Thursday, June 21, 2012

God's Ultimate Goal: Its Three Parts

In yesterday's post, I made a case for what I believe is God's ultimate goal:

God's ultimate goal is to have an intimate relationship with a group of people.

This conclusion is based on Revelation 21:1-4.  In verse 3, we find three important elements that comprise this goal: "He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God" (ESV).  If you go back through the Bible, you will find these three concepts scattered throughout scripture.  They can be summarized with the following phrases:

1)  "I will be your God."
2)  "You will be My people."
3)  "I will dwell among you."

A short survey will illustrate what I mean ...

Abraham

In Genesis 17, we see the first element when God makes Abraham this promise:

"And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God." (Gen. 17:7-8, ESV)

God commits himself to be faithful to a select group of people, and to be recognized as their god.

The Exodus

Just before the Exodus, God gives the following instruction to Moses, which contains the first and second elements:

"Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians." (Exod. 6:6-7, ESV)

Then after the Exodus, the third element is mentioned (along with the first) as God gives instructions for the building of the Tabernacle:

"There I will meet with the people of Israel, and it shall be sanctified by my glory. I will consecrate the tent of meeting and the altar. ... I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God. And they shall know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them. I am the Lord their God." (Exod. 29:43-46, ESV)

And all three elements are mentioned in Leviticus 26:

"I will make my dwelling among you, and my soul shall not abhor you. And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people." (Lev. 26:11-12, ESV)


The Exile and Return

Later in Israel's history we see these elements again.  For example, during the Exile, God promises:

"I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. ... And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God." (Ezek. 36:24-28, ESV)


Jesus and The Church Age

Even during the New Testament period, we see the same elements mentioned.  The New Covenant, which Jesus initiated with his disciples during the Last Supper, is described by Jeremiah this way:

"For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people." (Jer. 31:33, ESV)

And the apostle Paul mentions all three elements in the book of 2 Corinthians:

"What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, 'I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people." (2 Cor. 6:16, ESV)

 End Times

For this period, we have already mentioned Revelation 21:1-4, which mentions all three elements.  To this we can add verse 7 of that chapter:

"The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son." (Rev. 21:7, ESV)

And we can also add a passage out of Zechariah:

"In the whole land, declares the Lord,
    two thirds shall be cut off and perish,
     and one third shall be left alive.
And I will put this third into the fire,
    and refine them as one refines silver,
    and test them as gold is tested.
They will call upon my name,
    and I will answer them.
I will say, ‘They are my people’;
    and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God.’” (Zech. 13:8-9, ESV)



From all this we can see that God's ultimate goal of sharing an intimate relationship with a group of people is comprised of three elements:
      "I will be your God."
      "You will be my people."
      "I will dwell among you."
Time and again we see these concepts appear in scripture, from the book of Genesis all the way to Revelation ... and the passages listed above are by no means an exhaustive list.  You will find these elements in several other passages as well.

In a future post we will dig deeper into what these elements mean, and how we can trace them through redemptive history.

Bibliographical Note: I am indebted to the work of Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. who points out these three concepts in his book Toward an Old Testament Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1978).