Eschatology in the Nicene Creed
In this episode, Drs. Darrell L. Bock and Glenn Kreider discuss the Nicene Creed, focusing on its historical context and statement on eschatology.
- The Nicene Creed and church history
- Distinguishing between creeds and confessions
- Creeds in the Bible
- Tradition in the confessions
- The narrative of the Nicene Creed
- He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate
- He will come again with glory
- The first person plural and singular in the creed
- How we are shaped by the future
- The confidence of our hope
- The resurrection of the dead
- What does it mean for our citizenship to be in Heaven?
Nicene Creed Translation © 1988, Faith Alive Christian Resources, Christian Reformed Church in North America
Darrell Bock: Welcome to The Table, where we discuss issues of God and culture. And our topic today is the Nicene Creed. And in particular, we’re gonna be discussing the themes in the Nicene Creed – literally woven all the way through it – related to resurrection, which is sort of an important concept in Christianity. Is that right?
Glenn Kreider: I would say sort of important.
Darrell Bock: And our expert today is Glenn Kreider, who is a fellow colleague in crime here at the Dallas Theological Seminary. He teaches systematic theology, and I’m in New Testament studies. So between the two of us, we do a lot of damage here on campus. Don’t we?
Glenn Kreider: I hope we do some good, too.
Darrell Bock: That’s right. Just every now and then we get lucky. So, let’s dive in and talk about the creed in general first. Let’s talk a little bit about the role of creeds in the history of the church, if we can. And just thinking through the importance of creeds, and what they meant, particularly to the early church. And possibly a little bit of the background in the sense that most people in this time period weren’t necessarily literate. They didn’t walk around with Bibles. That kind of thing. So, creeds became a very important way for the church to catechize, teach, and instruct. Is that a good dive in?
Glenn Kreider: Yeah. That’s a really good summary of a result of a consequence. D. H. Williams, in his book on the creeds for skeptical post-modern – the subtitle. It says that fairly early, the church concluded that there was a need for some summary statement. Some way of catechizing – is a good word – the believers in Jesus. They’re not carrying iPhones around. They don’t have a Gideon Bible on every –
Darrell Bock: They don’t have papyri that they’re carrying with them in the back pocket.
Glenn Kreider: But the creeds really developed out of a need to respond to false teaching, respond to heresy. And so, when people come up with novel interpretations of the scripture – they come up with novel views of who God is and how he works – it was deemed important to be able to respond directly emphatically to those false teaching. And the creeds grow out of that, particular Nicene and Chalcedon.
Darrell Bock: And they represent a statement about, “This is what the community at large believes en mass.” These are not idiosyncratic kinds of statements.
Glenn Kreider: Yeah. They’re unifying statements. They establish the boundaries. You can say this, but not this. And they’re unifying statements. I like to describe them as functioning in a way in which the – this is what it means to be Christian. You’re entitled to believe anything you want. But you’re not entitled to call it Christian if it’s not within the boundaries of this creedal confession.
Darrell Bock: And of course, these creeds are designed to summarize what scripture teaches. You know, doctrinal statements kind of – I guess it’d be fair to say – have kind of fallen a little bit on hard times, often times these days. But they actually have performed a very significant role in the history of the church.
Glenn Kreider: They do. But I’d make a distinction between creeds and confessions or doctrinal statements. Creeds are ecumenical. They summarize what all Christians believe. And then, different communities, different denominations, different organizations, different groups of believers would clarify where they stand inside that creedal confession. So, Baptists would emphasize some aspects – some ways of practicing Christianity. But would share a common belief in one God who’s triune in his nature.
Darrell Bock: And so, these creedal statements that we’re talking about come from within a few centuries of the time of Christ. And represent really – for the most part – core debates. Either about the trinity, or about Christology in particular. Is that also a fair summarization?
Glenn Kreider: Yeah. I think they usually start with Christology, which takes us into Trinitarianism. But I think they actually predate the creeds that we had. So, Philippians, too – for example – is a creedal statements. Paul’s language, “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of full acceptance.” That’s a creedal statement that predates the writing of those documents.
Darrell Bock: Yeah. And that sprinkled all through the pastoral epistles. For example, those kinds of statements. Yeah. And you’ve got – it’s interesting. The creedal statements or the doctrinal summaries, as I often times call them, are important because of the range of what they cover. Romans 1:2-4 covers Christology. First Corinthians 8:4-6 covers what we believe about the father and the son.
A kinda Binitarian statement, if you wanna say it that way. First Corinthians 15 covers the resurrection. You’ve got bits probably in Roman 6 that allude to Baptism. You’ve got a section in 1 Corinthians 11, 23, and following the deals with the last supper and the lord’s table. So these short, pithy, memorable statements help people to understand the core of the faith. And I tell people, these statements are written before there’s a functioning New Testament.
And so sometimes Liberals will say, “Well, you know, theology could kinda rome all over the place, until we got the recognition of a cannon.” And I’m sitting here going, “No. These doctrinal statements that are embedded in these very, very early texts are telling you what the early church is teaching from very early on.
Glenn Kreider: And all the epistles began with at least a binary god. So that very early – although the church didn’t have the language of the trinity, they were confessing their belief in this one god, father, and son. And then often the spirit’s mentioned as well. Important – I think – also, to respond to those who wanna pits the Bible against confessions – against even creedal statements. That’s there very early in the Christian tradition.
People were coming up with memorable ways – transferable ways – to talk about who this god is. And some of them make their way into the New Testament. We read them as canonical statements, which they are. But they had a history before they become canonical. They were deemed a nice summary – I think that’s what Paul would say – a really nice way to summarize who this Jesus is.
Darrell Bock: So we’ve got the biblical content. And then of course, when we think about the precursors to some of the more famous creeds that we’re aware of, there are pieces like the Apostles Creed – and that kind of thing – that also have rich, deep pedigrees going back – really within generations of the original community. So that there is a stream of tradition that is – in a healthy sense of that term – that is feeding into these confessions that we get and we see.
Glenn Kreider: Right. Yeah. And really, it could hardly be otherwise. The scripture gives us the foundation. It gives us the grid. But it doesn’t answer all the questions. And the culture – the world around us – raises challenges, raises questions. And then the scripture has to be interpreted. The scripture has to be applied. Which is what leads to Nicene, as Arian as the view that Jesus is the first created being through when God made the world. How does that measure up – how’s that consistent with what we know about who Jesus is? And at Nicene, the conclusion was, it doesn’t measure up at all.
Darrell Bock: Yes. And this is a very, very important conversation. Because when it gets raised who the son is in relationship to the father, this is where a text like the first Corinthians 8 passage becomes so important. Because it puts Jesus on the creator side of the creator/creature divide. Which shows – in a context of a Jewish monotheism, if you wanna say it that way – that he is on the divine side of that curve. And should be viewed as such.
Glenn Kreider: And today, we might sit down with the scripture, with a concordance, with Logos, with some way of accumulating Bible verses and respond that way. But that wasn’t possible in the second, third, fourth century.
Darrell Bock: Right, right. And again, there are two things that people, I think, have a hard time grasping about the ancient time. One is that it isn’t as bookish as our time is. Or computer-ish – digital, if you wanna think of it that way – and people didn’t own books. And then beyond that, a substantial portion of the population wasn’t even literate. So, everything that they learned, they learned through hearing, and repetition, and orally. And it was passed on verbally through these kinds of means to teach it.
Glenn Kreider: And in memorable ways. Even in an illiterate society, these confessions – these creeds – are written in a way in which they are easily memorized. And then if you put them to music, it’s even more powerful way to remember them.
Darrell Bock: Yeah. And the little hill song, “rund-ring-of the creed” is in the back of my head when you say that. Among other things.
Glenn Kreider: I go back to Rich Mullins.
Darrell Bock: There you go.
Glenn Kreider: Two different generations there.
Darrell Bock: That’s another conversation. Anyway. So, let’s take a look at this creed. And first, let’s make an observation – just kind of an overview. You were talking before we started to record about how much you like this creed because almost the narrative feel that it gives. The story that it gives. Tell us a little bit about what you’re talking about when you say that.
Glenn Kreider: I actually mean two things by that. It’s almost like the writers of this document had read through Ephesians 1. And they have a trinitarian structure. But it’s not merely the father, then the son, and the spirit. But the story of the scripture is told here, from creation, then to the need for redemption. It’s for us and for our salvation. He came down from Heaven. And then the spirit, and the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. So we have creation, fall, and redemption. The narrative of the scripture told in a trinitarian fashion. Which makes it a really easy creed to memorize.
Darrell Bock: Yes. And so, we’re talk today and kinda focus in on the themes that tie to resurrection. So it’s a little bit odd. We’re gonna dive kind of into the middle of the creed here. But it says – and it picks up the story, of course, of his death. For our sake, he was crucified under Pontius Pilate. He suffered death and buried. Rose again on the third day in accordance with the scriptures. That’s literally right outta the biblical text.
And ascended into Heaven and is seated at the right hand of the father. Again, right outta the biblical text. And, “I will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead. And this kingdom will have no end.” So this is in the section in which we’re highlighting what it is that God has done through the son. We’ll immediately transition to the spirit after this.
And let’s talk about the background of some of these phrases, and then what’s in view here. It says, “He rose again on the third in accordance with the scriptures.” And we said that’s right outta the scripture. So, what’s scriptures leap to mind as we think about that phrase?
Glenn Kreider: First Corinthians 15 immediately pops to mind. As Paul really belabors the point that this one is resurrected. If he’s resurrected, then there’s the hope of our resurrection. If he’s not resurrected, then there’s no hope of anything at all.
Darrell Bock: So it’s an invocation of an entire chapter dedicated to the defense of the resurrection, the importance of the resurrection. The importance of a physical resurrection. And we’re not talking about reincarnation. We’re not talking about immortality of the soul only. We’re talking about a full restoration – including a physical dimension – that makes everything about who we are important.
Glenn Kreider: But it’s not merely the resurrection of the body that’s in view. This is a resurrection life. This is a resurrection that is – he’s not only incarnate eternally, but he is resurrected eternally. And then he is the king of this kingdom that will never end. So resurrection is a quality of – the experience a quality of life. Not merely the – as important as it is – the fact that he is physically resurrected from the dead.
And this, by the way, Darrell Bock, this is the one through whom all things were made. This is the creator of the universe. Who for us, and for our salvation – language that comes right out of Ephesians. Because of his great love for us, God who is rich in mercy. It is for us and for our salvation that he did for us what we could never ask him – never hope that he would have done. We didn’t even know we needed.
Darrell Bock: And certainly we could never do for ourselves.
Glenn Kreider: And we could never do for ourselves.
Darrell Bock: Exactly.
Glenn Kreider: So, in this middle section – where responding to Arianism – we have both his full and complete deity, and his full and complete humanity. He was made human, and he suffered and died as – I take it as evidence that he was fully human.
Darrell Bock: Yes. And when we transition from the resurrection into the ascension, this is also a very important expression. “Ascended into Heaven and seated at the right hand of the father.” The allusion here is to the language of Psalm 1:10:1, of course.
Glenn Kreider: Probably in the New Testament to Acts –
Darrell Bock: Acts chapter two. Exactly. Text – chapter 32 to 36, in particular. And I like to pose the ascension is doing a lot of things. The resurrection and ascension. All of it. And that is, that one of the things that’s going on is, it’s kind of God’s vote in the dispute about who Jesus is in one sense. It’s an act of divine affirmation and vindication of who Jesus is. Which I think we often times – at Easter time – tend to not talk about enough. It’s almost as if, “Well, he’s raised from the dead. So one day we’ll be raised from the dead.” But we forget that that happens in the midst of dispute, in which Jesus was crucified. Because some people said, “He’s blaspheming”. And – go ahead.
Glenn Kreider: Yeah. And this is God’s response to the axe of evil man who put him to death. And the Apostles – that’s the apostolic preaching. That’s the passion narratives. “You put him to death, but God has raised him from the dead.”
Darrell Bock: Exactly. Acts 2 and 3.
Glenn Kreider: This is an exclamation point –
Darrell Bock: And so, I call it God’s vote in this dispute about who Jesus is. And it’s his vindication. And then, the idea that he can sit at the right hand of the father. And then I like to tease people. I say, “You know, you gotta be Jewish for a second. You gotta be your kippah – yamaka right here on your head.” And mine fits very nicely right here. And in the midst of doing that, you ask yourself, “Okay. Who gets to sit with God in Heaven? Who gets to share his authority and his glory and his honor and his activity?” It’s one thing for God to commission someone to do that. He does that with the angels. But they don’t sit next to him in Heaven.
Glenn Kreider: Yeah. It’s also one thing for God – as he consistently does in the biblical story – to condescend. To come to Earth to sit with Abraham, to sit with Moses, to sit with Mary. It’s another thing entirely for a creature to go to Heaven and sit with him.
Darrell Bock: Yes. And so, whether we think about it in the picture of Daniel 7, where the son of man rides the clouds. Which is something only deity does. Or we think about this picture. It’s important to think about what that actually means. And again, particularly in a Jewish context. Not only that, but the actor in this particular aspect of the drum, is God the father. God the father is the one who’s responsible for the raising of Jesus Christ. So, if the complaint comes that this is something God would never be, or do, or believe – or however you wanna say it – it’s kind of hard to say that when he’s the one performing the action that leads to the resurrection and the vindication.
Glenn Kreider: Yep. But he doesn’t stay there.
Darrell Bock: That’s right.
Glenn Kreider: He’s coming again with glory to judge the quick and the dead. He’s coming back to Earth. His exaltation to the throne of God is a – as it were a temporary place for him, while he waits for his return. To establish a kingdom that will never end. An Earthly kingdom.
Darrell Bock: Yes. So, there’s this accountability. And again, this is another – we’re dealing with a whole series of core points here. Teaching last night in a church situation in which I was going through Acts 17. And of course, the question of Acts 17 is, “What do you say to someone about the contents of biblical teaching when they don’t know Genesis from Malachi? I mean, absolutely, you are starting from complete scratch. In terms of what you say. And what Paul does is, he says, “Well, there’s a creator. We’re the creatures. We’re accountable to that creator. And he has appointed that accountability to be managed through one person.”
Glenn Kreider: Which is the same narrative we’re reading here.
Darrell Bock: Exactly right. And that’s precisely the point. That we are looking at these texts in which we see this ascension, this vindication. But it’s a vindication into a reassertion of a role – and a position – that Jesus has always had. But now visibly demonstrated. In Romans 1, we get the language – I’m gonna be very literal here. “The God has horizoned to Jesus as son.” I mean, that’s – you think about what a horizon does. It marks off one space from another space. And so, “He has horizoned Jesus as son.” Horizoned him with power as son. And that’s what the resurrection represents. A marking out – it’s making Jesus a neon sign, if you will. In terms of thinking about what he does.
Glenn Kreider: And a neon sign – I mean, the neon sign is a nice metaphor. Because now he is embodied. He’s a visible, flashing sign of his vindication.
Darrell Bock: A permanent flashing sign. He is the light. And we’re supposed to be drawn to that, in terms of what he does.
Glenn Kreider: And yet there is – in this language – a little bit of an ominous tone. That he is coming again with glory to judge the – I like that King James language – “the quick and the dead”. That there’s judgement. Which then takes us back into the biblical story, too. That the day of the lord comes before the establishment of the kingdom. So he’s coming to judge the quick and the dead. And then establish a kingdom that will never end.
Darrell Bock: That’s right. And I like the phrase, “the quick”. I’m reminded of – that’s the way some people are on the basketball court. I’m definitely among the dead. And so, some people move, and some people are quite stationary. And so, there’s this idea – this picture of this – again – this authority, this kingdom. But in one sense, only some are gonna benefit from what it is that Jesus brings. And that’s the ominous – I take it that’s the ominous note that you’re pointing towards.
Glenn Kreider: Yeah. This is not the hope of the redeemed. This is not our desire that we’re looking for. We’re looking for the kingdom. But this ominous note that judgement comes prior to the king. It takes me back to Amos, who warns the people not to long for the day of judgement. It’s a day of darkness, not light. But that day of darkness comes before light. The judgement comes before the kingdom is established.
Darrell Bock: And we’re also getting the realization of a kingdom program. Which points to a rule. And we’re looking at the consummation of this rule. When the full shalom that was always promised with the kingdom is coming, and arriving – and so, in that sense, we see this authority. The picture of Jesus is not only as one who has been vindicated, but one who rules and has authority. That’s where the accountability comes from. I like to make the point that Jesus – the claim that scripture makes that Jesus is lord of all, means that we’re accountable to him whether we recognize it or not.
Glenn Kreider: That’s exactly right. And it’s a realization in both senses of that word. It’s an awareness of it, but it’s also a fulfillment of the kingdom.
Darrell Bock: So, this middle section is really packed, in terms of what it’s doing. I mean, we haven’t even made the observation about – there’s a little historical aside here in the name Pontius Pilate – which locates this tightly in history. We’re not talking about the same kind of symbolic story, or something like this. This really happened.
Glenn Kreider: And the other name, the Virgin Mary. From very early, the church confessing belief in the virgin birth.
Darrell Bock: Yeah. So we’ve got really a powerful statement here about how the resurrection is really the pinnacle of what has been accomplished through Jesus. His death would mean nothing without resurrection.
Glenn Kreider: It’s a cruel joke.
Darrell Bock: Yeah. The version that I have has – at the very beginning, “I believe in one god.” And then the transition to the son, “I believe in one lord Jesus Christ.” And then, when you come towards the end of the creed, it says, “I believe in the holy spirit, the lord, the giver of life.” So I’ve gotten a threefold confession of the trinity; father, son, and spirit. And then, I get to, “I believe in one holy Catholic and Apostolic church. Confess one baptism. I look forward to the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.” We’re gonna zero-in on these last two lines eventually. But this credo, right? This credo – credo is a way of saying, “I believe.” And yet, there’s an interesting tradition difference here that’s worth noting, between the first-person that I’m reading, and the first-person that you have in your version. What’s going on there?
Glenn Kreider: Yeah. The first-person in my version is plural. So it’s, “We believe in one god. We believe in the lord Jesus Christ. We believe in the holy spirit. We believe in one holy Catholic and Apostolic church.”
Darrell Bock: So, what’s going on there?
Glenn Kreider: The eastern church tends to use the plurality language. The first-person plural. And the western church tends to use the individualized, “I believe”.
Darrell Bock: And I smile because, often times when I’m singing hymns in churches that are written in the first-person singular, I’m sitting here saying, “I sure wish some of these guys would write in the first-person plural.” Because we’re all singing this together as a community.
Glenn Kreider: And yet, we individually are confessing what we individually believe. So there is – I try not to make too much of a distinction – to be too critical of first-person – and…used first-person, too. But there is something interesting about confessing together, “We believe”. And hearing the people around one confess the plural pronouns.
Darrell Bock: I’ll confess to by bias, which comes outta the lord’s prayer. Which is actually the disciples prayer, and the little parentheses goes after the ‘s’. Because everything is done, and is said, in terms of a joint confession that all disciples are praying for one another as they engage in that prayer. So you’ve got tons of first-person plurals running through that little short.
And I think it underscores something that is important. Granted, we individually believe, and we step into that. And the west has been highly focused for a long time on the individual. And yet, there is this corporate dimension to what we do, and what we belong to, and what the church is, et cetera, that also is a very important part of our walk with God.
Glenn Kreider: Yep. And it’s the one holy Catholic Apostolic church. We’re not each an individual church, an individual body. We’re part of one body.
Darrell Bock: Exactly right. So, that’s just an interesting feature, again, that is worth pointing out. And again, it shows the way in which these traditions have grown up. And in some cases, developed in certain distinctive directions, actually. Okay. Well, let’s come back to the eschatological hope here. Now, you’re one of our eschatology profs on campus. And so, it’s as, “I look forward to the resurrection of the dead.”
And everything about that is fascinating. The “looking forward” part is fascinating. And of course, “the resurrection of the dead”. And people have all kinds of conceptions about what Heaven’s gonna be like. Some of them probably not quite on. So, let’s talk about that. Let’s talk about the expectation part of this. You guys have just come off a conference that you’ve done here called “Shaped by the Future” in which you were talking about the impact of what we know we are headed towards, impacting how we live now. Develop that a little bit for us. What were you trying to emphasis in talking about being shaped by the future?
Glenn Kreider: Divine revelation, the scripture, creedal statements, confessions must always be understood as having ethical impact. It’s not merely that we know certain things. But the knowledge of these things now impacts the way we live. A great deal of eschatology has been to develop confidence about details of the prophetic plan, to be able to draw a timeline, to be able to calculate to the degree that we can the dates and numbers and the signs.
And I’m not saying that none of that is helpful. But what is often missed in that is the ethical impact of that. So, what difference does it make that we believe that Christ is returning to Earth? What difference does it make that we believe there’s a tribulation and a rapture before that? What difference does it make that we believe in a millennium and the resurrection? What difference does that make?
And we are convinced that eschatology is not about understanding the details in advance of something Jesus said you can’t know until it happens. But that we would live in light of that hope. So, we look forward to the resurrection of the dead. One of the major impacts of that is, it’s a response to – and a correction to – the pretty common view that the gospel means you get to go to Heaven when you die.
And the goal is to go to Heaven. So, a great deal of speculation about what Heaven is like. And what often happens is that the language in the scriptures – which is describing the new creation – the new Heaven and new Earth – is then somehow – can I say spiritualized? And turned – so you go to Heaven and you walk in streets of gold. Well, the description of streets of gold is not in Heaven.
That’s the description of the heavenly city, which is on the Earth. So, so much of our – there are all kinds of things worth talking about there. If the goal is to go to Heaven, then death is not as serious a terrible foe as we thought it was. Because it actually becomes – and people use this language – it’s the ultimate healing. We’re promoted. We get to – and all of that language – with the best of intentions – because there is a great hope in front of us.
And Paul says, “To be absent from the body is to be present with the lord. It’s better to be there than here.” But that’s not where our hope lies. That’s not our goal. That’s not our destiny. I like to say that “our hope is not a place, our hope is not an event. As important as those events are, our hope is in a person. His name is Jesus.” Peter says, “Our inheritance is in Heaven.” And Paul describes the spiritual blessings we have received. They are in heavenly realms, in Christ Jesus. He is our hope. And the creed confesses that we are looking forward to him. And we’re looking forward to the resurrection of the dead when he comes.
Darrell Bock: And so, the thing that I think about when I think about all this is, there’s that wonderful passage in Acts where the disciples are all pumped up because Jesus has been raised. And they think, “Oh. Eschaton must be – the consummation must be right around the corner.” Is this the time when you’re restoring the kingdom to Israel and in aside? Nothing in that question is questioned, in terms of the premise. They’ve been with Jesus for 40 days.
They’ve heard him exposit the scriptures, and they still have the hope that there’s a restoration coming, and a role for Israel in it. And nothing in Jesus’s answer dissuade them from having asked that. I like to joke that Jesus didn’t respond by saying, “Oh, you guys. I’ve been with you 40 days, and we gotta reenroll in eschatology 101.” And let’s start back at the beginning. He doesn’t correct them that way. He basically says, “The answer to that question’s the father’s business.”
Glenn Kreider: Because I don’t know. Which is, I think, a bit of a correction. I think he corrects them in a couple ways. They think he’s been holding out on them. Maybe before you didn’t know when, but now you know. I still don’t know. You’re asking the wrong person. But I think he also wants them to understand. And the book of Acts, it takes Peter a vision from Heaven multiple times, and showing up in Cornelius’s house before Peter gets it.
As important as Israel’s role in the kingdom is, God’s plan is much bigger than Israel. It’s not about restoring David and Solomon’s kingdom. It’s about fulfilling the promise God made in the gospel. And now send advance to Abraham that all peoples will be blessed. So he doesn’t do what I think many of us would have done, and addressed each one of the points. But his response is, “It’s not for you to know. That’s given to the father.”
I also think – I would prefer to use language of “recreation”, rather than “restoration”. Because I think in God’s work of redemption, things are always getting better. So that the kingdom – as great as the kingdom of David and Solomon was, the kingdom that is to come – as former President Ronald Reagan used to say, “You ain’t seen nothing yet.”
Darrell Bock: [Laughs] Yeah. It’s interesting because even the language of restoration is looking back – even as you look forward to the consummation, you’re also look back to the restoration of the way it originally was. And so, there’s a way of thinking about it that way. The other interesting thing about that particular passage is that he says, “It’s the father’s business.” But in the mean time, you’ve been given an assignment.
If you wanna focus and concentrate on something, this is what you need to concentrate on. And that’s, of course, the language of Acts 1:8. They’d been given a mission. They’re gonna be witnesses to the ends of the Earth. And they’re there to testify to what it is that God has done through Jesus Christ, for the sake of the world, really.
Glenn Kreider: Which picks up what he does in the end of Matthew 24 and 25. You don’t know when these things are gonna be, so what should you be doing when the king returns? You oughta be faithful to him. You oughta be doing what he elected you to do. It picks up what Daniel hears in Daniel 12. “Daniel, go your way. Do your job. It’s not your place to figure out all this stuff. You have a job to do. So do your job while you’re here.”
Darrell Bock: Yep. And that emphasis is – I was gonna go to Mark 13, which is doing the same thing as Matthew 24 and 25. You’re supposed to be watchful. Your eye is to have – and I aimed at knowing where God is taking you. While doing what he’s asked you to do in the mean time. And to be a faithful steward. In fact, a ton of parables in Jesus’s teaching that deal with eschatology have to do with faithfulness.
And the church learned that lesson in the very first persecution that you experience when John and Peter come back after being arrested for the first time. The church prays. And they pray to be faithful in the midst of the persecution. I say there are two things they don’t pray for. They don’t pray for the nuclear option. Okay? They don’t pray to wipe the enemy off the face of the Earth. Nor do they prey to have the persecution taken away from them. They pray for two things; help us to be faithful, and help us to continue to minister to the very people who are pushing back against us.
Glenn Kreider: Maybe John learned something in that earlier story where he calls down fire from Heaven, or wants to.
Darrell Bock: That’s right. By that time, he had given up on the nuclear option, which is probably a good thing. And so, we see this call to faithfulness. Eschatology – here’s another element that I think is important. Eschatology’s important because in the security that it gives us of knowing what will happen, we don’t need to be afraid about what is happening.
Glenn Kreider: Or our fear is tempered by the confidence of what is to come. Even though this might end badly for us. And eventually, it ends badly for all of us. There is the hope, based in the promise of God – the assurance we have in the gospel. I mean, you understated it earlier. If the gospel’s not true, nothing else matters. This is not simply a significant thing. The resurrection of the dead is the very heart of the gospel.
Darrell Bock: Yes. And I mean, there’s just so many different angles to this. The assurance that comes – and the security that comes from knowing you’re a citizen of Heaven. Knowing where your home is. Knowing who has his hands wrapped around you. It doesn’t mean things are gonna be easy. There’s this really odd passage in Luke, in the midst of the Lukan version the Olivet Discourse. On the one hand it says that, “Not one hair of your head is gonna be spared.”
And then two verses later, you’re dead. And you go, “Come on, Luke. Make up your mind.” But it’s actually communicating something pretty profound. And that is, that even if you die, you will not be harmed in terms of your relationship with God and the security that that gives. And so, the confidence that that’s supposed to give is something that is supposed to drive you.
So much so that in first Peter 3, when we’re talking about the hope that is within us, right before it says that it says that you aren’t supposed to be terrified of the person who can do you harm because you do good. It doesn’t mean that there isn’t a reaction, and a sense of danger that you experience. You have that. But there is ultimately this place to reside and rest on the other end. And really, without eschatology, we couldn’t go there.
Glenn Kreider: Right. The language you used back at the beginning echoes what Paul says in Philippians 3:20. That our citizenship is in Heaven. We wait a savior from there. And so, the hope he’s expressing, I don’t think is a hope to go to be with Jesus. It’s a hope that Jesus comes to be with us. Now, of course, for most Christians throughout history, the hope has been fulfilled in going to be with him. And then returning with him.
But again, the Earthly focus of eschatology and Christ having become one of us – he came here for us. He laid down his life for us. He took it back again. He ascended to the fathers as the fathers declaration that his work is completed. And he’s coming back. He’s coming back to judge the quick and the dead, and a kingdom that will never end. But I think the language at the end of the creed here – you mentioned it – is so different, that there is this declaration of his coming judgement. But that’s not what we’re looking for. We’re looking forward to the resurrection of the dead.
Darrell Bock: We miss that judgement.
Glenn Kreider: That’s right.
Darrell Bock: Woo. Just went by.
Glenn Kreider: Yeah. Because that judgement – that day of award is not – we’re appointed to – that day of the lord is for those who are not his – who are not united to him.
Darrell Bock: And so, let’s think a little bit about what’s this looks like. Because this resurrection from the dead, and this looking forward – this life in the world to come. Now, sometimes I hear portraits of Heaven and I think, “Well, it doesn’t sound like there’s much life there. A lot of hanging around, and not much to do.”
Glenn Kreider: Walking around clouds and–
Darrell Bock: Yeah. And so, what is the vision here when we talk about life in the world to come? Because we’re really talking about a restoration. And we’re talking about a place where there really is shalom. A place where there really is justice. A place where there really is righteousness. Where wrong is gone. And evil is eradicated.
Glenn Kreider: It’s even better than that.
Darrell Bock: Okay. Keep going.
Glenn Kreider: It’s not only that evil is eradicated. The possibility of evil is eradicated. So, unlike going back – we’re not going back to the garden, where there’s the possibility of evil coming in. Even the possibility of evil is eradicated. So we will be forever – and will do forever – what we were created to be and do. So we have a life, and a lifestyle, of resurrection in a recreated Earth, caring for the world that God has created.
I love music. And I’d love to be able to play instruments. But floating around in a cloud, by myself, is – well, there are times that would be [laughter] – but to be able to enjoy the world that God has created, and to enjoy it without all of the effects of sin, and death, and depravity, and decay – that’s the hope that I think is summarized.
Darrell Bock: It’s when golden moments become permanently golden. And in that sense, we look forward to a time when that is taking place. So, what else about the “life of the world to come”? And “forward to the resurrection of the dead” should we be thinking about as we contemplate where it is that God is taking us? Or maybe we could flip it and say, “In light of that, what does it mean for your citizenship to be in Heaven, and you’re being here on Earth?”
Glenn Kreider: Well, it means that – it doesn’t mean that we don’t have a responsibility to be good citizens on Earth. But it does mean that ultimately, as the old gospel song puts it, “This world – in its current condition – is not my home. We’re just passing through.” But what is often missed in that old song, is that we are one day coming back to this Earth. And so that there is continuity between this life and the life to come.
We often think in terms of storing up treasures in Heaven. I mean, Jesus talked about that. We often think about how what you do here matters in the world to come. But I don’t think we often think as much about our care for this world, and what we do here impacting what is to come. That we have a stewardship to care for the world that God has made. And if we are people who are looking for a kingdom of righteousness, peace, and prosperity that lasts forever, we ought to be people of righteousness, peace, and prosperity now.
Darrell Bock: We should be previewing what is to come.
Glenn Kreider: That’s exactly right.
Darrell Bock: And in that preview, we have the opportunity to give little glimpses of Heaven, and little glimpses of light. Which themselves become a part of the credible testimony we can give when we – and I’m gonna play on words here – when we image God. When we mirror him, his character, we show ourselves to be sons and daughters of God. And in the midst of that, reflect his character in a world that often times doesn’t get to see what his character is like.
Glenn Kreider: Yep. The application that Paul makes at the end of first Corinthians 15 – this long, extended, 50-some verses – with a real, quick, short application at the end – is that the hope of the resurrection enables us to stand.
Darrell Bock: Yes. Yeah.
Glenn Kreider: It gives us persistence. It gives us perseverance.
Darrell Bock: In an odd way, the same picture exists in Ephesians 6, with the armor of god. That it is our theology, and the character, and the righteousness that God gives us. And the hope of the gospel and prayer. And the affect of the spirit allows us to extinguish all the darts of the evil one. And in the end, we’re able to stand. And I love pointing out in that passage that the armor of God is not changing the circumstances around me. The armor of God is the character that I display. And the way in which I see what’s going on around me that allows me to not be overwhelmed by what’s going on around me.
Glenn Kreider: As Jesus facing – I almost said, “the best” – the worst the enemy has to throw at him, was able to endure and to stand. Despising the shame, because of the joy set before him. I think the writer of Hebrews and Paul were kind of on the same page there.
Darrell Bock: Yep. And so, we get the language in Colossians one of Jesus being the firstborn from the dead. Again, another declaration about resurrection, in another creedal section, about this design to talk about him being the one who leads us into the direction and the path. And who is the example that we can draw from.
Glenn Kreider: And one important thing about that – in response to Arius, who argued that firstborn means the first one born. Jesus is not the first one who came back from the dead. He raised several people before he raised himself. There are resurrections in the Old Testament. So, “the firstborn from the dead” can’t mean the first one who came back from the dead. It has to be a term of preeminence, and –
Darrell Bock: And then, we New Testament people like to distinguish between resuscitations from the dead, if you will, and resurrections into the new life. Which Jesus did pioneer in some ways. Well, Glenn Kreider, I wanna thank you for coming in and helping us think through resurrection and life in the world to come. I hope it’s been an encouragement to those of you who’ve joined us on The Table. We look forward to your being with us, and hope that you’ll join us again soon.
About the Contributors
Dr. Bock has earned recognition as a Humboldt Scholar (Tübingen University in Germany), is the author of over 40 books, including well-regarded commentaries on Luke and Acts and studies of the historical Jesus, and work in cultural engagement as host of the seminary’s Table Podcasts. He was president of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) for 2000–2001, writes for the Christianity Today’s Places and Space series, and serves on the boards of Wheaton College, Chosen People Ministries, and the Institute for Global Engagement.. His articles appear in leading publications. He is often an expert for the media on NT issues. Dr. Bock has been a New York Times best-selling author in nonfiction and is elder emeritus at Trinity Fellowship Church in Dallas. When traveling overseas, he will tune into the current game involving his favorite teams from Houston—live—even in the wee hours of the morning. Married for over 40 years to Sally, he is a proud father of two daughters and a son and is also a grandfather.
Prior to teaching at DTS, Dr. Kreider served as Director of Christian Education and then as Senior Pastor in Cedar Hill, TX. His research and writing interests include Jonathan Edwards, theological method, theology and popular culture, and our eschatological hope. Dr. Kreider believes that grace really is amazing; it is a thought that will change the world. He is married to his best friend, Janice, and they have two grown children, a son-in-law, and one granddaughter, Marlo Grace. He and Janice enjoy live music, good stories, bold coffee, and their five rescue dogs—two pugs, a chihuahua, a terrier named Chloe, and a black lab, Carlile.