Have you ever seen or read the J.R.R. Tolkien series The Lord of the Rings? The final book in the series is titled, The Return of the King – a fitting title for the last chapter of our current study, Epic of Eden.
Here we are…ready to bring this amazing study to a conclusion. Let’s remember where we’ve been so that as we connect these final dots, we get the full effect!!
Way back in the beginning, Dr. Richter helped us bridge a great barrier – that of time, space, and culture.
Culturally, we have learned that Israel is tribal, as opposed to bureaucratic like us, and that the extended families live together (patrilocal) in a betab. The tribe and the betab are structured so that everything is aligned through the men (patrilineal) and under the patriarch.
Time and space – we have memorized some key people and places so that our Old Testament, aka: “redemptive history,” closets are more organized. We know that Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David are the five men we can recall to help us identify where we are in the OT story. These men also represent the covenants God has established with humanity as part of his rescue plan – that of redeeming the relationship He originally intended with His creation.
And the three place – Mesopotamia, Egypt, Canaan/Israel/Palestine – give us the geography and “real space” of ALL of the biblical narrative. Know these three places, and you can navigate the Bible’s geography!
As Dr. Richter has dug into each of the covenants with Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David, she has shown us how with each covenant God expands His covenantal reach – with Noah it was with one man, with Abraham it was with one family, with Moses it was with one nation, and that nation grew greatly under King David when God made the “forever” covenant.
A BRIEF History of the Jews from David to Jesus (as summarized in Dr. Richter’s video lesson):
David and his son, Solomon, reigned over what is now called the united kingdom of Israel, but when Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, took the throne, things went south – well, literally the nation split, North and South, around 931 BC.
The Northern Kingdom, known as Israel, was first ruled by Jeroboam, and he immediately made decisions that went against what God had covenanted with them. Jeroboam set up sites in the Northern Kingdom for people to worship so that they didn’t have to travel to Jerusalem – what made a bad thing worse was that Jeroboam led his people in the worship of other gods.
The Omride dynasty quickly replaced Jeroboam, and the Dynasty of Jehu ruled after them. By 722 BC the Northern Kingdom had so flatly refused to repent and follow God that God allowed the Assyrians to wipe them out. Get this – those ten tribes of the Northern Kingdom completely disappear.
The Southern Kingdom, known as Judah, was ruled by several kings over the years – some were godly and most weren’t. In fact, most of them led the people of Judah in wayward ways so that by 587 BC Yahweh allowed the Babylonians to drag them off into exile. The good news is this isn’t the end of their story!
The people of Judah saw the wickedness of their ways while they’re in exile and repent – they knew they were living in exile because of their own choices.
At this point, Dr. Richter said something in her video lesson that really got my attention: “The Exile and the Fall of Eden are the same – people are cast out of the place of God and lose access to the presence of God.” It’s an amazing comparison; a BIG DOT gets connected for me.
It was into the exile that God sent prophets as Jeremiah who spoke for God to give people hope (see Jer. 29:10-11). It was in the middle of the worst conditions and the deepest despair that God spoke of His plan, a plan that was for the good for His people! And they believed!
God kept His promise to send His people home, but it wasn’t until 538 BC under King Cyrus of Persia that a remnant of God’s people was allowed to return to Jerusalem. About a tenth of the people went home to rebuild the wall, the temple, and the homes (EE, 209).
Amazingly, these are the people who form the Jewish community around Jerusalem that eventually becomes the first century village that births the Messiah.
And that brings us to our final installment, the final covenant, the final person in our redemptive history… THE Redeemer, Jesus!
First Century Jerusalem
To grasp the political climate that Jesus is born into is to better understand people’s actions in the days of Jesus. Even when the remnant went back to Jerusalem, they were a “subject people,” and they remained so.
In the first century, the Jews are “vassals” to the Roman Empire. It is under these circumstances that the Jews are looking for a king like David who can resurrect the temple, throw off the Romans, and make them a free nation (EE, 211). They’re looking for the return of the King – the Messiah!
The Jews need to be able to recognize their king when he arrives – they know from prophecies in the Old Testament that the Messiah would:
- Have to be a child of David – therefore, bloodline is critical
- Have to have a prophet precede Him who speaks for God and identifies Him
- Have to be anointed
Guess what? These and ALL the prophecies (over 300 of them) about the Messiah are fulfilled in Jesus.
- The first book of the Old Testament opens with a genealogy – see Matthew 1. Matthew specifically details the ancestors of Jesus to show that He is a direct descendent of David, as promised by God (remember that “forever” covenant?). “By opening with a genealogy, Matthew is opening his gospel with a list of Jesus’ most essential credentials” (Epic of Eden, 212).
- Read Matthew 3:12-17 to meet the prophet who precedes Jesus – it’s John the Baptist! “Each of the four gospels introduces the ministry of Jesus with the same figure, John the Baptist, the last prophet of the Mosaic covenant” (EE, 213).
- And when Jesus comes down to the Jordan River and has John (the Baptist) baptize Him, we witness Jesus’ anointing. “This identification of the king embraces the tension of the institutions of the old covenant and the innovations of the new covenant, and by all lists of qualifiers, Jesus the Nazarene is identified as the chosen one of Israel” (EE, 214). Jesus’ anointing follows the prescripts of a king’s anointing under the old covenant…but with finality and flourish:
- John identifies Jesus: “Behold, the Lamb of God!”
- John baptizes Jesus: instead of an anointing with oil, John dunks Jesus under the water – the new anointing of the new covenant!
- Rather than oil representing the Holy Spirit, the actual HOLY SPIRIT descends upon Jesus.
- Instead of the masses of people in days of old affirming that “this is the one,” the voice of GOD states, “My beloved Son!”
“Behold the miracle of God’s redemptive plan: the fully human Last Adam (who is the offspring of Abraham and the legitimate heir of David) is also the fully divine son of God. In the flesh of Jesus, Adam will pay the penalty for his crime, but rather than being consumed by the great enemy, Death, this Last Adam will rise from the grave and give birth to a new lineage, a new people of God, and thereby fulfill the impossible rescue plan first hinted at in Genesis 3:15” (EE, 216).
The Messiah has arrived!
The Covenant Mediator
We’ve learned so much about covenant over the last few months that it’s important to point out that Jesus is the “ultimate covenant mediator” (EE, 216). Do you remember the theocracy? That three-person ruling body of the old covenant? Well, Jesus embodies all three roles. He is prophet, priest and king! Watch how Dr. Richter laces together all five of the men and their covenants to show how Jesus fulfills all of the old covenants:
“He is the Last Adam who defeats Eden’s curse; the second Noah commissioned to save God’s people from the coming flood of his wrath; the seed of Abraham; the new lawgiver [Moses] who stands upon the mountain and amazes his audience by the authority with which he speaks; and he is the heir of David” (EE, 217).
Jesus is now the “one mediator between God and men” (1 Timothy 2:5), and He wants to mediate God’s covenant to ALL humanity.
The Kingdom of God
Many people witness Jesus’ teaching and healing, and many believe “the Kingdom of God is here,” but where, exactly, is the kingdom?
People of Jesus’ day expect their Messiah to free them from Roman oppression and stand enthroned in Jerusalem, which is why all of Jesus’ followers have a hard time with His inaction. They wonder when He will do His king-thing. You know, like David, who slayed his ten thousands (ref: 1 Samuel 18:7).
Even the disciples want to know when Jesus will throw off the Romans so they can have their kingdom back.
In Jesus-fashion, He answers their questions with parables (see Matthew 13). The kingdom of God is…
- Like a farmer who sows seeds of wheat but the enemy sows weeds
- Like a mustard seed
- Like leaven (yeast) in a lump of bread
Dr. Richter explains a principle of new covenant theology that helps us better understand these parables and the Kingdom of God. It’s called the “already/not yet” principle. “The idea is that with Jesus’ entry into our world, the kingdom is already here. The new covenant has begun…. Yet we still await the kingdom’s consummation, the not yet. The plan is not complete until the New Jerusalem arrives” (EE, 219).
Looking at the three parables from Matthew 13 with this already/not yet principle helps us grasp what Jesus was trying to teach his disciples:
- In the already, Jesus is with them — the wheat has been planted! But so have the weeds. In the not yet — the harvest has yet to come; it is still coming. And when Jesus returns, He comes with an army to conquer the Promised Land and reestablish his kingdom on earth (EE, 219).
- In the already, the tiny seed is planted in the garden now. In the not yet, the tree grows so huge that the birds of the air will come build a nest in it.
- In the already, the leaven looks like it has disappeared into the lump, but in the not yet, that leaven, when wetted and warmed, will change the world!
“The mark of the ‘already’ in our lives is that we have already been born again (1 Peter 1:23). Our hearts have been sealed with the promise of the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 1:22), we are right now being conformed to his image (Romans 8:29), and we have begun to live the quality of life known in the Bible as ‘eternal life’ (John 5:24). But we await the resurrection of our bodies when the fleshly aspect of us is also ‘born again,’ rejoined to our already born-again immaterial selves and placed into his eternal kingdom (Romans 8:23)” (EE, 219).
The New Covenant
All along God has had a great recovery plan in process. The final step is promised in that not yet – the New Heaven and the New Earth. This is huge for us as believers to grasp – we don’t live for today. We live for THAT day (ref: video lesson 12).
WE ARE A PART OF THIS GRAND STORY!
In the already – the PEOPLE in the New Covenant “are no longer defined as the biological offspring of Abraham but as anyone who calls upon the name of the Lord and endures to the end” (EE, 220; ref: Romans 10:9-13; Galatians 3:26-29; 2 Timothy 2:11-13). And the invitation has been extended to EVERY Son of Adam and Daughter of Eve, to all of humanity as it once did in Eden (EE, 220).
We are living for the new PLACE that has yet to come. “Rather than being the land of national Israel as in the days of David, the promised place is the New Jerusalem—the restored and recreated earth” (EE, 220; ref: Revelation 21:1-22:5). That means we are sojourners in this world. “One day all the earth will be ours, but right now we are citizens of another kingdom, awaiting the time of the consummation” (EE, 221).
And the PRESENCE is Jesus, set free from His temple restraints (EE, 221). He has come to live among us and has brought the Holy of Holies to us. “Jesus has entrusted this task of housing the Presence to His church” (EE, 221; ref: John 1:14, Acts 2:17, 1 Corinthians 3:16-17, 2 Corinthians 6:16, Ephesians 2:19-22, Revelation 21:22).
“The Presence from which Adam and Eve were driven, that rested upon Mount Sinai with thunder and storm, that sat enthroned above the cherubim, now reside in you. …You and I, and we as the church, are designed to be that place to which believer and unbeliever can come and find God. Moreover, our restored lives are God’s testimony to the nations that he lives and dwells among us” (EE, 222).
In the not yet – when Jesus parts the sky, and we are brought home and all justice is served, the PEOPLE will be us, you and me, adopted as sons and daughters, and we’ll have resurrected bodies. We are securely brought home, planted back in the garden (ref: John 14:2, Romans 8:23, Revelation 19:1-6, Revelation 21:21-27).
The PLACE will be the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21!) – we will own Eden Restored! And the PRESENCE will be God among us (Revelation 21:3, 22). “At the end of all things, God is once again with his people. Access to the Presence is restored. Adam has returned to the garden. Redemption has been accomplished” (EE, 224).
WHAT WAS DONE IN THE GARDEN IS UNDONE IN CHRIST.
The broken relationship is healed.
The rebellious heart is softened.
The lost inheritance is regained.
Because “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us!” (Romans 5:8)
Because the second Adam did not fail!
What we have here is that perfect ending…to a perfect beginning. Even though in between the two bookends of perfection is a big mess, God stands true and completes His rescue plan!
We live in the midst of the rescue plan still today. Jesus has come…already. The church is His people. Take heart that the church cannot be lost. We’re part of the rescue plan for all of humanity.
And we live for the not yet.
God has sent His firstborn Son to seek and save the lost…”so that where I am, there you may be with me always” (John 14:3). There is always hope. And we can trust in the God who has been seeking relationship with us since it was severed because He has kept and is keeping His promise.
I’ll end our study of Epic of Eden with the final quote of the book – the words of Dr. Richter to each of us:
“I trust that as you read these final lines, the Old Testament has become your story, that you have crossed the great barrier, and that the God of Israel now seems anything but strange. Moreover, my hope is that you now have a fully functioning closet in which to store the treasures of your Old Testament heritage. In closing, my prayer for you is this:
May the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who delivered the children of Abraham from the slavery of Egypt and the exiles of Eden from the curse of death, live in your hearts and bring you home” (EE, 224).
Remembering our blessed time together,