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The "Almost" but "Not Quite" of Fulfillment

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By Believability - Posted on 18 August 2012

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.[1] 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).


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.


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.


[1] 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).

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