Jesus was very concerned about promises. Just as we saw previously, Jesus was deeply concerned about the good reputation of God, and how it is based on truth, and not on the myth of those around him. Part of this concern is the fact that God had been King for an awful long time—as long as anybody could remember and even longer than that. (In Eternity, no one can hear the tocks ticking.) And part of what kings do is make promises. Royal prerogative and responsibility all wrapped up in one.
The method of Royal promises goes like this: People go up to a ruler, any ruler, and says, “We’re tired of sitting in traffic all day! We need a better way of getting to the market!” The king considers this and decides Something Must Be Done (Kings all think in pronouncements). It is at this point that the king says, “I Will Improve Transportation In Our Realm!” And after this, he works with his advisors and engineers and generally smart people who determine that the best course of action is to build a bridge across the river so everyone doesn’t have to wait for the ferry. Besides, the ferryman smells bad. So the king pronounces, “We Will Make A Bridge!” And he allocates resources toward that goal.
A promise is a precursor to a command. Any ruler has them—first they make a determination, then they make a promise to fulfill that determination, and then they make commands to see that determination carried out. A promise is a way of communicating a king’s desire that he intends to fulfill. It is like a prophecy without all that mucking about with seeing into the future.
If a king has been a king for a while, he builds up a number of promises. Since God has been king longer than anyone else (even those johnny-come-latelys like Baal and Caesar and the gang leader of the 59th Street Bridge), he has a number more promises than anyone else. And, like any king, there have been a number of those promises that haven’t been fulfilled. It isn’t that the king doesn’t want them to be fulfilled or hasn’t planned for them to be fulfilled. Rather, it is that the time isn’t right, the resources aren’t yet available, the people aren’t yet ready for the promise to be fulfilled.
And no matter how many promises have been fulfilled (Abraham and Sarah given son in old age?—check.
children delivered out of ?—check. Jehosephat and Hezekiah delivered from
rebuilt after exile?—check.) everyone
always looks at the promises that haven’t been fulfilled yet. Some of the promises are explicit, while
others are implicit. The implicit ones
are the ones everyone knows about—whether they have ever heard the kings
promise or not. And if a king breaks a
promise, then his reputation is destroyed.
Meaning, he gets bad press. And
God HATES bad press. Ruins his whole
eternity. Temple of God
But what about the times when God makes a promise that is not kept? What about prophecies that never take place? Has that happened? Well, sure. God promised, as ruler of the universe, to destroy the Ninevites in Jonah’s time. God also promised to destroy the children of
begin a new nation with Moses. These
were Pronouncements—a kingly promise, just like others. Why weren’t they fulfilled? In fact, the text says that God “repented” of
these promises—He changed his mind. That
makes God pretty wishy-washy, doesn’t it? 4 Israel
This is one of those times that we get to make a theological division. This is where someone like Aquinas or J.I. Packer pulls out their penknife and cuts the page, saying “Here the two shall not meet.” On the one hand, we find in Scripture, God never changes his mind, He never backs off of a promise once made. And then we have times when God does change his mind. Here is the divide: God only ever changes his mind of a judgment he pronounced, not of a blessing. Whenever it talks about God’s faithfulness, His steadfastness to promises, it is about a positive opportunity He will give to a person or people. But when God pronounces a destruction of a people or a plague, He reserves the right to break that pronouncement—to repent. And He often uses that option.5
But as King of the Universe, any promises of love, of hope, of deliverance—you can take those to the bank. They’re as good as gold in a bear market. They’re as invulnerable as Superman’s chest.
4. Jonah 3; Exodus 32:9-14
5. Such as Numbers 23:19-20; Lamentations 3:22-23; I Timothy 2:12-13.