The Spirit of the Lord, §10.6: Eschatology

Sixth, the vision of the New Jerusalem is eschatological. I have already said much about eschatology. In a sense, this entire essay is an attempt to understand the eschatological being of the church, hence the repeated discussion of the “eschatological reign of God” and the “eschatological community.” Moreover, the texts buttressing this entire project are all eschatologically oriented. The passage from Micah indicates this eschatological setting with the introductory words “in days to come,” obviously related to the common prophetic refrain, “the day of the LORD.” Rather than repeat what I have already said, I will instead examine the relation between the eschatological kingdom and the ekklesia in the following three ways: (1) what does it mean for the ecclesial community to embody the eschatological reign of God? (2) what must be true for the ecclesial community to embody the eschatological reign of God? and (3) what is the distinction between the ecclesial community and the eschatological reign of God? To put it differently, we will examine (1) the eschatological identity of the ekklesia, (2) the eschatological basis of the ekklesia, and (3) the eschatological limit of the ekklesia.

To structure our investigation of eschatology in this way is to move very deliberately from actuality to possibility, rather than the other way around. Theology begins with the actuality of God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ, the actuality of reconciliation, and the actuality of the church as a community of witnesses to God’s grace. Theology does not first establish grounds for the possibility of these realities, precisely because theology concerns God, who does not conform to human possibilities but instead radically reconfigures the horizon of possibility. God establishes what is truly possible, and thus we only know what is possible in light of what is actual. In other words, theology operates on the basis of a kind of transcendental argument: we begin with what is already actual and then investigate the grounds of possibility for this actuality. As a concrete example, we begin with our reconciliation to God in Jesus Christ, and then examine what must be true for such reconciliation to have occurred (e.g., the triunity of God, the assumptio carnis, the two natures of Christ). After moving from actuality to possibility, I move from possibility to impossibility in order to identify both sides of the dialectical being of the church. The first question discusses the identification between ekklesia and the regnum Dei, while the third question discusses the differentiation between ekklesia and the regnum Dei. The second question in the middle focuses on the christological-soteriological ground for the being of the church which undergirds both sides of the eschatological dialectic.