Oh, Happy Day!
by Warren Gage
At the end of Tolkien’s classic The Lord of the Rings, Sam Gamgee unexpectedly sees his beloved Gandalf and out of an overwhelming joy dares to ask, “Is everything sad going to come untrue?” No statement of a serendipitous hope could better capture the sense
of the victory anticipated by the early church when Christ came forth from the tomb. After the Lord’s triumph over death, the dynamic of judgment in the New Testament account of redemptive history seems to go into reverse. For example, simply reading through Revelation gives the sense that everything tragic in history is being undone. There is an orderly rehearsal of the sounding of seven trumpets (Rev. 8:6) that will cause the fall of a wicked city, which reminds us of Jericho and the conquest of Joshua. Then the redeemed stand on the sea of glass and sing the Song of Moses (Rev. 15:2–3), which recalls the Red Sea deliverance of exodus. Finally, we behold a new garden with its river, tree of life, and virginal bride (Rev. 21:2; 22:1–2), all of which prompts us to remember the original garden of Eden in Genesis. In other words, as we go forward in Revelation, we are actually retracing the history of redemption back through Joshua and exodus, until we arrive again in the paradisal garden of God in a new Genesis.
The same sense that history is in a reverse mode informs Paul’s promise that the earth, the ancient womb of Adam, will again enter into labor pains to bring forth the sons of God (Rom. 8:22–23), and thus the original promise of the Gospel announced in Eden will be fulfilled as Satan is crushed under the foot of the church (Rom. 16:20). Similarly, Peter challenges suffering believers to look for a new heavens and a new earth, which will soon replace the present world marred by judgment and death (2 Peter 3:13).
The idea that Christ’s victory has reversed the judgments of Genesis is likewise found in the Book of Acts. Luke reports three “road narratives,” each of which recounts a remarkable salvation story as the Gospel goes forth from Jerusalem. The first is the road from Jerusalem to Gaza (Acts 8:26), which witnesses the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch. The second is the road to Damascus (Acts 9:3), which witnesses the conversion of Saul of Tarsus. The third is the road from Joppa to Caesarea (Acts 10:23–24), which witnesses the conversion of Cornelius. By a carefully structured narrative, Luke demonstrates that the Gospel of Christ is now unifying representatives of all the nations descended from the three sons of Noah originally scattered throughout the earth in the judgment of Babel. According to the traditional reckoning, the Ethiopian is a son of Ham; Saul, a Jew, is a son of Shem; and Cornelius, a Roman centurion, is a son of Japheth. While the judgment of Babel had divided the nations, the Gospel of Jesus is now restoring the unity of man under God. In short, the nations once under the judgment of God are now being brought under His blessing.
One of the most striking reversals of judgment is seen when we compare the confusion of tongues at Babel with the gift of tongues experienced by the church in Jerusalem. Genesis reports that the whole world originally had one language and one speech. The Babel builders set out to reach heaven with their tower, thus to make a name for themselves. God came down and confused their language, and they were scattered over the face of the earth (Gen. 11:1–9). A catalog of the nations God scattered, which happens as result of Babel’s disobedience, is recorded for us in Genesis 10.
On Pentecost, after the resurrection of Jesus, the judgment of Babel is reversed as Jews scattered throughout the whole world gather in Jerusalem, and Luke gives us a table of the nations of the Jewish dispersion (Acts 2:8–11). The church assembles with one accord in one place (Acts 2:1). Christ, rather than man, has been exalted to heaven (Acts 2:32–33), and His name alone under heaven gives salvation to men (Acts 4:12). Once again God comes down, but this time He reverses the confusion of language so that everyone hears the mighty works of God in his own tongue (Acts 2:11). Thereafter they are scattered into all the earth, proclaiming the word of the saving mercy of God (Acts 8:1, 4).
The evangelist John likewise depicts the reversal of the judgment upon Babel. John portrays Jerusalem as “spiritual” Babel (Greek: “Babylon”) by revealing her character as a place of the confusion of languages and rebellion against God (compare Rev. 16:19 and John 19:20; see also Rev. 11:8). But as ancient Babel was a city built up to heaven by the rebellion of man (Gen. 11:4), New Jerusalem is a city descending from heaven as a gift of God (Rev. 21:2). Ancient Babel was a city built of mud-dried brick and crudely mortared together with bitumen and pitch (Gen. 11:3). But New Jerusalem
will be a city that is golden and gleaming and adorned with glittering jewels (Rev. 21:18–21). For we are promised a city whose builder is God alone, and He will reverse all our judgments and make them into everlasting bliss and blessing. Then everything sad will come untrue indeed!