God’s Covenant, Part 11 – God’s Purpose

C-The Purpose of God in Providence

We now come to the place where it is necessary to consider the purpose of God as it unfolds in history in regard to the division of time. Scripture reveals God’s decree as it concerns the covenant, as a work that progressively unfolds; concerning the decree, it is eternal; concerning the covenant, it has a beginning and it has an end. The end in view according to God’s decree is the ultimate revelation of God’s perfected, glorified kingdom. Because of this fact, there is a design to history that is revealed only by Scripture. The worldling cannot see this, and alas, many Christians influenced by man-centered views of the kingdom have failed to see the design and sovereign hand of God in it as well. Here, we want to look more closely at how God’s covenant interrelates with history and time. More specifically, we want to look at and consider the design of its unfolding in a broad sense. Minute details will be developed in time, but for now it is well to view the development of the kingdom as a structure built upon the purpose of God. In order to do this, perhaps it would be helpful to review what we have already considered concerning God’s covenant purpose from Scripture, a simple outline of this will suffice.

1. God’s covenant purpose is a matter of an eternal decree.

2. God’s covenant kingdom existed eternally in the mind of God.

3. At creation, God’s kingdom began to be revealed.

4. The created order contained everything within it at the outset, even opposition to it.

5. The establishment of God’s purpose is the overthrow of all opposition within His kingdom.

6. God’s kingdom consists of those within it that are redeemed, and those who are reprobated.

7. God in Christ is the Redeemer and the Ruler of His kingdom.

8. All of these things will culminate in a new order yet to come.

These eight things constitute a broad view of what history is comprised of in relation to God’s purpose. Each one of these things interrelates with all of the others too. We see in them a development of the purpose, but we see also an organic unity to them as well. For instance, what is any of it if not decreed by an eternal Deity that transcends time and space? And what kind of Deity does not know and see all that is from start to finish in what He sets out to do? And certainly, if there were a single molecule left to itself in creation, so that something might go wrong in it apart from a preordained intention, what kind of Deity would that be who created it? These kinds of considerations concerning God and His kingdom are what give this subject such a vastness to it, such a depth of absolute wonder to our minds (Rom. 11:33)!

As soon as we talk about providence we are talking about matters of time and space. Joined together with the reality of God in His eternity and omnipotence, there is no room left for us to imagine that any of it is a matter of happenstance. The eternal Being acts and interacts within His creation, this is what Scripture reveals of Him in history. Since we as creatures are subjects of time and space being part of nature, all that happens within creation affect us in the same way. Men tend to live their lives within a very narrow context of reality, seeing only that which concerns them. One of the glorious things about having a revelation from God, is the ability in a manner of speaking, to look at life and the world through His eyes. We are able to ponder what has happened before we were around, being made conscious of our puny existence within the cosmos. And we are able to look ahead to what God has prepared for all of creation, and all of mankind within it. This sort of contemplation elevates the human mind to the very heights of heaven where God is, to the very throneroom of God who has done it, and furthermore, will do all things shown in His word.

I-The place of Providence in History

While the Covenant is God’s framework of salvation within His kingdom, providence is the means by which He implements it. That is what we call God’s providence. When we think of the word providence, usually it conjures the idea of either hardship or deliverance from God in our individual lives. That is certainly a correct view of providence. But providence is also, and in our present context something that involves both these things, hardship and deliverance, on a much grander scale. This is so as it concerns the entire church, before and after the cross. So when we talk about providence concerning God’s covenant, we are talking not only about individual experience, but of corporate, or, collective experience. Both of these go hand in hand together.

Many examples of this are seen in the Old Testament. Abraham was told to sojourn in a foreign land according to the covenant purpose of God (Gen. 12:1-3). God’s providence however, directed him away from that land to another, namely Egypt (verse 10). While there, Abraham became concerned for his safety, due to the fact his wife was so attractive. Abraham feared he might be killed and his wife taken as the possession of Pharaoh (verses 11,12,19). So he devised a plan to convince Pharaoh that he and his wife were but brother and sister, thinking it would be safer (verse 13). Besides sinning in his lie to Pharaoh, Abraham miscalculated the whole matter completely, so that God intervened in it for his deliverance (verses 17-20). Now, what appears to be a simple act of providence in an individual personal life, was in reality, much more than that. Scripture records this event to show us the very point we make here. The reason being that Abraham was a crucial figure in the covenant purpose of God, so that any threat made upon his life would ultimately effect the entirety of it.

One more example will suffice. This is the case we have in the days of Esther, when Israel was held in captivity in Persia. The book named after Esther, is the only book of the Old Testament where there is no mention of Israel’s covenant God. But not withstanding that, it is a book that testifies to Him in what it records. The crucial event surrounding Esther and the book of her name, was the providential deliverance of the entire Jewish people by God. The narrative of the book starts with the providential circumstance of the Persian king, ridding himself of a disrespectful wife, through the contrivance of an official decree (Est. 1:12-19). In that decree, provision was made for another Queen to be chosen, who just so happened to be Esther, a captive Jewish girl in the king’s court (Est. 2:15-17). The central theme of the book emerges soon after, when a plan to exterminate all the Jews of Persia is hatched by Prince Haman, because Mordecai the Jew will not honor him (Est 3:5,6,8,9). The plot is made known to Mordecai, Esther’s adopted father (Est. 2:7). Mordecai appeals to Esther, who now has the lofty position through providence, of being the Queen, to approach the king on their behalf (Est. 4:1-9). Esther balked at this request, reasoning with him that it could result in her death (Est. 4:10-12). But Mordecai sent her a convicting message, pointing her to the sovereignty of God (Est. 4:13,14). Mordecai’s point was well made, for he reasoned thus, how could God let His covenant people, along with His covenant purpose perish? So the conviction of Mordecai’s message, was made by the grace of God, unto her repentance and obedience (Est. 4:15-17). Esther approached the king, God intervened on behalf of His people, and Haman was in the end hung on his own gallows, thereby effecting their deliverance (Est. 5:1-3, 7:1-10).

These two examples of personal deliverance affecting the entirety of redemptive history are but two found among many others in the Old Testament. This is also why we see the bulk of the Old Testament revelation given in the form of narrative, it is the story of redemption, covenant history to be exact. And it’s within that history we see an emphasis upon God’s covenant stated and restated over and over again, until we get to the present time and the New Testament, where the culmination of it all has come.

But there is something else related to this history that serves as part of the covenant framework of redemption. This is the division of time within the created order, as it relates to history and the providence of God. God has divided time which He created into specific ages, or, epochs’ of time revealed in Scripture. Everything in redemptive history related to His covenant falls within this division by His sovereign design. That being said, it is clear from Scripture that there is a definite course, based on a definite purpose that all things which will come to pass happen.

Those who extol the supposed virtue of free will in the creature, like to look at Scripture history and see God constantly reacting to what man does. This is a distorted view and an absurd notion, for God and man cannot be compared in terms of freedom. Man is limited in his ability and so-called freedom, God is absolute and sovereign in His. Yet, the intentions and efforts of man, are both decreed and used by God as subsidiary causes in effecting His covenant purpose in providence. So when it comes to the matter of specific things that mark or indicate periods of time in redemptive history, keep in mind that this too, is part of God’s sovereign, yet, causal activity.

II-Epochs of Time

A superficial examination of Scripture history might lead the otherwise uninformed student to suppose that it is divided into only two parts, before and after the cross. It is certainly true that the Bible is divided that way, Old and New Testament, before and after the cross. It is however, often overlooked that the gospel narrative which records thirty-three years of the life and work of Jesus Christ, is actually before the cross, and therefore, technically Old Testament Era, even though it’s called the New Testament. We have considered this in the previous section as the work of progressive revelation in regard to redemption.[1] And certainly, Jesus Christ is the central figure and theme of not just Bible history, but of all history, sacred and secular. When it comes to understanding time and its specific boundaries in terms of Gods covenant purpose, through providence, the simple concept of using old and new as it’s dividing line is not exactly accurate. In other words, Old Testament and New Testament are not the way God divided and defined time, though it is certainly reasonable to understand the two periods as distinct, time before and time after the cross. But there is much more to it than that.

There are three main schools of thought today that like to view the division of Old and New Testament as a matter of almost complete discontinuity. After chopping up the Bible into two parts, they then proceed to explain everything from each section in almost total isolation of the other. It is kind of like an hour glass that has two large sides to it, with a narrow passage for the sand to travel through, or, in this case, the sand of time. So then Jesus Christ and the cross are the passage between the two sides by which the sand of time passes.

The first school views the cross in this exact way, as an absolute division of time and purpose between the Old and New Testament.[2] These two periods of time are viewed as polar opposites to one another in terms of covenant purpose and providence. Of course, the cross unites them as the central theme of biblical history, but in terms of God’s dealing with His people in the covenant kingdom, the Old and New Testament serve as two different purposes. This way of looking at Bible history obviously views it as discontinuous when it transitions from the old to the new. Therefore, interpreting the mind of God concerning His covenant purpose is affected by this way of thinking. These folk tend to pit the New Covenant against the Old in many stark ways.

The second school of thought has a theological scheme in which they also see not only two main divisions of time, but also seven other individual epochs, or dispensations of time too, as they like to call them.[3] So these folk say there are two main periods or purposes of God, old and new, while at the same time they also say there is a total of seven periods and purposes of God. The way they do this is by saying the first five periods of time are under the Old Testament, and the last two are under the New Testament era. God has a completely separate purpose in each one of these dispensations. The discontinuity they impose upon the Bible by chopping it into these periods of time and purpose, result in creating paradoxical explanations of how all of this connects together. Of course, there is much more to the scheme than what we care to consider here. This system is incredibly complicated in its construction too. Nothing but theological confusion tends to come from this way of viewing Bible history.

The third school of thought, see a linear vertical connection between the many periods, or, epochs of time in the Bible.[4] But while doing this however, they also see a linear horizontal purpose in each one, though not in same way as the previous school. There are many similarities of thought among the three schools, such as an insistence on interpreting Scripture through the eyes of the people in the particular periods, without much reference to the whole of redemptive history in terms of a single purpose. What we mean by saying this is, that it allows those who follow this method to ignore the univocal character of revelation, and hence, redemptive history, to the point of creating multiple theologies. There is a theology of Moses, a theology of Jesus, a theology of Paul, and on and on it goes. Of course, the connection to the whole of Scripture is creative to say the least.

In fairness to all who read the Bible, and seek to interpret it properly in what it has to say about purpose and providence, there is a certain difficulty involved in trying to pin down the exact framework by which it is constructed. We can take as an example, the difficulty encountered in trying to outline any book of Scripture. In any given book, there may appear to be what seems to most people certain obvious divisions. Yet, oftentimes the same book or section of Scripture can be divided in alternative ways, without doing harm to the whole. The same thing can also be said about dividing redemptive history. There are certainly obvious divisions. On the other hand, many have divided it up differently while still coming back to its main theme, which is Jesus Christ and the gospel. In drawing an outline of Bible history, one can point to any number of particular places in which to mark a beginning and end to a specific era of time. Much of trying to understand biblical Eschatology is concerned with this difficult task of trying to make sense of the way Bible history is constructed.

Without attempting to set aside the various the difficulties in Scripture on the division of time with regard to God’s purpose, we propose a more simple, yet, comprehensive approach to it as found in the apostle Peters second epistle, chapter three. This chapter deals with the problem of understanding redemptive history, by dividing it up into three distinct categories, or ages, of time. These three ages are according to Peter understood as pre flood, post flood, and eternal time. Within this broad division of time, there exist many providential events of God that can legitimately be outlined in reference to the whole, without presenting any contradiction. This is the marvelous thing about Scripture, it is like a diamond whose shape and size contain many facets, depending on which way it is looked at. All facets make up the whole, yet, the whole does not exist without them.

What Peter says in this chapter however, does appear to be rather comprehensive, in that it provides an overview from the standpoint of God, that connects all of the covenant history together.

A-The Context of Peter’s Discourse

Peter is concerned to address a certain matter of contention by appeal to an oft used formula in the New Testament, the authority of the prophets and the apostles (verse 2). By this it is easily ascertained that he refers to the entirety of Scripture history, from his going back to “the beginning of creation.” (Verse 4). There were people in Peter’s day, just like in ours, who did and will scoff at and mock Christians for believing the word of God (verses 3,4). And the specific thing at issue here is the promise of the Lord’s second coming and the judgement that will follow (verse 4). Peter sets up his argument by directing his reader’s attention back to the flood, when people watched Noah build the ark, and preach to them as he did it (I Pet. 3:20; II Pet. 2:5). Yet, the people simply mocked at him, or, we should say at God, when so long a time went by without any fulfillment. But it did come one day, and they all perished. And Peter argues, it will happen again, just as surely as it did the first time (Matt. 24:27,28; Luke 17:26,27; II Pet. 3:9,10).

Verse 9 presents a much debated argument in the church. So a special focus on it is warranted, in order to understand the context of what follows from Peter, and is also pertinent to our own study. What this is exactly, is the purpose of God throughout the ages, in reference to covenant history according to providence. Before going any further, let us address the debate. The argument on one side goes like this, the statement Peter makes about the Lord waiting so long to complete His work of establishing the kingdom, is due to His desiring to save every person on earth. Therefore, God waits long, calling and saving His elect, while pleading with every creature, based on this desire, to respond in faith. That God is longsuffering, there is no argument that can be made against it. That God wills to have his church preach to every creature indiscriminately is also, not arguable in the least. That God’s elect will respond to the gospel in faith is not under dispute either, in any way. Having said all that however, there is one problem with this position, it is the notion that God desires all to be saved, yet, is frustrated in this purpose by the vast majority of people refusing to believe. This is a patently false statement on many accounts, both directly stated in Scripture, and consistent with the biblical law of logic.

The desire, or, the purpose of God can never be frustrated, but does always come to pass (Rom. 9:18,19). There are many fanciful arguments made as an attempt to explain away the fact that God chooses to save some, but others He rejects, and not because of anything in either one (Rom. 9:13,16). So while it is the express will of God to have His gospel preached in a general way to all people, Scripture explicitly says the outcome is God’s choice, not man’s “For many are called, but few are chosen.” (Matt. 22:14). Those who make the desire for all argument rarely, if ever, think about the fact that the largest part of the world is excluded by providence from ever hearing the gospel in the first place. To a Pelagian minded person, God’s longsuffering in time is based on the frustration He encounters by the circumstance of human failure to accomplish the goal of worldwide evangelism.

More biblically sound minds do not make this mistake, yet, many still do not understand the context of what Peter said in this passage of Scripture, and why he said it. What Peter is saying here is, God waits as long as He has determined beforehand, to save every one of His elect people. In doing this, God is certainly longsuffering toward those reprobates who reject Christ. He most certainly is longsuffering toward those whom He has determined will never hear the gospel. And last of all, God is even longsuffering toward His own covenant people, until they come into covenant fellowship with Him though Jesus Christ (Eph. 2:1-3).

This truth, when understood properly, presents a clear picture of time and providence, concerning God’s covenant purpose. While God gathers up His elect throughout history, He also prepares the reprobate for destruction at the same time (Rom. 9:21-23). So time and circumstance from a historical perspective is something predetermined by God for this very purpose (Acts 17:26-28). This is also why Peter gives us such a comprehensive overview of redemptive history in this chapter. It is so we can relate all of Scripture to this one purpose of God concerning His covenant plan. It is this providential purpose that has undergirded everything God has done since the beginning of time, and will do until its end, or, its final state.

B-Pre flood age (verses 4-6)

Peter, presents to us in this, his discourse against scoffers, the first age of covenant history as the pre flood, or, antediluvian period. There is probably not much argument to be found against this assertion. But there is something else said by Peter in these verses that mark this period of time as something more than just an era marked by two events. Verse six refers to that period of time as “the world that then existed.” The biblical concept of the world, or, the cosmos has to do with created order. What Peter is saying then is that this era, was marked by a specific created order, and that it “perished.” What does Peter mean by the statement the world ended? It has to do with the created order of the time, or, age in which this particular providence happened.

When Peter says “the world that then existed” also “perished” he does not mean to say the original elements from which it was formed were destroyed, in the sense of being reduced to that original dark void we see in Genesis, after God created (Gen. 1:1,2). Neither does Peter give any credence to a theory that tries to reconcile creation with evolution called the Gap Theory.[5] This idea suggests that after God created as stated in verse one, sin entered and reduced the world to chaos as stated in verse two, so that God created it again through an evolutionary process. No, this did not happen, for we are told that it was destroyed “being flooded with water.” (II Pet. 3:6). The elements were not destroyed, nor was it disassembled to the point of chaos as the Gap Theory suggests. Instead, this is what we read in Genesis. “And all flesh died that moved on the earth: birds and cattle and beasts and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth, and every man. All in whose nostrils was the breath of the spirit of life, all that was on the dry land, died. So He destroyed all living things which were on the face of the ground: both man and cattle, creeping thing and bird of the air. They were destroyed from the earth. Only Noah and those who were with him in the ark remained alive.” (Gen. 7:21-23). The flood destroyed every living thing that moved on the earth but those in Noah’s ark.

There is something else that God destroyed by the flood as well, this was the civilization that existed in the world at the time. In order to understand this, it is necessary to consider something about “the world that then existed.” There are several things which characterize this age. First, it was an age that witnessed the beginning of time in a world governed by God through man. Mankind lived in the garden of Eden, where God walked and talked with him there (Gen. 3:8,9). Adam is the Hebrew word for mankind, so Adam acted as the representative of all mankind. Second, this age witnessed the rebellion of mankind which resulted in his expulsion from the garden (Gen. 3:23,24). Man went from living in Paradise, heaven on earth, to living in a fallen world, while Paradise was still present and visible to everyone near it. Paradise was the place where God dwelt, but not so any longer for man. Man’s relationship to God on earth had been radically altered by the introduction of sin.

The original order included a spiritual realm and context to it, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Gen. 1:1). This angelic realm rebelled too, hence, we see the serpent, a creature indwelt by Satan, the chief angel, tempting mankind in the garden to sin (Gen. 3:1-7). So this was a world order, created by God to serve Him as His kingdom, that became dysfunctional by the introduction of sin and rebellion against its rightful King.

The people who inhabited the world at that time were all descendants of a single family, though it was divided between the saved and the lost, between the elect and the reprobate (Gen. 3:15, 4:16-5:32). By the time the flood came however, there were but few who worshiped God, Noah being one of them (Gen. 6:5,8).

We can tell from the early pages of Genesis that immediately after being put out of the garden, sinful mankind developed his own civilization, building a city named after himself (Gen. 4:17). Though information about this is scarce, mention is made of a couple of things that characterized that civilization. There were nomadic herders (verse 20), there were musicians (verse 21), and there were teachers of crafts and metal work (verse 22). But it was also a society characterized by extreme moral depravity (Gen. 6:1-5). It is especially interesting to note a certain remark that is made by Moses in the first two verses of Genesis six. The fact that daughters were born to men and therefore, men married them is an insignificant statement by itself. What is significant is that it is made in the context of the incredible wickedness of mankind on the earth. And it is also made in the context of God’s coming judgement. The reason for the significance of the statement, is that it indicates that the separation God made between His covenant elect family, and the rest of mankind, had been compromised through intermarriage. In sort, the world order God created on earth had been usurped by a new world order made by man. So God destroyed the world that existed then, in order to preserve His covenant people.

There are several other things that pertain to the providential purpose of God that is evident in this age. First of all, the destruction of all living things in the flood indicates the nature of sin and its punishment (Gen. 2:16,17). God said man would die if he ate from the forbidden tree. Spiritual death occurred immediately after he did, as is evident in Adam and his wife being conscious of their nakedness, and fearful of God’s approach (Gen. 3:6-8). And second, physical death began to occur as well over time, although men lived much longer then (Gen. 5:1ff). But third, we see from this that God brings providential judgement on earth for sin, by catastrophic events. And fourth, sin brought a curse, not only on mankind, but on the earth too, so God destroyed that world (Gen. 3:17-19).

So the providential purpose of God was to bring a temporal judgement on earth, destroying every living thing, while cleansing the earth in a ceremonial ablution that was not meant to be absolute or permanent, but typical. These events provide a typical teaching lesson in redemptive history, on the eventual outcome of all things on earth by way of providential judgement (Matt. 27:37,38; I Pet. 3:20,21; II Pet. 2:5,10). So Peter does not hesitate, under inspiration, to draw his conclusions about the end of all mockers from this event.

C-Post flood age (verses 7-9)

The second age Peter spoke of in his discourse, concerns that period of time which began after the flood, and remains until the time Jesus Christ comes to destroy the world once again. Peter makes no other distinction in his breakdown of history than that. Peter refers to this age, or, period of time by calling it “the heavens and the earth which are now.” Once again, it is asserted here that he is talking about the present world order when he says “heavens and the earth,” rather than the physical elements. These elements which make up the cosmos are the same as those in the previous age, which were created in the beginning. The difference is the providential purpose of God in this present age.

Now, at this point it will undoubtedly be asked, how can this span of time, before and after the cross, be of the same age? This is a reasonable question to ask, for as we have already stated, Scripture places Christ and the cross as the central theme of all revelation. And again, another question will undoubtedly arise with it, how can the Old Testament people and the New Testament people be considered together in a single age? This is another reasonable question to ask as well, one which has been at the root of many theological debates over the last two hundred years.

The answer to these two questions, in response to the assertion that we are presently in the same age as that which preceded the cross, is best answered by the Lord Himself. Jesus makes the same assertion to His disciples. Several texts in particular, stand out as proof of this assertion.

Matthew 12:32Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.

Matthew 13:40Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age.

Matthew 13:49,50So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come forth, separate the wicked from among the just, and cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.”

Luke 18:29,30So He said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or parents or brothers or wife or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who shall not receive many times more in this present time, and in the age to come eternal life.”

Luke 20:34-36Jesus answered and said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are counted worthy to attain that age, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage; nor can they die anymore, for they are equal to the angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.

Jesus contrasted this age with another which was to come in these texts. Observation 1. These are all pre cross sayings. Observation 2. The age to come is eternity. Nothing is mentioned in these verses of any single, or even a double intervening age, such as a New Covenant, or, Millennial age according to a certain school of thought previously mentioned.[6] The age Jesus referred to in these texts cited above was present with Him, and directly preceded eternity, it is the same one that began after the flood.

The apostles made the same distinction concerning the providential development of God’s purpose within an age long structure in their writings, defined by a beginning and an end. Paul wrote not only of this present age, but of a previous age too, as well as an age which is to come following this one.

Galatians 1:4who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,

Ephesians 1:21far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come.

Ephesians 2:7that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

Ephesians 3:5which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets:

Ephesians 3:9and to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ;

Ephesians 6:12For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.

Colossians 1:26the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints.

Titus 2:12teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age,

Hebrews 6:5and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come,

The designation of past plural ages is difficult to determine in two of these verses (Eph. 3:5; Col. 1:26). There is a clue however, in the fact that Paul is concerned in both of them to make a point of the progressive nature of redemptive revelation in the gospel. Paul is referring to an age preceding creation either, which isn’t an age at all, but uncreated eternity, or, to the pre diluvial age and the present age which now is, before Christ was fully made known. We think the latter are true, for Jesus asserted the cross to be not a distinction between providence and time, but a distinction between providence and revelation, within the context of time.

Another question will undoubtedly be raised in response to this, and it goes like this. How does the concept of age align with that of the world, spoken of in the age previous to this one? The word age is translated from the Greek word aeon, which essentially means the same thing as world does, with the emphasis on time.[7] The concept of age, meaning beginning and end, and the concept of the world, meaning created order, are both interchangeable with each other as representing essentially the same thing. When God created the cosmos, He created time and space along with it as its limit, or, its container, so to speak. This is why naturalists can never attain to a knowledge of God apart from Scripture. The cosmos is a box with a lid on it that can neither be opened, nor traveled beyond by unaided human wisdom (I Cor. 2:6-8).

Whatever differences there are that exist between the era that preceded the cross, and that which has followed in terms of change, is a matter of providential progression. But it is a progression that occurred within the same age, or, the world as Peter puts it in his outline of redemptive history (II Peter 3:7-9). This particular age is one that is long in years, much longer than the one that preceded it. That in itself speaks of providential purpose, for we see in verse 7 that it is “preserved by the same word” of God as was the first. That is, the time and events which characterize it, in terms of His covenant purpose, are a matter of the eternal decree which He brings to pass. And whereas the beginning of this present age began with a sanctified earth, free from the effects of original sin outside of the eight souls who lived in it, we see it will end the same way, utterly destroyed.

This is because the presence of sin in the world was not eradicated through the flood, for Noah and his family were still sinners. And the slightest sin corrupts all that it has contact with. Sin is not simply an unrighteous act, which it certainly is, but the presence of an unrighteous principle which operates in the spread of corruption. Another way of putting it is, a person commits acts of sin because they are predisposed to do it.

The providential preservation of the present world is, as we have already noted, for the sake of God’s elect. They enter this world, one at a time in history, God calls each one of them effectually in saving faith (Matt. 22:14). God preserves the present world to this end, that each one for whom Christ died will come into the blessed benefit of that propitiatory sacrifice made by Jesus Christ. Therefore, God endures with longsuffering the ungodly mockers. God’s people must endure them too, keeping these things in mind. So Peter makes this clear in what he says about it.

Preservation for God’s people is also something else for those who mock, it is a reservation for them, for the day of judgement which will surely come (Rom. 2:3-6). Peter sums up the point of what he is saying by a phrase that has perplexed many, and been the opportunity for others to twist God’s word into knots (II Peter 3:14-16). Peter says “that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” (Verse 8). In other words, time means nothing to God who created it, He exists outside of it, so it doesn’t affect Him in the least. What seems like a long time to us is actually not, when it comes to God and His purpose. Time actually encourages the wickedness of the lost, who mock God and His people when they speak of this judgement. These words of explanation on the other hand, is encouragement for believers, or, at least they should be. When Christians think that God waits because He desires to save everyone, but is frustrated in that design by their unwillingness, there is no encouragement in it whatsoever to them.

The words “a thousand years” by Peter are figurative, and are meant to convey the exact same thing as John’s words in Revelation, chapter twenty (Verses 3-7). Both John and Peter use the imagery of “a thousand years” to convey the idea of an unspecified, long age of Divine activity on the part of God. There is no exact amount of time meant in using the term “a thousand years,” only that God works providentially within long intervals of time fulfilling His purpose.

So why is it so important to understand there is but a single age that begins directly after the flood and ends when the Lord returns? It is to see that there is but one covenant community of God’s people, before and after the cross. Whatever the difference is in it (this age), it is not one of purpose. Christ did not die for more than one covenant people. There is only one church that has existed since the beginning of time. Though Peter presents a distinction between these ages, he does so only to develop the point about providence and history. Peter is concerned to show his readers that unlike the world that was before the flood, this present world has no visible display of Paradise as it did before sin entered the world. There is no specific place in the world made known to man now of where it all began, other than what the testimony of Scripture provides. That is certainly progression is it not? If people would not believe with their eyes then, how then are they to believe now? The answer is in the testimony of the Holy Spirit, first through the prophets, then through the apostles, and now through their word. The people of God believe the testimony that comes through God’s word, completely apart from all visible manifestations. If there is anyone today who cavils at the absence of visible signs concerning God’s kingdom, it shows their spiritual bankruptcy.

The new world order which followed the flood was different in that God did not allow but one nation of men to emerge in competition with His kingdom. Dividing the world into nations was a preservation of the covenant purpose (Gen. 11:1-9). However, sinful men still did and have done their utmost to overthrow that purpose, and establish their own order anyway (Ps. 2:1-3). But God mocks at them, and He turns them against each other (verse 4). This is why when Jesus told His disciples “And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom” (Matt. 24:6,7a), He was telling them nothing new, for it always was and will be until the end of the age. If God turns the wicked against themselves, this acts as a preservative upon the earth for their benefit.

The beginning of a new world after the flood was the reestablishment of God’s kingdom order. It’s fullest manifestation has always been, and always will be the prayerful desire of His people (Matt. 6:9,10). Far from the events leading up to the flood being a discouragement or setback of some kind, this new order which followed looked ahead to the original goal. Eventually, God rose up a visible kingdom of people in Israel, to show His order to the world. But it was not meant to be permanent, for it was established on the same earth which fell under the curse. And nothing about that kingdom, no matter how glorious it might have seemed, would change the fact that it was inhabited by sinners.

It was also contained within a single district of relative obscurity among the nations. There is much to be said about this, for it certainly showed in graphic detail something of the struggle that exists between God and Satan, between His spiritual kingdom and the one which was erected in opposition to it (Is. 14:12,13). When God divided the nations of the earth, He deprived Satan of the ability to organize them into a single world nation set against Him. So they fight against one another while at the same time they fight against God and His people. While bringing them into that land, God delivered His people of old many times from the attack of His and their enemies. But the most insidious attack of all is one that is made against their faith, doctrine, and worship (Num. 25:1-3). You see, Christ was in the midst of His people there in the wilderness, leading them and supplying their physical and spiritual need (I Cor. 10:1-5). Since the devil could not prevail against them through frontal attack, nor, through sorcery, he employed the tactic of spiritual temptation to sin (Num. 22:1-6, 24:1). So the Lord judged His own people, by destroying those within who sinned (Num. 25:4-9; I Cor. 10:5-10). But this too, was an act of preservation for the true people who worship God in truth.

When Israel was in the land, they prevailed against these nations for a time. But the presence of sin took its course, and before long Israel’s struggle against the nations became their struggle with God because of it. So God judged His earthly people through the nations, bringing them in upon them like a flood to destroy it (Is. 54:7-9). And for what purpose was this done, but to preserve His spiritual kingdom for something yet future, and far grander than anything that was done before (verses 10-17). The nations who delighted in Israel’s destruction will find themselves destroyed in what the Lord proposed to do in the preservation of His people.

The earthly kingdom of Israel came to an end, but this by no means ended God’s kingdom, nor His purpose for it. Through sin and judgement, God divided Israel in two parts, making them a northern and a southern kingdom. After both of these fell to a succession of conquering nations, God’s people became diffused among the nations of the world when He scattered them throughout the earth. This, God did by raising up numerous world empires, all of them operating under the delusion of Satan, to accomplish the next and final phase of His redemptive plan, which was to send His Son Jesus Christ.

It is important to understand that there is a lot less of a division between the era the preceded the cross, and that which came after it, than most people realize. God ended His witness to the world through a single ethnic people in 597 BC when the destruction of Jerusalem occurred under King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. Never again would there be such a kingdom as that which existed in Israel, for they were no better in substance than those others “whose minds the god of this age has blinded” (II Cor. 4:4a). The people of God have always been, and always will be a spiritual people. Between that time when Jerusalem fell, and Christ came to accomplish redemption within a historical context, Jews were the primary believers. God preserved this spiritual people through the nations they fell under. We have already considered the events recorded in the book of Esther, as being an example of how God did this while they were under the dominion of Persia. When Christ came in the flesh it was Rome who had custody of God’s people, who were primarily Jews.

After the cross however, this all changed. Not the substance of the church in any respect, but the earthly people who comprised it. After the cross, both Jews and Gentiles filled the earthly sanctuary we call the church of Jesus Christ, to worship God. The kingdom of God remained as it was after the fall of Jerusalem, a spiritual kingdom under the physical custody of the nations. This remained Rome for a very long time, but eventually it too was broken up into many different entities. The Jewish people ceased to be an ethnic representation of God’s people on earth when they and the nations were joined together in the Christian church. Furthermore, it will remain like this until the end of this present world. There will never again be an earthly kingdom like Israel was, for it was but an introduction to what God is doing now in His church.

The struggle between God and Satan continues. The struggle between God’s people and the nations continue. And the struggle between the flesh and the devil still remains for the people of God in this world, even though redemption is something accomplished in Christ at the cross. We do not discount in the least the changes brought about by the cross. Certainly, it ended as a fulfillment many types and shadows contained in the earthly sanctuary under Moses, through the priesthood and the animal sacrifices. The cross provided a higher spiritual plane so to speak, through the many things that occurred when Christ rose from the grave an ascended to the right hand of God. He poured out His Spirit upon the church at Pentecost, so that every one of God’s people became prophets, priests and kings unto God. The word of the prophets and apostles were contained in a finished book given to the people as God’s voice to them. New Testament worship is simpler and more focused on preaching rather than visible objects to aid the faith of believers. But there is no essential change in substance between the church before the cross and that after it.

D-The age to come (verses 10-13)

Peter ends his discourse by introducing the fact that this age will end when the Lord returns. This day is called “the day of the Lord” (verse 10). While sinners mock, there is a moment that will occur sometime after the last one of God’s elect is effectually saved, before this happens. Only God knows when this will happen for He has predetermined it. On that day, everything God has purposed to do within the cosmos will be complete. Every believer will have been brought into a known saving covenant relationship with Him. Since that relationship with God was determined from eternity, it does not begin when a sinner believes, only the knowledge of it by the individual. So until the day when the last one is effectually called, the gospel is preached in the world. When that day comes however, it will end.

Peter tells us there are two things that will characterize that day. First of all, it will come suddenly, just like the days of Noah. The difference is in the manner of its coming. The first destruction occurred as a result of rain covering the earth for forty days. It did not change the fact that the number God determined to save would still be eight, and no more. But those forty days, in which rain which had never been seen before came down, afforded the people of the earth ample time to repent. No such thing will happen here, for it will come in a moment. Whether someone has heard the gospel or not, it will be academic. Peter makes an appeal to Christians concerning their behavior based on the suddenness of this day and its providence (verses 11,12). It is actually a day of rejoicing for God’s people, for their testimony and sufferings will all be vindicated before the unbelieving world. So these terrifying words from Peter are given for the encouragement of God’s people, who live in faith and struggle against sin.

Secondly, the earth will be reduced this time, to it’s very elements’. Nay, even more than that, “the elements will melt with fervent heat.” This can only be the fullest manifestation of the glory of God’s justice, in His wrath poured out on a world of sin and wickedness. The earth will be purified through fire. This is no ordinary fire such as that which terrifies people on earth concerning weapons of mass destruction. No, this is Holy fire, which emanates from the Lord who made the world, and everything in it. The earth will not be destroyed by the inventions of man, nor his rage against God and fellow man. The very elements will be rendered by His coming on this day, in the crucible of His enduring flames. They will be reduced to a condition according to their purest state. Every atom affected by the fall will be sanctified in such a way that it will never be the same again.

This is “the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.” (Verse 7). They too, will be removed along with all that offends the Holy character and law of God. This is the judgement day spoken of at the end of prophecy. The period of time at the end of the age John refers as “the thousand years,” will give a witness to a situation paralleled only by that which preceded the flood (Gen. 6:3). A literal period of only one hundred twenty years, during which Noah was commissioned to build the ark, elapsed before God brought the flood on the earth. This was a time of extreme wickedness on earth, for the depravity of man had reached its zenith. The same will hold true at the end of this age (Rev. 20:7-10).

The thousand-year period spoken of by John in Revelation, figuratively represents a completed time between the Lords first and second visitations on earth. Satan was bound during this time in which the gospel has gone forth into the world, saving God’s elect. This was not the case before the cross (Rev. 20:1-3). Prior to the cross, the world was utterly deceived and shut out of the kingdom, save for a few elect Jews. But once Christ came, enduring the cross in public display of Gods righteousness and justice against sin, the blinders were removed. All men everywhere then received the command by God to repent through the preaching of the cross (Acts 17:30,31). But just like a wild beast on a chain, Satan has been active during this time, able to viciously attack anything and anyone who get near to him. But there will come a time at the end of the age, unknown to us now, in which Satan will be released (Rev. 20:7). This will be a period of time before the Lord returns in which the depravity of mankind will have reached its limits. An attempt will be made at the instigation of Satan to remove the true church and all its people from the earth. This, they will do through the implementation of yet, another new world order, in an attempt to supplant God’s order (Rev. 20:7,8).

This attempt at constructing a new world order will come to nothing for “The earth is the LORD’s, and all its fullness, The world and those who dwell therein.” (Ps. 24:1). Furthermore, God has purposed to redeem the earth, and give it to His people (Rom. 8:19-21; Ps. 37:9,10). In fact, this was the hope which had been revealed to the saints before, as well as after the cross. It could not happen however, until the world was destroyed and made new. So no one knows but God, how long or short a time this will be that evil will seem to triumph, even more than it ever has. But just as the church faces extermination, much like the time and circumstance that Israel faced at the Red Sea, the Lord will return and intervene, delivering them from destruction (Rev. 20:9).

Satan and all who followed him will be judged, then “cast into the lake of fire and brimstone” (Rev. 20:10-15). Only those, washed in the blood of Christ, and clothed in the garment of His imputed righteousness will remain in a newly constituted heaven and earth (Rev. 1:5, 7:9,13,14).

The new age that begins after this is eternal. Even though it is an eternal age, it is not eternity in the sense that defines the Being of God. This is rather, eternal time, which God has made for His kingdom people to dwell in with Him. God will remake the heavens and earth out of the same original elements, completely purged of sin (II Pet. 3:13). And thus, the kingdom of God will have been fully consummated, brought to its final conclusion.

Notes:

[1] God’s Covenant, Part 10 – God’s Purpose, 7-23-2013.

[2] New Covenant Theology – This is a covenant scheme of history devised in the 1970’s by Baptists John Zens, Robert Morey and John Resinger. It came about in reaction to the emerging Reformed Baptist movement regarding their doctrine of Covenant Theology, of which all three men were in opposition.

[3] Classic Dispensationalism – This is a biblical historical scheme devised by John Nelson Darby (1800–1882) to explain God’s purpose[s] in redemption. This point of view was constructed upon the foundation of historic Premillenialism. However, Dispensationalism departs radically from historic Premilenialism in many respects. It is by and far, the most popular view of Bible history among modern Evangelicals.

[4] Biblical Theology movement – This is a scheme of history devised by eighteenth century Enlightment men. It is especially associated with German theologian Johann Philipp Gabler (1753-1826). Biblical Theology was devised as an attempt to explain the Bible from a historical point of view, rather than from a systematic approach to theology. Nineteenth century Liberals used this method of study as a way of asserting their Higher Critical attacks against the biblical orthodoxy. Princeton professor Geerhardus Vos (1862-1949), worked at revising the study of Biblical Theology, in order to complement the Reformed, orthodox, confessional view of Theology. More recent versions have emerged in the form of a post modern, neo Calvinist movement, employing elements of both Liberal and Evangelical thought.

[5] The Gap Theory is a clever attempt to reconcile creation with science formulated around the beginning of the nineteenth century. It was popularized by Scottish theologian Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847) in light of many new geological discoveries. Reference to this idea also appeared in the 1917 edition of the Scofield reference Bible. The name Gap comes from its main proposition that there is a vast amount of time between Genesis chapter one, verse 1, and verse 2. The Gap Theory suggests that following the original creation of the heavens and earth in verse 1, chaos ensued for a long unspecified period of time according to the language of verse 2. Hence, a gap occurred between verse 1 and 3 when God recreated the earth through a literal six days process. The gap is supposed to explain scientific evidence of old age evolution, while the six-day creation account explains young earth biblical history.

[6] All Premillenialists, including Dispensationalists, believe there is a literal one thousand year reign of Jesus Christ on earth that will come before the end of the world. This would make the Lord’s return actually a second and third coming, which has no support in Scripture. There is another view as well, not previously mentioned that also believes in a millennial age before the end of the world. This is called the Postmillenial idea of history. According to this scheme, Christ will return in a figurative spiritual manner to rule the earth for a thousand-year age before His literal, bodily return.

[7] Aeon is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word Olam, which means an unspecified period of time, or, age. Both words can mean either, a specific amount of time, or, unlimited time such as eternal time. In the Old Testament, Olam is frequently translated as everlasting (Gen. 9:16). In the New Testament, Aeon is frequently translated as world, as well as age (Heb. 1:2).

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