The Whole Earth For God: Revelation 21.24-27, Barclay

As I was reading a bit today, I came across this from William Barclay:

A passage like this enables us–and even compels us–to redress a wrong which is often done to Jewish thought. Here is a picture of all nations coming to God and of all kings bringing him their gifts. In other words, here is a picture of universal salvation. It is often said that the Jews looked for nothing but the destruction of the Gentiles. It is true that we find sayings like: “God created the Gentiles to be fuel for the fires of hell.” It is true that there is a strain of Jewish thought which expected the annihilation, or at least the enslavement, of the Gentiles; but there is much on the other side, and voice after voice speaks of the time when all men shall know and love God.

Isaiah has a picture of the day when all nations will go up to Mount Sion to be taught the law and to learn to walk in the ways of God (Isaiah 2:2-4). God will set up an ensign to which all the nations will come (Isaiah 11:12). It is God’s word of privilege to Israel: “I will give you for a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6). The isles will wait upon God and in his arm will they trust (Isaiah 51:5). Nations who never knew God will run to him (Isaiah 55:5). The sons of the stranger will learn to love God and to serve him. God will gather others to him (Isaiah 56:6-8). It is Israel’s task to declare God’s glory among the Gentiles (Isaiah 66:19). The ends of the earth are invited to look to God and to be saved (Isaiah 45:22). All nations shall be gathered to Jerusalem, and shall recognize it as the throne of the Lord, and will no more stubbornly follow their evil heart (Jeremiah 3:17). The Gentiles will come to God from the ends of the earth, confessing and repenting of the previous errors of their ways (Jeremiah 16:19-21). All peoples, nations and languages will serve the one who is like a son of man (Dan 7:14). All men shall worship God, everyone from his place, even all the isles of the heathen (Zephaniah 2:11). God will give all men a pure language in which they may with one consent call upon him (Zephaniah 3:9). All flesh will be silent before God (Zechariah 2:13). Many people and the inhabitants of many cities will come to Jerusalem. People of all races and tongues shall “take hold of the robe of a Jew, saying, Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you” (Zechariah 8:20-23). The day will come when the Lord will be king over all the earth; in that day there will be one Lord (Zechariah 14:9).

What is true of the Old Testament is true of the literature between the Testaments. The vision in Tobit is:

A bright light shall shine unto all the ends of the earth; Many nations shall come from afar, And the inhabitants of the utmost ends of the earth unto thy holy name; With their gifts in their hands unto the king of heaven (Tobit 13:11).

All the nations which are in the whole earth, all shall turn and fear God truly, all shall leave their idols (Tobit 14:6).

Enoch writes nobly of God’s chosen one:

He shall be a stall to the righteous whereon to stay themselves
and not fall,
And he shall be a light of the Gentiles,
And the hope of those who are troubled of heart.
All who dwell on earth shall fall down and worship before him,
And will praise and bless and celebrate with song the Lord of
Spirits (Enoch 48:4-5).

The writer of Enoch hears the voice of God say:

“All the children of men shall become righteous, and all nations shall offer adoration, and shall praise me, and shall worship me” (Enoch 10:21).

The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs is full of this universal hope. When the Messiah comes “in his priesthood the Gentiles shall be multiplied in knowledge upon the earth, and enlightened in the grace of the Lord” (Testament of Levi 18:9). It is the word of God: “If ye work that which is good, my children, both men and angels will bless you; and God shall be glorified among the Gentiles through you.” It is Israel’s task “to gather the righteous from among the Gentiles” (Testament of Naphtali 8:3, 4). God will save all Israel and all the Gentiles (Testament of Asher 7:3). The Sibylline Oracles has a noble passage which tells of the reaction of the Gentiles when they see the goodness of God to Israel:

Then all the isles and the cities shall say, How doth the Eternal
love those men! For all things work in sympathy with them and
help them, the heaven, and God’s chariot the sun, and the moon.
A sweet strain shall they utter from their mouths in hymns. Come,
let us all fall upon the earth and supplicate the Eternal King, the
mighty, everlasting God. Let us make procession to his Temple,
for he is the sole Potentate. And let us all ponder the law of the
Most High God, who is the most righteous of all upon the earth.
But we had gone astray from the path of the Eternal, and with
foolish heart worshipped the work of men’s hands, idols and images
of men that are dead (Sibylline Oracles 3: 710-723).

Nations shall come from the ends of the earth to see the glory of God (Wisdom of Solomon 17:34).

When John pictured the nations walking in the light of the city of God and the kings bringing their gifts to it, he was foretelling the consummation of a hope which was always in the hearts of the greatest of his countrymen.

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