Tasting the Future Now

Tasting the Future Now August 28, 2012

If you were a 1st Century Jew or Roman or Greek perhaps the most incomprehensible claim of the Christians was the belief that God’s kingdom, the Eschaton, was already at work in the here and now. That claim is on the horizontal plane of time: the future is now. At times a vertical move was made: the heavenly is now earthly, and we see this in Ephesians/Colossians and in Hebrews. But the two can be reasonably synthesized into “tasting the future now.” In jargon, we are speaking of eschatology being inaugurated.

Eschatology is at the core of early Christian faith. It impacts everything, including especially what we think about the church.

What do you think of Levering’s three marks of the church?

Matthew Levering, in his new book, Jesus and the Demise of Death, explores a Christian theology of the future and has a most helpful chapter on the eschatological marks of the church.  Let me sketch the “marks” of the church. In church history most have seen four marks: one, holy, apostolic and universal/catholic church (Creed). The Reformation led to some rethinking: gospel preaching, sacraments, church discipline all through the revelation in the Word of God. Mark Dever says there are nine marks: preaching, biblical theology, gospel, conversion, evangelism, membership, discipline, discipleship and leadership.

Levering, a Roman Catholic, is outside this discussion and finds three apostolic marks of the church — but he swallows up each into an eschatological vision. The church, in the here and now, anticipates in life now the future kingdom of God. That is, the church has an eschatological ontology. Here are his three marks: apostolic teaching, eucharistic worship, and all possessions are God’s gift to be shared with others according to need. Most of the Reformation and evangelical delineations of “marks” end up being “apostolic teaching” and sacrament while I’ve not seen anyone work sharing possessions as a mark of the church.

Levering’s chp gets off by posing his view against four heavyweights who think Constantine got things messed up: Hurtado, NT Wright, JH Yoder and Richard Horsley. Each believes the eschatological vision was diminished in the church while Levering thinks in those three marks we are tasting the future — they, too, are an eschatological ontology.

Levering sketches Acts, John, Paul — and sees each of the three marks, which he gets more or less from Acts and especially from Acts 2:42-47. Then he examines Aquinas: faith is an eschatological posture, the eucharist is an eschatological posture, and almsgiving and sharing possessions are as well.

The church is an eschatological reality. It is a kingdom reality now present in the world. We live now into the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus. His passage into the kingdom is ours.


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  • Dave D

    Hi Scot,
    I was just wondering what you’d recommend reading in regards to inaugurated eschatology? (I know George Eldon Ladd is the classic but apart from him)

  • scotmcknight

    Dave D, I’m still a fan of Ladd’s A NT Theology since it sketches a full-orbed eschatological view of the NT authors. While much water has come under the bridge since him, he is a good starting point. Very few are as focused as he was on the eschatological orientation. Inaugurated eschatology and “fulfillment of OT” are complementary perspectives, so all the work on fulfillment is of value too.

  • Scott Gay

    There are many subjects in the late great and left behind ideas of future that stick subconsciously. Like Middle East turmoil leading to final war, natural disaster increase, the gospel taught everywhere, the defiling of the temple, a horrific season of civil problems……you get the drift. But to me, none ever proclaim the truth of Revelation 19:7
    Let us rejoice and be glad
    and give Him glory!
    For the wedding of the Lord has come
    and His bride has made herself ready.
    Back in the day of the early 1980’s I attended a lecture by Zola Levitt of the preparation of the bride in Hebrew culture. It’s quite extensive. Long story short, I’m enamored with the idea of this not being just a gracious act of being given fine linen, but the actual work involved in the one, holy, apostolic, catholic church making herself ready. Sounds wonderful that it is actually going to happen. That is a testament to humans and God’s patient love of us. And exciting to think my family could actually be a part of a culture that would grasp the vision to make it happen.

  • Daniel

    Anthony Hoekema’s The Bible and the Future is a good introduction to inaugurated eschatology.

  • Heb. 6:4-5 is a good description of “tasting the future now.” It speaks of “tasting the heavenly gift, becoming partakers of the Holy Spirit, and tasting the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come.” This also relates to Acts 2 where the apostle Peter proclaims that the prophecy of Joel about the last days has begun: in the last days God says I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh (2:16-17); in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they will prophesy (2:18). It is the risen Jesus who pours out this promised Spirit, the Jesus God has made Lord and Christ (2:33,36).

    Throughout the New Testament, from the prophecy of John the Baptist about one to come who will baptize with the Spirit–and who is anointed as king of the new kingdom by the Spirit descending from heaven at his baptism–to the prophecy of John in Revelation for the seven churches, where the risen Jesus speaks prophetically to churches (telling most to repent) via what the Spirit says to the churches, through prophets like John (Rev. 2-3), the new king (Lord and Christ) is at work in his international kingdom of disciples through the empowering Spirit.

    In Rev. 19:8 the fine linen of the bride of the Lamb is identified as “the righteous deeds of the saints.” While most of the seven churches are lacking these deeds, and in need of repenting and remembering their first love, the pure bride is the true eschatological kingdom that has now begun. Her pure deeds include gifts of the Spirit like prophecy and giving aid (to the needy), all done in the (fruit of the) Spirit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

    On earth now, Jesus’ kingdom involves suffering and patient endurance on account of the word of God and witness of Jesus (Rev. 1:9); but blessed are the dead (in the future) who die in the Lord (king): “blessed indeed, says the Spirit, because they will rest from their labors, and their deeds will follow them” (Rev. 14:13). The presently powerful beast (imperial kingdom) and those who accept its mark of authority over them (as they seek to share in its power and prosperity) will in the end be no contest for the Lamb who is a Lion (king) and those who have his mark (seal) on their foreheads (minds): the Spirit.

  • aaron

    If the eschatological vision was diminished in the church during the time of Constantine, what would it take to restore it back?

    It seems to me that Leverings three marks have little to do with the future. The sharing of possessions is nothing new. Hundreds of modern, humanistic organizations and people do this without Christ or His kingdom. It could also be argued that teaching and worship were on some level already present in the “previous age” and therefore not new either. Simply adding a new adjective like “apostolic” or “eucharistic” doesn’t connote the future kingdom in my mind.

    Ramsay MacMullen in “Christianizing The Roman Empire” (Yale University Press 1984) acknowledges the inaugurated eschatology of the early church was evidenced by demonic deliverance and healing. He claims this was what enabled the early church to grow so quickly within the antagonistic Roman Empire. Referring to one of many leaders in the Ante-Nicene era, he says that “…conversions result from his supernatural acts…” (pg 61).

    In light of this, we must take seriously Jesus’ words regarding the kingdom. Consider things like, “if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” (Luke 11:20) Or, “Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’” (Luke 10:9) When Jesus sent out the seventy-two I get the idea that the future kingdom was being demonstrated by healing and deliverance. Did Jesus not equate the coming kingdom of light as pushing out a now receding kingdom of darkness on every level it had invaded earth and humanity since the Fall? It is difficult to read the gospels or Acts and dismiss the notion that in Jesus’ mind, “tasting the future” in an eschatological sense meant demons, disease and darkness were being dispelled.

    Where do the ‘marks’ of healing, deliverance and restoration – “sozo” – come into play in our “tasting the future now”? It doesn’t seem to have been quite so incomprehensible since they saw these ‘future’ things demonstrated before their eyes.

    I feel it’s important to consider the historical and exegetical implications of these statements. Some dismiss inaugurated eschatology because it may open the door to things that don’t fit their current sensibilities or theological constructs.