A FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLE IN ESCHATOLOGY

PMW 2019-042 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

Since Hal Lindsey originally burst on the scene in 1970, biblical prophecy has become a fun game that the whole family can play. Biblical prophecy has thus become a toy and has led many game winners (who have sold in excess of 100 million books to qualify) to be excitedly declared “Prophecy Experts.” But as for me and my house, once I hear the term “prophecy expert,” I turn the channel. Even if I do not have the TV on. I don’t take chances.

When I was first converted in 1966, I got caught up in prophecy rage, especially when The Late Great Planet Earth was published in 1970. I longed to watch new Olympic sports events, such as “Pin the Horns on the Antichrist” or “Guess the Date of Rapture.” Or even to see a new TV game show: “I’ve Got a Secret (Rapture). Eventually I even received a B.S. degree in Biblical Studies from a college committed to such dispensational activities. “Those were the days, my friend, / I thought they’d never end.” But fortunately I grew up and walked away from such. And have not looked back (though, admittedly, I like salt).

One of the most important principles for understanding biblical prophecy is known as the “Now but Not Yet Principle,” also known as the “Already/Not Yet Principle” (it is never called the “See You Later Alligator Principle” or “Take It Easy Greasy Principle”). If Christians would take this interpretive principle to heart (or better: to mind), a lot of embarrassment from failed prophetic expectations could be avoided. And a lot of money saved on books that give the latest Rapture predictions.

Before I state the Now/Not Yet Principle, I will note that it aligns nicely with the postmillennial principle of “Gradualism.” But what is this principle?

The Gradualism Principle

Gradualism (which is set over against Catastrophism) teaches that God generally works out his plan in history gradualistically (little-by-little, here-a-little-there-a-little) rather than catastrophically (all at once as a full-blown reality). We have many clear examples of gradualism found in familiar portions of Scripture.

For instance, an historical indicator of kingdom gradualism appears in the Promised Land’s conquest. In Deuteronomy 7:22 we read: “And the Lord your God will clear away these nations before you little by little; you will not be able to put an end to them quickly, lest the wild beasts grow too numerous for you.” Here Moses specifically informs Israel that though he has given her the promised land, the gradual conquest of the land is for her good. That is, it allows her to conquer in such a way that they could secure and maintain control of the land.

In Daniel 2:31–45 Christ’s kingdom appears as coming down to earth as a stone smiting the world kingdom. As we read through the passage we learn that the kingdom grows to become a great mountain in the earth: “You watched while a stone was cut out without hands, which struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces . . . . And the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth. And in the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever” (Da 2:34–35, 44). Thus, the stone gradually grows to become a “great mountain.”

In Ezekiel 17:22–24 God promises to establish the kingdom by establishing it as a small “sprig from the lofty top of the cedar.” Then he will nurture it until it becomes “a stately cedar.” It produces great boughs so that “birds of every kind will nest under it.” This growth is certain for “I am the LORD; I have spoken, and I will perform it.” We all know how trees grow: gradually over time, and very large over head.

In Ezekiel 47:1–9 redemption flows forth from God’s temple in stages. The waters of life initiate from under the altar, first to the ankles (v 3), then to the knees (v 4a), then to the loins (v 4b), then it “was a river that I could not ford” (v 5). This is the river of life (v 9). It gradually flows ever deeper.

In Matthew 13 the Kingdom Parables speak of the kingdom’s increase in size and gradual influence. Matthew 13:3–9 portrays the kingdom as scattered seed that gradually grows to bear abundant fruit. Matthew 13:31–33 speaks of its growth as that of a mustard seed, which gradually becomes a great plant, and as a little leaven that gradually leavens three bushels of meal. In Mark 4:26– 29, God’s kingdom begins as mere seed (v 26), then it puts forth the blade, then the head, the mature grain (v 27). Gradually, over time.

postmillennialism-mathison


Postmillennialism
By Keith Mathison
The promises of the gospel offer hope of a brighter future for the families and nations of the earth. Mathison’s an optimistic eschatology supported by biblical, historical, and theological considerations.

See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com


Thus, is the Gradualism Principle. But now what about the Now/Not Yet Principle?

The Now/Not Yet Principle

As noted above, the Now/Not Yet Principle coheres well with the Gradualism Principle. Basically the Now/Not Yet Principle teaches that certain prophetic expectations are stated in the NT as coming to pass in the first century. These prophetic fulfillments are spoken of in such a way that we would think it involved a good college basketball player who is “one and done” (he takes one year of college, and that is all of his college “career”).

Though certain prophetic issues are stated as coming to pass, the Now/Not Yet Principle requires that they follow the pattern of Karen Carpenter’s suggestion, “We Have Only Just Begun.” That is, the kingdom does come in the first century, but it is not present in its final, fullest expression. Also we read that Christ defeats his enemies at the cross, but that those enemies are not yet fully destroyed. And so forth.

For instance, we see the Now/Not Yet Principle at work when we read Heb. 2:8. Notice the bold statement that appears to declare the full subjugation of Christ’s enemies: “You have put all things in subjection under his feet” (Heb. 2:8a). But this is immediately followed by an historical observation that qualifies the statement: Heb. 2:8b adds: “For in subjecting all things to him, He left nothing that is not subject to him. But now we do not yet see all things subjected to him.”

Thus, the NT teaches that he has subjugated his enemies beneath his feet. But also that he has not! Paradoxically as it may sound, both are true — based on the Now/Not Yet Principle. To put it another way, he has legally effected subjugation of his enemies, but he has yet to historically effect their subjection (this is what postmillennialism strives toward).

Similarly, we have two parables of Christ regarding a wedding feast. And they appear contradictory. Unless we recognize the Now/Not Yet Principle. Let me explain.


Your Hope in God’s World (Kenneth Gentry)
5 DVDs; 5 lectures
This series of lectures presents the theological and exegetical argument for the postmillennial hope in our fallen world. The last lecture answers the major practical, theological, and exegetical objections to postmillennialism. An excellent series for both introducing and refreshing one’s understanding of postmillennialism.
See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com


In Matt. 22:1–14 Jesus gives a parable that speaks of the wedding feast as a present reality. In fact, the negative point of the parable reads: “When the king came in to look over the dinner guests, he saw a man there who was not dressed in wedding clothes” (Matt. 22:11).

But later in Matt. 25:1–13 the wedding feast appears to be wholly future. There we read: “The kingdom of heaven will be comparable to ten virgins, who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom” (Matt. 25:1). The point of this parable is its future reality: “Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour” (Matt. 25:13).

Thus, the wedding feast is a past reality (begun in the first century) and is a future reality (toward which we labor). Consequently, it is both past and future.

The failure to realize this Now/Not Yet Principle has tripped up dispensationalists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Hyper-preterists, and others. Don’t you follow the testimony of Elvis Presley, when he sang, “I Slipped, I Stumbled, I Fell.”


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2 thoughts on “A FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLE IN ESCHATOLOGY

  1. Elijah Hubler May 24, 2019 at 6:34 pm

    Good article!

    I’ve heard the now/not yet principle be used to say Matthew 24 (foe example) speaks to both the coming of Christ in judgement on Jerusalem in A.D. 70 (as the “now”) and that Matthew 24 is not completely fulfilled yet and there is still a not yet. May I ask what you would say to that?

  2. Kenneth Gentry May 30, 2019 at 8:47 am

    You probably haven’t expressed your question properly. By speaking of “Matthew 24” you necessarily have to recognize that not all of Matthew 24 is fulfilled. As I argue elsewhere (along with R. T. France, J. M. Kik, J. A. Gibbs, and others), Matt 24:4-33 refer to AD 70, whereas after the transition text (vv. 34-36) Jesus turns his attention to the Final Judgment. AD 70 is a pointer to the Final Judgment.

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