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The Meaning of History: Part Two

The idea of salvation by one’s own merit prevails in every religion on the face of the earth except Christianity. —Moncure Conway, My Pilgrimage to the Wise Men of the East (1906)

This great apocalyptic battle, the greatest fight in history, has already been fought and won by Jesus Christ, St. John says, and the Dragon has been overthrown. —David Chilton, The Days of Vengeance (1987)

History is the story of His progressive victory.

In the third edition of History Begins at Sumer (1981), Samuel Noah Kramer credits the early Sumerians with thirty-nine human firsts, including man’s first cosmology, his first moral ideas, and his first story of resurrection.  He also mentions schools, aquariums, and lullabies.  Since traditional archaeology can dig down no further than Sumer, it seems unlikely that any accredited scholar will suggest an earlier beginning any time soon.  And as long as Noah’s Flood is considered mythology, ooparts (out of place artifacts) will carry no weight with traditional archeology.

History as God Reckons It

The history chronicled in Scripture begins long before the Sumerians.  It starts with the creation of the universe about six thousand or so years ago.  From there, it runs through the Fall of man and the Flood, through the patriarchs and the history of Israel, to Jesus Christ and His New Covenant Church.  Scripture bypasses the history of China, India, Northern Europe, the Americas, and most of Africa.  It touches on the history of Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Persia.  It gives a nod to Greece, though only through prophecy, and makes the Roman Empire the backdrop for the New Testament histories and epistles.

The focus of biblical history, however, is the Seed of the Woman, the promised Messiah. In Genesis, Scripture follows the line of the patriarchs through whom the promised Seed was to come.  After the Exodus (c. 1445 BC), it follows the nation of Israel and, eventually, the line of David, Israel’s greatest king.  As far as Scripture is concerned, this is the heart of ancient history.  All the other continents, kingdoms, and nations certainly have a place in the broader story of Creation, Fall, and Redemption, but the center of God’s story rests with Israel and the promise of the Seed.

History as Warfare

Biblical history, however, is more than a map of a single genealogical line.  In every generation, we find the enmity, the antithesis, that God placed between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent (Gen. 3:15).  That enmity is fundamentally religious.  The religion of sinful humanity stands in radical opposition to the religion that God Himself has revealed in Scripture.

The religion of Humanism takes for granted the goodness and autonomy of man. It insists on his ability to regain paradise on his own terms.  It rejects the God of the Bible as incredible and impossible.  The faith revealed in Scripture speaks of the necessary existence of the Triune God and of His absolute sovereignty over history and creation.  It insists on the total depravity of man and his absolute need of God’s sovereign grace through the crucified Messiah if he is ever to receive any sort of favor from God, let alone see paradise restored.  It posits the gospel of Jesus Christ as the only hope.

These two religions (belief in God as the ultimate standard and belief in man as the ultimate standard) are each represented within history by a trans-national, trans-historical community.  Scripture calls these communities the world and the Church, or the kingdom of darkness and the kingdom of heaven.  St. Augustine spoke of them as the City of Man and the City of God.  These two cities or religious communions have been at war throughout all of history.  The war is universal.  Sometimes it is ideological.  Sometimes it involves crosses, stakes, and red-hot pokers.  Always it is ethical and covenantal.

The Patterns of War

Scripture shows us the regular patterns this war usually followed before the coming of Christ.  God’s people would normally be busy at two things:  1) living out lives of faith centered on worship, family, and work while striving to deal with personal sin; 2) proclaiming by word and deed the commandments and promises of God.  Satan’s seed, those who inhabit the City of Man, live out lives of unbelief centered on self—they serve the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 Jn. 2:16)—and they attack by word and deed both the claims of God and His covenant people.  Specifically, they either try to seduce God’s people from their calling… or they try to kill them.

We see this pattern before the Flood:  Cain kills Abel over the issue of guilt and atonement, but God gives Eve another son (Gen. 4).  The covenant people abandon their loyalty to God for romance and lust, and God destroys the world with a Flood to preserve the promised Seed through believing Noah and his family (Gen. 6-7).

Later, when Abraham receives the promise, pagan kings try to take his wife, but God intervenes directly to preserve the promise (Gen. Ex. 12; 20).  When the children of Israel descend into Egypt, a new Pharaoh tries to exterminate all the male children while reserving the baby girls to his own people (Ex. 1).  In the days of the judges, the children of Israel repeatedly enter into marriages with those committed to the worship of Baal and Ashtoreth (power and sex).  God responds first with judgment and then deliverance.

In the books of Samuel, Saul tries to kill David; but David escapes and eventually becomes king.  Solomon marries a thousand pagan wives, and the kingdom is torn asunder (1 Kings 11).  Queen Athaliah murders the royal seed in order to seize the throne, but the infant Joash is saved and grows up in the Temple (2 Kings 11).  The Babylonians destroy Jerusalem and her Temple, but God’s people survive in exile and eventually return to Palestine.  Shortly afterwards, the wicked Haman plots to destroy all the Jews, but queen Esther turns the tables.  And, finally, Herod the king tries to murder the infant Savior in His cradle, but the Child escapes to Egypt (Matt. 2).

Genesis 3:15 According to Revelation

The book of Revelation summarizes all of this history and more with a single vision.  In chapter 12, John sees a Woman clothed with the sun.  Her feet rest on the moon; her head is crowned with twelve stars.  She is in travail with child.  Before her stands a great red Dragon, ready to devour the Child as soon as it is born.

Here are the Woman, the Serpent, and the Seed of Genesis 3:15.  This is all of Old Testament history in tableau.  The Woman is the Old Testament Church, waiting and suffering as a woman in travail for the coming of the Seed, the promised Messiah.  The Dragon is Satan, ready at every turn to destroy the Seed, and at every turn failing.

The Woman brings forth the Messiah, the Man-Child born to rule all nations with a rod of iron (cf. Ps. 2).  So sure is His victory that the vision skips right over the cross and the resurrection.  The Child is caught up directly to heaven.  Victorious over all the devil’s schemes and assaults, He ascends creation’s throne.  War in heaven immediately ensues, and the dragon is cast down into the Land to continue his warfare there, but he knows that his time is running out.  He knows that he has already lost (v. 12).

Conclusion

The advent of Jesus Christ was the turning point of all history.  The nature of the conflict, and therefore the nature of history, shifted radically with Jesus’ resurrection.  Simply put, Satan loses.  The Seed is secure on the throne of heaven; His kingdom has come.

Satan, of course, hasn’t and won’t admit defeat.  He still tries to seduce God’s people from their calling; He still tries to kill them.  At the end of Revelation 12, Satan goes out to make war with the rest of the Woman’s seed…  those who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus (v. 17).  But the rest of the book tells of the rest of his failure and of Christ’s complete victory in time and eternity.

History is still about the enmity that God has placed between Christ and Satan.  But the central battle of the war is already over.  Jesus Christ came to destroy the works of the devil and succeeded (1 John 3:8).  He now wields all power in heaven and earth (Matt. 28:18-20).  History is now the story of His progressive victory. We must learn to act in terms of this great fact.

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