Ask Ivor

Dierdre asks:

"You know they say the meek will inherit the earth? Well, my question is, when, and who are they?"

To the modern ear, "meek" connotes weakness and deficiency of spirit; wimpiness. These are not the traits Jesus had in mind when he said, "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth" (Mt 5:5). The Greek word Jesus used, praus, is better translated as "humble" or "gentle."

Jesus was echoing the words of his ancestor King David, found in Psalm 37: "The meek will inherit the land and enjoy great peace" (v. 11). The psalm equates the meek with the righteous and faithful, in contrast to the wicked and ruthless. Verse 9 says, "Evil men will be cut off, but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land."

The inheritance of the land was first promised by God to Abraham: "The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you" (Ge 17:8).

God repeated this promise to Abraham's son Isaac (Ge 26:4), and to his son Israel (Ge 48:4). Israel and his family, because of a famine, moved down to Egypt, and after several generations the Israelites were enslaved by the Egyptians. After God led them out of bondage and back to Canaan, he renewed the promise (Ex 2:23-24; 23:31), through Moses.

Later, to King David, God pledged: "I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed.... Your house and your kingdom will endure forever" (2Sa 7:10,16).

Again the Jews went into bondage, this time into Assyria, and Babylon.

Through the prophet Jeremiah, God promised: "The time is coming... when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.... I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.... This city [Jerusalem] will be rebuilt.... The city will never again be uprooted or demolished" (Jer 31:31,33,38,40).

Likewise, through the prophet Ezekiel, God promised: "I will gather you... back from the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you back the land of Israel again.... I will cleanse you from all your impurities.... I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you" (Eze 11:17; 36:25-26).

What began as a promise of physical, tangible real estate, was developing a spiritual emphasis.

Jesus continued and completed this evolution, with his proclamation that, "The meek... will inherit the earth." It is no longer only the land of Canaan that is promised, but the whole earth, and it is no longer only the physical descendants of Abraham who are heirs of the promise, but also the spiritual descendants: "The promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham's offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham.... Those who believe are children of Abraham" (Ro 4:16; Gal 3:7).

Jesus intimated that the inheritance will occur after he comes again: "The Son of Man is going to come in his Father's glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done.... They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other" (Mt 16:27; 24:30-31).

When will the Second Coming be? Any minute or millenia now. Maybe in a day; maybe in a decade. Could be a second from now; could be a century.

The promise has been awaiting fulfillment since the time of Abraham, 4000 years ago: "By faith [Abraham] made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents.... He was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.... From [Abraham]... came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore. All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance" (Heb 11:9-10,12-13).

In Phrygia, in the middle of the 2nd century A.D., a self-proclaimed prophet named Montanus announced the imminent end of the world—he even pinpointed the spot where the New Jerusalem would descend from heaven. Multitudes of his hearers waited patiently on the plain of Pepuza for seven years, but to no avail.

In the mid-3rd century, Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, wrote that the world "was already in its decline.... Approaching its end.... Rushing to its doom." He concluded this on the basis of such things as "less rain... gold and silver mines are already worked out... seas lack pilots... armies are without men... less innocence in the courts, less justice in the judges... less artistic sincerity.... Children who are already quite white; their hair dies before it can grow...."

In Rome, on New Year's Eve in the year 999, great crowds of worshipers, having misinterpreted the 20th chapter of the book of Revelation, waited expectantly for the end of the world, and the Last Judgment. Many had given away all their possessions to the poor, and were dressed now in sackcloth and ashes. As the bells of midnight chimed, some died of heart attacks, but the earth did not dissolve, nor did fire fall from heaven.

The book of Revelation also cryptically refers to the number 1260 (chs. 11-12), so there was again widespread expectation of the end of things in the years leading up to 1260 A.D., especially in the south of Italy, where an abbot named Joachim was claiming that a new age of love would begin then, and people would dwell together in peace. Instead, the civil wars inside Italy continued, and worsened.

William Miller, an American revivalist, preached that Christ would return between March 1843 and March 1844. Miller had some 50,000 followers. One of them put on a large white robe, climbed a tree, and began to fly—he broke his neck. Another cut his wife's throat because she refused to convert to Millerism. Others, terrified of the coming judgment, committed suicide. When the appointed time passed without incident, a new date of October 22, 1844 was calculated, but that too passed without Christ's return.

The Jehovah's Witnesses teach that the Second Coming began in 1914, but that, so far, it's still invisible.

Edgar Whisenant predicted that the beginning of the end would be September 12, 1988. His book was a bestseller, even though all his mathematical calculations were incorrect (he didn't account for the fact that there is no year zero between 1 B.C. and 1 A.D.).

There have been many other proclamations of the end of time, down through the centuries, and these proclamations will no doubt continue.

Jesus said: "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.... The Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him" (Mt 24:36,44).