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What is eschatology, and why does it matter?

Eschatology is the study of last things.

This involves the events pertaining to Jesus’ second coming, including both what happens just before Jesus’ second coming and what happens just after Jesus’ second coming. Eschatology also involves questions about hell and about the new creation.

There are also questions of personal, individual eschatology. What happens when you die? Where do you go? Is there an intermediate state you experience in heaven? Or, do you go to Hades? And how does that relate to the hope of the resurrection of the dead and the new creation? Eschatology covers these sorts of areas.

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Eschatology is not just about the end

But eschatology is not just the events that unfold at the very end. 

There's a sense in which all of theology is an eschatology in the process of being realized

After all, when Jesus preached and taught and ministered and executed his messianic career, he was fulfilling certain Old Testament promises. He fulfilled promises about a suffering servant. A Messiah. A new Davidic Shepherd. He brought the new covenant. He announced, with the Holy Spirit, that the Kingdom had arrived—not in its fullness, but embryonically by virtue of the presence of the king.

Moreover, with his resurrection, Jesus becomes the first fruits of the general resurrection. In other words, resurrection is meant to happen at the end of history, and yet, God does it for one man in the middle of history. 

And Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to the church as a kind of a deposit, guaranteeing what is still yet to come.

Now vs. Not-Yet

What this means is that we live between the ages. We can say that we live in what is the now and the not-yet

We already have the now. We've had Jesus' first coming. We've seen in redemptive work. There is his resurrection and the giving of the Spirit. That's the now element. 

But we're still also waiting for our blessed hope. We're waiting for the day where God is all in awe, where every tear is wiped away. Where there will be the great resurrection and the new creation.

And that now / not-yet perspective affects everything we do. Everything we think about in theology. Even our ministry. Even what we think about care for our environment, is shaped by that now and the not-yet of Eschatology.

Eschatology is very important because it’s not just about the last page of the story. It’s not just the last chapter of a textbook. Eschatology is about how everything we do right now—our prayers, our ministry, our theology, what we think of justification, how we present the gospel. All of that is shaped by both the now and the not-yet

That’s why eschatology matters.

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

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