In his work Paradise Restored (the late) David Chilton points out the Definitive, Progressive, & Final aspects of both soteriology (a person’s salvation) & eschatology (the movement towards the end of the world). As one studies the subjects and compares them you realize there is much more of a connection between the two than perhaps formerly realized. That being said, let’s clarify a little.
By Definitive, Progressive, & Final soteriology Chilton cites the examples in the new testament where the authors tell their audience that they have been saved (definitive), are being saved (progressive), and will be saved (final). An example of the definitive nature of salvation can be seen in a passage like Ephesians 2 where Paul writes, “by grace you have been saved” (v. 8) [emphasis mine]. An example of the progressive nature of salvation can be seen in a passage like 1 Corinthians 15 where Paul writes, “Now I would remind you…of the Gospel…by which you are being saved…” (vv. 1-2) [emphasis mine]. Finally, and example of the final nature of salvation can be seen in a passage like Romans 5 where Paul writes, “Since therefore we have been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.” (v. 9) [emphasis mine].
While this idea is accepted in a more general way, Chilton points out a similar patter with eschatology that is less noted on a popular level. Chilton sees a similar definitive, progressive, & final nature to eschatology as well. He writes:
Definitively, all things were placed under Christ’s feet at His ascension to His heavenly throne; on principle, He rules the world now as the Second Adam. Progressively, He is now engaged in conquering the nations by the gospel, extending His rule to the farthest corners of the earth. Finally, the Day will come when Christ’s actual conquest of the world is complete, when all enemies have been abolished. This will be the End, when “at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow…and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil. 2:10 -11)
Modern Christians will uniformly affirm the final nature of eschatology that Chilton points out. You can go out and ask many Christians about the very end of history and they will affirm that Christ will be victorious. It is the Definitive & Progressive natures of eschatology that Chilton alludes to that tend to give most Christians a little more trouble.
After the final aspect of eschatology, Christians are most ready to accept the definitive nature of eschatology. The Bible clearly teaches in Matthew 28 that all authority in Heaven and on Earth has been given to Jesus and the Book of Acts (coinciding with Daniel 7) teaches that Christ ascended to the right hand of God the father where he currently reigns. These things Christians will usually ascent to when the clarity is shown to them from the scriptures. However, the progressive aspect of eschatology is much less attended to.
Ultimately it is a matter of inconsistency that is plaguing the Christian mind in this aspect. If Christ has indeed been given all authority and power over Heaven & Earth definitively then the progressive application of his reign is the only logical conclusion, particularly when the Christian understands how the New Testament writers apply the Old Testament to the ascension of Jesus. Psalm 110 (one of the most cited Old Testament passages) speaks of the progressive victory of the messiah over the nations of the world upon his inauguration at the right hand of God (the Ascension). When read in light of 1 Corinthians 15 (one of the clearest eschatological passages in the New Testament) it is hard to deny the connection between both the definitive & progressive aspects of eschatology in light of Christ’s ascension.
For he must reign until he has put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. (1 Corinthians 15: 25-26)
This passage clearly teaches that the reign of Christ (established at his ascension) must last until he has put all his enemies under his feet. This teaches that subsequent history (after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus) is not a story about the slow, cataclysmic demise of the church culminating in “The Great Tribulation”. No. The story of history, post Resurrection & Ascension, is the story of the victory and expansion of Christ’s reign over all his enemies until the Last Day when Christ will return again and put the last enemy under his feet (death) before delivering the Kingdom over to his father (1 Cor. 15:24).
The Kingdom of Christ that was definitively established in the life, death, resurrection, & ascension of Jesus will be progressively established in history until it is finally consummated at Christ’s return when he does away with the last enemy (death) in the Resurrection of the dead.
Food for thought.