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Continuity with the Age to Come

Continuity with the Age to Come

 

The kingship of Josiah in Judah, just prior to the exile, was a very real bright spot in Israel’s history. Josiah initiated repairs to the Temple and led a religious revival. Passover was celebrated like it hadn’t been for generations, and syncretistic worship was suppressed with great zeal. But for as great as Josiah’s reforms were, they were only temporary and only skin deep. With the death of Josiah, Judah again forgot the Lord, and in only a few years the covenant curse of exile was realized against the nation.

A question worth asking is this: what was the value of such a temporary renewal? If it didn’t change anything, was it actually a positive good? The answer to that question is found in the Lord’s response to Josiah when he heard the covenant curses read out to him by Shaphan the secretary. Because Josiah responded to God’s Word with a penitent heart, he was spared from having to be the king under whom the kingdom fell. His own heart for God led to a personal positive good. By extension, the temporary return to the Lord was a positive good, even if it was only temporary and was always going to flow into the exile of Judah in 587 BC.

A related question might arise when a Christian considers his or her place in history. If “the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the elements will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be judged” (2 Pet 3:10), is there any enduring quality to personal—and especially relational—renewal in Christ prior to the end of this present evil age? Or to put it more plainly, is there value in striving for renewal beyond the church in this life if it’s all going to be burned up and dissolved? This is essentially a question about the continuity between this age and the age to come. There are three things worth saying about this continuity that should encourage us to strive for renewal in all of life.

First, Peter is writing in 2 Peter 3 about a refining fire rather than a consuming fire. The “elements” that are burned up and dissolved are like the protective skin of an onion. That protective skin is peeled off and cast away so that the fruit may be seen. Because Peter speaks about a judgment of the earth and the works done on it, he cannot have a totally destructive fire in mind. At the same time, we should appreciate that “earth” is a rather broad term inclusive of things both material and immaterial, and the same can be said about “works.” Scripture regularly describes the end of this age as a cataclysmic and cosmic upheaval, which will include the destruction of at least some material aspects of this present age, if not all. Nevertheless, Peter does not have in mind a complete break between this age and the age to come.

Second, we should remember that the age to come has already been inaugurated. This age to come is the kingdom of God, which Jesus declares has already come upon his hearers as evidenced by the casting out of demons (Luke 11:20). Paul declares to the Corinthians that the end of the ages has come upon them (1 Cor 10:11). Finally, with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, the age of the Spirit was decisively marked. This means, of course, that there are future implications for our present actions because the future has broken into the present. Therefore, it very much matters that we strive for renewal in all of life today, for even today the age to come has dawned.

Finally, picking back up on the distinction between material and immaterial continuity, we should recognize that the immaterial life of the soul provides personal continuity between this age and the age to come. After all, God gave us souls that will last forever. And part of the function of our souls is receiving, processing, and storing representations as memories. Memory, then, becomes a link of continuity between this age and the age to come. Summarizing Augustine’s argument by means of memory, one scholar writes, “The continuity of faith is guaranteed by the continuity of memory in the life of the resurrected body.”[1]

The net effect of this reflection is that we have every good reason to strive in this life to allow Christ’s pervasive and lasting renewal in us to work through every aspect of our lives.


[1] Paige E. Hochschild, Memory in Augustine’s Theological Anthropology, Oxford Early Christian Studies (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2012), 5.

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