Study 3 - God's Plan and Purpose
The love of God has been stressed in the previous Study - His love for the world in giving His only begotten Son. This love which God shows and which we are asked to show in return must not be confused with sentiment or 'softness'.
The Bible emphasizes the righteousness of God and His justice. It was the absolute justice of God as well as His love for man that was the reason that Jesus rose from the dead. Because Jesus did no wrong it was not possible that he should remain dead (Acts 2 v 24). It would not have been right for Jesus to remain in the grave. God raised him from the dead.
In the same way, it is not right that the world should continue to be a place where wickedness flourishes and where so much that is wrong takes place. The Book of Proverbs tells us, "A false balance is abomination to the Lord" (Proverbs 11 v 1).
Look at these verses:
"God is angry with the wicked every day" (Psalm 7 v 11).
"The Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Thessalonians 1 v 7-8).
This is the side of God's character that is often overlooked. The righteousness of God will not allow wickedness to continue. God is not going to permit the world to be ruled by men who may not set right standards. It is God's purpose that one day the world will be ruled in righteousness by the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 17 v 31). When he is King, many of the problems that man faces today will be solved. This wonderful time is called the Kingdom of God.
Jesus taught his disciples to pray for the Kingdom to come so that God's will would be done on earth even as the angels now obey Him in heaven (Matthew 6 v 10.)
PROPHECIES OF THINGS TO COME.
We find in the Bible the most confident assertions about the future; not just one, nor a mere half-dozen, but scores of prophecies. We find prophecies concerning individuals, concerning powerful nations and weak nations, some of which had, at that time, no existence. There are long-term and short-term prophecies; prophecies of things to come, the like of which had never happened before; of extraordinary experiences which nations would have, experiences without parallel and contrary to all natural expectation. We find all this in the Bible. We discover that without a single exception none of the prophecies has been falsified. What are we to make of this? Could unaided men perform such a feat? They could not. There can be only one conclusion: the men who wrote the Bible received direction from on high.
"For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit" (2 Peter 1:21).
Do not underestimate the force of Bible prophecy. Peter, in the chapter just quoted, speaks of it as the "more sure word of prophecy" and compares it to a light shining in a dark place (v19). This is a very apt comparison. We look around the world and it seems all confusion, with no apparent meaning or purpose. History seems just a haphazard sequence of events, with no obvious aim, apart from the fleeting ambitions of the men who pass across the world's stage. But a study of the Bible alters all this and demonstrates beyond all doubt that human affairs are under control and are moving forward to a totally unexpected climax - unexpected, that is, by all but the few.
"The Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will" (Dan. 4:32). These words were addressed to Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon. He was no fairy-tale figure, but a powerful monarch in the ancient world. In recent times his city, Babylon, has been excavated and proved to have been in reality the immense city of which the Bible speaks. The hundreds of thousands of bricks that have been dug up all bear the name of the proud monarch who ruled the world of his day. Indeed, Nebuchadnezzar might well lay claim to be the first monarch of the world. He it was to whom it was said, "The Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men". But he was told far more than just that.
AN AMAZING VISION
One night, as Nebuchadnezzar lay on his couch, the king wondered what would be the fate of his vast empire after he himself had passed from the scene. 'On whom will my mantle fall? Will the mantle be torn in pieces by jealous rivals?' Such questions must normally go unanswered, for no man can tell what the future holds, but Nebuchadnezzar was given the answer by God. We can read it in the 2nd chapter of the book of Daniel. Please read it through, it is one of the most remarkable chapters in the whole of the Bible.
We are told of a dream in which the answer that he sought was given to Nebuchadnezzar in symbolic form.
It may be asked why Almighty God troubled to satisfy the questioning of a pagan king; why he chose to do so by way of a dream, and why the visionary message was clothed in symbols which the king could not understand, nor even remember on waking.
The following observations may be made in answer, and will serve to introduce the details of the prophecy and its fulfilment:
The importance of Nebuchadnezzar in the purpose of God lay not so much in the greatness of his empire as in the fact that his dominions included the land of Israel, and that the people of Israel were taken as captives to Babylon for 70 years. God's land - God's people - were subject to Nebuchadnezzar's rule.
(ii) The method used to give the information also brought to the forefront the man Daniel, a Jew, the only man who could explain the dream. This underlined the fact that the "God who revealeth secrets" is the God especially of Israel. A vital aspect of God's plan was thus brought home.
The symbolic style adopted is a most effective way of conveying a great deal of information in a very compressed form. The modern political cartoon is an apt example of the same thing. But the cartoon illuminates events of past and present. Nebuchadnezzar's vision threw a flood of light on the future.
THE VISION'S MEANING
In his dream the king saw what he himself would probably have described as a 'god'. It was the image of a man composed of various metals. An artist's impression of the scene is as follows - golden head, silver breast and arms, bronze belly and thighs, iron legs, feet part iron and part clay. This metallic statue stood erect - until some unseen power directed a stone at its feet. The image crashed, its remains were ground to powder and blown away by the wind, while the stone that had done the damage "became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth" (Dan. 2:35).
What did all this mean? The clear words of Daniel placed the meaning beyond doubt. The image stood for the kingdoms of men in the ages that were to follow. The nations of the known world were at that time subject to the king of Babylon, who was represented by the golden head. "Thou art this head of gold" (verse 38). Following this there was to be a second, "silver", empire, then a third and a fourth. The fourth kingdom was to be "strong as iron"; but after the strength was to come weakness:
"Whereas thou sawest the feet and toes, part of potters' clay, and part of iron, the kingdom shall be divided..., And as the toes of the feet were part of iron, and part of clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong, and partly broken...they shall not cleave one to another, even as iron is not mixed with clay" (Dan. 2:41-43).
The question that must now be answered is, how do the facts of history compare with this prophecy? The correspondence is perfect - so much so that some have tried to say that the second chapter of Daniel was written after the events it describes This is sufficient testimony to the accuracy of the prophecy, but is plainly impossible, for the prophecy is still being fulfilled! Copies of the book of Daniel have been found amongst the second century BC Dead Sea Scrolls.
An Artist's Impression Of The Image
AN OUTLINE OF WORLD HISTORY
Four great empires followed each other. Consult any history book covering the period and you will find described how Babylon fell to the Medes and Persians, a joint empire in which first the Medes and then the Persians took precedence. Their supremacy was ended by Alexander the Great, who founded the Greek Empire. This, in turn, yielded to a stronger power: Rome was unquestionably the strongest and most durable of the four empires.
For centuries Rome held sway. The world had never known anything to compare with the mighty "strong-as-iron" Roman Empire. What power on earth could ever break it or conquer it? No single power could. Rome was not to be superseded. There was not to be another great empire in the line of Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome.
First the empire was split in two: Eastern Rome, ruled from Constantinople, and Western Rome, ruled from Rome itself. (It will be remembered that the image Nebuchadnezzar saw had two iron legs.) Later, both halves gave way by degrees to hostile forces from without and decaying processes within, and over the vast area once ruled by Rome a number of independent kingdoms emerged, some strong, some weak. This has been the state of affairs ever since. THERE HAS BEEN NO FIFTH UNDISPUTED EMPIRE IN SUCCESSION TO THE FOUR WE HAVE NAMED, WHOSE DOMINIONS INCLUDED THE LAND OF ISRAEL. Many attempts have been made, but all have failed: Philip 11 of Spain, Napoleon 1, Kaiser Wilhelm 11, Hitler...Today we see the countries of Europe trying to weld themselves together into a united whole. What a task it is proving! (But Europe does not include Israel.) True were the prophet's words: "They shall not cleave one to another, even as iron is not mixed with clay".
Who could have foreseen all this as long as two and a half thousand years ago? Who could have asserted so confidently that there would be four empires, not three, or five, or six? Who, in a few bold strokes, could have delineated the outstanding features of their history, and its sequel with such uncanny accuracy? Could any man? From all that we know of human forecasts, we must answer, No. We note that Daniel disclaimed all credit for his message:
"The great God hath made known to the king what shall come to pass hereafter: and the dream is certain, and the interpretation thereof sure" (Dan. 2:45).
Men and women of all times since who have studied this prophecy have found here solid grounds for confidence in God and His Word. It is a confidence which you, who read these words, certainly should share.
PART OF THE PROPHECY STILL FUTURE
Moreover, the steady, accurate fulfilment of Daniel's words lead us to look with renewed interest at the last stage of the prophecy. What shall we make of that little stone which fell with shattering effect on the feet of the image, grinding it to powder, and then becoming a great world-filling mountain?
If the image represented the kingdom of men, obviously the stone stands for some power external to human rule, which is to establish itself as a world power upon the ruins of human governments. These it will "break in pieces and consume". This is the explanation Daniel gave:-
"And in the days of these kings (i.e. the divided state of the nations) shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people...it shall stand for ever" (Dan. 2:44).
This is one of many promises in the Bible that God has not forsaken the earth. He has devised a plan - the Master Plan - for human salvation, and that plan centres in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. Thoughtful readers will readily be able to identify the stone "cut out of the mountain without hands" with the one who was born the Saviour of mankind, 'cut out', as it were, of the mountain of humanity, not by human hands, but by the power of God, in the miracle of his birth. Jesus, in fact, spoke of his role as the stone - "the stone which the builders rejected", and he went on, "...whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder" (Matt. 21:42-44).
All the signs indicate that soon the stone will fall with devastating effect on an unsuspecting world. Will you escape the coming destruction?
Will you share in the benefits of the Kingdom of God, which Jesus is coming to set up on the earth?
Jesus alone has power to save.
But before we leave the prophecy of Daniel, let us note that the teaching of the dream of Nebuchadnezzar was elaborated in a vision seen by Daniel himself as recorded in chapter 7 of the book which bears his name. The symbolism is changed and extended in detail using the figures of four beasts to represent the four great empires portrayed in the dream of Nebuchadnezzar. The equivalent of the reference to the Kingdom of God in Daniel 2:44 is given in the words of Daniel 7:27 as follows:
"And the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him".
THE KINGDOM OF GOD
But let not any of our readers think that the only Old Testament prophecies about the coming Kingdom of God are those in the two chapters in the book of Daniel to which we have referred. To illustrate this point we can turn to the book of the prophet Isaiah where details of the coming Kingdom of God are given in plain language i.e. without symbology. Because of all the many references in the book of this prophet, Isaiah has been referred to as the prophet of the Kingdom. We commend the following quotations to the attention of our readers:
"And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more" (Isaiah 2:2-4).
"Behold, the Lord God will come with strong hand, and his arm shall rule for him: behold, his reward is with him, and his work before him" (Isaiah 40:10).
Equally important also are the references to the conditions of salvation. From these we select one from Isaiah (66:2):
"To this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word".
This explanation is not the invention of the publishers of this series of Studies. READ Daniel 2. Daniel said:
"Forasmuch as thou sawest that the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it brake in pieces the iron, the brass, the clay, the silver, and the gold; the great God hath made known to the king what shall come to pass hereafter: and the dream is certain, and the interpretation thereof sure" (Daniel 2 v 45).
Just as Medo-Persia followed Babylon; just as Rome followed Greece; just as certainly as there has been no fifth universal Empire, so the last part of the prophecy will also be fulfilled.
"In the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed...but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever" (Daniel 2 v 44).
The little stone destroyed the image which represented human rule through the centuries and it grew into a great mountain which filled the earth. The little stone represented the Kingdom of God.
Daniel concluded the prophecy by saying, "the dream is certain and the interpretation thereof sure".
This is only one of many prophecies which give us confidence that God's purpose with the earth will be fulfilled.
THE TEACHING OF THE OLD TESTAMENT AND THE NEW TESTAMENT
Find in your Bible these two passages that you looked at in the last Study: Numbers 14 v 21 and Acts 17 v 31.
When the Kingdom of God is established, there will be divine justice in the way the kingdom is ruled. There will be no oppression and no persecution.
"He shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears: but with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth." (Isaiah 11 v 3-5).
Then the words of Numbers 14 v 21 will be fulfilled just as the angels sang at the birth of Jesus. When Jesus is king over all the earth, there will be "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men" (Luke 2 v 14).
The last book of the Bible describes the state of affairs which will exist when God's purpose is fulfilled:
''And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God".
"And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away" (Revelation 21 v 3-4).
A REAL KINGDOM
Peter was the spokesman for the other disciples when he asked Jesus a question, "We have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore?" (Matthew 19 v 27).
The reply of Jesus is important. He emphasized that the kingdom he taught was a real kingdom in which his disciples would share:
"Ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters ... shall inherit everlasting life" (Matthew 19 v 28-29).
JESUS WILL COME AGAIN
In order to establish a real kingdom on the earth, Jesus will come again. When he ascended to heaven at the end of his ministry, angels told the disciples:
"This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven" (Acts 1:11)
The return of Jesus to bring about the last stages of God's purpose with the earth is dealt with more fully in later Studies. The teaching of many of the parables of Jesus shows that it is at his return that the righteous will be rewarded. It is, therefore, very important that we are ready for his coming.
- The Bible emphasizes the righteousness and justice of God as well as his love.
- God does not intend to allow the world to continue in its present state.
- God will interfere in world affairs and divine rule will be established with Jesus as King.
- The outline of world events given in Daniel 2 gives us confidence that the final stages of God's plan will certainly come to pass.
- When Jesus returns to rule over the Kingdom of God, his followers will be rewarded with places in his kingdom, but they need to be ready for his coming.
PASSAGES FOR BIBLE READING
Isaiah 11; Isaiah 35; Matthew 19 & 25; Daniel 2.
STUDY 3 TEST
Check the correct answer to each question, and then submit them.