In his article, “Getting the Big Picture: How we can know the Bible and not just Bible trivia,” (Christianity Today, April 18, 1986, pp. 12 13), Dr. Richard Foster, associate professor of theology at Friends University, states: “Today a form of illiteracy abounds that is especially dangerous precisely because it is unrecognized. It is particularly prevalent among those of us who read the Bible regularly, memorize verses, and are committed to the authority of Scripture. I am referring to our biblical and historical myopia–or nearsightedness. We lack a world view, a vision of the whole.”
Foster goes on to point out that the problem of biblical myopia is especially acute in our Sunday schools. As we teach Bible stories, we often tack on little morals. But that is what they remain: Bible stories with little morals. He is concerned that “we may never explain how the pieces all fit together, giving a sense of the great flow of holy history.” Seldom are believers
presented a picture of God’s all encompassing plan for the ages.
Well do I remember as a boy going with my dad on a Saturday afternoon drive to the city dump. After trimming the shrubs, raking the leaves, or pruning roses, we would load the trash into the station wagon and off we would go. I looked forward to these trips because dad used to let me practice driving on the old dump road. Even before I could reach the pedals, I would sit in dad’s lap and steer while he worked the gas and brakes.
One of the first lessons he taught me was to keep my eyes on the road about 30 yards ahead of the car. I found that if I watched the road directly in front of the car I was continually over correcting. But if I had my eyes off in the distance taking in the big picture rather than the immediate details (bumps, pot holes, puddles), then I was able to steer a straight course.
This article is intended to provide the reader with the “big picture” God’s plan for the ages as revealed in Genesis through Revelation. We will not consider every mile post along the way, but we will call attention to major junctions and points of interest. The reader can fill in the details from personal study and reading. The major theological focus of this presentation is the sovereignty of God. The God who foretells history is the One who is sovereign over it.
I. The Eternal Kingdom of God
Our study must begin with the psalmist’s affirmation that “The Lord is king forever and ever!” (Psa. 10:16). Jeremiah declares, “But the Lord is the true God; He is the living God and the everlasting king” (Jer. 10:10). There are many other passages in the Scriptures which reveal that God possesses absolute authority and rules as King.
But God could not rightly be called “King” without a recognized throne and a realm. Thus David declares in Psa. 103:19, “The Lord has established His throne in the heavens; and His sovereignty rules over all.” As King, God has authority (“a throne”), a realm, and subjects.
Psalm 103:19 reveals that God’s kingdom is timeless. As Creator, God has always possessed absolute sovereignty and strength. God’s kingdom is also universal. His sovereignty is unlimited in scope. He exercises His sovereignty both in the heavens and on the earth.
God’s rule on earth is often delegated to authorities who are raised up by Him to officiate over His dominion. As Nebuchadnezzar had to learn, “. . . the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, and bestows it on whom He wishes, and sets over it the lowliest of men” (Dan. 4:17).
II. The False Kingdom of Satan
A. Satan’s Fall
Sometime in antiquity, God’s universal and eternal kingdom was challenged by an angel a created being known as “Satan” or the “Devil.” Scripture reveals very little about Satan’s fall, but his sin constituted an act of rebellion against the sovereign authority of God (cf. 1 Tim. 3:6,
Many have questioned, “Why did the sovereign God allow His authority to be challenged?” This is the problem of evil. God could have prevented it. Why didn’t He? The issue is complex, but perhaps the subject could be broached by suggesting that God permitted Satan’s rebellion in order to demonstrate the greatness of His sovereign authority in the face of
challenge and testing.
B. Satan’s Kingdom
At his fall, Satan instituted a counterfeit kingdom to parallel God’s kingdom and challenge His authority. Satan is an usurper, claiming kingship and seeking the exercise of his authority over an earthly kingdom. Paul refers to him as the “god of this age” (2 Cor. 4:4) and the “prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2).
That Satan is the present possessor of the kingdoms of this world is evidenced by the temptation of Christ. Christ did not challenge the legitimacy of Satan’s offer of all the kingdoms of the world (Matt. 4:8 9). He recognized that the world is under Satan’s usurped authority.
Satan exercises a limited power of rule over God’s sin alienated creation.
C. Satan’s Subjects
Every king needs subjects, and Satan is no different. In order to gain a following, Satan tempted the first human couple Adam and Eve.
Genesis 3 has rightly been referred to as the most tragic chapter in the Bible. God’s command was clear. “From the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:17). But Satan successfully carried out his scheme thus bringing about man’s fall.
Sin’s effect on Adam and Eve was immediate and conclusive. For the first time, fellowship with God was broken and the human couple was separated from God by their sins. This constituted spiritual death. In addition, they and their posterity became subject to physical death. Paul summarizes the consequences of sin in Romans 5:12, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned.”
Because of man’s sin, God cursed the earth so that it would bear its fruit only after much hard work (Gen. 3:17 18). Thorns and thistles would increase the work and frustrate man’s labors. All creation presently struggles under the curse because of man’s sin. As Paul states in
Romans 8:22, “For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.”
III. God’s Plan
What a mess! God created a perfect couple for a perfect world. God’s kingdom authority has been challenged by Satan, man has fallen into sin, and the world, under Satan’s sway, is in open rebellion against God. In view of this situation God inaugurated a program to glorify His name by bringing the sin marred creation back into the blessings of His glorious reign.
As with a fine jewel which has several facets, so God’s singlular program has several aspects redemptive, kingdom, and judgment. God has determined to restore man, reestablish His kingdom authority, and deal justly with sin all of which are ultimately to His honor and glory.
Most of biblical history and theology can be viewed as the out working of one of these aspects of God’s divine program.
A. Redeem Man
Although God did not have to, yet because of His infinite grace and sacrificial love, He chose to redeem fallen man and provide a way of deliverance from the fate of spiritual death. Thus, God began a redemptive program a program to redeem fallen man.
B. Reclaim His Kingdom
A sovereign God cannot let His kingly authority be successfully challenged. To do so would be to demonstrate that the King is not really sovereign. Accordingly, God set about a plan to reclaim His kingdom and to reassert His sovereign authority on this earth the sphere in which it was challenged.
C. Execute Judgment
Since God is holy, He cannot look upon sin and rebellion with indifference. He must execute judgment on Satan and his followers and purge the earth of the effects of sin.
IV. God’s Redemptive Work
In His infinite wisdom, God not only decreed to permit man’s fall, but to provide salvation sufficient for all men. In addition, He decreed to elect some from among fallen mankind and to save the elect through faith in Christ. How was this redemptive program accomplished?
A. The Noaic Covenant Gen. 8:21 22, 9:11 17
While the seed thoughts of man’s redemption work can be traced back to Gen. 3:15, God’s promise to Noah after the world flood provides the necessary foundation for the outworking of this redemptive work. God promised Noah that there would never be another universal
destruction of every living thing by flood. Even though wicked generations would arise after Noah’s time, God would hold back the flood waters of judgment until such a time when sin could be dealt with fully and finally at the cross of Christ. The Noaic Covenant reflects God’s grace. He is not willing that any should perish (2 Pet 3:9). It also provided the necessary time for the outworking of God’s redemptive plan.
B. Redemption Illustrated
The Old Testament sacrifices (Exod. 12, Lev. 1 7, 16) served to illustrate the need for redemption (man’s sinfulness) and God’s provision (substitutionary atonement where an innocent victim dies in behalf of the guilty). These sacrifices were typical in that they pointed to a need that they could not ultimately satisfy. But they anticipated the coming of a Substitute
who would deal with sin fully and finally.
It is crucial to realize that “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Heb. 10:4). The Old Testament sacrifices simply anticipated what Christ would ultimately accomplish. As Paul says, “. . . in the forebearance of God, He passed over the sins previously committed” (Rom. 3:25) until Christ’s blood could propitiate God’s holy wrath on sin.
C. God’s Plan Expounded
God’s provision of salvation for men and women of every age is by grace, through faith in God’s promise, and based on the blood of Christ. This is stated nicely by Paul in Ephesians chapter 2. In verse 8 Paul says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith.” He adds in verse 13, “. . . brought near by the blood of Christ.”
By grace. Salvation is a divine gift freely given to those who deserve God’s wrath. It is nothing we deserve or can earn. This prevents boasting and brings glory to God, not man (Eph. 2:8-9).
Through faith. The divine gift of salvation is appropriated individually by faith, “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not yet seen” (Heb. 11:1). The Bible reveals that “without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Heb. 11:6). Faith may be defined as “belief” or “trust” and involves a complete reliance upon God’s provision of Christ’s atonement.
Based on blood. Because God is holy, he must judge sin. But because He is gracious, God provides a substitute whereby innocent blood is shed for the guilty. In the Bible, blood represents the life given up in death. Under the Old Covenant it was not to be eaten, for blood was designated by God for atonement for sins (Lev. 17:14). The offering of an animal’s blood
signified its substitutionary death for the sins of the offerer (Heb. 9:22). The Old Testament sacrifices were insufficient in and of themselves to provide atonement (Heb. 10:4). So God prepared the ultimate sacrifice His own Son to be the sacrifical Lamb which would take away the sins of the world (Jn. 1:28, Acts 2:23).
Many Christians have mistakenly thought that there was a different means of salvation for believers under the Old Covenant. This represents confused soteriology. Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Isaiah, John the Baptist, Paul, and Timothy were all saved the same way by grace, through faith, based on the blood of Christ (cf. Rom. 4:13 25, Gal. 3:6 14). What was different for the Old Covenant saints was the content of their faith. Abraham believed in the promise of God’s blessing and provision. Isaiah knew more detailed prophecies about the Messiah’s coming. John the baptist had an even fuller understanding of these things. The fact is, each of these saints had faith in what God had revealed.
Where do “works” fit in with God’s gracious plan of salvation? Faith and works are like two sides of the same coin. According to Paul, faith leads to works (Eph. 2:8 10, Tit. 1:16). James insists that works are the evidence of a genuine faith (James 2:14 26). Faith and works are like a two coupon ticket to heaven. The “works” coupon is not good for the passage, but the “faith”
coupon is void if detached!
D. Christ’s Atonement Provided
When Christ died on the cross, he gave his life in order to satisfy God’s holy wrath on sin (1 Jn. 2:1 2, Rom. 3:25). The most significant moment in redemptive history was that hour on the cross when Jesus bore the sins which the Old Covenant sacrifices only covered. As He bore the sins of mankind past, present, and future He became “sin on our behalf” (2 Cor. 5:21) and the intimate fellowship which He had enjoyed from eternity past with God the Father was broken.
To pay the full penalty of man’s sin and provide salvation, Christ had to endure spiritual as well as physical death. In the ultimate moment of His agony, Jesus reached out to God, “My God, My God,” He cried, “Why have You forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46). It was as if the Father had turned His back on the Son and abandoned Him. What was going on within the Trinity is too great to comprehend or explain. We just believe it and thank God for it. Then he declared tetelestai, “it is finished” (Jn. 19:30). The provision of redemption was complete. As a result of His work on the cross, Jesus can say: “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life (Jn. 5:24).”
E. The New Covenant Enacted
The New Covenant (Jer. 31:31 34, Ezek. 36:24 28, Hebrews 8:6 13) amplifies and confirms the blessing promises of the Abrahamic Covenant (Gen. 12:3). Unlike the Old Covenant, the New Covenant is unconditional (Jer. 31:31 34) and everlasting (Ezek. 37:6). Enacted on the basis of Christ’s death (Heb. 8:6), the New Covenant promises regeneration and the forgiveness of
sin through faith in Christ and His sacrificial atonement for sins (1 Cor. 11:25, Heb. 7:22, 8:6, 13, 10:15 22).
So significant is the New Covenant in relationship to Christian life and ministry that the Apostle Paul by the Spirit of God is pleased to call believers “ministers of a New Covenant” (2 Cor. 3: 6).
V. God’s Kingdom Work
From the time when God’s sovereign rule over the universe was challenged by Satan, God has been working to reassert His sovereignty in the sphere of its challenge. This work may be called the “theocratic kingdom.” A “theocracy” (literally, “rule of God”) is merely the government or rule of God through divinely appointed rulers or delegated authority. God’s
kingdom involves a king who rules, a people who are ruled, and a sphere where this rule is recognized as taking place. Graeme Goldsworthy has put it clearly and concisely: “. . . the kingdom of God involves: (a) God’s people (b) in God’s place (c) under God’s rule (Gospel and Kingdom, The Paternoster Press, p. 47). It should be understood that God rules as King over the universe whether or not His sovereign authority is recognized or appreciated by mankind. God’s kingdom work does not involve the
reestablishment of God’s kingdom authority, but rather with the demonstration and recognition of His divine authority on this earth the place where His rule was challenged. There are several significant passages in the Bible where the concept of the Kingdom of God is developed.
A. The Kingdom Promised Gen. 12:1 3
With the call of Abraham, God began to initiate some significant developments in the reestablishment of His kingdom authority on earth. These developments center on God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:1 3. This unconditional promise is referred to as the Abrahamic Covenant and serves as the basis of God’s entire covenant program. It assures
Abraham and His descendants of three things a land, a nation, and a blessing.
A Land. Abraham’s descendants are to have a land the land of Israel. The dimensions of the land are given in several biblical texts (cf. Gen. 15:18, Josh. 1:4). The land promise is further developed in Deut. 30:1 10.
A Nation. Abraham’s descendants are to become a great nation. The national promises are developed in the Davidic Covenant (2 Sam. 7:12 16).
A Blessing. Abraham’s descendants are to be blessed and be a blessing to others. The blessing promises are developed in the New Covenant (Jer. 31:31 33).
The Abrahamic Covenant, reconfirmed in Gen. 13:14 17, 15:1 21, 17:1 14, 22:15 18, 28:12 13, contributes significantly toward the outworking of God’s kingdom program. It guarantees Israel a permanent national existence, perpetual title to the Land of Israel, material and spiritual blessings (through Christ), and that Gentile nations will share in the blessings God has for Israel.
B. The Kingdom Foreshadowed 2 Sam. 7:12 16
During the kingship of David another significant development in God’s kingdom program occurs. In 2 Sam. 7:12 16 God enters into an eternal, unconditional covenant with David guaranteeing that in David’s line the theocratic kingdom would come to full realization and that one of David’s descendants would reign over the kingdom forever. In essence, God promised David that his house, throne, and kingdom would be eternal (2 Sam. 7:16).
David’s House. David’s line or dynasty would always be the royal line.
David’s Throne. The right to rule would always belong to David’s descendants.
David’s Kingdom. The right to a literal kingdom will never be taken away from David’s posterity.
C. The Kingdom Presented Matt. 4:17
The ultimate fulfillment of God’s kingdom will be realized when Jesus Christ, descendant of David, takes the throne of Israel and rules God’s kingdom forever. The fulfillment of the kingdom program with Jesus is clear from the words of Gabriel to Mary in Luke 1:31 33. Gabriel reports that Jesus is destined to receive the throne of David, to reign over the house of
Jacob forever, and to rule a kingdom that has no end all in fulfillment of 2 Sam. 7:12 16.
Jesus presented the prophesied kingdom to Israel when he He announced, “Repent; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” He commanded the Jews of His day to accept Him as King and enter into the literal, earthly, theocratic kingdom.
Jesus did not guarantee that the kingdom would be instituted immediately, but that all impending events had been removed and that God’s kingdom was imminent (ie. “at hand”).
C. The Kingdom Rejected Matt. 12:22 37
Jews living at the time of the first century were anticipating the literal fulfillment of the kingdom promises which had been expounded by the prophets. Yet they stumbled over the person of Christ. Expecting a powerful military deliverer, they rejected the humble Savior.
The most significant turning point in Christ’s ministry was His rejection by the Jewish religious establishment when they accused Him of casting out demons by the power of Satan (Matt. 12:22-24). Attributing the work of the Holy Spirit in Christ to Satan was the unforgivable sin. The decision of the Jewish leaders turned the people against Christ and set the nation on the
course of rejecting the Messiah.
D. The Kingdom Culmination Delayed Luke 19:11 27
Since the kingdom was based on unconditional covenant promises, it could not be canceled even by unbelief. So certain aspects of the kingdom were delayed (Christ’s rule from David’s throne over Israel’s land) for a more responsive generation.
In Luke 19:11 27 Jesus told the parable of the ten pounds to show that since Israel would not accept their King, the kingdom was to be postponed and the rejecting generation judged (cf. Lk. 19:14,27).
E. The Kingdom Realized Rev. 20:4 6
Revelation 11:15 indicates that the kingdom promises will be realized following the Tribulation period. At the second advent of Christ, the Jews will accept Jesus as their Messiah (Zech. 12:10 13:1). After judging the nations (Matt. 25:31 46), Jesus will set up His millennial government
and rule the world for one thousand years (Rev. 20:4 6).
But a thousand years is not an “eternal” kingdom as was promised David and His descendants. How does it become “eternal”?
Paul writes in 1 Cor. 15:24 28 that at the end of the thousand years, Christ will deliver up the reins of His theocratic government to God the Father. Then the millennial kingdom will become an eternal kingdom. Christ’s deliverance of the Kingdom to the Father constitutes the final step
in the reclamation of His kingdom which was challenged by Satan.
F. The Kingdom of God in the Present Age
The prophesied kingdom has been postponed and will be consummated in the Millennium. Does the kingdom of God exist today in some form or manner today?
Typical a millennial theologians equate the church with the kingdom and deny the existence of a future kingdom for Israel. Many pre Millennialists, on the other hand, deny any relationship between the church and the kingdom. They would hold that the kingdom is entirely future.
The Scriptures seem to present evidence for both positions. Rather than emphasizing one body of evidence to the neglect of another, believers must come to appreciate the truth of both views.
The Kingdom is Future
There is abundant evidence that Christ and His disciples anticipated a future kingdom:
“Then the King will say . . . ‘inherit the kingdom prepared for you'” (Matt. 25:34).
“I will not drink . . . until I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matt. 26:29).
“They supposed that the kingdom of God was going to appear immediately” (Lk. 19:11).
“You may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom” (Luke 22:30).
“Lord, is it at this time you are restoring the kingdom to Israel” (Acts 1:6).
See also 1 Cor. 15:50, 2 Tim. 4:18 and Rev. 20:1 6.
The Kingdom is Present
While a future, literal kingdom cannot be denied, Scripture seems to indicate that God’s kingdom program has to do with present spiritual realities not merely physical formalities.
There is a kingdom in the present age, but it must not be equated with the church. The church is not the kingdom. It is, however, an aspect of the kingdom. One might even say that the church is the most visible and significant aspect of the kingdom of God as it is developing in the
present age. There is abundant Scriptural evidence for a present kingdom:
“Unless your righteousness surpasses . . . you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20).
“To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 13:11).
“The kingdom of God is within [or “among”] you” (Lk. 17:20 21).
“The kingdom of God belongs to such as these [children]” (Lk. 18:16).
“Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (Jn. 3:3).
“Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (Jn. 3:5).
“These are the only fellow workers for the kingdom of God” (Col. 4:11).
“He delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col. 1:13).
The Kingdom: Present and Future
After recording Jesus’ announcement, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mk. 1:15, cf. Matt. 4:17), Mark goes on to record a series of miracles. The miracles, reflecting characteristics of the kingdom (cf. Isa. 35:5 6) serve to validate his announcement. The miracles of Jesus demonstrate that the future has broken into the present. The kingdom order has been inaugurated. When Jesus gave sight to the blind, healed the sick, caused the lame to walk, cleansed lepers, and liberated those with demons, he was providing a picture of what God’s kingdom is all about.
There is a sense of tension concerning the kingdom reflected in the phrase, “already, but not yet.” Because the King has come, the glorious, redeeming, recreating reign of God has commenced. Because the King is still to come, the kingdom is not yet in the form it will exist in when Christ returns. As Herman Ridderbos has put it, “The threshold of the great future has been reached . . . the concluding drama can start.”
Is there a kingdom of God in the present age? Yes! The kingdom of God involves God’s people, in God’s place, under God’s rule. Today, the people of God are believers in Christ (whether Jew or Gentile). God’s “place” would be the body of Christ, the church. God’s rule over His people is exercised through Christ and His under shepherds (church elders).
The kingdom of God already inaugurated, but not yet culminated. It is a present developing reality to be fully realized at the return of Christ the King. Then the literal throne, dynasty and kingdom (Lk. 1:32 33) will be consummated and continue throughout all eternity.
V. The Judgment Work
Having redeemed man and reclaimed God’s kingdom, one could almost say, “mission accomplished!” Not quite. Every major project requires some “clean up” and God’s work is no exception. God’s kingdom and judgment work may be thought of as two sides of a coin. Like repentance and faith, one implies the presence of the other.
God’s work of judgment is both contemporary and eschatological. God’s judgment is presently and progressively taking place (Jn. 3:18 19) and has an eschatological culmination.
A. Judgment on Satan and His Angels
Jesus spoke of the “eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41). The actual judgment on Satan commenced at the cross (Jn. 12:31). His wicked activities are further restricted during the Tribulation (Rev. 12:9) and the Millennium (Rev. 20:2). The beast and the false prophet are to be thrown into this lake of fire at the second advent
(Rev. 19:20). Satan himself will be cast into the lake of fire at the end of the Millennium and there he will remain for eternity (Rev. 20:10).
B. Judgment on Satan’s Followers
Revelation 20:11 15 reveals that after the Millennium, the wicked dead those outside Christ will be raised and judged. Rev. 20:15 records, “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”
C. Purging of the Earth
2 Peter 3:10 reveals that this present earth the sphere of Satan’s rebellion against God will be purged by fire in preparation for the new heaven and new earth (Rev. 21:1, Isa. 65:17 25). This purging will result in the removal of all the effects of sin and the fall. Then the words of John in Revelation 22:3 will be fulfilled, “And there shall no longer be any curse!”
Genesis begins with a curse because of sin. Revelation concludes with the removal of the effect of sin and an end to the curse. In summary, this is God’s plan for the ages to reverse the curse.
God does have a plan for the ages. Most of Biblical history and theology can be considered under one of the major programs surveyed here.
Believers today are living between the first and second advents of Christ under the provisions of the New Covenant. They are participating in God’s kingdom, but are yet awaiting its full consummation.
There is encouragement in knowing that God does have a sovereign plan. He knows the end from the beginning. All of history and human existence is under His rule and design. In the face of uncertainty and misfortune, Christians can be sure that that God is in control. As he rules the affairs of the nations, so He rules the affairs of our lives according to His sovereign
Resources for Further Study
Beasley Murray, Jesus and the Kingdom. Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1986.
Dyrness, William A. Let the Earth Rejoice. Crossway Books, 1983.
Goldsworthy, Graeme. Gospel and Kingdom. The Paternoster Press, 1981.
Hoekema, Anthony. The Bible and the Future. Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1979.
Kaiser, Walter C. Toward an Old Testament Theology. Zondervan Publishing House, 1978.
Ladd, George. Presence of the Future. Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1974.
Marshall, I. Howard. “The Hope of the New Age: The Kingdom of God in the New Testament,” Themelios 11 (September, 1985), pp. 5 15.
McClain, Alva. Greatness of the Kingdom. BMH Books, 1968.
Pentecost, J. Dwight. Things to Come. Zondervan Publishing House, 1958.
_____________. Thy Kingdom Come. Victor Books, 1990.
Richardson, Don. Eternity in Their Heart. Regal Books, 1981, pp. 122 169.
Ridderbos, Herman. The Coming of the Kingdom. Presbyterian and Reformed, 1962.