(This essay is a close adaptation excerpted from the book Eden’s Bridge: The Marketplace in Creation and Mission, © David B. Doty, 2011, available from the author or from Wipf & Stock Publishers. This essay should be read with the thesis of Eden’s Bridge—the marketplace is an institution of God, implicit in the creation narrative of Genesis 1–2 and vital to God’s mission in the world—in full view.)
There is on our day a great deal of confusion concerning the end times and such. Teleology, the study of design or purpose, has a great deal to say concerning the future as prophesied in the Bible.
Jesus said, “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a witness to all the nations, and then the end shall come” (Matthew 24:14). The “coming end” occurs at a point in time but time is not the focus of the statement. Rather, this end concerns a particular conclusion, in the sense of the adage “the ends justify the means.” The end of which Jesus spoke is the achievement of a new (renewed) status of social and political reality, the end of worldly affairs as they now stand under the corruption of sin. Jesus was speaking of the fulfillment of God’s objectives in human individual and socio-cultural reformation.
Under consideration is the Greek term telos, from which the word teleology is derived, the study of the ultimate purpose or design of things. A telos may correspond to a particular point in time but refers more specifically to a change of status. It is in this sense that “Christ is the end [telos] of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes” (Romans 10:4). To better understand the end of which Jesus spoke, in contrast to a date, consider the use of telos when the angel spoke to Mary of the son she would bear. She was told that Jesus’ kingdom “will have no telos” (Luke 1:33). In other words, the reign of Christ will endure forever unchanged. The Kingdom of God is the end, the culmination of God’s redemptive intention, recovering God’s people and creation from the current corruption of sin.
Different approaches have been tried to bring about Kingdom telos, such as social engineering, progressive politics, and even scientific development. If not inspired and led of God, attempts at political and social innovation will only improve conditions temporarily. The telos we look forward to is the ultimate reign of Christ in human hearts and social institutions. Where Christ rules (now only in part), the future culmination of the Kingdom begins to come into view.
In the church, the telos of God has been hindered by shallow theology, false doctrine, and misguided isolation from the world. Certain theological claims of the past two centuries have unconsciously reverted to a form of Platonic dualism which puts temporal and spiritual realities in opposition. These claims can result in doctrines of escapism and expectations that the earth will meet a cataclysmic end to be replaced by an entirely different planet. The latter, in turn, can undermine creation care as part of the tending the Garden mandate.
The church has also been guilty of devaluing good that comes from secular activities simply because it was carried out by those who deny or ignore Christ, or who do not know of Him at all. If all good things come from God (James 1:17), then the positive impact of humanistic efforts by environmental groups or secular humanitarian agencies, for example, can be attributed to God. They are still dead works however and impute no righteousness to the participants. Opportunities to glorify God and witness to the world are missed when Christians refuse to come along side non-Christians to do good. God is advancing His mission in some cases in spite of the church, such as environmental efforts by secular organizations like Greenpeace, and social advancement activities like the poverty alleviating efforts of the United Nations and other non-government agencies, no matter how misguided or marginally successful either may be.
We are invited to take part in the Kingdom of God now. Evangelism opens the door to personal and social salvation. It is right that preaching “Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2) hold the preeminent position in the ministry of the church to the world. But the Great Commission is to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19). Discipleship empowers the reformation of the human social condition, infusing godly wisdom and power into systemic institutions through the disciples He calls to influential roles within them.
The telos of God’s coming Kingdom is modeled in the Garden narrative. It is to that model of fellowship with God and abundant provision that the world is being returned. In the interim, the powers (social and economic) and principalities (political) against which we contend are largely the corrupted formal (legal) and informal (cultural) institutions of this world. The Kingdom telos will overcome ungodly cultural norms, the greed of economic injustice, the biases of marginalization (racism, for instance), and the towers of corrupt governance.
In the Kingdom telos, overarching human institutions (i) —family, ideology, education, media, the arts and entertainment, commerce, and governance—will be renewed by the power of Christ’s love, to the glory of God and the restoration of Edenic shalom.
Jesus taught a quite a lot about economics, possibly more so than on any other topic, in relating temporal life to the Kingdom of God. The condemnations of Israel by the prophets were largely focused on the disobedience of God’s will in the economic and political oppression of the masses by the wealthy, priestly, and monarchical authorities. An important focus in the Kingdom telos is distributive justice. God gave a redemptive model of human economics in the statements on His provision for Israel in the promised land of Canaan in Deuteronomy 8. He promised that the land would provide for the people in abundance (vv. 7–8) and that they would lack nothing (v. 9), that it would be a place without miskenuth (scarcity or poverty).
In economic studies, scarcity refers to the fact that finite limitations of material and non-material resources preclude fulfilling all human wants. A lecturer once made a logical point: land is not able to produce beyond its natural limitations. That is to say that material scarcity, in some sense or the other, remains. The requirement for Israel to overcome material shortfall (chaser, to lack or need—Deuteronomy 8:9), however, was adherence to God’s commands (v. 6). The eradication of poverty (lack or indigence) hinges on distributive justice founded in the love of God. Jeffrey Sachs, in The End of Poverty, implies that we have the economic ability to eliminate abject poverty in this generation. (ii) But we lack the political will to do so. That is a condition of the heart, not the mind, nor the limitation of the land to produce. While we have the ability to provide for all, deprivation is propagated by political failure motivated by selfishness, i.e., sin.
The end (telos) will look a great deal like the beginning, the shalom of Eden restored. God provided for and orchestrated the division of the land of Canaan (Numbers 26:52–27:11; 34:1–3:34; Joshua 13:1–21:45) such that all would have access to the primary means of production for their perpetual provision. God also commanded the jubilee law that would restore any sold land to the original owners (Leviticus 25:9–55) every fifty years (v. 28). No one was precluded from retaining the wealth they may have accumulated other than real estate.
It is not unreasonable to consider that inordinate concentrations of wealth are outside the will of God, specifically if poverty reigns amongst the masses and over multiple generations. The word-picture of the New Jerusalem, with its foundations made of precious stones and the city of gold, in Revelation 21:18 and 21 is poignant. It shows that when the wealth of the world is appropriated according to God’s will and distributed righteously, it will overflow all need, and that the measures, symbols, and means of accumulated wealth will be moot.
When the end comes, the date will be of little importance. What will be important is the fulfillment of a new (renewed) social and political reality, and the just distribution of wealth.
i. Hillman, Os. Reclaiming the Seven Mountains, 2011. No pages. Online: http://www.reclaim7mountains.com. I have adapted and modified the list of cultural pillars, substituting ideology for religion.
ii. Sachs, Jeffrey D. “Introduction” to The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time, 1–4. New York: Penguin Books, 2005.