We are all dismayed at the death of every single soldier (hopefully, whether friend or enemy) who has perished in Iraq. The killing of 23-year-old S.Sgt. Morgan Kennon on Nov. 7, 2003, touched many of us in particular.
He became Memphis, Tennessee's, first soldier to be eulogized as a war casualty of the second Iraq conflict. A USA Today feature article said that Morgan Kennon "was a religious man whose poetry gave voice to private feelings and who fussed over a family left in Memphis" (Dec. 24, 2003).
While reassuring his mother during their last transatlantic telephone conversation, he told her "not to worry...'God has a plan for me'" (emphasis added). Though a precious life was lost in a split second due to a rocket-propelled grenade, and his family was shattered with grief, the divine plan of God transcends every human death.
His girlfriend in Texas said: "I always thought there was something special about him." Though every prospective bride probably feels this way about her future husband, she is so right. Every human being is important to God—special to Him. Which normal family does not regard their children in that manner? My wife Jan and I have three children and each one is special to us.
The Bible's first book tells us that men and women were made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). God does things step-by-step. In other words, God plans!
God's overall plan can be discerned in the voluminous pages of the Bible. Yet it may be compared to a jigsaw puzzle in the sense that vital bits and pieces of that plan are discovered in different books. It is the Church's sacred task to preach it to this world—crafting it together correctly, "rightly dividing the word of truth" as the Bible puts it (2 Timothy 2:15).
Mankind's part in the plan began in the Garden of Eden. The first 11 chapters of Genesis summarize approximately 2,000 years of the activities of humankind. Beginning with chapter 12 the Creator abruptly narrows our focus to the one patriarch Abraham (Abram) and his progeny. His grandson Jacob (Israel) had 12 sons and most of the Hebrew Bible is concerned with how their descendants played their part on the world scene.
We are introduced to Hebrew prophets, priests, judges and kings as we progress through the Old Testament—culminating in the arrival of Jesus Christ on this earth some 2,000 years ago. He appointed His apostles who guided the early New Testament Church.
God's great plan revealed
Always God is working toward a grand goal—the climax of His purpose on earth. The book of Ephesians gives us an awe-inspiring insight into His objective. The subject of the first chapter is the divine activities and purposes of "the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (verse 3, Revised English Bible). The apostle Paul explained: "In Christ our release is secured and our sins forgiven through the shedding of his blood. In the richness of his grace God [the Father] has lavished on us all wisdom and insight" (verses 7-8, REB).
The sacrifice of Christ constitutes that important first basic step in God's majestic plan of salvation. That sacrifice was not an afterthought, but was envisioned from the beginning. Revelation 13:8 tells us that "the Lamb [was] slain from the foundation of the world." Nonetheless, a subsequent passage in Ephesians shows other essential steps.
Notice the incredible impact of this first fundamental step and the prophetic revelation that would ensue. "He [God the Father] has made known to us his secret purpose, in accordance with the plan which he determined beforehand in Christ, to be put into effect when the time was ripe: namely, that the universe, everything in heaven and on earth, might be brought into a unity in Christ" (1:9-10, REB).
Understanding the meaning
These two verses should tug at our imaginations to plumb the depths of their incredible meaning for mankind. One cardinal point is God promises a permanent end to the divisions, chaos and confusion dogging our present world. The second coming of Christ will herald the utopian unity mankind has sought for so long.
Another important aspect is that God does things on time—according to His schedule, not ours. For instance, the first coming of Christ occurred when the Father determined the time was right. "But when the appointed time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law" (Galatians 4:4, REB). Be assured that when the time is right, the Father will send Jesus Christ back to this earth to rule it in righteousness, accompanied by a previously undreamed period of peace and prosperity.
Finally, this illuminating passage indicates a never-ending period even beyond Christ's millennial reign, when the union of God with His spiritually transformed peoples will reach the ultimate in happiness, purpose, design, planning and glory.
The universe itself (the new heavens and the new earth) will bear the marks of this unified happiness in the glorious Kingdom of God. The last two chapters in the Bible, Revelation 21 and 22, reveal the exciting details.
Not yet understood by most
God's purpose for humanity was never far from the thoughts of the apostle Paul. He normally concluded his letters with a reference to the grace of Jesus Christ followed by the word, "amen." His epistle to the Romans was no different: "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen" (Romans 16:24).
What follows is a postscript, an important afterthought about God's plan and purpose: "Now to Him [the Father] who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began but now made manifest, and by the prophetic Scriptures made known to all nations" (verses 25-26).
Other passages in the Bible show that even in Christ's time this precious knowledge of God was withheld from the vast majority, as it still is today. Notice Matthew 13:10-11: "And the disciples came and said to Him [Christ], 'Why do You speak to them in parables?' He answered and said to them, 'Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.'" Plainly, only Christ's disciples understood the true meaning of life. The Father had revealed it to them through Christ.
Even the most intelligent people cannot deduce God's plan. "But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But as it is written: 'Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him'" (1 Corinthians 2:7-9).
The wise of this world often exalt life itself as the meaning for mankind's existence. But if there is no afterlife, any such meaning will ultimately die out. As the apostle Paul observed, "If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable" (1 Corinthians 15:19). In reality, however, as we shall see later, the resurrections are an integral part of God's divine plan.
Not fully known—even by God's Hebrew prophets
Talking to His disciples, Jesus Christ said: "But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear; for assuredly, I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it" (Matthew 13:16-17).
The apostle Peter also addressed this particular declaration. He wrote: "Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow" (1 Peter 1:10-11).
Daniel said: "Although I heard, I did not understand..." (Daniel 12:8). Like him, many of the Hebrew prophets sought more knowledge and comprehension about God's divine plan for humanity than was ever given them during their lifetimes—though they had personally prophesied about various aspects of it.
Yet those who are called to salvation now in this present age have been given precious understanding of the divine purpose of God. Paul wrote about "the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints" (Colossians 1:26).
God's Holy Day plan
So far we have discussed God's divine plan in a general sense with few specifics. But the Creator has a habit of planning and acting in logical stages—a series of step-by-step occurrences leading to His overall goal—the salvation of humankind as a whole. To this end He revealed His annual Holy Days and festivals to ancient Israel when the Old Testament Church began (Acts 7:38).
These festivals have generally been thought of as exclusively Jewish occasions. But nothing could be further from the truth. Notice what God reveals in Leviticus 23: "And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 'Speak to the children of Israel [all 12 tribes, not just Judah], and say to them: The feasts of the LORD, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations [or commanded assemblies], these are My feasts" (verses 1-2). These annual festivals belong to God. They are His and they are meant for all mankind, not for one ethnic group.
Notice further: "These are the feasts of the LORD, holy convocations which you shall proclaim at their appointed times" (verse 4). These annual Holy Days and festivals happen exactly when God wants them to occur. They are specifically scheduled occasions, the dates of which may be known many years in advance. They are related to the harvest seasons in the Holy Land, in the northern hemisphere.
In briefest summary, there are seven major yearly festivals generally corresponding to the seven annual Holy Days. The first festival is the spring Passover service picturing the sacrifice of Christ for our sins (1 Corinthians 11:23-26). It is not, however, a Holy Day. Following almost immediately is the seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread, which symbolizes our living a life free of sin (1 Corinthians 5:6-8). The first and last days are Holy Days in which no occupational work may be done.
The Day of Pentecost follows in early summer and is both an annual festival and a Holy Day. It pictures the coming of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2) and is known in the Old Testament as the Feast of Weeks or Firstfruits. It also symbolizes the advance calling of God's people as His firstfruits in anticipation of the autumn festivals that picture the time when God will offer salvation to all of mankind.
The four autumn festivals
The four autumn festivals beginning with the Feast of Trumpets prefigure a time when God will intervene directly in world affairs on a global basis. This first annual autumn festival anticipates the second coming of Christ and the first resurrection to eternal life in God's Kingdom.
The Day of Atonement is a fast in which Christians abstain from food and water for 24 hours from sunset to sunset. Atonement pictures the putting away of Satan for 1,000 years (Revelation 20:1-3). The apostle Paul predicted: "And the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly" (Romans 16:20). There could be no permanent peace while the "prince of the power of the air" freely roams the earth.
An important auxiliary meaning is the poignant reminder of the forgiveness of sins made possible by Christ's atoning sacrifice.
The seven-day Feast of Tabernacles or Festival of Ingathering pictures the time when Jesus Christ and the resurrected saints will rule on this earth for 1,000 years. Peace, plenty and prosperity will be the basic norm for most of this period. The first day of this festival is an annual Holy Day.
The final festival of the spiritual year, occurring on the eighth day, the day immediately following the Feast of Tabernacles, has become known as the Last Great Day.
This last annual Holy Day prefigures a resurrection for all who have died never knowing or really understanding Jesus Christ and the divine plan of God. It will be a period of time sufficiently long to give all people their only opportunity for salvation.
This general resurrection to physical life will embrace the time when "all Israel will be saved" (Romans 11:26; Ezekiel 37). Even the citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah will be resurrected and given an opportunity to repent of their deeds and live forever in God's everlasting Kingdom.
Summing up, God's Word clearly tells us that the awesome destiny of men and women is to become the literal children of God—divine members of His immortal spirit family.
Since it is impossible to tell the whole story in just one introductory article, please request our free booklets God's Holy Day Plan: The Promise of Hope for All Mankind and What Is Your Destiny? WNP