|Topical Bible Study||February 1959|
The Bible versus Tradition—Article II
Man’s Eternal Home
“The heaven, even the heavens, are the Lord’s: but the earth hath he given to the children of men.” —Psalm 115:16
THE Creator of the universe designed the earth to he the eternal home of his human creation. When God created our first parents he said to them, “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish [Hebrew, ‘fill’] the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.”—Gen. 1:28
The Creator prepared a special garden home for Adam “eastward in Eden.” “And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.” “And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayst freely eat: but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”—Gen. 2:8,9,16,17
From these divinely inspired statements of the Bible it is clear that man was created to live on the earth, and that he would find everything on the earth adapted to his needs, comfort, and joy. However, the continued enjoyment of this home on earth, and dominion over it, depended upon his obedience to the Creator’s commandments. He was warned that if he disobeyed he would die. The record is that man did disobey the divine law, and that he was sentenced to death. The Lord said to man, “Cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”—Gen. 3:17-19
It is important to observe that in pronouncing the sentence of death upon Adam the Lord said nothing about man being transferred to another part of the universe. The sentence clearly implies that man was to be deprived of continued life on the earth. In the garden which the Lord had specially prepared for our first parents there was a “tree of life.” The Hebrew word here translated “tree” is plural, indicating that actually there was more than one tree of life. It was a grove of trees, the fruit of which would sustain human life continuously. But our first parents were driven out of the garden so that they could not have access to these life-giving trees, the reason for this drastic action on God’s part being, as he explains, “lest” man “eat, and live forever.”—Gen. 3:22-24
This shows beyond a doubt that God’s original design was that man should live forever on the earth, and that every necessary provision had been made to enable him to do so. It was not God’s purpose for man to live here for a few short years, and then to be whisked off to heaven for eternity. He did not tell our first parents that if they obeyed they would one day be taken to heaven, or that if they disobeyed they would be consigned to a place of torment.
The Traditional View
One wonders how the truth so clearly set forth in the opening chapters of Genesis could become so terribly distorted, but so it has been. As human traditions developed, the professed Christian world came to believe that dying and death are a natural and inevitable part of human experience; that it is God’s plan for man to live but temporarily on the earth, and that during this short earthly life span he has an opportunity to prove worthy or unworthy of an eternity of bliss in heaven, and if unworthy he will suffer eternal torture. The Catholic tradition modifies this latter somewhat with the doctrine of purgatory, which calls for an end of torture for the victims who under such stress repent and reform.
The traditions of men hold that human experience on earth is limited also by the claim that at some time in the future God will rain down fire from the sky and destroy the earth. Then, it is claimed, all the “worthy” ones on the earth will be taken to heaven at once, and all the unworthy sent to torture. That, says tradition, will be the end of “time,” and the beginning of “eternity.”
We cannot overstress the fact that these unreasonable, even revolting views, are entirely traditional, and without any support whatsoever in the Word of God. Nothing of this sort was even hinted to Adam by the Creator. As we have seen, he was told to multiply and fill the earth. The earth was given to him as his home, and he was to have dominion over it. If disobedient to divine law, he was to forfeit all these blessings, and in death return to the earth from which he had been taken. If human tradition be true, then God falsified the truth in his dealings with our first parents.
We know, of course, that Adam did disobey divine law, and was sentenced to death. However, this did not change the divine purpose concerning the human creation. More than three thousand years later the Prophet Isaiah wrote, “Thus saith the Lord that created the heavens; God himself that formed the earth and made it; he hath established it, he created it not in vain, he formed it to be inhabited.”—Isa. 45:18
God’s statement that he did not create the earth in vain, but formed it to be inhabited, clearly implies that his purpose as originally stated to Adam is still to be carried out. The Lord assures us that he has “established” the earth. He did not create it as a temporary expedient, or as a place where he could experiment with a human creation. He designed the earth as a home for man, and its creation was not in vain. It is yet to be inhabited—not by a dying race, but by the living human race.
In verses 22 and 23 of this same chapter the Lord says further: “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else. I have sworn by myself, the word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, That unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear.” Two important thoughts appear in this text: (1) that salvation is provided for those who look to the Lord, and (2) that eventually every human knee shall bow and every tongue confess obedience to the Lord.
Because of rebellion against divine law, man lost life. “In Adam all die,” wrote the Apostle Paul. (I Cor. 15:22) But this rebellion against God and against his authority in the earth is to be put down and those who return to obedience to the Lord are to be saved from the sentence of death which came upon Adam, and, through him, upon all mankind.
This program of salvation from death is accomplished through Jesus the Redeemer and Savior of mankind. So Paul further wrote, “As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” (I Cor. 15:22) The Lord’s statement in Isaiah 45:22,23 that unto him “every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear,” is quoted in the New Testament by the Apostle Paul and applied to Jesus. (Phil. 2:8-11) Thus Paul shows that the redemptive work accomplished by the death of Jesus is God’s provision for the salvation of all mankind; which, in turn, means that God did not create the earth in vain, and that it will yet be inhabited by the redeemed and restored human race.
In Psalm 78:69 we read that the Lord “has established the earth forever.” Again, “Thy faithfulness is unto all generations: thou hast established the earth, and it abideth.” (Ps. 119:90) In Ecclesiastes 1:4 we read that “the earth abideth forever.” Jesus’ Third Beatitude states, “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matt. 5:5) This promise to the meek would be pointless if the earth is one day to be destroyed.
Human tradition holds, of course, that the death of Jesus as the Redeemer of the world did not provide continued human life on earth, and the awakening of the dead to life on earth as humans. The claim is that if this were so, those who accept Christ would not grow old and die; and long before this we would have witnessed at least the beginning of the resurrection of the dead. But this is a false position due to a failure to understand the “due time” aspects of the divine plan of salvation.
In Hebrews 2:6-10 Paul reveals the manner in which the plan of God for human salvation is being accomplished. First he quotes from the 8th Psalm in which the Prophet David reminds us that man was created to be king of earth, and that all earthly things were put under him. Then Paul adds, “But now we see not yet all things put under him. But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man. For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the Captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.”
Here Paul explains that while we do not now see man as king of earth, enjoying the dominion given to him when created, we do see that the plan of God for man’s recovery from sin and death is moving forward—“We see Jesus,” and we see that he “by the grace of God” tasted death for every man. Jesus’ suffering and death were a very vital part of God’s plan for human recovery from death. Through his suffering Jesus was also trained to be the “Captain” of our salvation.
Paul also explains that in the plan of God many “sons” are brought to “glory” through suffering, just as Jesus was. Thus Paul reminds us of the great truth of the divine plan that Jesus will have associated with him in bringing salvation to mankind during the thousand years of his kingdom, a group of joint-heirs, called and chosen from among mankind. These will share the work and glory of his kingdom. This high reward, attained through faithfulness in sacrifice and suffering, is described earlier in the chapter as the “great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord.” Jesus is thus the “Captain” of those who will attain this “great salvation.”—vs. 3
An entire age is set aside in the divine plan for the calling and training of these “many sons” who prove worthy to be exalted to glory with Jesus their Captain. These have the privilege of suffering and dying with him. They follow in his footsteps which lead to death. Because of this, when they accept Christ and dedicate their lives to follow him, they are not restored to perfection of life; but through the merit of Christ’s blood, what is left of their imperfect and dying humanity is made acceptable as a sacrifice which leads to death with Jesus.—Rom. 6:3-6; 12:1,2
The restoration of mankind in general to perfect life on earth as humans must wait until this sacrificial work of the present age is completed. That is why we do not as yet see any of the human race being restored to health and life. But we have the assurance of the Word of God that this loving provision of his plan of salvation through Christ will, in his own due time, be accomplished. As Paul says, “We see Jesus,” we see that he “by the grace of God” has tasted death “for every man,” not merely for the “called ones” of the present age. Knowing that the justice of God remains sure, and that nothing can stand in the way of his almighty power in the accomplishment of his loving purposes, we can be confident, even as the Creator himself was confident, that the earth was not created “in vain,” and that it will yet be inhabited by the restored human race.
God has made this abundantly clear in his Word. The Apostle Peter locates the time for this work of restoration as following the second coming of Christ. He describes that period as “times of restitution of all things,” and declares that it was “spoken by the mouth of all God’s holy prophets since the world began.” (Acts 3:19-21) Could we ask for more confirmation of a great truth?
Efforts have been made to find support for all the many traditional misconceptions of God’s plan of salvation. This has been done with respect to the tradition that at the second coming of Christ the earth is to be destroyed by fire. The apparent support found in the Bible for this tradition has come through a misunderstanding of the prophecies in which the words earth, world, and fire are used pictorially to illustrate the great upheavals of human society which would occur as a result of Christ’s return to overthrow Satan’s empire and establish his kingdom.
Using plain language, the Bible describes the passing away of the rule of sin and selfishness under the direction of Satan, the “prince of this world,” as a “time of trouble such as never was since there was a nation.” (Dan. 12:1) Jesus quoted from this prophecy, and applied it to the time of his return and second presence, using the expression “great tribulation” instead of “time of trouble.”—Matt. 24:21,22
Jesus explained that this “tribulation” would be so severe that unless “those days” were shortened no flesh would survive, that the entire human race would be destroyed. He gave assurance, however, that he would not permit this to happen, that “all flesh” would not be destroyed. Since this is Jesus’ assurance concerning the time of his return, it means that the traditional idea that then the earth would be burned up and the human race completely destroyed cannot be true, for as Jesus promised, “all flesh” will not be destroyed. The “end of the world” foretold in the Bible is something that all who love righteousness, and seek the welfare of mankind, should desire, and should look forward to with joyful anticipation.
The Apostle John wrote, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever.”—I John 2:15-17
It is very evident that the Apostle John is not here writing about the earth, but of a social order which exists upon the earth. This is the “world” which Christians are not to love. Referring to the same thing, Jesus said, “Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) To his disciples Jesus said, “I have chosen you out of the world.” (John 15:19) This is the “world” which, John explains, “passeth away.” It is not the earth at all, but the evil conditions to be found everywhere in human society. These are to be supplanted by the establishment of divine authority through the agencies of Christ’s kingdom. This is in keeping with our Lord’s prayer, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.”—Matt. 6:10
The word “earth” is often used in the Bible to denote the association of men upon the earth. “Give ear, O earth,” we read in Isaiah 1:2. “Let the earth hear,” the Prophet Isaiah wrote. (Isa. 34:1) “Let the earth be glad,” wrote David. (Ps. 96:11) We might continue to quote these examples of the figurative use of the word earth, for there are many of them. Students of the Bible in reading these texts have no difficulty in understanding them, except when the passage refers to the destruction of the “earth,” and then, influenced by the misconceptions of human tradition, they insist on a literal interpretation which would call for the burning up of this planet Earth which the Lord has assured us he has established forever.
Psalm 46 contains one of the prophecies symbolically descriptive of the time of “great tribulation” foretold by Jesus, and in this prophecy we are told that the earth would be “melted.” But in the final picture presented in the prophecy we read, “Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen [Gentiles], I will be exalted in the earth.” (vs. 10) Thus we find that after the symbolic “earth” “melted,” the literal earth, the scene of the great “time of trouble,” still exists, and that God’s name is exalted in it; that his will is done in earth even as is stated in our Lord’s prayer.
In order to help us understand more vividly the different aspects of the “tribulation” by which Satan’s social order is destroyed, various expressions are used symbolically in the prophecies. The “time of trouble” is likened to a flood, to a storm, to winds, to an earthquake, and also to fire. And the fire is symbolic as well as the wind, storm, earthquake, and flood.
Fire is very destructive, and is used a great deal in the Bible to symbolize destruction. Peter writes of the “fiery trial” which comes upon Christians to destroy the dross of their characters. (I Pet. 4:12) Paul, quoting from Proverbs 25:22; speaks of heaping “coals of fire” upon our enemy’s head. (Rom. 12:20) No student of the Bible has ever supposed that the “fire” in these various references is literal.
But to find scriptural support for human tradition, when fire is used in the prophecies to symbolize the destructive effects of the “great tribulation which was to come upon the earth, the misguided student insists that it must be literal fire. This has helped to keep alive the tradition concerning the burning up of the earth, and thus has blinded many to the real plan of God for the restoration of the human race from death that all might have an opportunity to accept the provisions of redemption through Christ, obey the laws of the messianic kingdom and live forever in the earthly home which God provided for them.
And what glorious conditions will ultimately obtain here on the earth! In Isaiah 11:9 we read that “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” In Isaiah 25:6-9, and 33:24 we are informed that sickness and death will be destroyed, and that the righteous shall no longer suffer persecution as has been the case during the reign of sin and death, that the “rebuke” of God’s people shall be taken away from the face of the whole earth.
The psalmist wrote: “God be merciful unto us, and bless us; and cause his face to shine upon us; that thy way may be known upon the earth, thy saving health among all nations. Let the people praise thee, O God; let all the people praise thee. O let the nations be glad and sing for joy: for thou shalt judge the people righteously, and govern the nations upon the earth. Let the people praise thee, O God; let all the people praise thee. Then shall the earth yield her increase: and God, even our own God, shall bless us.”—Ps. 67:1-6
When our first parents transgressed God’s law and were driven out of their garden home in Eden, the Lord said, “Cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee.” (Gen. 3:17,18) But this “curse” is to be removed, and as the psalmist wrote, the earth will “yield her increase.” How reassuring are these promises of God!
In Isaiah 66:1 the Lord informs us that while heaven is his throne, the earth is his “footstool.” In Isaiah 60:13 the Lord promises that he will make the place of his “feet,” his “footstool,” glorious. It will be then that the beautiful promise of God recorded in Revelation 21:3-5 will have its fulfillment. We quote: “And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold the tabernacle of God is with men [men live on the earth, not in heaven], and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful.”