The Stuff of Martyrs

by Darrel Cline

Chapter Seven: The Martyr and the Twentieth Century

That God promised Abram a land, a seed, and a great name doesn't seem to have much significance to us today on a day by day basis. This is especially true since most of us understand that we are not living in a special nation with its own land grant. On this point there is a great amount of confusion in American Christianity because there are many distortions of truth floating about to the effect that America is some kind of new Israel in God's mind and intent. But that basic thesis is corrupt and the day will come when America as we know it will pass off the scene as have all past empires. Most of us live uneasily because, on the one hand, we want God to bless our nation so we can live well; but on the other hand, we have a nagging notion somewhere around the outer boundaries of our minds that God has made no land promise that includes America.

God's Program and Us

Therefore, it is imperative for us to understand God's program in light of His promises. To this end we have dedicated this chapter. We want to overview the program of God so we can trust Him more explicitly. To begin we must set forth the bigger picture. God knows that we are physical creatures who need physical provision to sustain our physical lives. He knows that we are responders (living souls) who need a strong sense of security through good relationships to sustain life in our souls. And He knows that we are creatures of spirit who need both a healthy grasp of our value, as well as a significant task, to sustain life in our spirits. But His knowledge also includes the fact that few of us really grasp our identity like He does. Therefore, He has set Himself to teach us through His actions in history. To do this, He has divided His historical labors into some significant blocks of time in which He would emphasize certain truths. The record of this division of labor-emphasis is found in the Bible.

The Foundations and the Goodness of God

The first block of time consisted of an unstated length in which His focus was upon His willingness to provide abundantly. It was contained in what we know of as Pre-Fall Eden. In the first two chapters of Genesis, the overall focus is upon two characteristics of God: His awesome power (so great that He speaks and creation exists); and His undiminished goodness (everything He did was good). Within these two characteristics we have a revelation of His commitment to man's neediness. In the physical realm, He provided a phenomenal garden for man's food needs and an enormous river (so great that outside of the garden it divided into four major rivers) for his drink needs. In a massive demonstration of overkill, God revealed His willingness to meet man's physical needs.

Then, in the record of the creation of Eve, God provided an insight into our identity as living souls who need relationships of harmony. The only not good thing recorded in these two first chapters was the fact that Adam was alone. This was corrected by the creation of Eve and it revealed God's willingness to meet Adam's neediness for relational harmony and reality. Eve was what Adam's soul needed, apart from his relationship with God. This was another demonstration of God's goodness and powerful (He created Eve out of Adam's rib--a fundamentally impossible task) willingness to act on Adam's behalf as a creature of soul. This action was supplemented by the reality of daily interaction in the cool of the day between God and Adam and Eve. So, relationally, the pair sensed no lack.

Then there was their identity as creatures of spirit who had a dual need: an identity of significant proportions, and a comparable task. So, God identified them as His sub-sovereigns in this world (sons of God). This made their identity. There is no greater status than to be God's sons/daughters. To complete the provision, He gave them a task that amounted, basically, to caring for the Garden and expanding its boundaries to eventually include the entire earth. So, they had a world-wide task that matched (in significance) their identity. It is doctrinally important that the task followed the identity. It did not produce it, but flowed from it. Without the identity, the task was impossible--as history has shown since the fall.

Thus, in Pre-Fall Eden, God used His power to demonstrate His goodness so that Adam was in a state of perfect provision for every aspect of his makeup. He had more food and water than he could ever eat and drink; he had an incredibly intimate harmony in relationships with God, another person of his own kind, the lower kinds (animals), and even his physical environment (the earth acted like it was looking for ways to respond to his labor)! The focus of this period of history was on God's good commitment to man in his neediness. It revealed that God was so abundant in His provision that man had no sense of need because before he could need very badly, the provision in abundance was already there.

The Foundations and the Necessity of Faith

But there came a snake into this perfect setting and we all know the story. Following the fall into sin, a new block of time began which ran until the flood. In this block of time, the focus of Scripture is upon two major issues: the necessity for our trust in the God who made us; and the death-effect of sin. The two are related. God's provisions are only sustainable in a relationship of trust, and without it the provisions begin to deteriorate. For a millennium and a half, humanity experienced death (the withdrawal of divine provision) on a regular basis because unbelief was practiced on a regular basis. Conflict on every level was introduced by this unbelief. Humanity was set in conflict with the earth--so the body had to toil to get the earth to feed it. Men were set in conflict with their relations--so their souls had to weep and moan because murder and warfare and violence became regular occurrences. Men were set in conflict with their Identity-Giver (God)--so their spirits were overwhelmed with a sense of worthlessness and hopelessness in the task of regaining and expanding Eden.

The major lesson of this era was that we have to believe God in order to receive His provision. But humankind was incredibly bone-headed toward that lesson. So much so that God ended the era by wiping humanity off of the earth except for one family.

The Foundations and Our Penchant for Sin

Then came another block of time in which humanity was permitted to try to live in a new world, markedly different from the pre-Flood environment. Conditions were markedly more difficult on every level. The earth was more recalcitrant. Human relationships were more complicated and destructive. And God seemed to be silent. So rebellion occurred. The rebellion led to Babel and God responded by another significant disciplinary action that contained two parts: first, He confused their languages, making it impossible for men to get along with each other; and second, He withdrew even further from the race by selecting one man, Abram, and putting His attention on him almost exclusively. The lesson of this era was that we are basically rebels. Something happened in the Fall that so deeply affected us that rebellion is endemic to our nature. We are still needy creatures, but we flatly refuse to seek God as our primary Provider.

The Covenant and the Progress of History

At this stage we come to the point established earlier in this book: the intention of the Abrahamic Covenant. Approximately 2,000 years of human history has passed in which foundations were laid for our ability to appreciate the particulars of God's covenant promises. In the Garden we were shown the ability of God to provide. In the pre-flood world we were shown the death impact of unbelief. In the post-flood world we were shown to be inveterate rebels. The goodnessness of God, the necessity of faith, and our penchant for sin: these mark the foundations. From this point, the chronological development of God's program began to focus upon the three aspects of God's covenant with Abram. The next two thousand years focused upon the land promise (from Abraham to Calvary). This era saw a nation developed by God and established in a land that flowed with milk and honey. But this focus on the outer man (the body) did not yield a significant harvest of faith in the grace of God in the face of sin's death impact. So, the next two thousand years (from Calvary to this present day) saw a new work accomplished by God in which a Church would be called out of the nations to be indwelt by the Spirit of God so that it could relate to God in the person of Jesus Christ. Relationship has been the key issue of this present era. The call of Christ has been heralded to every nation of the earth: "come to Me and find rest in your souls." But relationship is breaking down both without and within this new thing, the Church. So a new era is coming.

Since we are living in this second era of two millennia, we have to go to prophecy for the next historical focus. According to the Bible, there is yet to come a period of 1,000 years in which the focus of history will be upon the Kingdom of God on the earth in which the prayers of the saints for the last 2,000 years will be answered: "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." A kingdom of righteousness is coming in which all those who became children of the King in past eras will be resurrected to take part in the final years of this earth's history. As a kingdom, the focus on humanity's neediness will be spiritual. Each person in it will live out his identity as the child of God, heir of the kingdom of his Father.

Now, the point of all that has been written in this chapter is that God has ordered all history since Genesis 12:1 to develop along the lines of the covenant He made with the father of those who believe: Abraham. There was an introductory period of two millenia in order to establish the foundations. Then there was an era of 2,000 years in which the focus was upon the land promise. For the next 2,000 years the focus has been upon the seed promise, ultimately realized in Jesus Christ. Then, a future millennium is prophesied to come, in which the focus will be upon the great name promise: promised identity fully experienced.

The Focus on the Body and the Land

This helps us to understand some basic shifts that have occurred in God's program so that we have a firm basis for believing Him. In the land era, God's primary focus was upon His willingness to provide a land that would flow with milk and honey to abundantly supply for physical man. In that era, relational reality was somewhat veiled, for though God dwelt in the very midst of the nation, He did so in a tent, behind a veil, so that no one could get a really clear view of what relationship was all about. And, by and large, the spirit issue of the great name was only briefly emphasized in the days of David and Solomon (80 years in a span of 2,000). So, though the other elements of the covenant were present, the focus was upon the body.

The Focus on the Soul and the Seed

That focus didn't achieve significant faith or loyalty to God, so after approximately 2,000 years a major shift occurred. Jesus Christ came. And left. When He left, He left a new program in place in which His people would take His message to all the nations. They would do this without a native land. They would do it because He was with them until the end of the age. The focus on the land was de-emphasized to the point that our physical aspect is no longer front and center. But the focus on relationship has become the very basis of our lives. The soul was brought to the fore in God's emphasis for our focus. The spirit issues of having a great name were left on the faith burner--to be believed, but not significantly experienced in this world. In fact, Christians were to be subject to the humiliation of persecution and gainsaying by the world without a recourse other than God's identity as their Father.

If, in this era, we will relate to God in person, our physical needs will be provided without a specific land promise. Jesus said Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and the physical needs would be supplied. And our spiritual need for a significant identity is not made manifest, but if we will relate, we will experience God as Abba and this will take care of our need of an identity.

But this focus on our souls through a real relationship with God hasn't particularly resulted in mankind's rush to God. In fact, history now tells us that we are on the verge of another major shift.

The Focus on the Spirit and the Great Name

Prophecy says that there is a kingdom era coming. In that day, land, seed, and great name will all be mingled together to produce a utopian kingdom. But it will also end in massive human rebellion.

The point: God has consistently maintained His integrity to provide for the whole man through all of history in the lives of those who learn to trust. But He has done so with some major shifts of emphasis. In Israel's day the focus was on land with a minor focus on seed and greatness. In the Church's day the focus has been on the Seed with a minor focus upon land and greatness. In the coming Kingdom, the focus will be on greatness with a minor emphasis on land and seed. (When I use the term minor, I don't mean insignificant; I simply mean that it will take a back seat to the major emphasis.)

Summary

The Abrahamic Covenant is not only the basis for our understanding of God's willingness to provide for us. It is also the basis for understanding God's program through history. History has followed (and will continue to do so) the terms of the covenant God made with the father of all who believe. Those who believe find Him trustworthy to the specifics of His promises.

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