The Presence of God, part 3

Most students of the Bible would agree that man’s restoration to the reign, the fellowship, and the presence of God is the goal of redemptive history. There is, however, considerable disagreement as to when and how this goal is reached. Some see it realized at physical death. Others place it at the end of history, meaning the end of time, the destruction of the earth and humanity. But is this the end that is found in scripture? Obviously not if one carefully and courageously examines the end-time teachings of Christ and his apostles in the historical setting of their time and against the background of Old Testament promise, prophecy and expectation.

In this series of articles it is shown that Christianity is not an extension of redemptive history, but its fulfillment. In Christ the end is reached (Rom.l0:4; Matt.5:17,18). All things are summed up or brought together in him (Eph.1:10) through the eschaton that was initiated in his death (Heb.9:26) and consummated in his parousia (Matt.24:3) or revelation (l Pet.1:13; 4:7). The nearness of the consummation from John’s standpoint (Rev.22:6-12) correlates the coming of the new heaven and earth, the new Jerusalem, and the tabernacle of God (21:1-3) with Israel’s pronounced end time in New Testament scripture. The subject matter is equally convincing and relevant. The "New Jerusalem" and the "Tabernacle of God" logically follow the ultimate dissolution of the Old (Heb.8:13).

In Part II we saw that there is no veil (an inner and outward sanctuary) in the restored tabernacle of God. Redeemed man no longer is separated from the Presence of God. In the New Jerusalem God dwells in the midst of his people forever. John, therefore, in the closing scenes of Revelation was describing the spiritual glory and bliss of HIS immediate future. In keeping with Christ’s Olivet discourse, the goal of biblical, redemptive history was reached in "that momentous crisis at which the Christian church as a whole burst forth forever from the chrysalis of Judaism, awoke to a sense of its maturity, and in government and worship at once took its independent stand before the world" (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol.1, pp. 403-404).

Against the background of this biblical eschaton, attention now is called to another prominent text that addresses man’s return to the Presence of God through Christ. On the eve of his betrayal Jesus said to his disciples, "Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also" (John 14:1-3).

Perhaps more than any other coming-of-Christ passage this one provides the clearest insight to the meaning, the outworking, and the historical setting of Christ’s parousia. Three basic truths are set forth in this passage. Christ goes away, he goes to prepare a place, and he returns to receive his disciples unto himself. In being gathered unto Christ redeemed man is brought into the abode and presence of the Father – "that where I am", Christ said, "there you may be also" (v.3).

We propose to show that these three stages of Christ’s parousia, his DEPARTURE, his ABSENCE, and his RETURN are clearly delineated in the apostolic writings, and that they are carried out with the view of consummating the salvation that Jesus said, "is of the Jews" (John 4:22). All that Jesus said about going away, preparing a place, and gathering his disciples unto himself at the end of the age (Matt.24:3,14,31) is in perfect alignment with the coming of Christ and the new things of the new creation in Revelaton 21-22. It represents the complete arrival of the things God had promised to the fathers of Israel in terms of the Covenant confirmed in Christ.

The New Jerusalem, for example, is the "promised city" (Heb.ll:10), the "prepared city" (v.16), and the "continuing city" (13:14) of the New Covenant (Gal.4:21-31) which "cannot be shaken" (Heb.12:22-29). The old Jerusalem could be shaken, and in fact was shaken to the extent predicted by Jesus in Matt.24, thus giving place to the coming of the New Jerusalem of Christ’s revelation and abiding presence (parousia). It is unmistakably clear that the future Jesus talked about in Matthew 24 is precisely the future that had arrived at the time John wrote the revelation of Christ and of the new things (Rev.21:5) of his world (John 8:23) – the New Covenant creation.

Unfortunately, the "futurists" of our time are committed to reading the future in New Testament scripture from the viewpoint of our day rather than the day of Christ and the apostles. Consequently the gospel’s eschatological future is extended arbitrarily far beyond its biblical setting. This denies the one and only salvation that is of Old Testament Israel its full revelation in Christ at the end of their age.

One clear illustration of this is the way 1 Peter 1 is commonly interpreted concerning the "salvation ready to be revealed in the last time" (v.5). Since the revelation of this salvation is tied to "the revelation of Jesus Christ" (v.13), it is assumed that this salvation comes at the end of the Christian age because it is assumed that is when Christ is revealed. This denies the fullness of the salvation that is of the Jews unless one adopts the "church age" gap theory and waits longingly for the demise of Christianity in order to tap into Israel’s postponed salvation.

If you will, consider these biblical facts for a moment. First, the salvation in 1 Pet.1:5 was "ready" to be revealed in the same sense that the Old Covenant in Heb.8:13 was "ready" to pass away. And bear in mind that A.D.70 is the biblical focal point for the end of the Jewish age (Matt.24:3).

Second, this salvation is revealed when Christ is revealed (1 Pet.1:13). Now we don’t have to assume when this revelation occurs. Jesus said concerning the days of Noah and Lot, "Even so will it be in the day when the Son of Man is revealed" (Lk.17:30). Underline this passage because salvation is revealed when Christ is revealed. When is this day? Read the next verse. Jesus said, "In that day" (the day when the Son of Man is revealed) "he who is on the housetop, and his goods are in the house, let him not come down to take them away. And likewise the one who is in the field, let him not turn back" (v.31).

Now read Matthew’s account of that same day and of the same set of instructions, "Let him who is on the housetop not come down to take anything out of his house. And let him who is in the field not go back to get his clothes" (Matt.24:17,18). In light of verses 15,16 this was a clear reference to the fall of Jerusalem. It also is the end time when salvation is received (v.13,14).

So here is what we have. In identical passages with identical instructions Luke says it is the day when Christ is revealed and Matthew says it is when Jerusalem is destroyed. If these are not identical events, then one of these gospel accounts is wrong. I rather think the error is of another source.

But the point is, the four things found in the combined, harmonious accounts of Matthew and Luke, the day, the revelation of Christ, the end, and the receiving of salvation, are in perfect alignment with what we have in 1 Pet.1. The only difference is TIME. When Peter wrote, he was in a position to say concerning the day of Christ’s revelation, "But the end of all things is at hand" (4:7).

Third, the salvation in 1 Pet.1 unquestionably is that which Jesus said is "of the Jews." Peter said, "Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you" (v.10). How ca
n any student of the word miss this point? Did the prophets speak of two salvations, one that Jesus said is "of the Jews" and one that Peter said is "of Christians"? Does it take the passing of two ages (Jewish and Christian) to obtain what God promised through the prophets of Israel? Is Christianity merely a "fill-in-religion" between the end of the Jewish age and the coming of Israel’s promised "new things" – e.g., the new heaven and earth (Isa.65:17), the new Jerusalem (vv.18,19), and the tabernacle of God (Ezek. 37:26-28)?

Who can believe that even before the Jewish age came to its end Christians needed to gear up for the end of their own age? What a recommendation of "the more glorious" ministry of the New Covenant! As soon as it was initiated, after having 1500 years of preparation, its end had to be expected anytime, even before the Jewish age came to its full end. But worse, it would have to end before the saints could receive the grace and salvation of Old Testament prophecy (1 Pet.1:10,13) – if Peter were speaking of Christ’s revelation at the end of the Christian age. Now that kind of end-time concept does a real "hatchet job" on the cross, the New Covenant, and Christianity.

Picture this if you can. Jesus taught that the destruction of Jerusalem would be a time of tribulation, "such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened" (Matt.24:21,22). But before this "unsurpassable" holocaust occurred Christians prayed in their assemblies, "O Lord Come" (1 Cor.16:22; Rev.22:20), which would mean, according to the way his coming is commonly understood today, that they would be praying for an instantaneous fiery destruction of the "whole earth." That not only would far surpass the destruction of Jerusalem, it would wipe out "all flesh" on the earth.

The futurists today can’t escape this ridiculous dilemma. In their view of the end those first-century saints would be waiting for the fall-of-Jerusalem holocaust, being assured by Jesus that all flesh would not perish, while at the same time they would be waiting, watching, and praying for Christ to come in a destruction that wipes out everybody. No flesh would be spared. I wonder if they ever pondered over which destruction they should pray for the most fervently, the one that would vindicate gospel faith or the one that would extinguish it from the earth.

I doubt if the latter were that which the prophets had in mind when they spoke of a coming age, an everlasting age, wherein "all families of the earth" would be blessed. And if you think about it, how many times have you heard prayers in Christian assemblies today for the Lord to come quickly, particularly at some of the "fund-raising" rallies.

It ought to be fairly obvious that over the years the church has not done its homework on the historical setting for the end time that Christ and the apostles talked about. The gospel’s eschatological future was designed to put the gospel in business on this earth rather than put it out of business.

Now that we have observed some of the reliable, inerrant indicators of a first century end-time framework (and they are replete in scripture), we have the biblical setting for understanding the meaning and purpose of the departure, the absence, and the return of Christ.

Stage One: The Departure of Christ
"I go to prepare a place for you" (John 14:2). Why does Christ depart from the "world below" (John 8:23)? This is an important question. Until it is determined from scripture the reason and the necessity for Christ’s departure, it will be extremely difficult if not impossible to capture the biblical background and historical setting for stages two and three – his preparing a place, and his parousia (arrival/presence). Many do not understand the world of his "second presence" because they have missed the world of his first coming and subsequent departure. Consequently, the place and the event for the gathering of his disciples unto "himself" ("that where I am, there you may be also" v.3) have become overshadowed by an ever-increasing maze of human speculation and interpretation.

Where then is Christ to be found from the time of his birth until his departure? To say that he came to and departed from this global earth without further qualification is a critical, colossal departure from the stage of redemptive history. It is one giant leap into "outer" darkness. The Bible says that Christ "came to his own" (John 1:11). He did not come to the Romans, the Babylonians or the Egyptians, but to the Jews. He was Israel’s Messiah (Rom.9:5). In all things he was made "like His brethren" (Heb.2:17), and this likeness takes in much more than his physicality. Yes, he was "born of the seed of David" (Rom.1:3), but Paul captures the broader meaning of the words, "according to the flesh", in writing that Christ was "born under the law" (Gal.4:4). He entered into the mode of life that was peculiar to Old Testament Israel. He lived, taught, suffered, and died within the borders of that earthly, typical cosmos of redemptive history. That was the world of Christ’s departure which stood over against "the world to come" of his parousia.

But some may ask, "Did not Christ come to save all nations? Did he not taste death for every man?" Absolutely. There is no dispute about this. The question is, "Where does he become the Savior of all men, and what is the biblical background of his salvation?" Did Christ not say that "salvation is of the Jews" (John 4:22)? Never is salvation said to be "of the Gentiles" (Eph.2:11,l2). This is why Christ came to the Jews. He would not have been the Savior of anyone had he come, for example, to the Romans, lived, taught and died in Rome and departed from their world. There was no salvation-history to be fulfilled in that or any other nation except the nation of Israel.

There is more. Christ would not have been the Savior of all men, not even of his own brethren "according to the flesh," had he remained in the Jewish world. Its inability to deliver salvation to the Jews, not to mention all nations of the earth, had been demonstrated over and over for 1500 years. The Jews mistakenly believed that when Christ came he could patch up the old garment and make it work. He made it clear, however, that the "world below" (the Old Covenant cosmos) was not his world (John 8:21-24; 18:36). His world, wherein the salvation "of the Jews" would be fulfilled and extended to all nations, was above. It was the world of God’s promise to Abraham, the heavenly country (Heb.11:8-16), and the heavenly Jerusalem (12:22) that stood in contrast to fleshly Israel’s earthly land and city. When this "world above" is followed through in New Testament scripture its New Covenant identity is remarkably clear. For example, the Jerusalem above, also called the New and the Heavenly Jerusalem, specifically is said to be the city of the New Covenant creation in Gal.4:21-31, and in Heb.12:22-24.

The point is, had not Christ, by means of his death, departed from the Jewish world, he could not have made good the promises of God to the fathers of Israel (Rom.15:8). "For the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith…Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all" (Rom.4:13,16). Paul reasoned, "For if the inheritance is of the law, it is no longer of pr
omise; but God gave it to Abraham by promise" (Gal.3:18). "The place" (country) for the realization of "the promise" is "the place" that Christ went to prepare for his disciples.

That is reason enough for Christ’s departure from the world into which he was born, the world that placed him "under the law" (Gal.4:4), the world in which he lived, taught, and died, and therefore the world from which he departed, so that he might, in conjunction with the imparted Holy Spirit, prepare a better place, with a better covenant, for the better things that were to come in the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel. In this coming new world, not the departing old world, the Gentiles were made partakers of Israel’s spiritual things (Rom.15:27) as "fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel" (Eph.3:6).

In our next article we will deal with the time and the meaning of Christ’s absence, particularly from the standpoint of the presence and the ministry of the imparted Spirit. It will be shown that Christ’s "absence" does not span the time of the Christian age. Neither is the Christian age the "last days," nor is it the range of time for the "disclosing" ministry of the Holy Spirit. The focus is on the closing period of the Jewish age. When the absence of Christ and the presence of the Spirit are correlated in purpose and work, and the historical setting in New Testament scripture is honored, the fully prepared place – the world of Christ’s "second appearing" – will be remarkably clear. Equally clear will be its contrast to the world of Christ’s departure. If you feel this is not the case, your comments and guidance will be gratefully received and thoughtfully considered.