Home > Biblical Theology, Eschatology, New Testament, Old Testament > The Importance of the Already-Not-Yet

The Importance of the Already-Not-Yet

The already-not-yet scheme is a concept that men such as Oscar Cullman and Geerhardus Vos helped introduce to the evangelical church. Although these men are responsible for categorizing and formulating the scheme in a more practical and assessable way, the concept is not new. The already-not-yet dynamic is one of the key ingredients in how the New Testament authors understand the Old Testament. The importance of the already-not-yet scheme cannot be underestimated. I would like to outline a few of the reasons why it is so crucial to understanding the Scriptures.

1.) It reminds us of the Old Testament view of redemptive-history. The nation of Israel looked forward to a singular day (i.e., The Day of the Lord) in which God would redeem his people and judge the nations. The already-not-yet dynamic reminds us of this perspective. It is only when we understand the eschatology of the Old Testament authors that we can properly appreciate the way they described and understood the promises of God. In other words, we must place ourselves in their shoes. Those under the old covenant expected a single day in which God would redeem his people and destroy the nations. Their perspective can help us to understand why the apostles and followers of Christ struggled with such confusion during Jesus’ earthly ministry. An example is found in Matthew 17:9-13. Jesus states that John is the Elijah figure to come before the great day of the Lord. Although John denied this to be so, Jesus states it as truth (John 1:21-25). John fulfills the role of Elijah because his coming is before the great day of the Lord even though that day has been postponed for almost two-thousand years (already-not-yet). The already-not-yet dynamic helps us to understand the apostles questions, their apparent confusion, and why John is in fact the Elijah figure to come. Elijah has already come, now the church waits for the great day of the Lord.

2.) It helps us make sense of the promises found in the Old Testament. There are many passages in the New Testament where parts or large sections of the Old Testament are quoted by the apostles. To help understand these promises the already-not-yet scheme is essential. According to the apostles the last days have dawned (Acts 2:17; 1 Cor 10:11; 2 Tim 3:1; Heb 1:1-2). Because the last days have dawned the promises associated with the last days have come upon God’s people. The quotes found in the New Testament from the Old Testament help us to understand that these promises are in fact for us because they are applied to the church. There are myriads of texts from the New Testament that can be cited to show that the promises found in the Old Testament have dawned and now are given to the church (e.g., Acts 2:14-36; 2 Cor 6:16-18; Eph 2:11-3:21, 1 Pet 2:4-10). Although these promises have been given to the church, the promises are not yet fully complete. The full completion of these promises must wait until the coming of the Lord.

3.) It shows us how we live in tension between Christ’s first and second comings. The already-not-yet dynamic helps us to understand that while the promises of God are ours in Christ, we still struggle with sin and temptation. Due to our struggle, the promises of God don’t always seem so sure, but when we carefully reflect on God’s promises and the reality that they are in fact ours then our perspective should change. God has already given us all things pertaining to life and godliness (2 Pet 1:3). God has blessed us with adoption as sons, fellowship with him, a changed heart, and knowledge of himself (e.g., Gal 4:26-29; Heb 8:7-13). Despite struggling with sin God promises to put away our corrupted bodies one day and give us new bodies which will be in perfect conformity with what we experience now in principle. The guarantee of this future promise is the Holy Spirit (Rom 8:16; 2 Cor 1:22; 5:5; Eph 1:13-14). The already-not-yet dynamic shows us why we still struggle with sin (living during two overlapping ages; the old and the new age), but also reveals to us that our struggle will not be forever. One day what we are experiencing now will come in fullness at the return of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Because we have this great hope, we must daily put to death the deeds of the body and pursue holiness (Rom 8:12-17). It has not yet appeared what we will be like, but when he comes we will be like him and all those who look forward to his return purify themselves even as he is pure (1 John 3:1-3).

At the end of the day the already-not-yet dynamic is just as crucial to understanding the Bible as a Christ-centered perspective of Scripture. If we don’t properly grasp the already-not-yet scheme and apply it properly our reading of Scripture will always be shortsighted and incomplete.

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