When I last made an impassioned plea for eschatology, I said that eschatology is what happens when the people of God, not seeing the promises of God with their own eyes, nonetheless continue to believe that God will make good on what God has promised.
More specifically, I suggested that eschatology needs to be read as one dynamic of the story of Jesus–not as a self-contained entity to be strung together based on various Bible verses.
So what is Jesus-story eschatology? It is about the goal of this world breaking into history with the advent of Jesus, the Messiah.
When Jesus sets out, he proclaims, “The time has been fulfilled! The reign of God has come near!”
As I like to tell my students, Mark gives us a two-sentence sermon, but then two chapters of stories: the stories are the way that Mark shows us what it means that the time is fulfilled and the kingdom drawn near.
The reign of God is breaking into the world through
- authoritative teaching
- power over hostile spirits
- power over physical illness
- power over social and religious isolation
- power over the guilt of sin
- an open invitation into the reconfigured people of God
What is the eschatology that Jesus brings about? It is the regathering of the people as promised, the restoration of the people to full standing in God’s family. It is a defeat of the hostile powers that warred against God’s people to keep those people from experiencing the fulness of the blessing of God.
It is even the provision of an abundant land, where the baskets of grain overflow.
All of this means that the reign of God has drawn near. In the person of Jesus, the king of God’s kingdom, God is restoring the earth to rights.
But here is where we have to be careful. In fact, we are right up to the point where the history of Christianity has shown us that we are always most often prone to go astray.
The danger is that by embracing an inaugurated eschatology we will get the idea that we are now able, at long last, to walk by sight. The disciples thought they understood the abundance of the kingdom that was unfolding before their eyes. They were pretty sure it meant that the throne of the king would be established in Jerusalem, with them on thrones next to it.
But that’s not how the kingdom works.
What they should have learned from the parables, what they should have learned from the feeding of the 5,000 and the feeding of the 4,000 is that the kingdom breaks in where there is nothing we can see with our eyes capable of producing the needed abundance.
What they should have been ready for after eight chapters of watching a Galilean peasant walk about doing miracles, bringing healing and life out of despair, is that the ultimate victory of life in the age to come is ushered in by the ultimate nothingness (death) bearing fruit in an incalculable harvest (through Jesus’ resurrection).
Eschatology is the refusal to give up on the promises of God, even when it looks like God has given up on us and on his world.
Inaugurated eschatology is the conviction that the power of the kingdom, the promised fullness of God, will burst forth and provide in rich abundance here and now, even when we cannot see with our eyes the fullness of the harvest.
Inaugurated eschatology is the summons to move out on faith, trusting that the smallest seed will sprout and bring forth a plant in which all the birds of the air can find their food.
Inaugurated eschatology is the summons to begin to feed the hungry with the little we have, trusting that the God’s kingdom economy of abundance is not constrained by the lack by which we would measure it.
Inaugurated eschatology is trusting that if we truly become servants, loving others with the self-giving love of God in Christ, that life untold will spring forth from that place of death.
The danger of inaugurated eschatology is triumphalism, that in our round proclamations that all things are made new we might miss the fact that we cannot measure with our eyes and hands, yet, the abundance of God’s kingdom.
The solution is to remember that it is still eschatology, about the end–and that in Jesus-eschatology the great and climactic end comes by way of the cross.
We still walk by faith, not by sight. And the way we walk is the one to which the Crucified summoned us: take up your cross and follow me.