Lecture 1: God's Plan for the Ages - Part 1
Lesson 1: God’s Plan for the Ages – Part 1
I’m Carl Laney, a Western Seminary graduate and have been a Professor here at Western Seminary since 1977. I teach in the Bible Department and it's my privilege to lead students in a study from Genesis through Revelation. I have been doing that now for about 35 years. It's been a great privilege and it's my privilege to teach you as a part of the Center for Leadership Development, an overview of the New Testament. We are going to begin today by looking at God's great plan for the ages. I will lead us in prayer and then we'll begin.
In his article, Getting the Big Picture-How We Can Know the Bible and Not Just Bible Trivia, Richard Foster writes, "Today a form of illiteracy abounds that is especially dangerous precisely because it is unrecognized. It is particularly prevalent among those of us who read the Bible regularly, memorize its verses and are committed to the authority of Scripture." He continues, he says, “I am referring to our Biblical and historical myopia or nearsightedness. We lack a world view, a vision of the whole." Foster goes on to point out that the problem of Biblical myopia is especially acute in our Sunday Schools. We teach the Bible; we teach the stories but then we tack on little morals. But that's what they remain, Bible stories with little morals. Foster is concerned that we may never explain how the pieces all fit together giving a sense of the great flow of Holy history. Seldom are believers presented with the picture of God's all-encompassing plan for the ages. And that's what we want to do this morning present God's all-encompassing plan for the ages.
Well do I remember as a boy going with my Dad on Saturday mornings to drive to the city dump. After trimming the shrubs and raking the leaves and pruning the roses we would load up the yard debris and get into the station wagon and drive to the dump. And I looked forward to these trips, especially because my Dad let me practice driving on the old dump road. Even before I could reach the pedals I would sit in my Dad's lap and steer the car while he would work the gas and the brakes. One of the first lessons my Dad taught me as I was learning how to drive was to keep my eyes on the road about 30 yards out in front of the car. I found that if I watched the road directly in front of the car I'd always be overcorrecting, turning this way and that way to avoid a bump or a pothole. But if I kept my eyes off in the distance in the big picture of the driving experience I was able to steer a straight course and a good course.
Well in this lecture I'd like to help you find the big picture of God's plan for the ages as revealed in the books of Genesis through Revelation. We won't be looking at every milepost along the way, but we will call attention to the major junctions and major points of interest and you can fill in the details from your personal study and reading of the Bible.
I. The Eternal Kingdom of God
You know the major theological focus in the Bible, I believe, is God's sovereignty. God is sovereign, He's the one who foretells history and He's the one who is sovereign over history. So, we begin here by focusing our attention on the eternal Kingdom of God. This is one of the great themes of the Bible. The Kingdom of God is something that the Old Testament predicted. It's something that the prophets spoke about. It's something that the Lord Jesus Himself announced and then Paul wrote about and preached about the Kingdom of God. And John envisioned it in his great book the Revelation.
A. Psalm 10:16
Our study of this theme begins with the Psalmist affirmation, “The Lord is King forever and ever, Psa. 10:16. The Bible teaches that God’s Kingdom is eternal.
B. Jeremiah 10:10
Jeremiah declares this in Jer. 10:10, he says, “But the Lord is the true God, he’s the living God, the everlasting King. God is King over his creation. He has always been a possessor of absolute sovereignty over his creation.
C. Psalm 103:19
The Bible also goes on to explain that God’s Kingdom is universal. The Psalmist writes, “His sovereignty rules over all”, Psa. 103:19. His sovereignty is unlimited in scope. He rules in heaven, he rules on earth, he rules under the earth. God is absolutely sovereign. There are many passages in the scripture which reveal that God possesses absolute authority and rules as King. But he couldn’t be King without a recognized throne, without a recognized realm. And so, David declares in Psa.103:19, “The Lord has established his throne in the heavens and his sovereignty rules over all.” As King, God has authority, he has a throne, he has a realm and he has subjects. God’s rule on earth is often delegated to authorities who are raised up by him to officiate and to exercise his authority on earth.
D. Daniel 4:17
We think of the kings of the Old Testament, the prophets, the judges. We think of the New Testament apostles, people whom God raises up to exercise his authority on earth. Nebuchadnezzar had to learn this lesson in Dan 4:17 he says, “The most high is the ruler over the realm of mankind and he bestows it on whom he wishes and sets it over the lowliest of man.”
II. The False Kingdom of Satan
A. Satan’s Fall
Well, we also not only have the Kingdom of God but we’ve got the false kingdom of Satan. Sometime in antiquity past God’s universal eternal kingdom was challenged. It was challenged by an angel, a created being known as Satan or the devil. Scripture reveals very little about Satan’s fall or rebellion against God. But his sin constituted an act of challenge, an act of rebellion against the sovereign authority of the almighty creator God himself.
B. Satan’s Kingdom
Many have questioned why would a sovereign God, one who has all power and authority allow his authority to be challenged by an upstart like Satan. Well, this is the classic problem of evil in scripture. God could have prevented it but, why didn’t he? The issue is complex but perhaps the subject can be broached by suggesting that God permitted Satan’s rebellion in order to demonstrate God’s greatness and the greatness of his sovereignty in the face of challenge and testing. So, God allowed his authority to be challenged by Satan to prove his ultimate authority even in the face of a great challenge. At his fall Satan instituted a counterfeit kingdom that parallels God’s kingdom and challenges God’s authority. Satan is a usurper; he’s claiming a kingship and seeking to exercise authority that he has no right to here on this earth. Paul refers to him as the god of this age 2 Cor. 4:4. He calls him the prince of the power of the air. That Satan is a present possessor of the kingdoms of the world is evidenced in the temptation of the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s interesting that Jesus didn’t challenge the legitimacy of Satan’s offer when Satan said, “I’ll give you all the kingdoms of the world if you’ll just bow before me”, Matt 4. I think Jesus recognized that the world is under Satan’s usurped authority. Satan exercises a limited power, a limited rule over God’s sin alienated earth.
C. Satan’s Subjects
Well every king needs subjects and Satan is no different. In order to gain a following Satan tempted the first human couple, he tempted Adam and Eve to join him in his rebellion against God and Gen. 3 tells the story. Gen. 3 has been rightly referred to as the most tragic chapter in the Bible. God’s command was clear, “from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat. From the day you eat from it you shall die.” Satan successfully carried out his scheme to bring about the fall of humanity and bring humanity into his rebellion against God. Sin’s effect on Adam and Eve was immediate and conclusive. For the first time, fellowship with God was broken and the human couple, Adam and Eve, were separated from God by their sins. This constituted spiritual death, a spiritual separation from God, and in addition, Adam and Eve and their posterity became subject to physical death; physical death that results from sickness and old age.
Paul summarizes the consequences of sin in Rom 5:12, he writes, “Therefore just as through one man sin entered into the world and death through sin, so death spread to all people because all sinned.” Because of humanity’s sin God cursed the earth so that it would bear fruit only after much hard work. Thorns and thistles would increase the work and frustrate man’s labors and no doubt you have experienced that in your own home gardening as you have to pull the weeds out of your garden. All of that and that frustration of your labor is due to sin.
Paul says that all creation struggles under the curse that came as a result of mankind’s sin. He says in Rom 8:22, “For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth until now.” Creation is under this curse and groaning in anticipation of the Lord’s return, the establishment of his Kingdom and the removal of the curse from the earth.
III. God’s Plan
Well we find that the earth is in quite a mess. God created a perfect couple for a perfect world. But God’s kingdom authority has been challenged by the evil one, Satan himself. Humanity has fallen to sin and the world under Satan’s sway is in open rebellion against Almighty God. This is a mess. In view of this situation, God inaugurated a program, a program that ultimately glorifies his name by bringing the sin marred creation back into the blessings of his glorious reign.
As with a fine jewel which has several facets, so God’s singular program has several aspects: a redemptive aspect, a kingdom aspect, and a judgment aspect. We want to look at each one of these aspects of God’s great plan. God has determined to restore humanity. God has determined to reestablish his kingdom authority here on this earth where it was challenged, and God has determined to deal with sin justly. All of which brings glory and honor to his name. Most of Biblical history and theology can be viewed as the outworking of one of the aspects of God’s plan. The plan of redemption, the plan for his kingdom and the plan for judgment.
A. Redeem Man
So, let’s look first at God’s plan to redeem humanity. Although God didn’t have to, yet out of his infinite grace and his sacrificial love, he chose to redeem fallen man and provide a way of deliverance from the fate of spiritual death that came as a result of Adam and Eve’s sin. Thus, God began a redemptive program, a program to redeem fallen humanity.
B. Reclaim His Kingdom
And as a sovereign God cannot let his kingdom authority be successfully challenged, God also chose to demonstrate that he is the true king, the true sovereign one. And so, we see his kingdom program. God set about to reclaim his kingdom and to reassert his sovereign authority here on this earth where Satan had challenged his authority and his rule.
C. Execute Judgement
And then the third aspect of God’s great plan for the ages is his plan to execute judgment. God is holy and he can’t look down upon sin and rebellion with indifference. He must execute judgment: judgment on Satan and judgments on Satan’s followers. And then he must purge the earth of all the effects of sin. This is God’s judgment program. And as we look through the Bible we see various aspects of God’s great plan. God’s plan for redemption, God’s plan to reclaim his kingdom, God’s plan to judge sin.
IV. God’s Redemptive Work
Let’s focus our attention first on God’s great plan for redemption. In his infinite wisdom, God not only permitted humanity’s fall into sin but God also chose to provide salvation, a salvation that would be sufficient for all people. How is this redemptive program accomplished? Well, we need to go way back into the book of Genesis and there in Gen. 8-9 we find a promise made to Noah.
A. The Noahic Covenant (Gen. 8:21-22, 9:11-17)
We call it the Noahic Covenant. And while the seed thoughts of man’s redemptive work can be traced back earlier as far as Gen. 3:15, I believe that God’s promise to Noah, after the world flood, provides the necessary foundation for the outworking of God’s redemptive plan. God promised Noah that there would never be another universal destruction as there was in the great world flood. Even though the wicked generations would arise after Noah’s time, God promised to withhold the floodwaters of judgment until such a time when sin could be dealt with fully and finally at the cross of Christ. I’ve attempted to illustrate this on the powerpoint slide that you see. You can see the great reservoir behind the dam and imagine that the reservoir full of water is a picture of God’s wrath ready to be poured out on sinful humanity. But God in the promise that he made to Noah is holding back that wrath by a great dam until such a time God’s wrath could be executed and poured out on the promised one, Jesus the Messiah. The rainbow reminds us that God has made a promise to hold back the floodwaters of judgment until such a time that the Son of God, the Prince of Peace can receive that judgment in our behalf. The Noahic Covenant reflects God’s grace. God is not willing that any should perish; he doesn’t want to judge humanity. And so, he provided a means to give time for the redemptive program that he planned to be worked out and that he wasn’t going to have to judge every sinning generation but he would hold back those floodwaters of judgment until that judgment could be taken by the Lord Jesus himself on the cross.
B. Redemption Illustrated
The Old Testament illustrates God’s great plan for redemption and we find this in the Old Testament sacrifices. These sacrifices served to point to the need for redemption and God’s provision of a substitutionary atonement where an innocent victim would die on behalf of the guilty. We call this substitution where one takes the place of another. And in the Old Testament sacrifices, the lamb or the goat would take the place of the sinning people of Israel and the ultimate atonement is provided by Jesus who took our place on the cross. Well, these Old Testament sacrifices were typical, in that they pointed to a need which they themselves could not ultimately satisfy. But what these Old Testament sacrifices did was that they anticipated the coming of an ultimate substitute, one who would deal with sin fully and finally.
It’s crucial to realize that as the writer of Heb. says, “it’s impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sin.” So, these Old Testament sacrifices didn’t fully and finally deal with the issue of sin but they anticipated what Jesus would ultimately accomplish, they pointed to what Jess would accomplish. Paul makes this clear in Rom 3:25 where he says, “In the forbearance of God he passed over the sins previously committed.” He looked over those sins knowing that there one day be a sacrifice, the full and final sacrifice of Jesus own blood that would propitiate an important Biblical concept, propitiate or satisfy God’s wrath on sin.
C. God’s Plan Expounded
Propitiation is the concept of the satisfaction of God’s wrath on sin and that’s what Jesus accomplished for us on the cross. So, the Old Testament sacrifices illustrate and anticipate what Jesus would ultimately do. God’s provision of salvation for men and women in every age is by grace, through faith in God’s promise based ultimately on the blood of Jesus Christ. And this is nicely stated for us by Paul in Eph. 2:8, Paul writes, “For by grace you have been saved through faith.” And then in Eph. 2:13 he adds, “That we have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”
D. Christ’s Atonement Provided
So, we have three important concepts. We have the concept of grace, the concept of faith, and the concept of the blood of Jesus. By grace…salvation is a grace gift. It is freely given to those who don’t deserve it, in fact to those who deserve God’s wrath. There’s nothing we can do to be saved except to receive the gift. It’s nothing we’ve earned, it’s nothing we deserve, and Paul writes that this prevents any basis for boasting in what we’ve accomplished. There’s no basis for boasting in our salvation because in fact it’s all provided for us as a gift of grace by the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s nothing we earn, nothing we do except to receive and accept the gift. It’s by grace it’s through faith. The divine gift of salvation is appropriated individually by faith. The writer of Heb. 11:1 says that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” The writer of Heb. 11:6 goes on to say, “That without faith it is impossible to please him, for he who comes to God must believe that he is and that he (God) is the rewarder of those who seek him.”
What is faith? Well, faith can be defined as belief or trust. And it involves a complete reliance upon God and his provision of Christ’s atonement. Faith is not mere intellectual assent, it’s not looking at a parachute and saying, “Well that parachute could take me safely from the airplane down to earth.” True biblical faith is putting on the parachute and jumping out of the airplane. That’s the concept of trust. It’s not just intellectual ‘I think the parachute could work’, it’s personal and practical, ‘I’m going to put it on and I’m going to jump,’ that’s biblical faith. We’re saved by grace; we’re saved through personal faith and it’s all based on blood. Because God is holy is must judge sin he can’t just sweep it under the carpet or ignore it. Because he’s gracious God provided a substitute whereby innocent blood, the blood of Jesus is shed for the guilty. In the Bible, the blood represents life, it represents life given up in death.
Under the Old Covenant blood was not to be eaten for blood was designated by God for atonement for sins. The offering of an animal’s blood signified its substitutionary death for the sins of the one who offered it. The Old Testament sacrifices were insufficient in and of themselves to provide the ultimate atonement and so God provided the Lamb of God. He provided his own son to be the sacrificial lamb who would take away the sins of the world that’s what John the Baptizer said when he pointed out Jesus, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” The Old Testament sacrifices couldn’t do that; all they could do was to propitiate temporally God’s wrath and in anticipation to the final sacrifice that Jesus would make on the cross. Many Christians today have mistakenly thought there was a different means of salvation for believers under the old covenant, but this represents confused thinking and as Paul says many times in his writings, “may it never be,” me genoito, “may it never be,” he says. Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Isaiah, John the Baptist, Paul, Timothy, and Carl Laney we were all saved the same way. We’re saved by grace through faith based on the shed blood of Jesus. What was different for the Old Testament saints was the content of their faith, what they knew about the promised one. Abraham believed in the promise of God’s blessing and the promise of God’s provision. Isaiah knew more about the details of Messiah’s coming and he predicts the sacrifice that Jesus would make on the cross. John the Baptizer has an even fuller understanding of these things. But the fact is each of these saints had faith in what God revealed. And it’s that faith in what God revealed that is the basis for the salvation, by grace through faith in what God had revealed.
Many have wondered, well where do works fit in to this gracious plan of salvation. Well, faith and works are like two different sides of the same coin. According to the Apostle Paul faith leads to works. Jas insists that works are the evidence of a genuine faith. I’ve been studying the book of Titus and it’s amazing to me how often good deeds are mentioned in Titus. I found six references, pacific references to good deeds in the Epistle that Paul wrote to Titus. He says, “we’re not saved on the basis of deeds,” but he does point out that deeds are expected. And he points out that the creations themselves are worthless for any good deed which is inconsistent with their profession of faith. He calls for Titus to be an example of good deeds. He says that God’s people ought to be zealous for good deeds. He said we should be ready for good deeds and to be careful to engage in good deeds and to learn to engage in good deeds. It’s pretty clear from Paul’s letter to Titus that good deeds are expected in the life of the believer. It’s not the basis of our salvation they don’t add anything to the work of Christ, but they are the result of our salvation, we’re saved by grace through faith unto good deeds. Faith and works are like a two-coupon ticket to heaven, Charles Ryrie used this illustration. He points out that the works coupon isn’t good for the passage, but the faith coupon is voided if detached. So, works and faith go together. The faith coupon is void if detached from the works. The works don’t get you there, but the coupon is invalid if the works are missing or absent. Well that may help to illustrate this concept of how works relate to faith. The important thing to understand is that the works aren’t the basis for our salvation, they are the result of it. We’re saved by grace through faith but works come as a natural result of experience the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We become new creatures in Christ, we’re different. And a certain maturity as we develop and grow in our spiritual life there will be greater evidence of those works in our lives. Less so, for a new believer but nevertheless God is at work in the life of one who has truly been regenerated and there will be some fruit of their faith that will come in time.
Well, we come to the point of God’s provision of redemption and atonement in Christ. When Jesus died on the cross he gave his life in order to satisfy God’s holy wrath on sin. And I believe the most significant moment of redemptive history was that moment on the cross when Jesus bore our sins, the sins of humanity, for which the old covenant sacrifices only covered temporarily. As Jesus bore the sins of humanity; past, present, future the Apostle Paul says that “he became sin for us,” 2 Cor. 5:21, and the intimate fellowship that Jesus had enjoyed from eternity past with God the Father was broken. To pay the full penalty of man’s sin and provide salvation Jesus had to endure spiritual as well as physical death. And in the ultimate moment of his agony Jesus reached out to God the Father but it seems as though the Father wasn’t there, and Jesus cried out in a response, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me,” Matt 27:46. It was as if God the Father had turned his back on Jesus the son and Jesus the son felt the abandonment of the Father because sin had breached the fellowship between Jesus and his heavenly Father. He sensed that the Father had abandoned him. What was going on within the Trinity is really too great to understand completely or fully comprehend but I believe that simply we embrace it, believe it and thank God for it, thank God for what Jesus did in our behalf. There on the cross, Jesus declared these words, tetelestai, it is finished. The provision of redemption is complete John 19:30. As a result of his work on the cross Jesus can say, “Truly, truly I send you he who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and does not come into judgment but is passed out of death into life.” Isn’t that good news? We won’t come into judgment because we have passed out of death into life through faith in the risen Savior and his redemptive work.
E. The New Covenant Enacted
Well, Jesus on the cross inaugurated what we refer to as the New Covenant. The New Covenant is the subject of Jer. 31, Ezek. 36 and Heb. 8:6-13. This New Covenant actually amplifies and confirms the blessing promises that were given to Abraham way back in Gen 3:12. Unlike the Old Covenant, the Mosaic Covenant, the Covenant that was instituted at Mt Sinai, the New Covenant to be unconditional, there are no conditions. All the blessings are available to those who believe. And it is said to be every lasting, it’s not going to be terminated like the Old Covenant was with the establishment of the New Covenant. Inaugurated on the basis of Christ’s death the New Covenant promises regeneration, the forgiveness of sin through faith in Jesus Christ and his sacrificial atonement for our sins. It promises the indwelling ministry of the Holy Spirit and the fact that we become the people of God as we enter into this Covenant and experience the regenerating work of the Spirit. The New Covenant is so significant in relation to the Christian life and ministry that the Apostle Paul by the Spirit of God is pleased to call believers, you and I, ministers of the New Covenant. WOW! 2 Cor. 3:6, we are ministers of the New Covenant.
Well, what have we seen so far? We’ve been looking at God’s great plan for the ages and what we’ve been focusing on is God’s plan to redeem humanity. God has a great plan to redeem humanity and I’m so glad that you and I are participants in that plan that we have received the saving work of the Lord Jesus Christ. We’ve come to know him, we entered into the blessings of the New Covenant. We’ve got a heavenly home; we’ve got a present possession of eternal life which is abundant now and will go on and on forever. Those are the blessings of this first aspect of God’s great plan for the ages.
Transcribed by BT volunteer Sandy Whitfield