The Bible's Competing Eschatologies

Despite the fact that my blog would lead persons to believe I've been taking courses on Mark this semester (actually, I've never had one undergrad or grad course on Mark's Gospel), for the last 7 months, from an academic standpoint I've been working on nothing but the Hebrew Scriptures. Currently, I am translating my way through Micah and yesterday when I crossed paths with Micah 4.1-5 I was stopped dead in my tracks. Here's what those verses say (my rough translation):

(1) And it will be in the end of the days that the mountain of the house of God will be established as chief and it will be lifted up from the hills and His peoples will stream to it. (2) And many nations will come and say, 'Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob and He will instruct us in His ways and we will walk in His paths.' For from Zion the Law shall go forth and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. (3) And He will judge between many peoples and will decide for strong nations far and wide. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation nor will they will no longer learn war. (4) And each one will sit under their vine and fig tree and they will not be made to tremble for this is what the Lord of hosts has spoken. (5) Although all the people will walk, each one in the name of their god, we will walk in the name of the Lord our God forever and ever.

There are a number of fascinating things about this passage. First, notice that it is eschatalogical (e.g. "end of the days"). Second, notice that people are coming to the mountain of God from far and wide and then the word goes back out (e.g. suggesting that the people heeded to God's word). Third, notice that the vision of the end is of national unity (e.g. each person lays down their arms and shuns war; also notice that the people are responsible themselves for doing this, they were not forced by God to do it!). Fourth, notice that each person has their own place (e.g. vine or fig tree) and thus there is equality. Fifth, notice that in verse 5 Micah realizes that right now, though people are following false gods, in the future they will follow the God of Israel but in the meantime, Israel must remain an example to them of what loyalty to YHWH looks like.

Now, what really interests me is that Micah's view of eschatology here is not of an end-time judgment. In fact, Micah says that there will not even be an inkling of a battle!!! He says that all people will come to God, lay down arms, be peaceful, live in equality and have no fear. Notice that there is no judgment or separation! Micah simply envisions the people submitting to God and recognizing Him as the One True God. Needless to say, Micah's vision of the end is quite different from what we read, in say, Mt. 24 where the evil are taken to be judged and the righteous left behind in the new creation. Micah's vision also is a stark contrast with Mt. 25 where the sheep and goats are separated. Thus, what we find here are two competing eschatologies in the Bible.

For many, the logical next step is to ask: How, then, do we reconcile these tensions? I would say, "We don't and we don't try to." Westermann's conclusion to such tensions was to say, 'since the NT is the fulfillment of the first covenant and it has the judgment and separation eschatology, we go with it.' Yet, this answer is not satisfactory to me. I would argue that we let the tensions remain. It is probably more correct to see and take each tradition on its own terms. I don't think it imperative that we try to reconcile two traditions that existed during the biblical periods. In fact, it may be the tensions that can sustain and fuel a sense of urgency in us to make the Gospel known to all the world and to be peacemakers while doing so.


  1. I love that last sentence. In my view, that hits it spot on.

  2. Clay,

    Thanks. I'm glad you found some insight from this post.