Can God Really Fulfill His Oath?
In Deut. 29:15 Moses speaks of “those who are not with us here today” who were yet to come under the New Covenant and become “My people.” Moses then explains in clearer fashion who he is referencing in verses 16 and 17,
16 (for you know how we lived in the land of Egypt, and how we came through the midst of the nations through which you passed. 17 Moreover, you have seen their abominations, and their idols of wood, stone, silver, and gold, which they had with them);
This parenthetical explanation tells us the reason those other people were “not with us here today.” Their faith was in other gods. It is amazing, then, that Moses would include them in the New Covenant, even though they had not joined the Israelites when they came out of Egypt. Many did join Israel (Exodus 12:38), but the majority did not. But could it be that even those idolaters would be included in the New Covenant in the end?
Psalm 22 gives us further clues, for this is the psalm that Jesus quoted (in Aramaic) as He hung on the cross to ratify the New Covenant. This psalm is entitled, My God, My God, Why Hast Thou Forsaken Me?
The title is taken from the first phrase of the psalm. In biblical times, the first few words of a psalm or book normally formed the title. (In like manner, the Hebrew name for Deuteronomy is taken from the first phrase of the book: These are the words, or more accurately, These are the Speeches).
Jesus quoted Psalm 22 in Matt. 27:46, where we read,
46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying [that is, quoting], “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?”
In other words, Jesus quoted Psalm 22 on the cross, ending with “It is finished” (John 19:30) just before He died. “It is finished” is the final phrase of Psalm 22:31, which the NASB translates,
31 They will come and will declare His righteousness to a people who will be born, that He has performed it.
The KJV read, “that He hath done this.” Young’s Literal Translation reads,
31 They come and declare His righteousness to a people that is born, that He hath made! [or, He has finished making]
The Hebrew concept of “righteousness” refers to one’s ability to keep one’s vows or oaths. Hence, we may paraphrase this verse to read:
31 They come and declare His ability to fulfill His oath to a people that is born, that He has finished making into His people.
So what exactly did Jesus “finish” at the cross? What was this “finished work”? To what end did He die? What was the purpose of the New Covenant that He ratified on the cross?
The answer is found in the previous verses, beginning in verse 27,
27 All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will worship before Thee. 28 For the Kingdom is the Lord’s, and He rules over the nations, 29 All the prosperous of the earth will eat and worship, all those who go down to the dust will bow before Him, even he who cannot keep his soul alive. 30 Posterity will serve Him; it will be told of the Lord to the coming generation. 31 They will come and will declare His righteousness to a people who will be born that He has performed it.
This appears to be a direct reference to the New Covenant as Moses presented it to the nation of Israel. Whereas Moses reminded them that many other people were not present when this second covenant was being instituted in Deuteronomy 29—on account of their idol worship—even so, God rules all nations. God is sovereign, and He is then responsible to bring all those nations into the New Covenant, as Moses confidently prophesied.
Psalm 22:29 implies that most of them will die before bowing to Him, and yet “all those who go down to the dust will bow before Him.” In other words, as Isaiah 45:23 affirms, “to Me every Knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance.” But how? Most people throughout history never even heard the name of Jesus. How could they bow and swear allegiance to Him? How could they declare Him to be Lord to the glory of God the Father, as Paul states in Phil. 2:11?
David gives us the best clue in Psalm 22:29, “All those that go down to the dust will bow before Him.” To put it plainly, all who die will bow before Him. That includes all nations. When will they bow? Will it not be at the Great White Throne after they have been raised from the dead?
When they stand before the great Judge of Creation, will there be any unbelievers in the crowd? Of course not. All eyes will be opened at that time. All men will realize their foolish errors. All will know that the idols they served during their life time were mere creations of men.
David then tells us in Psalm 22:30, “Posterity will serve Him.” He equates it to “the coming generation.” In other words, this is a prophecy of a future time, and in that day, “they will come and will declare His righteousness” (Psalm 22:30). Biblical righteousness is more than mere justice. It is God’s ability to make good on His vow.
God’s Ability to Turn Hearts by His Judgments
The New Covenant oath, Moses says in Deut. 29:13 is “that He may establish you today as His people and that He may be your God.” This is something that God is vowing to do. Jer. 31:33 affirms this, saying, “I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.”
Can God actually fulfill His promise? Does He have the ability and the power to fulfill His oath and to change the hearts of all men, whether they were present among the Israelites in Moses’ day or not? Yes, indeed, He is a righteous God, and when all who go to the dust rise again and swear allegiance to Him at the Great White Throne, it will be, as Paul says, “to the glory of God the Father.”
In other words, as David says in Psalm 22:31, “they will come and declare His righteousness.” The Hebrew word for “declare” is nagad, “to stand out boldly, announce, to expose, predict, explain, praise.” When the ex-idolaters of the earth boldly testify by personal knowledge and experience that the true God of Creation was actually able to change the hearts of all who gone into the dust, this declaration will be proclaimed “to the glory of God the Father.”
That is the finished work of Christ. That is what He “performed” (NASB) on the cross. That is what was “done” (KJV). These are the people “that He hath made” (Young’s Literal Translation).
Not all yet recognize this, of course, but in the end, He will manifest Himself to all at the Great White Throne, and all will swear allegiance to Him. Then in the age that follows, they will learn righteousness at the mouth of those who rule and reign with Christ. Those who are given “life” at the Great White Throne will receive authority to teach and to train the ex-idolaters in the ways of God.
The final result will be that God will write His laws upon the hearts of all men. The finished work of Christ established this FACT. The TIMING of this, however, is another matter.
The overcomers will be the first fruits who will receive the reward of “life.” The first-fruits company will be raised in the first resurrection that is explained in Rev. 20:4-6. The generation of overcomers who are living in that day will be “changed” without dying (1 Cor. 15:51) and will then be joined as one body to those who were resurrected. Together, they will rule as king-priests of God and of Christ for the next thousand years.
The rest of the believers will be given “life” at the end of this thousand years. They will receive their reward of immortality at the same time that the unbelievers are raised for judgment at the Great White Throne. In John 5:28, 29 Jesus says,
28 Do not marvel at this, for the hour is coming in which all who are in the tombs shall hear His voice, 29 and shall come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.
We see from this that there is a resurrection in which both good and evil men will be raised at the same time. The believers will be given “life,” while the unbelievers will receive “judgment.” This particular resurrection is NOT the first resurrection, which is limited to those believers who are called to rule and reign with Christ (Rev. 20:5, 6). Jesus was referring to the general resurrection a thousand years later.
The unbelievers among them will become believers when they see the glory of God, and they will declare their allegiance to Him and be filled with the Spirit. This will begin the divine process of writing the “fiery law” (Deut. 33:2) in their hearts, which had not occurred during their former life on earth. This is the “lake of fire,” baptism of fire, the divine judgment that the Spirit of God executes upon all flesh, either in this life time or in that which is to come.
God’s Holiness Demands Keeping His Vow
The judgments of God could never thwart, contradict, or work against His promise. This is a basic truth that is little understood in the church today. Many think that the holiness of God forbids Him to save those who come under judgment at the Great White Throne. But the opposite is true.
The holiness of God demands that He should fulfill His New Covenant oath. His unconditional vow put His reputation on the line. It challenged His ability to change the hearts of men. Will God’s holiness thwart His sovereignty and cause Him to break His oath? No, God’s wisdom will always find a way for His holiness to work in concert with His sovereignty.
The underlying assumption among many Christians is that there is no salvation after a person dies. But such a view makes God’s holiness work against His promise and against His desire (and will) to save all men. Scripture never says that there is no salvation beyond the grave.
In fact, in the law itself, God provided two Passovers in order to prophesy that there are two opportunities to be justified by faith in the blood of the Lamb of God. (See Num. 9:9-11.) This prophesies that if a man is far away from God and does not keep the Passover, he is commanded to keep the Passover in the second month. There are, therefore, two opportunities in the law to be justified by faith in the blood of the Lamb.
Further, the promise of the New Covenant does not depend upon man’s will, as did the Old Covenant. If man’s will were more powerful than God’s will, then one might conclude that God was unable to write His law upon the hearts of most men. It really comes down to the question of power. Does God really have the ability to write His law upon the hearts of all men? Or is His ability limited by the power of men to resist His will?
In my view, God is able. When the Israelites believed the evil report of the ten spies, Moses reminded God that the nations might say that God was not able to bring Israel into the Promised Land (Num. 14:16). God’s answer is given in Num. 14:21,
21 but indeed, as I live, all the earth will be filled with the glory of the Lord.
In other words, not only will God bring Israel into the Promised Land, but He intends to fill the whole earth with His glory. Is God able to do that? I believe so.
He proved His ability when He changed the heart of Saul to Paul on the Damascus road. If God could do this with ease in the case of Saul, what stops Him from doing it with all men at the Great White Throne? Why is death like a final buzzer, a deadline for salvation? Why must divine judgment be unending?
Judgment is Limited by Time
Most have read in their Bibles about “everlasting punishment” without realizing that they have been fooled by a mistranslation. The Hebrew word translated “everlasting” is olam. Its Greek equivalent in the New Testament is aionian. The Hebrew term refers to a time period that is unknown, or “hidden.” The root word for olam is alam, “to conceal, hide, be hidden, be concealed, be secret.”
Such time is unknown and therefore it refers to an indefinite period of time. For instance, in Num. 25:13, God made a covenant with Phinehas of “an everlasting priesthood.” It was not really everlasting, because it ended after Eli—his descendant—refused to correct his sons, Hophni and Phinehas. See 1 Sam. 2:30. Up to that point in time, the priestly dynasty of Phinehas was continuing indefinitely, but sin brought it to an end. Hence, either olam does not mean “everlasting,” or else God broke His covenant with Phinehas.
Likewise, all of the sacrifices were to be performed “forever.” Yet these ended with the Perfect Sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Again, Jonah spent “forever” in the belly of the whale (Jonah 2:6), but in that case it was only three days. He did not know how long he would be in the whale’s belly, for that time was hidden from him.
The same is true with the New Testament Greek word aionian. It is the adjective form of aion, “eon, age.” When Jesus spoke of “the end of the age” in Matt. 13:40, He did not specify how long the age was. It was an unknown and indefinite time period, but sooner or later, it would “end.”
And so the time of divine judgment is said to be aionian, an indefinite period of time, ending finally with the Creation Jubilee in order that the law of Jubilee might be fulfilled.
For a more complete study of this, see chapter 5 of my book, The Judgments of the Divine Law.