Inaugurated eschatology is a theological concept that refers to the partial fulfillment of God’s kingdom promises that were initiated with the first coming of Jesus Christ. The term “eschatology” refers to the study of end times and last things. Inaugurated eschatology holds that while Christ’s death and resurrection launched the kingdom of God, the full consummation will only occur at the second coming of Christ.
This view stands in contrast to two other major eschatological positions. Realized eschatology believes that God’s promises have been completely fulfilled already, while future eschatology sees the kingdom as entirely future and not yet inaugurated. Inaugurated eschatology is the mediating view that sees both a “now” and “not yet” aspect to God’s kingdom program.
Several key biblical texts point to an inaugurated eschatology perspective. Jesus proclaimed that the kingdom of God was “at hand” (Mark 1:15), and he also taught his disciples to pray “your kingdom come” (Matthew 6:10), implying a future component. Passages like Matthew 12:28 speak of the kingdom as already present in Jesus’ ministry. Overall, the Gospels present the kingdom as having arrived in Jesus but not yet fully consummated.
The rest of the New Testament carries this same tension. Passages like Hebrews 12:22-24 and Ephesians 1:3 indicate believers already experience a taste of God’s future blessings. However, other verses point to aspects of God’s kingdom that are still future, like the resurrection of our bodies (1 Corinthians 15:20-28, 50-54) and the new creation (Romans 8:18-25).
Several key implications arise from an inaugurated eschatology perspective:
- It allows us to appreciate the present blessings of God’s kingdom while still longing for the full arrival of his promises.
- It avoids over-realized eschatological beliefs that diminish the future consummation of God’s kingdom.
- It provides balance to our understanding of kingdom prophecy.
- It helps explain diversity among New Testament passages about the kingdom.
- It gives us hope knowing God’s kingdom has already begun through Christ.
- It motivates us to work and pray for the future full manifestation of God’s kingdom.
In summary, inaugurated eschatology provides a biblically-balanced view by recognizing that God’s kingdom has already begun through Christ’s first coming but has not yet fully arrived. We live in the middle of the times between Christ’s inauguration of the kingdom and his future consummation of the kingdom at his second coming. This eschatological perspective helps us make sense of the New Testament’s varied descriptions of the already-not yet nature of God’s kingdom promises.
Key Biblical Support for Inaugurated Eschatology
Several important passages provide a biblical foundation for the concept of inaugurated eschatology:
1. The Gospels
The Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) present Jesus’ ministry as launching the kingdom of God, but not fully completing it. Kingdom blessings have arrived but not yet completely.
– In Mark 1:15, Jesus says, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand.” The kingdom is announced as near.
– In Matthew 12:28 Jesus says, “But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” Here the kingdom is described as already present.
– However, in Matthew 6:10 Jesus teaches us to pray, “Your kingdom come,” implying the kingdom has not yet fully arrived.
So the Gospels present an inaugurated eschatology perspective, where God’s kingdom has already broken into the present through Jesus but is not yet fully consummated.
2. Acts & Epistles
Passages from Acts and the Epistles reflect the same tension between the already and not yet aspects of God’s kingdom:
– Acts 2:16-21 applies Joel’s prophecy about the last days being launched in Christ’s first coming.
– Hebrews 12:22-24 indicates believers have already come into contact with aspects of the future heavenly Jerusalem through their life in Christ.
– Ephesians 1:13-14 describes the Holy Spirit as a foretaste and guarantee of our future heavenly inheritance.
– Yet 1 Corinthians 15:20-28 shows how Christ must reign until the last enemy, death, is finally destroyed at his return. Our resurrection is still future.
– Romans 8:18-25 contrasts present suffering with the glory to be revealed when Christ returns and all creation is made new.
So the rest of the New Testament confirms that God’s kingdom is already here spiritually but not yet fully manifested.
The apocalyptic Biblical book of Revelation reinforces an inaugurated eschatology perspective in several ways:
– Revelation 1:5-6 describes Jesus as already bringing kingdom blessings through His death and resurrection.
– Yet the breaking of the 7 seals, trumpets and bowls throughout Revelation shows God’s judgment and kingdom still being unveiled in the future.
– Revelation 20:1-6 portrays the future 1,000 year messianic kingdom inaugurated by Christ’s second coming.
– Revelation 21-22 culminates with the ultimate arrival of the new heavens and new earth in the eternal state.
So Revelation affirms that Jesus’ first coming launched God’s kingdom program while the book as a whole looks ahead to the future consummation of the kingdom.
Inaugurated Eschatology vs. Other Views
It is helpful to contrast inaugurated eschatology with two other major theological positions regarding God’s kingdom:
Realized eschatology teaches that all of God’s eschatological promises regarding the kingdom have been completely fulfilled already through Christ’s first coming. Proponents of this view would argue that the kingdom promises in Old Testament prophetic books were intended for the first century AD and have been entirely satisfied through Christ’s life, death, resurrection and sending of the Spirit at Pentecost.
The weakness of realized eschatology is that it diminishes the future consummation aspects of God’s kingdom so clearly taught in Scripture. Passages about Christ returning to raise the dead and make all things new are spiritualized or made symbolic. This view loses the biblical tension of already-not yet.
In contrast, future eschatology sees the kingdom as entirely a future reality to be inaugurated when Christ returns. This view struggles to account for the many New Testament passages that speak of the kingdom as a present spiritual reality already accessible to believers. Future eschatology fails to incorporate the biblical tension of already-not yet.
Inaugurated eschatology maintains the biblical nuance of the kingdom as already here but not yet fully consummated. It avoids the extremes of either over-realized or entirely futurist eschatology.
Key Implications of Inaugurated Eschatology
Understanding that God’s kingdom program has been inaugurated but not yet fully consummated has several important biblical and practical implications:
- Greater appreciation of present kingdom blessings – We can value the spiritual blessings of God’s kingdom available now through Christ while still looking ahead to the future physical blessings.
- Greater motivation for future hope – The not yet aspects of God’s kingdom give us hope and perseverance knowing Christ will return to make all things right.
- Avoidance of over-realized theology – Inaugurated eschatology helps us not diminish important future elements of God’s promises.
- Context for different kingdom descriptions – The diversity of kingdom language in the New Testament makes sense in light of the already-not yet theological tension.
- Impetus for missions and evangelism – We spread the kingdom message already inaugurated while looking ahead to the day when all will acknowledge Christ’s rule.
- Incentive for holy living – We live now as citizens of God’s kingdom until we fully inherit its glories.
This inaugurated eschatology perspective has profound relevance for how we interpret Scripture and live the Christian life. It provides a balanced, biblical framework for making sense of God’s unfolding plan of redemption.
Critiques of Inaugurated Eschatology
While inaugurated eschatology has strengths, some potential weaknesses are worth addressing:
Overemphasis on Already Aspects
Some argue inaugurated eschatology focuses too much on realized spiritual blessings of the kingdom while neglecting the future physical restoration of all things. But proponents are trying to maintain a balanced already-not yet tension, not dismiss future hopes.
Kingdom Too Individualized
Others contend inaugurated eschatology interprets the kingdom too individually rather than corporately. However, it need not dismiss national/global kingdom implications, just recognize presently realized spiritual blessings.
Unclear Timing of Consummation
Critics say it is ambiguous when exactly the not yet aspects of the kingdom will arrive. But inaugurated eschatology simply maintains they will occur at Christ’s return without demanding more specificity.
Difficulty Assigning Texts
Some passages resist easy categorization as either already or not yet. But a measure of ambiguity is to be expected given the unfolding, progressive nature of revelation and the kingdom.
In general, inaugurated eschatology has substantial biblical support and remains a mainstream perspective in evangelical theology. It helpfully captures the way in which the New Testament presents God’s kingdom as both already here for believers yet still awaiting future consummation.
Inaugurated eschatology provides a balanced, biblical perspective to understand God’s unfolding plan and timing for establishing His kingdom. By recognizing that the kingdom promises have been inaugurated but not yet fully consummated through Christ’s work, it avoids the extremes of either over-realized or purely futuristic eschatology. Appreciating the already-not yet nature of God’s kingdom has significant implications for how we interpret Scripture and live in light of the hope anchored in Christ’s finished work and promised return. Rather than demand definitiveness on the precise timing of end times events, inaugurated eschatology calls believers to find both present empowerment and future hope in the reality of God’s kingdom being established through the Lord Jesus Christ.