all about a Promise (part 2)
In this article, Jefferson Vann continues his biblical theology, as he traces the promise of a future permanent life from the divided kingdom to the expectant church. That promise of a future permanent life to believers of all nations is the message within the message of both the Old and New Testaments. That message was concealed within the narratives, poetry and prophecies of the Old Testament, revealed by Christ in the Gospels, and explained by the apostles in the Epistles and Revelation.
The Bible is all about the promise of a future permanent life. That promise is only hinted at in the early books of the Bible, and the hints get louder and more distinct as the Old Testament progresses.
VII. From Division to Disaster (1 Kings 12-22; 2 Kings 1-17; 2 Chronicles 11-32; Obadiah; Jonah; Amos; Hosea; Joel; Isaiah; Micah) 926-722 B.C.
What Isaiah son of Amoz saw and wrote concerning Judah and Jerusalem: And it will happen when these days are past, when the mountain of the house of Yahveh is established; it will be over the head of the mountains, and it will be raised out of hills. All the Gentiles will travel to him; many peoples will come. And they will say, Come, let us go up to the mountain of Yahveh, to the house of the God of Jacob, and may he teach us from his ways, and let us walk in his paths. Because instruction will go out from Zion, and the word of Yahveh from Jerusalem.1
God could no longer tolerate the idolatry and violence in Israel, so he caused the nation to divide into two: Israel in the north, and Judah in the south. He appealed to both nations through prophets, but neither nation would listen. God eventually sent the Assyrians to conquer the northern kingdom (Israel), but continued to protect Judah, appealing to them to repent, or suffer the same fate as their brothers. This is a very important era, because it reveals that God has plans that go beyond the establishment of a single nation among mortals. He wants to bring permanent life, through a resurrection, to all nations. We see this in the messages of warning, and the appeals for repentance to Israel, Judah, Assyria, Edom, Babylon, etc. that come from God’s prophets. The prophet Jonah, whom God sent to the Ninevites, symbolizes God’s resurrection to come when he is swallowed by a whale, the regurgitated three days later (1:17; 2:10). The prophet Joel predicted a day when Jews will lead people to call on the name of the LORD and be saved (2:29-32). This was fulfilled 8 ½ centuries later, at Pentecost (Acts 2:16-21).
VIII. From Disaster to Disintegration (2 Kings 18-25; 2 Chronicles 32-36; Isaiah (cont.); Zephaniah; Nahum; Habakkuk; Jeremiah) 722-586 B.C.
Then the LORD stretched out His hand and touched my mouth, and the LORD said to me, “Behold, I have put My words in your mouth. “See, I have appointed you this day over the nations and over the kingdoms, To pluck up and to break down, To destroy and to overthrow, To build and to plant.”2
As previously mentioned, God continued to protect Judah, appealing to them to repent, or suffer the same fate as their brothers. This era is a monument to God’s patience, because most of the time Judah proved no more faithful than Israel had. Many in Judah were convinced that – in spite of what happened to their brothers up north – God would never allow them to be overrun, taken captive, or driven into exile by their enemies. The prophets, however, took the coming disintegration of Judah as a given, and began to predict not only the fall of Jerusalem, but a time of restoration and return to the land afterwards (Zephaniah 3:11-20). By emphasizing the fall of Judah, and then its restoration, the prophets were hinting at God’s plan for a resurrection unto permanent life for believers. The period ends with Babylonian armies swarming in from the north, destroying Jerusalem, and taking the survivors captive.
IX. From Death to Resurrection (Jeremiah (cont.); Lamentations; Daniel; Ezekiel) 586–538 B.C.
Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to permanent life, but the others to disgrace and permanent contempt.3
But as for you, go your way to the end; then you will enter into rest and rise again for your allotted portion at the end of the age.4
The prophets during the Babylonian captivity witnessed the death of their nation at the hands of the Babylonian empire, and had to admit that it was God’s will. Yet they also believed that that was not the end of the story. The miracles in the lives of Daniel and the other Jews in captivity, and the fulfilled predictions showed that God was still in control, not only of his people, but also of the other nations and their destiny. The prophets appealed to God to remember his people, and to bring them back to the land that he had promised to their ancestor Abraham. God intended to do just that – and even more. The prophets would foretell the restoration in language that clearly portrayed the belief in a physical resurrection (Jeremiah 50:17-20; Daniel 12:1-3; Ezekiel 37:1-14).
X. From Cyrus to Christ (Ezra – Esther; Haggai – Malachi) 538- 4 B.C.
However, in the first year of Cyrus king of Babylon, King Cyrus issued a decree to rebuild this house of God. Also the gold and silver utensils of the house of God which Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the temple in Jerusalem, and brought them to the temple of Babylon, these King Cyrus took from the temple of Babylon and they were given to one whose name was Sheshbazzar, whom he had appointed governor.
“Now if it pleases the king, let a search be conducted in the king’s treasure house, which is there in Babylon, if it be that a decree was issued by King Cyrus to rebuild this house of God at Jerusalem; and let the king send to us his decision concerning this matter.”5
A decree by the Persian king Cyrus allowed the Jews scattered throughout his empire to return to their homeland, and rebuild their cultures and communities. The Jews who returned vowed never again to offend God by practising the idolatry that characterized the nations around them. They were characterized by a commitment to their God and their land, and an expectation of a coming Messiah who would forever rid them from foreign domination. While God was restoring Israel as a nation, he was also protecting them from their enemies. Behind the stories in Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther where God intervenes to protect his people from extermination is the fact that Israel must survive because Christ must come from that nation. More is at stake here than simply the survival of a nation. God is protecting the one through whom he will bring life and immortality to light.
XI. From Christ to the Church (Matthew -John; Acts 1) 4 B.C. – 30 AD.
- You examine the Scriptures in detail because you think you have permanent life in them, and yet they give evidence of me.
- Don’t work for the consumable that perishes but for the consumable that lasts for permanent life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set his seal of approval on him.”
- Because this is what my Father wants: that everyone who is experiencing the Son and trusting in him is having permanent life, and I will resurrect him on the last day.”
- The one who gnaws on my flesh and drinks my blood has permanent life, and I will raise him up on the last day,
- Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, whom would we go away to? You have the words of permanent life.6
At first Jesus’ ministry appears to be no more than a taking over the Jewish revival began by John the Baptist. His disciples are Jews, the people he targets are Jews, and he is proven to fulfil the prophecies pertaining to the Jewish Messiah. But before long, it becomes quite evident that the salvation Jesus is offering is deliverance from sin for the whole world (John 3:16). Jesus died on a Roman cross, after being condemned to death by Jewish leaders. But that death was not the end of Jesus of Nazareth. After three days in the tomb, he was raised to life. But his was more than a resurrection. It was a resurrection unto permanent life. After showing himself to believers, he ascended with a promise to empower them to take his promise of permanent life to the nation.
XII. From Promise to Fulfilment (Acts 2- Revelation) 30 A.D. – ?
Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the permanent life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.
In hope of permanent life, which God (who is free from deceit) promised before the ages began…
so that having been declared not guilty by his grace we might become heirs, confident of inheriting permanent life.
This is the promise which He Himself made to us: permanent life.
And the testimony is this, that God has given us permanent life, and this life is in His Son.
keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring forth permanent life.7
The Holy Spirit, in which the Church was immersed at Pentecost, was that empowerment. He leads the Church in following God’s call, like Abraham did – by faith (Romans 4:12-13). He helps believers accept Jesus as their deliverer (Galatians 3:9). He leads them to apply the death of Christ as their atoning sacrifice (Hebrews 9:14). Once the have crossed over, he is God’s presence, provision, and priesthood enabling them to get through the wilderness of this life (Galatians 3:2; Ephesians 1:13; Romans 8:27). He teaches believers how to live victorious Christian lives (Revelation 2:7).
After death, believers will remain asleep until Jesus Christ resurrects them at his second coming. Jesus will literally reign with resurrected believers as his agents, restoring this earth to its intended glory, removing the evidence of Satan’s rebellion, and destroying all Christ’s enemies (1 Corinthians 15:24-26; Revelation 20:6).8 The New Testament urges everyone to accept God’s offer of permanent life through Christ: “The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life” (Revelation 22:17 NIV).
The Hebrew phrase rendered “permanent life” in Daniel 12:2 only appears that once in the Old Testament. But the major themes of the Old Testament point to a day of resurrection and restoration. The idea of someone potentially living forever is found in numerous places in the Old Testament.9 The promise seems remote and distant.
But as the New Testament unfolds, the promise of permanent life becomes clearer and clearer, and the time of the fulfilment of that promise nearer and nearer. Indeed, Christ has “brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.”10
- Isaiah 2:1-3 (my translation).
- Jeremiah 1:9-10 NASB.
- Daniel 12:2 (my translation).
- Daniel 12:13 NASB.
- Ezra 5:13, 14, 17 NASB.
- John 5:39; 6:27, 40, 54, 68 (my translation).
- 1 Timothy 6:12; Titus 1:2; 3:7; 1 John 2:25; 5:11; Jude 21 (my translation).
- Thus the entire story of Israel in the Old Testament – from Abraham’s call to the restoration under Cyrus – is a similitude for the salvation God offers the believer in Christ. I am not arguing for an allegorical interpretation of the Old Testament. These Old Testament stories reflect true events, which must be accepted as historical facts. However, those events are so orchestrated by God that they match realities in the life of every believer. That helps to explain passages like 1 Corinthians 10 and Hebrews 11.
- Genesis 3:22; 1 Kings 1:31; Nehemiah 2:3; Daniel 3:9; 5:10; 6:6.
- 2 Timothy 1:10.