June 2, 2022

And the Land Had Rest From War

The eternal response to our longing for peace.

Adelina Alexe

Joshua, God’s holy warrior captain, lost his mentor Moses. But God had a task for him. Would he be equal to it? God assured him that he would:

With his people he should “get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them—to the Israelites. I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses” (Joshua 1:2, 3, NIV). And sure enough, as God promised, He was with Joshua: “Joshua took the entire land, just as the Lord had directed Moses, and he gave it as an inheritance to Israel according to their tribal divisions. Then the land had rest from war” (Joshua 11:23, NIV).

Many Christians today live in hope of a land of rest, indeed, of eternal rest, where we shall rule with God forever (Dan. 2:44; 7:27), in the realm of eternity where the Bible says He lives (Isa. 57:15). Eternity is a concept that stirs both wonder and apprehension. It conveys the alluring mirage of never-ending life while also raising a host of paradoxes and anxieties, such as the fear of boredom, or questions about the linearity of time, or issues on how relational dynamics would carry through.

Athens and Human Logic

Eternity was especially puzzling for the ancient Greeks, who wrestled with what they perceived as an issue of eternal regress—the idea that things can’t regress infinitely and therefore there must be a static beginning to everything. Following finite human logic, they arrived at the concept of the Unmoved Mover—a being who moved (or activated) everything else while he himself remained static. Such a being could not partake of temporality (sequence), existing instead in a timeless and spaceless realm where change was impossible because it was incompatible with their static view of divine perfection.1

Unfortunately, this understanding of eternity was integrated into Christianity early on and has persisted throughout the centuries. In this perspective, God was conceived mostly along the lines of an Unmoved Mover: transcendent, remote, impersonal, and without emotions.

By contrast, the personal God of the Bible interacts with His creation within our spatial-temporal dimension. Not only is He unlike the Greek deity, but eternity, His habitation, is spoken of in the Scriptures in temporal language. The Bible presents eternity, including God’s eternity, whether past or future, as a continuum of temporality without end (Gen. 21:33; 1 Chron. 16:36; 29:10; Ps. 41:13; 103:17; 106:48; Job 36:26; Micah 5:2; Heb. 1:12).2

Residues of Greek thinking still make many Christians uncomfortable with the idea of eternal past because it does not make sense to us within the parameters of finite human thought. But our hope for the Second Advent holds a key for understanding the past and overcoming the reductionist thinking, unbiblical view of God as timeless.

Adventists and Biblical Revelation

Seventh-day Adventists are called Adventist because of our greatest expectation of a future eternity with God in a universe free of sin. In the earth made new we shall be reestablished as landlords in our new home: a land of peace that we will enjoy for an infinite amount of time: the Lord of that kingdom “will reign for ever and ever” (Rev. 11:15, NIV); and we, His citizen-children, will share that forever (Rev. 22:5). Our faith in this promise of an eternal future leads to an equivalent understanding of the past that allows the biblical concept of eternity to inform our image of God: the Bible’s God is temporal, yet without beginning and without end.3 Just as our faith accepts a future eternity (time without end, in our case derived from God), it accepts divine past eternity (time without beginning, dispensing with the unbiblical Unmoved Mover). This eternal God has extended His unending life to us (John 3:16) through the miraculous sacrifice of His Son. Because we believe Him, there will be no end to our sinless existence going forward, after Christ returns to take us to Himself so that where He is we may be also (John 14:1-3).

Revelation 21:1-5, with its declaration on the absolute banishment of sin’s effects—suffering, pain, even sadness and crying, shows how pivotal Christ’s coming is to earth’s history, the re-creation of our planet, and the reestablishment of the universe as a place of wholeness—peace—free of war, strife, and death. Included in the events of His second coming, Christ will annihilate sin and its originator forever in what the Bible calls “the second death” (Rev. 21:8, NIV), irrevocably freeing the entire realm of God’s domain from sin’s destructive presence.

Christ’s second coming is meaningful only in context of His first, when His sacrificial death provided the means of reconciliation between humans and God (Rom. 5:10). Christ’s sacrifice earned God the right to redeem us from Satan’s domain.

The Death of Christ: Revelation and Mystery

That the death of God’s Son was the means of bringing peace to the universe is possibly the most perplexing paradox of Christianity. Peacemaking is usually about diplomacy, with violence being the ultimate resort. And it turns out that this was the very method God pursued when war broke out in His universe: Lucifer actualized sin when he questioned God’s character and ability to rule the cosmos and when he sought to establish himself as one who would be a better ruler than God (see Isa. 14:12-14). God pleaded with the adversary4 to change his ways, but pride prevented him from repenting. The universe found itself entangled in a war over God’s character, a war of insiders. Satan sought to build an empire from within, to create an alternative rulership that would take over God’s sovereignty and dominate the created realm. His strategy, instilling doubt in the minds of God’s intelligent creatures, proved highly successful: “Did God really say . . . ?” (Gen. 3:1, NIV). It was a coup struck in the world of the mind. A physically coercive attempt to take over would have been senseless. Lucifer had already witnessed enough of God’s all-powerful nature. But how does one repair doubt?

God’s answer was the patience of time: time that would expose both His character and Satan’s own. Time would disclose the result of Satan’s ideas— suffering, alienation, shame, strife, and gradual, fatal demise. And time would show the unfathomable depth and determination of God’s persistent love and care for His children and all His creation: the more the consequences Satan’s thinking showed itself, the more the beauty of divine character became apparent (Rom. 5:20). The ultimate form of God’s revelation was God incarnate, “God . . . in the likeness of sinful flesh”; and the ultimate revelation of God incarnate is the cross, where Christ’s heart broke under the weight of the sins of all humans, the ultimate “sin offering” that “condemned sin in the flesh” (Rom. 8:3, NIV).

The cross demonstrated God’s love for us in two key aspects: (1) Jesus took our punishment upon Himself; in doing so (2) He protected with His own life the value system in God’s universe. This value system involves authentic love, power, justice, freedom, goodness, beauty, etc.—all the interdependent virtues that permeate our existence as a reflection of their unity and centrality in God Himself, their source. Sadly, the actualization of sin replaced these virtues with a counterfeit values system that eroded our internal and external peace. But in the life and death of Jesus we see once again the unbreakable and unimprovable relation of these values to one another, showing us the authentic love native to God’s existence. In offering us a better grasp on God’s true character, the sacrifice of Jesus brings us to a clearer understanding of the kind of universe God rules through an authentic framework of morality—the only one that can engender and perpetuate peace.

Again, Christ’s death was necessary to protect the values of God’s moral government. God could not merely overlook sin when or wherever it occurred, or summarily eliminate Satan and his followers because He possesses the power to do it. To forgive sin without punishing the sinner would imply that God’s moral law may be trespassed with impunity. Instead, sin’s punishment is death. Sin separates from God (Isa. 59:1, 2). And because God is the only source of life in and for the universe, death is the inescapable consequence of sin. When insinuated doubt exploded into open defiance of God, and violence resulted, the rebel and his defeated hosts were expelled from heaven (Rev. 12:9). Violence—and eventual death—was the necessary response in order to reestablish peace. Gethsemane’s prayer, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me” (Matt. 26:39, NIV), shows the horror of the option Christ chose for the sake of ending cosmic violence. That prayer also shows the means by which harmony is restored and functions in God’s universe: “Yet not as I will, but as you will” (verse 39, NIV). Christ’s submission to His Father’s will restores cosmic alignment because by His act all who believe are delivered from their perversity and restored to heavenly harmony. At Calvary the Lamb of God took away all the world’s sins, undid all creation’s misalignments, and reconciled us to God (John 1:29, 36; 2 Cor. 5:20). It cost His life. But Calvary shows God accepting that interruption within His flow of existence, taking the violence upon Himself, because He valued our presence in His life more than an uninterrupted eternal life deprived of us.

Death, for all its power, is a distortion. All of God’s creation, animate and inanimate, suffers blight and loss: flowers fade; birds fall out of the sky; mothers and children die in childbirth; viruses run, in pandemic rage, across the globe; war wreaks destruction of human life and of the planet itself. Originally, our trust was to sustain a caring role in a symbiotic relationship with our environment: we were “to work it and take care of it” (Gen. 2:15, NIV). But by our sin, we and everything on earth exist in frustration rather than peace (Rom. 8:22).

Joshua and Jesus: Rest and Peace Restored

God called Abram, later renamed Abraham, and promised to bless the whole world through him: “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Gen. 12:3, NIV). God’s program involved Abraham’s descendants occupying the land of Canaan (Gen. 15:4, 5). It would take a while, using God’s winning strategy: patient time. God said, “For four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own . . . enslaved and mistreated” (verse 13, NIV). When the time came, Joshua, under the authority of the “Commander of the army of the Lord” (Joshua 5:14), brought God’s army into the Land of Promise. By human conquest and divine miracle, the land was liberated from idolatrous occupation. Israel settled into their Promised Land, divided between the 12 tribes. Bloodshed ceased, violence gave way to peace in Canaan: “The land had rest from war” (Joshua 14:15).

But then Israel ruined their own peace: “all the elders of Israel” dictated to God’s appointed spiritual leader, Samuel, “Appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have” (1 Sam. 8:4, 5, NIV). Distressed, he turned to God. God said, “It is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me” (verse 7, NIV). They didn’t get from Joshua the rest God meant for them (Heb. 4:8). A millennium after Joshua God sent news about another Joshua.5 A virgin will bear a son, “and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21, NIV). And so it was. He came to save us, bringing us peace by bearing our punishment (Isa. 53:5), so we may have peace with God through Him (Rom. 5:1).

Revelation 21 and 22 conclude the Bible story of our interrupted eternity: purifying fire will burn our present world to nothing in the grand finale of the cosmic war between good and evil. Then, on re-created earth, God will reign over all by values that make eternity desirable. Those values will become first nature to us as we continue to be transformed into God’s image. We will learn to live and reign together in peace, in a place of unfathomable beauty. But as beautiful as our new home will be, the most precious aspect is that we will be able to enjoy it in peace. God’s cosmic land will soon have rest from war. Forever.

1 In their view, change either brought about something worse or implied imperfection prior to the change, both unacceptable views of the divinity.

2 See Norman Gulley, Systematic Theology: God as Trinity (Berrien Springs, Mich.: Andrews University Press, 2011), Vol. II, pp. 174-176.

3 God’s temporality, while biblical and central to His nature, is but one of many aspects of His deity. There may well be multiple other dimensions of existence not yet revealed to us or utterly incomprehensible at this point. For the centrality of temporality to divine nature, see Gulley, pp. 166-272; John C. Peckham, Theodicy of Love: Cosmic Conflict and the Problem of Evil (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2018); and John C. Peckham, Divine Attributes: Knowing the Covenantal God of Scripture (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2021).

4 The Hebrew term satan, transliterated directly into English as the name of God’s adversary, does literally mean “adversary.”

5 Jesus is the Greek rendering of the name Joshua, “Yahweh saves.”

Adelina Alexe is a Ph.D. candidate and adjunct professor in the Department of Theology and Christian Philosophy at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan.