What we have looked at in the previous 3 blogs concerning Universal Reconciliation as it is revealed in Scripture is quite a power house of support. We still have a massive number of other verses to look at that directly bear on this subject of U.R. But instead of continuing to work our way through them (which we will continue to do after this blog) I thought it would be prudent to address an issue that might be beginning to form in your mind. “If God has promised to save everyone, why do we only see a small fraction of the world being saved?”
The answer to that, is timing. God’s timing to be precise. He has always had a weird sense of timing things, as I’m sure every Christian can attest to from their own personal experience. His timing is strange to us b/c we do not understand His ways. Paul, at the climax of his theological treatise to the Romans, before he settles down into encouragement concerning practical matters, finishes his comprehensive discourse with the exclamation,
“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!” (Romans 11:33)
God’s ways, it appears, are past finding out.
“’For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ declares the LORD. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.’” (Isaiah 55:8,9)
I wish His timing was more easy to discern. But for those of us who aren’t blessed with such a gift we simply have to trust that He knows what He is doing. I don’t presume to know why His timing is what it is, but I do hope to share with you what His timing is, at least as I have come to understand it.
To begin, Peter, shortly after that great day of Pentecost when the Spirit was poured out in power upon the disciples, was on his way to the temple to pray where he encounters a beggar who is lame. The beggar asks for money, but Peter gives him something better – healing. This miracle draws so much attention that Peter begins to preach to the crowd, telling them about Jesus by Whom the beggar was healed. In that sermon Peter makes a curious statement saying,
“that He may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you, whom heaven must receive until the period (chronos) of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time.” (Acts 3:20,21)
Notice that Peter says that Jesus has to wait in heaven UNTIL a certain time period; and this timing He is waiting for will begin the time of the restoration of all things. This obviously concerns what we have been looking at – Universal Reconciliation where all people will be restored. Scripture uses a plethora of language to describe UR, restoration being the emphasis here in this specific verse.
The word “period” used here is the Greek word Chronos and it literally means “time.” In fact it is normally translated as “time” and in the NASB is only translated as “period” a mere 2 times. The Louw and Nida Lexicon defines it as, “an indefinite period of time.” In other words it means a season. So the Holy Spirit is conveying to us that that there is a season of waiting that will last until Jesus returns, at which point there will begin a new season where all things will begin to be restored! That to me sounds extremely exciting!
One last thing I want to point out concerning this verse is that Peter declares that this “restoration of all things” has been declared by God through His prophets since ancient time! The phrase “ancient time” is literally the phrase, “a long age.” It is referring to a the previous age, the Jewish age, or the age of Law. And yet Peter is telling us that God spoke through all the Old Testament prophets and writings concerning how He would restore all things! That is an incredible statement! The New Testament is very clear on this issue, however it is somewhat obscure in the Old Testament. It is veiled. It is very similar to what Jesus said about how the Old Testament spoke about His death and resurrection.
“And He said to them, ‘O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?’ Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.” (Luke 24:25-27)
I don’t know about you, but it was very difficult for me to find even a few references in the Old Testament that declared that Christ must suffer and die and be raised from the dead! At least until my eyes were opened and I began to discern types and shadows. For most everything in the Old Testament is a “type and shadow” of things to come (see Hebrews 10:1 and Colossians 2:17). God spoke about a lot of prophetic issues in the O.T., but its hidden behind a veil of types and shadows – aka symbols.
I cannot pursue this further at this time, but suffice it to say that this “restoration of all things” is found in all God’s prophets in the Old Testament as Peter says here in Acts. This is an amazing detail that has been unfortunately overlooked. We will be looking at some of those Old Testament references in later blogs; for now we need to get back to the issue of the “timing” of all of this.
Each In His Own Squadron
Connected to Peter’s statement about the “period (season) of the restoration of all things” there is a statement in 1 Corinthians 15 that we have already examined in some detail previously (see my blog here). Part of this statement concerns timing. The Apostle Paul is giving a very short discourse to the Corinthians on the Redemption of All Things and he says near the beginning that,
“As in Adam all die, so in Christ will all be made alive, but each in his own order.” (1 Corinthians 15:22)
The word “order” used there is the Greek word Tagma (Strong’s Greek 5001) and it means “that which has been arranged in order, specifically a division, rank.” It is also defined as “a series, a succession.” It is the word used to describe a specific division or squadron of troops, with the implication that there are multiple squadrons that come in a succession; which implies a specific order. So what Paul is saying here is that all who died in Adam (which was everybody) will be made alive in Christ, but not all together, nor at the same time. They will all be made alive in Christ in a certain order; according to the squadron that they belong to. “Each in his own squadron.” The implication is that some will be part of a group that is first in line and others will be part of groups that are arranged to arrive after or later.
In fact, the very next verse in 1 Corinthians 15 tells us that after this, “then comes the end.” When the last squadron of souls are made alive in Christ “then comes the end” where finally “God is all in all!” (see the whole section from 1 Corinthians 15:20-28)
So what might that order be? I will have to defer that question until the next blog, where we will look at the 3 feast days of Israel, which concern 3 harvests; each of which is a prophetic “shadow” of the 3 harvests of souls that God will bring into His kingdom.
The Fullness of Time
Years ago, before I ever had even heard of the idea that God might save everybody, I began to struggle with the unimaginable gravity of hell (you can read about it here). It was so dark and heavy that I finally got to the point where I could not bear it anymore. I told God that I needed Him to help me bear it somehow. I cannot remember exactly how long it was after I asked God for relief, but one day, out of the blue God spoke to me and said, “Don’t worry Luke, ‘All Things will be summed up in Christ!‘”
The phrase, “all things will be summed up in Christ” is from the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. At the time, I did not have the slightest clue as to what it meant, but it brought a supernatural peace to my heart and lifted my awful burden. I had SOO much peace in fact that I began to wonder what on earth God could possibly mean by it? All I was able to glean was that it meant something good. It wasn’t until years later that I began to understand exactly what God meant by that. It’s significance directly concerns the timing that we are looking at in this blog.
To set it up, let me just say that Ephesians chapter 1 is one of the richest chapters in the entire Bible…and that is an understatement! It’s so deep and heavenly that I can’t even begin to touch it in a small article like this. One could teach an entire semester’s class just on this one chapter! If you want to know what I’m talking about, just read Ephesians 1 and see for yourself. Anyways, I only want to highlight verses 9 and 10.
“[God has] made known to us the mystery of His will…with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. (Ephesians 1:9,10 – NASB)
What exactly does it mean for all things to be summed up in Christ? The New King James Version words it a little more clearly,
“[God has] made known unto us the mystery of His will…which is that in the dispensation of the fullness of times He would gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth.”
Lets break that down; first of all Paul is saying that God has finally revealed His will, which has remained a mystery until this point. This ought to excite us, we are finally, and unequivocally going to see what God’s will is! At the time in history that this was written, it was extremely exciting. God was beginning something new; it was the dawn of a whole new era. Mysteries which had been hidden beforehand were being revealed. It was a very exciting, albeit dangerous time. But what exactly was/is this great mystery that has now been revealed?
Paul gives us the answer, but the first part is slightly confusing, at least for those of us who do not think from a Hebrew mindset. He refers to, “the dispensation of the fullness of times…” Or as the NASB puts it, “an administration.” A dispensation is simply an older term that refers to a structured system during a certain time period – a.k.a an administration. Kind of like how we would refer to the “Clinton administration,” or the “Bush administration.” It’s a set time period where a certain system of structure is in place. And this administration that Paul is referring to concerns the “fullness of times,” or it belongs to/pertains to the fullness of times. That basically means the end point, the goal, the culmination of all of the ages (history/time). When the purpose of history will be completed. The plan that God has ordained for the very end. It’s the final administration that ushers in the completion of God’s Kingdom!
So what kind of administration is God going to implement? Well Paul continues saying that God will, “gather together IN ONE all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth!” Paul is saying that God has finally revealed His plan to us concerning the end of time and His plan is to bring all things together into unity with and in Christ!! This includes things which are in heaven and things which are on earth. This is almost the exact imagery we saw above concerning 1 Corinthians 15.
There is one more detail involved here in Ephesians chapter 1, namely in verse 12, where Paul mentions “we who are first to hope in Christ.” Having just mentioned how all things would be gathered together in one in Christ, he declares that we who are “first” to be gathered to Him will result in a special praise and glorifying of God. A “first” implies that there will be more groups that will arrive later on and fits in with the context of what Paul is saying here about God’s various administrations. Much like the various “squadrons” Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians 15.
This is a very fascinating aspect, which I would like to get into as it relates to everything we have touched on so far, but I will have to defer it until the next blog due to the amount of details it involves. Getting back to the subject at hand.
Timing and U.R.
Peter declared that there would be a “period” where “the Restoration of all things” begins, namely at the return of Christ. Paul declared that “all men would be made alive in Christ, but each in his own squadron,” after which “then comes the end…where God is all in all.” Paul also declared that God has finally revealed His will which was previously a mystery – namely that “at the fullness of time God will gather together in one all things in Christ.”
Did you happen to notice that each of these references concerning the “timing” of God as it concerns His end goal, each directly and specifically also address the issue of the salvation of all men? That is His end goal. God is just going to do it in different waves, or stages. A remnant is being saved presently while Christ is waiting in heaven, and when Christ finally returns He will begin the season of restoring everything else. So that at the end all will be one in Christ and God will be all in all.
God truly is brilliant, and He likes happy endings (wink). And there truly couldn’t be a happier ending than this. This, however, begs a further question…why do most Christians not understand this? Paul gives us the answer in 1 Timothy.
A Testimony Reserved For The Proper Timing
In 1 Timothy 2:1-6 Paul gives us his declaration concerning God’s will/plan/intention to save all men (as we looked at in a previous blog, which you can view here). Paul then qualifies this statement by saying that this, “testimony will be given at the proper season.” (vs. 6) In other words the witness of God’s plan to save all men, though we just saw that it is a mystery and that has been hidden in past ages but has now been revealed, is actually, paradoxically, still being hidden until the proper season.
The reason it is “revealed” is b/c we have dozens upon dozens of clear statements in the New Testament directly addressing this truth. However, this truth still remains “veiled” b/c God’s people don’t have the eyes to see it…yet. Its a sort of paradox. Though it is clear and plain and open for all to see in God’s revealed Word, there yet remains a veil on His children that blinds them from recognizing it.
“But their minds were hardened for until this very day at the reading of the Old Covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ. But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart; but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.” (2 Corinthians 3:14-16)
It is much like Christ, when He came He was a direct revelation of God and yet God’s own people were blinded from recognizing Him. Even Christ’s disciples after His resurrection didn’t recognize Him even when He was explaining the Scriptures to them! (see Luke 24) And Christ is the Word (John 1:1-4). The Word is an incarnation, it is God given to us through a physical form. Therefore what applies to Christ, applies to the Word. Christ’s own disciples did not understand Him, and Christ’s disciples still do not understand all that He has spoken to us through His Word.
Getting back to 1 Timothy, Paul declares that this testimony, or witness of God’s plan to save all men is reserved for a certain season. Lets take a closer look.
“First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men…This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who will have all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time.” (1 Timothy 2:1-6)
Lets look at exactly what Paul is communicating here.
First off notice that Paul strongly urges that “entreaties, prayers, petitions and thanksgivings be made on behalf of all men.” Paul then declares that this action of praying for all men is “good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior.” And that the reason that God is so pleased with us praying for all men is because He Himself “will have all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth!”
It delights God because you are agreeing with His plan and purposes! You are acknowledging that His ways are good. One of the hardest things for us to do is to “love our enemies and pray for those who treat us wrong.” (Matthew 5:44). So when we offer up prayers for all men, especially those who have treated us badly, we are denying our selfish nature that wants to see those people punished. We are exercising forgiveness even when we have the legal right to press charges for justice. Just as Christ did when He was being crucified and He said,
“Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)
And it is this that God will do when it comes to the ultimate reconciliation of all men. He will forgive their trespasses and conform them unto His image (through the refining fire of the cross). So when we agree with Him in His purpose (will) for all of creation, that they will be saved and reconciled and restored, we are denying our old man’s natural tendency to harbor un-forgiveness. It is in effect saying, “Not my will, but Thine be done.” (Luke 22:42)
And that is exactly what Christ did when He yielded up His will to the Father and died on the cross, redeeming humanity; and praying for their forgiveness. That is exactly why Paul concludes his little statement in 1 Timothy by reminding us that Christ “gave Himself a Ransom for all.”
But, as we saw this testimony/witness is being reserved (hidden) for a the proper season. I believe that season will be at or near the Return of Christ as Peter mentioned, when the “period of the restoration of all things” begins. I believe we are getting nearer in our day, b/c Universal Reconciliation is beginning to gain a much wider audience than it ever has in the past (at least since Augustine).
Christians who believe in Universal Reconciliation are misunderstood and somewhat ostracized. Their view is largely discredited b/c there yet remains a veil over the eyes of God’s people. But this is all part of God’s plan. Soon, very soon God will begin to open all of His children’s eyes to see the glorious truth concerning His heart and will for all His fallen creatures. May God hasten that day!
In the next blog we will explore the 3 harvests, or in-gatherings prophesied in Scripture that concern people being ushered into God’s kingdom!