Chapter 7: ‘Our Corporate Response and Evangelism’
‘Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to all nations’
(Mark 16:15, NKJ)
The great commission to preach the Gospel to people from every nation will be fulfilled—as Jesus prophesied—before this present evil age comes to an end: ’And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all nations, and then the end will come’ (Mat.24:14). Our efforts in preaching the Gospel, therefore, serve to bring God’s Kingdom that much closer. Indeed, as Christians, our corporate prayer and earnest desire should always be: ‘Thy Kingdom come!’
There have been many gospels preached since Jesus gave His great commission, but there can be only one pure, unadulterated Gospel—that which was taught by Jesus and His apostles, as revealed in Scripture. It is not an invention of ancient or modern theology. It is that which we find in the Bible: the Good News of Jesus Christ regarding salvation and the coming Kingdom of God. All who believe in Jesus, the Holy One of God, are appointed to receive everlasting life. We are called to believe in the Son who died and rose again—who gave His life for mankind through death on a cross. The preposition ‘in’ is very important. The demons also believe and tremble (James 2:19), but they are not in Christ. Our belief and our existence must be centred in the Anointed Son of God; and should it be so, then we will not perish (John 3:16).
Jesus said, ‘Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me’ (Jn.15:4, NKJ). In John’s first epistle, this truth is reiterated: ‘God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life’ (1 Jn.5:11-12). It is the duty of the Church, therefore, to present the Gospel to the world that others might respond and come into this same saving relationship in Christ, through belief and repentance. This relationship is personal, just as it is said: ‘And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent’ (Jn.17:3).
The Holy Spirit regenerates new life in Christ , as we read in Titus 3:5-7: ‘…according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life‘ (NKJ). Paul wrote: ‘You received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,’ (Rom.8:15-16).
The gift of the Holy Spirit followed the resurrection—after Jesus had become glorified. He said: ‘Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.’ John commented: ‘By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified’ (John 7:38-39, NIV).
Jesus had promised His disciples, ‘I will pray the Father and He will give you another … even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you’ (Jn.14:16-17). The Holy Spirit of God, who was known to the disciples through their personal knowledge of Jesus, would dwell—not with them, as He had dwelt with them in the One God sent—but in them. All who are in Christ are indwelt of the Spirit, as Paul wrote: ‘Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His’ (Rom.8:9).
‘And the Lord added to the church’
To be more effective in its commission today, the Church needs to clearly understand the Gospel preached by the apostles. On the day of the resurrection, (John 20:19-22), Jesus breathed on His disciples and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’ The Comforter had come (John 14:16-17), but they were not at that time endued with power. For this, the disciples had to wait another fifty days.
On the day of the Feast of Pentecost, the ‘power from on high’ came, as promised (Luke 24:49, Acts 1:8). About a hundred and twenty disciples became empowered by the Holy Spirit for evangelism and witness (Acts 1:15; 2:1-4). There was a sound of a mighty wind;flames of fire appeared to rest on all present; and they began to speak in many different languages of the world—previously unknown to them—in praise of God. Crowds gathered and many who had travelled to celebrate the feast in Jerusalem from numerous foreign places heard their own tongues being spoken in miraculous words of praise.
Emboldened and showing no fear, Peter preached his first public sermon. The miracle had caused a large crowd to gather and, as they attentively listened, many were pricked in their heart. ’What shall we do?’ (2:37), they asked. Convicted, they understood that God had sent His Son, and that they had not acknowledged Him: ‘Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission [forgiveness] of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit”’ (Acts 2:38, NKJ).
He entreated: ‘Be saved from this perverse generation’ (Acts 2:40, NKJ). ‘Be saved’, he said—not: ‘Save yourselves’ (NIV). We cannot save ourselves, but we can act to ‘be saved’. It is like this: Imagine that you have fallen into a turbulent sea and that you are struggling to swim—though you know that without rescue you are certain to drown. Mercifully, someone sees your situation and throws you a life belt attached to a lifeline and calls out for you to take hold. All you have to do is accept and be hauled to safety. Without the lifeline, you will drown. If you refuse to take hold of the lifeline, you will drown. You need that other person to save you, but you still have to act—you have to reach out and take hold.
So it is with the Gospel. We were without hope—but for the One God sent. He reaches out to us and wants to save, but we still have to act. We need to do something. We must believe and repent. This is biblical. Then God regenerates us through the gift of the Holy Spirit, that we might know Him as Father and be accounted to receive eternal life.
Repentance, if genuine, produces an earnest desire to do what is right in life, according to God’s commands. Belief that is not accompanied by a change of heart is dead. The Apostle James said: ‘For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also’ (2v26). Faith must be accompanied by good works to be alive. ‘You will know them by their fruits,’ Jesus said (Mat.7:16). ‘Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire’ (Mat.7:19).
From the beginning, there must be the fruit of repentance, turning one from sin to God. ‘Faith to be saved’ is active—it is alive. It is the faith that truly accepts the Lordship of Christ and trusts in Him for salvation. It is not merely a belief in a creed.
When Paul spoke of being saved by faith, he meant that we can never earn salvation or justify ourselves through our own attempts to keep God’s law: ‘A man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ’ (Gal.2:9). Of ourselves, it is impossible to be righteous in the sight of God. No matter how hard we may try, we cannot please God in the flesh—without the gift of the Holy Spirit, received through belief and repentance. As faith without works is dead, so works without true faith cannot justify anyone before God.
Living faith is that which is centred in Christ, believes in His promises and in the biblical creed concerning Him.
Whom we believe in is shown by the fruits we bear in our lives. Christ-centred faith is confessed with our lips and expressed with our actions. It is having faith to be led of the Holy Spirit, knowing that it is wrong to resist. If we truly believe in Jesus, then we won’t be practising the works of the flesh (Gal.5:19-21), but the works of the Spirit: ‘love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control’ (Gal.5:22-23). The evidence of a changed life will be apparent.
‘Look to Me, and be saved, all you ends of the earth!’
Just as there are many gospels, there are also many religions in this world, but the Bible is clear: there is no salvation in any other, ‘… for there is no other name given among men by which we must be saved’ (Acts 4:12). Why this is true is due to the very nature and Person of the One of whom this is said. In preaching the biblical revelation of the cross, we need to preach also about the Person of Christ.
Jesus was not just a prophet or a teacher sent by God. In death, He was not just a martyr. He was Immanuel—’God With Us’ (Mat.1:23). The Son is of the same nature as the Father—one in complete unity and harmony, as these Scriptures taken from the New King James Bible indicate:
John 1:1-14, ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. … And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.’
John 17:5, ’And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory I had with You before the world was.’
Philippians 2:6, ‘Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God.’
Hebrews 1:8-12, ‘But to the Son He says, Your throne O God, is forever and ever …
And: You, LORD, in the beginning laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of Your hands … they will be changed. But you are the same, and Your years will not fail.’
In paraphrase of Isaiah 45:22-24: ‘…to Me [YHWH] every knee shall bow,’ Paul wrote to the Philippians:
Philip. 2:9-11, NKJ: ‘Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.’
Jeremiah prophesied (Jer.23:5-6, NKJ):
‘I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness. … Now this is His name by which He will be called: THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS [YHWH Tsidkenu, Heb.]’
The Lord God said, ‘I am the LORD [YHWH], that is My name; and My glory I will not give to another (Isa.42:8, NKJ). It ought to be clear, therefore, that Yahweh and Jesus are one and that Jesus is also clearly called Yahweh in prophetic Scripture. He said, ‘I and My Father are one’ (John 10:30, NKJ).
‘Good teacher,’ a young man asked, ‘what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?’ (Matt.19:16, NKJ). In reply, Jesusanswered that only One is good—God. This was not a denial of divinity, but an affirmation. Jesus was indeed intrinsically ‘good’, as written in Hebrews 4:15, He was ‘without sin.’ Our High Priest, was ‘holy, harmless [marg. innocent ], undefiled, separate from sinners’ (Heb.7:26). To have everlasting life, the young man had to believe and place His faith in the One to whom He spoke, not in good works or riches.
The divinity of Jesus is also stressed in the following verses:
Romans 9:5, ‘Israelites … from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen.’
John 20:28, ‘And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!”
Titus 2:13, ‘For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ.’
Isaiah 7:14, ‘Behold, the Virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel [God With Us].’
Isaiah 9:6, ‘For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given; … And His name will be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.’
Colossians 2:8-9: ‘Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily …’
In New Testament Scripture, He is the One through whom God created the world:
Hebrews 1:1-2, ‘God … has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds [Gk. ‘aeons’: ages] …’
John 1:3, ‘All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.’
John 1:10, ‘He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him.’
Ephesians 3:8-9, ‘I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make the people see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ …’
Colossians 1:15-17, ‘He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have pre-eminence.’
Now, some have looked at the phrase that Jesus is ‘the firstborn over [or ‘of ‘] all creation’ (Col.1:15) and have assumed that Paul must have regarded Jesus as a created being. A phrase taken in isolation, however, does not make a biblical doctrine. When examined in the context of this passage and other statements that Paul made, no such conclusion can be justifiably drawn. On the contrary, Colossians 1:15-17 boldly asserts that Jesus was Himself the Creator. The statement that He is the ’firstborn’ refers not only to His pre-eminent position over the whole of creation but also to the fact that He is the first to be raised from the dead to receive a ’glorious body’ (Phil.3:21; 1 Cor.15:44-49):
Jesus came ‘in the likeness of sinful flesh’ (Rom.8:3, NKJ), ‘in the likeness of men … in appearance as a man’ (Philip.2:7-8, NKJ). He partook of ‘flesh and blood’ (Hb.2:14) and was ‘made like His brethren’ (Heb.2:17). His incarnate body was materially the same as that of His creation. In this manner, in a bodily sense, He partook of the creation and can indeed rightly be called the firstborn of all creation—’begotten [not created] of the Father’ (Jn.1:14, NKJ).
It is to Jesus that ‘the world to come’ (Hb.2:5, NKJ) will be subject—not to angels (same verse). The Son is called ‘God’ in Psalm 45:6: ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever;’ as indicated in Hb.1:8. Nevertheless, He, Himself, is subject to God the Father: ‘Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness more than Your companions’ (Hb.1:9; Ps.45:7, NKJ).
The Apostle Paul said that although there are ‘many gods and many lords, yet for us there is only one God, the Father, of whom are all things, … and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live’ (1 Cor.8:5-6, NKJ). It is evident, therefore, that in the divinity of God, the Father is supreme. He is the ’God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (1 Pet.1:3, NKJ). However, Jesus is equally divine—as shown in the preceding verses—reigning as Lord over the kingdom of God and subject only to God His Father. Notice from 1 Corinthians:
‘Then comes the end when He delivers up the kingdom to God the Father … For “He has put all things under His feet.” But when He says “all things are put under Him,” it is evident that He who put all things under Him is excepted. Now when all things are made subject to Him, then the Son Himself will also be made subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all’ (1 Cor.15:24-28, NKJ)
Many have stumbled over this biblical truth by looking too narrowly at the Scriptures, forming conclusions that deny the divinity of Christ. However, it is an important aspect of the Gospel message. The Holy Bible proclaims the incarnation of the divine in the form of Christ for our salvation.
‘… sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise’
The Holy Spirit is the One whom the Father sent in the name of Jesus to dwell in God’s children (John 14:16-17, 26). He has personal attributes—helps, comforts, teaches, brings to remembrance (John 14-16), reveals the love of God (Rom.5:5), provides power for witness (Acts 1:8), intercedes, guides and instructs (Rom.8:14, 26; Acts 13:2; 16:6). He provides gifts and enablements to build up Christ’s body (1 Cor.12:1-11; Rom.12:1-8). He inspires one to produce good fruit (Gal.5:22-25) and can inspire one to speak or act according to the divine will of God (1 Pet.19-21; Acts 4:31).However, the Holy Spirit—being a person and not just a power—can be lied to (Acts 5:3) and grieved (Eph.4:30) by our disobedience (Isa.63:10; Acts 7:51). The divine nature of the Holy Spirit is evinced by the miraculous conception of Mary,Matt.1:20: ‘…that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit’ (cf. Lk.1:35). Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven (Mat.12:31). The Holy Spirit, therefore, is to be reverenced as a divine Person of the Godhead, bringing God’s children to birth—whilst protecting and nourishing them as they grow.
The word for Spirit in the Greek is grammatically neuter, though feminine in the Aramaic language that Jesus spoke. Nevertheless, the New Testament Greek breaks the standard rule and employs the personal pronoun ‘He’ (Gk. eikenos ) in the following places: John 14:26; 15:26; 16:8, 13 and 14. This usage emphasizes the personality of the Holy Spirit at the expense of strict grammar.
Being divine, and not a creation, He is also eternal (Hb.9:14), and was effective in the creation of the world (Gen.1:2; Ps.104:30).
Of course, the foregoing provides the biblical position. However, it is a certain fact that, through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, God can enlighten the heart with the knowledge of Christ, no matter what our religious or non-religious heritage. It is written: ‘I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles, that You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth’ (Isa.49:6; Isa.42:6, NKJ). It is God’s will that all nations and people receive the Gospel of salvation, as it is revealed in the inspired word of God.
‘And how shall they hear without a preacher?’
‘And how shall they preach unless they are sent?’ (Rom.10:15). Ability in public speaking does not qualify one to preach the word of God. We do not elect ourselves and act on our own to speak on behalf of the Lord. The timing and the appointment is not for us to decide.
In the vision of Isaiah, the prophet hears the voice of God saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for Us?’ (Is.6:8). Immediately, Isaiah replied, ‘Here am I. Send me’ (v9).
Notice, the prophet did not say, ‘I’ll go!’ He simply made himself available for service and then waited on God. He knew that he could not presume to speak on God’s behalf without being sent. The apostles also received a divine appointment. They were told, of course, to preach the Gospel throughout the world—but they had to wait for the power of the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:48-49; Mat.28:19-20; Acts 1:8). They had no power to act for God on their own. The Holy Spirit transforms and empowers one for service. Often, the Lord chooses those whom mankind would disregard, to carry out works of great responsibility: ‘For the Lord does not see as a man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart’ (1 Sam.16:7).
So it was that David was chosen above his brothers and that Christ’s disciples included those whom the world despised: fishermen, tax collectors, prostitutes. ‘Saul the persecutor’ became ‘Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles’.
Let’s face it, as a job description, ’shepherd boy’ hardly seems fitting to commend one for the position of ‘king’. Moreover, a ‘fisherman’ would seem unlikely as a candidate to preach the Gospel—just as one who had proven to be a very active and notorious enemy of the Church. ‘For you see your calling brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble [well-born], are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world … that no flesh should glory in His presence’ (1 Cor.26-29, NKJ). With the weakness in those whom God chooses comes the acknowledgement of utter dependence on God for the good that is accomplished, which in turn redounds to His glory. As the Lord said to Paul, ‘My strength is made perfect in weakness’ (2 Cor.12:9, NKJ).
Now, the Holy Spirit equips the members of Christ’s body for service with spiritual gifts. Each one has a special calling and a contribution to make, not only to the life of the Church but also to the fulfillment of the great commission to preach the Gospel to all nations. The Gospel is that which we find in Scripture, as delivered to the apostles and written down for the Church. Nothing should be preached in contradiction to the revelation of God’s word.
Jesus said, ‘I am with you always, even to the end of the age’ (Mat.28:20). Now, this age has not yet come to an end. Jesus continues to support His people. The great commission, therefore, has come down to the Church of today.
‘Now this is the word which by the gospel was preached to you’
(1 Pet.1:24-25, NKJ)
‘The grass withers,
And its flower falls away,
But the word of the Lord endures forever.
There are many great preachers and spiritual leaders in the world today who earn our profound respect and admiration. Indeed, we need to value the various ministries of our fellow Christians very highly—no matter what the denominational bias—for all the glory they have brought to God. Great evangelists, preachers, teachers and other Christian servants take no credit for themselves for the good work that is achieved. Nevertheless, we are not called to follow personalities or any man-made tradition, we are called to follow the Word of God.
It takes real humility to admit to error—especially if one has been preaching it. Moreover, willingness to accept correction is a sign of wisdom and maturity. It is not a denial of all the good that God has been able to accomplish through one over the years. In fact, the admission of error can provide a very powerful witness to the truth to further the Gospel—just as the confession and witness of Paul. People are curious and often very interested to know why one has come to a different point of view.
Be prepared to give an answer: ‘Always be ready to give a defence to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you , with meekness and fear’(1 Pet.3:15, NKJ), to the glory of God .
Paul was always ready to reason with his fellow Jews and Gentile listeners out of what we call the Old Testament scriptures: ‘… reasoning and persuading concerning the things of the kingdom of God’ (Acts 19:8, NKJ). He was able to explain our need for a Saviour and Christ’s fulfilment of the Messianic prophecies. Convincing others of the truth requires more than miracles of healing. People are naturally suspicious of the unknown. What is presented as an explanation needs to carry the weight of reason. Remember, the Gospel was unheard of by almost everyone at the time Paul was preaching. He was teaching about a largely unknown Person and applied sound reasoning in debate.
Today, almost all people—except persons from very remote parts—have heard of Jesus. By and large, nearly everyone has also heard some kind of explanation regarding why He came. This is not entirely helpful to the task of preaching the Gospel. Most people, whether atheist, agnostic or believer, feel that they have heard it all before and don’t need to question their acquired view. It is rather like trying to preach what seems to others ‘old news’. It is still good, but it is no longer news.
The barrier that needs to be broken down is that of apathy. Even those of a different religious persuasion may feel that they understand enough about Christianity already and have no need to listen to any other view. Moreover, the many denominations throughout the world give the outward appearance of a kingdom that is divided and confused. That’s what the world sees; even though these divisions exist only in the physical realm.
The world is also only too aware of moral and criminal scandals that have tarnished the image of the Church, both in historical and modern times. ‘The Crusades’, for example, are still regarded by many Moslems as occurring as a result of ‘Christian’ aggression and atrocities. Recent child abuse cases have caused many to doubt the moral integrity of the clergy.
Also, there is an impression of scientific naivety exhibited by many of the Christian faith. Much is made of a belief that the world was created just 6,000 years ago, as though this is fundamental biblical doctrine. It isn’t. In Genesis 1:1, it is stated that God created the world and the heavens—it doesn’t say how long ago or how. The description of the creation of light and the formation of the Earth as we know it imply the importance of light to life on the planet. The atmosphere had to become clear enough for the stars to shine at night so that the Sun could radiate the land in perfect measure during the day. Water was caused to find its harmonious balance in the atmosphere, seas and land. Life was caused to exist in an orderly manner and the whole creation of planet Earth was shown to have a divine purpose, as stated in Genesis 1:26, ‘Let Us make man in our image, according to our likeness.’ The word ‘day’ is open to interpretation and can be understood in symbolic, poetic terms just as the whole of the creation narrative can be understood at different levels of comprehension. It is all true, but how we understand the truth is a matter of interpretation. We should not alienate the scientific community with dogmatic views about creation, because the Bible was not written as a scientific journal.
There is also the notion that Noah lived through a ‘global’ deluge. Scientists dispute this. The idea of a world engulfing flood destroying all life on Earth except for the family of Noah and the animals with him is another story considered mere myth. – The Earth’s geology, according to mainstream science, simply does not comply with such a narrative. However, what does is the probability that the flood was more regional – affecting only the ‘world’ of Noah. It was devastating and catastrophic for the whole civilization of man in that area where he lived. The animals that Noah took with him into the ark would have been local, essential for survival in the post-diluvian world and of benefit to him and to the ecology of the region. – Understood in these terms, the biblical narrative becomes immediately more acceptable as a possible historical event to anyone having scientific objections (not unreasonable) to the idea that ‘Noah’s flood’ could have engulfed the entire Earth.
Therefore, when it is realized that the biblical account describes a flood of exceptional magnitude and duration that affected not the whole Earth, but just the ‘world’ of Noah, it becomes logical to conclude that the ancient story is indeed rooted in truth. Even today, southern Iraq is a region very susceptible to flooding. Of course, the story is rich in symbolic imagery that speaks to us of salvation in Christ, the waters of baptism and rebirth – but that does not mean that the flood did not occur.
Did life evolve? The answer is yes and no. We understand that certain traits can be passed on and physical changes can occur through adaptation within a specie or between species of the same kind, for example. We can breed larger or smaller animals with inherited characteristics. But evidence to suggest that animals can change from one kind to another is largely the result of guess work and hypothesis. That is why it is called the theory of evolution—it is not proven. Advocates say that the evidence in support of evolution is overwhelming. However, it only appears to be the only reason for the presence of life on Earth when the possibility for the existence of a Creator God is dismissed from the mind. (For more on this subject, see : Creation and Evolution - In the beginning …)
Personally, I believe that there was life on this planet before modern life forms and man and that the Genesis narrative speaks about the latter from verse two onward. I find it most likely that the world of dinosaurs belonged to a different era, of the distant past, that was destroyed through a global calamity or calamities. Perhaps it was a world that existed at the time of Satan’s rebellion. Remember, very early on in the Bible, he is described as coming to Eve in the garden of Eden in the form of a serpent. Satan, it would seem, had already fallen before the creation of present life as we know it. However, we can only speculate about these matters. The Bible provides little information on this subject, so we cannot be dogmatic. Again, let us not close the door on scientists who believe in the evolutionary process. Let us encourage them to believe that all is possible with God—both creation and evolution. After all, as man through scientific discoveries of the last few hundred years has come to understand the very basics of the genetic code and feels that it is only a matter of time before he is able to create life himself—in the laboratory, we can reason that, from all eternity, a far greater Creator must already exist. We call Him God – the Eternal God.
Therefore, as far as we are able, we must open the door to faith, that others may enter, with sound reasoning that is not in denial of factual evidence discovered by science.
‘Many are called, but few are chosen’
Calling on others to believe the Gospel is rather like inviting people to a wedding. There will be rejoicing at the marriage of Christ when He returns to claim His bride—the Church. Nevertheless, as Jesus Himself pointed out, not everyone who is called will be chosen to attend the banquet (Matt.22:11-13). There will also be an unwillingness on the part of many to accept the invitation. They will make light of the benefits, prefer to go their own ways and some will even turn hostile. Others will want to come, but not to change. All these persons will be excluded from the kingdom of heaven (Matt.22:2-14).
The chosen will be wearing a new garment at the wedding feast—in fact, they will be clothed with Christ. They will have heard the Gospel and will have responded with true faith. They will have ‘put on the Lord Jesus Christ’ (Rom.13:14). Yahweh, Himself, will have arrayed them with ‘the garments of salvation and He will have covered them with the robe of righteousness’ (Is.61:10, NKJ).
In Matthew chapter 22:14, Jesus compared the number of the saved of God with the number of souls to be rejected—that in comparison to the number of unsaved, those entering into life would be few. He made other similar comments: ‘Wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it’ (Mat.7:13-14). Now, these are shocking comments on the condition of mankind.
Should only a comparative few be saved, then many millions who call themselves Christians are living in a delusion under a misnomer. Certainly, Jesus was commenting on the attitudes of those in the world at the time He was preaching, but there is no indication in the scriptures of the situation changing and improving for later generations. We can only do what we can to improve this situation by preaching the Gospel. Jesus said, ’Many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold’ (Matt.24:11-12). ‘Many will say to Me in that day, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?” And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practise lawlessness!”‘ (Matt.7:22-23, NKJ). Let us hope that through the true preaching of the Gospel, the many at that time, referred to here, will still be far fewer than the number of those saved.
Paul wrote to the Ephesians: ‘He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world’ (Eph.1:4, NKJ). Some hold the view that each of God’s elect was known to Him before the beginning of creation. It is a belief in predestination. It contends that we were individually known to God before we were even born—as God is omniscient and knows everything. The above verse is often quoted and interpreted to suggest this doctrine. Nevertheless, Paul was speaking here of ‘the faithful’ as a collective body, as indicated in verse one. It was predetermined, therefore, even before the creation of the cosmos, that the ‘faithful’ in Christ should be chosen for adoption and justified blameless in God’s sight (Eph.1:1-5).
Three words that are often misunderstood and advanced in support of the belief that God already knows the saved before they are even born are the Greek words ‘proginosko’ , ‘prognosis’ and ‘proorizo’.
Proginosko means ‘to know before’. The word is qualified according to time by the context and is used in the following way, e.g.: of Paul, who was ‘previously known’ to his accusers, ‘before’ he became a follower of Christ (Acts 26:5); of Jesus, ‘known’ to God ‘before’ the creation of the world’ (1 Pet.1:20); of Israel, whom God ‘knew before’, in times past (Rom.11:2); of facts ‘known’ to brethren ’beforehand’ (2 Pet.3:17); and of believers, ‘known’ to God ‘before’ being called, by the heart searching of the Spirit (1 Chron.28:9; Rom.8:27; 8:29).
Prognosis means ‘foreknowledge’ and is used in the sense of divine knowing, e.g. God ‘foreknew’ that Jesus would be taken for execution (Acts 2:23). God knows us before He accepts us—by the sanctifying work of the Spirit who searches the heart (1 Pet.1:2; 1 Chron.28:9; Rom.8:27).
Proorizo means to ‘predetermine’ or ‘preordain’. Again, in what way and at what time is to be understood by the context; for example, the Father ’predetermined’ that the chosen should conform to the image of His Son (Rom.8:29). From the beginning, this was God’s strategy: to create man in His own image (Gen.1:26). Moreover, God’s power and will had ‘predetermined’ that those who would act against His Son, according to their own freewill and wicked intentions, would do so only within and up to the bounds that He had set, Acts 4:28. This was done in accordance with God’s permissive will—and God had set limits on how far that mankind, acting under Satanic influence, could go.
That we are known of God before we are called is a fact established in scripture. As we can read, the Holy Spirit searches the heart to know what is in the mind: ‘The Lord searches all hearts and understands all the intent of the thoughts’ (1 Chron.28:9). This is how we are foreknown. This is how God knows beforehand those individuals who will respond to the Gospel call. God knows us before He chooses us.
‘And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed’
(Acts 13:48, NKJ)
The Lord knows who will believe before they hear the Gospel. As we have read in Acts 13:48: ‘And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.’ This is clearly shown in the episode concerning Cornelius the centurion, who was stationed at Caesarea—recorded in Acts. At the time when Cornelius was told to send to Joppa for Peter, that the apostle might preach to him the Gospel (Acts 10:1-8), the Lord already knew how the centurion would react. It was not to no avail that Peter was told in a vision to accept those whom God had cleansed (Acts 10:9-23). Cornelius—together with his relatives and close friends, who had gathered to hear the apostle—had already been accepted of God (Acts 10:34-35) and were appointed to receive the words of eternal life and the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:36-48). This is because God always knows what is in the heart of man (Acts 15:8).
Lydia of Thyatira in Macedonia, for example, was one whose heart the Lord had opened to receive the message (Acts 16:14). She was known of the Lord to be receptive to the Gospel, even before she heard Paul preach. Previously, Paul had experienced a vision of a Macedonian man calling to him for help—which Paul understood to be the Lord’s call for him to preach the Gospel to the people of that region. The Lord knew that many would respond positively to Paul’s preaching.
In another vision, the Lord told Paul not to be afraid and that in the city of Corinth He had many people (Acts 18:9-10). This obviously was not something already known to Paul, but was a vision given to encourage and inspire him to greater effort, that the chosen people of God might hear the Gospel and receive true faith in Christ.
God knows the good soil of those whose hearts are fertile and ready to receive the seed of His Word. By God’s grace, we are brought to this position. His grace is then irresistible. But, does this mean that we are then without choice? At this point, it may be argued that we have no will to say ’no’. We cannot say no because our heart will not let us. Nevertheless, before this occasion, when our hearts were still in need of tilling, we may well have said ‘no’ to God many times. Now, what once seemed foolishness is accepted as the revealed truth of God.
This happened to Paul. When God’s revelation came, he could no longer oppose the One he persecuted. By God’s grace, the mind of His chosen vessel was opened and he had no will to resist anymore (Acts 9:1-19).
‘But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God …’
(1 Cor.2:14, NKJ)
This verse is often used to reason that the Holy Spirit must change the innate character of man, before one can respond positively to the Gospel. It stems from the view of the natural man as being totally depraved and therefore unable to receive spiritual truths, including the Gospel. Verses such as: ‘There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God …’ (Rom.1:9-11), are used to support this interpretation—but wrongly so. Rather, it is simply that those who have their minds set on carnality will not accept what needs to be spiritually discerned. Only those who are spiritually minded will readily receive the deeper truths of God. He was not saying that the natural man is unable to accept the Gospel.
The context is about the need, as Paul perceived it at that time, for the Church at Corinth to mature in Christ. This is clearly stated in the same passage: ‘And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; for you are still carnal’ (1 Cor.3:1-3). New converts have a lot to learn, like infants, and can be spiritually unstable—needing correction when they go astray. There will be many moments when they fall into sin and need to repent. As a loving Father, God deals with us as His children (Heb.12:5-11), ‘that we may be partakers of His holiness’ (v10, NKJ).
The term ‘natural’ is translated from the Greek ‘psuchikos’ meaning: ‘belonging to the soul’, and is set in contrast to ‘pneumatikos’ meaning: ‘spiritual’. Hence, the word ‘psuchikos’ is translated: ‘natural’ or ‘physical’. This describes the condition of mankind before repentance and spiritual rebirth through the gift of the Holy Spirit. We must be born again—from above (John 3:3). The moment we start to become spiritually minded and draw near to God in repentance, He will draw near to us and lift us up (James 4:7-10). At the coming of the Comforter, the devil will flee.
The New Testament reveals that the gift and indwelling of the Holy Spirit follows belief in the Gospel of Christ and repentance (Acts 2:38; Rom.8:11). However, it is also clear that the Holy Spirit is active in the life of the one who is called, searching the heart, preparing a way for the Gospel to be received—as with Lydia ( Acts 16:14-15). Nevertheless, the Holy Spirit is gentle, not forcing a change in the will of anyone to obey the Lord. We are free to choose life or death, as in Old Testament times. The Holy Spirit does not compel anyone to act according to God’s will, but He does enable those who seek God through repentance to find Him—as Jesus told His disciples: ‘Seek, and you will find’ (Mat.7:7).
Is the natural man totally depraved? As a sinner, he is totally lost without Christ and without salvation—but totally depraved? Adolf Hitler, sadists, serial killers, child molesters certainly. However, while it is obvious that people can slide into depravity, not all are characterized by it. The unsaved are not fit for the kingdom of God as they are, but it is wrong to bundle them all together under the one epitaph: ‘totally depraved’—and this should go without saying. It is only erroneous religious dogma, relying upon out-of-context scripture, that causes people to conclude otherwise. It is our duty as Christians, to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit in reaching out to as many as the Lord will call. Let us be realistic in our attitude towards them and understand that those who respond positively have already been chosen by the Lord to be His children. In ways known only to the Lord, they have been prepared to receive the seed of His Word.
‘Thus it is written and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead …’
(Luke 24:46, NKJ)
Thus Jesus opened the understanding of His disciples after He was raised from the dead, revealing to them the prophetic scriptures concerning the Christ from the Law, the Psalms and the Prophets. He said that it was necessary for the Anointed to suffer and rise again, as it was written of Him.
Jesus was the ‘Prophet’ like Moses, spoken of in the Law (Deut.18:18; Acts 3:22-23); the Holy One and Lord who would suffer and be exalted, of whom David spoke in the Psalms (Ps.16:10; 22; 110: 1); the suffering Righteous Servant who would justify many, as foretold by Isaiah (Is.53).
Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Stephen, the first Christian martyr, told the council of elders at his trial that they had killed ‘the Just One’ foretold by the prophets, and had become His ‘betrayers and murderers’ (Acts 7:52). Like Jesus, Stephen suffered unrighteous condemnation and was taken away for execution. Like Jesus, he also forgave his persecutors (Acts 7:59-60; Luke 23:34). Without doubt, the disciples understood the death of the Holy One as an act of murder (Acts 2:23; 3:15; 4:10; 5:30). As Peter told the crowd on the Day of Pentecost: ‘Jesus of Nazareth … you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death’ (Acts 2:23). Also, reading from the Greek Septuagint version of the Bible, Philip told the Ethiopian treasurer of Queen Candace that Jesus was indeed led to the slaughter and executed without justice, as prophesied (Acts 8:33).
This was how the apostles and evangelists presented the Gospel when preaching Christ crucified. Only an unrighteous judge would proclaim the innocent guilty and worthy of execution.
In reaching out to non-believers, whether atheist, agnostic or persons of other faiths, we must not present the crucifixion as an act of God’s justice. The Bible does not do this and nor should we. We must proclaim the righteousness of Christ at the cross, as He gave His life for us as the Lamb without blemish. We are accepted with Him, covered by His righteousness, if we truly believe and follow.
The doctrine of penal substitution is a stumbling block to evangelism. It is it, and not Christ that many are rejecting. It is a teaching often accepted out of mere blind faith for the authority of church leaders. Such belief can then be reinforced by association with others who have come to faith in like manner. Afterwards, one might feel too committed to a particular church to seriously question its teachings or to consider different points of view. There is, understandably, a natural sense of loyalty and gratitude felt towards those who help one to faith – but, in this case it is a loyalty misplaced. Of course, as a child in Christ, one may not have the knowledge to reason if received doctrines are entirely correct.
However, we are not called to stagnate in faith. After leaving Egypt, the Israelites did not just remain where they first made camp. As children of God, we must also follow the leading of the Holy Spirit—even when we have to depart from a seemingly comfortable position. We have to follow the Word of God, as revealed by the Holy Spirit through the Scriptures.
‘…and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.’
(Luke 24:47, NKJ)
Of course, in order to repent, a person must believe in God and have a concept of sin.
Speaking personally, this was a stumbling block that I had to overcome—once, in the days of my youth. In my arrogance, I considered belief in a Creator to be a notion for the intellectually naive. Thankfully, God did not abandon me to my delusions, but caused me to be challenged in my views. Consequently, it then became evident that we exist for a purpose.
Although tempted to simply accept the Bible for answers, due to Christian influences, I knew that this would not satisfy my curiosity regarding the sacred writings of other faiths. So, I then embarked upon a reading of Hindu, Buddhist and Islamic scriptures to compare these to the Christian Bible. What I found surprised me. Only the Holy Bible claimed verification through the word of prophecy. Scattered throughout the Old and New Testaments are many prophetic statements that establish the truth of the writings and the Person many prophecies concern: the Lord Jesus Christ. These factors convinced me that the Bible contains God’s revelation to man. Only then was I open to accept its teachings.
Critics of Bible prophesy claim that the prophecies were written from the point of view of hindsight—after the event. However, this argument is very weak.
It is unreasonable to believe that devout and learned Jewish scholars, when compiling the canon of the Old Testament, would have accepted ‘prophecies’ known to have been written after the events to which they refer. The fulfilment of prophecies of both Old and New Testaments in ways impossible for man to foreknow can only suggest divine inspiration. To receive the Gospel, therefore, one must first believe in God and accept that the teachings of Jesus Christ and the apostles present to us God’s revelation.
When the Gospel was first preached, the Lord confirmed the Word with accompanying signs: the Messianic appearances; the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost; gifts of languages; visions; prophetic utterances; miracles and wonders. Even those having little knowledge of the Scriptures could believe a message presented with such reassuring power. Nevertheless, the true Gospel appeals to reason, not blind faith.
Blind faith may lead one to believe that Jesus died in sin—our sin! We place our faith in our tutors and find it difficult to believe that God would allow us to be led into falsehood. That the true Gospel does not appeal to the wisdom of this world does not make it unreasonable. Paul ‘reasoned’ with both Jews and Greeks in the synagogues and daily in the school of Tyrannus for two years (Acts 19:8-9). Yes, Paul did say that the message of the cross seemed foolishness to the Greeks (1 Cor.1:18-23); however, he said this about the true Gospel—not about a false one that really is—which presents God as an unrighteous judge, demanding his pound of flesh in order to supposedly uphold a law that would allow an innocent person to be punished in the place of the guilty.
If not only Greeks, but also Arabs, Jews and other nationalities find the evangelical preaching of penal substitution to be foolishness, they reason well. It is. Anyone who does not suppress their sense of true justice should find it so. It is simply not just to punish the innocent in the place of the guilty. Yet, evangelicals wonder why so many refuse to accept their preaching of the cross. Rather, the wonder is that so many do. Thankfully, the love of Christ, repentance and forgiveness can be experienced in spite of errors. Nevertheless, how many more who are called are turned awayfrom believing in Christ when they hear a ‘gospel’ that conscience andreason reject?
‘Repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name … beginning at Jerusalem’ (Luke 24:47, NKJ). Indeed, the call to repent should first begin at home, with ourselves. We have a lot to repent of as Christians. We have all neglected our calling to preach the true Gospel and have presented a sorry image to the world. Even so, as we humble ourselves before the Lord, so He will lift us up (James 4:10) and empower us to act in His service. Just as Jesus told His disciples, ‘Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you, tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high,’ so we also must be imbued with the power of the Holy Spirit for the work of the great commission.
Now, when people are facing death or danger, most will seek relief. The motivation is self-preservation. However, to be saved from the punishment of God, it is not self-preservation one needs, but the opposite—the desire to put self to death.
Jesus said: ’If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul?’ (Mat.16:24-26, NKJ). Paul put it this way: ‘Those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires’ (Gal.5:24, NKJ).
Jesus said also, ‘Count the cost’ (Luke 14:28-30). In other words, think about what it means. For example: Are you willing to turn from wrong ways and attitudes to follow Christ? Are you prepared to reflect in godly sorrow upon the hurt caused by past sins and seek God’s forgiveness? For His name’s sake, are you prepared to endure personal sacrifice and possible persecution?
These are some of the issues and questions that will need to be faced by anyone being called of Christ. New converts need to make an open and public confession and declaration of faith, renouncing sin, to be received into fellowship. In the New Testament, it is evident that water baptism was used by the Church in this regard—as an outward sign to allow converts to publicly state their inner faith.
Referring to Galileans whom Pilate, the Roman Governor, had ordered to be killed, along with their sacrifices, Jesus said, ’Do you suppose these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, no; but unless you repent, you shall all likewise perish’ (Luke 13:3, NKJ). Indeed, some forty years later, the Romans razed the Temple and Jerusalem. Those inhabitants who did not heed the call to repent died as prophesied.
The warning is clear. All who refuse to repent are condemned already—there is no doubt about it. Judgement is coming upon the Earth. When Jesus comes again, one prophecy that He will fulfil is the very next line of the famous quotation, beginning, ’The Lord has anointed Me …’, taken from Isaiah 61:1-2: ’To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD and the day of vengeance of our God.’ All who are called need to both believe the Gospel and repent. It is important to note, however, that repentance doesn’t end with conversion. It goes on and becomes more complete as we are transformed ‘from glory to glory’ (2 Cor.3:18) in our walk with God.
The good news is that those who mourn will be comforted. Those who turn to Jesus will be given ‘beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness’ (Is.61:3, NKJ). The Lord’s people are to be blessed with ‘everlasting joy’ (v7). The prophet rejoiced: ‘He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness’ (Is.61:10, NKJ). No matter what happens in the end times, in Christ we can rejoice and look forward with confidence to His glorious return, as prophesied (Acts 1:11; 1 Thess.4:15-16; Luke 21:27).
‘I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away’
This is going to happen, as also taught by the Apostle Peter: ’The day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. … Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for a new heaven and a new earth in which dwells righteousness’ (1 Pet.3:10-13, NKJ). ‘This present evil age,’ as Paul described it (Gal.1:4), will come to an end, and a glorious age of righteousness, peace and joy will follow.
The above passage from the Revelation given to John continues: ‘There shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying; and there shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away. Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new” ‘ (Rev.21:4-5).
There will come a day when there will be no more pain or sorrow. The wicked will be removed from the presence of God:’When the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord’ (2 Thess.1:8-9, NKJ).
Now, the phrase ‘everlasting destruction’ needs to be clearly understood. The word translated ‘everlasting’ is the adjective ‘aionios’ which is derived from the Greek word ‘aion’, meaning age. The word, of itself, does not mean ‘eternal’ or ’everlasting’ (although this may be inferred through the context). The word should be understood according to the inherent nature of the person or thing referred to in the passage (Lambert, Hasting’s Bible Dic.). There are a number of instances where the translation of the word aionios as ’eternal’ cannot support a literal interpretation—not only in the ancient secular texts, but also in the Bible. For example: The phrase (2 Tim.1:9), pro chronon aionion, has been translated: ‘before time began’ (NKJ); ‘before times eternal’ (ASV, WEB); and ‘before the ages of time’ (Darby). There are other renderings, but it is clear that there can be nothing ‘before times eternal’—before ‘eternity’.
The second word of the above phrase, translated ‘destruction’ , olethros, can mean ‘destruction’ or ‘punishment’, but the form, whether remedial or final, must be interpreted by the context. Is the punishment to be remedial, lasting only an age? This is not the plain reading of Scripture. The context both here and elsewhere suggests that the destruction may indeed be of the age but it will be everlasting in its effect. In the final judgement, the unrepentant will ultimately suffer destruction of both body and soul. Jesus said: ‘Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell [Gehenna].’ Gehenna is the transliteration of the Aramaic form of the name in Hebrew: ge-Hinnom—the valley of Hinnom (or the valley of the sons of Hinnom) just outside Jerusalem—notorious for the worship of Molech and the practice of child sacrifice in the days of Jeremiah (Jer.7:31). Later, the valley constantly had fires for burning offal—hence the name synonymous for the fire of the ages that will destroy the wicked.
Jesus said that we should not fear those who cannot kill (or destroy) the soul. Now, many believe this to mean ’punish’, as though God is the only One able to cause suffering to the soul. However, that this is not true should be obvious. The soul of man—that part which is the ‘person’, having individual character and personality, apart from the body—can suffer torment and torture in this life. Mental anguish can be harder to bare than physical pain—and of this many can testify from personal experience. The only valid meaning to our Lord’s words is that which is plain—man can utterly destroy the body, but only God is able to utterly destroy both body and soul. In Scripture, this is called the second death (Rev,20:14) and anyone not appointed to receive everlasting life will be condemned to the second death, called ‘the lake of fire’ (v14). This speaks of annihilation—the effect of which will last forever.
The biblical imagery of ‘the [Gehenna] fire that shall never be quenched—where their worm does not die’ (Mark 9:43-48, NKJ) signifies the nature of a destruction that will consume the wicked. That is all. Fire consumes. If a fire is not quenched, it will continue burning until there is nothing left to burn. Even maggots and worms will continue eating dead and decaying matter until there is nothing remaining. The Gehenna fire does not signify a place of eternal torment. Moreover, no one should interpret the story of Lazarus and the rich man literally (Lk.16). It is simply a parable that warns us not to trust in the deceitfulness of riches or to judge others by outward appearance. On another level, it may be understood that the inherited blessings of God’s chosen race—Judah had five brothers by the same mother, see v28—do not in themselves confirm salvation. Those despised as unclean who are nevertheless rich in faith are more to be accepted as children of Abraham than those who are heirs only by blood. In this sense, Lazarus might also stand as a metaphor for the believing Gentiles—as Eliezer of Damascus had been a faithful member of Abraham’s household (Gen.15:2). As in this parable, all souls will await judgement after the death of the body—either for reward or punishment (John 5:28-29; Rev.22:12). The ‘eternal punishment’ of the wicked (Mat.25:46) will be that of the second death—eternal in its effect.
The notion that the wicked will be tortured forever is to be found in the Hellenic images concerning Tartarus—in Greek mythology, the lowest region of Hades, the abode of the dead—and in the graphic imagery of Dante’s ‘Inferno’ (c.1290 AD); but, in the Bible, Tartarus is simply a term borrowed from the Greek that is used to describe a region assigned to imprison evil spirits until the time of judgement (2 Pet.2:4). On the contrary, one aspect of the good news is that the unrepentant will cease to exist beyond the second death. After that time, the wicked will be of the past—together with all the suffering and misery they had caused. The future vision for the saved is that of a new heaven and a new earth in which dwells righteousness—where tears of sorrow and pain will have no place.
‘… according to the revelation of the mystery … now revealed’
Paul preached only the revealed truth of God. He said: ’Now to Him who is able to establish you … according to the revelation of the mystery … now … made manifest …’ (Rom.16:25-27, NKJ). Paul purposed only to teach the knowledge of ‘Jesus Christ and Him crucified,’ as revealed through the Spirit of God (1 Cor.2:2-13, NKJ). There is much that is not revealed, especially concerning the afterlife. However, what is given is sufficient to establish our faith in God unto everlasting life through the preaching of Jesus Christ. We should know that we worship a God of love and true justice. He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezek.18:32), but desires that everyone should be saved. Even so, it is not God’s will to force mankind into obedience of the truth. Man has freewill and is permitted in this life to defy his Creator. The Lord did not create robotic intelligence. Everyone has been given the freedom to make moral decisions, but all have also been commanded to choose life. We are free to pursue evil, if that is our desire; but if we do so, we will face the wrath of God’s judicial punishment, together with the devil, as foretold in Scripture.
We can only state what is revealed. The Holy Spirit of God has made known to us the mystery of salvation through Jesus Christ, that we, through faith, may avoid condemnation and enter into the joy of the Lord. The sentence will be fearsome for those who delight in evil—but just. The God of true justice will satisfy justice for all.
Our corporate response to God’s revelation must be that of wanting to share His truth with as many as He will call, in all humility, that God may be glorified. When people are awakened out of doctrinal error, the initial response can vary from one of trauma to that of elation. Goodness will prevail. Joy and thanksgiving praise will flow to the glory of God. The Church is bound to go forward and grow in strength as more and more members of the body seek to restore the original teachings of the faith.
A false impression of God has been given to the world by doctrines that distort the truth and dishonour His Word. The Church is called upon to repent of these errors that a return to the one true faith might follow. As the prophet Daniel sought forgiveness and restoration for Israel during the time of its Babylonian captivity (Dan.9:2-19), so each member of Christ’s body should desire to leave behind all Babylonish beliefs and influences. The world has become a spiritual Babylon—and God has commanded: ’Come out of her, My people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues’ (Rev.18:4, NKJ).
THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS is soon to be revealed again from heaven. This is the promise of Scripture. It is sure to come to pass. When He comes, let us be ready—standing firm in His righteousness and sure in the faith. Let us do our part to fulfil the great commission.
May God direct you in your efforts and bless you as fellow-servants in preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all nations. May ‘The Biblical Revelation of the Cross’ bless your understanding and discipleship in Christ.
‘Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour
To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen.’
(2 Pet.3:18, NKJ)