“We cannot always be excited. We can, perhaps, train ourselves to ask more and more often how the thing which we are saying or doing (or failing to do) at each moment will look when the irresistible light streams in upon it; that light which is so different from the light of this world—and yet, even now, we know just enough of it to take it into account. Women sometimes have the problem of trying to judge by artificial light how a dress will look by daylight. That is very like the problem of all of us: to dress our souls not for the electric lights of the present world but for the daylight of the next. The good dress is the one that will face that light. For that light will last longer.” —C.S. Lewis, “The Wor’d’s Last Night
“Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness… (2 Peter 3:11).”
Eschatology is that field of theology that concerns the study of the eschaton, that is, the end. Eschatology has fallen on hard times and most often evokes an “Eek!” or and “Eh?”. I believe there are two primary reasons this is so:
First, we fail to remember that all the New Testament is eschatological. Jesus inaugurated the last days. This is why the gospels tell us that the kingdom has come, Peter preaches that Joel’s prophecy concerning the last days is being fulfilled, the author of Hebrews tells us that these are the last days, and John tells us it is the last hour. The eschaton is here now, but not yet fully here.
Second, I lay the bulk of the blame at the feet of Bible-prophecy man, who with his abundance of charts, outlandish interpretations, and flopped predictions has caused many to become cynical. These Chicken Littles have cried “Shepherd!” so many times that we’re no longer on guard against wolves. Because true Biblical eschatology isn’t taught, we’re more prone to accept a counterfeit, so long as it doesn’t get Left Behind weird.
None of this is to say that we don’t think of the end at all, only that, as a result, we don’t think about it seriously. We now reflect on the end only in light of the inevitability death and only enough so as to pacify our conscious and comfort our sorrows. True eschatology though not only gives us hope in death, it gives us grace to live.
It has been said, “You can be so heavenly minded that you are of no earthly good.” To this we might add, “you can be so focused on the future that you lose the present.” There is a sense in which these are true, but they obscure a greater truth. If your meditation on heaven and focus on the future cause you be worthless in the present, you’re doing it wrong.
The fruit of Bible-chart man’s teaching often bears bad fruit indicating that he doesn’t know how to garden eschatology so as to bear the fruit God intended. Whenever he leads you through Revelation the result is often anxiety, panic, and fear of the wrong sort. This is because eschatology is not a mystery to be solved, but a truth to be lived out. Readiness for the coming of Christ isn’t a matter of chronological awareness but ethical preparedness. Eschatology is ethical. Every time eschatology is taught in the New Testament, there is an ethical bent to it.
Instead of trying to solve the mystery, live as though it were true and you will find peace instead of anxiety.
“In God’s plan all history is oriented to the incarnation of the Son of God and to his manifestation in glory at end of the age. The lessons for us are numerous. But one is of paramount importance. Life here and now that is not conditioned by faith in Jesus’ first coming and oriented to the hope of this second is godless and hopeless.” —John Murray, The Advent of Christ
There are certain texts that are familiar or at least ought to be. They teach us the place in history occupied by the New Testament or, more precisely, the new covenant economy (Gal. 4:4; Heb. 9:26; 1 Cor. 10:11). The New Testament era is ‘the fulness of the time’, ‘the consummation of the ages’, ‘the end of the ages’, the consummating era of this world’s history. Correlative with this characterization is ‘the last days’ (Acts 2:17; Heb. 1:2; 1 John 2:18). These began with the coming of Christ: So the world period is the last days.
This implies ages of this world’s history that were not the last days; they were prior, preparatory, anticipatory. The last days are characterized by two comings, notable, unprecedented, indeed astounding—the coming into the world of the Son of God and the Spirit of God. In order to accentuate the marvel of these comings we must say that God came into the world, first in the person of the Son and then in the person of the Holy Spirit. They came by radically different modes and for different functions. But both are spoken of as comings and they are both epochal events. These comings not only introduce and characterize the last days; they create or constitute it. —John Murray, The Unity of the Old and New Testaments
Exodus is like climbing a mountain, whereupon coming up through the mist and cloud, expecting to arrive at the summit, you discover yet another mountain remains to be climbed. How sad that many climb only through the first mist and soon give up for exhaustion or for boredom. By God’s grace one presses on through the first summit of God’s ten wonders of judgment. From there you behold intimidating Sinai, but sure of your mediator Jesus Christ, you press upward and behold greater glories. Still, God called his children to go further up with Moses, to the heavenly heights to behold the tabernacle as a revelation of heavenly truths.
On the other side, after a laborious but worthwhile climb, you come to the consummation of the construction of this tent, anticipating the greatest sight of glory yet.
The filling of the tabernacle is the climactic glory of Exodus; the supreme manifestation of God’s glory in this epic book. Israel has seen the Nile turned to blood, the Egyptian’s livestock die of plague, hail decimate her crops, darkness cover their land, and their firstborn die. She’s seen the Red Sea split and walked through it. She ate manna in the wilderness and water from the rock. She has seen Sinai covered in smoke and fire, trembling beneath the glory of God—but this surpasses all she’s seen. Here is how you know that this is the supreme manifestation of God’s glory—Moses, who spoke with God at the burning bush, Moses, through whom God’s ten wonders came, Moses, who split the river and struck the rock, Moses, who ascended Sinai and beheld God’s glory and spoke with God as a man speaks to his friend—this Moses couldn’t enter the tent for the glory of God (Exodus 40:35). One commentator says that the tabernacle thus becomes “a miniature portable Sinai [MacKay].” It may be miniature as to physical size but it is bigger in glory.
Exodus ends on this climax without consummation or resolution. It ends on a to be continued. There are heights yet to climb. Exodus is clearly part of a multi-volume work with Leviticus picking up where Exodus leaves off. Yes, even with all five volumes of the Pentateuch, Moses didn’t get to finish. The same cloud of glory that dwells in Israel’s midst will guide and protect them bringing them to the promised land, and thus into fuller enjoyment of Yahweh’s covenant with them. Moses didn’t write that chapter, because he didn’t experience it, but this isn’t to say he missed the height of heights.
God, by His Spirit is still leading his people home, and He will not forsake any of us, bringing us all to the height of heights, Mount Zion, the new Jerusalem, where all is temple, illuminated by the glory of God.
Altogether three reasons were given to Israel for remembering the Sabbath. The first, given here, is rooted in creation.
For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy (Exodus 20:11 ESV).
When Moses calls the next generation to covenant renewal and restates this command, much remains the same, but the grounds are significantly different.
You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day (Deuteronomy 5:15 ESV).
Ultimately, I believe, that these two reasons have one unifying reason, and a hint as to how this can be is found in a yet third basis given for Sabbath remembrance.
You are to speak to the people of Israel and say, ‘Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the LORD, sanctify you (Exodus 31:13 ESV).’
Like circumcision and the Passover, the Sabbath is a perpetual sign throughout their generations, of His covenant. Jesus comes as the fulfillment of the law. Because of Him circumcision gives way to baptism (Colossians 2:11–13), the Passover blooms into the Lord’s Supper (Luke 22:14–18ff), and the Sabbath, well, what becomes of the Sabbath? We’re clearly commanded to baptize and to remember the Supper, but no command is given concerning the Sabbath, nor the Lord’s day. Rather, we’re told:
One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord (Romans 14:5–6 ESV).
Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ (Colossians 2:16–17 ESV).
What happens to the Sabbath? Jesus declares Himself Lord of the Sabbath in Matthew 12. Just prior to this Matthew records these words, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light (Matthew 11:28–30 ESV).” Hebrews 4 speaks of entering God’s rest by faith, the rest of God that He had once He had finished from His works.
Because of Jesus, our work is finished, competed perfectly for us, and now we rest. What happens to the Sabbath? We haven’t abandoned it. We’ve entered more fully into it—in Jesus. Because of His redemption, a new day has dawned, a resurrection day, a day of new creation, a day of rest.
In short the physical rest of the Old Testament Sabbath has become the salvation rest of the true Sabbath. Believers In Christ can now live in God’s Sabbath that has already dawned. Jesus’ working to accomplish this superseded the Old Testament Sabbath (John 5:17) and so does the doing of God’s work that He now requires of people—believing in the one God has sent (John 6:28, 29). In fact the Sabbath keeping now demanded is the cessation from reliance on one’s own works (Heb. 4:9, 10). —A.T. Lincoln
The immediate audience Moses intended Exodus for wasn’t reading it blind. They experienced the events blind, but now, through this narrative, they are allowed to revisit their recent history and see things as they really were. Like reading a great novel a second time, they’re able to see images, metaphors, symbols, and foreshadowing they missed because now they know the ending. “The providence of God,” says John Flavel, “is like Hebrew words—it can only be read backwards.”
The people of Israel are crying out to God for deliverance. God has already raised up the deliverer, from the Levites, who will act as their mediator, and though whom they will receive instructions concerning a tent. Israel will be delivered from the bondage of building store cities for Pharaoh, to the freedom of building a tabernacle for God, with the spoils of His victory, so that He as their king might dwell in their midst.
By faith, we read this story not only looking back, but looking forward. The true and better Moses has come. He has defeated the serpent tyrant and released us from our bitter bondage to sin and death. We’re sojourners, but, we can be sure that He will lead us all the way home. We know the ending, but one day, when this present age is past, we’ll read backwards with even greater clarity and see that God never forgot His covenant and we will ask our Father to tell the story again and again.