Recently, at meetings in Orlando, Fla., organized by the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, it was announced that the world could be only 10 or 15 years away from seeing the Great Commission fulfilled. In other words, it is possible that every people group on earth will have had the gospel preached to them and some portion of scripture translated into their language. To hear this announcement was astounding.
Following that announcement, Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, made a remarkable observation. He told the gathered assembly that he once believed that when we arrive in heaven there will be long lines of people eager to ask the 12 disciples, Paul, Barnabas, Priscilla, Aquila and a host of other first century Christians: “What was it like to have been there at the very moment the gospel started to go out to every tribe, people and nation?”
Anderson mused, “I can’t help but wonder if, perhaps, when we get to heaven, there will be lines waiting for us to arrive so those who preceded us can ask: 'What was it like to live in that moment of history when the work begun in the first century was finally completed, and all on earth had the opportunity to hear the gospel?' It is an astounding and moving thought."
Jesus taught, “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14). It is exciting to imagine that the coming of Christ may come on the very heels of the last person on earth hearing the gospel. But one must be careful not to read more into this text than Jesus intended.
Although the Scriptures say the gospel will be preached to the whole world and then the end will come, it does not say that the coming of Christ will follow immediately after the completion of the Great Commission. And even if it is to follow immediately, our understanding of completing the Great Commission may not match God’s. A day may come when we think the task has been completed, but we may be unaware of other people whom God still intends for us to reach. If Christ delays His coming for another hundred years, we must be faithful to proclaim His name to every generation, for as long as He tarries.
The Bible is also clear that believers must not be preoccupied with trying to guess the day and hour when the Lord Jesus Christ will return. Even so, many seem to play the guessing game. It seems every time there is a natural disaster that can be viewed on TV worldwide, or some kind of moral collapse that affects a whole culture, or a crisis shocks a nation, or a radical crime against humanity occurs, someone is ready to label that particular event as a prequel to the imminent return of Christ.
Of course, all who have their hope in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord are eager for His return. Nevertheless, those who violate the clear teaching of Scripture and assign times and seasons to His Second Coming bring discredit to themselves when the events do not pan out as predicted. One day, He will return; but the Bible says rather than trying to guess the times and seasons, Christians should be about other occupations.
There are some things in the prophetic Word that are clear and unambiguous. Christians are told to be on the alert (Matt. 24:42). They are told not to fear but rather to comfort one another no matter what the circumstances because Christ will bring all things to a good end (1 Thess. 4:18). Believers are instructed that because Jesus will come again, they should be busy cultivating in themselves holiness and godly conduct (2 Peter 3:11-15).
But the most repeated instruction given to Christians about the Second Coming of Christ is that true followers of Jesus should renew their commitment to make Him known to others. In a world estranged from God, a world where sin is prevalent, the preaching of the Gospel is always relevant. Before Jesus’ ascension into Heaven, His disciples wondered if that moment was the time when Jesus would bring His Kingdom to Earth. He told them not to worry about such things but to go into the world and preach the Gospel (Acts 1:6-8). That injunction still stands.
Virtually all of the Bible’s instruction about “The Last Days” comes with two warnings. First, do not fret over trying to figure out the timing of these things. Second, in light of the fact that a day of accounting is coming, work to become the kind of person God intended you to be.
This, of course, speaks about Christian character, and it also means becoming an ambassador of God’s kingdom in this world. Unfortunately, people often read the prophetic passages in Scripture and do the exact opposite of what Christ has said: They worry about the future and neglect the proclamation of the gospel. The message of Christ itself testifies to that perfect love that casts out fear. How can we give positive testimony to confidence in Christ if we fear the end times? Why do Christians embrace a kind of hopelessness while in possession of genuine hope in Christ? Why do they fret when the Gospel encourages faith? And why do they keep silent when they are called to be ambassadors of God’s grace to others (Romans 5:8 and 2 Corinthians 5:17-21)?
Jesus will come again—God has promised this in His Word. Further, He persistently encourages believers to bear witness to His love and forgiveness. This message is rooted in the death and resurrection of Christ.
Be assured, people in this world desperately want to know Jesus. How can we know this? Because Jesus said, “The fields are white for harvest” (Cf. John 4:35). Christ is the Lord of that harvest. We do not have to “take” Him to anyone; He is already there working and wooing people to Himself. We merely go to make explicit what He is already doing.
He calls us to work alongside Him in this great enterprise. He tells us to pray for others to enter into this labor. Certainly we can begin by also praying for those in our world who do not yet know Him to come to know Him. We can pray for our neighbors, our co-workers, the people who serve us in our communities, people we see day after day. These are the people He calls us to and, as we await His return, we can work with Him, participating in His great work in the world.
If we read accurately the teachings of Scripture about the Second Coming of Christ, it ought to stir us up to enter into harvest labor. Those across the street and across the seas are waiting for us to tell them. And when we are united with the saints in Heaven, we may be able to tell them what it was like to have lived in the day when all the world finally heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Jerry Root is associate director of the Billy Graham Institute of Strategic Evangelism, and Director of the Wheaton College Evangelism Initiative. He has often brought groups of Wheaton College students and staff to serve as counselors at Franklin Graham Festivals, including this past summer’s Rock the Lakes event in Milwaukee. This article was used with permission from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. ©2011 Jerry Root
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