In the introduction of his new commentary on Hebrews, Tom Schreiner covers four different structures under the heading of Biblical and Theological Structures. These four structures are
(2) Already-But-Not-Yet Eschatology
(4) the Spatial Orientation of Hebrews
This time we’ll look at the second structure, Already-But-Not-Yet Eschatology in Hebrews.
Schreiner defines already-but-not-yet eschatology in this way: “God’s eschatological promises have been inaugurated through Jesus Christ but not consummated. Fulfillment has truly come in Jesus Christ, but the fulfillment isn’t complete” (31). Basically, OT prophecies are being fulfilled, but are not yet completely fulfilled. Read on to see how this plays out in Hebrews, along with providing examples of what the definition above really means (especially if you’ve never heard of the term “already-but-not-yet”).
As we saw in my previous post, Jesus fulfills Ps 110.1 and is sitting and reigning at the right hand of God. As is so, “the last days have arrived (1:2), for the Messiah reigns as the OT prophesied” (33). Hebrews 9.26b says, “But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.“ Yet if Jesus has appeared at “the end of the ages” and reigns in heaven, why are there still enemies (Heb 1.13; 10.13)?
Hebrews 2.8b says, “Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him.” But one day the heavens and earth will be shaken and removed, and all that will be left is God’s kingdom (12.26-28)
The “not-yet” part of the program requires faith (10.39-11.40). Schreiner adds, “If the promise were visible (cf. 11:3) and the reward were given now (11:6), faith in God’s future promises would be superfluous” (35).
We see in 2 Corinthians 1.20 that all of God’s promises are fulfilled in Christ, and from that verse until chapter 7.1, Paul gives us a list of promises that have come through Jesus, though some of them we do not see now. We have been anointed, sealed, and guaranteed by the Holy Spirit (1.21-22), and we have life by the Spirit (3.3, 6). But while we have a building from God that is eternal in the heavens (5.1), we cannot currently see it (it is “in the heavens”). So what do we do? “We walk by faith, not by sight” (5.7).
So again in Hebrews, the author says in 10.10, “And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all,” and it is through “the blood of the covenant” (10.29). Sanctification is a completed reality. It’s a done deal. And yet the readers (including us) are to “strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (12.14). We also must recognize that we are not yet completely sanctified, as we have the command to “strive… for the holiness” if we want to see the Lord. We are perfected once and for all (10.14), and yet we are to strive for perfection (6.1) (p 34-45).
BTS: Already-But-Not-Yet Eschatology in Hebrews