In this series of articles so far we have been studying apocalyptic events in the Bible. I have tried to make the case that far from being oddities, these events comprise the essential pattern by which God regularly deals with man. The Bible does not present us with a picture of a God who takes thousands of years to execute his will on the earth (although, for the sake of us slow humans, he did take hundreds of years to reveal it, in bits and pieces). God accomplishes his will relatively quickly (when viewed against the “big picture”). From our perspective it might seem that even the quickest of God’s actions took time to happen, but even that is for our benefit. If God accomplished his will in a split second, with snap of his fingers as it were, we would not be able to see it and appreciate it. But even though God has slowed it down enough for us to see what happens, and thus it takes a little time on the human clock, God’s actions are still quick.
In the previous article we noted several apocalyptic events in the Bible (and hopefully you have thought of some more that were not on the list). But there is one apocalyptic event that is the apocalyptic event, the one to which all others lead, the one for which all others are types and shadows, the one which fulfills every other one. That event is the coming of Jesus to this earth and the accomplishment of his work in fulfilling the plan of God.
Ever since Genesis 3 God had spoken of a coming savior, one who would defeat the power of Satan and reverse the terrible consequences of human sin. God illustrated over and over again, through various apocalyptic events in Biblical history, what this would be like. They all pointed to a day in which there would be a great and sudden unleashing of divine power, when God would intervene into the human situation and make things right. Then, in the early years of the first century AD, it happened. Jesus came to earth, sent from God just as God himself had promised. When he grew to manhood, Jesus embarked on his public ministry, and the world has never been the same since that time.
It is hard to say exactly how long the public ministry of Jesus lasted, since we do not know with certainty the year in which he was born or the year he died. Luke says that Jesus was about 30 years old when he began his ministry (Luke 3.23), and the indications of the gospels combined suggests that Jesus’ public ministry lasted somewhere around three years. In less time than it takes the typical student to earn a college degree, Jesus had revealed the Father to man in the most definitive way possible, he had fulfilled the hundreds of prophecies, types, patterns, and paradigms that foreshadowed his life and work, he set the example for all acceptable human conduct, he offered the perfect and final sacrifice for all human sin, he redeemed us, he ransomed us, he broke the power of death over mankind, he inaugurated a new covenant, he established God’s kingdom, he opened the floodgates of spiritual blessings that had been promised for the Messianic time, he became our new high priest, and he took his seat alongside God himself on the heavenly throne to defeat all enemies of his people. If Jesus had done only one of these things, it would have far outstripped the work and accomplishments of every prophet and godly person (all combined) that had gone before him. But he did not just accomplish just one thing in God’s plan. In about three years Jesus accomplished all of it (with the exception of the final gathering of God’s people to heaven). The more you try to wrap your mind around what Jesus did, and the relatively short time it took to do it, the more amazing the accomplishment becomes.
Imagine what it was like to have lived through Jesus’ day, and to have come to an understanding of what he had done. One day you woke up and you were living in the same old world that had been since the days of Adam. It was a world in which people of faith were always looking forward, straining to see around the bend as it were, hoping that the time of the promises would soon arrive. In the mean time, you lived in a world of restricted access to God and limited understanding of him. But then, three short years later, you wake up and the world is now completely different in some very important ways. You now live in a world where access to God is free and open to everyone, where you see the essence of God more clearly than anyone had ever seen it before, you now live in a time when perfect forgiveness is offered from God, and you live in the blessed prospect of being raised from the dead one day to be with God forever in heaven. No longer were you trapped in a world that was cursed and doomed, no longer did you have to look forward to the day when God would accomplish his long-awaited plan and purpose. It was now done. If you had lived in that time, I am sure that you would have sat down at times with your head spinning, trying to grasp just how quickly the world had changed in these ways.
You can catch a little of the sense of the apocalyptic quality of the work of Jesus in these New Testament passages:
“Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2.3-6).
“But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Eph 2.13)
“… God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity, but now has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Tim 1.9-10).
“for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Pet 2.10).
“But now.” Those two words encapsulate the sudden, apocalyptic reversal of fortune that happened because of the work of Jesus. “But now.” That makes all the difference.
by David McClister
Sermon Powerpoint file: Three Trees