“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 story of the “good tidings” is so familiar it should require no elaboration – yet the hope of the whole world lies in its simple details. The birth of this child had been prophesied for four thousand years, and during that forty centuries faithful souls continued to trust in the promises and to look for the salvation to be brought through Him. We may be sure that the humble shepherds to whom the message of the Lord’s Advent was first delivered were men who thus hoped in the promises of God, for only to such does the Lord disclose His purposes.
These shepherds where quietly tending their flocks by night when suddenly, “The angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.” (Luke 2:9) Their fear was soon overcome by the message of the angel, “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings, of great joy, which shall be to all people.” (Luke 2:10)
One of the most marvelous features of this message is largely overlooked: That it will be to all people. Observe the cumulative blessedness of this message. First there are “good tidings;” then there is “great joy;” then the crowning feature is that it is to “all people.” It was not only a message to the shepherds, who that night looked for the hope of Israel, but it was a message to all – all then living, all who would live in the future, and all who were already in the grave.
Hearken to the joyous sound of the blessed tidings: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11) The Scriptures clearly affirm that He was to be a Savior to all people: “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.” (Heb. 2:9) We are told that He “gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.” (1 Tim 2:6)
That testimony, to be given in due time, is just as necessary to the salvation of the sinner as the fact that Christ gave Himself a ransom for all. The favor of salvation will not be forced upon any; but all will hear the testimony that the opportunity for it has been provided for them, on the condition that they accept the favor upon God’s terms. And though millions of the human race for whom Christ died have gone down to the grave without receiving such a testimony, the fact remains that the testimony will be given to them in due time. Accordingly, the due time for them must be after their awakening from death.
The words of our Lord forcefully confirm this: “The hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good [who in this present life have come into judgment and who have passed their trial successfully], unto the resurrection of life [the full reward of the faithful – such will be the overcoming Church]; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of judgment.” (John 5:28-29)
Those included in the resurrection of judgement will come forth from the grave to have the Truth testified to them for their acceptance or rejection. They will be judged worthy or unworthy of life based upon the results of this trial, but only after the Truth has been testified to them in the Millennial Age, the age now just ahead of us. Thus, the angel of the Lord, in delivering the message to the shepherds on the plane of Bethlehem, was preaching the good tidings of “the restitution of all things.” (Acts 3:19-23)
The angel then told the shepherds where and how they would find this bud of promise, so that when they saw Him they would be sure that it was He: “And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:12) This statement not only helped the shepherds to identify Jesus, but it showed them the humble conditions under which this great King of earth was born into the world. It served to bring down their thoughts from the great and grand results to its humble beginnings, lest they should be misled in their expectations.
It should be the same with our proclamations of the Divine Plan. We are not only to tell of the future glory, greatness, and grandeur, but we are to tell also of our Savior who humbled Himself to take a low estate among men and to die for our sins. We should also point out that the “elect” have been called to walk in His footsteps, under similarly humiliating circumstances – to suffer with Him, if they would reign with Him; to die with Him, if they would live with Him. As the Apostle points out, the Prophets spoke not only of the glory that is to follow, but also of the sufferings of Christ (head and body) which must precede the glory. (1 Pet. 1:11)
The narrative then shows the interest of the angels of God in the affairs of men, how they sympathize with us and rejoice over our prosperity: “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” (Luke 2:13-14) Our Lord’s own statement corroborates this interest of the angels: “I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.” (Luke 15:7) Other Scripture statements show their keen interest in mankind’s salvation, “which things the angels desire to look into,” esteeming it a privilege to serve the heirs of this salvation: “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?” (1 Pet. 1:12; Heb. 1:14)
Thus we see the angels are creatures of God full of loving benevolence even toward a fallen race, although they know, as they studiously look into God’s Plan, that an elect few of this fallen race are to be highly exalted, even above the angels who never sinned. Thus we see their humble recognition of the right of the Creator to do what He will with His own, and their cheerful and joyful acquiescence in His perfect will, which they know to be determined by His unerring wisdom and His fathomless love. Oh, what universal joy will prevail when the whole family of God in heaven and in earth is brought into fullest harmony under the Father’s Anointed!
Continuing with the account, we are then shown the teachable attitude of the shepherds. They immediately recognized the angels and their message as coming from God. Their fears were allayed, their hopes revived, and their faith increased. They felt that they must act at once: “And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.” (Luke 2:15)
They hastened to find Mary, Joseph and Jesus and afterward these humble, trustworthy agents spread the word abroad about the glorious event and those who heard them were amazed at the message. (Luke 2:16-18) We should likewise serve the Lord’s cause by proclaiming this gracious message we have been favored to receive.
We then see the humility of Mary: “But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19) She made no boasts but waited for God’s due time, doubtless calling to mind also the message of the angel to her. (Luke 1:28-35) Again and again we seem to hear her say, “My soul doth magnify the Lord . . . For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden . . . he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name.” (Luke 1:46-49)
The shepherds returned to their flocks, fully assured of the wonderful truth that the promised Savior had really come. They rejoiced and glorified God for all the things they had heard and seen. (Luke 2:20)
“HALLELUJAH WHAT A SAVIOR!”
Our Lord Jesus was God’s great gift to Israel and to the world, a gift as yet fully appreciated only by the Spiritual Israelite. All the gifts God has promised to mankind are to come through Him. (Eph. 4:8) While all may gather something of the force and meaning of the word “Savior” as signifying deliverer, there is another underlying significance not generally recognized. In Aramaic, the language assumed to be spoken by the Lord and His disciples, the word rendered Savior signifies “Life-Giver.” How much force this adds to the meaning of this beautiful text! Jesus was born to be a Life-Giver, and this joyful news is to all people. He may give life to whomsoever He chooses; and He chooses to give it, in harmony with the Divine will, only to those who come unto the Father through Him, by faith and obedience.
A “life-giver” is a father, and it is from this standpoint that our Lord Jesus was prophesied to be the “Everlasting Father,” the giver of everlasting life to the obedient of the world. (Isa. 9:6) Adam, the father of the race, failed to give to his posterity perfect and lasting life. Through sin he came under the sentence of death himself, and transmitted to his posterity only a blemished, dying condition. What the whole world needs, therefore, is life – eternal life – and in sending Jesus into the world, God was meeting our necessities most bountifully.
But God does not propose to give eternal life to any of His creatures unless that gift would be a real blessing; we know that eternal life would be a curse instead of a blessing to any not in full accord with the Lord and His righteous arrangements. Accordingly, we are told that all who would have the life which Jesus came to secure and offer to all must accept it according to the terms, conditions, and limitations of the New Covenant – faith in the Redeemer and heart-harmony and obedience to God, to the extent of ability. In the present time, when sin abounds and Satan is deceiving and blinding mankind, not many can appreciate this great gift of God’s love, and not many become His disciples. The Gospel Age has been the time, therefore, for selecting out of the whole world of the redeemed ones a “Little Flock” to be joint-heirs with Christ in the Kingdom.
But thanks be unto God, we can now see that the plan of salvation does not stop with the gathering of the elect Church, but that in the full sense of the word it has merely begun there. (1 John 2:2) The testimony of the angelic choir which sang at our Savior’s birth and the declaration of good tidings of great joy has yet to be completely fulfilled.
THE APOSTLE’S LESSON
In the first chapter of Hebrews, the Apostle Paul sets forth a lesson which calls attention to the fact that our Lord Jesus and His testimonies were but further developments of the great Divine Plan of which God had been speaking to His people Israel: “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things.” (Heb. 1:1-2) He points out that if it was always appropriate to hearken to the Lord’s messengers, it is much more appropriate that we hearken to the great Chief Messenger of God, our Lord Jesus.
The Apostle next points out the basis of our good hopes of salvation through Christ, the basis on which Divine justice and love may operate toward fallen mankind through Him: “Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high.” (Heb. 1:3)
When the Apostle points out the high exaltation of our Lord Jesus, and that it was a reward for His obedience in suffering death on our behalf, he shows four things:
(1) Our Lord Jesus gave a ransom for our transgressions which was satisfactory to Divine justice, so that through His stripes we might be healed, despite the death sentence which was against us through father Adam’s transgression. (Isa. 53:5)
(2) Because He paid the ransom price, our Lord was exalted above angels, to share the Father’s throne and nature in glory.
(3) This exaltation of the Savior shows He was given power – power to carry out the blessed provisions of the New Covenant, which He sealed with His precious blood, making it effective to mankind.
(4) The Life-Giver will in due time use this power and exaltation granted by God to establish the heavenly Kingdom.
The exalted and fully empowered Life-Giver will then stand ready to make known to all mankind the terms of the New Covenant. Thus He will bring in everlasting righteousness as the law of earth; He will lay judgment to the line and righteousness to the plummet; He will sweep away the refuge of lies; He will bind the great Adversary, Satan; He will open the eyes of the blind and the ears of the deaf; He will cause all mankind to know the love of God which passes all understanding, love which would not have any to perish, but would have all to turn to Him and live. (Isa. 11:9; Isa. 28:17; Isa. 35:5; 2 Pet. 3:9,13; Rev. 20:2)
“Hallelujah! What a Savior!”
“Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.” (Heb. 7:25)
BUT WHEN PEACE AND GOOD WILL?
The peace and good will that the angelic choir sang of is a prophecy yet to be fulfilled. Instead of peace and good will to men, we have war, savagery, and other works of the flesh and of the Devil mentioned by St. Paul – anger, malice, hatred, envy, strife, etc. (Gal. 5:19-21) The Scriptures show that the turmoil is only beginning; most of the wailing and gnashing of teeth, most of the anguish and despair, suffering, sorrow and devastation, are ahead, “a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation.” (Dan. 12:1)
In the midst of all these tribulations the world must learn the great lesson which God wishes all mankind to learn: “Hope thou in God!” (Psa. 42:5) Earth’s only hope is in God. All must yet learn the lesson recorded by the Prophet many centuries ago, namely, “The wisdom of their wise men shall perish.” (Isa. 29:14) They must learn that the wisdom of men is foolishness with God, even as the wisdom of God is foolishness with men. (1 Cor. 3:19; 1 Cor. 1:18)
Many who have prayed “Thy Kingdom come” have failed to study the message of that Kingdom. Many have thought that it has already come; many others have felt that because God has not exercised His power and force in dealing with humanity up this point, He will not do so in the future.
The Bible, however, assures us that Messiah’s Kingdom will be a forceful one. He will rule the nations “with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers.” (Rev. 2:27) The foretold breaking and shaking processes, now beginning, are causing this Time of Trouble. The shaking will be social, political, financial and religious. The monstrous false creeds engrafted upon the teachings of the Bible in the Dark Ages will be shaken to pieces, and all the great institutions misnamed “churches” will be shaken with them. Only the one true Church will stand. It will include all saintly followers of Jesus of every nation and denomination and it will exclude all others.
How glorious the hope that Messiah’s Kingdom will speedily set the world’s affairs in order, bringing peace out of confusion and strife! When human strength is weakened, human pride humbled into the dust, and human hopes dashed, the world will be ready for the New Day. The Bible beautifully pictures it as the rising of the Sun of Righteousness with healing in His beams, scattering the darkness, ignorance, superstition, sin, and death that have caused the night of sorrow never to be forgotten. (Mal. 4:2) The Lord’s people, awake and looking in the right direction, already perceive that we are in the dawning of the Millennium. The advancements which have come to the world at an ever increasing rate are Millennial blessings, foreshadows of still greater favors to come.
Human hearts have not properly responded to the blessings already received. Instead of gratitude, there is a spirit of selfishness begetting discontent and covetousness, which will culminate with every man’s hand against his neighbor and his brother. (Ezek. 38:21; Zech. 8:10)
A SEEMING CONTRADICTION
Do the Scriptures contradict themselves? The Great Teacher declared, “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.” (Matt. 10:34) He referred prophetically to the effect which His gracious message of love and favor would produce in the world during the reign of sin. He knew that the Prince of Darkness would oppose Him as well as His followers. It was foretold that whoever would live godly in Him would suffer persecution; and so it has been. (2 Tim. 3:12)
Nevertheless, our Lord sent His followers forth unarmed, like Himself, to be peacemakers. Jesus counseled His followers, “All they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.” (Matt. 26:52) As the Apostle states, “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.” (Heb. 12:14)
However, the message of peace and love and the coming Kingdom has angered not only the vicious and ungodly, but also those professing godliness while having their own schemes, plans and theories contrary to the Gospel Message. “For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.” (John 3:20)
The Master knew the effects His Gospel Message would have; He knew that only those who compromised His message could possibly live at peace, that all who would be loyal and faithful to Him would be slandered, persecuted and “beheaded,” either literally or figuratively. When He stated that He came to send a sword, therefore, it was a prophecy of the tribulations His faithful would surely have. More than this, it was a prophecy respecting the nations, the peoples.
What is it that has brought us to our present degree of civilized savagery? What is it that makes of every business corporation a cutthroat, seeking the destruction of every competing enterprise? What is it that has sharpened the wits of humanity to such an extent that the majority find it difficult to be honest, because they see so many opportunities for dishonesty. Why is it is impossible for lawmakers, who themselves circumvent the law, to make new laws quickly enough to thwart newly invented corrupt schemes?
The doctrines of Christ are in a certain sense responsible for all this. Christ has given liberty (from the constraints of the Law Covenant) to His followers that they have covenanted to use by following in His footsteps, even laying down their lives in service. This same liberty, however, and the light that Christ and His followers have shown upon a darkened world, have given rise to cunning and craft when received into unsanctified hearts and minds. As proof of this we find that so-called Christian nations have often been the most brutal and corrupt, while other nations which have not received this reflected light of Christianity have been relatively less so. Only as Christian civilization in a perverted form has reached these peoples have they caught up with Christendom.
THE DESIRE OF ALL NATIONS IS COMING
Notwithstanding the nearly twenty centuries of delay, the prophecy will surely be fulfilled by and through the One whom the angels announced and whose birth we celebrate at this season. Many have gotten the impression that our Redeemer has been waging an unsuccessful war against Satan, sin and death during these long centuries. We learn this, however, from the Great Teacher’s own words: “My kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36) That is, His Kingdom is not of this age; it belongs to the age to come. The ruler of this world has been Satan. The dominion of earth was originally given to man, but Satan having deceived our race, putting darkness for light, has become the real ruler, using humanity merely as his tools. Scripturally he is styled “the god of this world,” and “the prince of this world.” (2 Cor. 4:4; John 14:30)
Perplexed and confused, many question if there is hope for the fulfillment of the promised peace and good will. We answer: Our Master, who declared that He was not the Prince of this World, declared also that His Kingdom will be introduced with power and great glory. (Matt. 24:30) Although its initial manifestation will be with clouds, darkness, and a Time of Trouble, nevertheless His Reign will be glorious, triumphant and eternal. “For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet.” (1 Cor. 15:25) Immanuel’s victory means the overthrow of sin, the crushing of the Serpent’s head. At the very beginning of the glorious Reign of Messiah, Satan will be bound, and following its close he will be destroyed in the Second Death. All those who love unrighteousness, after having had full opportunity for recovery from the snares of sin and death, will also be destroyed. (Acts 3:23) Then the whole world will indeed be filled with the knowledge of the glory of God. (Hab. 2:14) The Great King, who died the Just for the unjust, that He might bring mankind back into harmony with God, is to be the great Restorer of all that was lost in Adam; and He will make all things new. (1 Pet. 3:18; Rev. 21:5)
Everything relating to this great Plan of Salvation outlined in the Word of God is reasonable. The crucial testing of the elect Church is necessary in order that, as faithful and merciful priests of God and of Christ, associated with Him in His kingly glory, they may be God’s instruments in succoring mankind from the fallen conditions which have resulted from six thousand years of sin and from the malignant influence of the Prince of Darkness. The thousand years which the Bible stipulates as the period of Messiah’s Reign is a period neither too long nor too short in which to accomplish the world’s salvation.
Some may say, if the entire Gospel Age has been required for the development of the Church, how much more time will be necessary for the uplifting of the world? But, we answer, it is not the Divine purpose to uplift the world to spirit nature and glory, but rather to Restitution blessings and conditions. It is because of the high exaltation offered to the Church that such crucial testings of sacrificial obedience even unto death have been required. When the Prince of Darkness has been bound and the Sun of Righteousness has risen with healing in His beams, the darkness of sin, crime and sorrow will soon flee away. One century of such blessed influence upon the world will surely work wonders, bringing in also inventions, blessings and comforts as yet unimagined
Next will come the gradual awakening of all who have fallen asleep in death. They will come forth from the prison-house of death, as the Scriptures declare; they will come forth that they may be made acquainted with the true God, with His glorious Son, our Redeemer, and with the principles of righteousness in contrast with the principles of sin.
Under these conditions, we cannot suppose that it will take long for the majority of mankind to accept the value of the blessings of everlasting life and Restitution proffered them. The uplifting and regeneration will progress rapidly, while in the meantime, generation after generation will come forth from the tomb to enjoy similar experiences, finally all will have come forth. The love of God provided for this through the death of our Redeemer, who delighted to do the Father’s will, and has been rewarded gloriously with high exaltation to the Divine plane of glory, honor and immortality.
GOOD WILL TOWARD MEN
Many, having become discouraged by the seemingly poor prospects for the world’s conversion, have chosen to accept another translation of the angels’ song, rendering it, “And on earth peace, among men of good will.” Were this the correct thought, all our hopes would be dashed as there have been relatively few men of good will throughout history. It would also make void the prayer our Master taught His disciples: “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.” This translation could not be the correct thought since it is not in harmony with what we have clearly seen to be the plan of God for mankind.
Attaining the condition of good will toward (among) men will mean the attainment of human perfection. We are told, “God is love.” (1 John 4:8) Therefore, when our first parents were created an earthly image of God, love must have been the predominant quality of their characters. The selfishness we see is largely a matter of heredity and all society’s customs promote it. It continually increases its hold upon us.
But with the new King and the new Reign of Righteousness will come the glorious uplifting and transformation. Gradually, during the thousand years of Messiah’s rule, the evils of selfishness will be made apparent, and the beauties of holiness and love will be shown in contrast. Restitution rewards will lift mankind up out of sin and selfishness to holiness and love. Then, with love as the very essence of man’s being, good will among men will everywhere prevail; for the Divine Law, almost effaced through the reign of sin, will be rewritten in the human constitution. (Jer. 31:33)
That Law is: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.” (Luke 10:27)
The great Divine Plan of the Ages is rolling onward towards completion; and at every stage its progress makes for fresh blessings and fresh revelations of the glorious things which God hath purposed in Himself from before the foundation of the world. Truly, God’s ways are higher than man’s ways, and His thoughts than man’s thoughts! (Isa. 55:9)
(The above is based on various writings of Pastor Russell)