Monday, May 3, 2010

Fesko's "Last Things First" 10

Just as Christology defines anthropology, eschatology defines protology; due to the Fall, one must know what will be in order to know what ought to have been. God’s covenants with men have repeatedly incorporated the idea of the necessity of the satisfaction of dominion mandate on the condition of perfect obedience, but to what end has not yet been examined in detail. In the last chapter of “Last Things First,” Fesko lengthens excursus on the Sabbath from consideration strictly within the circumstances of the Mosaic covenant to the greater context as bridge between protology and eschatology. Fesko’s thesis in this chapter is that, had Adam completed his probative labors, his reward would have been a permanent Sabbath, a rest which, simply put, would have consisted of eternal fellowship with God. If this “Sabbatical principle” is true, it would mean that eschatology precedes and even in some sense defines soteriology, a concept which would certainly have an impact on perspectives within modern theology.

A bilateral covenant possesses stipulations which have a terminus; a covenant with conditions that cannot be met is nonsensical. When considering whether not Genesis 1-2 contains evidence which could substantiate a claim that the ultimate end of Adam’s covenantal work was the Sabbatical principle, it is important to keep in mind that whatever else the case may be, had Adam completed his tasks, something would have had to happen. Merely from a probabilistic standpoint, then, that Adam’s efforts to subdue the surrounding disorder was analogous to God’s creative activity would at least mean it is reasonable to suppose that, upon the complete subjugation of all things to himself as God’s right hand, Adam would have, like God, rested. Also, if the sacramental function of the tree of life did not represent eternal life, it is difficult to imagine what it could have represented. Eating from the fruit of the tree of knowledge cost Adam his life; ostensibly, eating the fruit of the tree of life would have antithetically rewarded Adam with eternal life, life in which Adam would have gloried in God’s presence with His extensive family, ceasing any further duties which could have cost Adam his life.

Because Adam sinned, the means by which the Adamic work must be appropriated to those who themselves do not possess the capacity to satisfy the covenant of works is different. However, God’s plan throughout redemptive history is consistent with His design for the first Adam: He didn’t change the vocation for the second Adam (prophet, priest, and king), He didn’t alter the covenantal work for the second Adam (the dominion mandate), and He didn’t compromise the means by which the second Adam’s work must be accomplished (perfect obedience). In light of the harmony between the two federal heads of the covenant themselves, then, the burden of proof is on one who believes God has purposed the eschatological goal of the second Adam’s work to be different from that which He purposed as the eschatological goal of the first’s work to explain why he believes so. By considering the import of the Sabbath throughout redemptive history, then, one should have a fair understanding of its connection to Genesis 1-2.

As was mentioned in a previous chapter, Fesko points out that, insofar as the Sabbath pertains to soteriology, it is evident in passages like Exodus 31:13 and Hebrews 4 that salvation must be by grace alone through faith alone. The Sabbatical typifies God’s work to save us and our inability to do anything to cooperatively merit it, which, in redemptive history, is the point at which the foreshadowed need for Jesus and salvation “solus Christus” becomes clear. To work on the Sabbath must merit death (Exodus 31:14-15), because such work suggests that the worker believes he can merit his own salvation (Romans 6:23). As the fourth commandment in the 10 commandments and the sign of the covenant itself, the Mosaic covenant was the first instance since the Fall that the concept of the Sabbath enjoyed explicit emphasis. If one can discern the way in which Israel – who was, like Adam, a son of God (Exodus 4:22, cf. Luke 3:38) and priestly kingdom (Exodus 19:6, cf. Genesis 1:28) placed in Paradise (Exodus 33:1-3, cf. Genesis 1-2) – related to the Sabbath – given to each son of God upon completion of the creation of the contextual tabernacles (Exodus 25-31, cf. Genesis 1-2) – the protological relation between Adam and the Sabbath can in turn be better understood.

Of course, that the Sabbath possesses a soteric quality in the Mosaic covenant (e.g. Exodus 31:13) is disanalogous to its function in pre-redemptive history, but the antitypical reality to which each concept points is the same: rest or cessation from work (Exodus 31:15, cf. Genesis 2:2-3). The author of Hebrews, commenting on Numbers 14 in chapters 3-4, sheds more light on Israel’s relation to the Sabbath to stress the necessity of a persevering faith to his readers (Hebrews 4:3); it is noteworthy that he equates true believers with God’s household, which recalls one to Adam’s office as priest within the garden-temple (4:6). The author’s primary point, made in 4:8-11, is that entering the promised land itself was no more what it meant for Israel to enter the Sabbath than it was for Adam to simply dwell in Eden. This presupposes, however, that there is a real Sabbath into which the people of Israel – and his readers – would enter: a true, antitypical Sabbath which can only be attained if one perseveres in faith (4:3). This binds the protological to the eschatological. Each respective paradise was meant to be a type of the heavenly Paradise into which each person would really enter upon completion of the stipulations of the covenant, which reveals more clearly why God regarded the Sabbath as an everlasting sign between God and His people (Exodus 31:17).

Because only Christ could complete the covenant of works subsequent to Adam’s fall, He must and has entered into the Sabbath rest first (Hebrews 10:12-13). An important point that the author makes is that while Christ’s labors have ceased, the outworking of those labors continues. The creation is not “consummated,” but it is ensured. The dominion mandate – specifically, kingship – is mentioned in 10:13, but one could just as easily apply this concept to Christ’s role as intercessor, advocate, multiplier of children in the divine image, &c. His life and death, however, satisfied all the requisite demands of the covenant of works and its curse, so He really did complete all His labors on the sixth day of the week, resting on the Sabbath (John 19:31). Christ was aware His resurrection would begin a new creation from the beginning of His ministry (Luke 4:18-21), and the year of Jubilee to which He referred is, in fact, the Sabbath year (Exodus 23:10-11, Leviticus 25:7-18). This inaugurated new creation begets a new Sabbath day: Sunday, the first of the week on which Christ was raised (John 20:1). The reason is simple: unlike the covenant of works and Mosaic covenant, each of which illustrated the necessity of working for one’s salvation in order to be saved and enter rest by placing the Sabbath on the last day of the week, Christ’s completed work demands a change in perspective as to how one views salvation and God’s covenant with man – i.e. sola gratia – and correlative change in the structure of the week. Because Christ’s work has already guaranteed the covenant of works is fulfilled for believers, rest precedes work in new creation. Having been baptized into the new creation by the washing of regeneration, the believer exists in the “already-not yet” age in which there is work yet to be done (Romans 6:4), although it is work which Christ has already purchased.

Any covenant between God and man has a purpose. Because Adam sinned, it is necessary to examine the last things to know what the first things ought to have yielded. Because the eschatological goal is rest in every covenant in redemptive history – not to mention the scores of other parallels between the covenant of works, its republications, and the new covenant – it is illogical to assume that the Sabbatical principle has no roots in protology and covenant theology. Because the Sabbath is imbued with soteric implications since the Fall, however, the telos of the new creation will be different than the old; the elect will be clothed in Christ’s righteousness (Revelation 7:9-14) rather than stand naked before God. Christ’s work does not merely expiate sin and put mankind back in the prelapsarian state, His righteousness is imputed to believers, who are thereby regarded as having completed the covenant of works. One should consider that whatever occurs is inevitably a means towards this end, which actually promotes eschatology as among the first of doctrines which should be taught and considered in one’s hermeneutic approach to Scripture. In other words: “Last Things First.”

Final observations: This was simply a great book. It’s certainly inspired thoughts that I’ve never considered and allowed me to better understand the interconnectedness of Scripture. Covenant theology and eschatology were subjects which intrigued me but always seemed to be handled with too little care or in too technical a fashion for me to maintain any attention. This, however, was a meaty book put together in an easy-to-read fashion. I knew Fesko was a great lecturer, now I know he was a great writer. I’ll certainly look into his future works (including a forthcoming book on baptism), and I encourage anyone who found this review helpful to grab this and other books by the author. Thanks, Dr. Fesko.

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