“And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10,11)
The message of the angels to the shepherds on the plains of Bethlehem becomes more and more precious to each child of God in proportion as he grows in grace and knowledge. As his ears and eyes of understanding open more widely to the lengths and breadths of God’s great Plan of the Ages, that prophetic message is the more highly esteemed as an epitome of the entire Gospel. Nor can we call attention too frequently to the great event which lies at the foundation of that message – the Savior’s birth.
It does not matter that December 25th is not the actual anniversary of the Savior’s birth. It is more likely around the anniversary of the annunciation by the angel Gabriel, the anniversary of the Virgin Mary’s conception, our Lord being born nine months later, or about October 1. One so great, whose birth, death and resurrection from the dead mean so much to the human family, may be remembered and celebrated any day, every day, by all who appreciate what He has done for the human race. Since the majority of Christian people celebrate December 25th as our Lord’s birthday, we make no protest, but join with all in celebrating that day with rejoicing of heart, giving gifts and remembrances one to another, thus copying Divine favor, which gave to mankind the Son of God as a gift of mercy and love for our redemption.
For more than four thousand years the promises of God were given to mankind clothed more or less in obscurity, intimating that ultimately the great curse of sin and death that had come upon the world through Father Adam’s disobedience in Eden would be rolled away. Instead of a curse, God promised a blessing of life-giving refreshment. In various types, figures and shadowy promises this lesson had come down through the ages to the time of our Lord’s birth, especially among the Jews, who were the Divinely favored and covenanted people.
Since the Jews were a people of commercial spirit, many of them were to be found in all parts of the civilized world. Thus the faith in the one God and the hope of Israel through a Messiah were more or less made known among every civilized people, so that at the time of our Savior’s birth we read, “the people were in expectation” of a coming Messiah. (Luke 3:15) The time of our Lord’s birth is quite clearly fixed in the Scriptures and doubtless this expectation was based upon the interpretation of Daniel’s prophecy, which we now see clearly marked the year our Lord reached manhood under Jewish law at thirty years of age. This is when He made His consecration to His work and received the begetting of the Holy Spirit, His anointing as the great antitypical Priest and as the great antitypical King over Israel and the world. (Daniel 9:24-27 – See Studies in the Scriptures, Vol. II, Study III for a detailed discussion)
FROM NAZARETH TO BETHLEHEM
In those times there were honorable cities and ordinary, dishonorable cities. Nazareth was generally recognized as one of the latter, while Bethlehem, the city of Israel’s beloved King David, was distinctly one of the former. The Scriptures explain how, in a seemingly accidental manner, the prophecy was fulfilled which foretold that Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. (Micah 5:2)
At that time the Roman Empire ruled over the whole civilized world, the Jews being subject to it, but waiting expectantly, restlessly, for the coming Messiah, who would deliver them from being a subject people and make of them the ruling class in His Kingdom, which would then have dominion over the whole world. The great Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus was in power at this time, and had sent forth his decree for a polling or census of the whole world for the purpose of taxation, etc.
Mary, our Lord’s mother, and her husband Joseph were both of the lineage of David. (Matt. 1:1-17; Luke 3:23-38) St. Luke informs us that it was in response to the royal decree that Joseph and Mary left Nazareth and went up to their native city to be enrolled; thus it was that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. (Luke 2:4,5) Because of the great influx of people at the same time and for the same purpose, accommodations were scarce and the stable of the inn was used by some for lodging. Joseph and Mary, being late comers, were forced to occupy these humble quarters. Thus it was that the King of Glory, whose Kingdom is to soon rule the world, was in the time of His flesh born in a stable and cradled in a manger.
THE ANGELS AND THE SHEPHERDS
Those must have been noble shepherds to whom the Almighty sent the angelic message respecting the birth of Jesus, the Messiah – the message which has rung down through the ages and reached our ears. The more we are able to grasp its meaning, the more it thrills us. First, an angel appeared to the shepherds and allayed their fears, saying, “Fear not.” It would appear that fear is one of the dominating impulses of the human mind, especially in conjunction with Divine revelations.
Even the best of men realize that they are imperfect, and that the Almighty and His laws are perfect. The world seems to realize instinctively that a curse, or condemnation of the Almighty, rests upon it; and it fears instinctively a further curse, a further condemnation, realizing its increasingly sinful condition. This was true at the time of the angels’ proclamation and the same is true today with all except the comparatively few who are well informed respecting the Divine Plan. Thus the subject is generally obnoxious to the world – a subject which they prefer to avoid, because of a feeling of guilt and a dread of further knowledge and condemnation.
Just as the angels then assured the world that God is better than all their fears, the true children of God today should proclaim the same assurance: that “God so loved the world” as to redeem mankind from the just sentence of death, the curse that came upon all as inheritors of Adam’s disobedience and sentence. (John 3:16)
“Good tidings” is another translation of our word Gospel. How beautiful is the thought that the Gospel is really and truly good tidings! Sadly, God’s Plan has been so misrepresented that many of His professed people misrepresent His character and His Word, and apply the term Gospel to their various messages from the Dark Ages, teaching purgatory and eternal torment as the fate of the majority of the human race!
Let us shun this false thought and embrace the truth that the Gospel is good tidings for all people. Thank God, His Plan is wider, deeper, higher and grander than anything which we had ever conceived! The Gospel Message is not merely good tidings to the comparatively few that now have ears to hear and eyes to see its beauties, but in God’s due time it is to be good tidings of great joy to all people the world over. (1 Tim. 2:3-6)
As every member of Adam’s race shared in his fall and in the curse of death which came upon him as a result of his disobedience, so every member of the race was included in the great redemptive sacrifice which our Lord Jesus offered and which was finished at Calvary. (1 Cor. 15:22) God’s Plan in Christ, as it is being worked out and shall ultimately be accomplished, will mean great joy for all people; and the tidings of this fact were given at the very moment of our Lord’s birth, because He was the One through whom all the glorious things of the Divine Purpose and Plan shall ultimately be accomplished.
THE LOGIC OF THE MESSAGE
The message was meant for reasonable people, those who would wish to know why the unchangeable God, who had once pronounced a curse upon the human race, should at any time so change matters, supplanting the curse with a blessing. The messenger stated the philosophy of the Divine Plan: “For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Saviour, which is Christ [Messiah] the Lord.” There we have the key to the entire Gospel statement of how God could be just and yet be the Justifier of sinners who accept Jesus. (Romans 3:26)
The word Savior here signifies Life-giver. How beautiful is the thought: Since death is the wages of sin, the sentence upon the human race, this Messiah was born to be the One who will rescue the human race from the sentence by giving them life again! The explanation of how He would give them life was not made, nor was it necessary at that time. But now, with the light of later developments and with the explanations furnished through the Holy Spirit in the New Testament, we see that our Lord’s voluntary sacrifice of His life, “the just for the unjust,” settles the claims of Divine Justice against Adam, and thus against all who share his death sentence, namely, all mankind.
Truly, the more we see of the Divine Plan for our salvation, which began to take shape in the birth of Jesus, the more we feel like shouting with the angelic choir praises to the God of Heaven, thankfulness for His mercy to the children of men! It did not matter that the babe born in Bethlehem was the Savior only in a prospective sense, that He could not even be anointed to do His work until He reached manhood’s estate thirty years later. It did not matter that even then it would be necessary for Him to lay down His life gradually during the three and a half years of His earthly ministry, to be finished at Calvary. Nor did it matter that His resurrection was still three days after His death, and His ascension forty days later; and that the blessing in general would be deferred for centuries thereafter.
As the angels could then sing and rejoice at the first budding of the Divine Plan of Salvation, so now all who have faith in the ultimate outcome can rejoice with joy unspeakable, giving praise to God in the highest and to His Son our Lord.
“SAVED BY HOPE”
Although nearly twenty centuries have rolled away since that angelic message was delivered, it has not yet been fulfilled, except by faith to those who have the eye and the ear of faith, a “little flock.” (Luke 12:32) But the bad tidings of great misery for nearly all people have been spread abroad in the name of Christ, much to the discredit of the Divine Plan and to the dishonor of the Divine character. Instead of carrying joy, the message has very generally carried grief and sorrow, especially to the kind-hearted and more generously disposed. Indeed we may say that no message of the Lord Jesus has ever reached all people. Even today, after twenty centuries of preaching and evangelizing, only a comparatively small portion of the human family have ever intelligently heard of the only name whereby they might be saved: “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)
What, then, shall we say of the salvation which has come to those who have truly accepted Christ as their Savior, who are today rejoicing in Him as such, and who by faith are seeing the salvation of God begun in their own hearts and yet to be fully accomplished under the whole heavens? The Apostle calls this the salvation by hope. His words are, “We are saved by hope.” (Romans 8:24)
We are not saved actually; we are still surrounded by sin, pain, sighing, crying and dying; the curse is not yet rolled away. All that the best of God’s people have yet received is salvation by hope, by faith. Yet this anticipation of the future salvation, of the resurrection from the dead, of a participation in the glory, honor and immortality of the Divine nature promised to the Church, and the “restitution of all things” (Acts 3:21) promised to all mankind, is so strong, so clear, that those who possess it are enabled to rejoice even in the midst of the trials, difficulties, weaknesses and unfavorable conditions accompanying the curse that still rests upon the world.
A PROPHECY OF GOOD THINGS
The angelic message was a prophecy of good things to be accomplished for the Church and the world during the Millennial Age, with the Church having the first blessing. The First Resurrection is to be composed only of those blessed and holy ones who shall live and reign with Christ during the thousand years. Then Satan shall be bound, and the good influences of truth and righteousness shall enlighten the whole earth. (Rev. 20:1-6) The Scriptures declare that the deliverance of the Church will come early in the morning of the Millennial Day: “God shall help her at the dawn of the morning.” (Psa. 46:5, Darby)
We are glad that the Divine mercy and love are of such lengths and breadths and heights and depths as to encompass the whole world of mankind, providing a blessing for every member of Adam’s race through Him who loved us and bought us with His own precious blood.
During the Millennium this prophecy will have fulfillment. The great Savior who has already redeemed us by His sacrifice will stand forth as the King, the glorified Messiah, and establish His dominion of righteousness in the world for the blessing and uplifting of every member of the human race. In the words of the Apostle, it will be a time of refreshing and restoration, “the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.” (Acts 3:19-21)
If God had based the hope of the world upon the world’s righteousness or works of merit, then indeed we might have reason to fear the world’s fate. Indeed, the more we know about the world, the less hope we would have for it. But, on the contrary, God has based the entire proposition for the future blessing, not upon our worthiness, but upon the worthiness and sacrifice of His Son. To us all a Savior, a Life-giver was born, who is Messiah the Lord.
How it adds to our enjoyment of the blessings of the coming age to know that the trials and difficulties of the present Gospel Age are subject to the Divine supervision in the interest of the Little Flock gathered in advance from among men – the Elect, the Church! We recognize their trials and difficulties as the chiselings and polishings necessary to their development in the fruits and graces of the Holy Spirit in character-likeness of God’s dear Son, our Lord, our Hope, the Bridegroom. How joyful the thought that soon the elect number called from the world to be “the Bride, the Lamb’s Wife,” will enter into her glory! How precious the thought that then they shall be privileged with their Lord and Master to extend the Divine favor of blessing and uplift to the world! What higher honor or privilege or blessing could possibly come to anyone?
THE ANGELS’ SONG
It was after the giving of the message of good tidings of great joy by the Heavenly one that a host of angels appeared to the shepherds, saying, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will toward men.” (Luke 2:14) This, too, is a prophecy. It is not yet true, but will be fulfilled in every detail in God’s due time, which we believe is soon. God does not yet receive glory in the highest, and not yet is there peace among men. Quite to the contrary! God’s name is blasphemed, not only by those who vulgarly and in ribald jest take the Divine name in vain, not merely by the heathen who worship devils and think that these are gods, but even by Christian people.
Every day God’s name is blasphemed by those who profess to be His people, who profess to uphold the Holy Name. Blasphemy is any dishonorable misrepresentation of another. God be merciful to us, for at some time or other doubtless every one of us has blasphemed His holy name in this manner – by misrepresenting the Divine character and the Divine Plan, by picturing the God of Love, of Mercy, of Justice and of Truth as the originator, the planner, the perpetrator of the eternal torment of the great mass of His human creatures, born in sin and “shapen in iniquity,” as prone to sin as sparks are to fly upward! (Psa. 51:5)
But God had mercy upon us because we did it ignorantly. Therefore we should have compassion upon others who still ignorantly misrepresent our God; and our energies should be continually bent to their assistance, that the eyes of their understanding might open more widely to perceive the lengths and breadths and heights and depths, and to know the love and peace of God, “which passeth all understanding.” (Phil. 4:7)
Noting that peace on earth and good will to men have not followed the Savior’s birth thus far, and not discerning that this is a prophecy of what is to be accomplished during the Millennium, many have been inclined to change the translation of this verse so as to have it read, “On earth peace among men in whom He is well pleased.” However, by this change the statement would not be true; for even God’s people have no peace upon earth. Whatever peace they have is in their hearts, and is based upon their faith in God and in the glorious things which He has promised. Our Lord Jesus Himself and the Apostles testified to this, assuring us that whosoever in this present time would live godly should suffer persecution, and that a man’s foes should be they of his own household. (2 Timothy 3:12; Matthew 10:36)
Let us not confuse ourselves nor abridge the testimony of the Word, but with the eye of faith look forward to the Day of Christ, when all these glorious prophecies will have their fulfillment, when peace shall indeed fill the whole earth with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD (Isa. 11:9), bringing Divine favor and rolling away the curse from the entire groaning creation, as pointed out by the Apostle. (Rom. 8:21,22)
FULFILLED IN GOD’S DUE TIME
This prophecy will not be fulfilled at the inauguration of the Millennium. The entire age will be required to lift the human family out of sin, sickness, pain, sorrow and death, up, up to all that was lost in Adam. Not until the end of the age will there indeed be glory to God in the highest; not until then will there be complete peace among men. Nor are we to understand that the entire human race will be appreciative of the Divine love and favor even after they have fully seen the righteousness of God manifested in Christ.
On the contrary, the Scriptures teach clearly that there will be a class who will then prove unfit for life eternal, unappreciative of the Divine favor. All such shall be destroyed from among the people in the Second Death. (Acts 3:23)
Thus by the close of the Millennium, Satan and all willful wrongdoers having been destroyed, the time will come, as declared in the Scriptures, when all voices in Heaven and in earth and under the earth shall be heard praising God and the Lamb forever. Hosanna! Glory to God in the highest! Peace and good will to men! This will be the final shout of a redeemed race when the great Plan of Salvation shall have been fully worked out according to the Divine Purpose from the beginning, as set forth in the Scriptures. (Phil. 2:10,11; Eph. 3:11)
GIFTS TO OUR KING
The wise men of the East came seeking the new-born Jesus, the King of the Jews, with presents of myrrh, frankincense and gold. We may gather from this event some valuable suggestions regarding what our gifts should be to the great Messiah.
God chose as messengers of His good tidings not only wise men but reverent men, men of faith. His choice of these messengers from the east to arouse the people of Judea and Jerusalem and to be heralds of the great King was not an exception to the rule. Although heathen men, in the sense of not being of the nation with which God had thus far dealt and to whom He had thus far confined His gracious promises, they were, nevertheless, good men, reverent men, who delighted to know of the coming blessing of peace on earth and good will among men, regardless of what channel or nationality from which God should be pleased to find His representative and messenger.
In one respect many of Christendom could learn numerous important lessons from these wise Gentiles. No false patriotism stood in their way to hinder their appreciation of any manifestation of divine favor to the children of men. And when they found the Savior they were not daunted by the humbleness of His surroundings.
They worshiped Him in three senses of the word: (1) They fell before Him, prostrating themselves, thus physically expressing their reverence. (2) They worshiped Him in their hearts and with their tongues gave expression to their rejoicing and confidence. (3) They opened their treasure-box and presented to Him three gifts appropriate to royalty: the myrrh representing submission, frankincense representing praise, and gold representing obedience.
If we would properly reflect on our own circumstances, the reverent spirit of these men who had so little light, so little knowledge respecting the great Messiah and His work, might bring us shame. We are favored with a still brighter light to guide us to the Lamb of God; we have seen His star in a still better and truer sense; we have been guided to Him by the prophecies; we have found Him not only a babe, but one who would bear our sorrows and carry our grief and make His soul an offering for sin, that we by His stripes might be healed. What manner of oblation should we pour at the feet of Him who loved us and bought us with His precious blood? Have we bowed the knee with deep reverence, prostrated ourselves, given outward evidence through our bodies of full submission to our great King whose gracious provisions for the Church and for the world of mankind we have heard, not uncertainly, but with the sure voice of the Word of God?
Have we offered our myrrh? Have we shown willingness for service even to the extent of bitterness? Have we shown joy to honor the King to the extent of suffering with him? Have we offered Him the frankincense of heart adoration, appreciation, and gratitude? Have we laid at His feet our earthly obedience, our substance, our gold? Have we realized that all that we have, all that we are, is too small an offering to be worthy of acceptance by the great King Immanuel?
That which was illustrated by the three gifts of the wise men is all represented in this brief statement, “Give me thine heart.” (Prov. 23:26)
(Based on Pastor Russell Reprints 3700-3702)
THE SONG OF RESTITUTION
“And I saw as it were a sea of glass mingled with fire: and them that had gotten the victory over the beast, and over his image… stand on the sea of glass, having the harps of God. And they sing the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of Nations [margin]. Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy name? for thou only art holy: for all nations shall come and worship before thee; for thy judgments are made manifest.” (Rev. 15:2-4)
Who sings the “song of Moses” and the “song of the Lamb” and when? We recognize it as the very Song of Restitution sung by the Saints, those who have gained victory over the decrees of orthodox Christianity (the beast and it image).
This is the song which none as yet but the overcomers, the victors, can truly appreciate and sing, but in the Millennial Age its prophecy shall be fulfilled and all shall learn that song. All shall learn of the divine mercy, and all peoples shall bow to the LORD, to confess His goodness and His love, enjoying the opportunity of full reconciliation to God, the opportunity of a full return to the perfect conditions of mind and body, and the opportunity for life everlasting. As many as are willing upon God’s terms, will return to all these things lost by Adam’s disobedience, and brought back by the great Redeemer, Christ.
Sea symbolizes people of the world, the comparison to glass, showing that their condition is easily recognized by those who stand on or above them. The victors are all who can sing this song. We see the sea (people) mingled with fire, (judgments). Though pitying them we cannot stop to weep, for our hearts are filled with joy by the unfolding before us of the Word and Plan of God, and our mouths are filled with the Song of Restitution saying: “Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of Nations.”
Who except those seeing that there is to be a “restitution of all things” can say or think God’s ways with the Nations “just and true?” Look back to the great nations slaughtered without ever having a chance to know Him, the only name whereby they might have been saved: the Amorites, Amelekites, Hitites, Jebuzites, etc. Without understanding God’s Plan, none can do more than try in a feeble way to excuse God’s actions by saying that those were wicked people, forgetting that wickedness can only exist where there is law and knowledge of good.
Who could do more than attempt an excuse for the destruction of Sodom? After all, Jesus said that if His mighty works done among the Jews had been done in Sodom “it would have remained until this day.” (Matt. 11:23) It could not be excused – God doesn’t want us to excuse Him.
“God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.”
He will make it plain if we will only let Him, and not bind ourselves with creeds so that we dare not believe what His word tells us: that these same Sodomites are to be restored – brought back to “their former estate” for instruction in the next age under the New Covenant as “daughters” of Israel. (Ezek. 16:48-63) Only they who see these beauties of God’s plan, can truly say – “Just and true are thy ways, thou King of Nations.”
According to orthodox belief at least nine out of every ten shall not, either in this life, or hereafter glorify God’s name. But we reply: “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.” (1 Tim. 2:5,6) When in the Millennial Age, God’s “due time” for testifying it to the world shall have come, we believe that almost all will fear and glorify Him and love Him, too. What they lack now is knowledge:
“If all the world my Saviour knew,
Then all the world would love Him too.”
Who believes the next statement? “All nations shall come and worship before thee.” Not those who think that all but a very few are to be tormented in hell forever; not those, either, who believe that all will be annihilated except the Saints; and certainly not those who believe in only a partial restitution, that the living nations only are to come and worship God in the next age. No, none of these can or do sing this song. Those who can sing it in full are those who know the Truth about the “restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began,” restitution even to the Sodomites of whom no remnant was left when the LORD rained down brimstone and fire upon them.
“Thy judgments [righteous acts] are made manifest.” We can see in the unfolding of the great plan that God’s dealings are all righteous, and just, and we can make it manifest to any not blinded by the tradition of men, which makes the word of God of none effect. (Mark 7:8,13)
“Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.”
If we sing the Song of Restitution we have to some extent gotten the victory over the Beast and his image. But you ask, where are the “harps of God?” The harps are the Word of God and Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, David, Job, Moses and all the prophecies are but strings to the harp; they only require keying up and they will produce the sweetest harmony of this “Song of Moses and the Lamb,” for as Peter says, God hath spoken of restitution by the mouth of all these holy Prophets. (Acts 3:21)
Tune up your harps, dearly beloved, and sing aloud the glad Song of Restitution! Sing to your dear friends who love God, despite what seems to them His injustice. But if they will not hear, sing to the world. It will be a bow of promise to them when they go further down into the time of trouble. And if you cannot do this, sing it loudly in your own heart. It will bring you joy and comfort to think of our Father’s love and realize that “His mercy endureth for ever.” (Ps. 136) It will open and warm your heart and enrich it with love, love for the Father and for those who are the objects of His care and love.
“Blessed is the people that know the joyful sound: they shall walk, O LORD, in the light of thy countenance.” (Psa. 89:15) We couple with this a similar expression by the same poet prophet, who declares, “I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.” (Psa. 23:6) The members, living stones in the spiritual house, the heavenly Temple will indeed dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
This text will be true also of the world during the Millennial Age. All mankind will then be invited to approach the LORD in worship, to approach the spiritual Temple, the Christ, and through the Christ to approach the Father; and all who shall hear that message and who shall obey it will be glad indeed, even as the message brought by the angels at the birth of Jesus intimated that eventually the tidings of great joy shall be unto all people.
(Based on Pastor Russell Reprints 130 and 3282)
We wish all our readers a blessed holiday season.
“Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift.” (2 Cor. 9:15)
Please direct all correspondence to:
P.O. Box 2246, Kernersville, NC 27285-2246