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It Must Be Finished

Making Sense of the Return of Jesus

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25 Jul 2019
It Must Be Finished

To understand the return of Jesus and the events that precede His coming, we need to realize the Old and New Testaments tell one unified story. Many believers see the Old Testament primarily as ancient history that has been entirely superseded. That is not an accurate view. In reality, the Old Testament contains the foundations of our faith. Paul and the other apostles preached directly out of it because the gospel foundations in the Old Testament remain valid.

The first coming of Jesus did not fulfill all the promises of God—it secured them. God made significant promises in the Old Testament that must be fulfilled by Jesus, and these promises help set the stage for His return.

The Promises that Must be Fulfilled

In Genesis 12:1–3, God made three unconditional promises to Abraham. These promises were secured entirely by God—therefore, while human failure and sin causes tremendous suffering, this cannot jeopardize the fulfillment of the promises.

The three promises are:

  • A specific piece of land for Abraham and his descendants,
  • Physical descendants who will become a “great nation” (which in context means a righteous, holy people—great in character not just great in number), and
  • A blessing for all the families of the earth through Abraham.

These promises drive the redemptive story throughout the Bible.

When God made these promises, He told Abraham He would bless those who blessed him and curse those who cursed him. That some would bless and others would curse was a warning to Abraham: there would be great controversy over the way God chose to fulfill the promises.

These promises have not yet been fulfilled, and the controversy over the promises has escalated tremendously in our generation. For example, controversy over the land promise is growing. We live in the first time in history when there is intense global controversy over Israel. We also live in the first generation in over 2,000 years with a sovereign Jewish state. It seems normal to us, but it is an amazing statement of God’s commitment to His promises.

At the same time, we’ve seen an unparalleled controversy over the survival and salvation of the Jewish people. In the last 100 years, the Jewish people passed through the Holocaust, the most gruesome genocide in their history. The root of the Holocaust was spiritual—a clear attempt to prevent the Jewish people from entering their promises and bringing blessing to the nations. However, we have also seen the preservation of the Jewish people and the increase of Jewish interest in Jesus and the gospel.

Finally, there is great controversy over the fulfillment of the promise to bless all the families of the earth. Also in the last 100 years, more believers have been martyred than in all previous centuries combined. And we live in the first generation in human history when all the “families of the earth” could be blessed by the gospel. Though there is significant work to be done, this is the first time in history it is possible to reach every people group with the gospel.

The escalating controversy over all three promises indicates we are growing closer to their fulfillment.

The Promises Are Intertwined

God will not fulfill one of these promises independently of the others. He’s not going to give the Jewish people a land and save them but leave the nations without blessing. At the same time, He’s not going to release salvation to the nations but forget to bring salvation to the Jewish people and ultimately fulfill the land promise. God has promised to fulfill all three promises and they are all tightly connected.

The Promises Will Be Fulfilled

Jesus is the one who fulfills Abraham’s promises and He’s completely committed to them. His commitment to these promises is part of the gospel. At His first coming, Jesus left the disciples with the expectation He would fulfill these promises when He returned (Acts 1:6–7; Matthew 24:14), which led Peter to describe Jesus’ return as the time for the fulfillment “of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets” (Acts 3:21). Paul also expected a future fulfillment of all three promises (Romans 11:25–26; Gal. 3:8). In the book of Revelation, John predicted the salvation of Israel and those from every tribe and tongue (Revelation 1:7; 7:9).

God’s honor is at stake in these promises, and that is a significant reason why there is a global controversy over Israel. Abraham’s promises are a significant part of the “why” behind the “what” of end-time events because the end times will set the stage for God’s great and climatic fulfillment of His promises.

The Covenant that Must be Resolved

Many Christians think of the Mosaic covenant only in negative terms, but the same God who gave the new covenant gave the Mosaic covenant. It served a redemptive purpose to steward Israel until the new covenant came. Many Christians think of the Mosaic covenant as only “legalism”—but law and grace are not mutually exclusive. God’s “law” in the Mosaic covenant was not intrinsically bad; it served a valued purpose in God’s redemptive plan.

Furthermore, Israel’s encounter with God at Mount Sinai is an unparalleled event. It is the only time God has visibly and audibly offered a contract (covenant) to an entire nation. The Bible’s description of the event is stunning (Exodus 19), and God remembers the day with deep emotion (Jeremiah 2:2). The events that surrounded the Mosaic covenant are so unusual we must understand and respect them rather than dismiss them.

The Tension of the Mosaic Covenant

The Mosaic covenant contained blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience; therefore, the ultimate outcome of the covenant depended on the people. This created a tension with the Abrahamic covenant where the outcome depended on God. For example, God promised Abraham a land, but under the Mosaic covenant the land could be lost if the people did not obey. The Old Testament prophets understood God was going to somehow resolve the curses of the Mosaic covenant to fulfill His promises, but they could not fully grasp how God would do it.

God’s “Mission Impossible”

The Mosaic covenant created a cycle of salvation, mercy, warning, and judgment. The judgments of the Mosaic covenant were designed to turn Israel back to God, but Israel was never able to fully obey God and remain a holy people. There was simply no human way to remain perpetually faithful to the covenant and avoid the curses. The prophets predicted God would end this cycle, but it was not clear how He would do it.

This tension between the Mosaic covenant and the promises made to Abraham helped set the stage for the New Testament and the Messiah who would deliver Israel from the curses of the Mosaic covenant. Jesus resolved the Mosaic covenant and made the fulfillment of the Abrahamic promises possible through what we call the new covenant.

Because Israel entered the Mosaic covenant as a nation, Israel must also enter this new covenant as a nation to experience the final fulfillment of all the promises. This resolution is a key factor in the events of the end times.

Israel’s Story Is Our Story

We need to understand Israel’s story because this story is our story. While God deals with Israel in specific ways according to His covenants, the way He relates to Israel reveals how He relates to us. In His promises and His covenants we discover who He is, and we better grasp who we are.

We see how our sin prevents the fulfillment of God’s promises, but we also discover God’s commitment to every one of His promises through His strength. Those promises will ultimately be fulfilled by the return of Jesus, which is why we can say the first coming of Jesus did not fulfill all the promises of God—it secured them.

He will return to fulfill every promise.

This message was delivered at the ICEJ USA's 2019 Conference, Beginnings. To listen to this message in its entirety click the audio files below:

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