By Fred G. Zaspel
This helpful study...clarifies in simple, straightforward terms issues that often trip up even the most skilled interpreters of Scripture. It will give you a new appreciation for the centrality of Christ in the Scripture.
In this fine biblical study, Fred Zaspel's gifts as a scholar-pastor are evident in the patient but enthusuastic way he explores the fulfillment of God's purposes in Christ. Read with an open Bible and a ready heart, these pages will convey both the wisdom and the wonder of God's plan and the thrill of discovering again the glory of Jesus Christ.
The Relation of the Old & New Testaments
A. Area of Study
I have been asked to examine "The Theology of Fulfillment" with special attention given to the relation of the Old and the New Testaments. Like so many of the broader themes of Scripture this subject is both simple and complex, and while it has been discussed over and again for so many centuries it is still fresh and invigorating to every believer. This subject is precisely the subject which John the Baptist preached as he announced the arrival of Jesus. It is the subject which our Lord Himself preached. And it is the theme of the apostles. In fact, as we shall see, this message of fulfillment reaches to the very heart of the gospel itself.
B. Biblical Characterizations
The apostle Paul declared that Jesus' arrived "when the fullness of the times came" (Gal. 4:4). At the very least this implies a previous period of preparation—and so there was. The Mosaic era, Paul points out in this context, was an era which not only anticipated the coming of Christ but, by its law emphasis, led to it and demonstrated the great need for it. The sending of God's Son, then, was the culmination of time: up to this point, history had been running toward this very goal. "For all the promises of God in Him are yea, and in Him Amen" (2 Co. 1:20). But we're jumping ahead of ourselves. We want to show precisely how this is so.
It is Augustine who coined the well-known saying, "The Old is in the New revealed; the New is in the Old concealed." That is to say, what is read explicitly in the NT is seen only implicitly in the OT. The two testaments proclaim the same message only from differing standpoints: one points forward in anticipation, and the other declares a completion, an accomplishment.
But it is not Augustine that teaches us this after all. We have it on the authority of our Lord Himself.
"Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill" (Mat. 5:17).
"Blessed are the eyes which see the things that ye see: For I tell you, that many prophets and kings have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them" (Luke 10:23-24).
"And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning Himself" (Luke 24:27).
"And he said unto them, These are the words which I spoke unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me" (Luke 24:44).
"Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me" (John 5:39).
"For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me; for he wrote of me." (John 5:46).
"Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad" (John 8:56).
"In the volume of the book it is written of me" (Heb. 10:7).
Some OT scholars have argued that we should read and study the OT on its own terms. That is, we should seek to understand it by itself without "reading back" into it from the NT. There is a sense, of course, where that is right. But what Jesus seems to be emphasizing in these passages is that we in this age should be able to read the OT better than that. There is the matter of "historical-grammatical" interpretation, to be sure. But if "historical-grammatical" leaves out the Christologicalfocus, it is deficient. In fact, Jesus seems to be implying that this is how the OT could always have been read! "Moses wrote of me . . . Abraham saw my day" seem to insist that the NT "revelation" is precisely the message of the OT.
It is not surprising, then, to observe the NT writers interpreting the OT in just this way. And it is highly instructive to see just how the inspired writers from both sides of the cross treat the relevant data. Those of the Old order consistently point forward in expectation and anticipation of a great age to come, and their NT counterparts just as consistently point to Jesus with a glance backward to their forefathers. To put it another way, Jesus is regularly presented in the NT against the backdrop of the OT hope and shown to be its fulfillment. It is obviously impossible to trace this out in detail, but I want to highlight a few of the hopeful expressions of the OT writers and then see how these are understood in the NT.
Let's begin at the beginning—Genesis 3:15. The promise is of a coming deliverer of the woman's seed who at some cost to Himself ("bruised heal") will bring defeat to Satan ("bruise his head"). Not a lot of information is given here, but it is enough to establish a strong sense of anticipation. The deliverer will be one of humanity (the woman's seed), specifically a male descendent ("he"). The exact nature of the tempter's defeat is not specified, but it will evidently be total ("head"). And it is clear enough that the thrust of the promise is that Satan will be defeated in such a way that he will never cause this kind of trouble again.
Some have argued that Eve expected this deliverance to come via her firstborn—Cain, and point out that the Hebrew of Gen.4:1 could indicate, "I have gotten a man, even the Lord." The translation is possible, but it would be surprising if she knew this much Christian theology at this point. And even if she did expect the fulfillment of the promise to come via Cain, she was wrong.
Interestingly, it is Christ Himself who makes use of this prophecy. "Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out" (John 12:31). As we will see, our Lord often presents Himself as the fulfiller of the OT promises, and here He does just that. Yet what is significant is the manner in which He will bring this about. The next verse continues, "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me." It was by Jesus' crucifixion that Satan's defeat would come. Somehow, the deliverer will defeat the tempter by dying—and that at the tempter's hands!
But when the Apostle Paul refers to this promise it is with a different slant. "And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly" (Rom. 16:20). What is significant here is that Paul's hope is yet a future one; he is looking forward to a time when Satan will be finally put down. It seems to me that this fits well with what John portrays in Rev. 20.
Of course, we are not willing to attribute error to either our Lord or his apostles, and so we are left to think that Satan's defeat was accomplished at the cross and will be brought to fruition at the second coming of Christ.
From all this it is not difficult to see that the prophecy does not point forward to a single act, but to a person who will bring it about in a succession of acts. We will return to this in the next lecture, but it is worth noticing here that here we have the answer to the OT's—to history's—first promise, and it focuses squarely on the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. The promise has a Christological focus and a redemptive purpose.
This pattern (the Christological focus and redemptive purpose of the promises) holds true throughout.
Following an extended period of human spiritual declension and judgment (Gen. 4-9), God reaffirms His promise (Gen. 9:26-27). For the first time in history God is said to be "the God of" an individual—Shem. But the blessing goes further—He will "dwell in the tents of Shem." In other words, God is pledging a special relationship with Shem's descendants. And so it turned out. The family of Shem via Abraham enjoyed God's special care. To them belonged the tabernacle and "the covenants and the giving of the law and the service of God and the promises" (Rom. 9:4). They were the particular objects of His favor and the objects of His revelatory activity. It is as a Shemite that Jesus came, and the gospel went to them "first." And so again, the prophecy maintains a Christological focus and aredemptive purpose.
Following another extended period of spiritual digression (Gen. 10-11), God again reaffirms his promise. In Gen. 12:1-3 (cf. 13:14-16; 15; 17) He promises to Abraham (of the family of Shem) an heir ("seed"), an inheritance ("land"), and a heritage ("blessing to the world").1 Like Eve, Abraham is looking ahead to a later descendant, and every son born to him and to Isaac and to Jacob pointed forward to the Heir par excellence who would bring blessing to the world. In the promise of a land lay an expectation that God would not only act to redeem men's souls, but that He would accomplish redemption on earth itself. This, together with, "I will bless thee . . . and thou shalt be a blessing . . . and in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed" and "I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee" (17:6), leave the hope for a dynastic kingdom and a people who belong to God.
This promise is referred to in some way throughout the OT, but it is in Paul that we find its significance made plain. The "blessing" is righteousness which Christ accomplishes for others, and the "seed" is Christ also—and, by extension, those who belong to Him (Gal. 3). And in Rev. 7 John shows us a picture of the end, in which the redeemed appear as "a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues" (v.9). The Abrahamic promise will be accomplished in all its details.
And the promise again manifests a Christological focus and a redemptive purpose. Christ is the "fulfiller" of the hope: He "fills it full."
This brings us to the promise of Deut. 18:15-19—the prophet like Moses. In context, this is a warning to Israel not to resort to the fanciful practices of divination of the nations around them. It is not only wrong—it is unnecessary, for God will raise up a prophet like unto Moses who, like Moses, will speak for God to them. Him they must hear, for how they hear Him will be the point at issue in their judgment. And so begins the institution of prophetism in Israel.
But the singular is noteworthy—prophet. Who is this prophet? Precisely none of the OT prophets stood as high as Moses! No one was the mediator Moses was, yet this is what the text demands—a prophet like unto Moses.
Again the NT answers, and it presents Jesus not only as a prophet "mighty in deed and in word" (Luke 24:19) and without guile (1 Pe. 2:22), but as "the prophet who is coming into the world" (John 6:14; cf. 4:25; 7:40). "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye Him" (Mat. 17:5). And Jesus' "But I say unto you" (Mat. 5:22, 26, 28, 32, 34, 38, 44) appears to be his own claim to be that prophet. He spoke of His mission in terms of bringing a message from the Father (John 17:6, 8, 14). Accordingly, Hebrews presents Jesus as the culmination of God's revelatory activity (1:1-2). God spoke to Israel throughout her history, many times and in many ways, but the revelation of God through his Son is the climax of it all. Jesus emphasized that the word He brought would be delivered to us at the hands of His apostles (John 16:12-13; 17:6, 8, 14, 18, 20), and this revelation of Christ via His apostles is complete ("all things," John 16:13) and final ("once for all," Jude 3).
And what is the message this Prophet brings? It is the gospel of grace, the good tidings of salvation (Luke 4:16-21; cf. Isa. 61:1-2; Mat. 11:2-5; cf. Isa. 35:4ff). He came to announce the year of Jubilee in which men's indebtedness to God may be canceled. And so again, there is a Christological focus and a redemptive purpose in the prophecy. The promise of a prophet like unto Moses is preliminarily realized in a succession of prophets in Israel, but it is in Jesus Christ that it reaches its goal.
2 Samuel 7 et al
The promise is reiterated again in the monarchical period with a specific emphasis on a king and a kingdom. Growing out of 2 Sa. 7 many of the Psalms also anticipate the coming of the Davidic King to rule over Israel. In the Prophets especially this hope is seen in its cosmic dimensions—God's King coming to bring judgment and righteousness and peace to the whole world. Moreover, the peace and righteousness established in that future day will be secured by a New Covenant which promises that God will be with his people in a special sense, that He will be their God and they will be his people, and the knowledge of God will be universal. As you know, again the NT writers—with Jesus Himself—treat all these many streams of prophetic statements in direct relation to the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. To be redundant—there is a Christological focus and a redemptive purpose.
You'll have to forgive this brief injustice to the OT witness, because we must move along to the NT. Turning there we find the same pattern continued, only here the promise is not as "coming" but as "present and coming." And again there are so many places to turn it is difficult to know where to begin.
Matthew heads the list: "The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham" (1:1). From here follows a long family tree (1:1-17), something which seems boring and unimportant to so many. But in this case it is exciting and extremely important, for Matthew is demonstrating that in Jesus the tree of David, now cut down to a mere stump, is sprouting a new branch (Isa. 11:1). He is "the Son of David" par excellence.
He is also "the Son of Abraham." Now obviously, as a son of David Jesus is also a son of Abraham, but the statement is no redundancy. It is Matthew's declaration that what Jesus brings to Israel in fulfillment of the Davidic promise He also brings to the nations in fulfillment of the Abrahamic promise. This is illustrated in chapter 2 in the visit of the Magi from afar, but also here in the family tree where there are listed four women (besides Mary). The ancient Jews had not caught up to modern feminism, and women were not generally mentioned in family trees. Mary we expect. But why the mention of the likes of Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba? For one, all were Gentiles, except Bathsheba who was married to a Hittite. And all were associated with sexual sin, except Ruth who was a Moabitess—and the Moabites themselves were the result of sexual sin (cf. Gen. 19). Alluding as he just has to the Abrahamic promise—which is both universal in scope and gracious in nature (as we have just seen)—it seems that Matthew is directing our attention backward to see these as illustrations of the work which Jesus has come to do.
In short, Matthew is emphasizing that the birth of Jesus marks the beginning of a new epoch in salvation history—the King has come, and He is Jesus, and He has come to save.
The theme expands in the following paragraph (1:18-25) where Matthew is concerned to show how Jesus was brought into Joseph's family and to emphasize in several ways the fact that Jesus was born of a virgin. Why? To show again Jesus' qualifications as Israel's Davidic king! Perhaps it is more accurate to say that his purpose is to show that Jesus is not disqualified from being king: the curse on Jeconiah (1:11; cf. Jer. 22:24, 28; 37:1) disallowing any of his physical descendants from the Davidic throne does not affect Jesus!
Matthew continues to emphasize the same in verses 20-21 where even in Jesus' name we see Him as the fulfiller of Israel's hopes. He is "Joshua," "God saves," "God to the rescue," if you like. Like the former Joshua He will lead his people into rest. And this too is cast against the OT hope, this time as it is expressed in Psa. 130:8—"And He shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities." "Thou shalt call His name Jesus, for He shall save his people from their sins."
In fact, Jesus is immanu el—God with us (v.23; cf. Isa. 7:14)! In Jesus—and in answer to a long history of promises—God Himself has come to us for our salvation, and in His presence we are safe.
But Matthew does not let up. In chapter 2 he emphasizes that Jesus is "born in Bethlehem," the significance of which is noted in vv.4-6 (cf. Mic. 5:2). But there is still more. In v.2 Jesus is designated, "King of the Jews." The mention of "his star" is reminiscent of Balaam's prophecy of Numbers 24:17, long recognized as Messianic. The visit of the Magi bears striking resemblance to the visit of the Queen of Sheba to David's son Solomon. Their presenta-tion of gifts seems reflective of Isa. 60:6 and possibly Psa. 72:10-11. And with all this symbolism it can become difficult to argue against the ancient tradition that there is symbolic value in the gifts themselves!
Then there is His exodus from Egypt "that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, `Out of Egypt have I called my son'" (v.15). It is difficult here to see the connection. In what way does this "fulfill" Hosea's statement? In context, Hosea's prophecy (11:1) is not at all predictive. It is a simple statement concerning Israel's history. But for Matthew, Jesus is the true,2 and so he very easily makes the connection.
The noted details of Jesus' ascent from Egypt along with King Herod's fear and the slaughter of the children are significant. Later in Matthew's Gospel he is careful to present Jesus as the New—and greater—Moses (cf. giving the law from a mountain, ten miracles, giving bread in a desert place, etc.), and it seems this is one subtle introduction to the theme. In fact, the wording of 2:20 ("for they are dead which sought the young child's life") is strikingly reminiscent of Exo. 4:19. This is the one "like Moses" whom Moses said would come.
In vv.16-18 the slaughter of the innocents "fulfills" another historical statement, this time by Jeremiah: "In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not." The reference is to Jer. 31:15 and the lament of Rachel. Rachel (regarded as the mother of the nation and buried just outside of Bethlehem) there is portrayed as weeping for the children of Israel who "are no more"—their king is dethroned, and they are being carried off into exile (586 B.C.). These tears are "fulfilled" here in that they are brought to a climax and an end—they find their answer in the birth of Jesus, the true heir of David's throne. In other words, Matthew is emphasizing that the exile is over, the true Son has arrived, and He will bring in blessings to Israel.3
Significant also is the fact that the Jeremiah passage which Matthew cites ends with words of comfort. God will establish a "New Covenant" which will assure the greatest blessings to Israel—God will be theirs in the most intimate ways. They will enjoy the "knowledge" of Him in forgiveness and blessing. Significant also is the fact that Jeremiah speaks of Israel there as "God's dear son." But here the whole scene reaches its culmination. The exile is over, the true son has come to inaugurate the New Covenant (cf. Mat. 26:28) with all its attending blessings. Truly, Rachel's weeping is over.
Finally, in 2:23 another prophecy is "fulfilled"—"He shall be called a Nazarene." The difficulty here is that this prophecy is nowhere to be found in all of the OT. It seems that there is a play on words here. Isaiah's "branch"—netzer—would rise from humble obscurity. This "Nazarene"/netzer connection may provide a point of reference. Add to this the fact that the term "Nazarene" is a term of contempt (cf. John 1:46; Acts 24:5) and that the prophets made it plain that the Servant would be "despised and rejected of men," and it seems also that this statement ("He shall be called a Nazarene") is a fulfillment of the substance of what the prophets had said. Jesus was not "the Bethlehemite"—a designation full Davidic implications. He was "a Nazarene." The king, yes, but one who came not with outward show and pomp but with obscure and humble beginnings and with derision.
Five times here Matthew specifies that Jesus "fulfills" some OT prophecy (1:22-23; 2:5-6, 15, 17-18, 23), but even without the use of the terminology He is repeatedly presented as the realization of the long hopes of Israel.
Clearly, this is much more than an "infancy narrative." It is Matthew's introduction of the great King. It is his "prologue," re-emphasized and expanded throughout his entire book.
In chapters 5-7 Jesus is the new law-giver. He claims to "fulfill" the law and the prophets (5:17), and from what follows it is clear that He means to imply more than that He has merely discharged all of His Mosaic obligations. Neither does he mean that He is simply a "fulfillment of prophecy." Nor is He affirming the continuing validity of Moses' law. The thought goes deeper. Moses' law will stand until it is entirely "fulfilled" (v.18), but in Him it reaches its fulfillment! He has brought "to its final conclusion all that the Law stood for."4 More, "these sayings of mine" (7:24, 26) constitute the New Law which Jesus brought about. "Lawlessness" (anomia,7:23) is defined as disobedience to His words. He is "the prophet" who must be heard—("But I say unto you..."). To fail to hear His word aright results in a storm of judgment which will destroy the disobedient like floods over a house built on sand (vv.24-27). Still more, He is the King issuing the charter of His kingdom (5:3; 6:33, etc.). These are the King's demands which must be accepted by all who would be part of God's kingdom.
In His transfiguration (17:1-9) He is again—among other things—the new Moses. We can see at once, in the Father's affirmation of His Son in the presence of Moses and Elijah, Jesus' primacy over both—the law and the prophets. But the similarities to Moses on Mt. Sinai are striking—the mountain, the cloud (symbolic of the Divine presence), the voice of God, the commands (10 commandments and "hear Him!"), the shining face, etc. With all these "coincidences" it quickly becomes obvious that Matthew is telling us something; namely, that the arrival of Jesus marks a great transition—a fulfillment, if you will—a fulfillment from the Old to the New, from the partial to the complete, from the law of Moses to the law of Christ. In short, Jesus marks the shift from promise to fulfillment. He is the new and greater Moses.
But He is more than that. In chapter 12 the incident of Jesus' disciples plucking grain on the sabbath turns into a Christological manifesto. Jesus is greater than the sabbath—indeed, greater than the temple! And He is greater than David—and Jonah, and Solomon (12:1-8, 41, 42). But He is not only greater—He is what they anticipated. He is their "fulfillment."
And the theme of Jesus' kingship is carried through to his death (cf. ch.27—the conversation with Pilate, the details of the purple robe, reed in His hand, the mocking cry "Hail, King of the Jews," the charge against Him above His head, "This is Jesus, the King of the Jews," etc.). But it does not stop there—His Kingship is declared by His resurrection and in His missionary manifesto to the disciples ("all authority is given me in heaven and in earth"). Jesus is here, and He is King, and while His kingship may be of an unexpected kind, He is nonetheless the fulfiller of Israel's hope.
It is entirely arguable that Matthew's whole theological motivation in writing his Gospel may be summed up in this one word—fulfilled (plero, 33 times in Matthew;tele, 3 times). This is his trademark- -his primary thrust emphasized over and again even without the use of the term. For Matthew, Jesus is the fulfillment of all the expectations regarding David's and Abraham's Son, and He is the one who "fills full" all the promises made throughout Israel's history. Speak of Bethlehem, Galilee, the Messiah, the King of Israel/the Jews, the suffering Servant of Jehovah, the Son of Man, or any of a host of other terms pregnant with expectation, and Jesus is the Fulfiller, the answer and goal of them all.
Mark & Luke
The fulfillment emphasis in Mark and Luke is similar to that of Matthew, although perhaps to a lesser degree, so we need not spend much time here before we move along. Both Mark and Luke (along with Matthew and John) point out Jesus' forerunner, John the Baptist. Mark gives us John's pregnant expression, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand" (1:15)—which is to say, simply, that the time of waiting is now over, and what is hoped for is now a reality. The significance of John, for them, is clearly Messianic. There is also Elizabeth's joyful response to Mary: "Blessed is she that believed, for there shall be a performance (tele_) of those things which were told her from the Lord" (Luke 1:45). One particularly interesting observation concerns Luke's account of Jesus' birth. There we are reminded of "Bethlehem the city of David," and there we are told of Simeon's glad praise to God as he takes the infant Jesus into his arms and says, "Mine eyes have seen thy salvation . . . a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel" (2:30, 32)! More subtly but no less interesting, however, is Luke's narrative of Jesus' birth and the events preceding it (chs.1-2). With the angelic announcement and even the terminology employed ("thou shalt conceive in thy womb and bear a son...and He shall...") it is apparent that Luke is carefully drawing attention to the account of the birth of Samson (Jdg. 13:3ff). And so there is again the note of Israel's deliverance. Again, there is much more, but we must press on.
In John's Gospel the emphasis is even more pronounced. He tells us himself that his very purpose in writing is to show us that "Jesus is the Christ" (20:31)—and looking back through the book, it is clear that he accomplishes his purpose very well. Think of the titles given to Jesus in John's Gospel: He is the Christ (Messiah), the king of Israel, the Son of Man, the light of men, the true light, the one greater than John the Baptist, greater than Moses, the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit (who can anoint but one who is The Anointed?), the one of whom Moses wrote, the Holy One of God, the one who comes in the name of the Lord riding on an ass, etc. All of these are rich with Messianic implications.
The narrative of 1:19-34 is filled with "hints" of Jesus' Messiahship, such as the question to John the Baptist whether he is the Christ and his subsequent denial, his announcement of the arrival of the Christ, his identifying of Jesus as "the lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world," and the expectation that He will baptize with the Holy Spirit. But all this seems intended to lead up to the climax of v.34—"And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God." The same is true of the following paragraph (vv.35-51) which ends with Jesus' declaration that He is the mediator between heaven and earth. "We have found Him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write!" (1:45) is the whole emphasis.
Chapter 2 carries on the same—Jesus is the answer and goal of what the Jewish water pots symbolized (vv.1-11). And reading 2:12ff from the standpoint of one who knows the outcome, we understand that the "sign" of His Messiahship which He offered to those who requested it did in fact occur—His temple (body) was raised up in three days!
The account of the woman at the well in Samaria (4:1-42) likewise reaches its climax with the men of Samaria saying, "Now we believe, not because of thy saying: for we have heard Him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world." The entire discourse concerning the bread from heaven leads to the same conclusion—"Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the holy one of God." The same is emphasized throughout the interrogation of the healed blind man (ch.9). The "I AM" sayings are full of Messianic significance—the bread from heaven, the light of the world, the good shepherd, the true vine, etc. And on through the book it goes. It just doesn't end. Like Matthew, John had learned—somehow—to see in the OT an unfolding Christological focus and a redemptive purpose.
Of particular interest to me is John the Baptist's announcement, "Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world" (1:29). Judging from the Baptist's later confusion about Jesus (Mat. 11:2ff, where he sends messengers from his prison to ask Jesus if He really is the expected one) and the strong emphasis on judgment in his announcements recorded in the synoptics (e.g., Mat. 3:7-11), many have understood this statement as an announcement of judgment as well.5Evidence cited in support of this comes from the Jewish apocalyptic writings, well known in that day, where the Messiah is presented as a lamb coming in triumph to clean up and remove sin. The picture is of a lamb being attacked by wild beasts but overcoming them in the fight and so establishing the Kingdom. "Taking away sin," in this case, refers to judgment and destruction of sinners, God's enemies. This fits well with the note of judgment which the Baptist sounds in the synoptics. This is precisely the picture in Rev.5 where the lion of Judah who has earned the right to open the book suddenly appears as a lamb who stands, takes the book, and receives praise for redeeming all of humanity by his blood. The conquering lion, then, is the slaughtered ram. And the conquering lamb who triumphs over sin is the sacrificial lamb who removes sin. This judgment imagery may well be involved in John 1:29 also. But then John the Baptist was an inspired prophet of the tradition of Israel, and judging from what transpires later his announcement seems to imply much more. John the apostle interprets Jesus' death in reference to the passover lamb (19:14, 35-37). The lamb who "takes away the sin of the world" is a powerful, conquering ram who triumphs over sin by his own sacrifice. He is the paschal lamb. But if He is that lamb, then could he be the lambs of the daily sacrifice? Or the scapegoat of Lev. 16? Or the substitute lamb offered instead of Isaac (Gen. 22)? Or of the guilt offering of Lev. 14? Or of the lamb led to the slaughter of Isa. 53? This verse (John 1:29) has been notorious for its difficulty in allowing a precise point of reference, but perhaps this is precisely what the apostle John intended. Perhaps he did not intend to restrict the figure but rather to leave it open to a wide range of OT anticipations!
In the Pauline corpus Jesus is presented to a primarily Gentile audience, and so "Christ" has become more a name than a title. Even still, Jesus is presented as the last Adam (Rom.5:12ff), Isaac's ram (Rom.8:32), the Passover (1 Co.5:7), the seed of Abraham (Gal.3), the one who redeems us from the curse of the law (Gal.3:13), and the greater than Moses (2 Co.3). And in the book of Acts we see that Paul's practice in the synagogues was the same wherever he went—there was only and always a presentation of Jesus as "the Christ" and as the fulfiller of the OT scriptures (Acts 17:2-3).
As if this weren't enough, the evidence from Hebrews is staggering. Over and over again Christ is presented as the fulfillment of what was anticipated in the old economy. He is superior to all the OT prophets (1:1-4)—even Moses (3:1-6). He is superior to the angels—who played such a vital role in the giving of the law (ch.1-2). He has brought in a new law which replaces the old (7:12). When the author speaks of our "entering into rest" (4:1-10) we immediately understand him to mean that the promise of rest (in the OT and by Jesus, cf. Mat. 11:28ff) is fully realized in our enjoyment of Christ—now and forever. He is priest of a higher order than that of Aaron (ch.7). He is the realization of all that was prefigured in the old order of Moses. And again, this NT writer has learned to look back to the OT and see all the promises—and institutions—as pointing forward to the Lord Jesus Christ who "fills them all full."
So much for the data. Let's try to draw some observations from all this.
1) The Old is indeed "filled full" in the New. What was before a hope is everywhere in the NT declared to be a hope whose time has come. If anything is clear from the NT writers it is this epochal truth: "the time is fulfilled."
2) The New is indeed in the Old, but its "concealment" there is not a very secret one! He is there—everywhere. We learn just as easily from the NT writers that we simply cannot read the OT without seeing Jesus.
3) The focal point of both is the same; i.e., the person and work of Christ. The whole of Scripture is seen to have—may I say it again—a Christological focus and a redemptive purpose.
4) The nature of the OT's anticipation varies—spoken prophecy, symbol, illustration. In fact, the NT writers seem to look back at the whole of (previous) history as one long, extended object lesson portraying some aspect of Christ's person and work.
From this I think we can learn something of the nature of a "type." Some have taught that types are only those OT symbols/illustrations which find specific mention as such in the NT. That hermeneutic is safe enough—it avoids altogether the many over-active imaginations which we all have seen! But while it is safe, it may not quite fit all the data. The author of Hebrews specifically states that there is more to what he is setting forth than he has time to discuss: "And over it the cherubims of glory shadowing the mercy seat; of which we cannot now speak particularly" (9:5). Just what the author would have written about the symbolic significance of the cherubim we would love to know! The method employed by the NT writers seems rather casual and almost completely unguarded. They so easily look anywhere in the OT, it seems, and they see Jesus! It's easy for us to see Him in Isaiah 53, but Hosea 11:1? "Type" seems to me to be a rather loose term; it can refer to any kind of real correspondence between Biblical events, persons, or institutions.
5) Accordingly, the nature of the NT realization varies. Sometimes there is a "one-to-one" fulfillment. This is seen in things such as Micah's prophecy of Bethlehem (5:2); I am not aware of any further significance of this prophecy than that this is where Jesus was born. But it is not always quite so simple. We saw that the "serpent" curse in Gen. 3:15 was—and will be—fulfilled. The same is true of other promises—which we will see in the next lecture. Then there is this matter ofsensus plenior which is so often discussed in contemporary theology. Do the NT writers look back to the OT and see in it a "fuller sense" than was originally intended by the original authors? I don't see any way to deny it (e.g., Mat. 2:15 & Hos. 11:1), and if we understand that God is the unifying Author behind all the human authors I don't think this presents any real problem. We should make mention also of the NT use of plero ("fulfill"); it seems to indicate merely that this age witnesses the realization of every-thing in the OT which in any way pointed forward to it—whether by specific prediction, symbol, or whatever. The same is true fortele, which it seems is a synonymous term.
6) The question that arises here is, how do we apply what we learn from the NT writers' use of the OT. May or ought we to look back and see Christ as quickly as they did? What about in places which seem to us to "preview" Christ but the NT writers never really say so? Is it still legitimate? In short, I think yes, but I also think we should always look for some textual indicators. And I would expect that most of the time, at least, there will be other portions of Scripture which will serve to "fill in" the picture. For example, Hosea 11:1 does mention "my son," and while that isn't much to go on we do know from fuller revelation how this may well become a reference to Christ. A similar treatment is given to Caiaphas' prophecy in John 11:49-52. We don't have the advantage of inspiration or even of having listened to Jesus teach personally, and so I think it is clearly necessary for us to be very careful about seeing too much in all the minute details of the OT. When in Solomon's Song he likens his wife's navel to a goblet full of wine and her belly to a heap of wheat (7:2), I am not prepared to see a reference to the Lord's supper—as some have. But we do learn from the NT writers that if we are to read the OT aright we must read it while wearing our NT glasses! When we read that the first man placed on earth was given dominion over it and failed, we should without hesitation remember that we have read the last chapter, too, and that it tells us there that "Jesus won it back!" When we read of a promised deliverer who will destroy the tempter we should immediately think in terms of the victory achieved by Christ on the cross which will be brought to final consummation at his return. The same is true when we read of the various rituals of the Mosaic law. When we read of the law entering and see its ability to point out sin, our minds should race quickly to Him who is "the end of the law for righteousness to him that believes." When we read of Israel entering into her rest, we should happily think of our rest in Christ which we enjoy now and will enjoy forever. In short, we must read the OT Christologically.
Spurgeon stated the issue with characteristic eloquence.
Take away Christ for a moment, and look into the pages of your OT. Then try to construct in your imagination an ideal character who shall exactly fit all that is therein foreshadowed. Remember, He must be a prophet like unto Moses, and yet a champion like Joshua. He must be an Aaron and a Melchizedek. He must be both David and Solomon, Noah and Jonah, Judah and Joseph, the Isaac who was offered by the father and the ram which died in his stead. Yea, He must not only be the lamb that was slain but the scapegoat which was not slain, the turtledove that was dipped in blood and the priest who slew the bird; but He must be the altar, the tabernacle, the mercy seat, and the shewbread....
His point is well made: just try to make sense of the OT without Christ! Without Him it is an empty book! But with Him, a mountain of details beautifully converge. Or, in the words of Augustine,
"Read the prophetic books without reference to Christ—what couldst thou find more tasteless and insipid? Find therein Christ, and what thou readest will not only prove agreeable, but will intoxicate thee."
7) So the relation of the OT to the NT is not bad/good, but good/better. The OT believers had their way to God, their priesthood and many glad provisions along with it. And all that was a very gracious gift from God. The Old covenant, to use Paul's word, was "glorious" (2 Co. 3:10-11). But the glory of this New covenant far surpasses it, for we enjoy the "body" of which the former was but a "shadow" (Col. 2:17). Or in the language of the writer of Hebrews, this "new and living way" is much "better," and we rejoice to be a part of it.
8) One more thing. I said that we learn from the NT writers how to read the OT—i.e., from the viewpoint of "the end." But where did they get it? There is only one answer, and they tell us the answer themselves. "And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, He expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning Himself" (Luke 24:37). It is on Christ's own authority that we read the OT looking for Him. To read the OT in this way is to follow the lead of our Lord Himself, the one concerning whom the book was written and Who, in turn, fills it full.
Some Major Fulfillment Themes
We saw in the first lecture that in Jesus Christ that which was anticipated in the OT is realized. The theology—the message—of the NT is one of fulfillment. Jesus Christ came "in the fullness of the times." This age of salvation history stands above the previous age in that it witnesses a realization of all the previous hopes. This, I think, is what made John the Baptist the "greatest" of all the prophets—he actually witnessed and introduced what the others only promised. "We have found Him of whom Moses and the prophets did write" is precisely the superior glory of this NT age.
We saw this by simply tracing out the way in which the writers of the NT interpret the OT. They all consistently see and present the Lord Jesus as the goal of the OT hopes. They quite easily and naturally look back to the OT and see glimpses and promises of Christ everywhere. To observe all this, I think, is fundamental to the whole study—the first and basic step.
And so we saw also that we are, by example, instructed to read the OT in light of the climactic revelation which Jesus brought. It is Aristotle who taught that anything is better understood in light of its telos, its end. But nowhere is that principle better applied than here—to read the OT aright is to read it in light of the NT—its telos.
B. Area of Study
What I did not take time to point out is that the OT hope was an eschatological one. Let me back up and explain. The OT knows of two ages of redemptive history—and the NT is basically the same. "Redemptive history" does not speak of anything outside of "real" history. It just views history from God's perspective in the outworking of His promised salvation. The "two ages" are simply, 1) this present age, and 2) the age to come—or merely, promise and fulfillment. "This present age" is everywhere characterized as "evil" (e.g., Gal.1:4) because it is the age of sin. "This age" views the society of men as under the control of Satan and in rebellion against God. There is misery and sin and death—and all that is evil. The unregenerate are dubbed, "the children of this age" (e.g., Luke 16:8), and "loving this present age" is a mark of godlessness (2 Ti. 4:10). By contrast, "the age to come," the time of the Messiah (Mat. 24:3), is the time when God will come in glorious power and right all that is wrong. There will be a reversal of the effects of the fall—a "fixing" of all that is broken and all that is wrong. It is the day of salvation.
Several NT passages mention these two ages specifically. For example, in Mat.12:32 Jesus speaks of that sin which cannot be forgiven—not "in this age nor in the age to come." Similarly, the hope associated with the age to come is alluded to in Luke 18:30 which speaks of "life in the age to come." "The time of the end," "the latter days," etc., are similar expressions. The point here is simply that this is the Biblical outlook—this age and the age to come.
As I mentioned, the OT hope was an eschatological one—it focused on the age to come. The time of the Messiah would be a time of judgment, resurrection, righteousness, and so on. The hope was clearly a future one—that in "the end" God would come and redeem His people.
But here again we read the NT writers speaking of "fulfillment." In short, their message is that in Christ "that age" has been brought forward into "this age." The future is now! Christ has fulfilled all of our long hopes! This is the radical, revolutionary message of the early church, and it is a message which shaped not only their theology but their whole outlook on life.
What I would like to do for this hour is highlight first the major NT statements to this effect and then the primary corresponding themes. Our overall objective here is to further demonstrate the "fuller" nature of this NT age. Hopefully by doing so we will come to a greater appreciation of our privileges—and our responsibilities—in grace.
Biblical Characterizations of This Age
We don't need to spend a lot of time discussing what is patently obvious, but we should begin by noting that on the one hand "this age" is an evil one (Gal. 1:4), and it is altogether incompatible with true discipleship (2 Ti. 2:4; 4:10). This is so simply because the god of this age is Satan (2 Co. 4:4)—a Biblical truth that becomes more evident every day. To live "in keeping with" this age is to follow the lead of Satan (Eph. 2:2), and to be caught up in the "cares of this age" will result in the choking out of the seed of the gospel (Mat. 13:22). It doesn't take much spiritual insight at all to recognize that the world we live in is—in God's estimation—a world full of sin. And it is this that makes the future hope a bright one—in the age to come things will not be so!
But what is so startling about the NT witness is that Christ has brought "that age" forward into this age. Notice Gal. 1:4. "Who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age." Paul does not seem to be saying that we still hope that in some future day we will be delivered from this age. He seems to be telling us that by Christ's redemptive work we already enjoy freedom from this present age.
Notice 1 Co. 10:11. "Now all these things happened unto them as examples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages are come." Notice that the "end" (telos) has come— the "ends of the ages" to be exact. But notice that Paul is more specific than that—the ends of the ages have come upon us.
Heb. 1:1-2. "God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spoke in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son." Notice that we are said to be already a part of "the last days." It is worth noting here that in the NT "last days" and similar expressions are consistently used in reference to events that either have occurred or are occurring (cf. 1 Pe. 1:20; Jude 18; Acts 2:17). John even speaks of his time as "the last hour" (1 Jn. 2:18).
Heb. 9:26. "For then must He often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the age hath He appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself."
1 Pe. 1:10-12. "Of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow. Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into" (cf. Luke 10:24).
In all these the point is the same; namely, that this NT age is the age of fulfillment. What was for so long awaited is now being experienced—by us. Now this is not to say that we do not live "here" any longer—it is plenty obvious that we do. But then again we don't—but more of that later. Let's notice just two more indications of the same.
2 Co. 5:17. "Therefore if any man be in Christ, He is a new creation: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." If the terminology here strikes you as sounding eschatological then you're on the right track. "New creation" sounds a lot like the "new heaven and new earth" of 2 Peter and Revelation. Recall Rev. 21:5 where on the brink of eternity God says, "Behold, I make all things new." This is clearly something we naturally place in a future time frame. But Paul boldly declares that it is a present experience—at least in some sense—for those who are "in Christ."
Phil. 3:20. "Our citizenship is in heaven." (cf. Eph. 2:6, we are "seated in the heavenlies.") In some sense heaven is here—for us.
I hope I haven't overly belabored the point, but I think it is good to see the specific passages which state the issue precisely—or concisely. This serves, then, as a framework in which we can examine some related themes. The NT writers—and Jesus—do not merely declare that this is the new age; they also speak in reference to specific promises which call for an eschatological fulfillment and which we now enjoy.
Fulfilled Promises in this Age
Basic to the OT hope is the hope of resurrection. Dan. 12:2 promises this as plainly as anywhere, but it is a hope that is alive throughout the OT (e.g., Job 19:26; Isa. 26:19). You are all familiar enough with this. The age to come, the age of the Messiah, was to be a time of resurrection.
This is the significance of Christ's resurrection. The fact that His resurrection was a real, bodily resurrection is well attested in the Gospel records—and the epistles for that matter. The empty tomb, the appearances and eye-witnesses, the visible wounds, etc. But what is often overlooked is the fact that while His resurrection was real it was not merely the resuscitation of his corpse. It was His resurrection into the age to come—the resurrection of the eschaton. Evidence for this runs along two lines.
1. Physical Evidence
The physical evidence is plentiful. The grave clothes which were found in the otherwise empty tomb had not been torn off from Jesus' body—they remained there just as they had been placed, only now they were empty! I suspect the weight of the burial ointments and plasters left it all caved in, but the point is that the body seems to have just left without any disturbance! (cf. Lazarus, John 11:44).
Also, the stone had been moved away from the tomb, not to let Jesus out, but rather to show that He was gone! And there are the sudden appearances and disappearances (e.g., Luke 24) and with them the seeming "travel" back and forth from another "dimension" or state of existence. That physical barriers were no obstacle to Him ("the doors being shut") points to the same. All this in contrast to previous resurrections, where we are left to assume that the person raised to life eventually died again.
Looking at all this it becomes clear that the resurrection of Christ is something unique in history. It appears just from the physical evidence that His resurrection is the resurrection of the age to come. And in fact this is precisely the declaration of the NT writers.
2. Exegetical Evidence
Acts 4:1-2. "And as they spoke unto the people, the priests, and the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees, came upon them, being grieved that they taught the people, and preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead." Why was their doctrine so opposed by the Sadducees? Because "they preached in Jesus the resurrection of the dead"! The future resurrection was for the apostles no mere subject of theoretical speculation but of current events! The Sadducees may argue that the resurrection will never take place. And the Pharisees may argue that it will. But what the apostles insisted was that it already has taken place!6
Acts 23:6. "...of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question." That is, Israel's hope of resurrection hinges on Jesus. All hope of resurrection centers on Him because He already experienced it.
Rom.1:3-4. "Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead." I think Vos's (and so, Murray's) treatment of this passage hits the mark.7 He points out that Paul speaks here of the two states of existence of the incarnate Son: 1) weakness—"according to the flesh," the state that originated "out of (ek) the seed of David"; and 2) power—"according to the Spirit of holiness" which originated "out of (ek) the resurrection from the dead." Jesus' resurrection did not simply declare Him to be "the Son of God" but "the Son of God with power." Simply put, upon His resurrection, Christ—unlike Lazarus or those other previous resurrections— entered an entirely new state of existence. He entered the age to come.
1 Co. 15:20. "But now (nuni de) is Christ risen, and become the firstfruits of them that slept." Note the time frame ("now") and the nature of the resurrection ("firstfruits"). The "firstfruits" are more than a pledge; they are the first installment of a later harvest. Verse 22 specifies that it is "in Christ" that we will be resurrected. The implication again is that He has entered that resurrection state ahead of us.
1 Co. 15:45. "The last Adam was made a quickening spirit." The indication again is that He has passed into another existence.
2 Ti. 1:10. "...Who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel." In His resurrection Christ entered "immortality."
So Christ has been raised to the life of the age to come. The significance of all this so far as we are concerned stems from the fact that we are "in Him." That is, there is a corporate solidarity of Christ with His own, so that what is true of Him becomes true of us. This includes the resurrection. Many times Paul goes to pains to show that we are "raised with Him" (e.g., Rom. 6:3ff; Eph. 2:5-6; Col. 2:12-13; 3:1). We are one with Him in His resurrection as well as His death. God's redemptive goal for us has been achieved for us—and, in a sense, without us—by Jesus Christ.
But while this is a truth regarding what has occurred for us in salvation history, it is not that only. It is something that has implications in our daily experience also. We are raised with Him "unto newness of life" (Rom. 6:4). Like Him, we too have entered a new existence. It is not the state of immortality, but it is the state in which sin no longer has dominion (6:6ff). Raised together with Him sin has been dethroned. No longer can it run rough-shod over us, but in Christ we are made free from sin (v.7) and no longer are forced into submission to it (v.14). This is what accounts for the "newness" of our life in Christ (2 Co. 5:17). We are men who have been raised to a new existence—with Christ. Moreover, this "new life" to which we have been raised in Him is to us a resource for daily living. "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me" (Gal. 2:20). "That I may know Him, and the power of his resurrection" (Phi. 3:10). Raised with Christ we are not related to an idea—we are related to the risen Lord whose strength becomes our own for living for Him.
This is precisely the tension in the Christian life. We are raised with Christ to sit with Him in the Heavenlies (Eph. 2:5-6). We live in another world—and it is evident, to us and to those who know us. We feel the upward pull to higher ground, and we know that it is His life in us. Yet with all that our feet are still here on the ground—in this age. And we too often feel the downward tug of the "cares of this age" (Mat. 13:22). And so we are warned, as soldiers in Christ's army, not to "be entangled with the affairs of this world" (2 Ti. 2:4). But it is not warning only, it is that with the help of the risen Christ who dwells within, and we live unto God through Him (Gal. 2:20).
B. Eternal Life
One of the striking features of Jesus' preaching is His infrequent use of the term "salvation" (or the verb, "to save"). In comparison to our use of the word Jesus used it hardly at all. That is not to say our use of the word is wrong—Paul used it all the time too. But the observation should make us curious enough to see what terminology Jesus did use—especially in light of the fact that His mission was a mission of salvation!
It is at this point we come to recognize Jesus' preference for the word "life"—or "eternal life." The Gospel of John is full of references to "life" and "live" (53 times; 95 times total in the Johannine writings). This observation just fascinates me, and when I first observed it I was excited to search the matter a bit further in order to discover just why Jesus preferred this term. We cannot explore it all right now, but we will take a look at it in relation to our theme of fulfillment.
The first time the term "eternal life" (hayyey `olam / zoe aionion) appears in Scripture is Dan. 12:2, and only a brief look at the verse sends us well on our way to an understanding of the significance of the term. "And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt." Clearly the hope of "eternal life" is an eschatological one—it focuses squarely on the last days, the day of resurrection. This same idea is carried over into the NT, in fact, and is seen in such verses as Mat. 25:46 where the final judgment at the return of Christ is seen to result in two very different destinies for humanity—eternal punishment and eternal life. In Mark 10:30 Jesus specifies exactly that His disciples will receive "in the age to come eternal life." The same is seen in similar passages where "life" stands in contrast to "hell" (e.g., Mk. 9:43, 45). In John 5:29 Jesus speaks of "the resurrection of life" for those who have done good, a statement closely reminiscent of Daniel 12:2. And in John 12:25 "life in this world" is in contrast to "eternal life." So the significance of the phrase is clear: eternal life is the life of the age to come. It is to be enjoyed in the day of resurrection.
What is so surprising, then, is to learn that this is the blessing that Christ came to give in this age! The Gospel of John is replete with statements to this effect. "I am come that they might have life and they might have it more abundantly (10:10). "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on Him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but has passed from death unto life" (5:24). This is the point of reference also in Jesus' discussion with Nicodemus. He needed a rebirth precisely because entrance into the kingdom demands a new principle of life. And when Jesus says that his disciples are "not of this world," He means to imply (among other things, perhaps) that the life they now possess is not explainable in terms of anything natural. It has nothing whatever to do with this world. The concept is a fascinating one and reveals a profound understanding of the significance of Jesus Christ. With Him the eschaton has been brought forward.
What is evident first of all, then, is that "life" is more than existence, and "eternal life" is more than endless existence. By definition, all men "exist," and they will exist forever. But the point of issue here is whether or not we can rightly refer to that existence outside of Christ as "life." The terms, you see, do not speak of quantity of life but quality of life, a specific kind of existence. It lasts forever, to be sure, and we will look at that later, but that is not the whole point. "How do—and will—we exist?" is the question here.
But what is that quality of life which Jesus gives? What makes it so desirable? In John 17:3 Jesus defines eternal life as the knowledge of God—"And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent." You are aware of the fact that the verb "to know" often connotes more than mere possession of facts. It speaks of relationship, intimacy, fellowship, favor (e.g., Psa. 1:6; Amos 3:2; Jer. 9:24; Jer. 31:34; John 10:14-15). This is where "life" becomes so significant. Outside of Christ man does not know God—he can't (8:19, 54-55; 16:3; 17:25). Sin has so disrupted things that this—his highest aspiration and goal, the very purpose of his creation—is lost. This explains the "futility" of man's natural existence. He is on a continual pursuit of trivia because he cannot find satisfaction or contentment or real meaning for life. And the reason he lives in such discontent is that he cannot obtain that for which he was created—fellowship with God! And without that nothing can satisfy. He exists, but his life is a living death. And the existence that lies ahead for him is even worse.
It was the hope of the OT saint that one day God would come and raise him to "life"—fullness of life in fellowship with Him. But the bold announcement that Jesus makes is that He has come to give us that life—here and now, and forever. And I would like to point out that this is precisely the testimony of every true believer! Isn't this exactly what you have come to feel even? Our existence has been so completely transformed that the very best that this world offers now seems cheap! We are no longer
Charmed by the world's delight—
Things that are higher, things that are nobler,
These have allured our sight!8
In fact, so deep and settled is this inward joy and satisfaction of the life we now have, that external conditions—the problems of this world—matter less and less. We have "found contentment in whatever state we are in." The love of God is so shed abroad in our hearts that we can even glory in tribulation. And when others boast of their achievements or attainments or possessions—or whatever—it somehow does not make us envy as it used to. We rather glory—indeed, we boast!—in this: that we know God! And knowing Him we have found a spring of joy and gladness that far exceeds anything this world ever dreamed of. We have found life! And looking back from this vantage point, that old existence before we came to "know" God seems now to have been anything but life—it was a living death. We do not feel that having turned from the old ways we have traded a good life for a good future—rather we feel that we have traded in a cheap, meager existence for a glorious and abundant life which will last and increase forever. This is the lush, green pastures of eternal life, the life of the age to come. And the glory of this NT age is that in Jesus Christ we can enjoy it ahead of time. Peterson's well-known song, "Heaven came down and glory filled my soul," is right on the money.
And let us not forget that this is the blessedness which we can hold out to men as we preach the gospel. The man we witness to may make as though he has life by the tail—that he has security in a bank account or in high social standing or whatever. But when you pull down his painted mask you will see that it is all a front—he knows that his security is a deceitful one. It comes and it goes, and he knows it. And when he comes to life's most difficult days he knows well that his security is no security at all. But we can offer something more stable and more gratifying than it all. In Jesus Christ we may have "life," and we may have it "more abundantly."
C. The Enjoyment of the Presence of God
The central feature of the OT hope is expressed in the words, "I will be to you a God...and you shall be my people" (Exo. 6:7). Similarly, the central feature of OT worship was its approach into the presence of God. This is the whole significance of the "holiest" place. There was sacrifice and atonement and much else, but it was this matter of entering into God's presence that made the worship so solemn.
The theme is taken up in Gen. 9:26-27 where God is said to be "the God of" Shem and will "dwell in" his tents. It is taken up again in Exo. 3 where as God sends Moses on his mission to Egypt He says, "Surely, I will be with you" (v.12). The significance of the Divine Name ("I AM that I AM," v.14), I think, focuses squarely on this great truth. It indicates more than that God is "self-existent." He is present among His people! His saving presence was the truth that carried Moses to them, and it was by virtue of His presence that they were delivered.
When the tabernacle was erected, it was the place where God was resident. "And let them make me a sanctuary; that I may dwell (shakan) among them" (Exo. 25:8). This was the focal point of worship. "Then a cloud covered the tent of the congregation, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle" (40:34). Notice here and as we go along the close association of the ideas of God's presence and "glory"; the terminology seems interchangeable.
The first commandment, "Thou shalt have no other gods before me," was the first commandment which Israel broke (Exo. 32), and as a result God said, "I will not go with you" (33:3). In the following verses Moses successfully appealed the sentence (vv.12-17), and God pledged to go "with" them. God's presence, or "glory" (kabod, v.22), was essential. Then in Leviticus the whole function of the Israelite cult was to bring each (male) worshipper into the presence of God three times per year. It was an actualization of the presence of God.
But even with that, entrance into God's presence was a difficult and a fearful thing. Only the high priest could actually enter the holiest place—and that only once a year—and that only having made careful preparations to do so properly. The way was not open for just anyone, anytime. Not even Moses could enter such a holy place (Exo. 40:35). This was a "fearful thing," and only by virtue of the priest's intercession could they enjoy God's presence.
Then there is the prophet Ezekiel who graphically portrays the departure of God's glory (kabod) from Israel (ch.11). The wickedness of Israel had become too great, and God's presence was removed. Yet in ch.43 there is again a depiction of the return of God's glory.
All this is brought to the fore in the climactic statements of John's prologue. "And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt (skeno) among us, and we beheld his glory" (v.14). "No man hath seen God at any time, the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him" (v.18). Jesus Christ is the realization of what had been pictured in the OT tabernacle—and later lost. In Him the glory of God is returned. In Him God has come to "tabernacle" among His people. He isimmanu el—God with us, to borrow the words of Isaiah and Matthew. And the whole backdrop of the book of Hebrews is this very theme, that in Christ we are brought into God's very presence. The way is open beyond the vail, and we are given direct access to God. The vail preventing access into the holiest place has been torn "from top to bottom," and God through Christ has left the way to Him wide open. This is the "glory" of the NT age, and it is much "better."
D. The Day of Salvation
The coming of God was to be, above all, the time of deliverance for His people. The kingdom that was to come was to be a kingdom that would put down all opposition and establish righteousness and peace throughout the whole world. God would come in judgment, destroy all His enemies and vindicate the righteous. Isaiah speaks of a time when the "good tidings of peace" will be published abroad from Zion, because the Lord has laid bare His mighty arm of salvation and "comforted His people and redeemed Jerusalem" (52:7-10); a time when God's Servant will "bind up the brokenhearted, and proclaim liberty to the captives" and proclaim the year of Jubilee (61:1-2). Jeremiah and Ezekiel speak of a "New Covenant" which will be enacted which promises a new relationship with God in gracious forgiveness of sin. Micah presents God as unsurpassed in mercy, Who "pardons iniquity and passes by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage" (7:18). He will "perform the truth (emeth) to Jacob, and the mercy (hesed) to Abraham" which He had sworn (7:20; cf. Exo. 34:6).
And again this theme finds its fulfillment in the same place as all the others—or rather, in the same Person. "This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears," Jesus said after reading Isaiah 61. "The day of salvation has come," He said in effect, "The year of Jubilee is here." Moreover, He claimed that by His blood He would secure for "many" the blessings of the New Covenant (Mat. 26:28).
Likewise, John declares that the "grace and truth" which Micah prophesied were "performed" in the incarnation of Christ, the One Whose glorious presence we beheld, "full of grace and truth" (John 1:14). Here John places the Lord Jesus in the mainstream of redemptive history—or better, at the culmination of it. The "truth" which God would perform, His faithfulness, was revealed and declared in Christ. The "mercy" which He had promised was given in its fullness in His Son.
Whereas they looked forward to a time of vindication before God when He would pronounce them righteous, we look back to One Who "Who was delivered for our offenses, and was raised again for our justification" (Rom. 4:25). We "have been justified by faith" (Rom. 5:1). Our judgment is past, and in Christ we have been vindicated, declared righteous.
Similarly, when we hear Jesus declaring His Lordship over the sabbath (Mat. 12:8) we may at first wonder in what way this authority will be exercised—what will He do with the sabbath? How will it now be different as a result of His lordship over it? We find hints to the answer in His "come to me and rest" (Mat. 11:28ff), but it is in Hebrews 4:1-11 where we learn specifically that the sabbath had a prophetic / prospective character—it pointed forward to our rest in Christ. Or, to use the language of the apostle Paul, it is the "shadow" of which Christ is the "body" (Col.2:17). This is what Jesus did with the sabbath—He filled it full.
Of course, there are more themes which we could examine with similar conclusions—the kingdom, the law, the awaited Prophet-Priest-King, the Sinaitic and New covenants, etc.—but these will have to do for now. Of further interest to me are the respective themes of the synoptics, John, and Paul—kingdom (synoptics), eternal life (John), and righteousness and Life in the Spirit (Paul). Not surprisingly, each of these has its own "fulfillment" theme at its very center.9 But our point here is clear enough: in Jesus Christ the end is realized. We still live "here," but by virtue of our association with Him, we are privileged to enjoy the blessings of the eschaton early.
Now—and Not Yet
Before we conclude we should at least point out that while we have all this now, there is still more to come. Think for example in terms of the promised resurrection. We are not only "raised with Him in the likeness of His resurrection," but by virtue of our association with Him our bodily resurrection is assured also. This is precisely Paul's argument in 1 Co.15. If He rose, then we cannot but rise also, because we are in Him. He is the "firstfruits" of which we are the fuller harvest. We will all be raised, "but every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming" (v.23). So there is the now—and there is the not yet. Christ's resurrection has inaugurated the age to come, and we are a part of that today as we are in Him. But there is more to come, and in Him that is assured as well. (See chart on last page.)
The same is true of eternal life. The fact that we have it now does not disannul the future prospect. Often in the Gospel of John we hear Jesus closely connecting the twin ideas of life now and life forever (4:14; 6:51; 10:28; 11:25-26). To have life now is to have it forever, and "never perish." The point is simply that Jesus' gift of life to His own comes early—and so in two installments: 1) at regeneration, and 2) at the resurrection of the body. The life of the age to come has come, and it is still to come.
We can say the same of all of these themes. Satan's defeat was accomplished at the cross (John 12:31-32) and yet will be accomplished at some time in the future (Rom. 16:20; Rev. 20). The Abrahamic blessing is enjoyed in every believer (Gal. 3) and yet will be performed later (Rev. 7:9). Our "rest" in Christ is here (Mat. 11:28ff) and yet remains (Heb. 4:9). The presence of God was manifested in Christ (John 1:14) and yet awaits its full manifestation (Rev. 21:3, 22). Our salvation itself is not yet fully manifested (Rom.13:11; Heb.9:28; 1 Pe.1:5; Rev.12:10). God's enemies are not yet put down. In short, God's kingdom is now realized, but it is not yet fully manifested (2 Ti.4:1, 8; 2 Pe.1:11).
Our judgment yet lies ahead of us, and with that our justification is still a future hope. This is the significance of the future tense in Rom.8:33—"Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect?" This is probably also involved in Rom.4:25—"He was raised for our justification." The idea is that the risen Christ will stand to our defense at the bar of God's judgment. Our judgment—and justification—is both past and future.
In fact, looking back to the Garden of Eden and the way things were then—and what should have become—we are reminded more of what our future holds. We should not forget that while Adam was perfect, he was not "as perfect" as he could have become. But when in glory the trees of life (how many of them?) are seen yielding a plethora of fruits "every month" (Rev.22:2), then we will recognize that in the Lord Jesus Christ Paradise has been regained—and more so. What the first Adam lost—and what he refused—will by the last Adam be fully perfected.
So in all of this "realized eschatology" we should not lose sight of the future. What we have today is the glorious realization of the OT hopes. But what lies ahead is more glorious still.
A significant hermeneutical guide arises out of all this also. That a promised blessing is realized here and now does not, ipso facto, rule out its fuller realization later. For example, there is nothing here that rules out the premillennialist's hope of the future manifestation of the kingdom—nothing at all. That the age to come is present and coming is a matter of simple Biblical statement. And if there is already a realization of these blessings within history we should not be surprised to learn of a still fuller manifestation of them. These questions simply have to be decided on other grounds.
Christ, The Eschatos
Finally, when all this is said we must recognize clearly that the "fulfillment" anticipated in the OT and realized in the NT is nothing other than Jesus Christ Himself. He is the covenant, the promise, the kingdom; He is our life, our righteousness, our peace, our salvation, and our everything else. He is the goal of history. We are not simply speaking of "last things" but of a person in Whom these "things" are realized. And when history is brought to its final consummation, Scripture declares, "all things will be gathered up into Him" (Eph.1:10).
It is for this reason that Jesus is called "the Omega, the eschatos (last), the telos ("end," Rev. 22:13; cf. 1:17; 2:8). "For all the promises of God in Him are yea, and in Him Amen, unto the glory of God by us" (2 Co.1:20).
Our study of the theme of fulfillment is a study of Christ. It follows, then, that He is the focal point of the gospel. He came not merely to proclaim "things" that had come to pass. He came to proclaim Himself. He is what the OT anticipated, and He is the very essence, the whole warp and woof of the blessedness which we enjoy in this age. Salvation history, realized eschatology, future eschatology—it is all a study of the same Subject, the Lord Jesus Christ, Who in these last days came from Heaven to "put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself," and Who will a second time appear "without sin unto salvation" (Heb.9:26, 28).
1. cf. Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., "The Theology of the Old Testament," in The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Vol.1, Frank E. Gaebelein, ed., (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1979), pp.292-294.
2. Note also that all the responses of Jesus to Satan at His temptation in the wilderness contain quotations from "Israel in the wilderness" passages (Deut. 6-8, 10).
3. Cf. D. A. Carson, "Matthew," in The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Frank E. Gaebelein, ed., Vol.8 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1984), p.95.
4. C.F.D.Moule, "Fulfilment-Words in the New Testament: Use and Abuse. NTS, 14, p.314.
5. George R. Beasley-Murray, Gospel of Life: The Theology of the Fourth Gospel. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1991), pp. 36-37.
6. Cf. George Eldon Ladd, I Believe in the Resurrection of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1975), pp.39-40.
7. Cf. Geerhardus Vos, The Pauline Eschatology (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing Co., 1930, 1991), p.155 n.; and John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1968, 1980), pp.7-12.
8. "I Am Resolved," by Palmer Hartsough.
9. See George Eldon Ladd, The Pattern of New Testament Truth. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1968).