Two of my favorite lectures ever have concerned the idea of already/not yet or the “overlapping of the ages.” Basically, before Jesus, the Jews conceived of two ages: the Present Age and the Age to Come, which were two distinct ages separated by the resurrection of the dead.
Once Christ came, died, and was raised, things got confusing. He had brought the Age to Come (characterized by Life, Glory, Power, etc) into the Present Age, where things like sickness and sin were still happening. And, he promised that he was the “first fruits” of the resurrection of the dead – that we would follow him. He had Already brought his kingdom to earth (“The kingdom of heaven is at hand”), but it is Not Yet fully realized (“Thy kingdom come”). It will be realized when he returns. We live in that in between time – the overlap of the present age and the age to come, where we face sickness, sin, and death, but live with the kingdom power of God, too.
Here’s a diagram:
(This is a woefully inadequate description of a beautiful idea. If you know of good resources where this is explained better, please list them in the comments.)
Assorted thoughts from the most recent lecture I heard on this topic:
- This is a good framework for understanding my body’s tension with West Nile: already healed (no antibodies, which means I’m not fighting the virus anymore) and not yet healed (fatigued and in pain). I can see the grander cosmic already/not yet tension through the smaller lens of my body’s already/not yet tension with West Nile.
- This lecture was discussing already/not yet to get to an idea that Paul might be read as an apocalyptic author. The strange thing about reading a New Testament author as compared to a traditional Jewish apocalypse (apocalypse means revelation) is that now God’s apocalypse has come – His revelation is Jesus.
- The NT often talks about the end being near, and we sometimes struggle with how to interpret that. Possibly, they were looking at previous history. All these hundreds and thousands of years, the Jews had been waiting for prophecies to be fulfilled. With the coming of Jesus, all the promises of the Old Testament were fulfilled. So, there was nothing left to wait for! And if there’s nothing left to wait for, you must be at the end.
- The Corinthians seem to have expected Paul to be a strong, powerful ambassador of the age to come. But, he says
7 But we [we apostles?] have this treasure [the gifts and power that go with the Age to Come, like healing] in jars of clay [our weak selves], to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. – 2 Corinthians 4:7-11 [brackets mine]
He’s essentially saying, “No no no, that’s not the point. It’s better for us to show you that our weak selves, products of the present age, are receiving God’s gifts from the Age to Come. It’s not our power – it’s all God’s.
- Let me paste that quote again:
10 …always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, SO THAT the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, SO THAT the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.
James Dunn wrote, “…Only when believers are fully one with Christ in his death will it be possible for them to be fully one with Christ in his resurrection.”
I’m not really sure how to write why those two quotes struck me so. I’d also just read the passage in Pilgrim’s Progress when Christian passes through the river (death) and emerges, shedding his mortal stuff so that he will be able to enter the Celestial City. Something about how death is a thing that God uses to sanctify us. It’s not just that you’ve reached the end of your life and it’s over so we call it Death; it’s a thing. And, for the Christian, it’s a powerful thing that God uses to make us holy and draw us to him.
And, Paul says he’s always carrying Jesus’s death in his body SO THAT the life of Jesus may be manifested. I understand this to mean that, because Paul is weak, whatever strength Christ gives him shines forth.
Later in 2 Corinthians he writes that God said, “…my power is made perfect in weakness.” That’s a good reminder for me (and others) as I live in the “not yet” reality of weakness and sickness.