"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men!” (Luke 2:14)
The song which the angels sang at the birth of the Savior has been seized upon and misapplied by some who do not see the plan of God for the salvation of the world. Becoming discouraged by the seemingly poor prospect for the world's conversion, these have put forth a version of this passage more in harmony with their own doubts and misconceptions. To these the prayer which our Master taught His disciples to pray, “Thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth, as it is done in heaven,” has lost its meaning; for they see no hope of its fulfillment except in a very limited sense. Hence they prefer to translate the latter part of the verse, “And on earth peace, among men of good will.” Were this the proper rendering, our hopes for the ultimate good of all, as far as this passage is concerned, would surely suffer eclipse; for very few thus far in the history of the race have been “men of good will,” men who unselfishly endeavored to any appreciable degree to bring about the good of their fellows.
But we do not believe this to be the thought of the original. It is not in harmony with what we have clearly seen to be the plan of God for mankind. Such a translation eliminates the thought of God's eventual good will toward all the world, and greatly minimizes the scope of this glorious song. It implies merely that men who have a feeling of good will are, or will be, at peace among themselves. How utterly barren of hope for all men would such an expression be! And how little the song of the angels would mean if this were its burden!
On the contrary, this song was a prophecy of God's purpose to bring about through the newly born Child the abrogation of the curse and the establishment of peace and sin1essness among mankind, in which God and man would become at-one. It was an expression of God's good will, His good purpose, to bring man back to the image and likeness of Himself, in which Adam was created. When this shall have been accomplished, then peace will dwell in all the earth; for the causes of inharmony will have been eliminated.
The world of mankind came under the curse, or sentence, of death because of the sin in Eden – because our first parents disobeyed God's righteous command. All humanity, therefore, are members of an accursed race – under penal servitude, which ends in the tomb. The race has been learning the lesson of the exceeding sinfulness of sin, and its terrible effects. But God has promised to take away the curse and to bring a permanent blessing in its place. This will mean a return to His favor, to full harmony with Himself.
PROGRESSION OF GOD'S GREAT PLAN
We speak of this song as a prophecy because the peace has not yet come, nor the good will, in the sense that God's face is as yet not turned toward man. It is a declaration of what God purposes to do. He does not have good will toward the present sinful, rebellious attitude of the race. He has never had good will toward sin. We are not to understand that God was expressing His good will toward man when He pronounced the sentence of death upon him. God's curse indicated His ill will toward man – in other words, His displeasure because of man's sin. He wished man to suffer ill as a just punishment for his willful disobedience. God cut him off from fellowship with Himself. He was not bound in justice to do anything more for the race. But in His infinite mercy He provided a deliverance for mankind. He foreknew man's fall, and planned his redemption from before the foundation of the world.
Through all the Ages since the fall of Adam God's plan has been slowly, steadily progressing. While men have been learning in pain and tears and trouble the nature and results of sin, God has been selecting His saintly ones, His elect – first, the elect who are to be the earthly princes in His Kingdom of blessing; then, the elect who are to reign over all as kings and priests of God on the highest plane of existence. The chief of all the elect is His well-beloved Son, the Savior of the world, whose birth the angels proclaimed to the shepherds watching on the plains of Judea, nearly nineteen centuries ago (Isa. 42:1). When all the elect ones are chosen and prepared, then the blessing of the world at large will be inaugurated. “For the earnest expectation of the creation waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God [the Church]. For the creation was made subject to frailty, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope; because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the sons of God.” (Rom. 8:19-21)
The coming of the Son of God to earth was only preliminary to his offering of himself as a ransom for the forfeited life of Adam, the father of the race, in whom all his posterity fell. But even when our Lord had died as man's ransom-price, God's favor did not come to the world. Jesus was next raised from the dead a glorious, Divine being. Then He ascended up on high, and appeared in the presence of God for those who were to be of the spiritual elect. Thus the last became first in God's plan. The merit of Jesus' death was utilized first on behalf of these. It has not yet been applied for any others. The Church of Christ now has this promised peace and good will. It is granted only to those who have come into vital relationship with God through Christ – the fully consecrated ones.
The Scriptures show that after these are all selected, prepared and glorified, the next step will be the application to all men of the merit which has been imputed to these elect, and through whom it is to go to the Worthies of old and to the entire world of mankind. This spiritual class has been chosen to be members of the body of Christ, joint-associates with him in the Messianic Kingdom. All of these who prove entirely faithful are to attain this exalted position. As soon as all the spiritual class have been glorified, the sins of all the world, those living and the dead as well, will be legally canceled by the application of the virtue, the merit, of the sacrificial death of Jesus. Then they will be freed from the condemnation of the sentence of death. The death penalty will be lifted. They will be turned over to The Christ, Head and Body, the Great Mediator. The curse will be removed.
The great work of the Millennial Age will then begin. It will be a work of gradual uplift during the entire thousand years of the reign of The Christ. The dead will be gradually awakened and brought to a clear knowledge of the salvation of God in Christ. All will then have the opportunity of coming into the blessed condition of peace and good will proclaimed by the angels. By degrees they will be brought, if they will, to where they will be ready to be received by the Father, to be introduced to Him. This will be the blessed experience of all who will be obedient to the rules and requirements of the Kingdom. If they prove unwilling and disobedient, after being brought to a clear understanding, they will be “cut off,” destroyed, as not worthy of further effort on God's part for their reclamation.
CHRIST'S DEATH A BLESSING TO THE UNIVERSE
We understand that the sacrifice of the Son of God will be a blessing also to the inhabitants of worlds not yet peopled, who will not have had any personal experience with sin. God apparently purposes that after mankind has been restored, and all the incorrigible destroyed, He will allow no further infringement of the Divine Law. Indeed, we can see that if at the beginning of his deflection Satan had known the results of his own course, he would probably not have taken the step which he did. We are not to think of Satan as being foolish by nature. He was a glorious being, Lucifer, “the son of the morning.” If Father Adam and Mother Eve had foreseen the results of their disobedience, they would not have taken such a course; for to have done so with foreknowledge would have meant that they were very unwise, foolish, of unsound minds, whereas they were created perfect, in the image of their Creator.
We believe that if the angels who kept not their first estate had known the end from the beginning – if they could have looked down the Ages and seen the direful consequences of their course of sin and disobedience – they would have been appalled, and would have taken no such disastrous step. The fact that they have gotten into sin, and have developed such sinful tendencies, proclivities and preferences, is no proof that this would have been their course if they had known as much in advance as they now know. It is our hope that some of these may yet be reclaimed, if they are properly repentant, in their great judgment day, now at hand.
God seeketh such to worship Him as worship Him in spirit and in truth. Our thought is that all these worlds surrounding us are designed to be homes to many intelligent beings yet to be created. We believe that it is God's delight to give joy and blessing to many creatures, on various planes of existence. And God is making of this experience of mankind with sin a valuable lesson, a lesson that will be beneficial, not only to themselves, but to all the worlds that will ever be populated. These might be instructed and informed in advance of their developing any sinful tendencies just what the nature and tendency of sin is. They will probably be told the story of the tendency of sin – what it did for the people of earth, what it cost to redeem and restore them. They will be told, probably, that sin degrades mind, body and morals; that its influence is only deteriorating; that once deteriorated, one learns to prefer sin, notwithstanding all the misery and degradation it brings; and that God will never grant everlasting life to any except as they gladly cooperate to that end – that he will never influence any against their own will.
It would seem, then, that the great work accomplished at Calvary will have an influence as wide as the universe. And this thought might be applied to the first part of the song of the angels, “Glory to God in the Highest!” God will be glorified by all the angels, by every rank of spirit beings. He will be glorified by His exalted Church, then of the Divine nature; by restored humanity, by all the intelligent creatures on every plane, in every Age! Yea, more and more glorious will be His honor as the years of eternity roll on, and as other peoples of other planets are brought into being and brought to know Him and to share His wonderful bounties and blessings, and to learn the blessedness of loving and serving Him.
(Pastor Russell, Reprints 5576-5577, Nov. 15, 1914)
CHRIST'S TRIUMPHAL ENTRY
"Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem; behold, thy King cometh unto thee." (Zechariah 9:9)
The message of John the Baptist was, “The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.” This same message Jesus bade His disciples carry from village to village throughout Palestine. This same message was the burden of His preaching and the theme of His parables. Finally, at the close of His ministry, the Kingdom came to the Jewish nation in the sense it was offered to them – it was theirs for the accepting. Today's lesson tells of the formal offer of the Kingdom by Jesus and of the neglect of the Jews as a people to accept it. Thus “He came unto his own, and his own received him not” (John 1:11) – except a few. His own nation rejected Him and five days later crucified Him. A little later, at Pentecost, a few who received Him were begotten of the Holy Spirit and became the nucleus of Spiritual Israel, in preparation for the glorious Kingdom and the work which is to be accomplished at His Second Advent.
On the evening preceding the story of this lesson, Jesus and His disciples were at Bethany, the guests of Lazarus, Martha and Mary, who had prepared a special feast for Jesus, whom they loved dearly. This was the Lazarus whom He had awakened from the sleep of death but a short time before. The feast took place at the close of the Jewish Sabbath day. The next morning corresponded to our Sunday, the first day of the week.
THE CRISIS OF ISRAEL'S EXPERIENCE
In preparation for presenting Himself as King, Jesus sent two of His disciples for an ass's colt, telling them where they would find it, and instructing them to say that it would be returned after the Master had used it. By the time the colt arrived, a considerable multitude had gathered – people of the village of Bethany and others who had come out of Jerusalem, about two miles distant, to see Jesus and to see Lazarus, upon whom the notable miracle had been wrought. It had long been the custom of the kings of Israel to ride to their coronation upon an ass; and the multitude seemed to enter into the spirit of this occasion and to realize what it meant that Jesus was about to ride into Jerusalem on this colt. It signified that finally He was ready to assume the office of King.
For some time the disciples had recognized Him as the Messiah, the glories of whose reign they were to share; and the multitude in general had learned to so regard Him, saying, “When Messiah cometh, will he do greater works than this man?” – could we expect anything more of Messiah than we see being accomplished by this man Jesus? But this was the first time Jesus had formally put himself forward. On previous occasions, when they had sought to take Him by force to make him a king, he had withdrawn himself, realizing the time was not yet come. Now, so far from withdrawing, He was taking the active part, sending for the colt, preparing for the triumphal ride to the capital of the nation as its King.
We may be sure that the hearts of the apostles thrilled with excitement as they thought of the nearness of their Master's glory and of their own share in it; for as yet they did not realize the full import of His words to the effect that He must be crucified and must depart to a “far country,” even Heaven itself, and be invested with authority, and later return to establish the Kingdom which would bless the world.
Jesus, however, was fully aware that the presentation of himself as King was a formal matter, fulfilling the prophecy and leaving the nation of Israel without excuse. If, when He entered the city, the people should rise en masse, acknowledge him and acclaim him, then indeed they would be in line with the Divine requirements which would bring them the greatest of all blessings. But Jesus knew that prophecy had already declared that He would be despised and rejected, and that His own people would hide their faces from Him in shame (Isaiah 53:3). The journey and the preparation for it, therefore, meant something very different to Jesus from what it signified to the disciples and the multitude.
“THE STONES WOULD CRY OUT”
When the ass arrived, some of the people put their garments upon it in lieu of a saddle; Jesus mounted, and the procession began. Some went before Him and some followed after. The people were familiar with the prophecy relating to Messiah's coming, which declared, “Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! behold, thy King cometh unto thee; He is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass.” (Zech. 9:9) They were familiar also with the “shout” the prophets had foretold and the responses – one party crying, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the King of Israel, that cometh in the name of the Lord!” Again came the cry, “Blessed be the kingdom of our father David, that cometh in the name of the Lord!” Then the response, “Hosanna in the highest!” These different expressions are recorded by the different evangelists.
But not all were enthusiastic acclaimers of Jesus; a discordant note was heard. Some of those who had come from the city through curiosity criticized the shouting, and wondered why Jesus did not rebuke the people for ascribing so great honor to him. They sent word to this effect to Jesus through His disciples. Jesus made the answer that a great prophecy was being fulfilled. The Prophet Zechariah had by inspiration said, “Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem!” and such a shout must be made. Jesus declared that if the multitudes had failed to shout, the prophecy would still have been fulfilled – the very stones would have cried out.
THE FIRST PALM SUNDAY
It is customary with some Christians in various parts of the world to commemorate especially that Sunday of the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. The record tells that on the journey many of the people strewed their garments in the way, as a mark of respect and honor, waiting until the little animal had passed over them, and then running on before and placing them again. Others brought ferns, flowers and grasses, and strewed them in the way. Still others, St. John's Gospel tells us, brought branches of palm trees.
It was a jubilant procession fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah. Yet to Jesus it had the sad feature, as indicated by the account. When they had reached the turn of the Mount of Olives, which brought Jerusalem into view, the Master halted the procession while He looked over the city and wept, saying, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, that killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen gathereth her brood under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate; and verily I say unto you, Ye shall see me no more until that day [nearly nineteen centuries later] when ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of Jehovah!” (Matt. 23:37-39)
Jesus realized that that day was a turning point with the Jewish nation – that their rejection of Him meant their rejection by the heavenly Father for a long time. It meant that they would be cast off from Divine favor, except a few who would become His disciples. It meant that during those long centuries the highly favored people of Abraham's natural seed would be in distress. It meant that the favor of God, which had been with them for centuries, would instead be extended to the Gentiles, to gather out of the Gentiles a company of faithful, saintly ones to be associates and joint-heirs with Jesus and the faithful ones of the Jews in the heavenly Kingdom. It meant that not until this elect, heavenly, spiritual Kingdom class should be received to glory would the Jewish people be again received into fellowship with God.
St. Paul markedly calls our attention to this fact that the rejection of Israel is not permanent, but only for a time – only until the complete number of faithful Saints be gathered out from amongst the Gentiles. Then God's favor will return to natural Israel, and subsequently extend to all the families of the earth (Romans 11:25-32).
JESUS THE PRINCE OF PEACE
How different was this entry of Jesus, the Prince of Peace, from the triumphal marches of earthly conquerors and kings! In the excitement of human passion and the prejudice of human minds a special halo of glory has surrounded the world's conquerors. Heroic deeds, valiant conquests, as pictured by historians have a charm. The rising generation reads with thrilling interest of the prowess of Alexander the Great, of the Spartans of Greece, of the Caesars of Rome, and in more modern times of Robert Bruce, of Napoleon and Wellington, of Generals Grant and Lee, Sherman and Johnson, Sheridan and Stewart. The homecomings of all of these were triumphal marches, in many cases rendering honor to whom honor was due.
Nevertheless, in every instance the mind's eye necessarily closes against scenes which led up to such triumphs. We try to forget the millions of slain and wounded, and other millions of mourning widows and orphans. We try to forget the smoking ruins of homes behind those victorious armies. However necessary war at times may seem to be for the maintenance of justice, nevertheless all must concede that the blessings purchased by the sword are procured at a terrible cost.
From this viewpoint Jesus, the Prince of Peace, followed by an army of Saints who are walking in His foot-steps, presents a beautiful picture – even to the worldly. These victors – Leader and followers – conquer by dying. Thus Jesus said to His followers, “Whosoever will save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the Gospel's shall find it.” (Mark 8:35) Thus viewed, all the followers of the Lamb are self-sacrificers, as the Bible declares: “I beseech you, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God – your reasonable service.” (Romans 12:1) Such victory – victory through death – is difficult for the majority of people to understand! What is the philosophy of it? Where is the victory?
VICTOR-KINGS THROUGH DYING
Well may it be asked, Wherein is the victory of Christ and His followers in laying down their lives for the brethren and in support of truth and righteousness? Only the Bible answers the question, and only those who exercise faith can understand the Bible answer. The Bible declares that the real victory of Christ and the Church is over self. Their crowning day is future – their triumph will be then.
The triumphal entry of Jesus on the ass was only typical. The antitype will be glorious – beyond the veil. As Jesus after His resurrection was “received up into glory,” so also He has promised His Church that their resurrection shall change them from imperfect human beings to perfect spirit beings, joint-heirs with their Master, their Redeemer, in the glorious Millennial Kingdom which is to bless the world.
After Jesus had risen from the dead, He explained to His perplexed disciples what His death signified, saying, “Ought not Christ to have suffered these things [death] and to enter into His glory?” (Luke 24:26) So St. Paul has declared in respect to all who will be Jesus' associates in the Kingdom – they must suffer with Him if they would reign with Him. (2 Timothy 2:12) Christ and His Church die to human hopes and interests, present and everlasting – laying down their lives, suffering for righteousness' sake. Their reward is two-fold: (1) Their own personal exaltation to a heavenly, spirit glory, like unto the angels, and yet more glorious – “far above angels, principalities and powers and every name that is named.” (2) The Kingdom glory – the joy of being the Divine agents for human restoration.
From this, the Bible viewpoint, the Christian warfare is different from every other warfare known to the world. It is a fight against sin, a fight against self-will, a full submission to the Divine will, a victory through death. “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of Life.” (Revelation 2:10) “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.” (Revelation 3:21) No wonder that a proposition of this kind is but imperfectly understood by the world! “The world knoweth us not, even as it knew him not.” (1 John 3:1) And this is one of the requirements of the Gospel, that Jesus and His followers shall submit themselves to be misunderstood by the world. We are counted fools for Christ's sake (1 Corinthians 4:10).
It requires some stamina to be a loyal follower in the foot-steps of Jesus, misunderstood as he was misunderstood by those of his day, reviled as He was reviled. “They shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.” (Matt. 5:11) It is only when we understand through God's promises that in these trying experiences of Christ and His followers there is a glorious purpose, that we are able to endure them with any measure of rejoicing. Only these are granted of the Lord the eye of faith which can clearly discern things beyond the veil – the glory, honor and immortality, and the Kingdom which the Lord promised to His faithful followers.
“THE WRATH OF THE LAMB”
Since Jesus is the Prince of Peace, how shall we understand various passages of Scripture which refer to Him as a mighty Conqueror in bloodstained garments, taking vengeance on His foes? But especially, how shall we understand the declaration that, at His coming in the clouds of heaven, all the tribes of the earth shall wail because of Him?
Of this Prince of Peace it may be said that he will wound to heal, that whatever disasters he may bring or permit to come upon the world will be so overruled as to make of them blessings in disguise. Undoubtedly much that is said respecting our Lord is highly symbolic. For instance, He is to smite the nations with the sword that proceedeth out of His mouth – the Word, or message, of truth. Such a smiting is in full conformity with the declaration that when St. Peter preached the Gospel at Pentecost, some of his hearers were “cut to the heart” – not with St. Peter's literal sword, but with “the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.” Eventually, that sword will smite all opponents of righteousness for their good. Only the willfully wicked will eventually be destroyed.
We are not to forget, however, that the inauguration of the Messianic Kingdom is to be in the midst of the Time of Trouble, and that Christ will have to do with the bringing, or at least the permitting, of that trouble. Apparently mankind will be permitted to bring the great trouble at the end of this Age upon themselves. There are forces of evil, Satan and his angels, ready to do us harm and, through human forces, sin-forces entrenched in human nature, ready to do harm to the social fabric. The Bible represents that Divine power holds these in check – the four angels holding the four winds – that they shall not blow upon the earth to its injury until the appointed time, until all of God's elect Church shall have been sealed in their foreheads – their intellect – with the truth.
At the appropriate time those “winds” of strife will be let loose, and great will be the trouble, until in due time the King of kings and Lord of lords shall intervene to rescue the race from itself and from the adversary. Then Satan shall be bound for a thousand years, and Messiah's Kingdom shall be established for the blessings of all the families of the earth.
Arm me with thy whole armor, Lord;
Support my weakness with thy might;
Gird on thy thigh thy conquering sword,
And shield me in the threatening fight.
From faith to faith, from grace to grace
So in thy strength shall I go on,
Till I appear before thy face,
And glory end what grace begun.
(Pastor Russell, Reprints 5494-5496, July 1, 1914)
LETTER OF GENERAL INTEREST
Dear Emily, Marjorie and all there,
We send our warm greetings your way and indeed they are warm from the Galilee, as our temperatures stay above 100 degrees daily for the last two months [July and August]. We had such a beautiful spring due to the good winter rains again, but that all fades to yellows and browns as the heat started in May.
It has been hard to write due to the ever changing and rather frustrating events in Israel. Actually the last two weeks have been our most sad weeks of our nearly 32 years of living in Israel. We have been through wars, terror attacks, strikes, etc., but these days of the removal of Israelis en masse from Gaza has been like tearing the heart of Israel apart. Not only was it hard for the people living in Gaza due to their belief that this is the Land of Israel, but it was so hard on the soldiers and police (both men and women) who had to take the people out. The settlers of Gaza are a people of strong faith and felt that even to the last moment somehow God would make a change or a miracle. That is because they have seen the miracles of God’s protection over the years that over 14,000 rockets have landed in their communities! But they and we have to trust that God has his reasons for it all. It seems now a fire of terror groups fighting for power will come on Gaza. Perhaps God wanted the Israelis out for their protection!! Maybe only later will we see the reasons. For sure we will not have a “peaceful” neighbor living next door in Gaza. Sadly we also see that this big, painful, costly, traumatic pullout is only considered the beginning now by the U.S. and Europe for Israel. What more demands will be on the table in the next months?
Sadly many of the people who left Gaza have no place to go now, as the Israeli government didn’t get it all together to help them. So many families are in hotels from Eilat to Tel Aviv wondering what next. Our hearts cry for them as well as I am sure God’s heart cries for his people. Now Israel will depend on Egypt to protect the Gaza area from arms smuggling. God never advised depending on Egypt - quite the opposite. Now Egyptian soldiers will be stationed on the southern border of Gaza! God’s time clock keeps ticking as we advance in His Plan. May we be watchful and faithful daily, and trusting in the Hope set before us.
May you be well and safe in Him! Shalom and love from Israel, Lev and Hava Bausch