God has never been involved in prediction or speculation, such actions are the feeble attempts of mere mortals to ascertain the future. In contrast to these deficiencies, James reminds the Council of Jerusalem that, ‘Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world’, Acts 15. 18. In Isaiah chapter 46 verses 9-10, God contrasts the impotence and ignorance of the Babylonian gods with His own omnipotence and omniscience, ‘I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done’. Because He is omniscient, God often sets out future events as though they had already taken place, and therefore prophecy has been described as ‘history written in advance’.
Not only does God know what is going to happen but He is working all things ‘after the counsel of his own will’, Eph. 1. 11. This doesn’t mean that all that will take place is what He wants, for it is very evident that evil will be rampant and Satan will be orchestrating the actions of individuals and nations. However, nothing will take place outside of the boundaries prescribed by God and everything will transpire in timescales that He has determined. Personalities and leagues of nations will make brief appearances on the world stage and, when they have fulfilled their part in the overall programme, they will be summarily dismissed.
Prime Ministers, Presidents and governments strut about as though they are the masters of their own destiny and have the wherewithal to resolve the world’s problems. In their minds, God has been deposed and in His place military, commercial, religious and political powers are deemed to have the answers to lead us to utopia. This hellish mindset is not new for it was the original incentive tantalizingly dangled before Adam and Eve. When the devil came to tempt them, his objective was to segregate them from God and make them believe that they could be as gods, cf. Gen. 3. 5.
From that cataclysmic day, mankind has been alienated from God and has been in perpetual conflict with Him. Amazingly, ever since the advent of sin into the human race, God, the offended party, has desired the forgiveness and salvation of mankind, the offending party. Such was the extent of that desire, He gave His only begotten Son, sending Him into the world not to condemn it but ‘that the world through him might be saved’, John 3. 17.
Down through the ages, and with tragic eternal consequences, countless millions have sought to live independently of God, establishing a plethora of religions to gratify their thirst for some form of ‘spiritual’ fulfilment. Instead of accepting his absolute inability to produce his own salvation and accepting God’s gracious offer of forgiveness, man has invented ingenious methods to improve and elevate himself. Blinded by the god of this world and self-delusion, mankind will continue to move ever further from God until the day comes when the ultimate act of blasphemy will be perpetrated – a man will claim to be God. That man will demand global worship and will brook no rival. However, his prominence will be short lived, as the Lord shall consume him ‘with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming’, 2 Thess. 2. 8.
We live in a day when chaos and corruption are amassing in the world on a scale unprecedented since the flood. The destabilizing of family life and the erosion of every benign institution are Satan’s frenetic challenges to every divine ordinance. Questions that are occurring with increased regularity, particularly amongst unbelievers, are: ‘What is going to happen next?’; ‘Will man destroy himself and the environment?’; ‘Where is it all going to end?’ Whilst we should not be smug, it is reassuring to know that ‘the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men’, Dan. 4. 25. The God who chose us and saved us is the architect of the ages and He has never abdicated His sovereignty nor bequeathed it to anyone else.
In addition to being currently in absolute control, God has precise plans for the future and desires to share them with His people. Those detailed plans are weaved into the very fabric of the word of God from Genesis through to Revelation and are written in such a way that they can be discerned only by the help of the Spirit of God. Whilst they cover a vast diversity of events, locations and personalities, there is one central and supreme character – the Son of God, ‘for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy’, Rev. 19. 10. The study of the doctrine of last things is termed eschatology. However, to understand the future, it is imperative to begin by examining the past, for they are inextricably linked.
The Bible commences by introducing us to the triune, eternal, omnipotent God who spoke to nothing and nothing became something – it became the heavens and the earth. Throughout creation week, God populated the earth and the heavens with lights, flora, fauna and beings. Most of those beings were ‘spiritual’; they were the varied ranks of angelic personalities that moved in God’s presence. The other beings were physical and, although vastly outnumbered, for there were only two of them, they were uniquely privileged. Their habitat was to be earth and it was God’s intention that they should have dominion over it.
At some undefined point, one of the greatest of those spiritual beings aspired to topple God and take His place as absolute ruler. A huge number of angels aligned themselves behind this coup and hence we read in the Bible of ‘the devil and his angels’, Matt. 25. 41. Then, Satan turned his attention to earth and the two beings that dwelt there. By means of his guile, he deceived Eve and she ate what God had prohibited. Adam also ate, but not through deception; he was wilfully disobedient.
The consequence of these events was the co-existence of two kingdoms which would engage in continual battle throughout the duration of time. One kingdom is under the domination of Satan and is characterized by darkness; the other is submissive to God and is characterized by light. Satan’s kingdom is vehemently opposed to God; it has nothing in common with Him and constantly strives to overthrow His kingdom. The history of the Bible, and all God’s plans for the future, focus on this satanic crusade and its fruitless efforts to depose God.
Although I have described this antagonism as a ‘battle’, we must never think that it is a struggle for God to be in control. If He had so wished, He could have quashed the rebellion at any time. However, He chooses to allow this battle to continue to show to all creatures, celestial, terrestrial and infernal, that neither opposition nor conniving can disturb His peace or thwart His purpose. That purpose is to remedy every single effect of sin and He will achieve it through just one Man. It was by one man that sin came into the world – and it will be by one Man that order will be restored. That one Man, Jesus Christ, was going to be the seed of the woman, the Son of a virgin and an heir of David. Being aware of this, one of Satan’s primary strategies to frustrate God’s programme of redemption was to ensure that this promised Seed would never be born and the course of Old Testament history is marked by his relentless but futile efforts to achieve this.
The impact of sin was catastrophic; we refer to it as ‘the fall’, but it is too appalling for us to comprehend. As for man, his nature changed; he became rebellious and lost his communion with God. At the same time, his body became subject to corruption and mortality, eventually leading to death. Man has also lost his position of complete dominion over the earth so that at the present time we don’t see all things under his control – even the earth itself has been blighted and no longer yields its potential but produces thorns and thistles. Every person born to Adam and Eve, and their subsequent progeny, has a corrupted nature and walks ‘according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience’, Eph. 2. 2.
For God’s purpose to be achieved, and to demonstrate His sovereignty, it is essential that every impact of sin be reversed. The earth will need to be delivered from the curse, mankind will need to be born again and thus restored to communion with God, the animal kingdom must dwell together in harmony, death must be abolished and Satan has to be removed as the controller of this world. In addition, God’s original intention of a man being head and administering everything for the glory of God has to be realized.
There are at least two other divine objectives that have to be fulfilled. Firstly, God has made two unconditional covenants, one with Abraham and the other with David – both of these covenants must be honoured. Secondly, it has been the intention of God from eternal ages that there should be a unique companion for His Son, that companion is to be His bride, the church.
Eschatology focuses on this overthrow of every vestige of Satan’s rebellion and man’s fall and highlights the fulfilment of God’s objectives. Considerable detail is presented to us in the prophetic books of the Old Testament and the book of Revelation, but it is not limited to these sections. Many of the psalms present to us conditions in the Millennial Kingdom and Paul, Peter and other New Testament writers supply vital information relating to the future.
In future issues of this magazine various authors will present fifteen papers, commencing with an examination of Daniel chapter 9 and concluding with a consideration of what is often termed ‘The Eternal State’. We recognize that whilst there will be general agreement on the vital aspects of prophecy, it is inevitable that there will be some differences of opinion amongst the readership on certain aspects of the finer detail.
Our prayerful desire is that this series will be edifying and thought provoking to all who read these articles. Above all, we trust it will be honouring to our Lord and Saviour, whose imminent return may result in the series not being completed!
A TIMELINE OF SOME MAJOR EVENTS OF PROPHECY
Due to the complexity and extent of this subject it has been necessary to limit the amount of detail that has been included in this timeline. For this reason certain events that some might have expected to see have been omitted. It must also be appreciated that some events will overlap but for ease of reading they are shown as occurring within a set period. In most instances, many scripture references could have been selected, but space precluded this.
The chart below should be read from the bottom to the top whereas each sub-division can be read from top to bottom. Similarly, whilst there is a column at the end of the timeline marked Eternal State, strictly speaking this is incorrect as it is perpetual; it always has been and always will be.