I know how you feel, the first time I read those formidable words I needed aspirin too. But be of good cheer, I soon discovered that I didn’t need to be a theologian to understand this. In fact if we walk by faith and not by sight we ourselves are involved in realized eschatology. I’ll explain what it means in a moment, but first, let’s read a helpful insight by Bible scholar F.F. Bruce (1910-1990). He is commenting on the heroes of faith in Hebrews Chapter 11:
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, a conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1 ASV). Our author might well have proceeded from Ch.10:39 to the exhortation, “Therefore… let us run with patience the race that is set before us” (Ch. 12:1) but first he encourages his readers further by reminding them of examples of faith in earlier days. In Old Testament times, he points out, there were many men and women who had nothing but the promises of God to rest upon, without any visible evidence that these promises would ever be fulfilled, yet so much did these promises mean to them that they regulated the whole course of their lives in their light. The promises related to a state of affairs belonging to the future; but these people acted as if that state of affairs were already present, so convinced were they that God could and would fulfill what He had promised. In other words, they were men and women of faith. Their faith consisted simply in taking God at His word and directing their lives accordingly; things yet future so far as their experience went were thus present to faith, and things outwardly unseen were visible to the inward eye. It is in these terms that our author now describes the faith of which he has been speaking. It is, he says, the hypostasis of things that are hoped for…. That is to say, things which in themselves have no existence as yet become real and substantial by the exercise of faith. (F.F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, Grand Rapids, 1964, pgs 277,278)
Now for our definition of realized eschatology, and it’s actually quite simple. Eschatology is built from two Greek words in the same way zoology, psychology, and archaeology are built. The suffix logos, meaning originally word, has in English come to imply study. The prefix eschatos means last or final, as in “last days” (2 Tim. 3:1). So eschatology involves the study of end times, and because “we know in part,” it has produced endless debate over things like the rapture and the tribulation and the second coming and what has been called the millennial kingdom. (We’re not getting into any of that here.)
In general usage realize means to understand something. “I realize that, I understand.” But in realized eschatology it means made real. And obviously there comes a time when eschatological things are no longer in the future, God is faithful, God is true, and so they have finally arrived, they are at last fulfilled, made real. But does this mean that these things are held in abeyance till their time arrives? Not for those who by faith realize them now. In the above quote F.F. Bruce wrote, “The promises related to a state of affairs belonging to the future, but these people acted as if that state of affairs were already present, so convinced were they that God could and would fulfill what He had promised. In other words, they were men and women of faith.”
That is the essence of realized eschatology, and it answers a question that was to me for years a great perplexity—why the inspired writers of the New Testament often speak of a present possession as something yet to come. If I have eternal life now, why is it yet to come? If the kingdom is here now, why is it yet to come? It’s a matter of realized eschatology—by faith living now in the good of the great salvation yet to come. It means walking now in what God has promised down the road. Yes, their wonderful fulfillment is yet future, but they may be realized even now by those whose love for God and faith in Him lays hold of His promises; we are so sure of Him who promised that we walk in the good of the promises before their fulfillment has arrived.
I am borrowing from F.F. Bruce when I use those words. Commenting on Abraham’s faith he wrote, “To Abraham the promise of God was as substantial as its realization. He lived thereafter in the good of that promise.” (F.F. Bruce, Hebrews, pg 296)
Now let’s look at another comment on realized eschatology by F.F. Bruce. (I think you may be realizing that I quite like him.) I’ll quote the Scripture he is referring to first.
Giving thanks to the Father who did make us meet for the participation of the inheritance of the saints in the light, who did rescue us out of the authority of the darkness, and did translate us into the reign of the Son of His love” (Col 1:12,13 YLT).
…When he affirms that believers have already been brought into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son, Paul gives us an example of truly realized eschatology. That which in its fullness lies ahead of them has already become true in them. “Whom he justified, them he also glorified” (Rom. 8:30). The fact that God has begun a good work in them is the guarantee that it will be brought to fruition in the day of Jesus Christ (cf. Phil 1:6). By an anticipation which is a real experience and not a legal fiction they have received here and now the glory that is yet to be revealed. “The inheritance of the saints in the light” has not yet been manifested in its infinite wealth, but the divine act by which believers have been rendered meet for it has already taken place. The divine kingdom has this two-fold aspect through the New Testament. It has already broken into this world by the work of Christ (cf. Matt. 12:28, Luke 11:20); it will break in one day in the plenitude of glory which invests Christ’s parousia. Those who look forward to an abundant entrance in resurrection into that heavenly realm which “flesh and blood” (the present mortal body) cannot inherit (1 Cor. 15:50) are assured at the same time that this realm is already theirs. (F.F. Bruce, Ephesians and Colossians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, Grand Rapids, 1957, pg 189)
I love the way Bruce expresses that our being transferred “into the kingdom of the Son of His love” is “not a legal fiction.” It is not merely a standing. It is a state, a reality, a fact, not a fiction, that we are now in that kingdom which is yet to come in its plenitude.
And so… realized eschatology. Doesn’t this give us an insight into the heart of God and His divine “impatience” (if I dare use that word)—He just can’t wait—to see that those who love Him and desire by faith to please Him enjoy even now in this present evil world the riches of His glory that has not yet arrived?
Facets of realized eschatology
This truth—that things to come, end things, eschatological things, may be realized even now by faith—shines throughout Scripture in many beautiful facets of the Jewel Christ Jesus. Here are a few of those facets, which I will just touch on and leave for you to explore further.
- Our salvation
“And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation” (Heb. 9:27,28).
Our Salvation, then, is yet to appear. But He has also appeared:
“Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began, but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel…” (2 Tim. 1:8-10 NKJV).
Notice that: “…who has saved us…” A present possession. And so we are saved, yet await the coming of our Salvation.
It is a very great salvation, and we are its heirs, as we read in Hebrews 1:14. “Are they [the angels] not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be the heirs of salvation?”
Again from Bruce: “The salvation here spoken of [in Heb. 1:14] lies in the future; it is yet to be inherited, even if its blessings can already be enjoyed in anticipation. That is to say, it is that eschatological salvation which, in Paul’s words, is now ‘nearer to us than when we (first) believed’ (Rom. 13:11) or, in Peter’s words, is ‘ready to be revealed in the last time’ (1 Pt. 1:5).” (F.F. Bruce, Hebrews, pg 25)
- The life to come
“For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come” (1 Tim. 4:8). By “the life to come” he means the eternal life for which we wait with great expectation.
But even now those who believe have eternal life. John 3:16 you will know by heart. Here’s another. “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God” (1 Jn. 5:13).
- The resurrection
The “life to come” is resurrection life. But in order to participate in this last-day resurrection we must first be realizing eternal life in our mortal bodies. For Jesus said, “He that eateth My flesh and drinketh My blood hath eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last [eschatos] day” (Jn. 6:54). (It is a spiritual reality—the bread and drink of life—that Jesus has in mind when He talks of eating His flesh and drinking His blood. See John 6:62,63).
Yet God has provision for us to walk in resurrection life before that great day. Martha told Jesus that she knew her brother Lazarus would “rise again in the resurrection at the last [eschatos] day” (Jn. 11:24). That was good theology. Yet Jesus’ response was, “I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live, and whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die. Believest thou this?”
This of course is the mainstay of the Christian life and walk that we read of so often in the epistles of Paul, that “in Christ” we realize resurrection life before the day of resurrection. Baptized into Christ we are made alive together with Christ, and are raised together with Him, and seated together with Him in the heavenlies… (See Eph. 2:4-10, Col. 2:11,12, Rom 6:1-4).
- The kingdom of God
“And the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom: to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen” (2 Tim. 4:18). So that kingdom is yet ahead.
But the kingdom of God that is yet to come is at the same time now present. “For the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power” (1 Cor. 4:20). Here Paul speaks of that kingdom as a present reality. Jesus speaks of it as present and growing to fullness in the earth (Mk 4:26-29.
Yet its fullness is utterly beyond the capacity of a body of flesh and blood. “Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption” (1 Cor. 15:50). Along with those in the grave, our present bodies must be changed, and will be changed “at the last trump” so that in glorified bodies we are enabled to inherit and enjoy the fullness of the kingdom of God.
- The adoption
Similarly, the fullness of the adoption, the “son-placing” awaits the redemption of the body from its bondage to corruption. “For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body” (Rom. 8:22,23).
Even so, we who have received the Spirit of God’s son realize the adoption now. God is even now our own Father. “For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father” (Rom. 8:15).
- The regeneration
Jesus speaks in Matthew 19:28 of “the regeneration.” This has in view the new creation; a regeneration has taken place, and the whole creation (the universe) has been released from its bondage to corruption. It is a promise long standing. “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former shall not be remembered, nor come to mind” (Isa. 65:17).
But—how amazing is this—“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Cor. 5:17 NKJV). And so we who are born from above realize regeneration even now, although it has not reached our mortal bodies. That is yet to come. (See Titus 3:5 and John 3:3-8.)
- The City of God
It is a city which is yet to come. “For here have we no continuing [abiding, lasting] city, but we seek one to come” (Heb. 13:14).
Yes, but we have come to the City which is yet to come. “But ye are come unto mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem…” (Heb. 12:22). Even now, then, we may walk the golden street of this City, and drink of the pure stream of the water of Life and eat of the fruit of the tree of Life.
- The marriage of the Lamb
This City is a Bride whose marriage is yet to come. And “blessed are they who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Rev. 19:6-9). That day is coming!
O day of wondrous promise!
The Bridegroom and the Bride
Are seen in glory ever;
And love is satisfied.
Yet that union is realized even now in those who are “married to Another, even to Him who is raised from the dead, that we might bring forth fruit unto God” (Rom. 7:4).
Oh what wonders. It is all just too much. Wonders yet to come. The same wonders now realized in those who walk by faith.
And this I say—that only those who seek to realize now by faith what is yet to come will enjoy these wonders when the hour comes that they are fulfilled.
That hour surely comes, the hour of fulfillment comes. And love is satisfied, and the Christ of glory who is the origin in whom and from whom all the facets of truth shine forth, He who is the source and sum of all the promises, He whom our soul loveth… we see Him face to face. And are joined with Him in everlasting union to become together the revelation of the glory of God.
Yet—let us never get used to this grace of graces—He whom we see not yet has by His Spirit come to us so that even now we may realize that joining, that companionship, that friendship, that fellowship with Him in which we delight and He delights as much as we do. He loves being with us. Here and now. Daily, day upon day. Till the end of the age. Really, what more could one wish?
Well, yes, I know. But let it be with us as William Gurnall wrote of a dying saint, “He was going to change his place but not his company.”