Jun 23, 2008

Has the Gospel Been Preached to All the World?

Has Matthew 24:14 been fulfilled?

“And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”

Has this portion of the Olivet Discourse been fulfilled? Many today contend that it is still a future hope. What do you think? Our presuppositions are so comprehensive that even considering this a viable question may cause us to reach for the Rolaids. "Of course it hasn't been fulfilled", some bristle. Has the entire world been permeated with the Gospel? What about the peoples' of New Guinea or the indigenous tribes of the Amazon? But is this truly the intent of Jesus' bold proclamation? "Of course", we say. What else could Jesus have meant by "throughout the whole world"? Let's pause for a moment to consider the idea of what "world" meant in a first century Jewish context.

At first glance this sounds like a rather simple issue until we consider the fact that there are 287 usages of "world" in the KJV. For example, in the case of John 3:16, "For God so loved the world", the word "world" was translated from the Greek word kosmos. Did you know that in Strong's Greek concordance there are more than 8 potential definitions of kosmos. For centuries this most famous verse has been used as a proof text against the doctrine of sovereign grace (election) because it appears rather obvious that God loves every person in the "world", not just the "elect". (As a sidebar check out this video for a more thorough understanding of John 3:16 and particularly Jesus' use of "world")

So if you read the KJV, remember that "world" may not necessarily mean exactly what you think it means. In the KJV, the "end of the world'" found in Matthew 24:3, should read "end of the age" because the Greek word "aion" was incorrectly translated "world".

Let's look at another example of "world" and how it may have added confusion to our understanding of the question at hand: Has the Gospel been preached to "all the world"?

Luke 2:1 (KJV) And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. Is this passage suggesting that the entire world is under the taxing authority of Rome? Of course not. In this verse, Luke uses oikoumene as the Greek word for "world". The NASB translation gives us greater insight into the word's actual meaning.

Luke 2:1 (NASB) Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. Did the decree go out to South America or the Far East? The Scriptures are Jewish. The NT is an extension of the OT and therefore must be viewed in that context. Up until Acts 10, what had been Jesus' stated mission and to whom was the early church sent to proclaim the Gospel? In Matthew 15:24 Jesus said, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." In Matthew 10:5-6 we read, These twelve Jesus sent out after instructing them: "Do not go in the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter any city of the Samaritans; 6 but rather go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."

This is the reason for Peter's strange vision of unclean meat which he finally understood as the ministry to the Gentiles. "Rise Peter, kill and eat". The Gospel was to go out to "all the world" not just the lost sheep. In Romans 9:25-26 Paul wrote, As He says also in Hosea, "I will call those who were not My people, 'My people ,' And her who was not beloved , 'beloved.' " 26 "And it shall be that in the place where it was said to them, 'You are not My people ,' There they shall be called sons of the living God."

It's clear that the trickle of living water flowing from the Temple in Ezekiel 47 was to eventually include the Gentiles, however, if the "all nations" exhortation of Matthew 28 (great commission) was at that time intended to include the Gentiles, then not only would Peter's vision have been unnecessary but these devout disciples of Christ were derelict in their duties for at least 10 years.

Sometimes forgetting that these prophetic words were spoken by and directed to the Jews, we can skew our perceptions such that we think these early commands were understood to be global in nature. As we hearken back to Caesar's decree, "world" or "inhabited earth" apparently did not intend to include every person on the planet. It should be noted that if we do not read the Scriptures with the understanding that they were written in the context of the Hebreic culture, then we will forever be confused therefore causing us to develop misguided conclusions.

Let's move on to the content of the chart below. Consider the following prophesied verses (chart's left grid) and their corresponding fulfillments (right grid). I think you may be shocked to find the answers clearly embedded in the Word of God. We don't have to venture into subjective conjecture. The evidence is found within the greatest offensive weapon ever created--the Sword of Hebrews 4:12. How miraculously inspired is God's Word? The object of each specific gospel proclamation prophecy contains a Greek word that shows its fulfillment using that same Greek word. For example, "world" is used as oikoumene in Matthew 24:14 and kosmos in Mark 16:15 and in their fulfillments in Romans 10:18 and Romans 16:25-26 respectively.

The bottom line is that, much like the rest of Jesus' prophetic words in the Olivet Discourse, "Truly I say to you [the disciples], this generation [not 'that' generation] shall not pass away until all these things take place" (Matthew 24:34) was fulfilled within the "this generation" 40 year time referent [30-70 AD] just as it had been predicted.

Some admit, after considering "audience relevance", that the components of Matthew 24 did indeed come to pass between 30 and 70 AD (resurrection to holocaust). However, they conjecture that it will be fulfilled again sometime in our future.

The first question we should ask is, "Why?" What's the point other than to meet our presuppositional expectations? What would lead any of us to believe that these fulfillments were mere shadows of future fulfillments? Is there one shred of Scriptural evidence to support this conclusion? We have developed a "Groundhogs Day" mentality without realizing that the revelations of the New Covenant are the spiritual manifestations of Old Covenant mysteries.

The ensuing questions should be, "How can the Gospel be preached to "all the world" again?" (Matt 24:14) A little repetitive redundancy seemingly just to preserve our paradigm? How can 'the end' come more than once? (Matt 24:14) And how can there be a two 'great tribulations', "such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be." (Matt 24:19)

It's vitally important to know that Jesus' promises are always on time, in spite of our sometimes faithless proclivities to perpetually and perhaps unintentionally believe otherwise! I'm not casting stones here. I was in the same eschatological boat not very long ago. However, when someone threw me a lifeline, I decided to use it. It's great to be back in the boat! Things are making a whole lot more sense. God's Word is truly amazing!

Prophesied-------------- Fulfilled

"And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world (Greek oikoumene) for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come" (Matthew 24:14)

"But I say, have they not heard? Yes indeed: ‘Their sound has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world (Greek oikoumene)" (Romans 10:18)

"And the gospel must first be published among all nations (Greek ethnos)"

(Mark 13:10)

"...My gospel... has been made manifest, and by the prophetic Scriptures has been made known to all nations (Greek ethnos)..." (Romans 16:25-26)

"And He said to them, ‘Go into all the world (Greek kosmos) and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15)

"...of the gospel, which has come to you, as it has also in all the world (Greek kosmos), as is bringing forth fruit...," (Colossians 1:5-6).

And he said unto them ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature (Greek ktisis) " (Mark 16:15)

"...from the gospel which you heard, which was preached to every creature (Greek ktisis) under heaven, of which I, Paul became a minister" (Colossians 1:23)

"But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth (Greek ge)" (Acts 1:8).

"But I say, have they not heard? Yes indeed: ‘Their sound has gone out to all the earth (Greek ge), and their words to the ends of the world" (Romans 10:18)

Thanks to Keith for putting the following video together...

Jun 10, 2008

"It depends on what the meaning of 'is' is"

When we regard Holy Scripture, does time matter? Is it relevant? Is it consistent? Are references to it to be taken literally and uniformly? Does “soon” really mean “soon”? If something was “at hand” in one verse and “at hand” in another, can each infer drastically distinct interpretations? Is it possible for the first to mean "soon" while the latter insinuate a gap of thousands of years? Should we expect word interpretation consistency? Is there indication that Jesus or any of the inspired NT authors ever attempted to lead their readers to believe time was elastic to the point that it could not be faithfully relied upon?

Bill Clinton's famous quote, "It depends on what the meaning of 'is' is", seems eerily similar to the manner in which many of the popular modern day Bible interpreters play fast and lose with Scriptural integrity and inspiration.

We know that to an infinite God, who has no beginning or end, time is of no consequence. To Creator God, a thousand earthly years is but a mere day and a day is as a thousand years. (2Pet 3:8) To God timelines are of no value because in His economy time is without limits.

But let me ask you a question. To whom was the Bible written? I don’t mean to sound facetious, but God didn’t write the Scriptures to and for Himself did He? The Bible communicates His redemptive plan to His fallen finite time-bound creation. Wouldn't God use language His creatures could comprehend? And should we not also assume God wouldn't intentionally attempt to confuse or mislead His most intimate first century followers? If time indicators were not reliable then why were they employed? Why would Jesus have placed time constraints on His coming (parousia) if they only stood to mislead His disciples? (Matt 10:23; 16:27-28; 24:34)

So what does the Bible tell us about time? (after reading this article, return to watch the below video to help flesh out that which we are considering here)

  • Genesis 1:5 (ESV) God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

The infinite triune God created “the first day”. Why would God, being eternal, concern Himself with the creation of this finite system? In His immeasurable wisdom, He knew finite man would require this sun/moon time sequence to create a sense of order. From the beginning, time was consequential, and as we shall see, time mattered a great deal to God because it was part of man’s temporal economy. A sense of time consistency appears throughout Scripture that many of today's most God-fearing men and women appear to doubt. Why? Possibly because the bias of their presuppositional worldview does not allow them to treat time literally.

Many of us choose to interpret Biblical apocalyptic language (stars falling from Heaven and moon turning into blood) literally and by contrast, the literal time statements (at hand, soon, shortly) figuratively—all seemingly in an attempt to justify our positions. None of us intentionally believe things that are untrue so we are quick to employ justifications for the things that cause angst and confusion. How often do we pull out the 2Peter 3:8 card when God says something was supposed to be "soon" or "at hand" in the first century, that we insist was still thousands of years future to "them"?

The status quo is a very safe place to rest. No one likes to be in the minority especially when truth may force us to stand alone for a season or possibly longer. Some of us willingly throw audience relevance (the Scriptures were relevant to the audience at hand) out the window just to accommodate the way we think things are supposed to be. Presupposition and empiricism appear to rule the day. So instead of choosing to become effective Bereans (testing all things) we retreat in fear attempting to find adequate justification for neutering the meanings of these very menacing texts. Challenging a deep-seated paradigm can be a rather terrifying and intensely disorienting endeavor.

I apologize for being so intrusive but let me ask you another probing question. Is it intellectually honest to distort time to mean whatever we desire, simply to prove our paradigm? We have crafted an entire system of timeless ambiguity from just one out-of-context Second Peter verse. We have been asked to believe that every time referent written before or after Peter's Second Epistle has been neutralized of its imminence. Has 2Pet 3:8 really given us license to distort time?

First, it should be noted that 2Pet 3:8 (written in approx AD 67) actually proves the opposite of what many assume this verse implies. It had been approx. 37 years since Jesus' "this generation" proclamation (AD 30) and the "last days scoffers" were out in full force, questioning the very time issues Peter is purported to be trivializing. Was Jesus ever going to return? Peter's response in the next verse? "The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness." Even though some thought Jesus was late to the point of being unfaithful to His promise, Peter was assuring his readers that Jesus was right on schedule. (And as is known today, Peter's statements were issued merely 3 years prior to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70which marked the end of the Jewish age).

And think about this. Is it even plausible that the same author who less than a year earlier wrote, “the end of all things is near” (1Pet 4:7), would in one swipe of the quill erase time from the Biblical record? Is the Bible the only historical book ever written where time is supposed to be inconsequential? And if it is, who informed the direct recipients that the things they were being told were misleading and untruthful?

If by Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place" (Matt 24:34), Jesus is presumed to be talking about a distant generation (which would have been “that generation”) 2,000 years removed, who told His disciples that Jesus wasn’t really speaking to them?

Let’s give a fair-minded look at the following statements and remember to keep “audience relevance” in your mind’s eye as you think about the impact these things would have had on the recipients.

They were exhorted to have patience “for the coming of the Lord is at hand … the judge is standing at the door” (James 5:8-9). Challenged to be self-controlled because, “The end of all things is near” (1Peter 4:7) Encouraged to endure the horrific persecution knowing that, “In a very little while He who is coming will come and will not delay”. (Heb 10:36-37) Cautioned to stay as they were, free from added anxieties because, “the time is short…the form of this world is passing away”. (1Cor 7:29-31) Warned to be vigilant because of the ever-present antichrists proving that “it is the last hour” (1John 2:18). And when they received their edition of John’s Revelation they were heartened to know that these were “things that are to take place shortly…for the time is near”? (Revelation 1:1,3)

What kind of impact would these promises have had upon the heavily persecuted first century Christ-followers? Today, many a theologian unwittingly asks us to assume that the inspired writers of the NT deliberately misled the faithful. Why? In order to create a multi-generational expectancy? Is this method of deception and misdirection truly consistent with God's character? Can you imagine what disastrous consequences would have ensued had these promises not been fulfilled in real time? Did Jesus and the inspired writer's of the NT, promise short term vindication to the heavily persecuted early Church with no intention of being faithful to those promises?

  • This is a plain indication of God's righteous judgment so that you will be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which indeed you are suffering. 6 For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7 and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, 8 dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 2 Thessalonians 1:5-8

Has anyone ever promised you something that you realized they never had an intention of fulfilling? How did that make you feel? How did that affect your trust level and your reception to their future promises?

Consider for a moment the psychological impact of failed promises in the following parable. (Thanks to my daughter for graciously allowing me to use her wedding photo)

A women’s lifetime of dreams is upon her. Other than her commitment to Christ many years earlier, the most magnificent day has finally arrived. She is about to wed the love of her life. As she readies herself in the bride’s quarters, she can hardly wait to walk those few glorious steps down the aisle to meet her man.

As she waits patiently she’s given word that the groom has not yet arrived. Of all days to be late! But there's no cause for alarm since there's still time. She knows in her heart that he’ll be along any minute so she tries as best she can to relax. As her mind runs wild, she begins to wonder if something's gone awryher groom has always been abundantly faithful.

The bride's spirit is quieted somewhat as she’s given word that he will “soon” appear at the altar awaiting his beautiful bride. Minutes pass and the bride continues to sit without her beloved as tensions begin to rise. Another word from the groom’s best man is such heartening news—he is now said to be arriving “shortly”. The anticipation grows with these more imminent words but still no groom as the clock keeps ticking and the guests grow impatient, evidenced by their ensuing chatter.

A note of certainly has sprung from the groom’s entourage and the maid of honor whispers the good news to the bride saying, “It’ll be a very little while”. He must be right outside the church she surmises. She's hardly able to contain her eager anticipation. Her hopes continue to heighten. The rush is coming. Her heart begins pounding wildly. Another encouraging report saying, “it’s the last hour”, his coming is “at hand”. Her enthusiasm crescendos to a new pinnacle. She can hardly stand still. Her Groom is about to appear. She can feel his presence!

Now hours have passed and no Groom is in sight. All the guests but the parents have returned to their respective homes. The bride, sobbing and downtrodden, experiences untold sorrow. “But he was on his way. Why didn't he come? And why did they continue to tell us that he'd be here soon?" She felt the epitome of rejection, telling her maid of honor that it would have been better to have never loved than to go through this tortuously agonizing trial.

Days pass and still no Groom as the bride grew increasingly despondent. Weeks and still no sign of him. Not even a Word from his parents. Years are now in the books and although the bride was clearly grief stricken, she had moved on. Her faith was irreparably shattered, no longer able or willing to trust her Groom even if He did one day return.

If Jesus (the Groom) was unfaithful to those (the Bride of Christ) that received these many imminent promises, then what effect would that have had on the early church? I believe the implications of failed expectations would have been catastrophic. Would the Gospel have proliferated so significantly into the 2nd century if the Christ-followers believed they had been duped? You may be shocked at the following excerpt from C.S. Lewis', The World's Last Night, written the same year (1952) as Mere Christianity:

“Say what you like,” we shall be told, “the apocalyptic beliefs of the first Christians have been proved to be false. It is clear from the New Testament that they all expected the Second Coming in their own lifetime. And, worse still, they had a reason, and one which you will find very embarrassing. Their Master had told them so. He shared, and indeed created, their delusion. He said in so many words, ‘this generation shall not pass till all these things be done.’ And he was wrong. He clearly knew no more about the end of the world than anyone else.” It is certainly the most embarrassing verse in the Bible.

Unlike C.S. Lewis, I was not able to successfully assimilate this view that Jesus "created their delusion". Was Jesus wrong? Was He engaged in situational ethics where the end (creating a generational expectancy) justified the means (intentionally using false promises)? I don't believe Jesus was 2,000 years late. Listen to this rather poignant song, "2,000 years and counting" (by Jeff Reulbach).

Unfortunately for C.S. Lewis, he was, to my knowledge, never given a consistently Biblical solution to the expected imminency of Christ's return. Apparently no one shared with him that Jesus was in fact totally faithful to meet the time expectations He set forth in the Olivet. For good reason Jesus told His disciples to flee to the mountains. They would soon encounter perilous times for which He was preparing them. He told them they would be severely persecuted to the point of death. When would these things take place? Jesus said, "all these things will come upon this generation" (not "that generation").

The Olivet wasn't written in a vacuum. It was the natural outgrowth of the thrashing Jesus gave the religious elite (which Matthew records in the prior chapter). Be one of the disciples as you sit on a nearby rock. Listen and consider the impact of Jesus' verbal flogging of these self-righteous vipers. Is there any doubt who Jesus is speaking to? Is there any confusion as to the destiny of these Christ-killers or the time in which these hypocrites would experience the vengeful wrath of God?

  • "So you testify against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 "Fill up, then, the measure of the guilt of your fathers. 33 "You serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you escape the sentence of hell? 34 "Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city, 35 so that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. 36 "Truly I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation. (Matthew 23:31-36)

And this came to pass exactly as it was predicted. God did avenge His faithful followers through the direction of Roman General Titus and his multinational force that razzed Jerusalem in total desolation. (For more info read the Works of Josephus and/or the paper written in 1805 by George Holford, "The Destruction of Jerusalem, An Absolute and Irresistible Proof of the Divine Origin of Christianity - Including a narrative of the calamities which befel the Jews so far as they tend to verify our Lord's predictions relative to that event) Praise be to God that he was not slow to fulfill His promises!

We know that the Gospel flourished after the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 (The Seige). The believers that received these many assurances passed on this magnificent Gospel without interruption. This ought to be divine proof in the timely execution of the many time sensitive promises where “shortly” always meant “shortly” and “is”, is what it “is”.

Jun 4, 2008

To End All Wars - The Heart of Mercy

I finally secured my copy of “To End All Wars” (2001). It was as powerful as it was brutal. What a masterpiece! I rarely watch movies but since this one came so highly recommended by two esteemed friends in the faith, I stayed the course alone, enthralled with the many apparent contradictions of life. "For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong." 1Cor 12:10 (ESV) The movie’s native POW setting and graphic details were certain to violate my wife Debbie’s gentle sensibilities--so I spared her from such.

This is on the order of a modern day Passion of the Christ. Every emotion imaginable is intertwined within this beautifully scripted work of art.

Writer Brian Gadawa deals with the worst depravity has to offer against the qualities found only in those endowed with the Spirit of Christ. Gadawa who wrote an excellent paper, "The Promise to Abraham" (a must read regarding the true "Israel of God") is no stranger to the concepts of bigotry and the stereotypes that foster oppression and devalue human life.

Even the hate, fear and vengeance that are on stark display in the brutality of war, wilt under the incredible pressure of mercy and forgiveness. It’s what the Christianity of Scriptures would look like today had it not been hijacked by the mindset of the average westernized 21st century believer. Kill the Islamofascists before they kill us we cry. Evangelist Rod Parsley said, "Amercia was founded in part by seeing this false religion (Islam) destroyed". "Destroyed" is a very volitile word that serves to inflame the passions of Muslims, Jews and Christians.

Is Parsely speaking of destruction through peaceful conversion by the non-violent gospel-preaching methods of Peter and Paul (murdered by their audience) or ultimately by military aggression? Since I've had time to reflect over these past 2 1/2 years, today's vitriol that emanates from the mega-church's "religious right", seems so foreign to the message of the New Testament. Have we not lost the message of Christ? Were the beatitudes to be confined to Christ's earthly existence?

Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you. Turn the other cheek. Vengeance is mine says the Lord. Until recently, these concepts were totally foreign to me. I read them as though they had no relevance in my life. I had a sense of duty to help others pay the price for making me uncomfortable (but always with the rationalization that it was a righteous indignation). In reality more like sinful resignation.

"To End All Wars" presents a model of first century Christianity in its finest hour, where hope, sacrifice and a passionate commitment to Christ, overcome the most horrific adversity of torture and ultimately death.

Acts 7:60 (NASB) Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them!" Having said this, he fell asleep.

Do we not all long to have the compassion of Stephen, capable of truly loving our enemies with this kind of selfless abandon? Can we joyfully accept the "plundering of our goods"? (Don't forget the context of the following Hebrews' passage written in the latter part of the 60's AD, just prior to the Destruction of Jerusalem. Audience relevance must be constantly on our minds, especially as we reach verse 37, which was the short term hope of these heavily persecuted believers)

Hebrews 10:32-37 (NASB) But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, 33 partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated. 34 For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one. 35 Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. 36 For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised. 37 For yet in a very little while, He who is coming will come, and will not delay.

“What is the final destination of hatred? When you look into the eyes of your enemy and you see yourself…” These were the disturbing words at the movie's end. They dare us to look within.

Oh that I could be “Dusty”, a POW so captivated and saturated with the Gospel of Christ that he was completely compelled to live its message. A faith so tangible that it left him no choice but to demonstrate the love of Christ, not merely to his friends but to his enemies as well.

John 15:12-13 (NASB)"This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. 13 "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.

I thought the following excerpt from a Christianity Today review was extremely poignant:

Cunningham explains that the film is "not a Christian movie, and we don't want it portrayed as one." In an interview with The Oregonian, he elaborated: "The rating is an R and my frustration [with conservative Christians] is this: that over the last few years, all the great movies—Schindler's List, Dead Man Walking, The Shawshank Redemption and Amistad—are all R-rated pictures, and everybody should be seeing them. They'll accept PG-13 in The Fast and the Furious but not the R of Schindler's List. The church should not be basing its decisions on that system, which covers such a range."

When asked why he doesn't follow the route of films like Left Behind and The Omega Code, Cunningham explains, "They almost seem to me like fear-motivated messages—'turn or burn' kind of things. I don't think they're related to modern life. It may be well meaning, but none of these people are filmmakers; they're all evangelists trying to use film. My heart and desire has been to make a film that causes you to think. It's not based on fear, but on the struggles that we have inside us."

Don't get me wrong. This was not an easy movie to watch. It will not leave you feeling entertained. Neither did The Passion of the Christ. Both should be seen and assimilated. Drained you will be, and stretched for certain, but disappointed you will not be.