“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.” Romans 1:16-17
In previous studies about Romans 1:16-17, we’ve seen that God determined His plan to rescue humanity from sin and death “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4; 1 Peter 1:20-21) and “before time began” (2 Timothy 1:9-10; Titus 1:2). We also saw that God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – exist together eternally in a loving relationship.
Based on the teachings of Scripture it is our contention that God designed His ‘plan’ of salvation in eternity for the purpose of sharing eternity with people He created. We will address that purpose in this article.
“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:14-16
Jesus and the Eternal Offer
Those were Jesus’ words to Nicodemus, a Pharisee and ruler of the Jews. Nicodemus was surprised when Jesus told Him that “unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God,” but Nicodemus would not have been surprised by the the use of the words “eternal life” and “everlasting life.”
Another Jewish ruler who approached Jesus asked Him this question: “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16) The idea of ‘eternal life’ was not something foreign to Jews before Jesus came to earth to offer the ‘gift’ of eternal life.
Living forever was not foreign to Gentiles either. I addressed this in detail in the book, “A History of Man’s Quest for Immortality,” so I’ll be brief here. The Egyptian immortality cult is one example of the quest for immorality and belief in life after death.
“Probably the greatest physical example of dedication to the belief in an afterlife was what happened in ancient Egypt. The Egyptians believed in the resurrection of the dead and in the immortality of the soul and body in an afterlife. They believed it was possible to live after death in a wonderful place and never taste death again. That belief led to a complex system of ceremonies dedicated to the preservation of the human body after death and prayers and incantations to the gods for the purpose of helping the deceased return to life and enjoy it fully and without fear in the afterlife.” Mark A McGee, A History of Man’s Quest for Immortality, Fifth Estate Publishing, 2007, pp 218-219
Most ancient civilizations had beliefs concerning life after death. Many of those views were dreary and depressing. However, Judaism’s view of life after death was different than many of their ancient neighbors. Jews’ belief came from a personal encounter with a personal God.
“The eternal God is your refuge, And underneath are the everlasting arms; He will thrust out the enemy from before you, And will say, ‘Destroy!’” Deuteronomy 33:7
“Why should I fear in the days of evil, When the iniquity at my heels surrounds me? Those who trust in their wealth And boast in the multitude of their riches, None of them can by any means redeem his brother, Nor give to God a ransom for him—For the redemption of their souls is costly, And it shall cease forever—That he should continue to live eternally, And not see the Pit.” Psalm 49:5-9
When Jesus told Martha that her brother, Lazarus, would “rise again,” she replied – “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Martha stated a prevailing Jewish belief that God would raise the dead at the end of time.
“At that time Michael shall stand up, The great prince who stands watch over the sons of your people; And there shall be a time of trouble, Such as never was since there was a nation, Even to that time. And at that time your people shall be delivered, Every one who is found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, Some to everlasting life, Some to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise shall shine Like the brightness of the firmament, And those who turn many to righteousness Like the stars forever and ever.” Daniel 12:1-3
“Your dead shall live; Together with my dead body they shall arise. Awake and sing, you who dwell in dust; For your dew is like the dew of herbs, And the earth shall cast out the dead.” Isaiah 26:19
We know from what Luke wrote about Paul’s speech to the Jewish Sanhedrin that Pharisees in a resurrection from the dead and Sadducees did not (Acts 23:6-9). We also know from what Luke wrote about Jesus’s encounter with the Sadducees that He believed in the resurrection of the dead and they didn’t (Luke 20:27-38).
“Jesus answered and said to them, ‘The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are counted worthy to attain that age, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage; nor can they die anymore, for they are equal to the angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. But even Moses showed in the burning bush passage that the dead are raised, when he called the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ For He is not the God of the dead but of the living, for all live to Him.” Luke 20:34-38
Jesus told a parable about exhibiting true humility at a wedding feast and the importance of inviting the poor, gained, lame and blind. He then explained what they could expect to receive at the “resurrection of the just:
“When you give a dinner or a supper, do not ask your friends, your brothers, your relatives, nor rich neighbors, lest they also invite you back, and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” Luke 14:12-14
Jesus taught His disciples that He would suffer many things in Jerusalem at the hands of the elders, chief priests and scribes, be killed, and be raised the third day (Matthew 16:21). Jesus also promised His disciples that He was going to His “Father’s house” where He would prepare a place for them so they could live with Him forever.
“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. ” John 14:1-3
We see that place revealed in the last chapters of the Bible:
“Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:1-4
Jesus and the Eternal Purpose
“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.” John 10:27-29
Given all of this revealed insight from the Bible about how God chose from before time that Jesus would come to earth, suffer, die and rise from the dead so that people who believe in Him would live forever (John 17:1-3), why didn’t God just bypass creating a world where salvation would be necessary? Why didn’t God create a heaven and earth the first time where human beings would not fail and not need a divine rescue? Why?
We’ll look for answers to that question in the next part of our study on Romans.
“Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”