness of his return [Luke 17:26-30].

When he comes he will be looking for ‘faith’ [Luke 18:8].

Those who come to him will be secure on ‘the last day’ [John 6:37-40, 44, 54].

When he returns he is coming to get those who are his [John 14:3].

B.5 Jesus’ teaching about life beyond the ‘end’
Jesus gave a number of insights about life beyond the last days and the last day:

He spoke of ‘eternal life’ frequently.
This life has already begun for those who believe in him [John 5:24].
This life transcends death [John 11:25,26].
This life has a different form to our present life [Matthew 22:23-30]
He taught that Old Testament believers are alive [Matthew 22:31-32].

B.6 Jesus’ words in Acts 1:4-8
In these few verses there are two significant things that Jesus did not say. The disciples quizzed him about their expectation that he would at some point ‘restore the kingdom to Israel’. Jesus, firstly, refused to name any time or any date about anything. Secondly, he neither affirmed nor refuted their expectation of a restored national/political kingdom of Israel.

B.7 Revelation and the teaching of Jesus about ‘the end’
Leaving aside Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem, when we compare Jesus’ teaching and the teaching in Revelation we find that practically everything listed above is found in some form or other in Revelation.

Among the more significant points of agreement are:

The interim between the first and second comings, in which the following occur:

The worldwide proclamation of the Gospel
The persecution and hatred of believers by unbelievers
The empowerment of believers to witness
The presence of false teaching and apostasy in the Church
The presence of wars, natural calamities, etc.

The absolute certainty of Jesus’ return.
The power and glory with which he returns.
The visibility of his return.
The inescapability of the final judgment
The preservation and final blessedness of believers.

Noticeable by their absence in both are some perceptions assumed or taught by some Christians:

Any means by which to identify or predict a time or a date of Christ’s return.
Any suggestion that the Church is a temporary intrusion pending an expected large scale repentance of Israel.
Any teaching on a restored national/political Israel.
Any suggestion of a great revival prior to ‘the end’.
Any suggestion that suffering will be largely removed prior to ‘the end’.

The absence of these factors from both the teaching of Jesus and the Book of Revelation should at least cause us to be very cautious about reading any of these things into Revelation or including them in our personal understanding of the ‘last things’.

This agreement between the teaching of Jesus and the teaching of Revelation should not surprise us, for the content of Revelation was given to John by Jesus. It is, after all, ‘the revelation of Jesus Christ.’ What should surprise us would be any disagreement between the two. We have here again a cautionary boundary: that any interpretation of Revelation that contradicts what Jesus taught during his earthly ministry should be regarded with rather strong scepticism.


C. THE TEACHING OF THE APOSTLES

We now look at what the apostles taught about the last things both in their teaching ministry in Acts and in their letters.

C.1 In Acts
There are very few references in Acts to the ‘last things’.

Paul affirms that he taught ‘nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen’ [Acts 26:22]. He clearly understands that the first coming of Christ is the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy.

The out-pouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost is considered by Peter to be ‘in the last days’ [Acts 2:17, quoting Joel 2]. This infers that the apostles considered that the first coming of Christ, culminating in the out-pouring of the Spirit, brought on ‘the last days’.

Also as part of these ‘last days’ is ‘the great and glorious day of the Lord’, immediately before which there will be unusual events in the cosmos [Acts 2:19,20, still quoting from Joel 2]. Note the concept of ‘the last days’ as an extended period culminating in a last ‘day’.

That Christ ‘must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets’ [3:21].

The visible return of Jesus Christ in the same way that he ascended is mentioned in 1:11.

Paul spoke of ‘the judgment to come’ [24:25].

C.2 In Paul’s Letters

Paul’s letters are scattered with references to the return of Christ and related concepts. So frequent are these references that it could easily, and rightly, be concluded that eschatology is a dominant factor in Paul’s understanding of the Gospel.

Please read every reference included in the following sections.

C.2.1 Inaugurated eschatology
Paul understands that the first coming of Jesus Christ has ‘destroyed death’ [2Timothy 1:10] and ended the reign of sin and death for those who believe in him [Romans 5:12-21]. Those who believe in Christ have already been incorporated into the one people of God, along with believing Jews [Romans 9:23-26; 11:17ff; 15:8-12; Galatians 2:1-21; 3:6-29; Ephesians 2;11-22; 3:5,6,14; 4:2-6; Philippians 3:3ff; Colossians 3:11,12]. Together believing Jews and believing Gentiles already possess and are members of ‘the kingdom’ which has already been established by the first coming of Christ [Romans 14:17; 1Corinthians 4:20; Ephesians 1:20,21; 4:10; Philippians 2:9ff; Colossians 1:13; 2:15; 4:11; 1Thessalonions 2:12]. They are already the ‘heirs’ of God and co-heirs with Christ [Romans 8:17; Ephesians 1:14,18].

Their position is sure, and their future in the eternal kingdom is guaranteed [1Corinthians 1:7-9; 2Corinthians 1:22; 5:1-10; Ephesians 1:13,14; 4:30; Philippians 1:6; 2Timothy 1:12; 2:11-13; 4:18]. With this sure and certain hope [a hope mentioned by Paul many times], they look forward to Christ’s second coming at the end of the age with a confident and eager expectation:

1Corinthians 1:7,8 – ‘you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed … the day of our Lord Jesus Christ’.

1Corinthians 11:26 – ‘you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes’

Philippians 3:20 – ‘our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ …’

Colossians 3:4 - ‘when Christ who is your life appears, you will also appear with him in glory’

1Thessalonions 3:13 – ‘May he strengthen your hearts so that you will b e blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.’

1Thessalonians 5:23 – ‘May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.’

2Thessalonians 1:5-10 – ‘when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels’

1Timothy 6:14,15 – ‘until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ which God will bring about in his own time’

2Timothy 4:1 ‘in view of his appearing and his kingdom’;

2Timothy 4:8 – ‘to all who have longed for his appearing’

Titus 2:13 – ‘while we wait for the blessed hope – the glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ …’

And they rest in the knowledge that should they die before Christ’s return they are immediately in the presence of Christ [2Corinthians 5:6-8; Philippians 1:20-22].

C.2.2 The interim between the comings – the already/not yet tension
But there is a tension between those aspects of the last days that are already in place and those aspects of salvation that are still future. The present realities of the lives of believers are not what the future reality will be. The very eagerness with which they look for Christ’s return is evidence that though they are saved, truly saved, there is a dimension of salvation that they do not yet experience or enjoy.

Paul affirms very strongly the present salvation already possessed and enjoyed by those who believe in Jesus Christ. He makes all-embracing statements such as ‘you are complete in him’ [Colossians 2:10, KJV], and tells us that we have already been blessed in Christ, with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms [Ephesians 1:3]. He tells us that we already have redemption, forgiveness, peace with God, reconciliation, and so on. But on several occasions Paul teaches that there is a future dimension to salvation and redemption that simply cannot yet be experienced – a final and ultimate deliverance that will only be accomplished by the return of Christ

Study these Scriptures:
Romans 5:9; 8:21-24
1Corinthians 13:8-12
2Corinthians 1:22; 5:1-10
Ephesians 1:9,10,13,14,18; 4:30
Philippians 1:6; 3:20,21
Colossians 1:27
2Thessalonians 2:14
2Timothy 2:11-13].

This is because of the continuing presence in the world of the ‘enemy’ – an enemy who is not one but several. So Paul speaks of the sin that still burdens believers [Romans 7:14-25] and characterizes the world [2Timothy 3:1-5; 3:6-9,13]; of the suffering that believers still experience [Romans 8:17-39; 1Corinthians 4:9-13; 2Corinthians 4:16-18; 5:1ff; Philippians 1:29; 2Thessalonians 1:4-10; of the persecution of believers [2Corinthians 11:16-25; Galatians 6:12; Philippians 1:27,28; 2Thessalonians 1:5-10; 2Timothy 3:10-13]; of the presence of false teaching within the Church [Romans 16:17-18; 2Corinthians 11:1-15; Galatians 1:6-9; 2:11-14; 2Thessalonians 2:3,9; 1Timothy 4:1-3; 6:3-5; 2Timothy 4:3-4]; and of Satanic opposition [Ephesians 6:10-12].

In this the already/not yet tension is everywhere present:

Death has been destroyed: but it is still here. It still has to be permanently removed.
Satan has been conquered: but he is still here. He still has to be permanently terminated.
We have already been rescued from sin: but it is still here – in believers, and in unbelievers.
Jesus, the Truth, has come, but false teaching is still present in the Church and in the world.

C.2.3 The age to come
With his keen awareness of the final consummation that is still to take place, Paul speaks of the age to come [Ephesians 1:21].

When will Jesus Christ return?
In 2Thessalonians 2:1-12 Paul teaches that the return of Christ has not yet occurred [verse 2; see also 2Timothy 2:18]. He says that Christ will not return until ‘the rebellion’ occurs [verse 3] and the ‘man of lawlessness’ is revealed and opposes God [verses 3,4,9,10]. When that anti-God ‘person’ with his deceptive miracles sets himself up as God, then Jesus Christ will return. However, the date is not known, it is as unexpected as a thief in the night [1Thessalonians 5:1-4].

What will happen?
Although we cannot tell the date of his coming Paul gives us some detail of what will happen:

[1] Christ himself will come from heaven with the voice of the archangel, a loud command, and the trumpet call of God [1Corinthians 15:52; 1Thessalonians 4:16].

[2] Believers will be raised to life [1Corinthians 15:20-23] to be forever with the Lord [1Thessalonians 4:17]:

Jesus will bring with him believers already dead; their bodies will be raised [1Corinthians 15:53; 1Thessalonians 4:14-16].

Those believers who are alive at his coming with then be caught up with them in the air [1Thessalonians 4:17; 2Thessalonians 2:1].

Both the resurrected bodies of physically dead believers, and the bodies of living believers will be new bodies – imperishable, immortal [Romans 8:11, 23; 1Corinthians 15:35-54; 2Corinthians 5:1,2,4; Philippians 3:21].

[3] Paul understands the return of Christ to be the time of final judgment. Almost all of his letters refer to this time of judgment in some way.

For those who have rejected God, it is ‘the day of God’s wrath’, when his righteous judgment will be revealed and implemented [Romans 2:5; Colossians 3:6; 1Thessalonians 2:16; 2Thessalonians 1:5-10; 2:12]. The ‘wicked’ will not inherit the kingdom of God [1Corinthians 6:9-10; Galatians 5:21; Ephesians 5:5; Philippians 3:19; Colossians 3:5,6].

For those who are believers it is the time when ‘rewards’ are given on the basis of what has been done [Romans 14:10-12; 1Corinthians 3:12-15; 4:4,5; 2Corinthians 5:10]. Paul’s teaching about rewards is often in the context of urging Christians to godly living. [There is a very real sense in which the lives of those who profess faith in Christ are the evidence of the integrity of their profession. For this reason, many of the ‘rewards’ are identical to salvation.]

[4] At his return, Jesus Christ will destroy and terminate the ‘enemy’ in all of its aspects:

He will destroy all who oppose believers [Philippians 1:28]. He will avenge their suffering [Romans 12:19; 2Thessalonians 1:6,7].

‘He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the Gospel … with everlasting destruction, and shut them out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power’ [2Thessalonians 1:8,9].

He will destroy ‘all dominion, authority and power’ [1Corinthians 15:24].

He will put all of his enemies under his feet [1Corinthians 15:25].

He will destroy death [1Corinthians 15:26,54-55].

He will ‘overthrow (the lawless one) with the breath of his mouth and destroy (him) by the splendour of his coming’ [2Thessalonians 2:8]

[5] When all of the above has been accomplished Jesus Christ will hand over the Kingdom to God the Father [1Corinthians 15:24].

[6] The physical universe will be liberated and restored [Romans 8:19-22].

C.2.4 Paul and the future of Israel
As we have already seen in C.2.1 above, Paul understands that there is one people of God – the Church, comprising both Jew and Gentile who believe in Jesus Christ. In Romans 9 to 11 he addresses the question of Israel specifically. He makes several statements that must be considered here:

[1] Not all descendants of Abraham and Israel are God’s children – Romans 9:6-10. This is again stated in 1Corinthians 10:1-5. This fact is very obvious when we read the Old Testament. While Israel as a nation was identified as the people of God, individual Israelites could either be true believers, fake believers or unbelievers. It is necessary to always make this distinction between the nation and the individual.

[2] People from both the Jews and the Gentiles are the objects of God’s mercy – Romans 9:23-26.

[3] Only a remnant of the Jews will be saved – Romans 9:27,29; 10:16-21; 11:1-5,14. This is also very obvious in Old Testament history, and in the Gospel records.

[4] ‘All Israel will be saved’ – Romans 11:26. Taken in its strict literal sense, this statement contradicts Paul’s previous statements. It also contradicts large sections of history where the majority of Israel was reprobate. Opinion about Paul’s meaning is divided. Some believe Paul is using the word ‘all’ loosely to refer to Israel as a whole, but not every individual. Others believe Paul means ‘all’ the ‘elect’ from Israel throughout the whole of history. Others believe he is speaking of spiritual Israel – believing Jews and Gentiles. [Nor is it clear, for those who think Paul refers only to Jews, if this ‘all Israel’ being saved is in the process of fulfilment now, or if it will happen only in the final generation, or in the literal, future ‘millennium’ as taught by some Christians.]

In any case, whoever Paul is referring to here he is clearly speaking of spiritual salvation; he makes no mention of the restoration of the political nation or the Davidic kingdom. And whatever it is, it is not something that is different from the salvation enjoyed by Gentile believers, as Paul has just spoken of grafting Israelites back into the ‘olive tree’, into which Gentiles are being grafted [11:17-24]. Of one thing we can be sure: that the salvation spoken of in 11:26 is the same salvation spoken of in the bulk of this letter which is of necessity inclusive of both Jew and Gentile [3:22-24; 10:12]. To understand it in any way that is different is to wrench this verse from its context in a letter specifically written to overcome the Jew/Gentile divide that was disturbing the church in Rome. Individual Jews, just like any Gentile, can be saved only by believing and confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord. They cannot be saved just because they are Israelites by birth [Romans 9:30 – 10:21].

C.3 In other New Testament letters
When we come to the other letters – Hebrews to Jude – we find similar emphases to Paul’s.

C.3.1 Inaugurated eschatology – aspects of eschatology already in place
The writers are aware that they are living in ‘the last days’ [Hebrews 1:2; 9:26; 1Peter 1:20; 1John 2:18]. Jesus has already come, as the prophets foretold [1Peter 1:10-12] and by his death has destroyed Satan and his work [Hebrews 2:14,15; 1John 3:8]. He has opened up access to the very presence of God [Hebrews 4:14-16; 9:8,10ff; 10:19-22], securing eternal salvation [Hebrews 5:9] that is confirmed and guaranteed [Hebrews 6:17; 7:20-22]. Already those who believe in Christ are the children of God [1John 3:1,2], heirs of God’s gracious gift [1Peter 3:7], kept safe by God from the evil one [1John 5:18]. Already they have eternal life [1John 5:12,13]. Already they have the truth that will last for ever [2John 2]. Already they ‘have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God … to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven … to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel’ [Hebrews 12:22-24].

Jesus has already sat down at the right hand of God in heaven where angels worship him [Hebrews 1:3,7; 12:2; 1Peter 3:22], and all powers and authorities are in submission to him [1Peter 3:22]. This throne and this rule last for ever and ever [Hebrews 1:8].

Because of the salvation they already possess in Christ, and because Christ is already seated on his throne, believers live with sure and certain confidence:

Their hope is an anchor, firm and secure, grounded in the superiority of Jesus the great high priest [Hebrews 6:18,19] and his death [Hebrews 10:19-22], and in the faithfulness of God [Hebrews 10:23]. By this hope they draw near to God [Hebrews 7:19].

They are sure and certain of things they cannot see [Hebrews 11:1], because they know that the kingdom to which they belong cannot be shaken [Hebrews 12:28], that the city to which they belong is made and built by God [Hebrews 11:10-16, 39,40; 13:14], and that the salvation they already possess in Christ is secure, kept and preserved for them in heaven [1Peter 1:3,4]. They also know that they themselves are shielded by God’s power as they wait for his coming [1Peter 1:5].

And they know that they themselves are kept by Christ [Jude 1], that Christ himself will bring them to eternal life [Jude 21] and that he is able to keep them from falling and to present them before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy [Jude 24].

C.3.2 The already/not yet tension
However, this grand assurance of a secure salvation in Christ is lived out in the context of struggle and suffering.

The earth is not yet subject to man [Hebrews 2:8]. Allegiance to Christ attracts persecution and hatred from the world [Hebrews 10:32-34; 12:1-6; James 1:2,12; 1Peter 1:6; 4:13-14,16,19; 5:5,9; 2Peter 3:3; 1John 3:11-13]. False and deceptive teaching invades and corrupts the Church [2Peter 2:1-22; 1John 2:26; 4:1-6; 2John 7,10; Jude 4, 8-16], denying the truth about Jesus Christ and luring believers into sinful choices.

Christ himself waits for the time when he will make ‘his enemies his footstool’ [Hebrews 1:13;10:11-13], and believers, also waiting for his return [Hebrews 9:28], are exhorted to be diligent in faith, godliness and patient endurance until ‘the end’ [Hebrews 3:14; 6:11,12; James 5:7,8; 2Peter 3:11,14], proving the integrity of their faith by their perseverance and obedience [1Peter 1:7; 1John]. This endurance and godliness during this interim are extremely important, for the judgment, when it comes, will begin with the family of God [1Peter 4:17], and will be executed by the word of God, the ‘two-edged sword’ that lays bare and exposes counterfeit faith [Hebrews 4:11-13].

This era, this in-between time, when believers are saved but still suffering, is the era in which repentance and salvation are still possible [Hebrews 3:7-4:11; 2Peter 3:1-9]. Beyond this era is the judgment.

C.3.3 The age to come
The day of the Lord’s coming is near [Hebrews 10:37; James 5:7-9; 1Peter 4:7]. When he comes he will be accompanied by ‘thousands upon thousands of his holy ones’ [Jude 14].

Believers, having heeded the apostolic exhortations to endurance and godliness, anticipate this day with confidence and without shame or fear [1John 2:28; 4:17], knowing that God is well able to preserve them from the punishment [2Peter 2:5-9]. For them that day will mean –

Resurrection [Hebrews 6:2].
Ultimate salvation [Hebrews 9:28; 1Peter 1:5].
Great joy as they see the glory of Christ revealed [1Peter 4:13].
Sharing in Christ’s eternal glory [1Peter 5:1,10].
A rich welcome in the eternal kingdom of Christ [2Peter 1:11].
The crown of life and of glory that will never fade away, promised by God to those who love him [James 1:12; 1Peter 5:4].
Rewards [Hebrews 10:35,36].
A new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness [2Peter 3:13].

For the unbelieving that day is a day of eternal judgment [Hebrews 5:2]. Although the Lord in his patience is delaying it [Hebrews 12:26,27; 2Peter 3:1-9,15], it will come, and when it does –

The physical world will be destroyed [Hebrews 1:11,12; 2Peter 3:20,12; 1John 2:17; 2Peter 3:7].
Judgment will consume the enemies of God [Hebrews 10:27; 2Peter 3:7; Jude 15].
Judgment will fall on the ungodly [Hebrews 13:4; Jude 15].
Judgment, blackest darkness forever, will be upon the false teachers who led people into error and sin [2Peter 2:3,13; Jude 13].
God will avenge insults to his Son and his Spirit [Hebrews 10:29-31] and the harm done to the godly [1Peter 2:23; 2Peter 2:13].
The renegade angels will be judged [Jude 6].

This final judgment is variously referred to as eternal, fire, raging fire, eternal fire, woe, darkness, vengeance, destruction, punishment.  

C.3.4 The people of God
While there is nothing in these New Testament letters that gives us any information about the future of the nation of Israel or of a restoration of the Davidic king, we are given a few pointers about the people of God that help us as we approach Revelation:

[1] Peter and the writer to the Hebrews affirm the historic existence of God’s people [people of true faith] outside of the descendants of Abraham [Hebrews 11:4-7; 2Peter 2:5-9].

[2] The writer to the Hebrews clearly believes that Jesus Christ fulfilled the symbolism embedded in the covenants, structures and rituals of the Old Testament. He outlaws any further significance being given to these. Indeed, his letter was written to put an end to Hebrew Christians even thinking about reverting to these ‘shadows’ of Christ, now that Christ had come ‘in these last days’.

[3] The writer to the Hebrews describes Abraham as seeking, not a physical city but a heavenly one [11:10], and describes all the Old Testament heroes of faith as ‘aliens and strangers on earth’ longing for ‘a better country – a heavenly one’ [Hebrews 11:13,16] – one which God has prepared for them. He then states that they and we together share the ‘something better’ that God has planned [11:39,40].

[4] Peter, in a radical statement, applies to all who believe in Jesus Christ a description that the Old Testament applied to the Israelites – ‘you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God’ [1Peter 2:5,9; Exodus 19:6]. He then takes up an Old Testament prophecy and applies it also to all who believe in Christ – ‘once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy’ [1Peter 2:10; Hosea 1:6-10; 2:23].

C.4 Revelation and the teaching of the Apostles
As with the teaching of Jesus, so with the teaching of the apostles: practically everything identified by the apostles - about the inauguration of the ‘last days’ and the kingdom with the first coming of Jesus, about the tensions experienced by the Church in the interim (which the letters address directly), about the ‘last day’ when Christ returns, and about the people of God - is also taught in Revelation.  The only difference is the amount of details – about some aspects there is more detail in the apostolic teaching, in other aspects there is more detail in Revelation.

Return to B.7 and read again the agreement between Revelation and the eschatology of Jesus.

There are two points in the apostolic eschatology which some might suggest are different from Revelation:

[1] The apostolic letters include serious admonitions to godly living because of the approaching ‘end’ and the ‘judgment’ involved. This is particularly the case in the non-Pauline letters, but is also present in Paul. However, this emphasis is also present in the eschatology of Jesus and in Revelation.

[2] Paul’s teaching in Romans 9 – 11. How these chapters are understood depends largely on one’s presuppositions about ‘the millennium’, which in turn depend on one’s interpretation of certain Old Testament prophecies. It is very difficult to study these chapters, especially Chapter 11, objectively.  If we try to be objective, we will not find anything here that is beyond or contradictory to what Jesus and Revelation teach about the future of Israel. [Read Section C.2.4 above again.]

A further consideration that impacts our understanding of the relation of the apostolic eschatology and Revelation is that the apostles understand the spiritual blessings that come upon the Church [inclusive of both Jew and Gentiles] through the Gospel are blessings determined by God before the beginning of time:

The message of the Gospel was destined by God ‘for our glory before time began’ [1Corinthians 2:7].
Those who believe in Jesus Christ were chosen ‘in him before the creation of the world’ [Ephesians 1:4].
The grace of the Gospel ‘was given us in Christ before the beginning of time’ [2Timothy 1:9].
The hope of eternal life ‘was promised before the beginning of time’ [Titus 1:2].
Christ ‘was chosen before the creation of the world’ [1Peter 2:20].

The apostles, all of them Jewish, believed that the trans-national salvation obtained through the death of Jesus Christ had always been God’s eternal purpose. This eternal purpose is affirmed by Revelation 13:8, which speaks of ‘the lamb that was slain from the creation of the world’. It is this death and this salvation towards which God has been moving the whole of human history. Israel and its history are secondary to and servants of this salvation history. Through them God reveals himself as both Redeemer and Judge. Out of them the Saviour of the world is born in eschatological fulfilment in time and place of the eternal purpose of God. [Note also Revelation 17:8 which indicates that the names in the Lamb’s book of life were written there ‘from the creation of the world’.]