Ministry Resources

In Down Payment

Author: Dr. Craig Keener

Did you know that we have already begun to taste the future world? We are visitors in this age; our true home is in the age to come. That does not mean that we should be irrelevant to this age; rather, it means that we should be all the more relevant, but the substance of our relevance is not following the fads, fashions and whims of our culture. Rather, we shed the light of God’s kingdom, with its transforming vision of justice, peace and righteousness, in a world that has forgotten the only true and transcendent source of hope.

Hebrews 6:5 says that those who believe in Christ “have tasted of the powers of the age to come.” Likewise, Paul declares that Christ delivered us from (literally) “this present evil age” (Galatians 1:4). He also warns us not to be “conformed to this age, but be transformed by your mind being made new,” (Romans 12:2). These writers were simply following what Jesus had already revealed. “If I drive out demons by the Spirit of God,” Jesus announced, “then God’s kingdom has come upon you,” (Matthew 12:28).

The Future Kingdom

Jesus’s contemporaries were expecting the messianic king and future kingdom to come soon; they were expecting the dead to be raised and that God would pour out his Spirit. But the king, Jesus, who is yet to come, has already come the first time. Although we still await the resurrection of our bodies, Jesus has already been raised from the dead in history. And since the day of Pentecost God has been pouring out the Spirit. In the language of many scholars, the kingdom is “already/not yet”: the consummation remains future, but we are already living with some of the benefits of that future kingdom.

“The world around ought to be able to look at the church and see a foretaste of what heaven will be like.”

This future reality invades our lives by the Spirit. The Spirit is promised for the future age, but through him we can taste God’s presence and power in our lives in the present. That is why Paul speaks of the Spirit as the “down payment” of our future inheritance (2 Corinthians 1:22; 5:5; Ephesians 1:13-14). The Greek word sometimes rendered “down payment” here was used in ancient business documents for the first installment: no mere verbal guarantee, it is the beginning experience of what is promised. By experiencing the Spirit, we are experiencing a foretaste of the glories of the coming world in God’s presence.

Unseen and Unheard

That is why Paul wrote, “The things that eye has not seen nor ear heard, nor have occurred to the human heart—(so it is with) the things that God has prepared for those who love him. But God has revealed them to us by the Spirit,” (1 Corinthians 2:9-10). Because the Spirit is intimate with God the Father’s heart, Paul explains, we can know God’s heart for us (1 Corinthians 2:10-16). Through the Spirit, we have a foretaste of the beautiful intimacy that we will share with God through all the ages of eternity.

The Future Age

We belong to a future age; let us not forget that crucial feature of our identity. The world around ought to be able to look at the church and see a foretaste of what heaven will be like. If they cannot, it is because we are living short of our birthright in Christ. May we dare to believe what God declares about our identity in Christ, as partakers of a new creation that began when Jesus rose from the dead.

Craig is professor of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary; he is author of The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament.

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