The Hope of the Gospel:
An Introduction to Wesleyan Eschatology
By Dr. Vic Reasoner

The essays below have appeared in the "Fellowship" newsletter, which is the "Official Communication from the International Fellowship of Bible Churches Incorporated." These essays and others will soon appear in a book with the above title. IMARC is grateful to Dr. Reasoner for allowing us to have a sneak preview of his forthcoming book. Again, we thank Dr. Reasoner for his kindness in this matter.

The Dominion Mandate

God's original purpose for mankind was to rule this world under him. God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule..." God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number, fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground (Gen 1:26-28)."

When Adam sinned he brought the human race under the domain of darkness. Man lost his dominion over the earth. But someday the meek will inherit the earth (Matt. 5:5). Those under authority within the kingdom of God will again be given the authority to rule over this earth as God's representatives.

It is no more necessary for Christ to be physically present in order for his kingdom to be established, than it was for God to be confined to earth when he gave his authority to Adam. "The highest heavens belong to the Lord, but the earth he has given to man" (Psalm 115:16).

The Protoevangelium

The first promise that the kingdom of darkness would be crushed came immediately after the fall when God warned Satan, "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head and you will strike his heel (Gen. 3:15)." The Messiah would come through Abraham's lineage and more specifically through the virgin Mary. Her offspring would crush Satan.

Genesis 3:15 is called the "protoevangelium," roughly translated "first gospel," because it is the earliest announcement of the gospel. Here Jesus Christ is called the "seed of the woman" because he was virgin born; born on earth without man.

This verse also draws a contrast between the work of Satan and the work of Christ. Often it is assumed that Satan is in control of this world and that the Church is an oppressed remnant. However, the heel wound inflicted against Christ by Satan is only slight in comparison to the fatal head wound inflicted by Christ against Satan. Without diminishing the vicarious death of Christ, this verse implies that his passion and death were only superficial wounds in comparison to his triumph over Satan.

Consider this contrast. If the bruised heel of Christ led to his resurrection, ascension, and session, what will the crushed head of Satan lead to? While he is not dead, he is terminally ill and he will never recover.

If the infinite suffering of Christ was minor compared to the blow inflicted upon Satan, who can comprehend the final repercussions of Christ's victory!

God did not lose control of the earth, but there was a rival kingdom at work on the earth. Paul explained, "Death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses (Rom. 5:14)." Why did Paul select this segment of history?

Beginning with Abraham, God began to establish a visible kingdom on earth. He promised Abraham, "I will bless those who bless you, and him who curses you I will curse; and by you all the families of the earth shall be blessed (Gen. 12:3)." Abraham's descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies and through his offspring all nations on earth will be blessed (Gen. 22:17-18). Under the new covenant this promise to Abraham and his offspring is expanded to include the whole world (Rom. 4:13). This promise "can hardly involve anything less than the worldwide dominion promised to Christ and to the spiritual seed of Abraham in him."

The Abrahamic Covenant

This is the first statement of the covenant God made with Abraham. God gave him the astounding promise that, "all peoples on earth will be blessed through you." Later God told Abraham that his offspring would be more numerous than the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore. His descendants will spread out in all four directions (Gen. 28:14).

God's promise of universal blessing came through a very narrow channel. Abraham waited twenty-five years for the first promised son. He died without ever seeing a second descendant who was part of the covenant.

What did God mean by the promise that through Abraham the world would be blessed? The opening verses of Matthew establish the fact that Jesus Christ the Messiah is the son of Abraham. Two thousand years after the promise was made to Abraham it was fulfilled in Jesus Christ. He is the seed of Abraham (Gal. 3:16). Sometimes we restrict the influence of Jesus Christ to a very small subculture, but the promise to Abraham was that "all the peoples on earth" would come under his influence. Does it matter that 2.5 billion have never yet heard his name? The task of world evangelism has not yet been finished!

Sometimes we despair of ever completing the job, but God's promise to Abraham, when we understand it properly, gives us hope. John describes a multitude in heaven so great that no one could count them. They are Abraham's promised stars and sand. Abraham's account started with a small deposit, but the interest is still compounding. Those who make doom and gloom predictions about the future of the Church do not understand either the terms of the Abrahamic Covenant or the principle of compounding interest.

Yet until the time of Moses the law was not given. With the giving of the law, the nation of Israel was established as God's visible kingdom on earth. While the world still sat in darkness, the light given to Israel was to spread to the whole world.

The original purpose for celebrating Pentecost was to commemorate the giving of the law at Mt Sinai. It is no accident that the worldwide kingdom of God was inaugurated on the day of Pentecost.

One approach to Bible prophecy restricts this covenant to the nation of Israel and the land of Palestine, teaching that God has a separate covenant for the Church. A careful study of the new covenant leads to the conclusion that the blessings promised to Abraham have been transferred to the Christian Church. We are the children of Abraham (Rom. 4:16; Gal. 3:7; 4:28-31), we are called "Jews" (Rom 2:29), and we are the new Israel (Gal. 6:16; Eph. 2:12, 19). If we belong to Christ, then we are Abraham's seed (Gal. 3:16).

Jacob's Blessing

If we listen while Jacob blesses his sons, we will hear a promise that has global implications. Genesis 49:10-12 indicates that a descendant of Judah would always be the national leader.

The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs(1) and the obedience of the nations is his. He will tether his donkey to a vine, his colt to the choicest branch; he will wash his garments in wine, his robes in the blood of grapes. His eyes will be darker than wine, his teeth whiter than milk.

There came a time when the nation fell, the temple was destroyed and along with it the genealogical records. But before those days of vengeance, the Messiah came. He is the lion of the tribe of Judah, just as Jacob predicted.

Jacob describes the Messiah as a ruler whose kingdom extends beyond Israel to other nations. There is a hint of the universal reign of Christ in the phrase which describes the obedience of the nations. Justin Martyr (110-165 A. D.) wrote that in this prophecy Jacob predicted two advents of Christ. After Christ was manifested and died the nations would believe in him and look for his future appearance. Even Balaam catches a glimpse of this rule in Numbers 24:17-19. Micah said that after the ruler came, his greatness would reach the ends of the earth (5:2-4).

When will this reign begin? Jacob gives three word pictures which collectively pinpoint the reign of Christ as beginning with his first advent.

The first picture describes his coming on a donkey's colt. Zechariah 9:9 also declares that the king would come riding on a donkey's colt. With that triumphal entry into Jerusalem, which all four gospel accounts record, his kingdom was about to begin. Jacob's second picture describes the Messiah's garments stained with the blood of grapes. Isaiah 63:1-3 expands this picture to describe the atoning death of Christ. Calvary was the winepress where he shed his blood to turn away God's wrath. Christ trod the winepress alone because salvation is through no other.

John uses this same image to describe Christ in Revelation 19:11-16. In Rev 7:14 our robes are washed and made white in his blood. However, as our High Priest, his robe will always be stained. Notice also that John makes one change in the description. The King is no longer portrayed as being on a donkey; instead, he rides a white horse. John describes Christ as riding forth from victory to victory through the course of history. Christ still rides in conquest. His kingdom progressively advances.

In Jacob's third picture the Messiah is depicted as having strength and power. His eyes are darker than wine and his teeth whiter than milk. The groom in Song of Solomon 5:1 speaks of wine and milk. In the only other passage which connects wine and milk, Isaiah 55:1-2 describes the gospel as an invitation to buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Salvation is free only because of the price paid at the cross by our heavenly bridegroom. Christ nourishes his Church and satisfies her spiritual needs. The task of world evangelism is exemplified by Isaiah's gospel call and the wine and milk depict the richness of the gospel age.

This prophecy of Jacob predicts the expansion of Christ's kingdom on the basis of his atonement. As we visit other mountain peaks, this view will come into clearer focus. But even when the "nation" of Israel consisted of only twelve sons, an international kingdom was foretold.

A Nation of Priests to the World

Geerhardus Vos called Exodus 19:4-6 the classical passage relating to the kingdom of God in Israel. Just before Moses was given the ten commandments at Mount Sinai, God revealed his plan for world evangelism.

Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.

God claimed the whole world as his own. "The earth is the Lord, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it" (Psalm 24:1). However, the world was in darkness and Israel was to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. Just as one tribe, the tribe of Levi, served as priests for Israel, so the entire nation was to serve as priests for the world.

The condition was that Israel must obey fully the law of God. As they kept covenant with God, they would become an example to the world. While Israel failed to evangelize her world, God's plan was not thwarted. Under the new covenant the Church becomes the Israel of God. Peter picks up this language used by God in Exodus 19 in 1 Peter 2:9.

Peter describes the Church as a chosen race. 1 Corinthians 10:32 speaks of Jew, Greek, and the church of God as three categories. Around the end of the first century Clement of Alexandria wrote "we who worship Him in a new way, in the third form, are Christians." Clement wrote that God gathers from the Greeks and from the Jews into one race the saved people. Adolph Harnack wrote that by 200 A. D. the heathen in Carthage commonly referred to Christians as the third race.

Peter describes the Church as a royal priesthood. We are a holy priesthood offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (v 5). We have been made a kingdom and priests to serve God (Rev 1:6).

Peter describes the Church as a holy nation. We are the new Israel of God and the promises made to Israel will be given to us. Peter also describes the church as a people belonging to God. We are owned by God because we have been purchased (1 Peter 1:18). But there is a second meaning implied here. We were purchased for a purpose. This phrase points toward the future. We are heirs. We are a people destined for attainment or acquisition. We are destined to triumph.

These final three phrases originally were all descriptive of Old Testament Israel in Exodus 19:5-6. Peter now transfers them to the Church. We are God's chosen people.

In Ephesians 3:10-11 Paul also picks up this theme from Exodus 19 and declares that the Church is God's prototype for universal reconciliation. The church reveals God's plan in action, instructs angels, and proclaims to demons their defeat.

Daniel Steele calls this an "astonishing idea that archangels, Cherubim and Seraphim, are pupils studying the manifold wisdom of God, and using the Christian Church as their lesson-book. All of his moral attributes - love, holiness, justice, wisdom, and truth-are most clearly revealed in the heavenly places when they are seen in the mirror of a sanctified church on the earth."

Interpreting the reference to "rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms" as fallen angels, J. A. MacMillan wrote, "The Church is to be God's instrument in declaring to these rebellious, and now usurping powers the divine purpose, and in administering their principalities, after they have been unseated and cast down."

No wonder John Wesley called the church the "theater of divine wisdom." Certainly the church is no parenthesis in God's original plan. If God's eternal purpose will be carried out through the Church, how can dispensationalism teach the Church was not part of God's original plan? Martyn Lloyd-Jones preached, "The Church, far from being an afterthought, is the brightest shining of the wisdom of God. It is equally wrong to say that the Church is only temporary, and that a time will come when she will be removed and the gospel of the kingdom will again be preached to the Jews! The Church is the final expression of the wisdom of God, the thing above all others than enables even the angels to comprehend the wisdom of God."

1. Here the KJV says "until Shiloh come." Shiloh has traditionally been considered a name of or metaphor for the Messiah. Although there have been numerous attempts to suggest other meanings, whether the term refers to the name of a city where tribute was brought or the owner of the scepter or the ruler or the bringing of tribute to him, "all at least agree that this line is predicting the rise of the David monarchy and the establishment of the Israelite empire, if not the coming of a greater David. And if the primary reference is to David, traditional Jewish and Christian exegetes would agree that like other David promises it has a great fulfillment in the Messiah."

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