Bill Blogsmith

Q. What is the chief end of man? A. Man's chief end is to glorify God, and enjoy him forever. Q. What is thy only comfort in life and death? A. That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ

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I write and illustrate, live in Oregon, love God and my family, and that's about all anyone really needs to know.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

THE RETURN OF THE KING

Introduction

The foundational principle of this article is that all of the Bible is about Jesus Christ, much as a novel is about the main character. Whether Sherlock Holmes actually shows up in every scene in one of Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories about the great detective, the story is about Mr. Holmes. In the same way, the entirety of scripture can be said to be about Jesus our Lord. From beginning to end, the Bible is the tale of redemption, the epic telling of God’s work through history from creation to the future detailed in prophecy. The agent of that redemption is Jesus Christ, through whom the Father redeemed His people and whom the Holy Spirit saves the Children of God for.

It naturally follows then that our view of the end times should be shaped and given its character by this fact, by the understanding that the scriptures are about Jesus Christ, his doing, his dying, his character, and his ultimate return. Naturally, any study of the Eschaton, the end things, must be ultimately about the return of Jesus Christ, but it seems all too often that other ideas take center stage when such a discussion takes place. I firmly believe that the center of scripture, Jesus Christ, must be foremost in any understanding of the Bible and the truth of God whatever the specific topic may be. It is the Love and person, the work and sacrifice of Jesus Christ that shapes the Christian life, the Christian faith, and is the ultimate expression of God’s love and character. If Jesus Christ is The Truth as He says, then how can he not then be the truth about our future as well?


Christ is the Focus of History

We cannot say that God is His creation; Christianity is not a pantheist religion. The chair I sit in may be comfortable, but it is not God. Now it can be said that God is reflected in His creation, that His works cry out in testimony to the glory of God and His infinite wisdom, power, and righteousness, as the Psalms tell us “The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork.” (Psalm 19:1) In the same manner as an artist’s work reflects that artist and has some of him in it, like Michelangelo’s magnificent sculpture of David bears something of Michelangelo’s character and person, we can say that the creation of God bears some of his person. But God is transcendent, that is, we cannot worship a tree and thus be worshipping God, He is separate from creation as the creator that stands apart and above reality.

Further, mankind is not God, we as humans are created beings and not divine. This follows obviously from the previous paragraph, but is also plainly true from scripture “ ‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,’ says the Lord.” (Isaiah 55:8) Humanity is described as “a little lower than the Angels” and as grass, withering and vanishing in a moment.

We thus have an unbridgeable gulf between man and God, a chasm that becomes even more unthinkably vast when we consider the effects of sin on humanity. A pure, perfect God will not abide sin, and a sinful human can never reach God, even assuming such a thing was humanly possible. This impassible divide is the estrangement of God from His creation, the hostility and war between God and man to which Christ brings peace and in which Christ makes us family. Jesus Christ is the bridge between God and man, He is the God-Man that joins creation to its creator.

Consider, Christ is clearly God as taught in scripture, and is also clearly man, he is fully human and fully divine as the creeds state. By being both parts of reality, Christ is in a certain sense the totality of existence! He is both God and creation, He is both divine and human, He is the representative of all that is and all that ever will be. As Jesus told Nathaniel, He is the bridge that crosses the gulf between God and sinful humanity “And He said to him, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.’ ” (John 1:51). We are told in Hebrews that through His work and propitiation on the Cross, Jesus Christ gives us the right to boldly approach the throne of God – the very symbol of God’s righteous judgment.

Jesus Christ is the focus of History, the doing and dying of Jesus Christ is the high point of our reality and of time on earth. All of history before the Advent of Christ looked toward the blessed work of our savior, and all history after his ascension has both looked back at that time and forward to His return. Indeed, all of reality is focused on Jesus Christ until his return; He is the center of reality. Jesus is the world’s beginning “For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him.” (Colossians 1:16) Christ is its end, the alpha and omega of creation.

Due to this, we must view the end of things, the Eschaton, in terms of Jesus Christ, in the context of Him, with Him at the center, reason, and design of what comes to pass. So what does this mean?


Christ Defines the Eschaton

Something useful to think about when considering the end of History is how prophecy works. Now, in the Bible, prophecy has more meaning than simply “predicting the future” but that is the aspect of prophecy that will be considered here. Much of the confusion and oddness that results in looking forward to Christ’s return result from a confusion in how prophecy functions, what it means, and how to understand it. The primary thesis here is that Christ is our focus and how we should understand all things. How does this apply to Prophecy?

Sitting with the complete revelation of God in our hands, we can look at the Bible and think “well its pretty obvious Jesus Christ came to die on the Cross, how could those buffoons in the Old Testament not understand it?” This is rather uncharitable toward those saints of old for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is how God progressively and gradually revealed His will over time. But prophecy does not give direct, clear statement of things to come.

The prophets in the Old Testament spoke of Christ’s coming as if the entirety of God’s plan for History would be completely fulfilled and revealed in an instant, as if the Advent and Parousia (return of Christ) were a single event. In a certain sense, as we’ll see later, they were right – it all is true in Christ. But there are two events in prophecy that were being spoken of as one event.

Some useful analogies Geoffrey Paxton used to speak of can be helpful here: think of two mountains in the distance, one further than the other. At a distance, both mountains can appear to meld into one distant bluish mound of earth and stone. It is only as you come close to the mountains you begin to distinguish from each other, they are recognizable as two mountains close together. Another analogy is of two fence posts, one behind the other. When you are close to the first fencepost you cannot see the second; the nearer post eclipses the other due to its proximity. Both are still there, but only one is visible and is only as you pass the first that the other can be viewed. Prophets were never completely understood everything they spoke of, even Peter mentions this effect.

Biblical Prophecy, I believe, has three elements to each example that explain it more fully. The first of these elements is Immediate Fulfillment. All prophecy in the Bible that predicted a future event had an earthly, historical resolution. For example, prophecy about Israel’s restoration to glory and independence did take place, they did have a new temple, they did have their own kingdom back after the exile. When Jesus Christ prophesied that the temple would be demolished, in AD 70 it did indeed get demolished, flattened. This historical immediate earthly fulfillment of prophecy sometimes is the only one that is examined or considered, always to the detriment of Scripture and what God had ultimately in mind.

The second element is Gospel Fulfillment in Jesus Christ. As is pointed out in the Gospels, Christ was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, in fact John repeatedly demonstrates in his gospel that different events, deeds, and words of Jesus Christ’s life were to fulfill Old Testament prophecy. Christ Jesus as the main character of the Bible, the center of history, and the focus of reality is also naturally the focus of prophecy. All prophecy in one way or another actually in some way is about Jesus Christ.

When Jeremiah prophecies about the new covenant in which the law is written on our hearts, this is also about how the doing and dying of Jesus Christ brought an estranged, wicked humanity into the Love of God, about how Grace puts the Holy Spirit in each believer’s life because of what Christ accomplished with His perfect life, death on the cross in the my place, and ascension to the right hand of God. When Isaiah prophecies that Israel will have a king that will last eternally and have dominion over all the earth, he clearly speaks of Jesus Christ, the Lord of all creation eternally.

The third element is Ultimate Fulfillment in which the prophecy is ultimately fulfilled in its completion when Jesus Christ returns in glory. All prophecy is ultimately found in its complete expression when our Lord arrives on the clouds and history ends, this is why some prophecy can only be said to have been fulfilled “spiritually.” When the Second Coming occurs, all those partially fulfilled, spiritually explained prophecies will be totally expressed in perfect completion.

For example, the prophet speaks of a new Covenant in Jeremiah 31:27-34:
27 "Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, that I will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the seed of man and the seed of beast.
28 And it shall come to pass, that as I have watched over them to pluck up, to break down, to throw down, to destroy, and to afflict, so I will watch over them to build and to plant, says the Lord.
29 In those days they shall say no more: 'The fathers have eaten sour grapes, And the children's teeth are set on edge.'
30 But every one shall die for his own iniquity; every man who eats the sour grapes, his teeth shall be set on edge.
31 "Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah—
32 not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the Lord.
33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.
34 No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,' for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more."
Now, in history, this was Immediately Fulfilled in Israel returned to their home from exile, and the rebuilding of the temple and of Jerusalem was completed.

In Christ’s advent, the Gospel Fulfillment was as noted above by the peace brought between God and man, in adoption through Christ in the Holy Spirit. The Word is written in our hearts, God’s law is part of us through the Holy Spirit and in Christ Jesus we have perfect knowledge, love, and commitment to this truth. However, we do not perfectly love the Law of god, nor do any of us keep it perfectly – only Jesus Christ did this, and through him we have his perfection imputed to our sinful natures. Our sins are forgiven in Christ, but we continue to sin.

The Ultimate Fulfillment will be when all of these things describe will be completely, inescapably, and totally true in every possible way.

Prophecy follows this threefold expression and once this is more clearly understood, one can read the Bible with a greater understanding. There is another way of expressing this; it is often called “Historical Redemptive” or a similar term. What is essentially being said is that the scriptures have a single story, that of God’s work in redeeming a people to him and saving a Church out of humanity. This describes how prophecy moves through history from its initial fulfillment, through the Gospel, and finally in his return.


The Parousia

Another important thing to understand about prophecy is how the first and second coming are related, how they interact. The first coming of Jesus Christ is the Redemption of God’s people, of His creation. The Advent is the story of how the Triune God fulfilled prophecy and acted on His covenant to save His people, through sacrifice and love beyond human comprehension. In a word, the first coming is Redemption.

The Second Coming is called the “Parousia” by theologians, a term which sounds something like an Italian dish. The Parousia is the final and public disclosure of what God has accomplished, it is the ultimate and inescapable resounding truth given final form and completion with the coming of the Lord of all creation. In a word, Parousia is Coronation.

To understand this better, lets look at some Biblical concepts and terms that are used frequently.

Redemption is a very mercantile term, buying something at a price, such as when you redeem a coupon. In the Bible, we are described as having Redemption already:
Luke 1:68 “Blessed is the Lord God of Israel, For He has visited and redeemed His people.”
Galatians 3:13 “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’),”
1 Peter 1:18 “Knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or
gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers…”
Yet the Scripture also describes Christians as not having yet been redeemed:
Ephesians 4:30 “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”
Romans 8:23 “Not only that, but we also who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.”
Does this mean God didn’t do it right the first time, and has to fix His work? Does this mean that somehow the writers of the Bible were mistaken, confused, changed their minds, were contradictory? A few more terms:

Perfection
We are already perfect:
Hebrews 10:14 “For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.”
We are not yet perfect:
Philippians 3:12 “Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.”And speaking of those who have gone on before us:
Hebrews 11:40 “God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.”
Righteousness:
We have righteousness right now:
Romans 1:17 “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith.’ ”
Romans 5:19 “For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man's obedience many are made righteous.”
We lack this righteousness:
2 Timothy 4:8 “Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.”
Galatians 5:5 “For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.”
Death:
Death has been defeated:
2 Timothy 1:10 “but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel,”
Death will be defeated in the future:
1 Corinthians 15:54 “So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ”
Each of these appears to be directly contradictory, which may result in some brief confusion. But they are, in fact, a useful way of understanding the relationship between Advent and Parousia. As R.C. Sproul says, the very passages that trouble us most are probably the ones we most need to study, God may want to teach us something in them.

In the Advent, Jesus Christ completely accomplished God’s plan of redemption for His people. His substitutionary life in our place is the perfection God demands from us, and is imputed to us. His death on the cross and descent to hell is the punishment God requires of the life we have lived, our sin imputed to Christ. His ascension to the right hand of God the Father takes this perfection and payment for sin and continually presents this before the Father as our eternal High Priest. This was all accomplished completely, and finished by Jesus Christ on earth in history. This justification that we receive through faith by the work of the Holy Spirit is complete, and when Christ returned to heaven, he sat down as the absolute ruler of all creation:
“He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.” (Colossians 1:13-17)
Jesus Christ has our holiness in heaven, All that we have, we have through and in Him. We do not have these gifts of Life, Righteousness, Redemption, Perfection and all the other gifts and Graces perfectly and in our selves, we have them in Christ. Little by little as time goes on and our sanctification advances, we have the “very beginning of holiness” as the Heidelberg Catechism put it. One day, in Christ’s glorious return, we will have all of these benefits perfectly and in completion in glorified new bodies and perfect, sinless souls.

What God accomplishes in Jesus Christ, he discloses in its fullness in the end of times. In other words, all the things we understand in the scripture that we have now in faith and hope, we will have in our hands when He comes again. We have them now, but only partially in faith and fully in Christ. In the future, at his coming, we will have them totally in our glorified selves.

What God says will happen is so sure that the apostles were confident enough to write as if it were a done deal. That’s why the Bible can state that Christians are totally sinless and perfect. We are perfect and sinless in Christ and will be in ourselves when Christ returns – it is so certain, so absolutely trustworthy that the writers sometimes speak of it as a done deal, and it is, in Christ. We have this with total assurance, as sure as Jesus Christ saved his own, as sure as He will return, that sure is our perfection, our redemption, our sinlessness. Theologians speak of this as the “already/not yet” in which we already are glorified and perfect, and are not yet, we have it in Christ yet not totally and completely in ourselves, but it will be one day. God has given us all things (Romans 8:32), and in Christ we are all things (I Corinthians 8:6). What Christ has accomplished, we have, as sure as God’s promise and word.

How glorious a day that will be when we no longer sin, when the weariness of continually failing our savior, of perpetually sinning in rebellion against the one whose love envelops us in perfection and glory each day without fail and without turning aside. God rests in His love toward us, He does not seek another as a wayward lover might on earth; yet each day we step out on him, seeking sin once more. One day this will end, one day we will be as true to the Triune God as He is toward us! No wonder the Biblical writers wrote so fervently hoped for and looked toward the return of Christ!

When Jesus Christ returns, He will bring history to a close and reveal fully what has already been done in perfection. Consider a King who has not been crowned publicly. Jesus Christ possesses all the power, responsibility, armies, holdings, possessions, and reality of his office; but not public acknowledgement nor perhaps even public knowledge of this reality. At the coronation, the public sees, understands, and recognizes this power, all the trappings and benefits of the King. It was real before, and is not more real now; it is simply public and undeniable. Every knee shall bow, every tongue will confess, no one will live in the delusion of no God or a God that accepts less than perfection and love of Christ.

So what does this mean? It means we have a picture and understanding of what will come based on what Christ has done and is already. We will be resurrected just like the first fruits (Jesus Christ: I Corinthians 15:23), We shall have resurrected bodies, glorified and made perfect, just as Christ has now. The blessings Christ enjoys and is the fullness of now, we shall enjoy then. More than this, we’ll know when this day comes, everyone will know when this day comes, it will be a cataclysm like no possible disaster imaginable to the reprobate, and a glory and ecstasy unmatched by the totality of human pleasure and happiness combined for the elect in Christ. No one will stand aside unbelieving or unknowing, all will know and either rejoice or weep.


Christ is the First Fruits of our Blessing

By looking at the God-Man Christ Jesus, we can understand the Eschaton. Not only can we understand the results and reality of the end times in the light of Christ, but we can understand how this affects our life, and what we have to expect in the days to come. Knowing Jesus Christ gives us understanding of all reality, and what to anticipate in the future. All the things stated above, Righteousness, Victory over Death, Perfection, Redemption, and other things such as Immortality and Life we possess by faith alone in Jesus Christ, but at his coming and in our glorification they will be revealed in their fullness.

Hope becomes realization, Hope looks forward; the Eschaton is its realization. Hope in the Bible, whether Old Testament or new is always focused on the return of the Lord. In the Old Testament, the hope was of the coming of the Messiah as prophesied, which found its Immediate Fulfillment in the Advent, its Gospel Fulfillment at the Ascension, and will find its Ultimate Fulfillment in Christ’s Return, the Parousia. All of our benefits as Christians are by faith and in Christ, in which we hope and long for the realization in His return.

Our inheritance is in a safe place, and on our journey on earth, we receive ‘spending money’ like a ward of some billionaire. The prodigal son didn’t want to wait for his fortune, for the future blessing. He wanted a ‘second blessing’ to lift him out of this tedium and sadness, to have the full inheritance immediately. But being a sinful man, without being glorified, he ruined it, spent it, and destroyed it in his sin.

This teaches us two things: One, we are not worthy yet for the glories that await us, and Two that part of the reason God delays is to bring us more into the likeness of Christ Jesus. Thus in a certain sense, the Second Coming will not surprise us, we know what is coming and what to expect, in Christ Jesus. The battle is won, the victory is earned, and the first-fruits show us what will be.


Christ and Anti-Christ

Rather than a single, powerful entity or person called “antichrist” the Bible teaches of many ‘antichrist’ movements and occurrences in history. The only place in the Bible that uses the term Antichrist is in the Epistles of John:
I John 2:18 “Little children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come, by which we know that it is the last hour.”
Other places in scripture mention a Man of Sin and Beast, assumed to be the same person. The Man of Sin is primarily spoken of in Daniel, referring directly to Antiochus Epiphenes, King of a part of Alexander the Great’s kingdom. But what does it refer ultimately to? This, too, must be seen in terms of Jesus Christ and His work on this earth – the doing and dying of Christ, or the Gospel.

Anti is generally understood to be against (anti-abortion, anti-gun, anti-disestablishmentarianism). But it also can mean in the place of, replacing. Anti-Christ in this sense would mean replacing Christ, or replacing His work. Antichrist in terms of against would also mean this, against the Gospel, against Justification.

Consider the other verses John uses:
I John 2:22 “Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist who denies the Father and the Son.”

I John 4:3 “and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world.”

II John 1:7 “For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist.”
These speak not of Antichrist being some powerful individual, but an approach and hostility toward the gospel. Like Galatians where Paul calls down condemnation on any who preach a false gospel, John here condemns any Anti-Gospel teaching, or disrespect of Jesus Christ. As the Spiritual Warfare spoken of in Corinthians is a battle of Ideologies, of thoughts, of truth vs lies rather than a fight against enemies and armies, Antichrist is a movement in opposition to the Gospel, to the Truth - not a specific entity.

Some may come and stand for Anti Christ so fully and directly that they can be considered a virtual personification of Antichrist, this is what the reformers considered the Pope, and even the Roman Catholic Church its self to be. These men could be called “antichrists” in a sense, but not in the sense many use, of some mighty figure that strides the land catastrophically and the literal expression of Antichrist like a title.

We face Anti Christ every day, from outside and from within the Church. Outside the Body of Christ stand those directly opposed to the Gospel and Jesus Christ in obvious ways, from false religions to direct assaults on God and the Bible. We face more subtle attacks as well, such as a temptation and call to consider all things relative, to reject absolute authority, to judge each situation not by the Word of God but by what works, what pleases you, what fits a political doctrine.

Inside the Church are those who deny the Word of God as authority, those who include other authorities, those who substitute another Gospel for the one Paul taught in terrifying defiance of scripture, those who seek to worship God not for His glory or in careful study of His Word but out of personal whim or a desire to trick people into coming to Church – these are antichrist, these wish to stand in place of Christ, in place of the Gospel. More than outside influences, I believe these are the true danger for the Church.

Antichrist is coming, and is indeed here, as in John’s day and we must oppose this, fight it, strive against it, guard against it, teach to protect against it, pray about it, and search ourselves for strongholds that the Antichrist may have built in us. We must always stand firm on the Gospel, never compromising, never retreating, no matter what the cost, for it is the standing and falling doctrine of the Church as the reformers said. Without the Gospel, Christianity simply becomes a religion, another moral system, no better and perhaps even worse than some others. Without Christ, we are most to be pitied, as Paul said. Other things we can agree to disagree on, we can pass by the battle, but on this we must never cease to struggle.


Christ’s Covenant

When God spoke to Abraham He promised many things, and reiterated these promises again and again with His people through Moses and the Prophets, through the great wisdom of the Psalms and Proverbs. God promised Victory over Israel’s foes, peace and wisdom for the land, that one day they would be a great and powerful people, that their land would be one of wonderful prosperity, an inheritance (Genesis 15 and Deuteronomy 28 are a pair of examples). God promised Israel every good thing, He promised them the world, literally.

Thousands of years later, sitting in Jerusalem in AD 50 nothing seemed further from the truth than those promises. Under Rome’s boot heel, the Jews had no kingdom, no everlasting king, no peace, no victory over their foes. And in comes Paul to say this:
“And we declare to you glad tidings--that promise which was made to the fathers God has fulfilled this for us their children, in that He has raised up Jesus. As it is also written in the second Psalm: ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You.’ ” Acts 13:32-33
All the promises were fulfilled and made complete in Jesus Christ, savior of the world, according to the apostle! How can this be? Imagine the amazement of the Jews who heard these astonishing words, what boldness!

Take a look back to Genesis 15, when God made the covenant with Abram originally. This covenant was done by a gruesome hacking apart of animals, leaving a bloody mess on the rocks so gory that vultures were attracted and tried to fast on the carrion. This pathway formed by animals chopped in half and dead birds was laid out for a reason, and that reason has to do with the kind of treaties formed at that time period and in that culture.

When a conqueror defeated an area, he would make a deal with the people living there. He’d first state what a great guy he was in the preamble, then give the requirements of the conquered people, what they had to do while under his rule. In this covenant, the conqueror then would lay out the benefits for keeping their end up (you don’t revolt and you keep paying your taxes, and I’ll protect you from marauders and build roads). It also contained a warning of what would happen should you fail to keep the covenant, curses and blessings – all this should be very familiar to any Old Testament Bible reader in the format of God dealing with His people.

Now, what happens next in this story is the astonishing part. Abram waits so long for God and perhaps so worn out from chasing off carrion eaters, he falls asleep. He wakes to an awesome sight, a huge flaming oven blazing with light and power, and a flaming torch. God speaks to Abram, making his absolute promise as noted above, then through this bloody mess of sacrificed animals goes the torch and the oven as Abram watches. This is more or less typical of the covenant making of the time in a more spectacular way, representatives of both parties would go down this pathway of carrion, saying in effect “may this happen to me, may I be burned and hacked to bits, if I do not keep my side of the bargain.”

Now here’s the critical part: Abram doesn’t go through the pathway. Think about this a while, Abram watches this happen, he sees God take His side of the bargain, a truly awesome condescension on the part of the Almighty to act as if there’s any chance He will break the deal. But then God also takes the torch through the hacked apart bodies, not Abram. What God says here is “if I do not keep my side of the bargain may this happen to me... and Abram... if you do not keep your side of the bargain may this happen to me also!” Imagine this, Abram knows exactly how this deal works, he has probably even participated in just such a ceremony in the past. But he knows God just promised to keep both sides, even if Abram fails.

What has God just done? He has promised to both give Abram the benefits, and to take the punishment on himself – which is exactly what Jesus Christ does thousands of years later on the cross! That is exactly what Jesus Christ was, both man and God, walking perfectly to keep the Covenant where we cannot, and paying the price that we deserve for not doing so. And thus, in Christ we have the full benefits of the Covenant, and we get small portions of the blessings in our life here as we live, reaching and hoping for the full inheritance that we will have one day.

The substance of every promise is in Jesus Christ, because when he said it is finished, he sealed the promises. By keeping the covenant perfectly, He upheld his side of the deal as a Man, and thus God rewards Him by the full extent of the Covenant blessings, including eternal life, peace, and comfort. By dying on the cross, He paid the price for our NOT keeping our side of the deal, thereby fulfilling the just requirement of punishment given for such. Furthermore Christ as our representative fulfilled our side of the Covenant by living his life perfectly.
“But the free gift is not like the offense. For if by the one man's offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many.” Romans 5:15
Consider this in the light of scripture, what it means that Jesus Christ kept the covenant. All of the blessings Israel was promised are ours, in and through Christ:







GOD’S PROMISE CHRIST’S FULFILLMENT
Victory over FoesChrist has won the Battle
Peacehaving abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace
WisdomBut of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God--and righteousness and sanctification and redemption
Make Israel GreatAll power and authority in heaven and earth given to the King of the Jews
Land and InheritanceChrist - and we through him - are heir of all things

That’s how in the first century AD, Paul could claim that all of the blessings of the covenants were true for God’s people, because it was true, utterly and completely in Jesus Christ. At Christ’s coming all these benefits, all the glories, all the blessings God listed again and again in the Bible shall be ours in totality and glorious unshakable eternity. Not because we are such good people, not because we do things so very well, not because of our faith, good will, efforts, and our lives. All these blessings come because Christ is worthy and has finished His work in perfection and absolute Godly Holiness.

We trust and know these things to be true, we hope and look forward to the day of completion and when we go home because we know Jesus to be trustworthy, and because we know God will keep his promises. In Hebrews this is spoken of in unassailable terms, God promises and in the promise vows on his name, a double-promise as if to go overboard in His assurance for us. God promised this all to be true if we kept the Covenant, and in Christ we have!
“For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us” (2 Cor. 1:20)

Christ and the Millennium

The concept of the Millennium comes from a few verses in the 20th chapter of Revelation (or the Apocalypse of St John, if you prefer):

“1 Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand.
2 He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years;
3 and he cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished. But after these things he must be released for a little while.
4 And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.
5 But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection.
6 Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.”
These few verses have been the basis of a surprising amount of speculation, theological structure, and conflict in the Christian Church that would make any group of Jewish Rabbis proud. Whole dynamic flow charts with history set into divisions, future descriptions of a glorious age, and other amazing constructions have been made using those few verses and some other apocalyptic parts of scripture. Due to the small portion it takes up in the Bible, it is tempting to just ignore this, but since controversy and discussion has raged on this for centuries, it seems prudent to at least give it some examination.

How should we examine this concept of a millennium, a thousand years, in the light of what has been said about Jesus Christ? Well first, we must understand that the Millennium is prophecy, and all prophecy is fulfilled in Jesus Christ, ultimately through His triumphant return. The Bible teaches that Jesus Christ now rules, that He is Lord at this moment of his Kingdom and is presently and definitely in absolute power. This is important, because it changes the perspective of how you view future events in terms of a thousand year period.

Some teach a thousand year period in which Jesus reigns, and that he does not presently on earth. This is not true from a study of Scripture; He is in unshakable control of all reality as God almighty. Thus, any point of view that claims Jesus Christ at some future point becomes King and Lord of all cannot be true. Further, any view that claims Jesus Christ loses this kingship at some point, or that this kingship is given a greater, more full expression cannot be true either, for He is Lord now.

This thousand year period is considered the end times, it is described as the last period before Jesus Christ returns, ending with an extraordinary period of wickedness and sin “...so that he [Satan] should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished...”(Revelation 20:3). This is often paired with passages in scripture about the “last days” such as 2 Timothy 3: 1-5a:
“But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power.”
But in these “last times” passages, there is always a portion that notes that the times the writer is living in are in fact the last times mentioned. For example, the rest of verse 5 above continues “And from such people turn away!” This injunction is apparently in the Greek a verb that carries the idea of a continuing action, perhaps “keep turning away” is a way of translating it. What Paul says here is: in the last times there will be all these horrible things... and you should keep fighting against that in yourselves.

Now, if the “last times” are some distant hazy future, this is hardly the kind of language Paul would use. In fact, a study of the New Testament reveals that not only the Apostles but also Jesus Christ Himself considered the times they were living to be the last times: “So you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near--at the doors! Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.” (Matthew 24:33-34)

Briefly, it seems that scripture teaches that the end times are now, starting when Jesus Christ came to earth, and will end when Jesus Christ returns in glory. Whether things get worse or not in the world, whether crime, war, earthquakes, sin, and unrighteousness continue to increase, the Almighty God is in control. Jesus Christ has won the victory and will keep his Church such that the Gates of Hell its self cannot stand against it. The Church grows in knowledge and wisdom under the leading of the Holy Spirit, and although individual churches as well as individual Christians may stray, and though Christ may cut off the candle of a given church, the Body of Christ will never fail.


Christ and Israel

Another eschatalogical issue that can be encountered often is that of the status of Israel. Some systems envision a grand salvation of Jews at the end of History, some even have the geographical location of Israel focal in the history of the world before Christ’s return. The status of the Jews is sometimes considered an insignificant issue, that it is meaningless, which is difficult to hold given the importance that Paul especially gives them in Romans and other places in scripture.

Looking at the words of Jesus, we see that He considered being a true child of Israel to be a status that was not necessarily connected to the ancestry of a person. Simply being in the lineage of Abraham was not enough to be a true child of Abraham: “They answered and said to Him, ‘Abraham is our father.’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were Abraham's children, you would do the works of Abraham.’ ” (John 8:39), just as John the Baptist noted: “Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones.” (Luke 3:8)

Geoffrey Paxton has this to say about the nation of Israel:
Again, Jesus greeted Nathaniel with the salutation, "Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!" John 1:47. The word "indeed" signifies a true, or real, Israelite. Jesus therefore declared that a real Israelite is a man "in whom is no guile." According to Psalm 32, the guileless man is not a sinless man but the man who honestly continues to confess his sinfulness and who finds forgiveness at the hand of a merciful God. St. Paul cites Psalm 32 and shows that this guileless man (the Israelite "indeed") is the man who is justified by faith (see Rom. 4:1-8).

The clear teaching of Jesus about the real Israel of God is found also in the Epistles of His great apostle. Could words be clearer than the following?

“For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: but he is a Jew, which is one inwardly: and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.” (Rom. 2:28, 29)

”Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed by called. That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.” (Rom. 9:7, 8)

”... even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham.”
(Gal. 3:6,7)

”And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (Gal. 3:29)

“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature. And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.” (Gal. 6:15,16.)
Remember in Genesis 15, when the covenant was made, God made a promise to the seed of Abraham to carry out all those promises examined above: “ These promises were made and the covenant carried out by Jesus Christ as our representative, who is described in Galatians 3 as being that very seed that God spoke of: “Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, ‘And to seeds,’ as of many, but as of one, ‘And to your Seed,’ who is Christ.” (Galatians 3:16)

Another criteria must be used than simple genetics to find children of God’s Covenant with Abram millennia ago. In Galatians, Paul tells us what this criteria is: “if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.” And as the Apostle notes in Romans 11:26 “And so all Israel shall be saved...” It is those who are in Christ that are to be saved, they are the true line of Israel from the very beginning of the Covenant.

There is a separate distinction that should be considered here briefly. All people who were under the covenant in the Old Testament were considered part of Israel, be they jews or those brought into the covenant from the outside. All who kept the laws, those who had their males circumcised, those who kept the dietary requirements and other signs of the covenant were Israel. In this sense, all of Israel were the people of God. Any who were under the covenant were the Chosen People of God, be they actually saved believers or simply people carrying out the behavior of a Jew. However of those in the covenant, only some were actually saved, only some were True Israelites such as Nathaniel is described as.

When God made the covenant with Abram and promised to keep both sides, pay the penalty for both sides, and thus guarantee the promises given with a surety that is unequalled in history, He kept this promise with Jesus Christ. Since Jesus Christ is the representative of His people, any who are in Him are the Covenant Children. Consider what Paul says in Romans 9:6 “But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect. For they are not all Israel who are of Israel,” and goes on to note that Abraham had two children, but only Isaac was considered the child of the Covenant, and then to show that Jacob and Esau had Jacob loved and Esau hated, despite both being clearly in the Israelite line. In the same way that Abraham was justified by faith and counted righteous, so are those who have faith in Jesus Christ. Those children of faith are the true children of Abraham, for as John the Baptist noted, “For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones.” (Matthew 3:9b)

One people, one family is called out of every nation, and grafted onto the same vine, that is Christ. All from any nation of any kind who are truly saved by the work of the Holy Spirit in faith are Israel, be they Jews, Arabs, Russians, Vietnamese, or any other. There is no distinction of race, creed, culture, gender, or economic status when God looks at His children, we all stand equally condemned and hell-bound, and equally justified by Grace through Faith in Jesus Christ, equally co-heirs with Christ in all things.

The Present Truth Magazine (Volume XIV) has a useful chart to help examine this issue more carefully; note how in each instance the description of Israel matches the description of the church:



OLD ISRAEL
NEW ISRAEL
Holy nation; Ex. 19:5,6Holy nation; 1 Peter 2:9; Matt.21:43
Kingdom of priests; Ex. 19:5,6 Kingdom of priests; 1 Peter 2:5, 9; Rev. 1:6;Rev.4:4;5:10
A peculiar treasure; Ex. 19:5,6 A peculiar treasure; 1 Peter 2:9
God's people Hosea; 1:9,10; Rom. 9:6-8 God's people; 1 Peter 2:9
A holy people; Deut. 7:6 A holy people; 1 Peter 1:15,16
A people of inheritance; Deut. 4:20 A people of inheritance; Eph. 1:18
God's tabernacle among Israel; Lev. 26:11 God's tabernacle among Israel; John 1:14
God walked among them; Lev. 26:12 God walks among His people; 2 Cor. 6:16-18
Twelve sons of Jacob Twelve apostles
Twelve tribes Twelve tribes scattered abroad; James 1:1
Christ married to His people; Isa. 54:5; Jer. 3:14; Hosea 2:19; Jer. 6:2; 31:32 Christ married to the church; James 4:4; Eph. 5:23-33; 2 Cor. 11:2



Christ and Our Life

So... who cares, right? This has been long, dry, and thoughtful perhaps, but what difference does it all make? Why even pay attention to the future, it will pan out, right? Ultimately, yes, it all does work out; we can read the end of the book of history and it turns out well for God and his people. But this also has deep significance for every day of the Christian life.

First, and foremost, Jesus Christ is most certainly returning and when He does, that’s the end of history. If you are not right by God at that time, you are not right by God ever! Do not hesitate, do not think there’s always time, we never know when the Lord will return. The only indication we have from scripture about when this will happen is that we should always be ready, because it is coming soon. If you have not trusted in Jesus Christ for your salvation, if you have not in faith trusted in the cross, then when Jesus comes judgment will be swift, final, without possibility of appeal, and will result in damnation. The return of Jesus Christ is the most horrible possible event for those not saved by His grace.

But for those saved, it is another story entirely. Scripture often speaks of the hope of Christ’s return as a motivation for a moral life:
“When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” (Colossians 3:4, 5)
"Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure."
(1 John 3:2, 3)

"But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat?" (2 Peter3:10, 12)

“You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brethren, lest you be condemned. Behold, the Judge is standing at the door!” (James 5:8, 9)
This gives a clear and common thread through the New Testament that teaches us of God’s perspective on how we should view the Eschaton; it was important to the writers of the New Testament, it should be to us.

As noted above, whatever may come, whatever we face in this veil of tears, we know that as sure as God’s Word He will keep his Bride the Church until he comes to take her home. We live each day hoping and looking forward to the day this comes, our actions and lives colored by the truth of the Gospel and the hope of what we will one day be blessed by in God’s eternal love. A life spent with an assurance of the return of Christ that will bring all joy and blessing should change the perspective of any Christian.

Without a sure knowledge of the glorious future awaiting us, the troubles and events of life hold more weight, import, even terror for us. Whoever wins election to high office, what judgment is passed down from a high court, whether that promotion comes through, whatever we face we can face it with the proper perspective: Christ rules, and is coming one day... soon.

We are called complete, blameless, and perfect in the Bible (I Corinthians 1:22, 28; 2:10) but at the same time called to purification, righteous living, temperance, charity and holiness (I John 3:3; 2 Corinthians 7:1; 2 Peter 3:11). This has two effects at the same time.

First, we are to be humble, recognizing our sin and need for a pure life and perfection. This prevents a Christian from living in arrogance or condescension toward others; we stand equally condemned before God and honestly recognize our sin. As Christians, we are humbled by a growing understanding and nearness to God.

Second, we recognize that in Christ we are holy, we are perfect, and we stand blameless. There is only one judge that matters, and He is our advocate and savior (Romans 8:31-34). Thus, while we cannot claim this holiness to be ours through efforts or some greatness in ourselves, we can yet cling to it in the certain knowledge that one day it will be ours in fullness. This gives boldness, a fearless nature that allowed Christian martyrs in the first century to face ghastly tortures and doom with faith, hope, and confidence. It made them move into the world and have God through them turn it upside down (Acts 17:6). We need not fear for derision, dismissal, loss of stature, for our stature is loftier than any possible in this world. One day everyone will know without possibility of pretending otherwise that Christ is Lord and all will worship Him alongside us.

How can we not, given so great a love that meant the sacrifice of His only son for those who hated Him return such a love as we are capable? For Jesus Christ is more lovely than any of His creations, more trustworthy, more worthy. Out of this love and utter gratitude, we must return this love in service, humility, obedience, and a passion for worship and life here. Not cold, empty worshippers, not staid, lifeless and serious, we are filled with a joy that passes all understanding, a contentment, a constant peace that finds expression in both happiness and exuberance as well as sorrow and loss; always with an abiding reverence.

We understand from Scripture that the glory of God’s reign and the paradise we read in scripture is ultimate, at Christ’s return, not a result of our efforts and proper deeds here on earth. The Christian life is one of recognition of God’s rule and a diligent and joyous effort in response to the gospel, not one of work to bring heaven to earth. Theology that predicts a better world and glory on earth is focused on our deeds and on this life, not on Christ’s deeds and God.

At the same time, we are filled with the greatest possible motivation to work in every aspect of life for God’s glory; from media to law, from the newsroom to the boardroom, from the homemaker to the lawmaker, soldier, baker, unemployment line, retirement, and in fact any place we find ourselves. We work everywhere we are at the best of our ability, to the Glory of God and out of a simple joy of doing the work put before us by our loving Savior and Lord. Out of this the world may change, or it may not – ultimately it will be changed and shaken utterly by the return of our King.

In the final days, Jesus Christ is our judge, the judge of all nations, the one who will preside over the final destination of every soul in the history of our world. He is the awesome, powerful, and terrifying almighty God, in His full glory and fearsome omnipotence that we must face. But this is the same Jesus Christ who loved His people so much that while we were yet enemies died for us. This is the same Jesus Christ who prayed the High Priestly prayer for the Children of God. In legal terms, this is known as Conflict of Interest, the Judge being our advocate. For us, this is simply awesome assurance and total promise of love!

As Romans says, ultimately, who can bring a charge against God’s Elect? The only true judge is the one “who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28), and that very judge is our advocate, the one standing eternally at the throne of God as our High Priest, our righteousness before God the Father, with whom he sent the Holy Spirit to indwell us. Fear the judgment? How can we? We face only joy and glory in the coming of Jesus Christ as His children. It is only the lost, only those who reject Jesus Christ as their savior that need fear the coming judgment.

Thus, the Eschaton has present and ‘practical’ meaning for us every day. Our lives are shaped by the hope of what is to come and the memory and constant focus on what has been done in the past for us by Christ Jesus. Gratitude, not fear, nor desire for reward is what drives us to follow the Lord, to strive to be Holy as He is Holy. Hope - not of what we will gain, but of finally going home where the promises we have in Christ will be ours fully and the weary burden of sin will be finally ended - is our joy.

When it finally is all said and done, we do not want to go to be with God because we fear punishment or desire a really nice place to spend eternity, but because the one we love the most is there, and we truly are finally going to our home!

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