The "Almost" but "Not Quite" of Fulfillment
Remember the bright orange “General Lee” from the Dukes of Hazzard? Mine was a 1971 Dodge Charger, metallic blue, nice rims, great sounding stereo, quick off the line — the perfect car for any teenager and it was all mine — or so I thought. My father had taken me over to the car dealership to “buy” the car of my dreams. I had saved for months, but could not come up with the full price, so it would need to be financed. As I drove away, screeching tires all the way in my new car, I felt the feeling of complete ownership. This beautiful car was now mine.
However, about a month later, I got this letter in the mail from the bank telling me that the car was mine and was not mine at the same time! The car was in the process of becoming mine, and at the end of just 36 months, they would send me the title to my Dodge Charger, free and clear. It was the process that had begun at the dealership and would continue for three years and finally, at the end of the contract, the title to the vehicle would be transferred to me. In the meantime, I would continue to enjoy the benefits of “almost” but “not quite” ownership!
It was the “almost” but “not quite” concept that Bible scholars refer to as the “already” but “not yet” aspect of fulfillment. During the “last days,” believers, as in the case with my car, were involved in a process of Covenant attainment. The “down payment” had been given to them (Eph. 1:13, 14) through the work of the Holy Spirit, but the whole of the New Covenant promises and expectations would not be realized for a “generation.” The bank of heaven held the title deed to these promises in trust until the complete time of fulfillment would arrive in A.D. 70.
For Christians living today, this requires the necessity of coming to a better understanding of what was happening during the “last days” in order to better understand where believers stand today. Do we own the car? Or, are we still waiting for the bank of heaven to transfer it to us at some future time?
For those who understand the message of Fulfillment, there is a noticeable change in some aspects of traditional soteriology, especially as it relates to those events which were confined to the transition period between the Cross and A.D. 70. This adjustment in thinking becomes necessary since much of the New Testament was written from within the context of what scholars often refer to as “the already” but “not yet” of prophetic fulfillment. It is impossible to arrive at a proper understanding of soteriology (salvation) until first a proper understanding of the framework for fulfillment is established.
From the perspective of Fulfilled Eschatology, the “last days” of the Old Covenant “age” began with the ministry of John the Baptizer as the last of the Old Testament prophets (Luke 16:16). The “last days” would reach their consummation with the passing away of “heaven and earth” (Matt. 5:17, 18; 24:35) at the “end of the age” (Matt. 24:3; 28:20). The “already” but “not yet” period of time as defined by Joel’s prophecy (Joel 2:28–32), and referenced by the apostle Peter on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:17–21), would be consummated with “the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord” in A.D. 70 (Joel 2:31; Acts 2:20).
Just prior to His sacrificial death, Jesus promised to build His “church” (Matt. 16:18; Acts 2:47), a reference to those ‘called out’ from the Old Covenant in advance of the “end” to form the “remnant” of “all Israel” who were “being saved” during the “last days” (Rom. 9:27; 11:5, 26). The “church” (called-out ones), were “firstfruit” (Rom. 8:23; 11:16; James 1:18; Rev. 14:4) believers inclusive of both Jews and Gentiles (Rom. 1:16). It is clear both contextually and redemptively that what is contained in the pages of the New Testament was directed to these first-century believers as the “chosen generation” who had been “called…out of darkness [Old Covenant] into His marvelous light [New Covenant]” (I Pet. 2:9, 10). Concerning these “firstfruits,” the apostle Paul writes, “He has delivered us [the “remnant”] from the power of darkness [Old Covenant] and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love [New Covenant]” (Col. 1:13).
Nowhere does the modern conception of the “church” enter into what Jesus promised to build. The “church” was the specific “body” of believers who, during the transition period, were being “called out” of the Old Covenant through the process of regeneration into the New Covenant (Col. 1:13; I Pet. 2:9). The “church” was established in order to accomplish a transitional, redemptive purpose, limited to the time between the Cross and A.D. 70. The power of the “gates of Hades” could not prevail against this “church” (Matt. 16:18) What exists today, beyond A.D. 70, is the eternal fellowship of believers in the eternal Kingdom of God, living as the New Jerusalem, the Covenant City of God (Gal. 4:21–31; Rev. 21:1–4).
When the New Testament is seen from the perspective, not of the end of the material universe, but as pertaining to the transition of the Covenants (II Cor. 3:7–11; Heb. 8:13), the message and meaning of redemptive history then comes to life. The “already” but “not yet” never had reference to thousands of years of future history, but rather to forty year period of the “last days” between the Cross and A.D. 70. It was during this unique time period that the “church” as the “chosen generation” was moving toward the consummation of God’s promises, the coming of Christ, the day of judgment and the resurrection of the dead (Matt. 24:3; Acts 17:30, 31; 2 Tim. 4:1; I Cor. 15:35–57).
HERMENEUTICS OF FULFILLMENT
The framework for fulfillment is inseparably related to the principles of interpretation (hermeneutics) that are used to understand the Bible. Comprehension of Scripture is related to two important aspects:
What did the verse mean for those to whom it was first written
What does the verse mean for those living today
The first principle seeks to establish what the verse meant to the original audience for whom it was first intended. The process by which this principle is established is proper exegesis of the context in which the verse occurs.
Most people logically follow this principle as it pertains to specific historical events recorded in the Bible. A command was given in Genesis 6:14: “Make yourself an ark of gopherwood; make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and outside with pitch.” Few would contend that this command was directed to anyone other than to Noah (Gen. 6:13) and the specific situation that occurred during his “generation” (Gen. 7:1). Rational believers would not assume that simply because it is in the Bible that it must automatically refer to those living in the 21st century. Why? Because the principle of audience relevance is given due consideration.
The second principle seeks to glean the principles from the specific historical events recorded in the Bible–what the verse means for those living today. The account in Genesis 6–8 reveals much about the state of wickedness that can exist in any “generation” (Gen. 6:5), and the fact that sinfulness always grieves the heart of God (Gen. 6:6). It further demonstrates that those who practice godliness in the midst of a wicked society will find “grace in the eyes of the Lord” (Gen. 6:8). These are eternal principles that relate to application.
A verse can never mean what the verse never meant is an important concept in hermeneutics that allows for both proper exegesis and application. It is therefore critical to distinguish between the general principles and the specific meaning of what the Bible actually teaches. The meaning of a passage is what was intended by the author; but discovered by the reader. The Bible was written using human language and the rules for interpretation that apply to any document also apply to Scripture.
FRAMEWORK FOR FULFILLMENT
The Bible was written over a period of approximately 1,500 years, by about 40 different inspired writers, and spans more than 4,000 years of redemptive history. The Bible was recorded to provide His Covenant people with a proper understanding of His “eternal purpose” (Eph. 3:1–4, 11) for them. All of the recorded events, when seen from this perspective, confirm the progression of God’s plan from beginning to end. The journey of what began “in Adam” (I Cor. 15:22) was completed “in Christ” (I Cor. 15:22). The “sin” and the “death” that entered into the Old Covenant “world” (Rom. 5:12) through Adam was defeated by the redemptive work of Christ. Those “in Christ” have been set free from “the law of sin and death” (Rom. 8:2). “Through death [Christ] might destroy him who had the power of death [Old Covenant]…and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Heb. 2:14, 15). From the standpoint of redemption the perspective is the contrast of the two Covenants (Gal. 4:21–31), the one produced “death” while the other “life and righteousness” (Rom. 8:10; Gal. 5:5).
The whole of the New Testament was directed toward the “chosen generation” in contradistinction to the “wicked and perverse generation” (I Pet. 2:9; Acts 2:40). The one has reference to Israel “according to the flesh” [Old Covenant] (Gal. 4:21–31) who faced judgment and impending “wrath” (Rom. 2:5, 6), and the other, Israel “according to the Spirit” [New Covenant] who was “being saved” (I Cor. 1:18), and “delivered” (Joel 2:32; Acts 2:21; Luke 21:28). It was between the Cross and A.D. 70 that the progressive framework for New Testament soteriology is established. The “already” but “not yet” aspect of salvation was moving toward consummation. “So Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation” (Heb. 9:28). The purpose of Christ’s parousia in A.D. 70 was to bring to completion the redemptive work begun at the Cross, “for salvation.”
The problem of contemporary views related to soteriology is a failure to understand the framework for fulfillment and the process God used during the transition period to accomplish it. Justification, sanctification and glorification forms the foundational basis of Pauline theology in the New Testament (Rom. 3:24; 5:1, 9; 8:17, 30; I Cor. 1:2; 6:11 et al). Modern scholars and theologians, because of their misunderstanding and misapplication of the “already” but “not yet” have missed the flow of what each of the constituent elements of soteriology mean and the progression that took place within the transition period.
The past, present and future tenses of justification, sanctification and glorification were confined to the forty-year period between the Cross and A.D. 70. Believers during that time were “being justified” (Rom. 3:24), and “being sanctified” (Heb. 2:11; 10:14), as an ongoing process. In another sense, they had “been justified” (Rom. 5:1, 9; Titus 3:7), and had “been sanctified” (Heb. 10:10). Believers during this time were “glorified” (Rom. 8:30), but would also “be glorified” (Rom. 8:17; II Thess. 1:10) at the coming of the Lord in A.D. 70. The process of the “already” but “not yet” was in connection with the change from “this age” [Old Covenant] to the “age to come” [New Covenant] (Matt. 12:32; Heb. 6:5; Eph. 1:21).
What about today? The next installment in this series will examine the implications of what staying within the context of Biblical fulfillment means for those living beyond the transition period, especially as it relates to soteriology. The fact that a process was completed in A.D. 70 becomes the foundation upon which a proper understanding of believers’ present-day stance with God is established. The passing of the Old Covenant (II Cor. 3:11ff; Heb. 8:13) and the arrival of the fullness of the “everlasting” New Covenant (Heb. 13:20) brought to completion all of God’s “promises” with respect to redemptive history (Rom. 15:8). The “hope” of Old Covenant Israel, and of the “chosen generation” of the “church” is now a reality. This concept pertains to every aspect of salvation. The effects of what happened in the first century are continuous and ongoing. The time of waiting is now over.
 This concept was originally proposed by Greerhardus Johannes Vos (1862–1949) as “inaugurated eschatology” that begin during the time of the earthly ministry of Christ. This was used to explain the apparent tension between those things pertaining to “this age” in contradistinction with “the age to come” (Matt. 12:32 et al).