THREE ASPECTS OF GOD’S ETERNAL PLAN
Copyright © 2006 Trumpet Ministries, Inc. All Rights Reserved
There are three dimensions of God’s redemptive work among mankind. The first dimension of redemption is salvation—preservation to eternal life in the world of righteousness that is coming. The second is the creating and perfecting of the Church. The third is the bringing of the nations of the earth under Kingdom law.
THREE ASPECTS OF GOD’S ETERNAL PLAN
There are three dimensions of God’s redemptive work among mankind. The first dimension of redemption is salvation—preservation to eternal life in the world of righteousness that is coming. The second is the creating and perfecting of the Church. The third is the bringing of the nations of the earth under Kingdom law, which is the eternal moral law of God.
There are two factors essential to the accomplishment of the three parts of the Divine plan: (1) that the Lord Jesus Christ hold all authority and power in Heaven and on earth, and (2) that Christ abide with His servants and work with them and through them.
- Preservation to eternal life.
- Creating and perfecting the Church.
- Bringing the nations under Kingdom law.
- Christ possessing all authority and power in Heaven and on the earth.
- Christ being with His servants at all times, working with and through them.
A key statement concerning salvation is as follows:
And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned [condemned]. (Mark 16:15,16)
A key statement concerning the creating of the Church is as follows:
That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. (Ephesians 5:27)
Membership in the Church, the Bride of the Lamb, the royal priesthood, is by Divine election.
For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. (Romans 8:29)
A key statement concerning the bringing the nations under Kingdom law is as follows:
He shall not fail nor be discouraged, till he have set judgment [justice] in the earth: and the isles shall wait for his law. (Isaiah 42:4)
Salvation has to do with our not being destroyed in the Day of Judgment, with our being brought over into life lived in the glory of the new heaven and earth reign of Christ.
Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. (Romans 5:9)
And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come. (I Thessalonians 1:10)
The Apostles of Christ always pointed toward the Day of Christ, which will be the spiritual fulfillment of the Levitical Day of Atonement, the Day of Reconciliation (Leviticus, Chapter 16). The Day of the Lord will begin on a kingdom-wide basis with the return of Christ to the earth. It will last a thousand years, concluding with the final judgment of mankind.
In its primary sense, salvation is Christ’s acceptance of us as candidates for eternal life on the new earth. The forgiveness of our sins is the first step in this acceptance.
We will be saved in the Day of the Lord if we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and are baptized in water.
The creating of the Church may be studied as a separate issue from salvation. Of the many concepts that must be brought to the attention of the Lord’s people in the present hour, the difference between basic salvation and the creation of the Church, the Body of Christ, may be one of the more essential.
The current understanding that there is no difference between basic salvation and being part of the Wife of the Lamb has caused the multitude of New Testament passages that have to do with the perfecting of the Church to lose their force, their urgency, their necessity.
The requirements for basic salvation from wrath are minimal. The requirements for being a member of the Body of Christ, the Bride of the Lamb, are extraordinary requiring our total, complete consecration.
If, therefore, we consider salvation and membership in the Body of Christ to be the same work of redemption, then we, because of our fleshly lusts and self-centeredness, will adhere only to the minimal requirements for salvation; and if we have been elected to be in the Bride we will be punished because of our lack of diligent attention to the increased demands made on those who must be without spot or wrinkle (Hebrews 2:3).
The thoughtful reader will perceive immediately that if it actually is true that membership in the Body of Christ is a different issue from that of salvation there needs to be substantial changes in what is being preached and practiced today. Those who have been elected to be part of the Church, the Body of Christ, are not permitted to select only the few requirements of salvation.
Being saved from wrath requires an act of faith on our part in accepting the blood atonement made by Christ on the cross of Calvary. Essential to our acceptance of the atonement is our genuine repentance from the ways of the present world system and baptism in water into the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Such is the command of Christ to and through His Apostles.
If we truly place our faith in Christ, confessing Him as Savior and Lord, and are baptized in water in obedience to God, we will be saved from the Lake of Fire. This is the Good News of salvation and the first step in the coming of the Kingdom of God to the earth.
However, the bulk of the writings of the Apostles are not concerned with the gift of salvation but with the perfecting of the Church.
In order to observe the difference between the concept of salvation from wrath, and the participation of the elect in the Church, let us look at statements made by the Apostle Paul:
Concerning the obtaining of righteousness, the remission of sins:
Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation [appeasement] through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; (Romans 3:24,25)
Concerning the perfecting of one’s position in the Church, the Church being the called-out kingdom of priests whose destiny is to rule the works of God’s hands forever;
Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. (I Corinthians 9:24,25)
“Being justified freely by his grace.”
“So run, that ye may obtain.”
Let us compare two other statements:
But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. (Romans 4:5)
If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection [Greek, out-resurrection] of the dead. (Philippians 3:11)
“To him that worketh not.”
“If by any means I might attain.”
It seems there are two separate issues here. The first issue is that of the remission of sins, of deliverance from the wrath of God. The second issue has to do with our becoming an eternal part of Christ in the supremely desirable union referred to as “the marriage of the Lamb.”
Paul was seeking to “know” his Messiah; not to know about Him in salvation but to know Him in total, incorruptible, eternal union (Philippians 3:8-10, Revelation 19:7).
The first issue, that of salvation from wrath on the basis of faith in the blood of Christ, has been preached and taught with faithfulness and accuracy. The second issue, that of membership in the Body of Christ, the Wife of the Lamb, the ruling Kingdom of God, may not have received the same attention.
The assumption that salvation and participation in the ruling priesthood are synonymous has caused uncounted numbers of Christian people to ignore the main topic of the Epistles, which is the perfecting of the Church.
If the only issue of redemption were the forgiveness of our sins (which is accomplished immediately on our profession of faith in Christ and our repentance from our sinful ways) the Book of Hebrews would make no sense. The Book of Hebrews was written as a warning to experienced saints that they were in danger of “perishing in the wilderness” because of their disobedience and unbelief, because of not pressing forward to the “rest” of God. The Christians being addressed were neglecting their great salvation, they were not pressing toward their place in the unblemished Bride of the Lamb, and the writer of the Book of Hebrews warned them they would not escape.
There is a rest, an inheritance, a land of promise. It is not enough for the elect of God to “accept Christ.” We must move on from the rudiments of salvation and press forward, as did the Apostle Paul, to our full inheritance as sons of God (Hebrews 4:1).
Imputation (ascribed righteousness) is the assigning of righteousness to us as we place our faith in the blood atonement made by Christ.
Membership in the Church is not imputed (ascribed) to us. Our discipleship is not ascribed to us. Our participation in the new Jerusalem, the Church, the Wife of the Lamb, is not ascribed to us. The rewards announced by Christ in the second and third chapters of the Book of Revelation are not imputed to us on the basis of our profession of faith in Christ. The rewards of Revelation are steps in the attainment of the first resurrection from among the dead and they are given on the basis of our works, our conduct.
And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works. (Revelation 2:23)
And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be. (Revelation 22:12)
The glory of the new Jerusalem, the Church, the Wife of the Lamb, is not an imputed glory. How could it be termed the “holy city” if the inhabitants gossiped, swore, murdered, practiced lewd behavior, sought their own glory, lied, stole, coveted, and selfishly grasped to themselves everything around them?
The holiness of the new Jerusalem is not an ascribed holiness. It is an actual righteousness, holiness, and obedience to God on the part of those who have been made new creations in Christ. The Bride is clothed in the fine linen of the righteous deeds of the saints (Revelation 19:8—Greek text).
Christ not only forgives His Church, He also transforms it into His image.
When the Apostle Paul states that the Body of Christ will be a “glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish,” he is not speaking of the righteousness that God assigns to those who put their faith in Jesus. The holiness of the Church is not imputed (ascribed) by Christ but performed by Christ. An imputed righteousness cannot shine for people to see. Only righteous character as evidenced in good works is a visible witness of God’s Glory (Isaiah 62:2; Matthew 5:16).
Men do not glorify God when God imputes righteousness to His Church. Rather, men glorify God when they behold the good behavior that results from the work of redemption performed by Christ in the members of His Body.
The new Jerusalem is not made up of sinning Christians to whom righteousness has been imputed. The new Jerusalem is the Throne of God and of the Lamb. It is not a collection of sinning people who are being forgiven by grace. Its stupendous radiance is the Glory of God shining through human beings who have been made one in the Godhead (John 17:21-23).
The emphasis of the present age is on the creation of the Church, the Body of Christ. In order to become a member of the Body of Christ, which is the Wife of the Lamb, we first must be saved from wrath.
The Holy Spirit will continue to work until the Church has been made perfect in Christ.
Till we [the elect, the members of the Body of Christ] all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: (Ephesians 4:13)
When the Church has been made perfect in the Head, the world will believe God indeed has sent Christ, and believing, shall be saved.
That they [the elect, the members of the Church] all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe thou hast sent me. (John 17:21)
A parallel passage:
And the Gentiles [nations] shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising. (Isaiah 60:3)
The Church is the Wife of the Lamb, the Body of Christ, the new Jerusalem. The Church is the royal priesthood of the Kingdom of God. The Church is destined to rule the nations of saved peoples of the earth forever.
And there shall be no night there; and they [the saints] need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever. (Revelation 22:5)
The important act of the present age is the creating of the Church and the perfecting of the firstfruits of the Church. When the firstfruits of the Church, the godly, warlike remnant, are revealed together with Christ at His coming, the multitude of earth’s peoples will come to the Church in order to be released from spiritual bondage and to learn about and be blessed by the Lord. The material creation itself will be released into the liberty of the glory of the children of God (Isaiah 60:2-5, Romans 8:21).
We have discussed the concept of salvation, using the term to refer to our being accepted by the Lord. We are received of the Lord Jesus when we place our faith in Him. He washes us in His blood and puts His Spirit in us. Now we are qualified to enter the process of redemption, the process that is able to make us a new righteous creation in Christ.
Because we are covered by the blood of the Lamb, God will “pass over” us in the Day of Wrath. We will not be cast away from God’s Presence if we have been faithful to Jesus to the end of our life on earth but will be brought forward to eternal life on the new earth.
We have discussed also the concept of the creating of the Church. The members of the Church first must be saved through faith in the blood of the cross before they can press on to their rewards of priesthood and rulership. This may appear to be a needless observation; but we are discovering in the present spiritually dangerous hour, when God is removing the seals from the Scriptures, that there are believers who are attempting to enter the rigors of victorious discipleship but have not had sufficient grounding in salvation. They do not have a firm enough grasp on the blood atonement. They do not know how to rest in the midst of the fray when the adversary is too strong for them. When they exhibit weaknesses and sin in their personality they become confused and condemn themselves.
The reason the Day of Atonement, the Levitical observance that typifies the cleansing of the believer, is placed sixth in the series of seven feasts is that we are not strong enough in the beginning of our redemption to survive the stress of Divine judgment. We are unable to hold steady while Christ attacks the worldliness, lust, and self-will in our personality.
There is no relief from the pressure. The battle lines are drawn. The conflict will continue and then climax in the Battle of Armageddon. After that there will be a thousand-year period during which Christ perfects His Bride and also receives to Himself the nations as His inheritance.
Many will be tossed to and fro—now and in the days to come. Out of the confusion, despair, pain, panic, shakings, thunder, and glory will emerge the Wife of the Lamb and the victorious Kingdom of God.
May we suggest that the spiritually ambitious believer seek to be content to enjoy his level of spirituality and permit the Holy Spirit to strengthen him for the age of moral horrors, that lies ahead. Even the righteous are saved with difficulty. If we would press toward the rest of God we must learn to rest while we are pressing toward the rest. There is a rest that is the way and then there is a rest that is the goal. Christ Himself is both the rest that is the way and the rest that is the goal.
The rest that is the way and also the goal has two great dimensions. The first dimension is that of our change into the moral nature of Christ. We are to become like Him in love, joy, peace, courage, faithfulness, devotion to God, and in every other aspect of personality and attitude.
The second dimension of the rest of God is our union with Christ in God so every thought we think, every word we speak, and every action we take flows from God through Christ through us. We are to be part of the wheel in the wheel (Ezekiel 1:16).
The saint desires to be close to the Lord, to have loving, joyous relationships with God and people, and to have areas of service and responsibility that give meaning to our existence. All of these flow from and are an inseparable part of our change into the image of Christ and our union with God through Christ. Such is the nature of our Canaan, our land of promise, our “rest.”
The Great Commission is the charge to the Lord’s apostles (and there are apostles [missionaries] today) to bring the elect of the nations under the discipline required of those who would be members of His Church.
So often the Great Commission is interpreted to mean we are to go forth and build churches, saving as many Gentiles as we can. But the Lord did not command us, in the Great Commission, to build churches or save people. He commanded us to make disciples.
Usually the commission given to the eleven is interpreted in this manner: “It is the obligation of all Christians to go to every part of the world and tell others about Jesus so they will get saved.” The assumption is that those who hear and believe will form a church, a building will be constructed, a minister will be provided, and people will attend services several times a week while they are waiting to go to Heaven.
The individual pastor or missionary may be motivated by love and a desire to please God. However, the ideal falls short when the establishment of a local church is seen as the fulfillment of the Great Commission.
Let us look at the passage more closely. First, the Lord did not speak to all the believers but to eleven chosen men. This point deserves more attention than it often is given.
Second, the Lord said nothing about forming churches—neither congregations nor buildings.
The Lord commanded His apostles to make disciples of all nations of people, to baptize them in water, and to command them to act in the manner Jesus described, as recorded in the Gospel accounts.
In the present hour we are to obey the Lord when He commands us to seek out the elect of the Gentile nations, bearing witness of the soon coming of the Kingdom of God, telling them of the need for repentance and baptism in water, and informing them of the demands of discipleship.
If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26,27)
It appears there are very few disciples in our day. How many members of your church have placed the Lord above their father, mother, wife, children, and brothers and sisters? How many have turned their back on this present world, have taken up their personal cross, and are following the Lord Jesus with a perfect heart? These are the disciples of Jesus. These are the members of the Bride of the Lamb, the Body of Christ, the true and only Church. These—and these alone—are the true Christians. The remainder of the believers are churchgoers.
We come now to the aspect of bringing the nations under Kingdom law. Although the emphasis of the Church Age is the seeking out of those whom God has ordained to eternal life, God would have all the governments of the earth obey the laws of the Kingdom of God as set forth in the Sermon on the Mount. It is not enough that a nation grant its citizens “religious freedom.” God would have the government assist the Gospel witness in every manner and also seek to have righteous, godly civil and criminal laws. The nations that do so will find mercy from the Lord at His coming.
The Scriptures reveal clearly that salvation and justice will extend to the nations of the earth as soon as Christ’s work in His Church has been accomplished (Isaiah 2:3; Zechariah 14:16; Revelation 21:24). The kingdoms of the world will become the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, meaning that the Lord will come to judge the nations with righteousness and justice, and those of earth’s peoples who fear God will be saved. The Lord Jesus will be King over all the earth, not just over Israel, His elect.
For he hath looked down from the height of his sanctuary; from heaven did the Lord behold the earth; To hear the groaning of the prisoner; to loose those that are appointed to death; To declare the name of the Lord in Zion, and his praise in Jerusalem; When the people are gathered together, and the kingdoms, to serve the Lord. (Psalms 102:19-22)
God be merciful unto us, and bless us; and cause his face to shine upon us; Selah. That thy way may be known upon earth, thy saving health among all nations. Let the people praise thee, O God; let all the people praise thee. O let the nations be glad and sing for joy: for thou shalt judge the people righteously, and govern the nations upon earth. Selah. Let the people praise thee, O God; let all the people praise thee. Then shall the earth yield her increase; and God, even our own God, shall bless us. God shall bless us; and all the ends of the earth shall fear him. (Psalms 67:1-7)
The Apostles of the first century warned all people that God was coming to judge the world at the hand of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead. (Acts 17:31)
The Christian redemption includes three works, and these three interact. It includes the saving of all who will believe, that is, their preservation from destruction in the Day of the Lord. It includes the forming of a Church (not churches, but the Church)—a perfect, complete bride for the Lamb. It includes the imposition of the laws of righteousness on all people who are saved to live on the earth.
- It is one matter to preach the Gospel of salvation to the lost.
- It is another matter to mold and purify a Church until it is without spot or wrinkle.
- It is still a third matter to rule the nations with a rod of iron, teaching them to observe the commandments of Christ.
The three programs are interdependent. It is important that we keep the three goals clearly in mind. Christian efforts often focus on the establishing of units of people who behave in certain ways, who are desirous of getting other people to join their particular unit, and who are waiting to die and go to Heaven so they can escape from the world. This is not what Christianity actually is but rather is the way in which it is perceived in our day.
The writer is the pastor of a congregation of people and recognizes the role of the local assembly in carrying out God’s purposes. Our point is, the Lord’s goal is not to form local churches but to save the lost, to perfect His Body, and to warn all the nations of the earth that the Lord is coming to establish His perfect rule.
In the last days the Divine witness will go forth to all nations, not by the power of men but by the Spirit of God. There will be believers who will choose to lay down their life for the Gospel, turning aside from their own desires and ways so Christ might live and work in them. As was true of Samson, the Church will accomplish more by its death than it ever has by its life.
The fleshly doctrine of the “pre-tribulation rapture” reveals that Christian people have become discouraged regarding the task of making disciples of the nations. They want to leave the earth to Satan and Antichrist and go to Heaven so they will have no more problems.
It is God’s will that the members of nations be informed of the Gospel so those whom the Lord has called can be saved and enter the program of discipleship. The nation that refuses to help the Lord’s witnesses as they seek to save the lost and to teach people to obey the Lord Jesus will experience the wrath of God.
The only way we can participate in bringing people to salvation, or perfecting the Church, or compelling obedience to the Gospel on the part of the nations of the earth, is to move in perfect union with the Head—Christ.
The Christian churches of today have the most marvelous opportunity of all history to bring the Gospel to all the nations of the earth. The Lord is waiting for those who are willing to be crucified with Christ, who will come into complete union with the Head of the Body, the Lord Jesus, so He may work with and in them to bear witness of salvation and the soon coming of the Kingdom of God to the earth. Each one who thus yields to the Lord Jesus will be clothed with power sufficient for the task of preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom for a witness to all nations of the earth.
There is a movement today known as “reconstructionism” that is determined to establish a theocracy in the United States. Reconstructionism is an attempt by well-meaning Christians to force the moral laws of the Kingdom of God on the secular community. However, as nearly as we can tell, reconstructionism is not being led by the Lord but by zealous believers. The prevailing spirit seems to be one of irritation and anger because sinners are continuing in their sin.
The Lord gave us the formula for healing our land.
If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. (II Chronicles 7:14)
If righteousness is to come to our nation it is the believers in Christ who must humble themselves, pray seek God’s face, and turn away from our wicked behavior. The promise to those who do what God has said is that their sins will be forgiven and their land healed.
Present-day reconstructionism is doomed to failure because it is being guided and empowered by people who themselves have never been crucified with the Lord. They are not living by His resurrection life but by their own angry determination to force the moral laws of the Kingdom on their country. It appears the proponents of the new “kingdom” movement are not in union with the Head—the Lord Jesus. They still are very much alive in their self-will and self-centeredness, as evidenced by their behavior. Their hatred of Judaism is clear proof they are not being led by the Spirit of God.
The advocates of reconstructionism will fail and they may bring needless, violent persecution on all Christians living in the United States.
The “kingdom-now” movement will pass away because of the catastrophes that soon are to fall on the nations, unless God permits Satan to breathe into this concept the spirit of the False Prophet, making it the great helper of Antichrist.
The fact remains, however, that all the nations of saved peoples of the earth eventually will be brought under submission to the only true King. It is not just the Church, the Body of Christ, which is to be brought under submission to Jesus, but all the nations of the saved also are to obey Him. They are to be baptized. They are to practice the teachings of Jesus even though the Spirit does not draw them into the mysteries of the Bride.
The nation that refuses to bow the knee to Christ will be crushed by Him at His appearing and His Kingdom. The Lord Jesus will rule with a rod of iron.
Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him. (Psalms 2:10-12)
The nations are to be baptized into the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This brings them into the Courtyard of the Tabernacle of the Congregation, to speak in a figure. Through water baptism the members of the nations come out from the authority of Satan and place themselves under the jurisdiction of the Kingdom of God. If a nation refuses to submit itself to the jurisdiction of the Kingdom of God it will be destroyed by Divine wrath.
One reason the nations do not obey God is that the churches are not obeying God.
The nations are to hear the Divine Word concerning the soon coming of the Kingdom of God to the earth. This will happen in the last days during the prophecy that will be given by the two witnesses.
Notice the charge that the Spirit of God gives the two witnesses:
And he said unto me, Thou must prophesy again before many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings. (Revelation 10:11)
The prophecy of the two witnesses (the Lord working with Christ-filled saints) that will be given during the last days is a prophecy to the nations; not to the churches but to “many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings.” The latter-rain prophecy of the last days is not to the Church, the Body of Christ, in order to build up the Body. Rather, it is a witness to all nations of the soon coming of the true King—Christ.
The people of the Gentile nations are to be baptized and to keep the commandments of the Lord. The person who will not receive the prophecy but who attempts to harm the saints will be killed.
And if any man will hurt them, fire proceedeth out of their mouth, and devoureth their enemies: and if any man will hurt them, he must in this manner be killed. (Revelation 11:5)
The saints are being built up now in preparation for the end-time witness that is to be given. When the prophecy comes it will be to the nations.
It is the Lord’s will that the nations obey His laws as they are given through the apostles of His Church.
For the nation and kingdom that will not serve thee shall perish; yea, those nations shall be utterly wasted. (Isaiah 60:12)
It is a humanistic concept that nations of the earth can “give” the saints “freedom of religion.” The saints own, through Christ, every nation as well as all the natural resources of the earth.
Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours; (I Corinthians 3:22)
A nation cannot please God merely by “giving” the sons of God “freedom” to worship God. In order to please God the members of a nation of people must be baptized in water and then place themselves under Christ and obey His commandments.
Perhaps the greatest existing hindrance to the imposing of righteousness on the nations is the rebellion of the churches against Christ. They are not walking in union with Him. They are not following His Spirit.
If many people of a nation of today, perhaps including even their leaders of government, were to decide to be baptized and to submit to the commandments of Christ, to what church should they look?
Christendom is divided into a number of diverse groups, each of which claims to represent Christ. Why is Christendom divided in this manner? It is not divided because the Scriptures are difficult to understand. It is not divided because Jesus desires that His Body be split into warring camps. Rather, the work of God is divided because we believers often are worldly, sinful, and self-seeking.
It is not difficult for true saints to be in harmony. Wherever there are believers who are overcoming sin and who have been crucified with Christ there is Divine unity and harmony. Such saints are filled with glory and have outgrown the desire to argue with their fellow Christians about conflicting concepts of doctrine.
However, harmony and Divine glory are not often found among the believers. Therefore the nations cannot be discipled. The nations are awaiting the bringing of the Body of Christ to unity, maturity, and union with the Head. As soon as that has been accomplished (and it shall be accomplished by the Spirit of God), the nations of the earth willingly will come to Jesus.
The Lord Jesus Christ will bring all the nations to judgment, and the people that He selects for eternal life will come under His will as expressed through the members of His Body.
First the Church; then the nations of the earth.
We see, therefore, that Matthew 28:18-20 is the grand proclamation of the King of kings concerning His rulership over the nations of the earth. The Lord Jesus has chosen to rule through a perfected Church that is under His authority and in which he is dwelling in untroubled rest.
What, then, would we expect to find recorded in the Book of Acts and in the Epistles of the Apostles? The immediate rule of Christ over the nations of the earth?
No. We would expect to find an emphasis on the message of salvation, and on the calling out and perfecting of the members of the elect, the Church, the royal priesthood, coupled with some bearing of witness to the nations. This is what we find recorded in the Book of Acts.
And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed. (Acts 13:48)
But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. (Acts 1:8)
The salvation and governing of the nations themselves will come to pass when the Lord returns with His victorious saints to rule the saved nations with the rod of iron. We now are approaching that most glorious of events.
The disciples were concerned about the coming of the Kingdom, God’s rule, to the earth. But the Lord set aside their question in order to get at the immediate problem—the witness of His atoning death and triumphant resurrection.
When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power. But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. (Acts 1:6-8)
Christ expects us to look continually to Him for our present role in administering salvation to the lost, in building His Church, and in bearing witness to the nations of the earth of the Kingdom that is coming.
Has it ever happened during the last two thousand years that an entire nation of people has been baptized and has sought to obey the commandments of Jesus? Yes, but ordinarily in the case of smaller nations or tribes, not the large nations of today. The tendency today appears to be to remove from national governments any suggestion that the Lord Jesus is the rightful King of every nation.
The rejection by the nations of the rule of Jesus is due to the rise of humanism, and also to the fact that the state churches, which in time past have influenced and sometimes sought to dominate the national governments, have often been as self-seeking as any secular government.
The proper rule of the Church is based solely on the authority of Jesus and the Presence of Jesus. The churches depend on money and politics in place of the Presence of Christ. As a result, the rule of the churches has often been wicked and self-seeking—altogether corrupt. The present desire of people to separate the churches from their government is a reaction against the evil that is in the churches.
There have occurred instances in which the command of the Lord to make disciples has affected an entire nation. Several of these national conversions are described in Don Richardson’s book, Eternity in Their Hearts (Ventura, California: Regal Books, 1981). The evangelization of the Karen people of Burma (Chapter Two: “Peoples of the Lost Book”) portrays the conversion of a whole nation.
The concept of “freedom of religion” offered by the “free” nations of our time may be compared to a thief who breaks into your house and as a gesture of kindness gives you freedom to use your kitchen.
The saved nations of the Kingdom Age will enforce the commandments of Christ on its citizenry, making sin against God a crime.
On what legal grounds does any nation exist? On the grounds of the will of the people? The will of the people is not a legal basis for the conduct of a nation. Only Christ owns the people of the earth. All of them belong to Him by Divine declaration. Only Christ owns the natural resources of the earth.
The earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein. (Psalms 24:1)
No nation has a right before God to exist apart from submission to Christ and a willingness to enforce on its citizens the moral law of God. The nations of today that reject Christ and His laws will be destroyed when the true King of the nations comes to receive what God, His Father, has given to Him.
The hindrance to the Divine design is not primarily the sin and rebellion of the nations, it is the sin and rebellion of the Christian churches. God intends that His Church be the conscience of every nation. The churches, by seeking to do the work of Christ apart from union with Christ, are of no use to the nations. As a result, the large nations of today are morally adrift without a guiding star.
Because the babylonish (manmade, man-centered, man-directed) Christian churches are not abiding in Christ, the day will come when the nations rise up and burn the Christian churches with fire.
If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. (John 15:6)
And the ten horns which thou sawest upon the beast, these shall hate the whore, and shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and burn her with fire. (Revelation 17:16)
Will the Body of Christ ever be set free from sin and self-seeking and enter union with the resurrected Lord Jesus? Yes, it will. The Lord Jesus has prayed for this. When the conversion of the believers takes place the world will know that God has sent Jesus and loves the saints as He loves the Lord Jesus.
I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me. (John 17:23)
How will the nations of the earth respond when the Body of Christ has been made one in Christ in God?
And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. (Isaiah 2:3)
Therefore thy [the Church’s] gates shall be open continually; they shall not be shut day nor night; that men may bring unto thee the forces of the Gentiles [nations], and that their kings may be brought. (Isaiah 60:11)
Speaking of the Christian Church, the Wife of the Lamb:
And the nations of them which are saved shall walk in the light of it: and the kings of the earth do bring their glory and honour into it. (Revelation 21:24)
In summary, there are three dimensions of God’s redemptive working among mankind: salvation, the creation of the Church, and the bringing of all the nations of the earth under Kingdom law. There is no nation that is exempt from the lordship of Christ. The bases for the accomplishment of these three works are the authority of Christ over all persons and all things in Heaven and on the earth, and the immediate Presence of Christ as He saves souls, builds His Church, and makes “the Gentiles obedient, by word and deed” (Romans 15:18).
The moment that Jesus spoke to His eleven disciples on the mountain in Galilee, the Divine Word began to compel all persons, circumstances, events, and things of the heavens, the earth, and the prisons under the earth’s surface, to bring into fulfillment the Word of the Lord Jesus. The Lord Jesus has this much authority and power!
All three dimensions of redemption are in force today. But, as we have seen, it is necessary that the Church be changed into Christ’s moral image and brought into union with Christ in God if the full design of God is to be executed. Apart from the abiding of the Body in the Head it is not possible that the plan of God can be accomplished.
Therefore the record of Acts and the writings of the Apostles have to do with calling the Church out of the world and perfecting the Church.
And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying [building up to maturity and unity] of the body of Christ: (Ephesians 4:11,12)
We now are drawing near to the return of Christ. At His coming He will take to Himself His rightful authority and power in the earth. He will sit on the Throne of David in Jerusalem and from there will govern all the nations of the earth.
The Christian Church, the Body of Christ, has three responsibilities in the last days: to proclaim the Gospel of salvation; to build itself up to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; and to bear witness to all “peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings” of the soon coming of the Kingdom of God to the earth—the Kingdom that will compel submission to the eternal moral law of God.
The eleventh chapter of the Book of Revelation gives us understanding of the witness of the Kingdom of God that will be borne by the saints during the closing days of this age. The saints, having been judged and brought into union with Christ, will be clothed with the authority and power of the latter (harvest) rain of the Spirit of God. They will bear witness to the nations of the earth of the soon coming of Christ as King of all kings and Lord of all lords.
Because of the unprecedented signs and wonders with which the ever-present Jesus will confirm the testimony given by His saints, a multitude of earth’s peoples will be obedient to the Gospel.
Then the God of the earth will permit His testimony to be driven from the cities of the earth so the “tares” can come to maturity. As soon as the “hour of temptation” has been concluded, the Light of God Almighty will come upon the saints. They will “stand up on their feet.” The nations of the earth will behold their glory (Isaiah, Chapter 60).
The physical resurrection of the saints from their graves, the adding to their number of the living saints who have passed from mortality into immortality while yet alive, and then the catching up of the whole Body of Christ to meet the Head in the air, will cause the nations of the earth to believe indeed it is God who has sent Christ (John 17:21-23).
Now will the nations be visited with the terrible wrath of God. The Lord and His army will descend from Heaven on the horses of war. Antichrist, and all who have accepted his counsel and leadership, will be tormented in the Presence of the holy angels and the Lamb.
The three aspects of God’s eternal plan, salvation, the creating of the glorious Church without spot or wrinkle, and the bringing of the nations under Kingdom law, began with the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ and depend on His authority, power, and continuing Presence for their accomplishment.
The three aspects of redemption are working today. They will continue throughout the thousand-year period. The fruit of what is sown now and during the thousand-year period will be enjoyed throughout the new heaven and earth reign of Christ.
The twenty-first and twenty-second chapters of the Book of Revelation describe the spiritual fulfillment of the Old Testament feast of Tabernacles in that they portray the full reaping of all that has been sown previously (Leviticus 23:24).
What finally shall be proclaimed throughout the heavens, the earth, and the prisons in the interior of the earth?
THE KINGDOM OF THE WORLD HAS BECOME THE KINGDOM OF OUR LORD AND OF HIS CHRIST AND HE SHALL REIGN FOR EVER AND EVER.
(“Three Aspects of God’s Eternal Plan”, 3697-1)