Man’s Failure, God’s Victory

THE beginning of a new year, following closely the commemoration of the birth of Jesus, the Prince of Peace, affords an excellent opportunity to appraise the result of human efforts to establish peace and goodwill toward men. The professed Christian segments of humanity again joined in the angelic anthem first sung more than nineteen centuries ago, and in their enthusiasm once more swelled the volume of that glorious theme of peace on earth, and goodwill toward men, so that as usual it was heard the world around.

But above this sweet melody of hope were heard the ominous overtones of threatening war, as the distress of nations with perplexity foretold by Jesus continues. Thus it was emphasized anew that the only basis for hope that the Christmas message will ever be anything more than a beautiful song is the sure promise of the Word that “the zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.”—Isa. 9:6,7

This should lead to sober reflection on the part of lawmakers and militarists the world over. Nearly two thousand years ago Jesus, the Prince of Peace, declared that those who take to the sword shall perish by the sword. Thus did the Master not only outline a divine principle of righteousness, but he also uttered a prophecy. Only the footstep followers of Jesus—who have always been a very small minority—have really believed Jesus’ teachings on this point and endeavored to apply them in their daily lives. The unbelieving world has gone on record time and time again in defiance of what Jesus said. But now the truthfulness of his words stands out in bold contrast to the wisdom of this world.

All down through the centuries since Jesus walked up and down in the Holy Land proclaiming those principles of love and a better way of life, the wise of this world have flouted his teachings. They have said that the only way to prevent war is to be prepared for war; so the mad armament race has continued, and so has war. As science and invention have produced ever more deadly weapons of destruction, each nation has sought feverishly to acquire them ahead of other nations, in the belief that thus they could cow the others into fear of starting another war, so the world would have peace.

The record of history is that this method has never prevented war. Instead wars have not only continued, but have constantly become more deadly, more destructive, more horrible. And now the end is reached; it is common knowledge that the nations now have it in their power to destroy the entire race. This being true, there is little purpose, or so it would seem, in continuing to make bombs, or to improve them, unless it be for the doubtful advantage of being able to survive for a few days or weeks longer than some of the other nations.

Yes, the world has at last demonstrated the truthfulness of the Master’s teachings. Having chosen to depend upon the “sword” for self-preservation, all nations have now come to the place where, apart from divine intervention, they might well perish by the “sword.” How eloquently this speaks for the truthfulness of God’s Word! How glad we are that the time is so near when the nations will recognize the folly of following their own theories, and be willing to observe the Lord’s ways; for it will be then that they “will beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks.” It will be then that “nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”—Mic. 4:1-4

Against the background of the angelic message of peace on earth and goodwill toward man, we look at the world just after another Christmas celebration, and the question arises as to whether or not the theme of the angels on the night Jesus was born is ever to be anything more than inspirational words, or an idealism around which the righteously inclined of earth may do their wishful thinking. The answer is, Yes, those words are still true, and still vital in their implications of blessings for all mankind. Call them a description of utopia, or of the millennium, or what you will, they outline the divine purpose toward the human race; and all the mighty power that was used to create the universe stands pledged to guarantee their fulfillment.

The reason that millions have lost faith in the angels’ message—except as it serves each year temporarily to help create a spirit of goodwill and cheer—is that they have lost sight of God’s part in its fulfillment. This loss of the true vision of the messianic purpose of God stems from what the Apostle Paul prophesied as a great “falling away” from the faith which would occur after the death of the apostles. (II Thess. 2:3) The incidental errors which developed as a result of that apostasy from the true faith of the Gospel have been almost innumerable, but one of the basic ones is the idea that God depends upon men to fulfill his promises pertaining to peace on earth and goodwill toward men.

This came about in a seemingly natural, although unchristian way. For many, the transfer of faith in God to faith in human institutions became just about complete in the formation of the church-state governments of Europe. The Scriptures are implicitly plain in stating that all the wonderful blessings of peace and health and life referred to in the promises of God are to be realized through the kingdom of Christ. Even the most casual students of the Bible recognize this. And when, in the Middle Ages, the church united with the state, the claim was that now the promised kingdom of Christ was established.

Thus it was logical for the people to look to the church and to the state for the blessings of Christ’s kingdom. But it has been a very disappointing experience. The various church-state governments of Europe, instead of cooperating to bring peace to the world, themselves made war with one another. The Founding Fathers of America recognized the evils of this church-state form of government, and the Constitution of the United States prevents it from rearing its ugly head in this country, but the basic idea introduced by such governments claiming to be the kingdom of Christ still lives in most of the professed Christian world.

As we have seen, that basic thought was that God depends upon and waits for man to fulfill his promises of peace on earth and goodwill toward men. It is interpreted in various ways by different groups. The most general theory is that the kingdom of Christ was set up at Pentecost, and that since then it has increased as new converts were added to the church. This viewpoint depends for support to a considerable extent upon a faulty translation of Jesus’ words, when he said to the scribes and Pharisees, “The Royal Majesty of the heavens is among you.” The King James Version reads, “The kingdom of God is within you.”—Luke 17:21

These words were addressed to a class of people whom Jesus himself described as hypocrites and likened to whited sepulchers. (Matt. 23:27) It would be difficult to imagine how the kingdom of heaven, or anything else righteous, could be in the hearts of such as these. But the correct translation clears up the matter. Jesus was the Royal Majesty whom the God of heaven had sent to set up a kingdom. He was at the moment in the midst of the scribes and Pharisees, but they were denying his true identity and sarcastically questioning him as to how his kingdom would come, hence the answer which Jesus gave them.

Another view arising out of the original erroneous theory that the church-state governments of Europe were Christ’s kingdom is the one which prompts sincere men and women of many churches to work zealously for reform in government, local, state, and national. With the same thought in mind, they pin their hopes on the United Nations, just as they formerly did on the League of Nations. It will probably be remembered by some that when the now defunct League of Nations was formed, it was hailed by well-meaning churchmen as the political expression of Christ’s kingdom on earth.

But regardless of these different viewpoints as to how the kingdom of Christ will be established in the earth, the basic thought is the same—that through human efforts we are to look for the fulfillment of God’s promises. No wonder the professed Christian world is disappointed!

The continued failure of human efforts, regardless of how well-intentioned they may be, is sufficient cause for disappointment, until we can lift our eyes above this human viewpoint, which took such deep hold upon the church in the Dark Ages, and focus our vision upon the glorious assurances of the Bible that God has his own way of fulfilling his promises—a way that has steadily progressed throughout the ages and is now about to manifest itself in a glorious triumph of the divine purpose, bringing to fruition the angelic message of peace on earth and goodwill toward men.

This Ending Age

Jesus, whose birth the angels announced, did not expect the triumph of his principles among the nations during the present age. He, like the apostles, forecast apostasy even among his own professed followers. In his parable of the wheat and the tares he indicated that a false, counterfeit following would overrun the field, as it were, and would well-nigh choke out the “wheat.” Not until the end of the age would this situation be remedied, and then there would be a great conflagration of the “tares,” after which the wheat would shine forth “as the sun, in the kingdom of their Father.”—Matt. 13:24-30,36-43

When the disciples asked Jesus about the signs which would mark the time of his second presence and the end of the age, he mentioned several things to indicate apostasy throughput the age, the persecution of his own true followers, with the age ending in a time of great tribulation such as never was since there was a nation. In connection with this trouble—foretold also in Daniel 12:1—Jesus said that unless it was shortened it would result in the destruction of all flesh. He added, however, that for the elect’s sake the trouble would be shortened, which is most reassuring in view of the solemn warnings of scientists and statesmen today.

One of the symbols used in the prophecies to illustrate this time of great tribulation is fire. It is this “fire” which destroys the symbolic tares referred to by Jesus in the parable. Tares are an imitation of wheat. The ultimate position of the wheat, as we have seen, is to shine forth in the kingdom of the Father. The tares, being a counterfeit, are evidently those who are supposed to be a part of the kingdom, but are not. It is difficult to escape the significance of the picture which Jesus presents in this prophetic parable, which is that at the end of the age there would be a destruction of all false claims of Christianity, and that these would perish together with this “present evil world.”—Gal. 1:4

It will be when the fire of this great time of trouble has accomplished its full purpose that divine power will intervene and the authority of Christ’s kingdom will make itself felt among the nations of the earth. This will not be accomplished by human efforts. No, the Prophet Isaiah wrote, “The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.” (Isa. 9:6,7) Again, in Daniel 2:31-45, where we are given that illuminating prophecy pertaining to Gentile rulership and its final overthrow at this end of the age, we read that “in the days of these kings [represented by the toes of the image seen by Nebuchadnezzar in his dream], shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, … and it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever.”—Dan. 2:44

Yes, the God of heaven will do this! It was not, and could not be done by church-state governments of Europe. It has not been and cannot be done by the best and most laborious efforts of well-meaning religious workers today. It could not be done by the League of Nations, and will not be done by the United Nations.

This does not mean that we should deprecate the efforts of those who are trying to make a better world, but it does mean that we should not be discouraged, and should not lose our faith in the promises of God as we watch the continued failure of human efforts. Instead, we should realize that conditions today are just as the Bible foretold them, and they indicate that the time when the God of heaven will set up his kingdom is at hand.

Goodwill toward Men

With this proper viewpoint of the angelic message of peace on earth—that God himself, through Christ, will establish peace—we are prepared for a deeper understanding of the statement, “goodwill toward men.” A failure to grasp the intent of this entire prophecy and how it would be fulfilled, has resulted in these words being erroneously rendered, “Peace on earth among men of goodwill.” Since, after more than nineteen centuries, men of goodwill seem still to be very much in the minority, there is little peace on earth.

But this rendering of the passage is not justified by the original Greek meaning. In reality, what is referred to is God’s goodwill toward man, not goodwill among men. The complete thought of the text is that there would come peace on earth because of the expression of God’s goodwill toward his human creation.

For four thousand years God had been expressing his goodwill toward men by means of the many promises he caused his prophets to record concerning the fact that he would send a savior and a ruler to redeem the people from their sins, and restore the willing and obedient to life and to their lost edenic home. Now this promised one was born, which was a further expression of God’s goodwill toward men

This thought is given beautiful expression in John 3:16, where we read that “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Failing to see that all the wonderful promises of God toward the human race are to be fulfilled during the thousand years of Christ’s reign, men have placed an unwarranted limit upon them. They have insisted that one must believe before he dies in order to receive life through Christ, but the Scriptures do not warrant this restricted viewpoint.

However, one error leads to another. Since, in the church-state systems of Europe the people had what they thought was the kingdom of Christ, it was but natural to believe that all the promises of blessings to be provided through that kingdom could apply only here and now; that is, during this present short span of life. This reasoning was correct, but the premise was wrong. The kingdom was not set up in the Dark Ages, nor will the prerogatives and authority of the kingdom of Christ ever be entrusted to imperfect, fallen human beings.

There are texts of Scripture which show that the preparation of the kingdom began at Pentecost, and those who are promised joint-heirship with Jesus in the kingdom are, as a class, referred to as the kingdom, but only in its preparatory stage. Those whom the New Testament refers to as sons of God are said to be “heirs of God and joint-heirs with Jesus Christ.” The first of these sons were those from among the Jewish nation who accepted Jesus. See John 1:11,12. But there were not enough of these, so, as we read in Acts 15:13-18, God visited the Gentiles, not to convert them all, not to reign over them through church-state governments, but to “take out of them a people for his name.” In Revelation 14:1 these are shown, together with Jesus, on symbolic Mount Zion, where they are said to have his “Father’s name written in their foreheads.” In the last verse of Obadiah the same ones are again pictured on Mount Zion, and called saviors. Here we are told that when these “come up on Mount Zion” the kingdom will be the Lord’s.

These, and many other texts of both the Old and New Testaments indicate beyond question that thus far since the coming and death of Jesus to be the Redeemer and Savior of the world, God’s work in the world has been merely preparatory for the glorious future work of establishing actual peace among the nations. But even in this he has been manifesting his goodwill toward the people.

The world has not been aware of the manner in which the love of God has been operative on their behalf. They have witnessed the continual failure of human effort, and millions have concluded either that God was not interested in human welfare, or else he was powerless to prevent the evil which has so continuously triumphed in the affairs of men.

But all this time God’s plan has been going forward gloriously toward its goal of peace on earth—and not only peace, but joy and life as well. For be it remembered, that the first message of the angel in announcing the birth of Jesus was, “Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” The world was lost in sin, and the “wages of sin is death.” (Rom. 6:23) Jesus came as a manifestation of his Heavenly Father’s goodwill toward men, to die for the people—for Adam, and for all who lost life through him. What a marvelous message of hope it was that the shepherds heard that night!

The interest of the Heavenly Father and of his beloved Son in the human race is beautifully illustrated in Jesus’ parable of the lost sheep. (Matt. 18:11-14) The ninety and nine sheep in this parable who were safely in the fold clearly represent all the various orders of God’s intelligent creatures in the spirit world—angels, principalities, and powers. But God’s human creation had gone astray, so Jesus, the Good Shepherd, left his heavenly home, and came to earth to rescue the “lost sheep.”

At the time of Jesus’ birth the lost sheep had been wandering in the bleak wilderness, as it were, for four thousand years. Nearly two thousand years more have elapsed since, but the time is now near when the human race will be restored to the fold of divine favor and life. Meanwhile, each generation of the human race has had an opportunity to experience the dire result of straying from the fold, and all will be awakened from the sleep of death to have brought to their attention the great love of their heavenly shepherd, and of the fact that he died in order that they might live.

Then the people will know that the prophecy of the angels was true, that the divine plan did not fail. Then there will not only be peace among nations, but peace within nations. There will be community peace, and family peace. And best of all, and indeed, fundamental to all peace, there will be peace between God and men.

The ultimate in this is described in Revelation 21:3-5, where we read that the “tabernacle of God” will be with men, and that he will “dwell” with them, and be their God. Dwelling with them, he will bless them by wiping tears from their faces, and destroying pain and death. “And he that sat upon the throne said, … Write: for these words are true and faithful.”

So, looking back upon past years we are not discouraged nor disappointed. The nations did not find a solution to their problems; they did not find the road to peace. But this does not mean that God’s plan has failed. It simply bears testimony to the truthfulness of the prophecies which so clearly portray continued human failure.

And we look ahead into the future with the assurance that God has the situation firmly in hand, and that he will permit misguided human judgment to disrupt world affairs only to the point where his purposes will not be hindered. Meanwhile, we will place our confidence in his promises, and will continue to proclaim to the world the good tidings of Christ’s kingdom which so soon is to manifest itself in power and great glory.

And we will rejoice in anticipation of that global hallelujah chorus which will ascend to God when the knowledge of his glory fills the earth, and all the people know the full significance of what occurred nineteen centuries ago when the angels sang, “Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth, and goodwill toward men.”

Dawn Bible Students Association
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