|Topical Bible Study||June 1954|
Know Your Bible—Part XVIII
God’s Plan of Salvation
THE apostle paul describes God’s plan of salvation as “the gospel of Christ.” “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ:” he wrote, “for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.” (Rom. 1:16) The word gospel means ‘good news,’ so Paul explains that the good news of salvation for a lost world is that God will manifest his saving power through Christ, that great personage who is referred to so many times throughout the Bible.
In Romans 1:1,2 Paul refers to this same good news as the “gospel of God, (Which he had promised afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures.)” These promises are not to be found in orderly array in any one particular chapter or book of the Old Testament. Nevertheless, the Lord used each of his prophets to record one or more of his promises concerning the coming of Christ, the Messiah, and that through him salvation would become available to all mankind.
In Galatians 3:8, Paul speaks of the “gospel” as having been preached to Abraham, when God said to this faithful patriarch that in him and his seed all the families, or nations, of the earth would be blessed. (Gen. 12:3; 22:18) In Galatians 3:16 Paul informs us that when God made that promise to Abraham, “He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.” Thus the apostle identifies the promise made to Abraham as being one of the first pertaining to the coming of a Messiah, a Christ, a Savior, a Deliverer.
That promise was restated to Abraham on a number of occasions, and finally was confirmed by God’s oath. This was after Abraham had demonstrated his complete faith in God by proving his willingness to offer his son Isaac as a burnt offering, believing that if he did so, God would raise him from the dead.—Gen. 22:10-18; Heb. 11:17-19
The same promise was reaffirmed to Isaac, and later to his son Jacob. Jacob, in pronouncing his blessing upon each of his twelve sons, said that there would come forth from the loins of Judah One whom he referred to as “Shiloh,” and that unto this ‘Shiloh’ would “the gathering of the people be.” Thus the Messianic hope was kept alive.—Gen. 49:10
The lawgiver, Moses, prophesied that there would come a “Prophet” greater than he, and implied that he would give to all who would heed his words that which they desired at Horeb, which was life. (Deut. 18:18,19) In Acts 3:19-23 the Apostle Peter quotes this prophecy and shows that it will have its fulfillment subsequent to the Second Coming of Christ, and during “the times of restitution of all things.”
David alludes to the coming Deliverer, when he asks, “What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?” (Ps. 8:4) Here he speaks of the coming to earth of the promised Messiah as a visitor representing the Creator. Thus the custom of visiting those in distress is utilized by David to indicate the great love of the Creator toward his human Creation, who, as a result of sin, are suffering and dying.
David refers further to the promised Messiah when, in Psalm 72 he writes, “He shall judge the poor of the people, he shall save the children of the needy, and shall break in pieces the oppressor. … In his days shall the righteous flourish; and abundance of peace so long as the moon endureth. He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth. They that dwell in the wilderness shall bow before him; and his enemies shall lick the dust.”—vss. 4-9
The Prophet Isaiah wrote much concerning the coming Messiah. In chapter 9, verses 6 and 7, he foretells his birth and explains the purpose of his coming, that it was to establish a “government,” the “increase” of which there would be no end. And then, to assure us that this great objective of the Divine plan through the promised Messiah would not depend upon human effort for accomplishment, the prophet added, “The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.”
In chapter 52, verse 10, Isaiah refers to Christ as the “holy arm” of the Lord, and prophesies that this ‘arm’ will be made “bare … in the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.” But after presenting this glowing prophecy concerning the glorious triumph of the Divine plan in assuring salvation to ‘all the ends of the earth,’ he raises the question, “Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?”—chap. 53:1
The reason Isaiah asks this question is that in prophetic vision the One whom he first saw as the Arm of the Lord revealed to all the nations, he now sees as a lamb led to the slaughter. “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,” the prophet writes. (Isa. 53:7) Thus does Isaiah, together with the other Old Testament prophets, not only foretell the glorious triumph of the Divine plan of salvation through Christ, but also the suffering and death of the Redeemer and Savior as an essential prerequisite to the recovery of man from sin and death. The Apostle Peter refers to this testimony of the prophets as descriptive of the “sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.”—I Pet. 1:11
In Micah 4:8, Christ is prophetically referred to as the “tower of the flock,” and the promise given that unto him shall come “the first dominion.” This is the ‘dominion’ over the earth that was given to our first parents, and lost by them through their disobedience to Divine law. (Gen. 1:28; 3:17-24) By virtue of his faithfulness, Jesus inherits the right to this dominion; but according to his Heavenly Father’s plan, he will give it to the restored world of mankind when the due time comes. It is this that is referred to in the parable of the Sheep and the Goats when Jesus says to those represented by the sheep, “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”—Matt. 25:34
The Prophet Micah was also used by the Lord to foretell the birthplace of the Messiah. He wrote, “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.”—chap. 5:2
In Malachi, the last of the Old Testament books, Christ is referred to as the “messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of hosts.” (chap. 3:1) The ‘covenant’ referred to here is the one the Lord made with Abraham, by which he assured the patriarch that through his ‘seed’ he would bless all the families of the earth. Malachi refers to this promised seed as the ‘messenger’ of that covenant ‘whom ye delight in.’ The hope of Israel, based upon the covenant God made with Abraham, was indeed the delight of all those who put their trust in God.
The Christ Was Born
Finally, that long series of promises, phrased in so many colorful and reassuring ways, beginning in Genesis and ending in Malachi, finally began to reach fruition, for Christ, the promised One, was born. He had a humble birth. There was no room in the inn, so when he was born he was laid in a manger. But the royal status of the Christ child was attested to by the fact that his birth was announced by an angel, with a mighty host of angels joining in the proclamation that his birth would bring “peace” on earth, and that it was a manifestation of God’s “good will” toward men—the ‘good will’ which had been implied in the many promises of the Messiah’s coming.—Luke 2:10,11,13,14
“Fear not,” the angel reassuringly said to the shepherds, “for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” From Judges 6:22,23 we discern that the Israelites considered seeing an angel as betokening serious consequences. Perhaps at times it did, but on this occasion it was different. The shepherds had nothing to fear, for the appearance of the angel was to announce ‘good tidings,’ the glorious tidings that the One whom God had been promising for thousands of years had now come—born that night in the city of David.
The appearance of the angel on this occasion did not mean death, as Gideon feared it did in his case. Rather, it meant life—life for the shepherds, Israel, and all nations. It was good tidings to ‘all people,’ for it was the beginning of the fulfillment of God’s promises to bless all the families of the earth. The One who was to redeem and restore man’s lost dominion was now born, just as the Prophet Micah had foretold.
Yes, He was born—He whose name was to be called “Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father,” and “The Prince of Peace,” was now lying in a manger in Bethlehem. (Isa. 9:6) The One who was destined in the Divine plan to be the ‘arm of the Lord’ who would bring salvation ‘to all the ends of the earth,’ had come, and fittingly that mighty host of angels sang, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”—Luke 2:14
The Promised Salvation
At the age of thirty, Jesus entered into the ministry which he had come to earth to perform—that service which ultimately was to lead to an opportunity for “all the families of the earth” to rejoice in the salvation which God had promised. (Gen. 28:14) It is with interest, therefore, that we take note of his teachings as they relate to the Divine purpose centered in him. Revealing among these are his instructions to the rich young ruler, and his subsequent discussion with his disciples based upon what he had said to the young man.
This young man, an Israelite, approached Jesus and asked, “What good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?” (Matt. 19:16) Here is a question piercing to the center of the whole issue of salvation, and what it involves. This man wanted to live eternally. To him, as to all mankind, the idea of growing old and finally dying was not appealing. It would be much better, he was sure, to continue living.
The man had good reason for approaching Jesus with this question, for had not Jesus been healing the sick, even raising the dead? One who could perform such miracles, and who was also such a wonderful teacher, could certainly outline a formula for retaining youth. Surely it would not be more difficult to keep one well than it was to restore the sick to health, so the question, ‘What good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?’
Nor was this man wrong in his conception of what Jesus was able to do for him. When all the ends of the earth see the salvation of God—that salvation which he has provided through Christ—they will experience exactly what this young man desired and asked for—they will no longer grow old and die.
Since this young ruler was an Israelite, Jesus referred him to the Law, which had been given to the nation at the hands of Moses, the Law that was epitomized in the Ten Commandments. The promise was that anyone who kept the Commandments would “live in them.” (Lev. 18:5) Many Israelites endeavored faithfully to live up to the requirements of the Law, but none was able to do so perfectly, hence none gained life under that arrangement.
However, there was a wise purpose in giving the Israelites an opportunity of securing life through their own efforts, for the necessity of a Redeemer from sin was thereby established. The young ruler explained to Jesus that he had kept the Commandments from the time of his youth, and then asked, “What lack I yet?” (Matt. 19:20) He realized that there was something lacking, for he knew that just like everyone, he was growing old, and that if this continued he would one day die.
Then Jesus replied to the man, “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.” (vs. 21) In his sermon on the mount, Jesus said to his disciples, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” This admonition follows the explanation that our “Father which is in heaven: … maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matt. 5:44-48) To be perfect, therefore, as God is perfect, implies a self-sacrificing interest in all mankind, not merely in ourselves and our immediate loved ones. If we are to be ‘perfect’ as our Heavenly Father is perfect, we are to do what we can to bless even our enemies.
For the rich young ruler to bestow his goods to feed the poor and become a follower of the Master who was laying down his life for all mankind, called for too radical a change for him to make. He loved himself too much. He wanted to live, but he wanted to live in his own way, without too much concern as to how those around him were faring. The price was too high, so he went away sorrowful.
Nor did Jesus’ reference to the compensating portion of ‘treasure in heaven’ have any special significance to this young man. He had not asked how he could invest in heavenly treasures. Indeed, being an Israelite, the promises of God, as he understood them, made no reference to life or treasures in heaven. He had asked what he could do to live, but was invited to give up his worldly possessions and die with Jesus. This was too much—more than the offer of treasures in heaven could offset in the mind of this young man who was seeking a way to live everlastingly.
The Disciples Amazed
The disciples heard the discussion between Jesus and the rich man, and the record is that they were “amazed.” In a further explanation to them Jesus said, “A rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”—Matt. 19:23,24
When the disciples heard this, in their amazement they inquired, “Who then can be saved?” (vs. 25) These disciples had accepted Jesus as the promised Messiah. They believed that he was the One whom God had promised to send, the One through whom “all the ends of the earth” would “see the salvation of our God.” (Isa. 52:10) How could salvation become available to all the families of the earth when the conditions were made so difficult that this sincere young man who was seeking the way to life was discouraged and turned away? No wonder they asked, ‘Who then can be saved?’
Jesus did not give the disciples a direct answer to his question, but simply said, “With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.” (Matt. 19:26) In other words, Jesus explained to his disciples that although it appeared to them that the Divine plan of salvation for all the families of earth as promised by the prophets could not be accomplished along the lines which he was pursuing, yet it was God’s way, and with him all things were possible.
But this did not satisfy the disciples, so they questioned Jesus further. Speaking for the group, Peter said, “Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee”—we have complied with the conditions you imposed upon the young rich man whom you turned away sorrowful—“What shall we have therefore?” (vs. 27) It is apparent from this question that the disciples had been confused by what Jesus said to the young man concerning the treasures in heaven.
The disciples, like the young man himself, had no knowledge of heavenly promises. In becoming followers of Jesus it was with the thought that he soon would be enthroned as king of Israel, and that in fulfillment of the Messianic promises his kingdom would extend its sphere of influence until it embraced all nations. They expected to be associated with him in that government which was to rest upon his “shoulder.”—Isa. 9:6
Now they were puzzled. Jesus had said to the rich man, ‘sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.’ What did he mean? They thought they were to receive treasures on earth—royal, kingly treasures. That is why they gladly gave up all—their business, their time, their strength, everything—and associated themselves with the One whom they believed to be the promised Messiah, that glorious One who was destined to rule “from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth.”—Ps. 72:8
Jesus’ promise of treasure in heaven, instead of reassuring the disciples that their expectations in becoming his disciples would actually be realized left them wondering, so they inquired, ‘What shall we have therefore?’ In other, words, they wanted to know what Jesus meant by treasure in heaven, and whether or not their own hopes were now to be set aside in favor of this new outlook.
In reply to this question, Jesus gave the disciples an answer which reassured them, and at the same time brings into focus for us God’s great plan of salvation, both for the followers of the Master and for all mankind. He said, “Ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Matt. 19:28) Jesus wanted his disciples to realize that their expectations concerning his kingdom were not, in principle, wrong. The time was coming when he would sit upon ‘the throne of his glory.’ He wanted them to know also that they would be enthroned with him, and that this would be ‘in the regeneration.’
What did Jesus mean by regeneration? This is one of the words used in the Bible to describe the great objective of God’s plan of salvation. The real significance of the word is in its prefix ‘re.’ There is to be a re-generation of those who previously have experienced ‘generation.’ The Bible uses a number of words to convey this general thought involved in God’s plan of salvation. Resurrection is one of them, restitution is another. These words also describe recovery or restoration to a former status, or condition.
The Apostle Peter explains that the plan of God calls for the “restitution of all things,” and declares that this had been promised by all God’s “holy prophets since the world began.” (Acts 3:19-21) The Apostle Paul assures us that there is to be a resurrection of the dead, “both of the just and unjust.” (Acts 24:15) Jesus said, “Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall … come forth.”—John 5:28,29
One of the Old Testament promises of restoration for the human race says that “the ransomed of the Lord shall return [‘re’-turn] … with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads.” (Isa. 35:10) In a promise of the restoration of children the statement is made that they shall “come again” from death, and shall return [‘re’-turn] “to their own border,” that is, to the earth.—Jer. 31:15-17
It was in keeping with this Divine plan to restore the dying race to life on earth that Jesus used the word regeneration. It was also in harmony with God’s plan of salvation as set forth in the Bible, that the time for this work is when Christ sits upon the throne of his glory during the time of his reign. This, indeed, is the purpose of his kingdom. By reassuring the disciples concerning the fact of his kingdom, and its great purpose in the Divine plan, Jesus was informing them that in promising ‘treasure in heaven’ for those who would suffer and die with him, he was not overlooking God’s plan to bless ‘all the families of the earth’ on the earth.
The Prophet Isaiah associates the thought of regeneration with God’s promise that all the ends of the earth shall see his salvation. He describes the suffering and death of Jesus as the world’s Redeemer, saying that he would be “cut off out of the land of the living.” Because of this the prophet asks, “Who shall declare his generation?” Then he adds, concerning Jesus, “It pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied.”—Isa. 53:8,10,11
Thus does Isaiah explain that although from the natural standpoint Jesus was cut off in death with no children, no generation to succeed him, yet there is to be a generation having Jesus as its Head, for he ‘shall see his seed,’ and will be satisfied with the ‘travail’ of his soul—the travail of suffering and death as the Redeemer of the human race. The reason that he shall see his seed is because ‘the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.’
What is the pleasure of the Lord Jehovah? Surely it is that which he has said so much about in his Word, that loving plan of salvation spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began. It was a pleasure for our Heavenly Father to plan for the blessing of all the families of the earth. He has taken delight in having his prophets record so many promises concerning this good news to all people, and his joy will be complete when, through Jesus, ‘all the ends of the earth shall see’ his salvation.
And this salvation will be realized through the dead human race being regenerated by Jesus. In I Corinthians 15:45, Paul speaks of the “first” Adam and the “last” Adam. The human race was generated in a dying condition by the ‘first’ Adam, but will be regenerated and given an opportunity to live forever by the ‘last’ Adam. And Jesus’ seed will be the regenerated human race, those for whom he travailed in death that he might have the opportunity to give them life. And this great work of giving life to mankind will be during the time of regeneration when Jesus sits upon the throne of his glory.
Thus indirectly, and in this very revealing manner, Jesus answered the disciples’ question, ‘Who then can be saved?’ When they saw the rich young ruler turn aside because Jesus had made the terms of discipleship so difficult, they wondered how all the ends of the earth could ever see the salvation of God. But now it was explained to them that this general salvation of all mankind was for a future age, the Kingdom Age, the time when the Son of man would sit on the throne of his glory.
As for the treasure in heaven which Jesus promised the young rich man, this was explained to be the great privilege his followers would enjoy of participating with him in his glorious reign, and in his work of regenerating the human race; for they were then to ‘sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.’ This was in keeping with the disciples’ expectation that first the promised kingdom of the Messiah in which they hoped to share would begin with the Jewish nation—the twelve tribes of Israel—then expand until all the nations of the earth would come under its beneficent rule and receive the promised blessings of salvation.
The hope of thus being joint-heirs with Jesus when he sits upon the throne of his glory, is described by Paul as that “great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him.” (Heb. 2:3) How true that the glorious prospect of joint-heirship ‘first’ began to be made clear by Jesus. Evidently, when he mentioned treasure in heaven to the rich young ruler, it was the first time that even the disciples had grasped the fact that Jesus meant something different than restoration to life on the earth under the rulership of the promised Messiah.
But not until after the Holy Spirit came upon the waiting disciples at Pentecost did they grasp clearly the difference between the hope of salvation held out to the followers of the Master in this age, and the prospect of regeneration, of restitution, of resurrection for the world in general during the time when Christ sits upon the throne of his glory. Then they realized that for those who were willing to give up all and follow Jesus there was a “crown of life” “reserved in heaven.” (Rev. 2:10; I Pet. 1:4) They then understood clearly what Jesus meant on another occasion when he said that upon his return he would receive them unto himself that they might be with him. (John 14:3) The Apostle John wrote about this saying, “It doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.”—I John 3:2,3
Thus we see that in reality, in God’s great plan, there are two salvations—a spiritual, or heavenly, salvation for the followers of Jesus in this Gospel Age; and an earthly salvation—a restoration to life on the earth for all the families of the earth during the Millennial Age to come. And associated with and a part of the reward to those who now give up all and follow Jesus into death, is that glorious hope of participating with him in the work of regenerating the human race and giving all an opportunity to live forever on a perfected earth.
Paul clarified this point, and gave us reassurance concerning it, when he wrote, “As many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. … And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (Gal. 3:27,29) As we have seen, one of God’s assurances of salvation for all mankind is the promise he made to Abraham that through his seed all nations would be blessed. There are two parts to this promise. One is that a seed would be developed, and the other that through this seed would come blessings of life to all people, and Paul explains that if we have been ‘baptized into Christ’ we are a part of that promised ‘seed, and heirs according to the promise.’
This is simply another way of saying that those who give up all and follow Christ will share in his kingdom glory and participate with him in dispensing kingdom blessings. To be baptized with Jesus simply means to be buried with him, or to go down with him into death. It was this that he invited the young ruler to do. It is this that all true followers of Jesus must do if they are to live and reign with him. The terms of this “narrow” way to life are thus seen to be rugged and difficult. (Matt. 7:14) Only by Divine help is it possible for anyone to meet these requirements. But with God all things are possible, Jesus assured the disciples, and the Lord has promised to give his people grace to help in their every time of need.
Among the greatest sources of help which we get from the Lord are his many glorious promises of future joy in the work of the kingdom. Concerning Jesus, who walked in this way before us, Paul wrote that for the “joy that was set before him” he “endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb. 12:2) This same joy is set before us, to give strength in our every time of need.
It is the joy of seeing all mankind restored to life and atonement with the Creator, when those ransomed by Jesus return from death “with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads,” and when “sorrow and sighing shall flee away,” that energizes the Master’s followers to press on faithfully in his steps of self-sacrifice. (Isa. 35:10) This Gospel of Christ, this good news of salvation through him, is indeed a “power” in the life of every faithful Christian, the ‘power of God unto salvation.’—Rom. 1:16