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Occasional Letters - The Goal of History

D Newell, Glasgow

One of the great blessings of being saved is that we know where this world is heading. Those who have not yet read Alva McClain’s The Greatness of the Kingdom are missing out on the most illuminating exposition of God’s global purpose ever written. Enjoying some psalms the other day it struck me with renewed force that the only way to make sense of God’s Word (and, for that matter, of God’s world) is to acknowledge the significance of His Kingdom programme. How else can we understand triumphant poems such as Psalms 93-100, which describe the judgment of the wicked and the joy of the righteous in language which goes far beyond any actual experience in Israel’s history? Is this simply poetic hyperbole, a pious but vacuous aspiration after an ideal government never to be realised? Abraham, we must always remember, was called specifically to be the source of universal blessing, blessing which in the Old Testament is inseparable from the secure establishment of Israel in its land. I think I am right in saying that it is only when Israel is delivered from Egyptian bondage that we read directly of Jehovah reigning as King:

"Fear and dread shall fall upon them [the nations]; by the greatness of thine arm they shall be as still as a stone; till thy people pass over, O Lord, till the people pass over, which thou hast purchased. Thou shalt bring them in, and plant them in the mountain of thine inheritance, in the place, O Lord, which thou hast made for thee to dwell in, in the Sanctuary, O Lord, which thy hands have established. The Lord shall reign for ever and ever" (Ex 15.16-18).

Whatever the tune may have been, Moses’ song is packed with doctrinally significant words! Despite the opposition of the Gentiles, redeemed Israel is to be brought safely into its inheritance, so that Jehovah might dwell among His people, spreading His reign over the whole world. This has not yet happened. Oh yes, Israel reached the land and for a while possessed it, but because of sin they never entered fully into God’s great purpose for them as His earthly seat of government and His channel of blessing to the entire planet. When Moses asserts that "The Lord shall reign for ever and ever" he is not speaking here of that universal, eternal divine rule to which Scripture testifies when it says, "our God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased" (Ps 115.3), and "The Lord hath prepared his throne in the heavens; and his kingdom ruleth over all" (Ps 103.19). No one doubts that God is in total control of His universe, constantly overruling in human affairs according to His will. But He also has a clear programme to establish His dominion on this earth, publicly and visibly through His elect people Israel. I am by no means downplaying the present out-calling of the church but simply making the all too often neglected point that Scripture contains much more than just that. We should not be unbiblically narrow in our interests.

But not only does a grasp of the coming Kingdom make sense of the Word, it also answers the instinctive longings of the human heart. A friend suggested to me recently that many social and political goals will find their perfect fulfilment only when Christ reigns. Take the slogan "Make poverty history". As far as this age is concerned the idea is an absurdity. When the Lord Jesus said, "ye have the poor always with you" (Mt 26.11), He was agreeing with Moses’ instruction that, since "the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land" (Deut 15.11). Human generosity, however, will never eliminate poverty. Nevertheless, the same Old Testament book looks ahead to a time when "there shall be no poor among you; for the Lord shall greatly bless thee in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee for an inheritance to possess it" (Deut 15.4). This was never realised in Israel’s history because it awaits the coming of the King whose reign will ensure abundance for all, when "they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid" (Micah 4.4). When Christ rules there will be no shortages and no want.

Armed violence is another evil men long to eradicate. A paving stone near my workplace has the rather wistful plea, "Stop war", impressed upon it. But in a sinful world war is an inevitability. Says the Saviour, "when ye shall hear of wars and commotions, be not terrified: for these things must first come to pass" (Lk 21.9). I have in my possession a yellowing copy of the Daily Sketch for 1st October, 1938, which hails Britain’s Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain as the man who had secured "Peace in our time". In retrospect the words of the editorial are painfully ironic, announcing that "the Premier has brought Europe peace". As hindsight has taught us, appeasement is not peace. However, when Christ takes control He will truly abolish war, for His unique combination of inflexible righteousness and infinite power will bring all hostility to a halt. "He shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more" (Is 2.4). Peace awaits the Prince of Peace.

The modern upsurge in ecological fervour urges us to "Save the planet". But nothing can save the earth from the devastating divine judgments to be unleashed during the Great Tribulation. The problem, of course, is not with the earth itself but with its human inhabitants. And it is specifically man’s sin against God, not his pollution, or his misuse of resources, which is the root of the trouble. When Paul informs us that "the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now" (Rom 8.22) he is simply confirming the fundamental teaching of Genesis. The environment now is not as it once was, fresh and untainted from God’s hand. Indeed, the earth’s whole surface testifies to two great past judgments, Adam’s fall and Noah’s global flood. But Paul looks forward to a day when the created universe will no longer be "subject to vanity [futility]" but will be "delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God" (Rom 8.20-21). Just think! Only when we are displayed in all the splendour of our redeemed bodies will this earth be released from the curse imposed upon it because of Adam’s sin. And that moment awaits the coming of Christ (Phil 3.20-21).

Another "good cause" is the crusade for universal wellbeing, and the removal of disease. The Lord’s first coming brought a brief preview of millennial health conditions as He toured the land of Israel healing the sick and raising the dead, but the full display awaits His return, when "the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing" (Is 35.5-6). It is the manifestation of Israel’s God which will bring about this future time of global blessing, blessing which will guarantee such health and safety that "the city [Jerusalem] shall be full of boys and girls playing in the streets thereof" (Zech 8.5).

A recent British Premier popularised the mantra "education, education, education". And doubtless education can bring enormous material benefits. But education in the west today is generally antitheistic, privileging the ideology of secular humanism above all else, and producing a generation of young people who are tragically ignorant of spiritual realities. It is no wonder that suicide rates soar. But when the Saviour sets up His righteous rule in Jerusalem things will be different, for "saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them" (Jer 31.33-34). Such language graphically describes the spiritual regeneration to be experienced by the Jewish people. But Gentiles will also benefit. Isaiah tells us that "all nations shall flow unto it [Jerusalem, the earth’s new capital]. And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem" (Is 2.2-3). Yes, we know where history is heading. It is heading towards its grand consummation in the glorious earthly reign of Christ, a reign which will fulfil both the anticipations of the Old Testament and the deepest aspirations of men.

To be continued.

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