The Eschatology of Christmas

Joy to the World

I have heard it stated more than once that Isaac Watts’ carol, “Joy to the World”, is not really a “Christmas song”.  I suppose that could be considered to be the case, if we think of Christmas as only celebrating the birth, or rather, the entering into the world, of our Lord Jesus Christ.  If we are only thinking about the “babe in a manger”, then it is not a “Christmas song”.

Joy to the World! the Lord is come:
Let Earth receive her King
Let every heart prepare Him room
And heaven and nature sing.

Joy to the earth! the Saviour reigns:
let men their songs employ
while fields and floods rocks hills and plains
repeat the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow
nor thorns infest the ground:
He comes to make His blessings flow
far as the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
and makes the nations prove
the glories of His righteousness
and wonders of His love

When we consider, however, what the incarnation of our Lord meant, this really does have much to do with the season that we call Christmas.  Even though earth truly did not receive her King, as the apostle John wrote that even when “He came unto His own… His own received Him not” (John 1:11), He was certainly offered from heaven in a message of “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:14).

Certainly when He came to His world, every heart did not prepare Him room, and even at His birth, there was no room for Him in the inn.  Heaven spoke, but nature did not sing, and is still not singing.  The witness of Scripture is that “we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now” (Romans 8:22), and certainly life witnesses that fact.

Jesus Christ, while the rightful King, is not ruling the world in truth and grace over the nations, making them prove His righteousness.  Grace and truth surely came by Jesus Christ (John 1:17), but as even His own rejected Him, the world rejected Him.  There was truly no room for Him.

So is this “most wonderful time of the year” truly just a celebration of fantasy?  God forbid!  While they of old waited for His first appearance, and the prophets testified of “the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow” (1 Peter 1:11), they never saw the long wait in between the suffering and the glory, or the cross and the crown.  As Peter later said, “the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation” (2 Peter 3:15), so we rejoice in His longsuffering, and in the waiting period, we rejoice in Him, and wait in hope.

This brings to mind the following examples of waiting on the coming of the Lord:

Luke 2:25–32 — “And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him. And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came by the Spirit into the temple: and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for Him after the custom of the law, then took he Him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said, Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.”

Luke 2:36–38 — “And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser: she was of a great age, and had lived with an husband seven years from her virginity; And she was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of Him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem.

In studying “things to come” it is important to keep in mind at all times that the facts of what will happen in days ahead are important, but only if understanding them will lead to the hopeful waiting and looking for redemption.  The study of eschatology, or of last things, is very important in Bible study, because our understanding of things that are prophesied has an effect on how we understand the entirety of Scripture.  Our understanding of the parts of Scripture inform our understanding of all of it.  The “ologies” are intertwined.

In the above passage, we have examples of people who had understanding of “things to come”.  We read these as historical scriptures, but they were things to come in their future.  In these passages from Luke, we see Anna and Simeon, the very models to us of what eschatology students should be. Simeon was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and in waiting, he knew when saw the very Man, though still an infant, that He was indeed the salvation of the Lord.  How did he know?  The Holy Ghost was upon him, and revealed to him that he would indeed see the Lord’s Christ before he would die.  So he had some help in understanding, but be sure of this, that for the Holy Ghost to speak to him, he would have already been counted faithful with the previous revelation that was available to all, in the Law and the Prophets.

Anna also, who was in the temple faithfully serving, and when she saw the very embodiment for Redemption in Israel, she knew and was instantly able to give thanks, and speak of Him to the others in the temple who also looked for redemption.  These are the examples of the very purpose of studying eschatology — to teach us to wait on the Lord, with expectation.

Now, compare Anna and Simeon with those in Matthew’s account:

Matthew 2:1–6 — “Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, Saying, Where is He that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen His star in the east, and are come to worship Him.

“When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.

“And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet, And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.”

The wise men from the east came looking with expectation for the King of the Jews.  They saw the star, and knew what the star meant and came looking for the King.  How did they know, and why them and no one else?  Did they know from reading scripture from Numbers 24:17 — “there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a sceptre shall rise out of Israel”, or maybe from Isaiah 60?  Whatever the case is, they came and when they told what they saw to the king and people of Jerusalem, they did not see hope and expectancy and celebration.  The king was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.

What about the chief priests and scribes.  They knew the answer to Herod’s demand to know where Christ should be born.  They found the answer in the written word of God through Micah:  “And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel “(Matthew 2:6, see also Micah 5:2).  What did they do with this information: the Scripture is silent, so the impression that we get is that they closed the book and went about their business.  How sad, that they knew the proper facts, but did nothing with them other than to tell the king so that he could stamp out his opposition.  Did they know his plans?  We are not told, but they certainly did nothing with that which they did know.  We are certainly not told that they went with the wise men to see the real King of the Jews.

So we see people with the same facts concerning the Lord’s Christ, but a vast difference in what they did with the knowledge of these facts.  We study “eschatology” now, and Christians generally divide into four camps regarding “things to come”.  Eschatological facts are important, and having them correct is important too.  As stated earlier, these facts inform our understanding and interpretation of Scripture as a whole.  Our understanding of the Kingdom will affect our interpretation of our Lord’s ministry while here on earth.  If we believe that there is no physical and governmental kingdom to rule and reign over this earth (amillennialism), then when we understand the Scripture speaking about the Kingdom in a completely different way than if we see the Kingdom as the Lord ruling and reigning physically over the earth as foretold in the Prophets.

Some have what I would view as a correct view of “things to come”.  When I look out into the “theological landscape”, what is known as “dispensationalism” has become synonymous only with believing that the Kingdom is yet future, and that there will be a “pre-tribulational rapture”.  But this is not a concept born from nowhere.  Those that hold to that are considered “dispensational”, even if they reject all of the truth that led to the understanding of these two precious doctrines.  These doctrines then become entirely indefensible, and we have an entire class of Bible teachers who are only looking for fulfilled prophecy or events leading to fulfilled prophecy behind every news story.  The Word of God, however, teaches us to look for one thing:

Titus 2:11–14 — “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; Who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.”

We are to look for the Lord, and as the Apostle Paul commended the Thessalonian church for their hopeful behavior, that they learned to “wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come” (1 Thessalonians 1:10), we ought also to be known for this hopeful behavior, even though some would call this “escapist theology” and disparage us for it.  Waiting in expectation for Him, as the faithful in Luke’s gospel did when the Savior first made His entrance into our world in the flesh, does not lead to laziness, as the post-millennial will accuse, but will lead to grace living, and a certain promise of a crown:

2 Timothy 4:8 — “Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing.”

This is where our study of things to come should lead us, to love His appearing.  That is what Anna and Simeon learned, and they knew the Lord’s Christ when they saw Him.  Had they not loved His appearing, they would never have noticed those things that went on right in front of them, as all of Jerusalem was troubled, and when our Lord saw the city on His entrance, He wept:

Luke 19:41–42 — “And when He was come near, He beheld the city, and wept over it, Saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes.”

So let us not be like Jerusalem at the time of the entrance of Christ, either at His birth, or when He entered only to be despised and rejected of men, and crucified by those He came to save, but let us be numbered with those that love His appearing and wait for Him, living as He has commanded us, soberly, righteously and godly, looking for that blessed hope.

So does the carol, “Joy to the World” have anything to do with Christmas? Absolutely!  What better way is there for us to celebrate the first coming of the Lord, than to look forward to His return!

But, Lord, ’tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
Oh, trump of the angel! Oh, voice of the Lord!
Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul!

And Lord, haste the day when the faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.

It is well with my soul,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

—Horatio G. Spafford, 1873

If you are “in Christ”, then this is your hope, and you are accepted by God in Christ, because Christ is accepted by God.  All of the righteousness of Christ will be credited to you if you will simply believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and His finished work of your redemption, that He died for your sins and that He rose again.  He is all that you need, but you do need Him.

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