No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s right side has made him known (John 1:18).
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:18-20).
I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know the Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him. Philip said, “Lord, Show us the father and that will be enough for us.” Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seem me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father?’ Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?
1. How does the introduction of the three persons relate to the Old Testament revelation of God?
2. Is this triune revelation central to the message of the Gospels?
3. What does the New Testament add to the revelation of the character of God?
4. What does God promise to reveal about himself in the future?
It is very difficult to find good work on the story of God or the doctrine of God in the New Testament. Many of the New Testament biblical theologies ignore the doctrine. Others, such as Guthrie and Morris give the doctrine a limited treatment, but their contribution is not very impressive.
Both of these responses are the fault of the limitations caused by the separation of the study of the two testaments. Those who have ignored the doctrine have done so because there is little significant and specific teaching on this doctrine in the New Testament. Guthrie, Morris and others fail to present an impressive doctrine of God from the New Testament for the same reason. The best treatments of the doctrine of God in the New Testament that I have found are in the three dictionaries of the New Testament published by InterVarsity press.1
This is not to say that the New Testament authors are not interested in God and his story. It is to say that they assume the whole teaching of the Old Testament on the doctrine of God. They begin with the full and powerful teaching that they have inherited that we have summarized in the four preceding chapters.
The New Testament authors use the title “God” (theos) 1, 314 times. Normally they mean something quite different than did their pagan neighbors. For their contemporaries, the gods were a bunch of feuding deities from Mount Olympus, who were subject to fate, limited in their power and authority, and who were often unjust and interested only in their own, partly realized agendas.
The apostles filled that same title (God) with all of the content of Elohim—the Creator, El-Shaddai—the promising God, Yahweh—the covenant God, the Holy One, Yahweh of Hosts who is the Lord of all history, the Most High God, and much more. These titles are only a part of the names and titles presented in the Bible., all of which take their meaning from their place in the great biblical metanarrative.
To read the New Testament without knowing this great revelation of the Living God is to miss an immense part of its message. But when we read the New Testament books with the whole Old Testament self-revelation of God in mind, it takes on a new and richer meaning.
To confess that Jesus is God is rather meaningless unless we know who God is. Unless we have met the God of the Old Testament, we have no idea how great and impossible is the incarnation of the Son. We miss the whole doctrine of the Father and the Spirit if we are ignorant of this previously developed doctrine. We turn the doctrine of the triune God into tritheism unless we have had the doctrine of the one God branded on our hearts.
But, when we begin on the foundation of the Old Testament presentation of the Living God, then we find a great contribution to the doctrine of God in the New Testament. We who have met the one God are now introduced to the Son, the Father and the Spirit and learn about the one God who is three. We see that the Old Testament did not introduce us to the Father, but to the one true God. Now we are introduced to the One who, in turn, introduces us first to the Father and then to the Spirit.
The immense picture of God presented in the Old Testament too often leaves us overwhelmed. The result is that we over-emphasize one name or attribute over others and think in terms of idols and perversions of the Living Person. In Jesus Christ, we meet the Living God and watch his character in action. The Gospels present us with the beautifully balanced person of the Lord Jesus Christ. When we have seen him, we have seen the Father. When we have met him we have watched the beautiful balance of the Character of God in daily life.
We meet God in the biblical Story and in the theophanies and in his works. Both are turning points and benchmarks of the biblical Story. Newman introduces this biblical way of thinking:
One way to approach the study of a deity is through a careful examination of the god’s attributes (e.g. mercy, love, righteousness). However, the character, nature and attributes of Yahweh are primarily inferred only from the shape and tenor of his past and promised deeds. In turn, Yahweh’s actions and thus by extension Yahweh’s attributes, have meaning only when framed by the larger narration of Israel’s story. It is the emplotment of all of Yahweh’s deeds that imbues any individual event with revelatory and hermeneutical power. Monotheism thus becomes a necessary presupposition for and consequence of the narration of Israel’s history: it is the same God who
is responsible for all; from beginning to end. Jewish reflection upon its unique history implied and demanded one and only one God.
Despite such wide-ranging vocabulary and imagery, the NT and apostolic fathers hold certain features of God in common….there is only one God who is the Creator and Giver of life, who rules, judges and mercifully redeems.2
The New Testament tells us about the middle and the end of that great metanarrative. It tells us of the first coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, the new eschatological people of God—the Church, the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the new beginning in the new creation.
The doctrine of God is born in his theophanies. The first coming of Jesus Christ is the central theophany of the whole Bible. Here, God defeats Satan and takes upon himself all of the sins of the world. The second coming of Jesus Christ is the culminating theophany of this history as the Second Man casts Satan out of history, redeems history and keeps all of the creation mandates. These two theophanies are tremendous new revelations of the nature of our God.
The ultimate theophany is the new creation when God and the Lamb come down to the new earth to live with the people of God. Now the creation of Genesis one is transformed from “good” to “better” and “perfect”. Now darkness and night, sin and evil are cast out of history forever and God’s purposes from the beginning finally reach their fulfillment.
This conquering God will be worshiped, loved, trusted and obeyed. He will defeat all sin and evil. He will be glorified and he will glorify his people. All of the appearances of daily experience will then be in total accord with all that he has said about himself. His name will be known and honored in heaven, in hell and on the new earth forever In these days when God’s name is cursed and even his people rebel against him, it is difficult to understand God and know his character. Only at the end of the story will our doctrine of God have its full foundation—to be extended forever.
The Triune God
The Gospels tell us much about God. The foundation is the God of the Old Testament. The new addition is the triunity of God and Christ’s redemptive acts. Hurtado reminds us of the God-centeredness of the four Gospels:
But though the Gospels are narratives of Jesus’ ministry and are explicitly concerned with presenting his significance…, they are on a deeper level dominated by God, whom Jesus proclaims and represents as Son…and Christ. The Gospels affirm as valid the OT witness to the unique God of Israel. Thus, for example, God is the creator who instituted marriage…and gave divine commandments through Moses…. But the Evangelists also proffer new information about God’s purposes, which are now advanced significantly and definitively in Jesus; and so the Gospels are theological narratives.3
Throughout the Bible God introduces himself to us rather than giving us a definition of himself. That is certainly true in the New Testament doctrine of his triunity. He introduces himself to us as Son, Father and Holy Spirit in that order.
If we begin our reading of the Bible with the New Testament, we would tend to think of three separate persons, each of whom are God. And we would be tritheists! But if we begin our reading of the Bible with the Old Testament, we will first be introduced to the One God. Only when God had branded this doctrine of his oneness on his followers does he go on to reveal to us the complexity and uniqueness of that oneness.
Only when we have been introduced to Elohim the Creator, El-Shaddai, the God who loves to make and keep promises, Yahweh the covenant God who dwells with his people, the Holy One, and the Lord Yahweh of Hosts are we ready to be introduced to three persons. This God who we met in the Old Testament is not the Father any more than Son or Spirit. The God of the Old Testament Scriptures is the One God who is complex in his oneness. We are meeting the three persons in their oneness. All of these wonderful names and titles of the Living God of the Old Testament Scriptures apply to the Son and the Spirit as well as to the Father.
Jesus and the apostles constantly assume this revelation of the oneness of God. Though they will introduce us to three persons, they will not permit us to forget that this does not negate that oneness and permit us to speak of three separate persons. They have said “I” and “me” for several thousand years and that must not be forgotten.
In his incarnation the Son takes on full humanity and introduces himself as the man who is also God. Matthew, after teaching us about the Messianic promises in the genealogy, describes him as something more than the promised man:
She will give birth to a son and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. (Matthew 1:21)
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” which means “God-with-us.” (Matthew 1:23)
God often gives human names that are testimonies to great truths. “Joshua” testifies that Yahweh saves and is the Hebrew form of the Greek “Jesus”. The name “Isaiah” reminds us that Yahweh is the only Savior. These are two examples from many. But “Jesus” in Matthew 1:21 is an accurate descriptor of this child. He is Yahweh come down to save us. The rest of the New Testament testifies to this. The name “Immanuel” is also a literal descriptor. He is God come down to dwell with us.
Those who are aware of all of the Old Testament promises about the coming Messiah will not be surprised by this. Isaiah, whose Immanuel prophecy (7:14) had been quoted in Matthew, goes on to describe this same child a few chapters later:
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)
Jesus’ self-introduction described throughout the four Gospels is a testimony to the real and full deity described by “Immanuel” and predicted by the above passage from Isaiah 9:6.
There is no doubt that Jesus presented himself as fully God. We will give attention to many of those narratives and propositions later is our study of Christology. But for now it is enough that this man does the works that can be done only by God: He forgives sins; he will judge all people at the end of the age; He will baptize with the Holy Spirit and he demands that people accept his absolute authority over every aspect of their lives. He also testifies to an absolutely unique relationship with the Father (John 17 and many other passages).
But some have doubted the deity of Jesus; denying either his claims or the integrity of the four Gospels. Many have revered him as the “first Christian” or as the best of men. But this is not really an option. C. S. Lewis expressed this well:
I am trying to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things that Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God; or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.4
Lewis was not the first person to recognize this. The common people did not notice all of the implications of what he said and did. But the Jewish leaders did. When Jesus spoke those wonderful words of forgiveness to the paralytic let down from the roof, they knew that he was claiming deity.
Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone? (Mark 2:6-7).
When the Pharisee’s criticized his healing on the Sabbath, Jesus responded with: “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working” (John 5:17), they were shocked:
For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God (John 5:18).
If Jesus was an honest man and not God, he would have immediately responded with a denial of their conclusions. An angel did that when the apostle John attempted to worship him (Revelation 19:10). When Barnabas and Paul faced people who believed that they were gods, they responded appropriately:
When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form….” But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd shouting: “Men, why are you doing this? We too are only men, human like you” (Acts 14:11-15).
Jesus would have responded in the same way as these apostles and that angel, if he were merely a man, unless he was either insane or a demon. But he was God and he quietly accepted the conclusions of the Jewish leaders. He knew that he was God and wanted his hearers to understand that stupendous claim.
His followers were fully convinced of his deity only after his resurrection from the dead. He appeared to them in their despair and hopelessness and convinced them that he had risen and conquered death, and then they recognized that along with being fully and unambiguously man he was also fully and unambiguously God. Thomas was tardy in his assessment of this, but when he touched the wounds of Jesus, he expressed the new confidence of all of the disciples: “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28).
Jesus did not rebuke Thomas for this confession but went on to promise blessing on him and all who shared his conviction of the full deity of Jesus. “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen me and yet have believed” (John 20:29). Jesus quietly and constantly asserted his full deity. If he is a good and honest man, he is also fully and completely God as well.
The God of the Old Testament has come down to add full humanity to his full deity. Jesus Christ is the Creator, El-Shaddai, Yahweh, and the Lord of the nations. The personal name for God in the Old Testament “Yahweh” becomes the narrative name for Jesus Christ throughout Acts and the epistles.
Jesus spends a great deal of time introducing his disciples to his Father. Jesus Father is the God of the Old Testament (as is Jesus and as is the Holy Spirit). He is the Creator, El-Shaddai, Yahweh and Lord of the nations. So, Jesus who is the God of the Old Testament introduces us to the Father who is also the God of the Old Testament.
Normally, Jesus speaks of the Father as his own Father in a unique and special way. At other times, he introduces the Father as “your Father in heaven.” But he always makes a clear difference between the two. He never speaks of the two relationships as equal. His Sonship is unique and foundational. Our sonship is dependent and secondary.
This unique Father/Son relationship did not begin at the moment of the incarnation. The Father sent the Son into the world: “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son” (John 3:16, compare John 1:18). Jesus regularly described his being “sent by the Father” (John 5:37; 6:57; 8:16 and 18; 12:49; 16:28; 17:5 and 20:21). These passages all assume that the first person of the triune Godhead was Father before the incarnation. Had this not been the case, we would expect that Jesus would have used more precise language. It would be an abuse of Scripture to say that Jesus used “Father” only because his hearers had become used to this terminology.
Some have used Psalm 2:7 and its quotation in Acts 13:33 and Hebrews 1:5 to prove that the terms “Father” and “Son” originate in the incarnation. But all of these passages refer to Jesus’ glorification. Father and Son are words that help us to understand the eternal relationships between the first and second persons of the Trinity.
God did not reveal himself to us as Father in the Old Testament. There, we were introduced to the One God who will reveal himself as Son, Father and Spirit in the incarnation as described in the Gospels. We meet the incarnate Son first. After we have gotten beyond the real humanity to the real deity, then the Son introduces us to his Father for the first time.
Jesus used “Father” from childhood. When his parents rebuked him for staying in Jerusalem and frightening them, he responded: “Why were you searching for me… Didn’t you know that I had to be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49). Jesus’ whole life is given to his Father’s business (John 5:30).
Jesus introduces us to the Father by teaching and by modeling their relationship. The Father loves the Son (John 3:35; 5:30; 8:29 and 10:17). The Father hears the prayers of the Son (John 11:41 and all of chapter 17). The Father glorifies the Son (John 17:1 and 5). Throughout these and many other passages, we see a relationship of love and delight between Father and Son. For the first time in the history of the world we learn what it means to be a father and to be a son.
Jesus not only teaches and models his relationship with the Father, but he offers us an analogous relationship with the Father. As disciples of Jesus Christ, the Father becomes our Father with all of the privileges and responsibilities involved. He is the “only begotten Son.” We are adopted sons. In Christ we can share in those wonderful relationships.
After Jesus introduced himself as the God of the Old Testament and the Father as the God of the Old Testament, he now introduces the Spirit as the God of the Old Testament. In the Old Testament it often appears that the Spirit of God is something like our spirits—a part of us and not a distinct person.
But now Jesus introduces us to the Spirit as a distinct person. The Spirit has been active in all of the works of God since Genesis 1:2. He worked sovereignly in the conception and life and ministry of Jesus. But it is only with Jesus’ closing, private ministry to his disciples that he makes the definitive introduction to the Spirit of Truth who is a distinct person and the God of the Old Testament.
John describes that introduction in chapters 14-16 of his Gospel. John the Baptist had promised that Jesus would consummate his work by baptizing his people with the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:11). Now Jesus promises to send the Spirit of Truth to be another Comforter just like himself.
The disciples have seen the Spirit in action in all of the life and ministry of Jesus. Now that same Spirit will live in them forever to do everything for them that he had done for Jesus and to do for them everything that Jesus had done for them. The Spirt will lead, comfort, rebuke, encourage, empower, and everything else that Jesus had done for them. Jesus will not leave his disciples as orphans, because he will be with them to the end of the age in the person of the Spirit of God.
After these introductions, we can see a thousand hints of this triune God in the Old Testament. Before Jesus made these introductions, this complexity of the person of God was fully mystery. Now we have learned more. There is still a great and impenetrable mystery, but we do know some things and we know some dangerous directions. Now we are able to worship and to live with God with a greater knowledge of his person and his works.
We will spend much more time studying the triunity of the Living God in section four below, but we need this much to see the tremendous and central place that this doctrine has in God’s narrative introduction to himself.
The Character Of God
The New Testament doctrine of the character of God is very complex. We have at least three lines of description of his perfections or attributes. The first is the entire testimony of the Old Testament. All of the New Testament authors assume all that the Old Testament has revealed about God. All that we have summarized in the previous chapters is foundational to everything that they wrote. They also assumed that their readers understand God’s self-revelation in the Law and the prophets and the writings. The three New Testament dictionaries mentioned above remind us of this at the beginning of each of the articles referenced.
The second line of description is a series of references to God’s various attributes throughout the New Testament. Nothing is left out of the Old Testament testimony, but some things are given new emphasis. See the three dictionaries for a much fuller treatment than is possible here.5
The third line of description is the character of Jesus. In Jesus Christ we meet the eternal Son constantly choosing to live under all of the limitations of true humanity. Thus, when we read the Gospels, we do not read of those perfections that distinguish God from all of his creatures, e.g. aseity, infinity in time and space, and so on. In Jesus Christ we see the life of the perfect man, the Second Adam, fully approved by the Father. He fulfilled all that it meant to live out the image and likeness of God, all that it meant to be a creature in loving fellowship with God.
But it was the Person of the eternal Son who took on full humanity and chose to live under all of its limitations. It was the eternal Son who lived this life of these creatures in his image and likeness. As such, the character of Jesus Christ reflects the character of the Living God. He especially lives out much that is meant by the personal name “Yahweh”. He is “God-with-us”, “Yahweh our Savior” (Matthew 1:21-23).
After the close of the canon of the Old Testament, there is a change in the use of the divine names, titles and attributes. There is a tendency to view God as more distant and abstract. “Yahweh” becomes “LORD”, and with this change the closeness and immanence taught by “Yahweh” is changed into the distance and transcendence as this name dare not be spoken. Elyon becomes much more popular to stress his transcendent superiority over the gods of the nations.
And then Jesus comes. All of this move toward transcendence is turned on its head in the One who is Yahweh our savior and God-with-us. The God who came down to live with his covenant people comes down to share full humanity with them is an unthinkable closeness.
In this closeness—”The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us”— God reveals his character to us in his holiness, goodness, love, truth, wisdom, righteousness, justice, longsuffering and mercy. He does not manifest these characteristics one by one. Rather he models a character that reflects all of these perfections in perfect balance. In him we see the character of the Living God in a new and powerful way—the way in which we need to reflect the character of God in our lives. I will discuss these attributes in section five below.
God’s Work Of Salvation
God reveals himself to us in his works, in his theophanies, in the biblical narratives and in his names and titles. Through out this section, we have looked at his works of creation, providence and revelation. Now we turn to his work of redemption. This study will take up the largest part of volume II of this Systematic Theology in a study of the provision of salvation in the person and work of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. It will continue through all of volume three in our study of the application of salvation in the doctrines of the Church, individual salvation and Eschatology. Here, it is necessary to take a quick look at this work of redemption for our understanding of the Story of God’s self-revelation.
Salvation is a much bigger word than is commonly understood. We tend to think of the cross as the foundation of our salvation and our new birth as the moment of our salvation. This is certainly true and essential. It is not the whole however. God’s work of redemption includes all of the work of the Father, Son and Spirit. It is centered in and founded on all of the redemptive works of Jesus Christ from his incarnation to his turning of the kingdom over to the Father to inaugurate our life on the new earth.
Our individual salvation is more than its beginning. It is everything that God does in us from the first conviction of sin and need to our glorification in the Messianic Kingdom and on the new earth.
Salvation is also more than individual. It includes that. But God is concerned with the redemption of history in the Messianic Kingdom and in the redemption of the cosmos in the new heaven and the new earth. Salvation has the same boundaries as does creation and providence.
The New Testament description of this great work of God is given in three great narratives that are essential to the great biblical Story/Drama. The first narrative of the New Testament revelation of God’s work of redemption is the first coming of Jesus Christ. The second narrative is the second coming of Jesus Christ. The third narrative of salvation in the coming of the Father and the Lamb to the New Earth to dwell with us forever.
The First Coming Of Jesus Christ
God has been in the business of saving people since he gave his promises to Adam and Eve. Hebrews eleven gives us a whole list of redeemed people. Romans four describes the justification of Abraham and David. Jesus speaks of the new birth to Nicodemus three years before the cross, resurrection and Pentecost. The application of the divine work of salvation by the Lord Jesus Christ began with the first believers: Adam, Eve and Abel.
But the foundation of the salvation of these Old Testament believers was not laid until Jesus came and accomplished his appointed work. Old Testament believers were born again and justified when they looked forward in faith to the future provision of that salvation. We are saved when we look back to that completed work in faith.
God’s work as our Savior is born in the theophanies of the coming of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit in humiliation at the dawn of he last days.
The central focus of this provision of salvation is Jesus’ death on the cross for our sins and his resurrection from the dead for our victory. The apostles made that the center of their teaching and we need to follow their lead.
But these two redemptive acts did not happen in a vacuum. God provided salvation in a whole series of redemptive acts by the Lord Jesus Christ. The first what his act of incarnation by his virgin conception and birth — God’s taking on full humanity to lay the foundation for his taking our sins and fulfilling our obedience. Throughout his life, he was perfectly obedient to the Father, living the life of obedience that God demanded and that was never lived by anyone else. Some man had to obey or all people would go to hell.
Since Satan’s temptation of Eve and Adam, this world has been filled with lies about everything that is important. Jesus came to be the truth and to speak the truth—all that we needed for life and godliness.
Because we were all sinners and had fled from God toward eternal death in hell, Jesus came to suffer all of eternal hell in our place on the cross under the curse of God. But death, hell and the curse could not hold him. He rose from the dead to conquer Satan and hell and death in our place and to give us eternal life with him.
Having completed that work, Jesus ascended to heaven, was enthroned at the Father’s right hand. There he poured out the Holy Spirit to form his church and there he intercedes for his people and represents us before the Father.
The foundation has been laid for all who are saved; past and present. But there is more to be done. That is rather obvious as we look at ourselves and at each other. We are far from God’s expectations and far from the comfort and glory that salvation is all about.
The Second Coming – The Messianic Kingdom
God’s work of salvation continues with the redemptive acts of Jesus in his second coming. He announced the Kingdom of God in his first coming and gave us pictures of what is would be like in his teaching and in his miracles. But Satan remained the “god of this age”. His kingdom of darkness still ruled the world. And God’s people are persecuted “for righteous sake”. There must be more. And there is. God has been predicting this more since Genesis 3:15 (compare Romans 16:20.
Satan’s kingdom of darkness will culminate in the rule of the Satan-possessed Antichrist. But Jesus will come again to pour out wrath on that kingdom of darkness and to deliver his people from that coming wrath (I Thessalonians 1:9-10). Jesus’ invasion of history will be a seven year war between God’s Messiah and Satan’s messiah. Our Lord will win, cast Satan out of history and establish his own kingdom that will last for a thousand years of peace, justice and prosperity.
Jesus second coming begins with this deliverance of his people before the seven year war and the inauguration of hostilities in that great war—the great tribulation.
In his first coming Jesus gave pictures of this Messianic Kingdom. He did it to show what it would be like. He did it so that we could be assured that he could do it. Back then he healed some diseases. Now he will heal all diseases (Ps. 103:3). Then he stopped the storms. Now he will stop all storms and natural evils. Then he brought fish to the nets of the disciples. Now he will change and rule over all creatures so that “they will neither harm nor destroy” (Isaiah 11:6-9). Then he fed thousands a meal. Now he will feed all people all of their meals so that there will be no more hunger or need. Then he raised three people from the dead. Now he will raise all of the dead. Then he spoke the truth. Now he will judge all men and we will know the truth about ourselves and about all people.
God redeems us not only by new birth, but by giving us a glorified life with resurrection bodies in a new environment of peace and prosperity. There will be no more poverty or persecution, no more sin and guilt. Then we will be righteous and holy, in perfect fellowship with the triune God and will be privileged to have an official position in that great kingdom—a royal priesthood.
Then, everyone will know that there is only one true God. They will know who he is and his power and rule will be obvious. Everyone will know who Jesus Christ is and that he is the only Savior of the world and that he rules the earth in perfect justice with peace, joy and prosperity for everyone.
But Satan will be allowed to return for one more temptation and one more battle. The unregenerate of the Millennial Kingdom will immediately turn to Satan and rebel against the Lord Jesus Christ. No one will ever be able to question the depravity of the unregenerate again. No one will ever see Adam’s sin as our tragedy again, but will recognize that first sin as our guilt.
But the rebellion will not succeed. Satan will be defeated. All will be judged. Everyone will know who they are and what history has been all about. God’s work of judgment will be a great redemptive act.
The Third Coming – The New Creation
But all of these redemptive acts of Jesus’ first and second comings are still not enough! The God who created the cosmos will not rest until the cosmos is redeemed and accomplishes the purposes for which he created it. So God will cleanse the entire cosmos by fire. He will burn away every track and trace of sin and evil. It now becomes a fitting place for God and his people.
God and the Lamb will bring us down to this new earth and will live with us here. We have a double home: the earth out of which Adam was made, and God whose breath gave him life. Now we are fully home because we are on earth with the Living God for all of the ages to come—for eternity
In this new earth (and cosmos) God will make everything new. This newness will be a qualitative newness that never gets old and boring but is always becoming newer and has no trace of the dust of death or of anything that could wear out, become boring or could disappoint us.
With this new creation God has completed as much of the story of himself in relation to us as we need at this time. We do need this much and we need it all! Just as we cannot ignore the beginnings of the story without great damage to our daily lives, so we cannot ignore the end of the story in these great acts of redemption without great harm to our joy and victory.
Most of us dislike being interrupted when we are telling a story or saying something that is very important to us. People who interrupt before they have heard the whole story or the point that we are making are properly called fools and demonstrate a destructive self-centeredness. We certainly ought not to interrupt God before we have heard and understood the whole story that he is telling. We ought never to tell his story to others without a good knowledge of the whole story and of the point that he is making. Nothing is more important to us than to listen to the entire story of God’s self-revelation from creation to the new creation.
We read about a foolish messenger in the book of Samuel. Ahimaaz had just fought in a battle against Absolom and requested the privilege of taking the message about the battle to king David. Joab reluctantly let him go, but only after appointing a Cushite to be the official messenger. Ahimaaz outran the Cushite, gave the news to David and demonstrated his foolishness. His message was:
“All is well…. Praise be to the Lord your God! He has delivered up the men who lifted their hands against my lord the king.” The king asked; “Is the young man, Absolom safe?” Ahimaaz answered; “I saw great confusion just as Joab was about the send the king’s servant and me, your servant, but I don’t know what it was” (II Samuel 18:28-29).
David was not impressed. Ahimaaz was shunted to the sidelines and disappears from the story. He has wasted time for everyone because he did not have the whole message.
God expects us to get the whole message and get it right before we carry it to someone else. Whether we are reaching children or adults, proclaiming the Gospel to the unsaved, counseling the troubled or whether we are leading God’s people in worship we need the whole message. Anything less will do more harm than good. Anything less is an insult to God and too high an opinion of ourselves.