Story's End: Eschatology and What the Bible Is About
[As an initial bit of content for this new blog, I'm consolidating a recent series from The Nicene Nerd into a single post here.]
The Problem with Wrapping Up
As any writer will tell you, it’s hard to bring a good story to an end. No proof of this should be necessary; TV has enough examples. Look what happened to Lost, Haven, or White Collar. A good ending usually has to conclude great conflicts, deal out deserved fates, drive home important motifs and themes, and connect itself deeply with the preceding story. This is no easy feat. So it’s no wonder so many fail.
Now, when it comes to the Bible, we’re dealing with the story of the world. We have the creation of heaven and earth all the way to their final transfiguration. Much of the New Testament is about how this story ends. The Bible tells a great tale about God, Israel, the Gentiles, the Church, and the world. And even though this is the story of real life, the Bible discusses how it will turn out. We have spoilers. Revelation, among many other texts, foretells the final scenes.
But, unlike with many other books, the ending to the Bible is highly complex and controversial. There are different schools and interpretations, some radically opposite to others. So we have an infallible description of how the story ends, but we debate what the ending really is and means. My intent in this post is thus simple. I’ll give what I believe is the best biblical answer to the great question: How does the story end? And in order to do that, I’ll have to talk about just what the whole story actually is.
The Big Picture
Prologue: Creation and Mutiny
In the beginning, God made everything. He made man in His image to be His priests, prophets, and kings in the world He had made. They would serve in the visible realm as His angelic council served in the invisible. Since the angelic council was mature from the start, they would take care of and lead mankind forward. But, sadly, this immediately went awry. Angels rebelled. Man rebelled. And so the world was thrown into chaos and violence.
This got bad enough that the world had to be remade through a flood that wiped out the old. A more righteous world starting with a second and better Adam began. But once again the world fell apart into sin. The rebellious angelic council members took this as their chance. They encouraged mankind, now so distant from God, to worship them as gods instead. “Pray to us for rain, crops, fertility, since God has kicked you out of His presence.” Eventually, God scattered and disinherited all the nations for this treachery.
But God was not done with the world. He called Abram, and made him from him a new humanity. This people would be devoted to true worship and live by His name. He made a covenant with them and swore to bring to pass the blessings He intended for humanity to them and, through them, to the world as a whole. On their part, they would restore His honor among the nations as His priests, prophets, and kings. He would be their God, and they would glorify Him as the one true God against all the idols. They would be His people, and He would vindicate them as His true people against all rebels. And so came to be God’s people Israel.
People, Place, and Promise
In order to carve out a space for Israel and God’s purposes for her, she needed a distinct identity. God gave this primarily by Land and Law. By rituals and ceremonies with a unique symbolic flavor, by wise and just laws, and by a central location in the ancient world, God made Israel a beacon. But this came by sharp conflict. She had to face off against powerful pagan nations and, more importantly, their gods.
So right from the start of Israel’s existence, she was under assault. The rival gods knew it was a threat for God to have His own people publicly manifesting His goodness, truth, and beauty. They inspired the kings and people who served them to conspire against God and His people. This was a mistake. God was truly on the offensive. He used these battles to establish His kingdom among pagan rivals and glorify His power and mercy through His people. The number one example, and the most important to Israel’s early history, was the Exodus. Yahweh asserted His power over all Egyptian gods. He rescued His people from a mighty pagan nation, publicly vindicating them for their trust in Him.
This happened over and over as God moved Israel into the promised land. God beat down the rebel gods by demolishing their hero offspring, the Anakim and Nephilim. He tore down proud, inhumane tribes devoted to these wicked beings and set His own people in their place. The crossroads of the world became the site of the true God’s glory. God’s kingdom was coming. Israel would be a city on a hill. Her faithfulness and justice would shine before men. The nations would see her good works and glorify the true God. All idols would be exposed, and God would reign over all.
Alas, Israel did not live up to her calling. Though God had made an everlasting covenant with Abraham, Israel broke her terms. It started with seemingly minor ingratitude. She complained that God was not treating her well enough. But this discontent only grew. Before long, ingratitude turned to rank distrust and unbelief. God could not meet Israel’s needs, she imagined. And what of the prosperous pagan nations? They seemed well off.
So this turned to the worst offense: Israel joined cause with the rebellious gods. Rather than becoming a beacon of Yahweh’s light to the nations, she embraced the idols of the nations. This undercut any point to her existence. Why should the true God have a people for His name if they will only shame Him by joining the coup against Him? They deserved to be destroyed.
But God made a covenant, and He was intent on reclaiming the world. So rather than simply end Israel, He gave her leaders and mediators. They helped lead Israel into faithfulness, and even in her unfaithfulness, they helped avert God’s wrath. Even when God’s wrath broke out, they helped Israel find forgiveness and new life. So Israel’s history became a series of deaths and resurrections. Gradually, God worked to purify His people. He sent Moses, then Joshua, then the judges, and then Samuel. With the death of each of these, however, Israel would return to her old ways. Was there no way for Israel to get and stay on track? Would God’s name be forever dishonored as all the nations—even His own—gave themselves entirely over to idolatry?
A Son to Reign
Israel continued lapsing into idolatry, despite all the seers and judges God had given her. But for each of them, Israel did fairly well during his lifetime. It was generally only at death that the slide back into unfaithfulness began. There was also the problem of the tribes. Even if some tribes tribe were righteous under one judge, not all of Israel was on the same page. All of this, then, pointed in a certain direction. The new direction, however, was compromised from the beginning.
The Law God gave Israel had provisions for a king, and God did intend to give one at the right time. But Israel asked for a king, and this for the worst possible reason. She wanted to be like the pagan nations. They imagined a king like a totem, a visible Lord they could rely on. God granted their wish, but in Saul they received a king as bad as any pagan. So they paid the price for their demands.
Fortunately, God was still determined to save and bless His people. He would still make them great and glorify His name through them. So He chose another king, David. To David He promised an everlasting dynasty, a potential solution to the problem of faithfulness waning every generation. Rather than a judge dying and the people falling away, David the faithful king would leave behind another faithful king to lead the people. In this way, God, though His chosen king, could teach every generation true worship and justice. God would name the king as His son. He would be like God and follow God’s heart. God would grant him a share in His honor and rule the world through him. The glory of Israel’s godly, powerful king would exalt Yahweh’s name in all nations.
Once again, however, the next stage in God’s plan brought new trouble along with the new glory. David was, on the whole, a godly man and a wonderful king. But more than once he committed grave sins. His adultery, murder, and other errors lead to the downfall of the ill-conceived child Solomon. Though by God’s mercy and faithfulness, Solomon achieved Israel’s highest glory yet, he did not end well. He followed his father’s adulterous example. But rather than physical adultery, he committed spiritual adultery. He pursued women who pursued other gods and brought idolatry back into Israel. And where idols are invited, Yahweh departs.
This was a pivotal moment. God had glorified Israel wonderfully. He made her rich, safe, and influential. He lavished all the blessings He had promised in the covenant. And at her height, she broke that covenant. So began a rapid downfall. The promised blessings were gradually replaced with promised curses, and the kingdom was divided, just like the hearts of its people. But even this division served God’s purposes. While the people of the Northern Kingdom flung themselves headlong into becoming new Canaanites, the Southern Kingdom did not fall so far, so fast. In Judah, God preserved His worship to an extent. From this remnant, He would purify His people, maintain David’s throne, and prepare the way for a new kingdom. Israel was shortly wiped out. Judah, however, lived on.
Sadly, not even Judah could resist the lure of other gods. Some kings were faithful. Some were awful. They went back and forth, with occasional revivals. But in the end, they went too far. God packed up and left, destroyed the Temple, and sent them out of the land.
God among the Kingdoms
When God left Jerusalem, He did not leave His people. Instead, together they went to Babylon. Babylon ruled most of the known world, and God was wise. What appeared to be defeat was a strategic move. Many Jews remained faithful to Him in exile, and God planted them in the center of pagan civilization. There, He would bring new honor to His name through His displaced people. The figure of Daniel became chief here. God exalted him into the courts of many kings, even as empires passed. From there he repeatedly brought the pagan kingdoms to confess the glory of the true God of heaven and earth.
The exile did wonders for God’s people and God’s plan. It was a punishment, but a cleansing one. Daniel, Esther, and others glorified God in the most powerful courts in the world. The Jews, now a displaced minority, learned to cling more tightly to Yahweh. By God’s grace, His people were cured of idolatry. Though the sin had beset them for centuries, now they worshiped God alone.
This new witness of loyalty to the true God drew many around the pagan nations to faith in Him. It took casting Israel from her own land of promise, but God was spreading His honor to the nations. All that was left was for the exile to end, Israel to return home, and the pagan empires to finally give way entirely to God’s kingdom.
A New People
God soon brought the Jews back from exile to their homeland. This was not without difficulty, of course. But God was with them, and He disposed even the pagan kings to permit the rebuilding of Yahweh’s house. Israel returned less glorious than she left, but in many ways she was greater. She no longer served idols; she had a new heart and new spirit. With a renewed people, God could renew covenant with them. He promised a new era with a new future.
But not all was perfect. The people still had to struggle with trusting God’s provision and protection. They still had many enemies. More seriously, the empires were still largely pagan. Though they had acknowledged God a few times, they did not finally give up their allegiance to the rebel deities. And most concerning, perhaps, is that the glory cloud never returned to the new Temple. Was God still with His people? What happened to their former glory?
Then there was the problem of intermarriage. Many of the Jews had taken pagan wives during the exile. The sin by which Solomon split the kingdom now threatened the whole community of returned Jews. But after the reading of the Law and the deliberation of the elders, they broke with Solomon’s example and put away their pagan wives. Israel took another step forward. She would worship no one but Yahweh this time.
A Time of Uncertainty
Now back in the land, God’s people entered a strange time. They rebuilt the Temple and Jerusalem, but the glory cloud never came back. David’s city was restored, but David’s throne was empty. Pagans still ruled the world. Other gods were still robbing God’s praise for themselves. And then came disaster. As Daniel had prophesied, the Greek king Antiochus Epiphanes desecrated the new Temple with an unclean, pagan sacrifice. God seemed to give them victory when they responded, but without a word through any prophet.
Even the victory the Jews won didn’t go that far. Before long, they were still subject to pagan powers. What was happening? Didn’t God promise a kingdom? These questions lingered and intensified. God’s people handled it different ways. Many groups thought Israel was too sinful to inherit the promises. To deal with that, some groups went into seclusion, waiting for God to show up, judge everyone else, and reward them for their faithfulness. Others made themselves comfortable in the pagan order. Still others tried to correct and teach the masses of Israel. And then there were those who favored violent revolution. If the kingdom were to come, they thought, God would bring it through their swords, like with Joshua of old.
Recap: Presence and Power
We could look at the issue from another angle, going back to the beginning. The story of God and His people ties into the story of God and His presence. God had made the world like a chalice, or a vessel, for His glory. So when He made Adam and Eve in Eden, He set up a home base. From there His children, as priests, could dwell in His presence and spread it to the ends of the earth. But since they failed this task, God had to withdraw His presence, lest it destroy both sinners and their sin.
In God’s “absence,” humanity turned to rebellious spirits who were quite willing to be present in exchange for worship. But their glory was a sham and their presence a stain. So He called His own people and gradually replanted His presence in the world among them. He marked a portion of the world, a deposit, as His own holy land. He evicted the false gods and their people to fill it with His own glory. But Israel kept alienating God with her sins and by inviting the idols back into the land. So her history became a struggle with God’s presence, trying to live with God in her midst.
Eventually, God’s presence left them in the land, which let the pagan presence they had courted refill it. But then God was present with them in exile and finally brought them home. Many of the signs of His presence returned, but so did signs of His absence.
How would God’s glory ever fill the earth like He intended? Why was it instead filled with demons and idols and death? And how could the final goal ever come about if God’s own people seemed unfit to bear His presence?
A Man Sent from God
This brings us to the first century AD. The world outside Israel was largely still pagan. Most of the known regions were under the sway of the Roman Empire, a kingdom of pluralistic paganism and even emperor worship. To most of the Jews, this was a terrible situation. The kingdoms of this world belonged to Satanic forces, and the actual Creator’s honor was hardly anywhere to be seen. Surely it was time for Him to act. Many waited with bated breath to see God deliver His people (only, of course, the faithful), overthrow the pagan empire, and establish His rule over the nations which had one been allegiant to false gods. Perhaps this would even be the endgame. The dead would be raised, a final judgment would ensue, and history would come to a close.
It was in this charged atmosphere that God did, finally, break His silence. He sent a prophet named John to announce that He was coming back to His people. Yahweh was returning to Zion. The kingdom was at hand: soon God would take back the world that had defected to rebel spirits. Soon His presence would live with His people again, and after a healthy cleansing, it would fill the world.
But there was a catch. John declared that nearly everyone needed to repent. All of Israel was on the wrong track and would need a fresh start to get in on God’s coming victory. He made them be baptized, a sign of a pagan converting. The message couldn’t be more clear: the people of Israel had gone a hundred wrong ways, and they all needed to turn around and prepare for the way of the Messiah. Otherwise they would go the way of the pagans and be soon destroyed.
The Coming Messiah
Now, during the long silence between the last prophets and the days of John, Israel had much time to think. Reflections on the Torah and the Prophets formed a vague but potent impression: sooner or later God would send a new leader. He would be heir to David’s throne, and as the rightful king of Israel, lead God’s victory over the pagan kingdoms. In the name of the true God, he would conquer the nations, dethrone Satan’s regents, subdue Israel’s enemies, vindicate God’s faithful people, and lead a new age of worldwide honor for God’s name. Finally, through his work, the earth would fill with God’s presence and glory, like God had always intended.
There were many spins on this idea. Some people simply didn’t believe it, and every sect who believed it had their own twist. But the gist was popular enough that everyone knew what John was announcing. The kingdom was coming, and so was the king. After John would come the Messiah.
Now, all along, God had been performing His plans though humans. This was the point of making us, after all. But all of them had made major failures. Adam fell, Noah fell, Moses fell, Eli fell, David fell, Solomon fell, and so on. But each chosen leader made it further than the last. Each brought more glory to God and to His people. What would make the final difference? If God was finally to push through the last stage, finally to bring His people to the climax of their purpose, and finally to ensure the victorious glorification of His name before all nations over all gods, it seems He would need a perfect man. Some had seemed close before, but in the end, as the saying goes, “If you want something done right…do it yourself.”
The climactic stage of God’s plan to reclaim the nations from idols finally arrived. By God’s Holy Spirit, the virgin Mary conceived a son. She named Him Jesus, Yahweh saves, for He would save His people from their sins. Right from the start, the works of Jesus and Yahweh are interchangeable.
So Jesus grew up, and He demonstrated superior wisdom and virtue as He did. But He did so quietly until He was 30 years old, the age of priesthood. Then His ministry began. He submitted to John’s baptism, stepping into the shoes of rebellious Israel as her leader into repentance. He was confirmed by the Father and filled with the Spirit, and He immediately went to the wilderness. The climax of everything had begun.
For 40 days, Jesus fought all kinds of temptations. He resisted the desire to use His power on His own terms, to His own advantage, to bypass the hard work God had ahead of Him. In the end, He was offered the rule of the nations. What God sent Him to acquire, Satan held out to Him in arm’s reach. But had He given in and worshiped Satan to gain the world, it would ultimately mean the world remained in Satan’s hands. Jesus resisted the easy “victory” that would really be defeat. He would rather die.
Rather than take Satan’s treaty, Jesus began His own campaign. Satan ruled the nations through his idols. As the Accuser he held Israel—the only witness to the true God—over the brink of destruction for her crimes. So Jesus began to free Israel. Most directly, of course, He cast out demons. But He also chipped away at Satan’s accusations. He purified the sick and the unclean, who had been cut off from worship. He gave out God’s forgiveness without the Temple and taught the people God’s will. With His wise and piercing account of the Torah’s true meaning, He led myriads to repent of their self-serving plans for the destiny of Israel.
In doing all this, Jesus planted the seeds of a fresh Israel. He even chose 12 apostles, like Israel’s 12 tribes. To them and His other followers He promised the kingdom of God and the inheritance of Abraham. God was conquering back the nations, and they would have seats in the new regime.
The message for everyone else wasn’t so good. God had to clean house with His own people before He set the nations right. But most of the leadership wouldn’t accept Jesus as God’s way forward. Instead, they kept lobbing accusations against Him. Of course, they also accused His followers, along with Israel’s masses. They were following in the footsteps of the Accuser, so Jesus rightly called them children of the devil. He promised that these people, and Israel as a whole if she followed their lead, would be judged and destroyed in the near future in order for God to fully establish His kingdom.
Jesus and the Kingdom
And this kingdom was chiefly Jesus’ message. The kingdom of God. What was He saying? This is where the ongoing story is important. God made humanity in His image. They were to bring His glory and presence to creation as kings and priests. But they went off-track by obeying the Serpent. Humanity started serving rebellious spirits, and God formed His own people to be a faithful outpost of humanity under the true God. Eventually cured of idolatry, Israel stood as the one kingdom devoted to the Creator amidst a horde of nations loyal to rebel gods. The key question left was how God was going to restore His worship among those nations. And in the first century, the pagan nations were summed up by the Roman Empire, which dominated most of the known world and loved all kinds of idolatry, even worship of Caesar.
This context gives meaning to the message about the “kingdom of God.” False gods ruled the world through their worshipers ruling the nations. The time for that was over. The true God was going to take back the world and rule it through His worshipers. This is what Jesus declared, and He claimed that it would start with Him. But how? How would Jesus build the kingdom of God?
There were a lot of ideas in Israel about how God’s kingdom would come. Some of the most popular ideas involved the Messiah winning a military conquest against Rome. The great pagan empire would fall to an Israelite empire led by a king on David’s throne. Not everyone agreed. Some people thought that Israel’s situation was too bad for that. Rather than men, God would do it Himself. Rome (and all God’s enemies) would fall by spectacular divine judgments, and God’s faithful would take over.
The Way of the Cross
Now, Jesus, for His part, was closer to this latter view. The time for military conquest was over. The stakes were higher than Joshua’s day, and the war needed weapons much stronger than steel. There would still be fighting and death, but of a different kind. Rome could not be conquered by flesh, but would be conquered by the Spirit.
This was a key theme of Jesus’ preaching. He told God’s people to love their enemies, to submit to authorities, to do good to Gentiles and Jews alike. Rather than preserve their lives and wealth and status under the present order, He encouraged them to give all of this away for better gifts under the coming order. Only people ready to live and die like this could have a share in the coming kingdom. Only this would conquer pagan rulers and their gods, for the only unstoppable army is that which fears nothing in life or in death. A people trusting in God, giving away their lives in hope, doing good to even their enemies: the martyrs’ army of faith, hope, and love would win the victory.
Moreover, this new army would have the powerful advantage of God’s presence. Jesus offered, apart from the Temple and ritual purity system, direct access to forgiveness, grace, and the power of the Holy Spirit. These would be essential to the life of God’s people moving forward. But how exactly could this go on? How could these people, unclean and guilty as they were, be cleansed for God’s presence in the Spirit? What role would the Temple play in this new vision for Israel’s future, where Israel previously acquired forgiveness and access to God’s presence? All of this will lead to the climax of Jesus’ mission.
The Son of David and the City of David
Everything that Jesus was up to led Him to Jerusalem at the climax of His ministry. The royal city of David with the Temple of Yahweh: a fitting destination for Israel’s king, the Son of God. So it all came down to how Israel, gathered in God’s chosen city, would receive God’s chosen Messiah. Would they embrace Him and inherit the kingdom? Or would they doom themselves to an irreversible and final judgment? In a final confrontation, Jesus would now bring His sword to divide the people and to cut open the secrets of Israel’s heart.
At first, the signs looked good. Jesus was cheered and greeted as the Son of David. Despite the protests of the scribes and Pharisees, the crowds were enthusiastic to bless Jesus in Yahweh’s name. From the outside, this looked like the moment. But Jesus knew better. Before He even entered the city, He wept over His people. They were excited enough by His miracles, His teachings, and the prospect of God’s kingdom coming, but they were not prepared to follow Him. Especially not to death.
Quickly, Jesus headed to the Temple. It was one of the king’s jobs to maintain Yahweh’s house, so Jesus did just that. The money changers represented everything wrong with Israel’s leadership. They were greedy, they got in between the poor and God’s presence, and they occupied the court of the Gentiles. Though God had meant the Temple to be a house of prayer for all people, it was a den of ruffians. Though God had meant Israel to be a light to the world, she had become a violent and exclusionary rabble. Cleansing the Temple brought everything to a halt, and it perfectly imaged what Jesus was about to foretell.
The Temple was like a miniature Israel, and cleaning house like Jesus did symbolized what was coming for the whole nation. Then Jesus turned a little more straightforward. He promised that the Temple was on track for destruction. Of course, His disciples asked Him about this, and about how it relates to His coming with the kingdom. Jesus answered their questions with a prophecy that sounded a lot like the prophecies from the Old Testament. Most of those talked about how Babylon or Assyria or someone else was coming to torment and conquer Israel. But they usually said this with earth-shattering images and symbols of the heavens shaking and the world falling apart. Jesus did the same.
In no time at all, Jesus explained, war and disease and trouble and persecution would break out. This wouldn’t mean too much yet. That would be a time for faithful witness before scribes, priests, rulers, and high courts. It would be a time to take the Gospel to the farthest reaches of the known world. But the conflicts and the wars would increase. He warned them to run for their lives when they saw the right signs. For Jerusalem was coming down. Before everyone there had died, the Temple would die. God would judge His people and put an end to the national life of Israel.
But this was not meant to be the end of God’s people or His promises to Abraham. The judgment of God’s rebellious people had always been the salvation of His faithful remnant. With the coming judgment, Jesus’ claims would be proved, His enemies defeated, and His kingdom glorified. The Son of Man would be publicly vindicated as a true prophet, the true Messiah, and God would reveal that Jesus’ people were justified in following Him all along.
But the road to glory did pass through the hard hearts of God’s people. After the Temple cleansing, there was enough momentum among Jesus’ enemies to bring Him to trial. Jesus’ teachings and predictions about the future of God’s people didn’t sit well with any of them. It exposed the deep sin in all of their hearts, and the fault lines in Israel as a whole. So He had to die. Better the one man should die than the nation be proved guilty and damned.
Jesus, of course, was no fool. He knew what was coming. So He celebrated Passover with His disciples, but with a twist. The covenant they were ostensibly celebrating with the Passover meal was coming to an end. He took bread and wine, said they were His body and blood, and told them that it was time for a new covenant. He would soon be broken and poured out for them, and a new testament would go into effect. The Holy Spirit would come, and Jesus would lead them to the Father. They didn’t really understand, but soon they would.
So then Israel’s leaders executed their plan. They took Jesus with Roman help, accusing Him of the same violent dreams of rebellion which Israel as a whole had deep in her bones. He was cruelly and illegally tried, yet remained silent in His defense. Let them dump all the worst of their evil on Him: He trusted in His Father. So they nailed Him to the cross, accusing Him of idolatry and revolution, the respective chief sins of the very Romans and Jews who condemned Him. And there He died for the sins of everyone but Himself.
But then, it seemed that the world itself was falling apart. The sun went dark, the earth shook, graves opened, and the veil in the Temple tore from top to bottom. What could it all mean? What would God do next?
A New Exodus
With Jesus in the grave and the disciples scattered, times looked for dark for God’s people. Indeed, God’s entire plan seemed in disarray. How could God win back the nations? The Messiah was dead. How could God renew His people? The new leaders had run away. It was like everything had stalled, the people of God stood before a bottomless sea, doom was imminent, and Satan would soon catch up and destroy them.
Yet God was not done. Three days after Jesus died, God raised Him from the dead. And this was no ordinary resuscitation. Not only was Jesus alive, but He was more alive than before, glorious and immortal and brimming with new power. God had raised His Son from the dead, overturning the verdicts of the Jews and Romans. So the sinners had killed the sinless Son, and now He stood justified while they stood condemned.
Jesus made it through death and hell, accusation and judgment, and came out fully alive with all authority in heaven and on earth. So He began teaching His disciples even more. They thought it was time to restore the kingdom to Israel. They expected imminent deliverance and vindication, a great victory leading to a world where Jesus reigned over every empire. Something like this was coming, for sure. The whole world was now their promised land. However, He explained, the timing and the power would not be what they expected.
A New Conquest
After a 40 day training session, Jesus left the disciples. He then ascended to the heavenly throne to rule everything and left them as His ambassadors. Heaven was annexing earth, and the disciples would be the witnesses to its people and rulers about the new Lord. God promised the nations to His Son, and it was time to conquer them.
The new conquest, however, would need more power than anything God’s people had attempted before. Fortunately, Jesus made this possible. His death cleansed His people from their sins: He suffered the fate they had earned and led them though safely to the other side. By His blood they were purified for God’s presence. But rather than simply granting them access to a location where they could come to God, God came to them. He came to live in them by sending the Holy Spirit to make them a new temple. Full of the Spirit, God’s people would have the power and support they needed to conquer the nations.
Immediately, the war began. Armed with the Sword of the Spirit, the apostles and Jesus’ other followers began cutting into people’s hearts. Thousands died in blood and water, raised to a new life in Christ. This started within Israel as people who didn’t previously understand abandoned their other plans to accept Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah. But it soon spread even to Gentiles. Even pagans saw the light of God’s people newly empowered. They glorified the Father in heaven who rescued them through Jesus from slavery to cruel and rebellious spirits. Gradually the other “gods” were cast down, bound up, and taken captive. The new army exorcised demons. Idolaters converted. Yahweh was taking back His world. Now the name “Lord” was for Jesus, not for Caesar, any pagan ruler, or even Satan.
As bright as the future looked with Christ’s resurrection, there were shadows in sight. For one, Israel at large was still guilty. Though many Jews accepted their promised Messiah, many more did not, especially the people in charge. Under the Torah, which they loved so much, they still deserved to die. So in a generation, God would send the Romans to tear down the Temple, just as He had once sent the Babylonians to do the same. The whole city of Jerusalem would be violated. Pagans would slaughter thousands throughout the land. And those faithful to God in Christ need to prepare for their escape.
But God’s sights were sight on the nations. God intended to clean Israel up precisely so He could move on in calling every people back to Himself. This would have to mean a confrontation between Him and the pagan gods the nations already worshiped. Especially, this meant a showdown between Jesus and Caesar. Pagan Rome would die; the kingdom Jesus established would grow and live on. By God's promise, all the nations would fall before His Son, starting around the Mediterranean world, but going on to the ends of the earth.
Eventually, though, the world itself would need to change. God’s glory through humanity demands a final stage, a supreme perfection. Death must go, and all sin. Evil needs to be discarded so that peace and righteousness can reign everywhere and always. Death needs to give way unbroken life in God’s image in fellowship with Him. If God truly wishes to fill the world to the brim with His glory, everything which clashes with Him must be removed, including all sin and death. Not even the universal allegiance of the nations can take us this far. There will have to be a final stage where everything is new. Then God will be all in all.