Panoramic View
Of the Program of God

CR Stam

There is such a thing, in the study of the Scriptures, as "failing to see the forest for the trees"; that is, one may be so occupied with the details of God's great plan for the ages, that he fails to comprehend the program as a whole. And such a failure to comprehend the program as a whole may result in his misunderstanding the details.

It is to correct such misunderstanding that we prayerfully present the following brief panorama of Scripture truth.

It is a striking fact to beginners in Bible study, that God disposes of the first two thousand years or so of man's history in the first eleven chapters of the Bible.

The murder of Abel, the wickedness "the days of Noah," and the rebellion at Babel bear witness to Paul's testimony regarding the depravity of Adam's race and confirm his threefold declaration that God "gave them up... gave them up... gave them over" (Romans 1:24,26,28).

In grace, however, God chose one man, Abraham (first called Abram) that through him and his seed fallen men might be redeemed.

The Abrahamic Covenant

It should be carefully noted that neither before the Abrahamic Covenant nor in it, did God make any promise about believers going to heaven. The outlook so far was entirely earthly in sphere, as evidenced by the following passages taken from this great covenant:

(Genesis 12:2 KJV) And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing:
(Genesis 13:14-15 KJV) And the LORD said unto Abram, after that Lot was separated from him, Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward: {15} For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever.

The only direction in which Abram was not told to look was up. And when on another occasion (Genesis 15:5) he was told to look up, it was only that in the stars he might see an illustration of how God would multiply his seed. To contend that God gave him any revelation here as to a heavenly seed or the Body of Christ is to anticipate revelation and to deny the Spirit's declaration that the truth about the Body was a "mystery" (secret) "hid in God" from ages and generation" (Ephesians 3:1-9; Colossians 1:24-27).

The promise, so shall thy seed be," was made in conjunction with the instruction: "Count the stars, if thou be able to number them."  Thus on still a later occasion we find God saying to Abraham:

(Genesis 22:17-18 KJV) That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I WILL MULTIPLY THY SEED AS THE STARS OF THE HEAVEN, as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and THY SEED SHALL POSSESS THE GATE OF HIS ENEMIES;; {18} And in thy seed shall all the NATIONS of the EARTH be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice.

Thus far in Scripture we have not one single promise of believers going to heaven. All concerns a land and a nation* which is to prove a blessing to the other nations of the earth.

The Davidic Covenant

About a thousand years after Abraham God made another important covenant with David. Again it had nothing to do with heaven, but rather with a King, a throne, and a kingdom to be set up on earth. In this covenant with David God declared:

(2 Samuel 7:13 KJV) He shall build an house for my name, and I WILL STABLISH THE THRONE OF HIS KINGDOM FOR EVER.
(2 Samuel 7:16 KJV) And THINE HOUSE AND THY KINGDOM SHALL BE ESTABLISHED FOR EVER BEFORE THEE: THEY THRONE SHALL BE ESTABLISHED FOR EVER.

This promise is confirmed in Psalm 89:

(Psalms 89:34-37 KJV) My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips. {35} Once have I sworn by my holiness that I will not lie unto David. {36} His seed shall endure for ever, and his throne as the sun before me. {37} It shall be established for ever as the moon, and as a faithful witness in heaven. Selah.

It is sad that some theologians have "spiritualized" these great promises to make them refer to Christ as the King of the Church of this age. Such have taken upon themselves to do that which God has sworn with an oath not to do. They have "altered" His covenant. They may call it the "spiritualization" of His promises, but is it spiritual to alter the plain Word of God? Is this not rather gross carnality?

That the natural, obvious meaning of the Davidic Covenant is the correct one, is proven by a hundred other passages confirming it, including Jeremiah 23:5,6, which says:

(Jeremiah 23:5-6 KJV) Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth. {6} In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is his name whereby he shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.

Thus far in the revelation of Scripture, then, nothing is said about going to heaven. Rather we have a land, a nation, a kingdom and a King, or -- a King of a kingdom to reign over a nation in a land.

The Kingdom Described

It is amazing that the so-called "spiritualizers" of Scripture can persist in altering God's clear promises about the kingdom to be established on earth, especially when we consider that the character of that kingdom is so minutely described for us in the prophetic Word. Take one prophet alone, Isaiah, and see how graphically he describes the changed conditions to prevail on earth during the Messiah's reign.

  1. Christ will be glorified.
    "And it shall come to pass in the last days, that THE MOUNTAIN OF THE LORD'S  HOUSE SHALL BE ESTABLISHED IN THE TOP OF THE MOUNTAINS, AND SHALL BE EXALTED ABOVE THE HILLS; AND ALL NATIONS SHALL FLOW UNTO IT.
    "AND MANY PEOPLE SHALL DO AND SAY, COME YE, AND LET US GO UP TO THE MOUNTAIN OF THE LORD, TO THE HOUSE OF THE GOD OF JACOB; AND HE WILL TEACH US OF HIS WAYS, AND WE WILL WALK IN HIS PATHS: FOR OUT OF ZION SHALL GO FORTH THE LAW, AND THE WORD OF THE LORD FROM JERUSALEM" (Isaiah 2:2-3)
  2. War will be abolished.
    "And there shall come forth a rod [shoot] out of the stem [trunk] of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots:
    "...
    "AND HE SHALL JUDGE AMONG THE NATIONS, AND SHALL REBUKE MANY PEOPLE: AND THEY SHALL BEAT THEIR SWORDS INTO PLOWSHARES AND THEIR SPEARS INTO PRUNINGHOOKS: NATION SHALL NOT LIFT UP SWORD AGAINST NATION, NEITHER SHALL THEY LEARN WAR ANY MORE" (Isaiah 2:4)
  3. Government will be purified.
    "...HE SHALL NOT JUDGE AFTER THE SIGHT OF HIS EYES, NEITHER REPROVE AFTER THE HEARING OF HIS EARS:
    "BUT WITH RIGHTEOUSNESS SHALL HE JUDGE... AND REPROVE WITH EQUITY...
    "AND RIGHTEOUSNESS SHALL BE THE GIRDLE OF HIS LOINS, AND FAITHFULNESS  THE GIRDLE OF HIS REINS" (Isaiah 11:1-5).
  4. Wild animals will be domesticated.
    "THE WOLF ALSO SHALL DWELL WITH THE LAMB, AND THE LEOPARD SHALL LIE DOWN WITH THE KID: AND THE CALF AND THE YOUNG LION AND THE FATLING TOGETHER: AND A LITTLE CHILD SHALL LEAD THEM.
    "AND THE SUCKING CHILD SHALL PLAY ON THE HOLE OF THE ASP, AND THE WEANED CHILD SHALL PUT HIS HAND ON THE COCKATRICE' DEN.
    "THEY SHALL NOT HURT NOR DESTROY IN ALL MY HOLY MOUNTAIN: FOR THE EARTH SHALL BE FULL OF THE KNOWLEDGE OF THE LORD, AS THE WATERS COVER THE SEA" (Isaiah 11:6-9).
  5. The curse will be removed from the vegetable creation
    "THE WILDERNESS AND THE SOLITARY PLACE SHALL BE GLAD FOR THEM; AND THE DESSERT SHALL REJOICE, AND BLOSSOM AS THE ROSE.
    "IT SHALL BLOSSOM ABUNDANTLY, AND REJOICE EVEN WITH JOY AND SINGING; THE GLORY OF LEBANON SHALL BE GIVEN UNTO IT, THE EXCELLENCY OF CARMEL AND SHARON..."
    "...FOR IN THE WILDERNESS SHALL WATERS BREAK OUT, AND STREAMS IN THE DESERT" (Isaiah 35:1,2, 6)
  6. Human sickness and infirmity will be done away.
    "THEN THE EYES OF THE BLIND SHALL BE OPENED, AND THE EARS OF THE DEAF SHALL BE UNSTOPPED.
    "THEN SHALL THE LAME MAN LEAP AS AN HART, AND THE TONGUE OF THE DUMB SHALL SING..." (Isaiah 35:5,6)
  7. Sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
    "AND THE RANSOMED OF THE LORD SHALL RETURN, AND COME TO ZION WITH SONGS AND EVERLASTING JOY UPON THEIR HEADS: THEY SHALL OBTAIN JOY AND GLADNESS, AND SORROW AND SIGHING SHALL FLEE AWAY" (Isaiah 35:10).

All this testimony and much more comes from only one of the prophetic books of the Old Testament. How much more could be added from the others to prove that the Abrahamic and Davidic Covenants mean just what they say; that Christ and His kingdom will one day reign over the nation Israel on earth in the land of Palestine and that redeemed Israel will then become a blessing to all nations.

From Genesis to Malachi not one promise can be found about believers going to heaven. The outlook is entirely earthly in sphere.

Where, then, do we begin to learn about "the church which is [Christ's] Body" and the hope which is laid up for [us] in heaven," in the gospel records? Let us see.

John the Baptist, Christ and the Twelve

What was the theme of John the Baptist's message? Around what central subject did all his teachings revolve? The sacred record answers this question simply and clearly:

(Matthew 2:1-2 KJV) Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, {2} Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.

How can any honest Bible teacher ignore the background to this proclamation and relate it to anything but the long-promised reign of Christ on earth, especially since our Lord had just appeared on earth? And does not the declaration that this kingdom was now "at hand" indicate clearly that it was the same kingdom which had been expected? We are amazed that sincere men of God "spiritualize" this proclamation and make it refer to the Church of this dispensation whose position and citizenship is with Christ in heaven.

Mark, well, John does not refer to a kingdom in heaven, but to the "kingdom of heaven"; that kingdom of which Daniel prophesied:

(Daniel 2:44 KJV) And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever.

But what about our Lord Himself? What was the central theme of His message? Again the record supplies an answer that is simple and clear:

(Matthew 4:17 KJV) From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

Nothing more than this? Yes, but this was the central subject around which all His sermons and parables and declarations revolved. He spoke about is Father in heaven, about treasures in heaven and a reward in heaven, but always in connection with the kingdom over which he was to reign on earth.

And what about the twelve as the ministered with Him? Again the answer of Scripture is simple and direct:

(Matthew 10:5-7 KJV) These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: {6} But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. {7} And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand.

Again it is the same message, not the cross but the throne. Indeed these twelve had a stake in that kingdom, for our Lord later promised them:

(Matthew 19:28 KJV) And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

Surely there are no "twelve tribes" either in the Church or in heaven.

At this time, then, the twelve, like John the Baptist and our Lord, looked forward to the establishment of the long-promised kingdom on the earth.

The Question At Issue

The great question at issue now remains; Did this all change with the resurrection of Christ and the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost?

The great majority of Fundamentalist believers hold that with the so-called "Great Commission" and Pentecost we have the beginning of the new dispensation which Paul declared to have been a mystery (Ephesians 3:1-4). They hold that the gospel of the grace of the grace of God is the subject of the "Great Commission" and that the Body of Christ, the Church of this present dispensation, began at Pentecost.

In this they are wrong. Nowhere, in any record of the commission, do we read about salvation by grace, through the finished work of Christ. Indeed, water baptism was still required for salvation (Mark 16:16 and Acts 2:38) and believers were still to remain under the law (See Matthew 28:20 and cf. Mathew 23:1-3). Furthermore, as before the cross (Matthew 10:8) miraculous signs were to accompany their ministry Mark 16:17,18).

Nor, in the record of Pentecost, do we read anything about the Body of Christ or a heavenly calling or position. On the contrary, the subject is still the kingdom to be established on earth.

The Pentecostal Period

At Pentecost Peter declared that God had raised Christ from the dead to sit on David's throne (Acts 2:29,30). Indeed, with our Lord's resurrection and ascension the kingdom seemed all the nearer, for the prophets had predicted that these things must transpire before His return to reign (Luke 24:25,26; Acts 2:16-20; 1 Peter 1:11.)

Thus, we find Peter, in Acts 3, actually offering the return of Christ to earth upon the condition of Israel's repentance:

(Acts 3:19-21 KJV) Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord; {20} And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: {21} Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.

Another Apostle

It was not until after Israel had stubbornly rejected the actual offer of the kingdom and the  return of their resurrected, glorified Messiah, that God, in infinite grace, apprehended the leader of the rebellion, Saul of Tarsus, and saved him, to make him at once the symbol through the herald of redeeming grace through the finished work of Christ at Calvary.

It was with this new apostle that the dispensation of grace was ushered in and the Body of Christ begun.

Not until Paul do we read one word about "the gospel of the grace of God" (Acts 20:24) or "the dispensation of the grace of God" (Ephesians 3:2).

Not until Paul did anyone rise to  say:

(Romans 3:21 KJV) But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets;

From the Abrahamic Covenant in Genesis through Peter's declaration in Acts 3:24-26, blessing was to have gone to the Gentiles through redeemed Israel. Not until Paul do we read that:

(Romans 11:11 KJV) I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy.

Not until Paul do we read, of Jew and Gentile, that:

(Romans 11:32 KJV) For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all.
(Ephesians 2:16 KJV) And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby:

Not until Paul do we read about the baptism of believers into Christ and His Body by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13; Colossians 2:9-12) or about our positional resurrection and exaltation with Him in the heavenlies (Ephesians 2:4-6) or about our "all spiritual blessings" there (Ephesians 1:3). Not until Paul do we learn about our "citizenship...in heaven" (Philippians 3:20) or about our Lord's coming some day to catch us away to be with Him for ever (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18). These are the peculiar blessings of the present dispensation of grace.

Back to Israel Again

While we revel in this unpromised blessing, however, let us rejoice also that "the gifts and calling of God are without repentance"; that He will yet fulfill His covenant promises to Israel. It is Paul himself who says,

(Romans 11:25-27 KJV)For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that BLINDNESS IN PART IS HAPPENED TO ISRAEL, UNTIL THE FULNESS OF THE GENTILES BE COME IN. {26} AND SO ALL ISRAEL SHALL BE SAVED: AS IT IS WRITTEN, THERE SHALL COME OUT OF SION THE DELIVERER, AND SHALL TURN AWAY UNGODLINESS FROM JACOB: {27} FOR THIS IS MY COVENANT UNTO THEM, ...

Thus will the covenant promises be literally fulfilled, after the present dispensation of grace is over. Would to God that all our brethren could see this dispensation of the mystery as God's gracious interruption of the prophetic program by the raising up of Paul! If they did the Presbyterian and Reformed theologians would find no need to alter the plain words of Prophecy, nor would the Baptists find it necessary to altar the plain words of the so-called "Great Commission" and Peter's Pentecostal address. The mystery proclaimed by Paul is the answer to the confusion which has so long gripped the Church and the solution to most of the seeming contradictions in Scripture which continue to trouble so many sincere believers.


*The reader should here again be careful not to anticipate revelation by reading Galatians 3:16 into the promise in Genesis. The promise her in Genesis 22:17,18 clearly states that through Abraham's multiplied seed the other nations will be blessed and many later passages like Zechariah 8:13,23 indicate that this will indeed be so. Galatians 3:16 simply shows that God used the word "seed" with the mystery in view, knowing that only in Christ, the single Seed, could Israel, the multiplied seed, prove a blessing to all nations.

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