An eleven-year-old boy, engrossed in an adventure book, protested when told to go to bed. He pleaded to no avail that he must find out whether the hero would escape from an impossible situation and would rescue the heroine from the clutches of the villain. Later, with the aid of a flashlight beneath the bedcovers, he read the final chapter of the book. Sure enough, the hero rescued the heroine, and the villain was captured and was put in jail. However, because he could not imagine how such a turnabout had happened, he began reading again at the place he had been forced to stop. Each time the villain did something wrong the boy said, "If you knew what I know, you wouldn’t be acting like you are."
If we really believed what God has told us about how his story ends, we would live differently.
Christians have an edge on the rest of the world-God has shared the future with us. We know the secret-no matter how dark the situation may appear-God’s kingdom will triumph!
Recall the situation described in chapter 1. God intended to involve man in a partnership to establish his kingdom. Satan opposed God’s authority, seduced man, and enslaved him in the kingdom of evil. Each chapter of this book has revealed the increasing intensity of that conflict.
You already have pledged your allegiance to Jesus as Lord. The time has come for you to pray for the kingdom’s coming, to be aware of its presence, and to be committed to its full realization.
Jesus came announcing the kingdom and calling on men to repent. He summed up his mission and God’s intention in that one phrase-the kingdom of God. The kingdom arrived when the King appeared. The kingdom began to reign in men’s hearts as they accepted the King. It continues to spread each time someone believes the gospel. It will culminate with every knee bowing and every tongue confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord.
God alone establishes his kingdom. He has done his part up to now and is ready to finish the job. However, he is giving us every chance to become partners with him in establishing the kingdom. He wants us to reign with him someday. The time of Christ’s coming and complete victory has been hidden from us so we will be about our Father’s business always. We have had the gospel revealed to us so that we can reveal it to the world before judgment day.
| PERSONAL LEARNING ACTIVITY 51
1. Read in Matthew 13 the seven parables of the kingdom. Write a sentence or two about each, explaining why it is imperative for us to put Christ’s kingdom first.
2. Read Matthew 21:33-43 to discover what will happen if we do not fulfill God’s intention.
Throughout this book we have watched God on mission establishing his kingdom and working his plan to redeem and to restore that which man lost and Satan corrupted. blow I want you to glimpse and to feel a little of what God’s triumph will be like. Pause and pray that God will open your understanding as you reverently read God’s revelation of his mission being accomplished. Read the following passages for the overall impact rather than specific details. We need the same inspiration and sense of ultimate victory that the first-century Christians who received John’s letter needed.
"I looked, and lo, in heaven an open door! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, ‘Come up hither, and I will show you what must take place after this’ " (Rev. 4:1, RSV).
"I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb . . . and they sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy art thou to take the scroll and to open its sea/e, for thou west slain and by thy blood didst ransom men for God from every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and best made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth. ‘ Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, ‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!’ And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all therein, saying, ‘To him who sits upon the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might for ever and ever!’ And the four living creatures said, ‘amen!’ and the elders fell down and worshiped" (Rev. 5:6,8-14, RSV).
"After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘salvation belongs to our God who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb! ‘And all the angels stood round the throne and round the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, ‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to God for ever and ever! Amen’" (Rev. 7:9-12, RSV).
"Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign for ever and ever’" (Rev. 11:15, RSV).
"The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world-he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. And I heard a loud voice in heaven saying, ‘Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. Rejoice then, O heaven and you that dwell therein! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!’" (Rev. 12:9-12, RSV).
"The devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulphur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night for ever and ever. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire; and if any one’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire" (Rev. 20:10,14-15, RSV).
"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband; and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away. ‘And he who sat upon the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new’" (Rev. 21:1-5, RSV).
"And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light shall the nations walk; and the kings of the earth shall bring their glory into it, and its gates shall never be shut by day-and there shall be no night there; they shall bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean shall enter it, nor any one who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life." (Rev. 21:22-27, RSV).
"Then he showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. There shall no more be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and his servants shall worship him; they shall see his face, and his name shall be on their foreheads. And night shall be no more; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they shall reign for ever and ever" (Rev. 22:1-5, RSV).
"‘I Jesus have sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, the bright morning star.’ The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come. ‘And let him who is thirsty come, let him who desires take the water of life without price.... He who testifies to these things says, ‘surely I am coming soon.’ amen. Come, Lord Jesus!" (Rev. 22:16-17,20, RSV).
| PERSONAL LEARNING ACTIVITY 52
Meditate on the preceding selected verses and then write in your own words the feelings you have about God’s mission accomplished.
God revealed the end-time events to John so his people could catch a vision of the glorious triumph. First-century Christians struggling with their trials and their temptations had begun to lose sight of the kingdom picture. Many modern Christians surrounded by affluence and mired in complacency have lost their vision of the kingdom also.
Contrast that with the eager disciples who asked, "Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel ?" (Acts 1:6). Jesus had to tell them not to bother about how soon the kingdom would come but to witness to all men. The zeal of their witness revealed the impact of God’s impending victory.
In Ephesians 1:9-10 God reveals that in the "dispensation of the fullness of times" he will gather together all things in Christ. The word translated dispensation means stewardship. God is saying that as a steward ordered and managed a household in that day so he is ordering all things to bring together everything in Christ. Only a part of the hundreds of promises telling of the glory, the majesty, and the triumph of the kingdom have been fulfilled. God commands us to prepare for their complete fulfillment in Christ’s second coming.
God will establish the kingdom, but he has given us a strategic role to play in the realization of it. Paul used the same word, dispensation or stewardship, in describing his responsibility in the world. "I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God . . . which is Christ in you, the hope of glory: whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus: whereunto I also labour, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily" (Col. 1:25-29). Paul felt he had been given a responsibility to preach, to teach, and to present every man mature in Christ. We have the same stewardship
Plainly, the New Testament teaches that the kingdom of God has come in Christ and even now is in the world, but it is also yet to come. How are we to live in this kingdom that has come but has not yet come, is victorious yet waiting for the victory?
We must live as the early church lived-with the eager expectancy of the imminent end and the confident assurance that only God can establish the kingdom. We must obey Christ’s commission and demonstrate our faith in that kingdom unto death. We must decide to seek the kingdom of God first and to live only for his will to be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Our witnessing and our preaching must capture again the intense urgency of the New Testament because the time is short and the last days have come.
Our generation is living in the "last days." They began at Pentecost and will end with all the kingdoms of the world being offered up to God by Christ. Three Jewish feasts symbolized the fulfillment of God’s eternal plan. At the Feast of the Passover Christ became the sacrificial lamb for the sins of the world. At the Feast of Pentecost the Holy Spirit reaped the first fruits of Christ’s victory over death. At a future time, symbolized by the Feast of the Tabernacles, there will be a celebration of the full harvest-the marriage feast of the Lamb. We live in the parentheses between the coming of the Holy Spirit and the second coming of Jesus Christ and are charged with the reaping of the harvest.
Our urgency relates both to the impending judgment of God on man’s sin and the promise that God will deal in mercy with those who believe in him. We have only two alternatives to our kingdom tension: (1) give up all hope and responsibility for this world, retire from it, and let it go its suicidal way to hell; or (2) by aggressive witness, fulfill our stewardship in God’s establishing of the kingdom.
"If the redemption of man awaits his faith in Christ and his Kingdom, then to summon men to that faith is no fussy meddling; it is the pivotal activity of history.... The redemption of man awaits precisely the birth of a new and redeemed race of men. And the Kingdom of God is that new race of men, God’s living Church. In her is that ever-coming Kingdom."
We are a generation of priests chosen to reign with the King. If we are to reign with Christ in the coming kingdom, we must serve during its rise to power.
| PERSONAL LEARNING ACTIVITY 53
Read the following verses about our reigning with Christ: Luke 22:29 30; Revelation 1:6; 3:21; 5:10; 20:6; Hebrews 12:28-29. After reading these verses make a list of the things that you feel you should be doing during the remaining time God has alloted you on earth.
As soon as possible, we must take the gospel to every person, disciple those who follow Christ, and establish reproducing churches among every people in the world.
THE WILL OF GOD
We must evangelize the world because God wills it. The Lord is
"not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works therein shall be burned up. Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons are ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, looking for and hastening unto the coming of the day of God" (2 Pet. 3:9-12).
Every action of God has shown that he wants a people who will do his will on earth as it is done in heaven. Christ died for it to be accomplished. The Holy Spirit works day and night to convict men of sin and to inspire Christians to carry the message of salvation to them.
NEEDS OF THE WORLD
Need, like a gaping sore, infects the entire human race. Crawl inside the skin of over a billion people who will go to bed tonight hungry. Feel the pain of disease-ravaged bodies. Touch the sightless eyes. Listen to the silence of deafness. Walk through this world of need, and you will be crushed by your total inability to meet a fraction of it. Feel the turmoil of broken homes, the loss of murdered loved ones, the emptiness of a world without hope.
Yet, all these are but symptoms of man’s greatest problem--lostness. Matthew 6:23 says, "If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness! "How can light be darkness? Every man has received some light from God, but he has distorted and misused it to his own damnation. Every religion is an example of men’s taking a truth and so overemphasizing it as to blind themselves to God’s full truth. Moslems so overemphasize the transcendency and omnipotence of God that they cannot believe that God in Christ could or would come to die for them. Hindus emphasize the omnipresence of God to the extent of believing there are millions of manifestations of God, yet they are scandalized by the news that Jesus is the only way of salvation. Buddhists so emphasize the evil world that they cannot believe that Christ would be made sin for us. So, if the light that they have is made darkness, how great is that darkness! Their only hope is in the Light of the world seen by the single eye.
UNCERTAINTY OF THE FUTURE
The uncertainty of the future of this world demands urgency in proclaiming the kingdom. The impending wrath of God on all unrighteousness has been withheld only because of God’s longsuffering toward man. "God is angry with the wicked every day" (Ps. 7:11). They treasure up "wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God" (Rom. 2:5). Men must be warned that in the future they shall cry to the mountains and rocks to "fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: for the great day of his wrath has come; and who shall be able to stand?" (Rev. 6:16-17).
God warns us that "the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?" (1 Pet. 4:17). The church as God’s people stands under his judgment. Only because of his mercy we are not already consumed. A comparison of the nation with Romans 1: l 8-32 should convince anyone that we are living under the as yet unleashed wrath of God.
On the other hand, the world seems bent on destroying itself. The threat of a nuclear holocaust, shortages of oil and food, and the burgeoning selfishness of men and nations gives an omen of disaster. The `have not" nations are demanding their right to share the abundance of the ‘‘haves." The long mistreated former colonies rise to demand their share of the world’s goods. As starving people, many have nothing to lose and may risk using nuclear weapons.
The uncertainty of the future demands that we take the gospel to every nation while there is still time.
POSSIBILITIES OF THIS AGE
The hand of God has moved in the affairs of men and of nations to produce throughout the world an unprecedented responsiveness to the gospel. Donald McGavran says: "More winnable people live in the world today than ever before. India has far more now than in the days of Carey or Clough. Africa has myriads who can be won. Latin America teems with opportunity. For the Gospel, never before has such a day of opportunity dawned. These populations have not become receptive by accident."2
God is not a mere spectator watching to see what men will do; he is an active participant in the redemption of lost humanity. He did not give us a command to disciple all nations only to wait to see if we would do it. He said, "I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matt. 28:20, NASB). God is working in the lives of his children to send them into the harvest; he also is working in the people of the world to prepare them for the witness of his people. We must see his hand in the rising of the masses to seek a better life, in the restlessness of the nations.
Oswald Smith points up this urgency with the following illustration:
In our Canadian Northwest we have great fields. Every autumn special trains loaded with harvesters are rushed to those fields. Why the haste? Why the hurry? Why not take our time? Why not do it later? Why must it be done now? Because it is now or never. The harvest will not wait. There may be another, but this harvest will be lost, and lost forever. It must be garnered within the limits of a single harvest season or it will perish. Hence the haste. So it is with the Lord’s harvest. There may be those who will reach a future generation, but this generation will be lost and will perish unevangelized. Hence the urgency.3
As I did the research for my book Indonesian Revival: Why Two Million Came to Christ, I became convinced that the hand of God moves in all the affairs of men-not just his religious affairs-to create responsiveness to the gospel. It is as if God wears a glove with each successive finger inscribed with the words: culture, politics, society, economics, and religion. God’s hand is moving throughout all the affairs of men and of nations to produce a harvest. God’s Spirit is also working in the hearts of his people to thrust forth laborers into his already ripened harvest.
In addition to sending missionaries on career or on a short-term basis, we must establish in every country churches that grow their own leaders and are a part of their culture. The first reason is that it is impossible to send enough personnel; the second is that the majority of people will respond only when one of their own countrymen shares the gospel with them. We must build these churches to equip each member to function as part of the body of Christ.
Modern technology has expanded our reach and has shrunk the world to a reachable size. Television, radio, and other modern means of communication make it possible to sow the seed. Improved living conditions and transportation make it easier for Christians to go and to reap the harvest.
IMMINENCE OF CHRIST’S RETURN
Our hope for deliverance, the second coming of Christ, is also a motivation to take the gospel of deliverance to those who do not know him. Jesus’ teaching is filled with warnings of his sudden, imminent return. He is bringing this age to a close.
Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord cloth come. But know this, that if the good man of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up. Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh (Matt. 24:42-44).
Missions began in the heart of God and shapes all his dealings with the world. He revealed his purpose to his Chosen People, but they rejected their missionary calling and prostituted it on themselves by interpreting the election as their exclusive right. Nevertheless, they provided a vehicle through which God’s purpose could be revealed in his Son.
Jesus fulfilled God’s purpose by becoming Servant, Priest, and King. He called a people to fulfill the same role. The Holy Spirit came to inspire them, to motivate them, and to empower them to go to the uttermost parts of the earth with the good news and to establish his disciples in churches.
The church as the body of Christ inherits the role of Israel that was fulfilled by Christ. The church must serve as disciplined children, suffering servants, and ministering priests to carry out God’s purpose in the world. As a pilgrim church it suffers because the world will not accept its credentials. It lives in the tension of the last days, longing for the establishment of God’s kingdom. This tension began with the resurrection and Pentecost, when the new age was ushered in, and has been the church’s constant companion whenever it has dared to follow its Lord in ministering to the world. The church is God’s instrument in the world. It is the present embodiment of God’s election purpose. It is equipped to make disciples, to build up the body, and to spread the kingdom. It kneels between a lost world and a coming Lord.
Missions is the work of the triune God. The world is the sphere of his mission. The church is the sign of God’s mission in the world and is his partner in the coming kingdom. The church exists to minister and to witness to the world.
The world awaits the witness. One morning I took several seminary students to visit in an area of Semarang, Indonesia, approximately two miles from our home. Within two hours I witnessed to four women who had never heard of Jesus Christ. One of the women invited me into her humble, split-bamboo home. We sat on mats on the dirt floor because there was no furniture.
I had the thrill of telling her the good news. It was news. I told her how Christ came to a darkened world that was seeking the light. I described his crucifixion at the hands of evil men and then hastened to assure her that he had arisen from the dead three days later. She asked breathlessly, "When ?" as if it had just happened.
As I tried to explain that it had happened almost two thousand years ago, I could see in her face a question forming: "If this Jesus is as important as you seem to think he is, why have I never heard about him? Why have my parents never heard about him?"
I bowed my head and struggled for an answer. I looked up and said: "It is not God’s fault. God has done everything necessary for all the world to be saved. He gave his only Son, and that Son died for our sins. Then he told his followers to take the gospel to every person. Forgive me for never telling you before today; forgive all of us Christians for not doing what our Lord commanded us."
In the middle of the dirt floor was a basket turned upside down over a mother hen. Little chicks jumped in and out through holes in the basket. I said: "We are a lot like the little chicks that want to get back to their mother. Jesus once said that he would like to gather us to himself as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but we would not come. As the chicks grow older, it will become impossible for them to get back through the holes to their mother under the basket. The basket is like our sins that separate us from God. Jesus’ paying for our sins was like lifting the basket and saying, ‘Come back to the Father.’"
That day the lady trusted all she knew of herself and her sin to what she knew of God and her Savior.
Millions who have never heard would come to Christ if someone would take the good news to them. God waits on us to fulfill our mission.
1 John Bright, The Kingdom of Cod (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1951), p. 25A. Used by permission.
2. Donald A. McGavran, Understanding Church Growth (Grand Rapids: William
B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1970), pp. 58-59. Used by permission. 3. M. A. Doroch, How Shall They Hear? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing Company, 1958), p. 35.
Bright, John. The Kingdom of God. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1953.
Willis, Avery T., Jr. Indonesian Revival: Why Two Million Came to Christ. South Pasadena, Calif.: William Carey Library, 1977.