|By: Dr. Robert Thomas; ©1999|
|There are two things we can definitely say about Gods plans: What He plans will happen, and what He plans will happen exactly as He planned. Dr. Thomas explains how these things relate to biblical prophecies.|
GOD PLANS AHEAD
We humans are wise to make plans for the future, but oftentimes our plans go awry because of unforeseen developments. God likewise plans ahead, but His plans never have to change because of His perfect knowledge of the future. The future is just the same as the present for Him because of His omniscience (i.e., He knows all) and eternality (i.e., He is not limited by time as we know it).
A classic example of God’s future planning arose in Revelation 1:1 when John, the prophet, wrote, “The Revelation of Jesus Christ which God gave Him to show to His servants—things that must happen soon” (KJV: “things which must shortly come to pass”; NASB: “the things which must shortly take place”; NIV: “what must soon take place”). Those last five words are the subject of the last book of the Bible. Last month, we investigated the meaning of “soon” and its teaching about the imminence of Christ’s return. Now we need to look more closely at things that must happen (in Greek, ha dei genesthai), words that indicate God’s long-range planning.
The expression first appears in Scripture in Daniel’s prophecy written in about 530 B.C. The ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament has the exact expression ha dei genesthai in Daniel 2:28 as part of Daniel’s description and interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream about the great statue. The corresponding English translation of the Aramaic expression differs from version to version. In the King James Version it is “what shall be,” in the New American Standard Bible “what will take place,” and in the New International Version “what will happen.”
Daniel’s interpretation of that dream explained the statue as a symbol for four world kingdoms (i.e., Babylon, Greece, Medo-Persia, and Rome), kingdoms that will eventually be destroyed by a stone cut without hands from a mountain (Dan. 2:44-45). That stone cut without hands was a symbol for the everlasting kingdom that God will some day institute on earth to replace world empires as they are known today.
Jesus, while on earth, enhanced the importance of Daniel’s initial reference to things that must happen (Matt. 24:6; Mark 13:7; Luke 21:9). On Tuesday of the week of His crucifixion, our Lord delivered His well-known Olivet Discourse. As a part of that discourse He warned His disciples about being deceived by future false christs and spoke of future wars and rumors of wars and of nation rising against nation and kingdom against kingdom (Matt. 24:4-8). In the middle of divulging what the future held, Jesus used the words dei genesthai when He said, “These things must happen” (Luke 21:9; cf. Matt. 24:6; Mark 13:7). Note His use of two of the three words from Daniel 2:28 and His endorsement of the Greek translation’s use of “must” rather than “shall” or “will.” The events of which Jesus spoke are necessary because God has decreed them as a part of future events. They have to happen just as predicted because God’s plans cannot go awry.
Then six or seven decades later the Spirit inspired John to elaborate further on these “must” events of the future, a fact He alludes to in John’s choice of words in Revelation 1:1. Jesus never said, “These things must happen soon,” but by the time John wrote sixty or seventy years later, the nearness of the predicted events had become reality.
John demonstrated clearly that he was writing in the Book of Revelation about the fulfilment of Daniel’s and Jesus’ prophecies. After covering introductory matters in Revelation 1-3, he introduced the large central portion of the book in Revelation 4:1 by using words identical with what he used in Revelation 1:1: “things that must happen.” His descriptions of special visions granted to him comprise this portion of the book up through 22:5. In 4:1 he was quoting the voice of Christ summoning him to heaven, a voice that also revealed to him that the designated happenings would come “after these things”: “Come up here, and I will show you things that must happen after these things” (4:1).
Coming immediately after Jesus’ messages to seven churches in Asia (Revelation 2- 3), “after these things” means that events represented in the visions to follow would transpire after the conditions represented in Jesus’ descriptions of the churches. Therefore, at the beginning of chapter 4 the text of Revelation is prophesying “things that must happen” after the period of the churches. These will be the events in God’s program that He planned long ago and revealed to man beginning at least as early as Daniel’s interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel 2:28.
John marked the termination of the visional portion of his book in Revelation 22:6. He did so through use of the very same words as he used in Revelation 1:1: “things that must happen soon.” “The Lord . . . sent His angel to show His servants things that must happen soon” (Rev. 22:6). The events portrayed between Revelation 4:1 and 22:6 are set in concrete, so to speak, for the future life of this earth. God, to whom the future is already present, has shown us as limited human beings His mandatory plan of what the future holds for the world. It is not a pleasant prospect for the most part because God must eventually call mankind to give an account for multiplied sins against His holiness. Our human reaction may find such severe dealings with rebellious humanity distasteful, but that will not change the future. Those events have been a “must” on God’s calendar for a long time.
We too make plans, sometimes long range and sometimes short range. Very often, perhaps more often than not, our plans are frustrated, however, by unforeseen obstacles. I remember from years back a sign that read “PLAN AHEAD,” on which the sign-maker allowed insufficient space at the end of the line. That forced the last two letters of “ahead” to trickle down to the next line. The sign looked something like this:
That is the typical fate of manmade plans. They often do not work out the way we want them to.
God’s plans are different, however. They always work themselves out. He has a plan for the future that has been in place for centuries and even from eternity past. The last book of the Bible details that plan to purge the sin that has crept into this creation and to make a new creation in place of the old one. That program entails the punishment of earth’s rebels as described in the book of Revelation.
But His plan also involves the rewarding of those whose sins He has purged with the blood Jesus Christ shed on the cross. Those who avail themselves of that cleansing through placing their trust in Christ’s work are the ones who will enjoy the bliss of the new creation in which they will experience God’s presence forever (Rev. 21:3). The decision to trust Christ for forgiveness is the most important one any person can ever make.
Note: Those interested in background information on these studies in Revelation can follow along in my two works: Revelation 1–7 (Moody Press, 1992) and Revelation 8–22 (Moody Press, 1995). To order these by phone, you may call Grace Book Shack at (800) GRACE15.