When God raised Jesus from the dead, it was as if he called out “Number One” and the Resurrection began. Then he paused — for a length of time no one knows but God alone. One day he will announce, “Number Two!” and Resurrection will continue. That will mark the End of the world, and Judgment Day will follow. Yet because of Jesus’ resurrection and the descent of the Holy Spirit, we see that the End has begun — although the world still goes on.
Jesus’ apostles and earliest disciples grasped both these truths as paradox. The End has come, they proclaimed — and the End is still coming. The present age is passing, and the age to come has begun — but it has not come in its fullness. Messiah came, and he will come again. Cullmann compared this two-part End to the end of World War II with its D-Day and V-Day. The decisive turning-point occurred at D-Day when the Nazis were soundly defeated, but “mopping-up operations” continued until the formal end at V-Day.
In a similar fashion, Jesus defeated Satan and accomplished the atonement for sin in his first coming. These accomplishments are not yet visible but are enjoyed by faith. What Jesus accomplished before will become universally evident at his return. Then the Resurrection (which started with Jesus himself) will continue. All the dead will rise and be judged, the present age will totally end, and the age to come will arrive in its fullness forever.
We live “between the times” and so we are pulled in both directions. That is the source of conflict between Flesh and Spirit, between the “already” and the “not yet.” We have life in Christ, but we will die if Jesus does not return first. We are forgiven but we still struggle against sin. God heals some people but not others. God works miracles some days and places but not others. The Kingdom of God has come, but it is yet invisible and often hard to find.
With all the varieties of teaching flying about us, how are we to find and maintain biblical balance? As always, by focusing on Jesus — who is the core and center of redemptive history. Unlike the futuristic prophetic speculators, I urge that we fasten our eyes on Jesus who has come already. And, unlike the A.D. 70 folks, I urge that we fasten our eyes on Jesus, who will surely come again.