Tuesday, January 24, 2017

For He Must Reign...! (The Eschatology of the Reformers)

Recently - not sure of the process - I was arrested by these for words: “For He must reign.” I then found myself in the grip of knowing I must delve into the anticipatory laps of eternity’s great flood tide. 

“For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet.” 1 Corinthians 15:25

The culmination of this covenant promise is expressed no where more fully than in Paul’s letter to the Church at Rome. “For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. Romans 8:19-21

In Hope

Let us be assured by that two word clause in the midst of this passage: “in hope.” “The one thing which takes out the sting from this impoverished and degraded condition is Hope.” Charles Ellicott 

Some versions use the word earnest instead of anxious - for an earnest has been given as a pledge that futility has not the last word. “and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” Romans 5:5 

The Reformers

In 2017 we stand on the eve of the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. Reformed Theology is also know as Covenant Theology. When God Himself makes a promise - a covenant - it remains inviolate until it is fully accomplished. 

A theological word for what we are dealing with here is eschatology which could be defined as a perspective on last things.  Yet, we cannot look toward last things without looking back to first things - else we lose our bearings. 

Concerning the eschatology of the Reformers one author notes: “The eternal purpose of God concerning all things is viewed in connection with God's eternal covenant of grace with His people in Christ, a covenant that embraces all of creation too. Christ, the Head of the church and creation and the Mediator of the covenant, is at the center of God's eternal purpose with all things. All that God has done in the past, is doing in the world now, and will do yet in the future is for the realizing of His covenant plan in Christ. The end (goal) to which all things are leading is the realization of God's gracious covenant of redemption in Christ. When the end comes in the return of Christ, God's covenant will be complete.” We might add, this is the consummation or the summing up of all things in Christ. 

The Reformers knew nothing of our current late great fascination with a left behind escapist mentality. This schema has its roots in the 19th century - far removed from the robust eschatology of the 16th or even the glorious vision of the 4th century’s Augustine of Hippo. Indeed, the contrast is stark. 

Covenant Promise

There is nothing that has happened in the eons of time that has abrogated the covenant promise for His creation - although the attempts have been frequent and legend. Not even the capitulation of the first couple to the wiles of the serpent - for with the resultant consequences also came the eternal hope into which Paul was surely gazing: “He will crush your head,.”   

God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day. Genesis 1:31 It is not possible for the creature to eternally corrupt the creation of the Incorruptible. For what God witnessed, he witnessed to Himself - for man created from the dust of the earth had not yet received the breath of life. “...since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself,...” Hebrews 6:13b Thus the promise is unconditional for it is grounded on the faithfulness of God alone - the believer’s confident perseverance begins and ends here.

Not Annihilation 

His plan for all of creation is not annihilation but transformation. “When the bow is in the cloud, then I will look upon it, to remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” And God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant which I have established between Me and all flesh that is on the earth.”  Genesis 9:16-17 An everlasting covenant initiated and maintained by God Himself remains eternally immutable - impervious to prevarication. 

This is the blessed hope and the singular purpose of the church. “And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” Ephesians 1:22-23

There can be no greater motivation than to be incorporated into God’s purpose by the means of Sovereign Grace. And with that comes an incumbent responsibility to husband all of God’s creation - not to disdain it. An erroneous view of eschatology may cause us to abdicate our God ordained responsibility and thus invalidate the legitimacy of our witness. 

White-Hot Passion

The fire of God is His white-hot passion for His bride - the wife of the Lamb. One whom Christ will present to Himself without spot or wrinkle. Metaphorically speaking it is heat and pressure that serves to accomplish this glorious transformation.

His plan is one of purification not destruction. For He is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. “He will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may present to the LORD offerings in righteousness.”  Malachi 3:2-3 everything that can stand the fire, you shall pass through the fire, and it shall be clean,  Numbers 31:23 

The purpose of the bow is for God to remind Himself of the covenant His has established on behalf of His creation. “It shall come about, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow will be seen in the cloud, and I will remember My covenant, which is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and never again shall the water become a flood to destroy all flesh.” Genesis 9:14-15

All Things New 

Grounded in the perspective of the beginning of time we gaze forward to the culmination: And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.” Then He said to me, “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.  Revelation 21:5-6

When the Sovereign Lord says, “It is done.” we may rest in the assurance that it is done indeed. His eternal covenantal plan stands the tests of time only becoming more exquisite to the praise of His glory and grace.  

“Creation longs for His return, 
When Christ shall reign upon the earth; 
The bitter wars that rage 
Are birth pains of a coming age. 
When He renews the land and sky, 
All heav’n will sing and earth reply 
With one resplendent theme: The glories of our God and King!”1

From the Fifth Sola of the Reformation: 

“Soli Deo Gloria, glory to God alone!”

1 Keith and Kristyn Getty with Stuart Townend - “Creation Sings The Father’s Song.”  These modern hymnists compose from the  theological foundation of the Reformers.  

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