We now propose to call the attention of our readers, the Lord willing, in our discussion of the history of dogma, to that doctrine known as Eschatology. Eschatology, the last locus of the six loci of our Reformed dogmatics, refers to the doctrine of the last things. Now it is true that this last locus of our Reformed dogmatics also treats the future state of the people of God and of those that perish and are lost. Strictly speaking, however, it is the doctrine that concerns, not the things that shall be in the hereafter, but the last things of this present time and world. It is upon these last things that Eschatology lays the emphasis.
The doctrine known as Eschatology embraces many points of doctrine. It calls attention, for example, to the return of our Lord Jesus Christ upon the clouds of heaven. Must this return of Christ be understood in the pre-millenarian sense of the word, the post-millenarian sense or in the amillenarian sense? One cannot escape the conclusion, for example, that the disciples of our Lord entertained a pre-millenarian conception of the kingdom of Christ and of the Messiah. This is obvious. This doctrine also calls attention to what is known as the Intermediate State, the state of the soul between the death of the body and the final resurrection at the last day. Do we believe in “soul sleep,” or do we believe that the departed soul exists in a state of consciousness? Another subject is that of the precursory signs, the signs which precede the coming of Christ and are inseparably connected with that coming. And there are also the doctrines of the antichrist, the millennium, the coming of Christ, the resurrection of the dead and the final judgment. What is the history of these various doctrines? What has been the position of the Church with respect to them? How has the history of these various doctrines developed throughout the ages? It is, of course, important that we know this. Of course, there is no development of doctrine as far as the Scriptures are concerned. The Word of God constitutes a closed canon. God’s revelation, as far as the written Word of God is concerned, is finished. Nothing shall be added to the Scriptures. They are finished and complete. And, incidentally, they are very much “up to date.” It is not true that they must be understood in the light of their times and this in the sense that they may not be applicable in our present day and age. The Word of God is always very much “up to date.” How true this is! Of course, we must understand the times in which the Scriptures were written, but we must always remember that the Scriptures proclaim eternal principles, applicable to the time when they were written, but equally applicable to our present day and age. There is, however, a development of the history of dogma as far as the believing consciousness of the Church of God is concerned. And it is surely important that we note this and follow this development. After all, our Lord Jesus Christ has given us the promise that He would send forth into His church the Holy Spirit, that He would abide with us forever and that that Comforter, the Holy Spirit, would lead us into all the truth. And He has not failed us! It is, therefore, interesting and very instructive to be reminded of this guidance of the Holy Spirit.
It lies in the nature of the case that this doctrine of the last- things is more clearly set forth in the New Dispensation than in the Old Testament. After all, we live in the “last hour.” The New Testament, inaugurated by the “first” coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, His coming into our flesh and blood and subsequent glorification at the Father’s right hand, speaks directly of the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ throughout the ages. The Old Dispensation is the dispensation of the shadows. The New Dispensation is the dispensation of their fulfillment. Christ Jesus has come, has united Himself with our flesh and blood, has suffered and died and is glorified, is coming upon the clouds of heaven throughout these ages of the New Dispensation. This does not mean, however, that Eschatology is not taught in the Old Testament. It surely is! And to this we would call attention briefly before we begin to call attention to the history of that doctrine known as Eschatology, the doctrine of the last things.
That the doctrine of Eschatology should be taught in the Old Testament lies in the very nature of the case. Eschatology refers to the doctrine of last things, the things that must occur prior to and in connection with the final coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and His appearance upon the clouds of heaven. This final coming of our Lord Jesus Christ will inaugurate the heavenly kingdom of God in Christ Jesus. It will mark the beginning of that eternal salvation of the people of the Lord, the completion of that salvation which we now possess in our hearts only in principle, the beginning of that wonderful salvation which eye hath not seen, ear hath not heard, and which could not enter into the heart of man. It lies in the very nature of the case that also the Old Testament would speak of this final coming of our Lord. The Church of God, also as in the Old Dispensation, was never without this blessed promise of the Lord. Abraham saw Christ’s day and rejoiced. David declares of himself that he was a pilgrim and a stranger in the earth. God is one, Christ is one, and there is but one church of God throughout the ages. And to this one Church of God the one God in Christ Jesus gives but one promise, the promise of everlasting and heavenly salvation in the new heavens and upon the new earth. And it lies in the very nature of the case, therefore, that the doctrine of Eschatology, although more clearly set forth in the New Testament, should also be set forth before the people of the Lord in the Old Dispensation. We now call your attention, briefly, to this revelation in the Old Testament Scriptures.
Generally speaking, there is, first of all, the passage ofGen. 3:15: “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” It is true that this passage calls attention to the struggle throughout the ages between the seed of the serpent and that of the woman, between the forces of darkness and those of the light and of the kingdom of God. From this viewpoint, that of the spiritual struggle between the kingdom of God in Christ Jesus and the kingdom of darkness and of this world, this passage of the Word of God is surely a key passage. This Scripture describes all history, speaks of whatever happens in this world as an uncompromising struggle between the forces of light and those of darkness. There is no mention of any “Common Grace” in this Word of God. But, we also have Eschatology in this particular Word of God. We have here the “Mother” promise, God’s assurance to His people of their ultimate victory over all the powers of sin and death and darkness. We have in this Word of God the Lord’s promise of the coming of the Seed of the Woman, our Lord Jesus Christ, through Whom we have the victory, centrally as upon the cross of Calvary, and ultimately at His final return upon the clouds of heaven, in that wonderful day when He shall make all things new. Then, in that day, the head of the serpent will be crushed, the kingdom of darkness completely destroyed, and the people of God will gain the victory over all their enemies. This Word of God is surely God’s promise of the renewal of all things in everlasting and heavenly glory.
The Old Testament Scriptures certainly speak of the return of our Lord Jesus Christ at the end of the ages. We refer, first of all, to Ps. 72:1-11, 17-19. It is true that this passage undoubtedly also refers to the New Dispensation, but ultimately this will be realized in the new heavens and upon the new earth, as is evident from the fact that we read of this kingdom that it is an everlasting kingdom. We read:
Give the king Thy judgments, O God, and Thy righteousness unto the king’s son. He shall judge Thy people with righteousness, and Thy poor with judgment. The mountains shall bring peace to the people, and the little hills, by righteousness. He shall judge the poor of the people, He shall save the children of the needy, and shall break in pieces the oppressor. They shall fear Thee as long as the sun and moon endure, throughout all generations. He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass: as showers that water the earth. In His days shall the righteous flourish; and abundance of peace so long as the moon endureth. He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth. They that dwell in the wilderness shall bow before Him; and His enemies shall lick the dust. The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall bring presents: the kings of Sheba and Seba shall offer gifts. Yea, all kings shall fall down before Him: all nations shall serve Him . . . His name shall endure for ever: His name shall be continued as long as the sun: and men shall be blessed in Him: all nations shall call Him blessed. Blessed be the Lord God, the God of Israel, Who only doeth wondrous things. And blessed by His glorious name for ever: and let the whole earth be tilled with His glory; Amen, and Amen.
And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out My Spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out My Spirit. And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord come. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the Name of the Lord shall be delivered: for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the Lord hath said, and in the remnant whom the Lord shall call.
It is evident that this passage in Joel refers to the day of Pentecost. This appears from the words that the Lord will pour of His Spirit upon all flesh. And the apostle, referring to what has just happened as recorded in Acts 2:1-4, declares that this is that which is recorded by the prophet Joel. But it is also evident that these words of the prophet must also be understood as referring to the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ upon the clouds of heaven. This is evident from the fact that the prophet speaks of the signs in the heavens, the turning of the sun into darkness and of the moon into blood, as occurring before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord. We know, for example, that the prophets, speaking of the first and second comings of the Lord, often spoke of them as one coming, not seeing, as it were, the valley between these two distant mountain peaks, these first and second comings of the Lord. This also enables us to understand why the prophet Joel, too, speaks of these two comings of the Lord as one, calling attention to the outpouring of the Spirit upon all flesh and then also calling attention to the final coming of our Lord Jesus Christ as upon the clouds of heaven. The Lord willing, we will continue with this in our following article.