Eschatology and the Black Lives Matter Movement
Even today there still exists in the South—and in certain areas of the North—the license that our society allows to unjust officials who implement their authority in the name of justice to practice injustice against minorities.
Where, in the days of slavery, social license and custom placed the unbridled power of the whip in the hands of overseers and masters, today—especially in the southern half of the nation—armies of officials are clothed in uniform, invested with authority, armed with the instruments of violence and death and conditioned to believe that they can intimidate, maim or kill Negroes with the same recklessness that once motivated the slaveowner.
If one doubts this conclusion, let him search the records and find how rarely in any southern state a police officer has been punished for abusing a Negro.
-Martin Luther King, Jr.
The above is not an excerpt from a 2015 New York Times article. Sadly, it is a quote from Martin Luther King Jr.’s Why We Can’t Wait, published in 1964. After reading a powerfully prophetic, yet sobering text, the question forces itself upon the reader: How is it in 2015, the plight of black people is still one of restricted agency, subjugation, vulnerability, and oppression at the hands of those who have sworn to “serve and protect”?
The answers are vast and deep: white supremacy, systemic racism, anti-black violence and sentiment, “stop and frisk” laws, housing discrimination (which manufactured present day ghettos), and the militarization of the police, which target inner city residents like a battalion of combat soldiers hunting down terrorists.
The above list is not exhaustive, and while those answers are certainly significant factors that continue to oppress black people to this day, they are only symptoms of an insidious problem: sin.
I am not using sin as a trite cliché to terminate meaningful discussion whenever tension bubbles up and exceeds our comfort. Rather, I am using sin in its most biblical sense, full of transcendent and cosmic implications. Sin is the beginning of the symptomatic and everyday problems black people experience , and it is not generic.
Sin is Specific
Sin is first a personal and specific assault against God, and then man. It is insufficient to define sin as just “missing the mark,” for that definition minimizes the severity of sin.
Now it is true we sin unintentionally, as Leviticus 4 attests, but we also sin intentionally. Our first father, Adam, sinned specifically when he disobeyed God’s command not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil: “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food…she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened (Gen. 3:6-7).
The Fall ensued, and sin was imputed to Adam and his descendants. That single decisive act of sin had cosmic implications and ushered in the present evil age along with its unholy trio of sin, death, and misery.
Adam’s specific act of sin is the reason why we must continually declare the obvious truth that Black Lives Matter. Sin has permeated our entire being, and it is the sole source of white supremacist violence, anti-black sentiment, systemic racism, and subjugation.
Thankfully, God has graciously provided a means for our deliverance from the present-evil age through the gospel of his Son, Jesus Christ, which Genesis 3:14-15 reveals in seed form, “The Lord God said to the serpent, ‘Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock…I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.’”
The promise of Christ bruising the serpent’s head points to Christ’s sinless life, his perfect fulfillment of Old Testament laws, and his triumph over Satan at the cross (Col. 2:15). The bruising of Christ’s heel by the serpent refers to the various sufferings Christ endured while on earth, which finds its climax at the cross.
Just as Adam’s sin ushered in the present-evil age (Gen. 3:14-15), with sin, death, and misery, Christ’s advent brought forth the cosmological antithesis—the new age—which holds tangible implications for the movement Black Lives Matter.
Eschatology is the study of last things, pertaining to Christ’s return. In the New Testament, Christ’s advent brings into view inaugurated eschatology, which is the arrival of the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is connected with the idea of a future inheritance.
However, the kingdom of God is not only future—it is also present.
Colossians 1:13-14 highlights the present reality of the kingdom of God: “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
Inaugurated eschatology, which is also known as the “already, but not yet,” falls within a two-age eschatological framework. The two ages are as follows: The first is the present-evil age, which is marked by sin, death, and misery (Gen. 3:14-15; Titus 2:12; Eph. 5:16). The second is the new age which is the final order marked by righteousness, peace, joy, justice, and eternal life. This begs the question: What is the decisive point in history that inaugurated the new age?
Hebrews 9:26 provides the definitive answer: “For then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.”
The author of Hebrews locates “the end of the ages” at the cross when Jesus puts away sin. It is at the cross you have an intrusion of the eschatological judgment that is supposed to come at the end of the world.
The reason why Christ puts away sin with his sacrifice is because he stands before the tribunal of judgment meant for the end of the age. The judgment reserved at the end of the age for those who would believe in Christ, fell on him at the beginning of the age.
The overlapping of the ages provides a macroscopic framework for understanding the tension part of the Black Lives Matter movement. On one hand, white supremacist violence, anti-black sentiment, and systemic racism are a by-product of the present-evil age. On the other hand, the fight to uphold the dignity, significance, image of God, and personhood of black people finds its inception in the intrinsic value God has bestowed upon all men (Gen. 1:26-27).
Not only that, this fight is anchored in the eschatological blessings of the new age, such as righteousness, joy, peace, and justice. Believers and unbelievers can affirm this because all men know the God who has made himself known through his “invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature” (Rom. 1:20). But the unbelievers’ knowledge of God is distorted by their suppression of the truth.
Therefore, when we assert that Black Lives Matter, we are simply affirming what God established when he made man and woman in his image (Gen. 1:26-27). Although the new age has broken in, we are living in the overlap of the ages, which is the time between Christ’s resurrection and his second coming.
During this time period, and by virtue of our union with Christ, our lives will be marked by suffering, for it has been “granted to us to suffer” (Phil. 1:29).
Paul captures the reality of this tension in 2 Corinthians 6:8-10: “ We are treated as impostors, and yet are true…as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.”
Suffering is a reality for us all, and we must resist the urge to overemphasize suffering to the exclusion of the in-breaking of the new age with its blessings of righteousness, peace, joy, justice, and power—to do so leads to fatalism. Conversely, we must not overemphasize the new age to the exclusion of the present-evil age because that leads to triumphalism and an over-realized eschatology, which is an unrealistic expectation that the blessings reserved for Christ’s return ought to be fully manifested in this age.
While it is true we are a people marked by suffering, ultimately we are characterized by hope , and this hope is not an abstract concept. This hope is a person—the Lord Jesus Christ.
Our deliverance from the present-evil age is actual—not simply future. This is what has been enacted in the life of believers through the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Christ.
Black Lives Matter
What does any of this have to do with the Rekia Boyds, Eric Garners, Dejerria Bectons, Kalief Browders, Aiyana-Stanley Jones’, and Tamir Rices of America? This has everything to do with the Black Lives Matter movement because those of us who believe in Christ have been delivered from this present-evil age (Gal. 1:4; Eph. 2:2; Rom. 12:2).
Additionally, because Christ has ascended and is seated at the right hand of God, we are also seated with Christ in heavenly places and have been released from our ultimate oppression, which was bondage to sin.
Believers are new creations living in the overlapping ages; as such, we are to bring the blessings of the new age to bear in the present. The blessings of righteousness, joy, peace, justice, and power ought to tangibly manifest itself in our actions and engagement with the Black Lives Matter movement, as we seek to live out the Gospel in our communities and spheres of influence.
The Gospel contains indicatives, which tell us who we are and whose we are, and it also contains imperatives, which tell us what we ought to do in light of Christ’s finished work. We are to preach and live the Gospel.
With regard to Black Lives Matter, the gospel calls us to enter into the sufferings of the afflicted and “mourn with those who mourn” (Rom. 12:15). We are also called to bring the blessings of the new age to bear in the lives of those who are oppressed. In doing so, these actions are a powerful Gospel witness and illuminate what it truly means to be the salt and light of the world (Matt. 5:13-16).
By the grace of God imparted to believers, “we learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression, bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause” (Isaiah 1:17). The church ought to reflect this reality analogically and practically, all the while bearing in mind we live in the already but not yet.
Already, But Not Yet
Believers must learn to be comfortable living in the tension of the two ages. It is necessary Christians hold the categories of the present-evil age and the new age, in a simultaneous balance. An overemphasis on either can lead us to err.
This means we expect progress and advocate for it, because we live in the new age, while recognizing change is slow moving, and will not come easily due to opposing forces of sin, death, and misery in the present-evil age.
Nevertheless, we press on and advocate for the marginalized with sober expectation, but expectation nonetheless. Figuratively, the Gospel has hands and feet, and it embraces the hopeless, afflicted and marginalized. Yet it also convicts oppressors and reveals their brokenness and need for Christ who is the hope of Glory (Col. 1:27), for the oppressed and the oppressor.
For an incisive treatment on several ways believers can practically engage #BlackLivesMatter, listen to my audio lecture entitled, “Why We Can’t Wait: Eschatology and #BlackLivesMatter