Prof. Engelsma is professor of Dogmatics and Old Testament in the Protestant Reformed Seminary.
It is necessary, therefore, that the church and the believer know what the end is. We can and do know what the end, or goal, of God with all things is, because God has made known to us in the gospel this “mystery of his will” (Eph. 1:9). There is one end, or goal, of all things. In this one goal, God accomplishes a number of related purposes, including the judgment of the ungodly world, the salvation of the godly, and the vindication of Himself, but the end is one. As God is one and as His plan for all things is one, so is the end of all things one. God is not of two minds with creation and history. He does not have two different purposes with His world.
In Ephesians 1:9, 10, the apostle reminds the church of the mystery of the will of God, which is this one purpose of God: “that in the dispensation of the fullness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him.”
The end of all things is Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the goal of all things. Eschatology is Christology. Jesus Christ is God’s “Omega,” “end” (Greek: telos), and “last one” (Greek: eschatos) (Rev. 22:13). He is the one purpose of God from eternity.
For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in him should all fullness dwell; And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.
According to this passage, the end of all things is God’s “dear Son,” not as the eternal Son in the triune being of God, but as incarnate in Jesus Christ, for He is the “firstborn of every creature,” “in whom we have redemption through his blood” (Col. 1:14, 15). He is the firstborn of every creature, not historically, but inasmuch as He, Jesus, is first in the counsel of God. He opens the womb of the counsel to all other creatures. For Him, as their purpose and goal, were all things created. God did not create all things for Adam. God did not create all things with the purpose that they might glorify God as an unfallen world. God created all things for Jesus Christ, who is first in the divine counsel. All things were created, and are now preserved and governed by providence, so that Jesus Christ may have the preeminence among them.
Jesus Christ is the goal, not only of redemption and the church, but also of creation and world history. This is the biblical “philosophy of history.” Whatever exists and all that happens in history are for the sake of Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ is the beginning, the center, and the end of all God’s works and ways. He is the “beginning” ofGenesis 1:1 (John 1:1; Rev. 1:11). His coming into the world is the “fulness” of the world’s time (Gal. 4:4). And He is the world’s end, because He is God’s end with the world.
The end of all things is Jesus Christ at His second coming. Parousia, the Greek word in the New Testament for the (second) coming of Christ, literally means ‘presence.’ The end of all things is the presence, the arrival, of Jesus to His beleaguered church and His groaning creation, that is, Jesus Himself in His bodily presence as the resurrection and the life, as the judge, and as the renewer and reconciler of all things.
One who knows, and conforms his will to, God’s goal with all things will live in the hope of the coming of Christ, will pray night and day, “Come, Lord Jesus” (Rev. 22:20).
Because Christ comes, not simply as the eternal Son of God, but as the head of the covenant of grace, the king of the kingdom of God, and the savior of the church, the end of all things is the consummation of the covenant, the perfection of the kingdom, and the salvation and glory of the church. The presence of Jesus Christ is the fellowship of God with men, the reign of God in His world, and the bliss of the saints. Eschatology is anthropology, soteriology, and ecclesiology.
This is why the truth of the last things does not, and must not, inspire dread and terror in those who are Christ’s covenant friends, citizens of His kingdom, and members of His church. As He Himself said in His great eschatological discourse in Luke 21, concerning all the happenings leading up to His coming that cause men’s hearts to fail for fear, “look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh” (v. 28).
In His bodily coming as the consummation of the covenant, the perfection of the kingdom, and the savior of the church, Jesus will be present on behalf of the triune God. Ultimately, the end of all things is the glory of God. God’s goal is His own glory in Jesus Christ by the consummation of the covenant, the perfection of the kingdom, and the glorification of the church. This is clearly expressed in I Corinthians 15:23-28. The subject is the resurrection of our bodies at Christ’s “coming” (v. 23). Christ’s coming is, and brings about, “the end” (v. 24). And then the Son will subject Himself to the triune God “that God may be all in all” (v. 28). This was prophesied by Isaiah: “The earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (Is. 11:9). Thus, eschatology is theology.
If we forget that the end of all things is the glory of God, we will go wrong in our doctrine of the last things. For example, as regards the last judgment, we will deny that the elect must appear in the judgment, to be judged according to their works. The judgment of the elect may seem to endanger the comfort of the elect and even to conflict with the gospel of their salvation by grace alone. But when we remember that the purpose of the final judgment, as of the last things generally, is the glory of God, we will assent to the judgment of the elect, so that their judgment may contribute to the vindication of God before the world.
The same is true regarding the end, or purpose, of our own life in the world personally. If we suppose that the purpose of our life is our own happiness, we must soon come to doubt God’s eschatological leading of our life, on account of the trials, burdens, disappointments, and sorrows. The spiritual man encourages himself in this, that God’s purpose with his life is the glory of the God whom he confesses. Then, like Job, in deepest distress shattering all “happiness,” he confesses, “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:22).
The truth that the one end of all things is Jesus Christ exposes several popular eschatological views as erroneous. First, there is the theory of evolution, which is as much about ends as it is about beginnings. Evolution denies any end or goal of all things. Because evolution denies the beginning of all things in God’s work of creation according to His eternal counsel, evolution’s world and history are aimless. Not only is this theory miserable, since it plunges all who believe it into hopelessness, but it is also wicked, since it repudiates Jesus Christ as the goal of all things.
Second, there is the notion of premillennial dispensationalism that God had to postpone His main purpose in history, namely, the establishment of the Jews as His earthly kingdom, because of their rejection of Jesus as the Messiah. In the interim between the Jewish rejection of Christ and a future conversion of the Jews, God concocts and realizes a secondary purpose, namely, the salvation of a church. The present age of the salvation of the church as the body of Jesus Christ is a mere “parenthesis” breaking up, and perhaps adding a little something to, God’s program for national Israel.
Dispensationalist John F. Walvoord has written:
The present age [of the gathering of the church by the blood and Spirit of Jesus Christ] is a parenthesis or a time period not predicted by the Old Testament and therefore not fulfilling or advancing the program of events revealed in the Old Testament foreview (John F. Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom, Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1975, p. 231).
So unrelated is the saving of the church to God’s work of making the Jews His earthly kingdom in dispensational thinking that dispensationalist theologian Lewis Sperry Chafer objects to calling the age of the saving of the church a “parenthesis.” A parenthesis, after all, stands in some relation to the main sentence in which it is a helpful, though essentially unnecessary, insertion.
In fact, the new, hitherto unrevealed purpose of God in the outcalling of a heavenly people from Jews and Gentiles is so divergent with respect to the divine purpose toward Israel, which purpose preceded it and will yet follow it, that the term parenthetical, commonly employed to describe the new age-purpose, is inaccurate. A parenthetical portion sustains some direct or indirect relation to that which goes before or that which follows; but the present age-purpose is not thus related and therefore is more properly termed an intercalation. The appropriateness of this word will be seen in the fact that, as an interpolation is formed by inserting a word or phrase into a context, so an intercalation is formed by introducing a day or a period of time into the calendar. The present age of the Church is an intercalation into the revealed calendar or program of God as that program was foreseen by the prophets of old. Such, indeed, is the precise character of the present age (Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, vol. 4, Dallas: Dallas Seminary Press, 1948, p. 41).
According to dispensation-alism, God’s great purpose of establishing national Israel as His earthly kingdom had to be “postponed” because of the Jews’ rejection of Jesus as their Messiah. At that time, God began realizing, if He did not then hit upon, a secondary purpose in history, namely, the gathering of a church as the body of Christ. But He maintains His original purpose with the Jews. He will carry out this purpose in the coming millennium when the church age is over.
For dispensationalism, God has two, independent purposes in history.
The dispensationalist believes that throughout the ages God is pursuing two distinct purposes; one related to the earth with earthly people and earthly objectives involved, which is Judaism; while the other is related to heaven with heavenly people and heavenly objectives involved, which is Christianity (Lewis Sperry Chafer, cited in Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensation-alism Today, Chicago, Moody Press, 1965, p. 146. Ryrie’s attempt to soften this statement by a founding father of dispensa-tionalism is significant. Ryrie does not object to Chafer’s assertion of “two distinct purposes” of God in history, but to the crass insistence on the purely earthly nature of the Jewish kingdom. The notion of two different purposes of God with all things is inherent in dispensationalism).
Of the two purposes, or goals, of God with history, the main one is that the physical Jews become finally His earthly, millennial kingdom. The saving of the church is a mere parenthesis, or “intercalation.”
We will examine the bizarre teaching of premillennial dispensa-tionalism in detail later, when we consider the millennium, but here we may point out that it sins against the Bible’s doctrine of the end. The end of all things is the one, future, bodily coming of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the end as the savior of the church, which is Christ’s spiritual kingdom composed of believing Jews and Gentiles (Col. 1:13). God does not have two purposes with history, a primary purpose consisting of the establishing of the Jews as His kingdom and a secondary purpose consisting of the salvation of elect Gentiles. God has one purpose, which is the mystery of His will, and this purpose is the gathering together in one all things in Christ, particularly, the gathering of elect Jews and elect Gentiles in one body and household (Eph. 1:9, 10; Eph. 2:11-3:12).
The teaching that God had some intention to establish an earthly kingdom of Jews at the first coming of Christ, but that He had to postpone this purpose, because the Jews rejected their Messiah, and thus God’s well-meant offer of the earthly kingdom, is a denial of the sovereignty of God. InRomans 11, the apostle teaches that God decreed and governed the partial blinding of Israel in order that the fullness of the Gentiles might come in. In this way (“so,” v. 26), God realizes His purpose of saving all Israel, which salvation is not an earthly kingdom apart from the church, but the forgiveness of sins in the one covenant of God with elect Jews and elect Gentiles (vv. 26, 27).