In case you didn’t realise, Jesus has not come back. We still live in a broken world. Suicide and mental health are significant issues. Rape, murder, broken families, discrimination, inequality are pervasive in 2022. The world is not what anyone wants it to be. Christians flip through the pages of their bibles as they desperately cling on to promises and vague out-of-context passages to make it through another day. Prayer feels like we’re screaming into the wind, and the rest of us just lay staring, wondering if any of it matters. Why talk to a God that doesn’t seem to talk back? Why read a book that seems so abused, out of place, and irrelevant? Why gather with people I don’t like and are just plain annoying? Recently, I wrote, “to be human means to be so caught up in the person of God that you bring God’s presence into the world around us.” Yet, how can we get so caught up in who God is when it feels like years since I’ve experienced Him? How can we represent and mediate God’s presence when we often don’t even feel it ourselves?
In this present age, the Christian wonders about the Earth as an exile (1 Peter 2:11) as they painfully await the return of their King. Not all of us make it. Some of us lose faith. Everything that we are told feels like a lie. Life didn’t get better. The grass wasn’t greener. Why were we told this? We lived every day believing the depression would get better, that the bank account would get bigger, that we would get that job, that partner, that life. Jesus wants to bless us; he has a wonderful plan for our lives, right? Maybe. Define wonderful. Almost every character used by God in the Scriptures were alone, suffered, and were killed by other people. Not much of a life. Yet here we are throwing around the Gospel like it’s a cheap trick or pyramid scheme. What we need is a proper perspective on what theologians call the “now and not yet.”
Now and Not Yet
The “now and not yet” is the present tension, age, and context that we live in that theologians refer to when trying to apply the Bible. For example, the atoning work of Christ achieved many things, one of which was freedom from sin. However, as Christians, we might be free from sin’s power over us, but we aren’t free from the presence of sin and temptation. The removal of sin will happen in the future, and when we have present victory over sin, that is a foretaste of the new heavens and earth.
Considering we’ve already alluded to it, let’s look at the famous verse Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” This verse has been taken out of context more times than I can count and is applied often to the Christian life in unhelpful and toxic ways. I have seen this verse used as a way for Christians to believe that God would prosper them financially, and I have seen this verse used to give a grand destiny to a Christian who is a little lost in life. These are wrong ways to interpret and apply the Bible. First, we must start with the meaning the author intended for their original audience before extrapolating any modern implications.
Furthermore, when we do get around to any modern implications, we must have interpreted the text through the work and person of Christ and then to us. Jeremiah 29:11 is a great verse, but it was written to the Israelites who had been conquered by Babylon, oppressed, and led off into exile from their home. For the original audience, Jeremiah is giving the people who have lost their national identity, home, and culture hope that Yahweh has not abandoned them. Despite their circumstances, Jeremiah promises that Yahweh plans to make them a great people once again. The problem is, this restoration never really happened in Israel’s history. Even when they returned to rebuild their home, they were still conquered and annexed by the Roman Empire as they still felt exiled in their land under foreign power. Israel was waiting for the messiah that would then free them from the shackles of Rome and bring in the utopian age that they had under David and Solomons reign. When Jesus finally comes on to the scene, Israel gets a saviour they weren’t expecting (hence the hate from the religious leaders of His time). Instead of military might, they got the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9). Instead of slaying their enemies, He dies for them (John 3:16 Romans 5:10). Instead of raising the religious leaders to higher places of authority, he raises the weak and marginalised. Jesus tried to correct their interpretation by explaining how what He was doing fulfilled the Old Testament and how everything in the Law and the Prophets were about Him (Luke 24:27; John 5:39).
So when I read Jeremiah 29:11 as being fulfilled in Christ, I believe that Jesus and, in turn, His people, the Church, the true Israel (see: Matthew 3:9; Romans 4:13-14; Galatians 3:18, 29) see this played out in new ways. Does Jesus have plans to prosper His people? Yes. When will we see this prospering? We taste it now when we’re blessed with financial provision, food, clothes, that promotion, but the promise sees its complete fulfilment in the New Heavens and Earth. This interpretive move is what we call the now and not yet. We taste the prosperous age now, at times. Yet we inherit it fully when King Jesus makes all things new.
Jeremiah 29:11 is one of many examples I could give to highlight the importance of understanding the now and not yet reality of the time we live. We cannot over-realise our expectations of the promises of God, and yet we cannot under-realise them. God genuinely wants His people to prosper, yet life isn’t without its brokenness and sin. Jeremiah promises that God will prosper His people in the next age, which will come to pass. Yet, for now, we groan with creation as we anticipate His return and taste the bittersweetness of life.