21 August 2022
Biblical theology not only tries to systematically understand what the Bible teaches, but does so in the context of the Bible’s own progressively revealed and progressively developed storyline.
The Bible was written over two millennia, as God progressively revealed more and more of Himself and His story. Thousands of years separate God’s act of creation and His future act of new creation. In between, humanity falls into sin and God acts to save sinners and then to explain those saving acts.
The Bible therefore is not merely a story told by humans about God’s salvation of them; it is a story enacted by God and then explained by God about God. There is a God-centred focus in all of this as God objectively and concretely invades human history and acts to redeem His people to His own glory.
So the question we are considering today is: where are we in the Biblical storyline at this juncture?
The biblical story starts at the beginning of history and ends at the end of history. This means it is not an ancient story from the past, but a once and future story that encompasses us today. It is a story that explains everything and so provides us with a worldview; it is a narrative by God to envelop us and redefine us. So answering the question would help us to know, not only where we are in this narrative, but also what God intends for us now in terms of our calling and response.
Although the story is a story of redemption, the centre and point of the story is God and His glory (Eph.1:6, 12, 14). For though God’s glory is seen in His ability to save, that salvation comes only through judgment. And the judgment is borne by Himself, in the person of His own Son. It is in the cross that God’s glory is seen, in the suffering and sacrifice of Him who is most worthy for those who are not worthy at all, and these include all of us who believe.
The Old Testament saints were waiting for a coming Messiah; the Messiah has come in the person of Jesus Christ. The victory He has already achieved in His death and resurrection is decisive. We who believe, Jews and Gentiles alike, are regenerated and united with Christ by the power and ministry of the Holy Spirit. This victory needs to be continued by His Christian followers in the present and completed at His parousia (second coming) in the future. This is where we are in the storyline; but what is essential is to know and understand what God desires of us in continuing this victory until the second coming of His Son.
When Jesus first came, His disciples were expecting Him to achieve victory by military conquest and they least expected the victory to be secured at the cross.
The decisive victory has in fact already been won by Christ; His followers (which include us and all those who believe) are called to continue the battle in the present. The final victory still lies in the future.
But we need to understand clearly how we are to continue the battle until Christ comes again. The Lord Jesus has set the example for us to follow; He has shown us the new paradigm. He had clearly stated that those who seek to follow Him must deny themselves, take up their cross daily and follow. The battle and work of the followers of Christ bear the characteristic of “witness”. Jesus Himself is ‘the faithful and true witness’ (Rev. 3:14) – this title refers primarily to the witness which He bore to God during His life on earth and to His faithfulness in maintaining His witness even at the cost of His life.
Jesus’ work of witness is to be continued by His followers (which includes you, me and all believers), who are not only called His witnesses (Rev. 17:6) but are also said to hold ‘the witness of Jesus (Rev.12:17;19:10), which is the same as their own witness. The witness of Jesus is the witness Jesus Himself bore and which His faithful followers continue to bear. It is primarily Jesus’ and His followers’ witness to the true God and His righteousness, which exposes the falsehood of idolatry and the evil of those who worship the ‘beast’.
While evil powers opposed to God dominate the earth, the victory of Christ and the realisation of God’s rule have still to reach the ultimate goal. Those who acknowledge God’s rule have an indispensable role to play in the full working-out of the Lamb’s victory.
“And they have conquered him (the devil) by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives unto death” (Rev. 12:11). Christians conquer the enemy by their faithful witness to the truth of God up to and including death for maintaining this witness. Not every faithful witness will actually be put to death, but all faithful witness requires the endurance and the faithfulness that will accept martyrdom if it comes (Rev.13:10).
The Apostle John’s message in Revelation to Christians is ‘Resist! – but by witness and even martyrdom, not by violence.’ By doing so, they will be playing an independent part in the working-out of the Lamb’s victory.
The faithful witness of Christians is to be instrumental in the conversion of the nations of the world. God’ kingdom is to come not simply by saving an elect people who acknowledge His rule from a rebellious world over which His kingdom prevails merely by extinguishing the rebels. It is to come as the sacrificial witness of the elect people who brings the rebellious nations also to acknowledge His rule. The people of God have been redeemed from all nations in order to bear prophetic witness to all the nations.
Remember the example of Jesus who conquered not by military might but by sacrificial love and by coming to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many. He has set the path for His followers to follow.
In Rev. 9; we see that judgments alone do not lead to repentance. The witness of God’s witnesses does lead to repentance, but in conjunction with judgments. Our effective witness to the truth of the gospel in our faith in Christ’ victory over death and our courageous endurance to remain faithful to Him even in the face of death and suffering – this is what it means to conquer ‘by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of our testimony’.