Don't fear the big words. What do you think of when you hear the word "eschatology"? For some of us, it's simply another fancy-schmancy theological mumbo-jumbo word that the eggheads like to throw around in pastor-pontifi-speak. Some of us just want to tune out whatever comes next because that word just doesn't give us the warm fuzzies. I get that.
For some of us, we have conditioned ourselves to conjure up images of Hal Lindsey's "Late Great Planet Earth" when we hear that word. For others, it conjures up images from the "who told them they could act?" movie, "Thief in the Night" that gave us classic charts and the unforgettable "sing with full gusto" tune, "I Wish We'd All Been Ready". For others who hear that word, the latest "Oil and Armageddon" Conference on Ready-Baked and Individually-Tailored One-size-fits-me Biblical Prophecy is brought to mind.
Seriously, many of us almost subconsciously connect the word "eschatology" and the end of the earth as we know it. There's a reason for that. The word itself means "the study of last things". The dictionary gives us this: "that part of theology concerned with judgment, death, the final destiny of the soul and of mankind" or (from Dictionary.com) "any system of doctrines concerning last, or final, matters, as death, the Judgment, the future state." To break the word down... "logy" = study and "eschato" = last or final. Literally, the study of the last. As a result, we have tended to always place the word in the context of what happens at the very end of time. Eschatology is the study or doctrine of end times, and by implication, the theology or study of what comes at the very end of time.
Eschatology from the beginning of the Bible
Or is it? The whole Bible is eschatological. Eschatology is unfolding from the very first moments of time. The end has a stake in the beginning. A very easy way to see this is to note the similarities between the first and last gardens, the garden of Eden in Genesis 1-2 and the New Heavens and New Earth in Revelation 21-22. There are hints of the end of time embedded in the creation story. Everything in between those two gardens is a movement toward the final goal: life with Jesus in the New Heavens and New Earth.
William Dumbrell begins his treatment of eschatology in the whole Bible ("The Search for Order") thusly:"Coined in the nineteenth century by a German writer and brought into English about 1845, the word eschatology refers to knowledge of the end. The Oxford English Dictionary defines eschatology as "the department of theological science concerned with 'the last four things: death, judgment, heaven, and hell.'" But the word has both broader and narrower meanings. Some use the word eschatology exclusively in the narrow sense of the end of history and the commencement of the new age. Others use the word in the broad sense of the goal of history toward which the Bible moves and of biblical factors and events bearing on that goal... but just what are the issues that bear on the goal of history?
"Interpretation of the Bible demands a framework within which the details are set. We need to know the big picture before we look at the details. The Bible is a book about the future in light of the human failures of the past and present. In this sense the entire Bible is eschatological, since it focuses upon the ushering in of the kingdom of God, the fulfilling of the divine intention for humanity and society. In very broad terms the biblical sweep is from creation to the new creation by way of redemption, which is, in effect the renewing of creation. yet the end is not merely a return to the beginning, for the Bible reveals a great deal more about the divine intention than what is shown at the beginning of Genesis. Regarding eschatology, we must recognize how the Bible develops its theme of God's purpose from the beginning in Genesis to the end in Revelation." -- William Dumbrell, "The Search for Order: Biblical Eschatology in Focus", p. 9
Because eschatology isn't merely about the specifics of the very end of time, but also about those things which are pointing to and bringing about the end of time, the entirety of the Bible is eschatological. Everywhere we go in the pages of the text is not only centered on the story of Jesus but moving toward the final goal, life with Jesus at the end. The new and final garden resides in the shadows of the original. The one great act at the apex of the story, Christ's life, death, and resurrection guarantees the end.
Eschatology in the present
Having broken the chains of sin and death that wrecked the original, Christ's resurrection constitutes the final state of life eternal (that which is outside of time and at the end of time) breaking into and giving new life to us in the here and now. When the Spirit regenerates us, the life we are given is life from Christ's resurrection, which is itself, life from outside of this world's time and space. Our eternal life has its source in the past (Christ's resurrection), the present (Christ in the eternal heavens), and the future (Christ in the New Heaven and New Earth).
That's a lot to think about. But that's what gives perspective to all the bad things we see happening in the world around us or even to us. Christ came to give us life outside of ourselves, eternal life (John 10:10). And not just eternal life, but eternal life in "abundance." There's more to life than "here and now". Our lives are bound up with what Jesus is doing right now in the heavens: ruling and reigning and interceding on our behalf. And our lives are an overflow of the eternal life we've been given to others around us in the grace and love and forgiveness and compassion and peace we bring into their lives.
If all of the Bible is eschatological, all of life is eschatological because the Bible is describing our life in Christ. Our lives in the present are made up of the last age or days moving toward their final end in the last garden and its Creator, Jesus Christ. It may sound like fancy schmancy theo-lingo. But the reality is very simple and practical: every day is a day to live the abundant life we've been given in Christ.