June 2012

The Future And The Gospel.

Current Evangelicalism’s understanding of the gospel is shallow at best. Is it any wonder that that is the case when speaking of the gospel, we usually hear something like this, “Trust Jesus as Savior”, or, “Invite Jesus into your heart.” What is interesting about these appeals is that they are not truly biblical concepts. Certainly, we are to trust in the Lord, and certainly we are to call upon the name of the Lord. However, these formulas are not referring to that. They are often, if not always, understood and presented as a kind of mantra that is repeated in hopes that Jesus will respond in like manner and obey. Further, oftentimes we make a certain distinction between the gospel and future things. Again, this is superficial, arbitrary, and unbiblical. To distance the future of the world from the gospel itself is to have a shallow view of the gospel. In this post, I hope to demonstrate that the gospel is brought to fulfillment in the events that will take place yet to come. To separate the two, the gospel and eschatological events, is short-sighted.

To begin, turn to Galatians 3:8. Paul writes a very amazing thing here that serves as our starting point.

      8      The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “ALL THE NATIONS WILL BE BLESSED IN YOU.”

This Scripture is interesting on many levels. First of all, the Scripture is the preacher. Second, the justification of the Gentiles was a foundational component of the Abrahamic promise/blessing. That is fascinating in light of the fact that oftentimes the Jews of the OT are seen hating the Gentiles. Did they forget/disregard God’s promise to justify them? But, for our purposes here, Paul makes a correlation between the Abrahamic promise and the gospel that I don’t hear in many evangelistic sermons. The proclamation of the gospel to Abraham is summed up by Paul (and Moses, for that matter) as, “All the nations will be blessed in you.” This reference is from Genesis 12:3. It is the foundation of the Hebrew nation in that it is from this promise and subsequent covenant that the nation is formed. The Jews were not delivered from Egypt, and consequently made their own Theocratic nation because they were wonderful people (see Deuteronomy 7:7). He chose them and delivered them because He had made a covenant with Abraham, based upon the promise of Genesis 12:3, and God cannot break His covenant, although Israel did (see Deuteronomy 7:8). This blessing that God promised to all the nations through Abraham is summed up by Paul as justification by faith. What that means is, the calling, sanctification, regeneration, glorification (all OT terms by the way), which is what we all understand as the benefits of the gospel, are bound up in Genesis 12:3.

But what else does it mean, especially in regards to future things? The promise of God is that He will restore Israel as a demonstration of His perfect ability to keep His promise, in spite of Israel’s unfaithfulness and rebellion. That restoration of Israel is promised and prophesied and will come to pass. Isaiah prophesied,

         1      The word which Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
         2      Now it will come about that
      In the last days
      The mountain of the house of the LORD
      Will be established as the chief of the mountains,
      And will be raised above the hills;
      And all the nations will stream to it.
            3      And many peoples will come and say,
      “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
      To the house of the God of Jacob;
      That He may teach us concerning His ways
      And that we may walk in His paths.”
      For the law will go forth from Zion
      And the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
            4      And He will judge between the nations,
      And will render decisions for many peoples;
      And they will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.
      Nation will not lift up sword against nation,
      And never again will they learn war.

Is 2:1–4 (cf. Micah 4:1-5).

Joel writes,

         1      “For behold, in those days and at that time,
      When I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem,
            2      I will gather all the nations
      And bring them down to the valley of Jehoshaphat.
      Then I will enter into judgment with them there
      On behalf of My people and My inheritance, Israel,
      Whom they have scattered among the nations;
      And they have divided up My land.
            3      “They have also cast lots for My people,
      Traded a boy for a harlot
      And sold a girl for wine that they may drink.

Joel 3:1–3.

 

The entire chapter of Zechariah 14 is a prophecy concerning the Lord’s judgment on the nations that attack Jerusalem and the restoration of the earth so that Israel will prosper, according to His covenant with them.

All of this (and the entire literature of the prophets lists all these things in detail and with tremendous clarity) is a result of the promise to Abraham, “In you all the nations of the earth will be blessed.” Paul writes in Romans 11:11-12, with exclamation, “

   11      I say then, they did not stumble so as to fall, did they? May it never be! But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous. 
   12      Now if their transgression is riches for the world and their failure is riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fulfillment be!

Israel has rejected their Messiah. That has lead to Christ being preached among the Gentiles exclusively (as per the Abrahamic promise). However, there is coming a time when they, Israel, will not reject her King but will bow down Him (Romans 11:25-27)! In that day, according to the prophets, all the world will be affected. The earth will be leveled, Jerusalem will be raised up higher, all the nations will be subjected to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and judge by Him, and worship will once again resume in the Temple (see Zechariah 14). All of this because God promised to bless Israel and the nations through Abraham (since Israel is a nation of the earth which is included in the “all nations” of Genesis 12:3).

If, then, the gospel is Genesis 12:3, as Paul says it is, then I would have to conclude that the gospel of Jesus Christ has eschatological ramifications! We cannot separate the gospel from future events. In doing so will do damage to the gospel, and thus the promise of God.

The Initial Components of the Father’s Plan are Inaugurated.

The gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is that sinners are made into sons. That may sound simple enough, however it most certainly is not a simple matter. This is not because God somehow has to work extra hard to do this. It is not because Satan is such an enemy that God is being outwitted by him. It is not because we are already so acceptable to God that He has a hard time choosing whom to redeem. To make sinners into sons demands the satisfaction of a reality that is insurmountable…at least by mankind.

God’s justice, motivated by His holy nature, is no small thing. God must punish sins and those who perpetrate them. He must destroy all that offends Him, not because He is Himself sinfully proud for then He would have to punish Himself. He has to destroy all that offends Him because of His purity, righteousness, and holiness. These things coupled with His sovereignty require the vanquishing of all that does not respond to Him in like manner. In fact, to do this is right for God alone.

Therefore, in order for God’s plan to make sinners into sons to take place, God has to do something with the sins of the eventual sons. He cannot overlook them, pardon them, nor can He punish the sinners He has elected because once a sinner dies, there awaits judgment (Hebrews 9:27). Therefore, the elect cannot die in their sins, yet they cannot atone for their own sins either. God must remedy the problem, and He most certainly did.

In order to initiate the remedy, the sinner needs to comprehend his illness. It does no good to present the remedy to someone who cannot accept that he is ill. That is more than an illustration, it is true. Jesus said, “

         29      And Levi gave a big reception for Him in his house; and there was a great crowd of tax collectors and other people who were reclining at the table with them.
         30      The Pharisees and their scribes began grumbling at His disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with the tax collectors and sinners?”
         31      And Jesus answered and said to them, “It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick.
         32      “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:29–32).

People who are sick know their need. They need to be made well, so they trek to the local doctor and submit to his suggestions. The main point is that the healthy usually do not endure the examinations and suggestions of the physician. In the same way, unless a person sees the illness of his offense toward holy God, he will not seek a cure. He must know he is ill. He must understand that he is in a very precarious condition and is at death’s door. Therefore, God will, without exception, demonstrate to the sinner his illness. How does He do that? He shows mankind the picture of the perfect man. He demonstrates to the sinner, via the Law, his illness as compared to the holy, righteous, and good nature of the Law of God (Romans 7:12). Unless a sinner agrees that he has broken God’s holy Law, he will not be convinced that he is ill.

Romans is a profound book in so many respects. But, one way in which its profundity is demonstrated is Paul’s comments in chapter 7 concerning the Law and its role in his life. Whether this chapter is dealing with Paul and his pre-conversion days, or Paul and his immediately post-conversion days, the truth is the same, Paul would not have seen his sin if it were not for the external Law of God, the Ten Commandments, and their objective standards, which contradicted his nature. In short, Paul states that he would not have seen the impulse to covet as wrong and offensive to God had he not read in the Law the holy prohibition of God to not covet. In verses 7-13 Paul relates this action of the Law in him in a very candid way. He says that he would not have come to know sin except through the Law (v.7). Why not? Because, unless there is a standard, a law from God, we will compare ourselves to ourselves and think that we are not sick. If we are all sneezing and coughing, then my sneezing and coughing won’t seem so bad. However, when someone comes along and tells you, “Sneezing and coughing is abnormal,” I will see the truth of my condition. Paul read in the Law that coveting is sin against the God of Israel (Exodus 20:17). However, his condition is so severe (and so is yours), that his covetousness did not die down simply because it was revealed. It increased. Sin, being the condition that it is, was exacerbated by the commandment of God. It is so contrary to God’s nature that to tell it what God loves is to cause it to rail against that very thing. This is why Paul says that “through the commandment sin would become utterly sinful” (v.13). In a condition like that, you can see that we are worse off than we imagined. It is like being allergic to antivenom.

But, this is the plan of God. Our utterly sinful condition, for which there is no human cure, is profound and desperate. We could not, nor do we want to, cure ourselves. We love our illness. It is sweet to our palate. We love its impulses and what it provides. We love its allurements. And when we are punished for it, we complain against a God who is ruining our fun. Again, our illness is worse than we imagined. God must demonstrate all this to us, and He does so in the Law.

Many years after Romans, Paul wrote to Timothy, “

    8       But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully,

1 Timothy 1:8

The use of the Law is like a sword, you must use it the way it is meant to be used. What is the use of the Law? It is to reveal sin. It is made for

   9     …those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers 
   10      and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching,

1 Timothy 1:9–10.

 

The Law is the sounding board against which every person is measured. It is holy, righteous, and good, not simply to reveal sins, but their root cause-our own hearts.

Thus, God has to show us our condition. After all, when Christ said that He did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance, He was most certainly speaking about the entire world. Once the condition is believed, by God’s grace, the remedy may be taken and applied. That remedy being Jesus Christ, who never sinned, never wavered in His love for the Father, and maintained perfect obedience to the Law of God. What is more, He died so that He might satisfy that insurmountable reality-God’s justice.

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