Introduction to Pillar Two
You’ve heard it said, “Don’t miss the forest for the trees.” It is helpful to frequently remind ourselves of this principle. In this in-depth series we are trying to see the whole forest of Scripture, or the big picture, as explained in many Scriptures and through the diagram above. But, in order to understand what that forest comprises (which species of trees we are seeing, the color of the soil in which they are growing, the size of their trunks) you could say that we are walking a direct path on the ground of truth from one end of the biblical forest to the other. On this journey we are stopping to look at the trees of Scripture. At the end of the path we can ascend Mt. Zion and behold the whole Gospel as the woodlands we have just traversed.
This is now our fifth installment in this Gospel series. Having discussed how the Creational and Covenantal identities of God relate to each other in Scripture we can now walk through the passages relevant to pillar two in the diagram linked above. We are steadily building on what we’ve learned and using it as the foundation for what we are establishing. We are slowly creating our biblical theology which is just a fancy way of saying what we understand or know about God from the Bible.
Let’s briefly review the past four posts for the sake of those perhaps just joining in with the series.
The Gospel is Creational
God created the heavens and the earth in Genesis 1 and therefore possesses them as His own––they belong to Him. Likewise, God also created man and breathed life into his nostrils making man a living being, so humans also belong to Him. The sum total of reality as we know it – the heavens and the earth- is the place God has created to interact with His creation. He himself dwells inside this creation, in the heights of the heavens, not outside of time or in another “realm”. This is really good news and what makes our Gospel Creational.
The Gospel is Covenantal
God established a covenantal framework in Scripture to testify to the surety of His words. In the sun, moon, and stars we behold signs, testimonies that God’s covenant holds firm and is trustworthy. The sun still rises today because of God’s covenant with creation and the silver moon will fill the night sky while you sleep tonight because of the same. In short, He has put things in the sky to tell mankind that He is trustworthy, while all-powerful. He is showing that His words spoken in the beginning still do what they did then — enforce that what He says about the future will certainly have the same outcome. This is really good news and shows how the creation is tied to the biblical good news also being Covenantal.
The Edenic Account and Beginning of Sin
After God created the earth and man He planted a garden in the east of Eden and gave man a command of obedience. Man listened to Satan and disobeyed this command. Being expelled from the garden, he was subjected to the discipline God chose: he would now have to contend with sin, no longer be immortal, and would be reminded of the effects of this disobedience through the curse which was placed upon him and the earth. But, this disciplinary time would come to an end! There would come forth a Seed from Eve that would crush the head of the serpent and remove the effects that sin had caused to fall upon the earth and man.
The Messianic Seed of Promise
As God had established a covenant with the earth in creation through speaking words, God now made a covenant with man in Genesis 3:15 that will certainly take him back to that original sinless state he experienced in the garden. This covenant points not only to forgiveness of sins, but to the final end-time deliverance when God accomplishes the fullness of His original plan, ending this age of wickedness ruled by Satan and beginning the age of righteousness ruled by Jesus, when man and God are finally completely reconciled and able to live together again on this very earth as in the garden. This promised resurrection and regeneration of life stands as the hope of our future!
This promise to Adam and Eve was confirmed through God’s covenant with Noah and his lineage and proven by the miraculous preservation of the lives of him and his family in the global flood. Attached to this event, God gave the miracle of the rainbow which still fills the sky after downpours of rain, screaming that God is faithful and true to what He said. This is such good news and furthers the point that the biblical Gospel is Covenantal.
The Hope of the End Seen From the Beginning
To the apostles there was an anchor of hope in the future contained in promises of the past.
“For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope,” (Rom. 15:4).
“…that you should remember the words spoken beforehand by the holy prophets…” (2 Pt. 3:2).
The good news written in earlier times (Torah) instructs us as we perceive the origins of existence, the explanation of how things have become the way they are, and the way God’s plan of salvation will unfold. The first five books of the Bible inform us of the anchor of our hope––the very quintessential idea of salvation––the Seed who will crush the head of the serpent! If we persevere in the encouragement of these Scriptures our hope holds firm, fixed to this day in the future that is certain according to God’s word. If we choose to believe this we are truly able to “keep sober in spirit, fix our hope completely on the grace to be brought to us at the revelation of Jesus Christ,” (c.f. 1 Peter 1:13) knowing that He will indeed appear soon as the fulfillment of hope and that The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet… (Rom. 16:20).
Recapping Our Approach
We should lodge in our minds again the simple principle by which we are approaching Scripture. The Biblical story is linear traveling from point A to point B. Point A is creation and point B is culmination when the original plan of God is eventually fulfilled. The space in-between point A and point B is the story of Scripture encapsulating history past, present, and future. What God says in Genesis 3:15 plays out linearly in Genesis 4 through Revelation 22. It is truly this simple.
As we now begin to look at the Scriptures regarding Abraham, the same principle applies. What God says to Abraham in Genesis 12-22 will play out in a linear format from Genesis 23 through Revelation 22, slowly bringing about the divine fulfillment of what God promised to Adam, Noah, and Abraham.
The Anchor of Literal Interpretation of Scripture
As we approach the Abrahamic covenant there are some things we must first work through. Again, the clouds of theology hang over the words here and their literal interpretation. What I will be presenting is a very literal interpretation of the words God spoke to Abraham, while showing from the Scriptures how they actually have a very literal future fulfillment. I have been accused of being crassly literal. I am ok with people thinking that. This is simply my conviction of how we ought to understand the things God says with His own mouth. I am filled with joy at the prospect of standing before the judgment seat of Christ and hopefully hearing Him say “You trusted and believed My words,” rather than, “You unbelieving fool!”
The question I believe we should try and answer by the end of our Bible is: Of all the things God has promised with His own divine mouth, what has not yet been fulfilled, or accomplished? I believe this to be a very biblical question to ask because Jesus very plainly said, “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished,” (Matt. 5:18). A good student of the Bible recognizes that there are many things not yet accomplished. A good student with an equally good hermeneutic does not relegate what’s unfulfilled to “spiritual interpretation,” but trusts that it has simply not happened yet.
Many today seek to justify their unanswered questions through a method of spiritual interpretation. In my opinion it is the oddest cop-out. Spiritual interpretation is basically defined as follows: God did not mean for us to understand His words literally––that they must have a literal fulfillment––but rather He wanted us to understand them spiritually––that they are open to having different interpretations other than direct literal fulfillment. I firmly disagree with this approach. If we take Jesus’ words in Matthew 5 literally, then every single word of the Law will be accomplished. This produces a simple firm anchor of hope and trust we can have in His words.
Inevitably, whenever we give the answer that a literal promise God made in the Old Testament has been “spiritualized” in the New, we are actually saying, “God did not intend the words of His mouth to be understood literally. After many years of theological study we men have finally figured out what God actually meant by what He said.” I need not stress the absurdity of such presumption in modern theology, but for the sake of clarity let’s use an example.
Let’s take one of the hardest examples that is commonly interpreted in different ways. In Genesis 12:3, God says to Abram “…in your seed all the families of the earth will be blessed.” What does God mean here…? Let me break this down from the original Hebrew for you. It translates literally as: in you (Abram) all the families of the earth will be blessed. Yes, it means exactly what it says. Is this complicated? No, this isn’t rocket science friends. Remember what we’ve discussed at length thus far: God’s words are covenantal in nature. The sun is rising today because God simply told it to literally rise in Genesis 1; in the same way, God said Abram’s descendants will be a blessing to the nations of the earth, and this will happen––the sun is confirming the surety of His words at this very moment. Many of us would respond to this truth with an emphatic “yes”!
If the promise is made to Abram and his lineage as described in detail in the chapters that follow, then we take it at face value, playing it out to its logical end which is Abraham’s descendants possessing this irrevocable calling to bless the nations of the earth. This can only logically happen in the future when Messiah returns and makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth (Is. 62:7) since, “You are My Servant, Israel, in Whom I will show My glory.” Furthermore,
“Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. Lift up your eyes round about and see; they all gather together, they come to you,” (Is. 60:1-3).
In the context of Isaiah 60 it is clear we are discussing ethnic Israel and the land of Israel after Jesus’ second coming. In that time this also happens:
“Many nations will come and say, “Come and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD and to the house of the God of Jacob, that He may teach us about His ways and that we may walk in His paths.” For from Zion will go forth the law, even the word of the LORD from Jerusalem,” (Mic. 4:2).
The prophets are replete with passages like these that communicate a restored Jerusalem with restored Jews within it and gentiles flooding to the city to learn. In performing such a critical role Abram’s lineage will clearly be a blessing to the whole earth. We will go much further into this in the future sessions.
The deeper question to ask might come from Genesis 17:7-8. It is a simple question which divides theological camps today. God says to Abraham,
“I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. The whole land of Canaan, where you now reside as a foreigner, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.”
When we read this passage there is one immediate question at hand. Does God intend for Abraham and His lineage and all others who read this after the promise was made to believe that He meant everlasting when He says everlasting? Clearly I am begging the question here because the question itself is fallacy.
I tell my friend that I am coming to his house on Wednesday at 5pm to eat dinner. I then go hiking on Wednesday at 5pm. He calls me on the phone at 5:15pm Wednesday and says “Where are you?” to which I respond, “You fool! I can’t believe you took what I said literally! You should’ve understood that I meant Sunday when I said Wednesday, and by 5pm I meant 11am!” The absurdity of this analogy embodies the theological games men play today. If I cannot take God at His word, then how can I know anything about Him or His Scriptures? Everything becomes subjective and ambiguous––open to interpretation. However, if God simply means everlasting because He is truth, and His word is truth, and He is not a man that He should lie, then I would rather trust His words and simply receive them humbly.
However, there are many who question such a literal future fulfillment. “Well, isn’t Jesus the true lineage of Abraham?” they say. “And hasn’t Jesus become a blessing to the nations?… Isn’t Jesus the light of the world? Hasn’t Jesus inherited the land as a possession?” The answer is yes, Jesus is all these things, and He has technically inherited these things (although they by right belong to Him, He has not yet claimed them). But, that does not mean that the ethnic descendants of Abraham will not also be the things God promised. So often people seem to conclude that since Jesus is the light of the world, Israel cannot be a light to the nations. But, that is nonsense! Jesus is the light of the world, but there also remains a promise God made to Abram, which He expands upon through the prophets, that Abram’s descendants would become a light to the nations. It is both.
In fact, let me make plain the inescapability of a literal future interpretation of these promises. Even those who insist that God’s words to Abram are fulfilled only in Jesus must acknowledge that there still remain aspects of these promises for Jesus in His own fleshly frame to inherit at a future time (see Daniel 7)! Let us take one example: Jesus possesses the land of Israel as His inheritance currently, but clearly He has not claimed this right yet, because, as the news channels constantly and solemnly testify, there is presently a severe problem in the land of Israel––it is perilously divided. Equally, Israel currently “possesses” the land on paper, but they also cannot drive out their foe. Plainly, there must be something yet future in these promises. Jesus, the faithful Jew, will certainly make His own kinsmen inherit at a future date the promises that He in His own flesh must also wait to inherit.
Call me crazy, but if everlasting means everlasting God is going to make good on His promise to Abraham’s ethnic lineage. We must not conclude that Jesus spiritually became Israel or that all of the promises God made to Abram have been subsumed within Him.
I understand that many think they are doing a noble thing by regarding all of God’s promises as fulfilled in Jesus at His first coming. However, we must not do what Scripture does not. Scripture does not testify that the promises made to Abraham were fulfilled in Jesus at His first coming. In fact, it says the opposite! Paul and the apostles state that Jesus became a servant to the circumcision to confirm the promises given to the Fathers (Rom. 15:4). Very simply, Jesus’ first coming confirmed that the promises given to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses and David stood firm and would have a literal fulfillment in the future at His second coming. The apostles do not say that Jesus became a servant to Himself to confirm that the promises were actually for Him to inherit, not the lineage of Abraham. But, many people ignore such cornerstones of truth like this one. The promises made to the Fathers and their surety was furthered in the life and death of Jesus in the first coming.
Although many people will try to play interpretive games with Galatians 3 and say the promises are ALL fulfilled in Jesus (the true Seed of Abraham) at His first coming, we only need to meditate on the Old Testament Scriptures with even a small measure of deliberateness to see that Paul could not possibly be making that case in Galatians 3. The idea that Jesus somehow became the sole inheritor of what God promised Abraham is overstepping the Scriptural bounds. By all means He deserves to be the sole inheritor, but in His humility He has held faithful to His plan being achieved through broken men. Therefore, these are not “spiritual promises” but literal ones that are reemphasized a thousand times in the Old Testament, and confirmed by the testimony of the apostles over and over.
I often say, “You show me your Galatians chapter 3, and I will show you my Old Testament.” That is to say that the scale is very unequally weighted in favor of the interpretation I am presenting, with hundreds of sections of Scripture prophesying a literal fulfillment of the promises made to the Fathers. We cannot stumble over the language of Galatians 3 and believe we have a firm argument, for we are then pitting one chapter against the whole of the biblical testimony!
For the sake of those wanting a little more from Galatians 3, let’s look at it simply. The major argument that Christ has fulfilled the promises made to ethnic Israel in Himself and there no longer remains an ethnic calling for Israel comes from verse 16:
“Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as referring to many, but rather to one, “And to your seed,” that is, Christ.”
Paul is saying that Jesus was the inheritor of the promise made to Abraham. I agree with this. I agree with this because Jesus is a Jew. He is the quintessential Jew in fact, the firstborn, and possesses the first rights to the promise made to Abraham. But Christ has a people, who just so happen to be His very own ethnicity, who will also receive the promise.
The issue we are getting to the bottom of is this: today many relegate the promises made to the Fathers to being entirely fulfilled in Jesus at His first coming. In doing this, they then have no expectation for a literal future fulfillment of those promises–– their position is that those promises have already been completed in their entirety. They often feel they are honoring Jesus by doing this. I want to say this clearly––this dishonors Jesus immensely. Don’t get me wrong here, but this needs to be said a second time: if you adhere to this doctrine you are not in accord with what the apostles taught and you are attributing to Jesus something that He is not asking for. You are dishonoring Him, His Gospel, and His entire plan of salvation, redemption, and restoration. You are distorting the Scriptural hope. To worship Jesus in Spirit and truth is to give Him what He wants, not what you want to give Him, and what He wants is for His plan, and choice of Israel, to be honored. He has chosen Abraham’s descendants to be a blessing to the nations of the earth, and by God, He will see His plan through. When His plan is accomplished and His glory is revealed in Abraham’s ethnic descendants, “Then the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all flesh will see it together; For the mouth of the LORD has spoken,” (Is. 40:5).
Distinguishing Between the First and Second Coming
As good Bible students we must always make a very clear delineation between Jesus’ first and second coming. Hebrews 9:28 helps us learn this distinction, “…so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many (first coming), will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him (second coming). The writer of Hebrews shows the same dichotomy in Hebrews 10:12 “but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time (first coming), SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD, waiting from that time onward UNTIL HIS ENEMIES BE MADE A FOOTSTOOL FOR HIS FEET (second coming). Paul emphatically declares that it is during the reign of Christ on the earth at His second coming that His enemies are made His footstool,
22For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. 23But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming, 24then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. 25For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. 26The last enemy that will be abolished is death. 27For HE HAS PUT ALL THINGS IN SUBJECTION UNDER HIS FEET. But when He says, “All things are put in subjection,” it is evident that He is excepted who put all things in subjection to Him. 28When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all.
This incredibly important section of Scripture speaks of Jesus’ second coming when He resurrects His own from the dead, begins reigning on the earth as the true King from Jerusalem (as promised to David in 2 Sam. 7), and slowly subjects the earth to His authority and rule until all the earth is placed back under His Lordship. We know from Revelation 20 that this takes one thousand years, yet the greater wealth of information concerning the millennial reign (and from where we truly derive the idea of a millennial reign) is found in the prophets (see Is. 4; 60-66; Ez. 39). Through deduction we see that the events foretold simply take a long time to play out in real time and space; hence the one-thousand-year time frame. Then a significant number of people from the nations rebel against Him one last time after Satan is released from prison and they come to make war against Him before the fire of God comes down out of heaven and consumes them. Then the devil and his angels are thrown into the lake of fire forever delivering the final blow to his serpent head. Then will come the saying, “Death is swallowed up in victory,” and He will deliver the Kingdom to the Father that God may be all in all.
Moreover, it is those years of Christ’s physical reign on the earth that allow Abraham’s descendants to fulfill what God promised to Abraham way back in Genesis. Christ, the first Jewish inheritor of the promises, will then allow His kinsmen according to the flesh to participate in those very promises––even enact them under His authority! Lest we forget the glorious way in which the gentiles have been grafted into these promises also, let me articulate clearly that this reign will by all means include resurrected Jews and gentiles, brothers dwelling together in harmony in the Kingdom of God. The role of gentiles is still a bit unclear to me in Scripture since we are normally not mentioned in a positive light in the Prophets, but it is clear that we participate in the promises through our “grafting in.” A particular verse that is encouraging regarding gentiles is in the Song of Moses in Deuteronomy 32, which says, “Rejoice O nations with His people!” The context of the passage concerns the second coming, and reminds me that no matter what our role is in the millennial reign, it will include rejoicing!
Practicing Good Interpretation
I apply the good practice of literal interpretation to everything I see God say in Scripture. The nucleus of the Abrahamic covenant is the words God spoke to Abram. If they are currently unfulfilled, there must remain a future fulfillment. If God said everlasting, unless He is a deranged, sarcastic God mocking us for believing or thinking that His words should be understood literally, He means everlasting! It’s as simple as that lest God be made a liar. The context for the future fulfillment of the words God spoke to Abram is a literal kingdom over which Jesus shall reign and in which we will dwell forever, and this just so happens to be the whole and consuming hope that all of our faith is set within, as we see it continually referenced in our New Testament. Romans 15:4 emphasizes again,
“…whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope,”
And as Peter exhorted us to fix our hope on this future day completely (1:13), in looking at the promises God made to Abram, we are actually examining the substance of that hope which was written in earlier times. We are truly looking at the foundational material of hope in its original state, identifying its earliest components. In Romans 15 above therefore, along with the other promises “written in earlier times”, Paul is very much talking about the promises God made to Abram. And since,
“in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it,” (Rom. 8:24-25),
then we, like Paul, have not yet seen this hope come to pass, but we are eagerly waiting for its future fulfillment.
So, we recognize that Paul confesses he has not yet seen the hope, but is eagerly waiting for it to come, putting to death the idea that the Abrahamic covenant was “subsumed” or realized in the life and death of Christ. What Paul is hoping for is the grand fulfillment in the millennium of what was promised to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses and David! The Millennium is nothing more and nothing less than God doing what He told men He would do in Scripture. At the end of the day the counter position does not acknowledge that its conjecture supports the belief that God made pseudo-promises, that do not have a literal fulfillment, and that He is incapable of completing what He started. This inevitably makes the story fall apart. It erases Israel’s ethnic calling and suggests hope should be put in a spiritual ideal now enacted upon the earth through the church who are the new “people of God.”
We firmly disagree with such nonsense, keeping sober in spirit, affirming that Abraham’s ethnic lineage will inherit what was promised to Abram and we fix our hope completely on this future day when the Messiah descends on the clouds of heaven to fulfill what He formerly promised (cf. 1 Pt. 1:13).
We have fought from the first post for the solidity of the apocalyptic anchor in order to show how Scripture is purposely driving forward towards the final cumulative fulfillment of everything that God has said. It is my strong conviction that if we let go of this anchor we become theological flounders letting the seas of theology carry us more towards the ideas of men than of God. As believers we are simply trying to BELIEVE that what God said will happen, will actually happen in the exact way He said it. So, if you might be one who doesn’t believe these things, then Paul strongly recommends that you “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves…” (2 Cor. 13:5). It is unnecessary to argue over who is right, when at the fundamental level of the argument is the premise of belief and unbelief in the things God has said having a very literal fulfillment in real time and space. Friends, do not perish unto death because you have convinced yourself the Bible says something different than it plainly says. I will show you a better way––believe what it plainly says! I find it comforting to simplify the argument with one scripture. In Proverbs 2 God gives us a very important clue to “finding the knowledge of God” which just means, understanding what God already understands. He says,
“My son, if you will receive My words…then you will find the knowledge of God and discern the fear of the Lord.”
Those of us adhering to a literal interpretation of Scripture are simply trying to receive His words. At the most fundamental level we are very practically accepting what God said at face value, which is receiving what He said literally. While many cannot receive His words because they change them to mean something different later in the story, we are of those who are at rest receiving Him at His word and longing for the day that every jot and tittle from the law is fulfilled, like He said it would be.
“Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith; to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. Amen,” (Romans 16:25-27).