All talk about God in Scripture relates to God’s self-revelation and desire to be with His beloved creation.
Eschatology talks about the coming of God. Another word for “coming” that we sometimes use in theology is the world “advent.” Advent literally means “coming” or “arrival.” Though eschatology, both the word and the field of study, speaks about issues of the end, in Christian theology this end is always occasioned by the arrival of God, the coming of God into human affairs, in the realm of time and space. Understood in this way, there is an advent character to the whole Bible. All talk about God in Scripture relates to God’s self-revelation and desire to be with His beloved creation.
Notice that in the grand sweep of the Bible narrative the coming of God to our world happens in four movements—or three acts of a play and then the final curtain. This, however, would be one of those stories that does not say “the end” on the last frame of the movie, but “the beginning,” or “the New Earth,” to quote Revelation 21.
Act 1: Creation and Covenant
In the beginning God created a perfect world and placed in it two human beings, created in God’s own image—a man and a woman who would enjoy God’s continual presence. They would reflect God’s character and glory in the world and be God’s active agents in the creation. After Adam and Eve had eaten the forbidden fruit, Genesis 3:8 wistfully records what the reader can only assume was a regular occurrence in the Garden of Eden: “They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden” (NKJV). Here was God walking and talking with Adam and Eve. They enjoyed the unfettered and unmediated presence of God. They and all creation were in perfect harmony with God, the Creator, whose personal presence was with them.
This creation was good and perfect, in the sense that all parts of God’s creation operated in harmony. After the man and woman sinned against God by not trusting, God’s immediate presence was withdrawn and an angel was posted to guard the Tree of Life. This clearly signaled a serious and significant loss. Without God’s intervention, the creation was in peril. But God did intervene, instituting the covenant, His promise to restore the original creation order of peace and harmony. One day, God promised, there would be no death or sorrow and any kind of evil in the world anymore. The covenant was expressed and repeated through the ages by God’s faithful representatives: prophets, priests, poets, and philosophers. Their writings comprise the Hebrew Scriptures.
Act 2: Incarnation
The most striking revelation of God’s presence happened in the birth of Christ, which Christians understand to be the incarnation of God in human flesh. This, of course, says quite a lot. What we mean is that God is uniquely revealed in the person of Jesus, whom Christians call the Christ, or the “Anointed One,” the Messiah. He is both 100-percent God and 100-percent human.
Matthew considers the birth of Jesus to be the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14, that Messiah would be born of a virgin. And notice that He is called Immanuel, which means “God with us.” This is why the birth of Jesus, as the God-Man, is often called the First Advent or First Coming. But this isn’t entirely true. God has appeared to people in various ways in times past. But now God has spoken to us by His Son coming to live with us (Heb. 1:1, 2). This coming of God is called “Incarnation” and its effect is reconciliation. The coming of God in Jesus the Christ, His subsequent life, death, and resurrection, achieved reconciliation for all humanity.
Act 3: Pentecost
Forty days after the resurrection of Jesus, the disciples were faced with the absence of Jesus/God. His final words to His followers are recorded in first chapter of Acts: “When they met together, they asked him, ‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them: ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. ‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven’ ” (Acts 1:6-11, NIV).
The purpose of the coming of the Holy Spirit was multifaceted, according to Jesus’ teaching. The Holy Spirit, understood by Christian theology to be the third person of the Godhead, would comfort and guide the followers of Jesus in His absence. The Spirit would be the presence of Jesus to His people. The Spirit would instruct them, remind them of what Jesus taught them, give them words to speak, and lead them into all truth.
The second promise, made by the two angels on the day of Jesus’ ascension, points us to the fourth movement of the advent of God in history, the Consummation.
This fourth and final coming of God is what many Christians and non-Christians alike think of and frequently refer to as the Second Coming or Second Advent. It is second to Jesus’ incarnation in His first appearing. But if we look at the whole sweep of Christian history, we see that this is the fourth major movement of what could be described as God’s unrelenting effort to restore creation to its original beauty and perfection.
The final coming of God is to establish God’s reign on earth once and for all. In the broad view, God’s ultimate plan is to restore Earth to its original, pristine condition and set up His kingdom here and reign on earth. God’s final coming achieves this restoration. What was spoken of by the prophets, inaugurated by Jesus, will be finally complete. All wrongs are put to right. All injustice is eradicated. Sin is no more.
Sorrow and crying are gone. “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple’ ” (Rev. 21:1-3, 22, NIV).
Notice that “the dwelling of God is with men” and in verse 22, there is no temple in the city. Remember, the temple was the way God mediated divine presence to human beings throughout history. The temple was the dwelling place of God among people. It was a way of mediating and even moderating God’s powerful presence. But now, in the consummation, no mediation is necessary. God lives directly among His people.*