May 17, 2018 • Life for Leaders
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.
In the last couple of days, we have been wondering about the teaching in Ephesians 2:6 that God “raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms.” Does this mean we have already experienced the resurrection? Are we already in Heaven? If we are Christians, will our lives be without problems, as my friend Danny once believed? (See the reflections for Tuesday and Wednesday of this week.)
It’s easy to be confused by the past tense language in Ephesians 2:6. After all, we don’t remember being raised from the dead. And it sure seems like we’re still on earth, not in Heaven. Moreover, elsewhere in his writings, Paul speaks of our resurrection as something that lies in the future. In Romans 6:5, for example, he states, “For if we have been united with [Christ] in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his” (see also 1 Corinthians 15:52).
So which is it? Is our resurrection in the past? Or in the future? Or somehow both?
In order to answer these questions, we need to think clearly about the end times. The technical word for what we’re considering here is eschatology, from the Greek words eschaton, meaning “end” and logos meaning “thinking.” If we want to understand Ephesians 2:6, and, for that matter, if we want to understand the Christian life, we have to grapple with eschatology.
When it comes to this subject, I have found it helpful to use the analogy of a telescope. If you look at a telescope, you see a long tube. But if you look through a telescope, you don’t really see the tube at all. Rather, you see something far away as if it were close. So it is when it comes to Christian eschatology. You can think of the end times as lying at the end of a long, telescope-like timeline. Or, you can think of the end times as if you were looking through the telescope, so that which lies far away in the future seems quite near, and you have no real sense of the timeline at all.
Romans 6:5 and other passages in the New Testament view the end times as if looking at a telescope. The end lies in the future, a long way from the present. Therefore, our resurrection is something that we have yet to experience, since it is an event in the end times. Ephesians 2:6, however, looks through the eschatological telescope, seeing the end as if it were already present, and not even seeing the timeline at all. Both perspectives have validity, even though they can seem contradictory at first.
Tomorrow, I’ll have a bit more to say about how Christian eschatology is like a telescope. For today, I’d encourage you to think about how you envision God’s future and what difference it makes in your life.
Something to Think About:
How do you think about the end times? What has shaped your thinking? Do you tend to look more “at” the telescope, with the end times lying somewhere out in the future? Or do you tend to look more “through” the telescope, seeing the end times as present even now?
Gracious God, as I think about the future, I often find myself a bit perplexed. Help me to sort out what is true, to believe what you would have me believe, and to live each day in light of the future that is coming. Most of all, dear Lord, I thank you for being the God of past, present, and future. You are the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. All praise be to you! Amen.
Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online commentary:
End Times Disaster and Deliverance (Revelation 6-16)
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.