by Eugene Higgins
A number of words in the English language introduce the element of time into a discussion or description – words like hitherto, henceforth, after, as yet, and before. That is true of the word at the head of this email: “until.” It usually points to the future and suggests a date, a time, an appointment, a line in the sand. Persons or forces or events will only go as far as that “until,” and when they hit that deadline, something changes or is expected to do so. For instance, that is the word that marked the pivot between defeat and victory when Deborah sang, “The inhabitants of the villages ceased, they ceased in Israel, until that I Deborah arose, that I arose a mother in Israel” (Judges 5:7). For us, the “until” that is in force at present is, “until a vaccine is discovered.” Before the goalposts were moved to that position, the “until” was “until we flatten the curve.” Flattening the curve was necessary, we were told, to save our medical systems and health providers, lest they became swamped with patients and went kaput. It is more than a little bizarre (yes, I know, not “bazaar,” thank you) that the systems set up supposedly to save us, and into which no small percentage of our tax dollars have disappeared like planets in a black hole, suddenly needed us to save them. An acrobat may have performed a hundred times, comforted by the knowledge that there was a dependable safety net beneath him. It is a less than comforting thought that the first time he slips he needs to be told, halfway down, that he must adjust the manner of his falling so he can save the net. One would think that such a scenario indicates there was a fundamental problem with the net and not the soon-to-be-dead acrobat. Just sayin’.
In the scriptures, “until” is used in a number of significant passages. In your own experience, didn’t the word have a glorious application? The Shepherd sought you until He found you (Luke 15:4). Nothing deterred Him; He sought you patiently, persistently, and lovingly, until He found and saved you.
That word also plays a huge role in the prophetic scriptures, explaining coming world events and casting illuminating light, (to some degree), on current ones as well. Many times throughout history, evil and iniquity have come in like a flood, (Isaiah 59:19); but the Spirit of the Lord has always raised up a “standard”; and to these flood waters as well, God has said, “Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further: and here shall thy proud waves be stayed” (Job 38:11). Paul wrote that the “mystery of iniquity” was already at work – and that was in the 1st century AD! Consequently, we know that Satan has been perpetually prepared to push the envelope, has constantly had a hand-picked man waiting in the wings, and has been ready, perennially, to challenge God. Today, in this age of grace, it is through the influence of believers that the Spirit of the Lord is restraining those roiling, seething waves of wickedness. But the Apostle Paul reminds us that there is an “until” involved in this: “And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time. For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only He who now letteth [restrains] will let, until He be taken out of the way. And then shall that Wicked [one] be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of His mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of His coming: even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan …” (2 Th 2:7-9). The One Who prevents that tsunami of sin and lawlessness from reaching its culmination, is the Spirit of God in the Church. But this is only until the rapture, at which point the restraint will be removed. The Holy Spirit will still be present in the world, but no longer as a Resident indwelling His people on earth. It will be as it was in Old Testament days. Sadly, Reformed Theology, which denies the rapture, has robbed its adherents of the enjoyment of this glorious, impending prospect. Hopefully, they will not be too upset to go with us when the Lord descends from Heaven for His Bride.
Three times Daniel uses this word as he foresees the rise to global power of that terrible, Satan-controlled “Wicked one,” the same man of whom Paul wrote. Daniel records that his seemingly unconquerable warfare against God’s people will succeed only “Until the Ancient of days came, and judgment was given to the saints of the Most High; and the time came that the saints possessed the kingdom” (Dan 7:22). His career will be short-lived and limited by the Almighty: “And he shall speak great words against the Most High, and shall wear out the saints of the Most High, and think to change times and laws: and they shall be given into his hand until a time and times and the dividing of time” (Dan 7:25). His power to devastate and destroy will only be “until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate” (Dan 9:27).
Thankfully, this word has a wonderful bearing on believers today, as we await the coming of the Lord from Heaven. Romans 11:25 tells us that the ingathering of people from all the nations of the world through the Gospel will continue “until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.” Then God will resume His dealings with His ancient people, the Jews. That will eventuate in the return of their Messiah, the Lord Jesus, and the fulfillment of Ezekiel 21:27, where, in describing the removal of the wicked King Zedekiah, (commencing what would be the ages-long absence of an Israeli king), the Lord says, “I will overturn, overturn, overturn, it: and it shall be no more, until He come Whose right it is; and I will give it Him.”
Peter tells us to “give heed” to God’s Word “as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:19). Paul wrote that the Holy Spirit is “the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of His glory” (Eph 1:14). He further exhorts us, as to gauging the motives of other believers, to “judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, Who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God” (1 Cor 4:5). These verses, (and we can add to them Song of Songs 2:17), express the Christian’s glorious, “optimistic” outlook in a world that is rapidly darkening:
- Until the day dawns
- Until the Day Star arises
- Until the Lord comes
- Until the day break, and the shadows flee away
- Until the redemption of the purchased possession
My knowledge of Hebrew and Greek is matched, practically word-for-word, by my extensive knowledge of Latin (I think an emoticon is supposed to be inserted here). But perhaps most of us have read or heard of the phrase “Deus ex machina.” In English, this is literally “god from the machine.” Its significance comes from ancient Greek theater, where actors who were playing gods were brought onto stage by means of a machine. This contrivance was the means of solving an unsolvable problem, (e. g. suddenly rescuing hopelessly surrounded warriors), and, among other purposes, bringing the story or play to a happy conclusion. The actor would be lowered or raised by a machine and would suddenly appear, like a divine intervention, to “save the day.”
We won’t need to resort to a contrivance to “save the day” or to ensure a happy conclusion. For the child of God, suffering, pain, heartache, and death itself are only “until the Lord comes … until the day breaks … until the redemption of our bodies.” For the world, unrest, strife, wickedness, injustice, and man’s inhumanity to man are only “until He come Whose right it is” to take the throne. God is going to fix this poor world – no machines needed. His statement to His Son is: “Sit at My right hand, until I make Thine enemies Thy footstool” (Heb 1:13). His statement to us is: “He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Php 1:6). In the little while left to us, we can borrow David’s words and confidently say to the Lord, irrespective of events in our world,
“My soul trusteth in Thee:
yea, in the shadow of Thy wings will I
make my refuge, UNTIL these calamities be overpast.”