John Donne preached the following on Christmas evening in 1624:
God made sun and moon to distinguish seasons, and day, and night, and we cannot have the fruits of the earth but in their seasons: But God hath made no decree to distinguish the seasons of his mercies; In Paradise, the fruits were ripe, the first minute, and in heaven it is alwaies Autumne, his mercies are ever in their maturity. We ask panem quotidianum, our daily bread, and God never sayes you should have come yesterday, he never sayes you must come againe tomorrow, but to-day if you will heare his voice, to-day he will heare you. If some King of the earth have so large an extent of Dominion, in North and South, as that he hath Winter and Summer together in his Dominions, so large an extent East and West, as that he hath day and night together in his Dominions, much more hath God mercy and judgment together: He brought light out of darkness, not out of a lesser light; he can bring thy Summer out of Winter, though thou have no Spring; though in the wayes of fortune, or understanding, or conscience, thou have been benighted till now, wintred and frozen, clouded and eclypsed, damped and benummed, smothered and stupified till now, now God comes to thee, not as in the dawning of the day, not as in the bud of the spring, but as the Sun at noon to illustrate all shadowes, as the sheaves in harvest, to fill all penuries, all occasions invite his mercies, and all times are his seasons.
Israel’s yearly day of atonement ritual included the offering of two goats. One was offered on the altar, and the other was sent into the wilderness:
Aaron . . . shall take the two goats and set them before Yahweh at the entrance of the tent of meeting. And Aaron shall cast lots over the two goats, one lot for Yahweh and the other lot for destruction. And Aaron shall present the goat on which the lot fell for Yahweh and use it as a sin offering, but the goat on which the lot fell for destruction shall be presented alive before Yahweh to make atonement over it, that it may be sent away into the wilderness to destruction. . . .
And when he has made an end of atoning for the Holy Place and the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall present the live goat. And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness. (Leviticus 16:6-22)
James Jordan comments that this ritual has two complementary images. First, it reflects the double work that Jesus’s death accomplishes for us: like the first goat, Jesus’s blood covers our sins; and like the second goat, Jesus’s death removes our sins. But this ritual also reflects the reality of limited atonement, the fact that Jesus is a dual redeemer-avenger: those who trust in Jesus have their sins covered by his blood and enter into his throne room, but those who reject Jesus’s sacrifice will go to destruction.
Jesus died at the time of Passover, and much of the imagery surrounding the cross has to do with a Passover-exodus. But there is one key event that calls to mind the ritual of the day of atonement:
Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the crowd any one prisoner whom they wanted. And they had then a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. So when they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” . . . Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus. The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said, “Let him be crucified!” And he said, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!” (Matthew 27:15-23)
We see two men presented just as with the goats in Leviticus 16. By the will of the priests and elders (Mark also takes pains to say that the chief priests were involved), one man is put to death and one is released. Because of this atonement, the way into the holy of holies is opened:
And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. (Matthew 27:51)
However, this is an ambiguous day of atonement. It is necessary to accept the sacrifice, but many rejected Jesus:
The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” . . . . After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. (John 6:52,66)
It is also necessary to confess your sin over the scapegoat and repudiate your sin. But many did not repent from their spiritual pride. John 18 describes Barabbas as a robber or brigand, using the same word that Jesus uses in Matt. 21 and Luke 19 to describe what had become of his house. Far from sending the sin of Barabbas into the wilderness, the priests welcomed his sin into God’s house. And so, since they did not send their own sin to destruction, destruction itself came to Jerusalem in AD 70, Jerusalem that had become Babylon, the ultimate apostate church (Rev. 11:8 taken together with Rev. 18:10ff).
[Jesus] ascended into heaven,
and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. (Apostles’ Creed)
When will this coming of Jesus be? We cannot know for sure, but the Bible gives us some helpful clues.
One clue is a prophecy made by David:
Yahweh says to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand,
until I make your enemies your footstool.” (Psalm 110:1)
Jesus will remain seated until his enemies become his footstool. This is an ambiguous image—they may become his footstool either in repentance or in judgment. Closely related to this, we have the great commission that Jesus gives to his church:
Go therefore and disciple all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:19-20)
This has echoes of God’s promise to Abraham that “in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 22:18). This promise was partially fulfilled at times in the Bible. For example, Joseph became a father to Pharaoh (Gen. 45:8) and ministered to “all the earth” (Gen. 41:56). Much later, through Esther, God’s supremacy was proclaimed “in every province and in every city” of a global empire, so that many peoples were converted (Esther 8:17).
There is no reason to doubt that the gospel of Jesus (the greater Ahasuerus) will be successful in accomplishing the great commission, as the church (the greater Esther) offers her own life for the world. God declares that it is too small a thing for him to save few people or nations:
“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
to raise up the tribes of Jacob
and to bring back the preserved of Israel;
I will make you as a light for the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:6)
But so far we have no indication of timing, only of context. In Joseph’s case, the entire world came to Joseph in fourteen years. In Esther’s case, many nations were converted in nine months. God made David’s and Solomon’s enemies to be at peace with them in a matter of decades.
However, the Bible gives us a time-related clue in another one of God’s promises:
Know therefore that Yahweh your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations.(Deuteronomy 7:9)
If we take a generation to be 40 years (the time Israel spent in the wilderness, the reign of a king), then God promises to show faithfulness for 40,000 years. There is some elegance to taking this number, because it makes the old covenant, which spanned 4,000 years, to be a tithe of all of history. However, in other places God speaks of plural thousands of generations (Exodus 20:5-6, 34:6-7, Deut. 5:9-10, Jer. 32:18). And in another case when God lays claim to thousands, we take it to be an understatement, not an overstatement:
For every beast of the forest is mine,
the cattle on a thousand hills. (Psalm 50:10)
So it seems that 40,000 years may be a bare minimum.
Perhaps it is not just the earth, but the universe, that God intends for us subdue.
See also: The future of Jesus
Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while. (Revelation 20:1-3 ESV)
If you are an amillennialist or a postmillennialist, this verse poses a little problem. How can it be that Satan is bound, and yet he also “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8)?
The answer is that, especially for a spiritual being like Satan, binding may refer to something other than total physical restraint. In Satan’s case, it refers to a sort of covenantal or legal restriction placed upon Satan by God. He is not allowed to “deceive the nations” while the church undertakes to disciple the nations, but he may still “prowl around.”
Consider Romans 7:2, which uses the same word but in this legal or covenantal sense:
For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage.
In this sense, it is proper to speak of ourselves as bound to God, and even to speak of God as bound to us. Calvin writes of God’s “mutually bind[ing] himself to us without having to do so.”
Consider Nathan Wilson’s Empire of Bones, a fun and swashbuckling young adult novel (part of a series, not yet complete) that has a major character singing Psalm 22, singing it joyously—for the joy set before him, as he gives his life in the hope of saving others. With a small quote it’s impossible to capture the intense build-up that has brought the book and series to this point, but here is the bittersweet moment:
Surrounded completely, the Captain’s blade was still fast enough to keep the ring from closing. He laughed as he fought, and his smile was as grim as any reaper’s. And then he began to sing. His accent and his effort slurred his words, but Diana recognized the song. Her own mother sang it in the kitchen, and her happiness in the singing always belied the sorrow of the words.
The Captain sang and he danced and he slashed the ring around him. He sang even when Radu’s chain found his legs and lightning forked from the links and felled him. He sang as the transmortals tore the blade from his hand, grabbed his wrists, and stretched his shaking oak-strong arms out from his sides.
He was singing as they tore off his breastplate, and singing as Rupert pulled Diana back from the rail, away from what was about to happen.
“You are no immortal,” Radu spat. “You are a beggar with a scrap of Odyssean Cloak hidden beneath your skin.”
“Their mouths they opened wide on me,” the Captain sang. “Upon me gape did they, like to a lion ravening and roaring for his prey. For dogs have compassed me about; they pierced my—”
The Captain’s voice broke into a shout of pain, and then he sang on, louder still, filling the vaults with what sounded like triumph, like joy.
John Smith was ready to sail.
Diana shook as Rupert pulled her away. But she heard the beastly snarl as the scrap of Odyssean Cloak was taken from inside the Captain’s chest. She heard a blade sing. The snarling stopped. Mocking laughter began.
He is even strung out in the shape of a cross.
After this I looked, and the sanctuary of the tent of witness in heaven was opened, and out of the sanctuary came the seven angels with the seven plagues, clothed in pure, bright linen, with golden sashes around their chests. And one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God who lives forever and ever, and the sanctuary was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from his power, and no one could enter the sanctuary until the seven plagues of the seven angels were finished. Then I heard a loud voice from the temple telling the seven angels, “Go and pour out on the earth [or land] the seven bowls of the wrath of God.” (Revelation 15:5-16:1)
Summarizing James Jordan, the bowls of Revelation constitute a kind of day of at-two-ment. Seven mediators, dressed in linen, come from the cherubim-throne and issue a return-to-sender for centuries of offering bowls, tribute bowls, purifying bowls, and seven-fold sprinklings. This is poured out not only upon the unbelieving land of Israel, but upon the entire old-covenant and old-creation world where Israel served as mediator for the nations.
After Jerusalem falls, Jesus is the only mediator left standing, the fountainhead of the new creation and the greater Solomon to whom kings and nations must gather.