Already but Not Yet

Tom Schreiner's forthcoming New Testament Theology has a strong "already/not yet" emphasis. This is entirely appropriate since the whole New Testament hinges on an already/not yet structure. The idea is that the Hebrew mind saw history in terms of two ages: the present age, and the age to come. They lived during the present age, and looked forward to the age to come, which would be ushered in by the Messiah, the Davidic King. In this new age, Israel's Messiah would rule the land and destroy all of Israel's enemies. What they did not expect was a suffering Messiah, and they did not expect two comings. We, the church, now live between the two comings, or during the overlap of the ages (Here are some helpful charts). The Messiah has come already, but he is not yet visibly ruling the new earth. The new creation has begun in Christ's resurrection, but the new creation has not been consummated. God has fulfilled his promises already in the first coming of Jesus Christ, but their full and final realization await his second coming.

This outlook is very important for understanding the New Testament. A couple of lectures ago, Dr. Schreiner, in his New Testament Theology class, took some time to show how very practical it is as well. He noted that everyone longs for a perfect world, but nothing satisfies in this life. We all long for the new earth. He made 6 points of application:

1. Politically - Many falsely desire heaven on earth (cf. Marxism) but it will never happen this side of the second coming. Promising or hoping for a new earth here and now is an over-realized eschatology.
2. Marriage - People falsely expect to find the perfect relationship in this world. When it doesn't occur, they quickly divorce to go and find "the one." This is over-realized eschatology. Yes, our marriages should be compelling (the already), but they will always be imperfect (not yet).
3. Church - Often, people hop around churches because "I don't like their preaching," or "Their music is much better over here." There are no perfect churches in this age. No church will meet all of your needs. Find a church committed to the Word and commit to a flawed body of people, just as Christ has.
4. Perfectionism - Saving faith always goes public in a transformed life, but everything we do is tainted by sin. We will not attain moral perfection. To believe so will lead to despair or arrogance. We are justified, yet sinners and sanctification is a life-long process. We have not yet arrived, but we press on.
5. Children - In this age, our children are fallible, so we shouldn't be perfectionistic in our expectations of them. Many who have left the faith were brought up in an overly strict family that lacked grace. Discipline must take place, but it must be rooted in love.
6. Prosperity Gospel - In this present evil age, we are promised affliction, not riches (not yet), but we do have joy in the Holy Spirit (already).

This last point reminds me of an excellent article by Richard Gaffin called "The Usefulness of the Cross," showing the inevitability of suffering in the life of the church during the overlap of the ages. Here is an excerpt:

"But now, with this clear, with this absolutely crucial eschatological reservation made, we must go on to appreciate that as long as believers are in the mortal body, that is, for the period between the resurrection and return of Christ, with Paul it is difficult to overemphasize the intimate correlation of life and death in the experience of the believer, the interpenetration of suffering and glory, weakness and power. For this period, for as long as we are in the mortal flesh and the sentence of death is written into our existence, resurrection-eschatology is eschatology of the cross, and the theology of the cross is the key signature of all theology that would be truly “practical” theology."
I would just add a note on vocation. We all long for the "perfect" job, but in this age we will not find complete satisfaction in our work. For Adam it was "thorns and thistles" and for us it is any number of things. Still, we work hard as unto the Lord. God has called us to our jobs.
We must learn to be content in this age, but not too content, with lives characterized by faith, love, and hope until Christ comes and ushers in the new earth where he will reign with his saints. Until then we do all things, even eating and drinking, to the glory of God.