Many people think of eschatology only with respect to events surrounding the return of Christ. However, the coming of the Spirit at Pentecostal is eschatological in as much as it both fulfills previous expectations regarding the coming of the Spirit and represents a promise of the future eschatological work of God.
There are many places where Old Testament authors expect a future outpouring of the Spirit (for example, Ezekiel 39:29, Isaiah 32:15, Joel 2:28). These eschatological expectations are fulfilled in the New Testament on the day of Pentecost when the Spirit is poured out (Acts 2). As a result, Luke confirms in Acts that it is “the last days” (2:17) and Paul states that “the promise of the Spirit” has come (Gal 3:14). The coming of the Spirit represents eschatological fulfillment.
The presence of the Spirit also represents eschatological anticipation as we live in what theologians call the already/not yet of the eschaton or kingdom of God. For example, with respect to anticipation, Paul explicitly states that God “set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come” (2 Cor 1:22, similarly 2 Cor 5:5; Eph 1:13-14, and 4:30).
The coming of the Holy Spirit, therefore, means that we live in the “last days” but that there is still more to come in God’s final work. As a person has “shared in the Holy Spirit,” that person experiences “the powers of the coming age” (Heb 6:4-5).
Our experience of the Spirit reminds us that we are in the last days and, therefore, that we are to look forward to the return of Jesus Christ. I am not arguing for a frenetic urgency, which might lead to failure due to a lack of planning or preparation for the future (one can maintain patience with eschatological anticipation). Rather, the eschatological presence of the Spirit serves as a necessary reminder to those who are quite comfortable in this world that this present state is not the end. Early Pentecostals emphasized that we were living in the last days precisely because of their experience of the Spirit. They did not need someone to give a prophetic interpretation of the political situation in Israel to convince them that they were living in the last days; they already knew that, because they had received the Spirit of Pentecost who was poured out “in the last days” (Acts 2:17). Given this recognition, Christians must continually “be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him” (Mat 24:44). So also, as believers are “looking forward to this, [one must] make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with” God (2 Pet 3:14).
In the meantime, I echo Paul’s prayer for the Romans, “that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Rom 15:13).
This blog entry is based on parts of a paper I presented at the Society for Pentecostal Studies (SPS) called “Interpreting the Holy Spirit Eschatologically—With Implications for Ministry and Spirit Baptism.” The paper was subsequently published in the Journal of Pentecostal Theology. See here for more info.