God’s justice for the world: The story from Genesis to Revelation

The following is an excerpt from the fifth study of the study guide Talking about: Poverty (which can be found by following the link here). It outlines the biblical story from Genesis to Revelation, and seeks to succinctly summarise what it has to say about God’s heart for the poor.

The biblical narrative starts with God creating human beings as his image-bearers (Genesis 1:26-27). Their role is to be his vice-regents to rule over and care for his good creation. But Adam disobeyed God, and sin and death entered the world (Genesis 3:1-24; Romans 5:12-14). The history of Israel shows that the dominion of sin and death manifests itself in terms of dehumanising behaviours between individual humans and within societies. Systemic social and economic exploitations are part and parcel of this sin-bound world. But God has not abandoned his image-bearers. He called Abraham and his descendants to be a blessing to the peoples of the world, and they are to do what is just and right (Genesis 12:1-3; 18:17-19). God rescued Israel out of Egypt, and called them to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exodus 19:5-6). He set them apart and gave them the Law. An important part of the Law consisted of decrees regarding a just society, which included the Jubilee regulations and justice for widows, fatherless and resident foreigners (Exodus 22:21-22; Leviticus 19:33-34; 25:1-43; Deuteronomy 10:18; 15:1-18; 24:17-22). These instructions ensured that Israelites would never permanently lose the land allotted to them (Leviticus 25:23-24) and that they would not be treated as slaves (Leviticus 25:39-43). Through these regulations, periodic redistribution of wealth was instituted to ensure that the poor were not exploited.

As Israel’s story continued, the reign of king David was characterised by his just and righteous rule (2 Samuel 8:15). But as we have seen in our studies, Israel failed to maintain justice for the poor and oppressed (Isaiah 1:16-17; 21-23, 26-28; 58:6-7; Amos 2:6-7; 5:9, 11-12, 15, 21-24; 8:4-6; Micah 3:1, 9-12; 6:6-8). God called the prophets to advocate with the poor by holding their duty-bearers – that is, the religious and political leaders of Israel – accountable. Unfortunately, Israel’s idolatry and injustice eventually led them into exile.

Despite their rebellion, God has not abandoned Israel or humankind. The prophet Jeremiah foretold that from David’s line there would a Righteous Branch, who would do what is just and right (Jeremiah 23:5; 33:15). As the drama of Scripture continues, we see the story of Jesus emerge, who was born as a descendant of David. Luke 2:7 tells us that Jesus was born in a manger, a feeding trough for animals. He came to proclaim good news to the poor (Luke 4:16-19; 6:20-23), and ministered with healing and acts of mercy. He came to gather a new people of God from all socioeconomic backgrounds, who would take up the cross and follow him wholeheartedly. In the Book of Acts, we see the expansion of this community of believers throughout the world. The apostles proclaimed the death and resurrection of Jesus to the peoples of the nations, that through repentance and faith their sins may be forgiven (Acts 2:38; 5:31; 10:43; 13:38; 17:30; 20:21; 26:18, 20). The apostles ministered with word and sign, and the people of God shared their possessions with each other (Acts 2:42-47; 3:1-10; 4:32-35).

In view of the Christ-story, the apostle Paul looks back to the creation stories in Genesis, and speaks of believers’ liberation from the dominion of sin and death through Christ’s death and resurrection (Romans 5:12-21). He believes that Christians are being conformed to the image of the Son (Romans 8:29; 2 Corinthians 3:18), who is the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15). Paul thinks that God’s project of salvation is about the reversal of the effects of Adam’s disobedience, so that those who are in Christ may bear his image again. This image-bearing is be lived out in a love-centred Christ-community, in which God’s people will honour one another regardless of their socioeconomic statuses and ethnic backgrounds (Romans 12:9, 10, 16). They will practise hospitality, welcome strangers and weep with those who weep (12:11, 15). They will not repay evil with evil, but repay evil with good (12:17-21).

Paul looks forward to the day when believers will be raised and the whole creation will be renewed (Romans 8:19-23). God’s triumph over evil will be complete. Sin and death will no longer reign. There will be no more poverty or social injustice. God’s image-bearers will once again reign as his vice-regents. Such a picture is found in Revelation. There will be no more death, mourning or pain, and there will be healing. God will dwell with humankind in a new heaven and new earth (Revelation 21:1-8; 22:1-5).

So, from Genesis to Revelation we see God at work. We are called to participate in this biblical narrative and life-giving project of God.

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