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A Theological Pilgrimage
The Gift of the Holy Spirit Today
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Prophecy by the Book
Scripture: God's Written Word
The Holy Spirit in the Early Church
The Bible (the Book) discloses that toward the end of history an increasing struggle between the forces of good and evil will occur. Indeed, there will be an intensification of both of these before Christ comes back. Here we may turn to Matthew 13, and first to Jesus' parable of the wheat and weeds (or tares) that grow until the final harvest (v. 30). In Jesus' own interpretation of the parable (vv. 36-43), He says that wheat represents "the sons of the kingdom," His true disciples, and the weeds "sons of the evil one" (v. 38). There is continuing growth of both until the harvest at the end of the age (look back to v. 30), when the weeds will be burned (recall Armageddon!) and the wheat gathered.
Basically, this signifies both the growth of Christian faith and its opposition until the return of Christ, and doubtless the climactic growth of both at the very end. What do we see today?
1. The extraordinary growth of the kingdom of God.
Jesus, following His parable about the wheat and weeds and before His interpretation, refers in two additional parables to mustard seed and leaven. In the first case, although the mustard seed is "the smallest of all seeds...when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree" (v. 32); and in the second case, the leaven is "hid in three measures of meal, till it was all leavened" (v. 33). These parables depict a steady increase of the kingdom of God, the spiritual kingdom; and today we are surely seeing that. There is an unmistakable evangelical resurgence in our own land, an increasing openness to the gospel in many other countries of the world, and in this last decade of the twentieth century a vastly heightened effort to get the message of the gospel to all the peoples of the earth. Missionary agencies are everywhere speaking of this as the decade of world evangelization, and many are setting a goal by the year 2000 of having a gospel witness in every part of the world. All of this is prophetically important, especially in light of Jesus' words in Matthew 24:14—"This gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, as a testimony [or "witness" kjv] to all nations; and then the end will come." The surest sign of the end being near at hand is the completing of the gospel proclamation. Incidentally, this does not mean all the nations or peoples turning to Christ, but all having an opportunity to hear and repent and believe. Total witness does not mean total conversion. Still, we may expect to see a tremendous increase in harvest. It is happening already. For example, recent witness in Central America and South America has resulted in millions turning to Jesus; and this is happening in many other places in the world. Such a deluge may just be ahead that we will hardly know how to deal with the multitude of new converts streaming in! The final aspect of all this will be (as earlier discussed) the turning of Israel to the Lord. This will occur after "the full number of the Gentiles come in"—the climax of the gospel to the whole world!
What is particularly significant about this late outburst of gospel witness is the increasing way it is being fired by the Holy Spirit. When Jesus first declared the gospel mission, according to Acts 1:8, He said: "You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end ["uttermost part" kjv] of the earth." Today we are realizing more and more the need for this Holy Spirit power to carry forward the final task—and this is especially where the Holy Spirit (or "charismatic") renewal comes in. It is only by the power and anointing of the Holy Spirit that hard barriers can be broken down, that the gospel proclamation can overthrow forces of evil arrayed against it, that miracles of healing and deliverance can occur, and that people may both see and believe. Holy Spirit empowered mission—more and more people are recognizing—is essential to this final thrust of the gospel. As long as there is a call for the gospel to go forth, and until the task is completed, the Holy Spirit alone can provide the power and wisdom of Almighty God.
2. A parallel increase of evil in the world.
Recall again the wheat and the weeds: the weeds grow apace with the wheat. So throughout history, but particularly toward the end, will evil become more and more manifest. Read Paul's words in 2 Timothy 3:1-5, which begin: "But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal...treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power" (niv). In a certain sense these words could characterize any earlier period in history, but today there seems to be a marked intensification of all this. "Terrible times" describes it well. On the American scene alone, there is an ever growing and ever encroaching growth of immorality that seems to be sweeping over our nation. Lovers of money ("anything for a buck"), lovers of pleasure ("do it if it feels good"), lovers of self ("my self fulfillment"). Thus homosexuality ("my sexual preference") and abortion on demand ("my rights not that of one yet unborn") are becoming rampant.
Especially is there a pernicious and growing attack on Christian values, biblical morality, even to the removal of God and His name from the public arena—and a reviling of all things sacred. Christ, the only holy One, is depicted in some quarters as perverse (a foul mouthed bigot), a heroin-shooting drug addict, and even His cross dipped in a vat of urine. Christian bashing is now popular in our increasingly secular land.
Along with this, there is a growing departure in much of the church from its own basic faith. "A form of godliness" may be there but no power—"denying its power." Thus departure from the Lord ever increases. Jesus prophesied it would happen. Matthew 24:12 reads: "Because wickedness is multiplied, most men's love will grow cold." This is primarily love of the Lord but also love for one another. It is also departure from the truth of Christian faith. In many places there is erosion of belief in Christ as the Son of God, His substitutionary death and bodily resurrection, and His coming again. Paul speaks in 2 Thessalonians of a future day when "the apostasy" (2:3 nasb)—a total "falling away" (kjv)— will occur. In many ways we seem to be close to this: our major denominations often appear cold in their lack of love, and have largely fallen in with the ways of the world. The most obvious cases in point relate to abortion and homosexuality with no strong stand from many mainline churches against either; but also there is little concern for the salvation of the lost and for holiness of life. This is the lukewarm church that Christ declares in Revelation He despises: "Because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth" (3:16). A tepid church Christ will not have.
At this point I add a few words about the Antichrist. Much is being said these days about the possible appearance of the Antichrist, even to the naming of persons. Let me offer one suggestion: stay close to the Book again. Who, what, is the Antichrist? Reference is made by name to the Antichrist in only one portion of the New Testament, the first and second letters of John. According to 2 John 7: "Many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist" (nasb). Also in 1 John 2:22 we read: "Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son." Who then is the Antichrist? From these verses the Antichrist is not so much a particular person as anyone who denies that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the fact that "the Word became flesh" (John 1:14): the central truth of the Christian faith. John also says, "Many antichrists have come" (1 John 2:18), and also that "the spirit of antichrist...is in the world already" (4:3). And the "last hour" is the hour of multiplication of antichrists—"many antichrists have come; therefore we know it is the last hour" (2:18).
The Antichrist, accordingly, is one who denies the Incarnation and in so doing shuts off people from the fruit of that Incarnation, namely salvation and eternal life. The Antichrist is not one who commits such sins as murder, adultery, and theft even to a maximal degree, nor is he one who tortures and kills Christians in some gruesome manner. He is far worse than any of this: he deceives people about Jesus Christ and shuts the door to eternal life. He is "Anti," opposed to, "Christ": this is the ultimate evil and the ultimate deception. For there is no greater tragedy in the world than that of turning people aside from Christ, the Son of God, who has wrought mankind's salvation.
Where then is the Antichrist, or at least "the spirit of antichrist" today? Surely, it is seen in the defamations of Christ already mentioned, in a religion such as one that specifically denies the divinity of Christ (there is no stronger barrier or more bitter opposition to the message of Christ than the Moslem faith), and in the New Age movement that reduces Christ to one of the manifestations of deity and proclaims another Christ is about to appear (the "Maitreya"). But also the Antichrist is represented in liberal forces of Christianity that view the Incarnation as a myth and hold that Jesus at most was a highly inspired man; thus they shut off people from salvation. The spirit of antichrist is all around us —with false christs also multiplying. Remember: "Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son." The Antichrist is verily here—and exists everywhere that through deception Christ the Son of God, the Christ, is opposed, defamed, and shunted aside.
3. The final victory of Jesus Christ
I have spoken of both an extraordinary growth of the kingdom of God and a parallel increase of evil in the world—the growth of wheat and weeds, gospel success and gospel attacks, unprecedented harvest and unprecedented persecution. It is a poor reading of prophecy by the Book to expect nothing but a glowing future for the church with all people finally coming to salvation and evil reduced to small proportions. Indeed, we may be very grateful for the doors of opportunity now open throughout the world for a great harvest of souls to be brought in. However, there will be—and even now is—an increase of evil resistance. One place in the Book of Revelation speaks of the devil coming down "in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!" (12:12). Thus he will increasingly inspire nations, false religions, and the lukewarm church to attack Christ and His people. And for a time he may seem successful (see Rev. 13 for the beasts, the devil's henchmen, that conquer the saints)—hence there is unparalleled vilification and persecution ahead. However—and here is the final truth—when evil has reached its peak of intensity, Christ suddenly will return to destroy every vestige of it: the weeds will be "burned" and the wheat gathered into His "barn" (Matt. 13:30). At the close of His explanation of the parable about the wheat and weeds, Jesus adds: "Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father" (Matt. 13:43 nasb).
With such a glorious consummation ahead, we should, on the one hand, be all the more challenged to proclaim the gospel that the harvest may be great and, on the other, encouraged to stand fast in the midst of the worst that evil can bring against us, knowing that the Lord will ultimately triumph and we shall be with Him forever.
This is the final word of prophecy (Rev. 22:20): "Surely, I am coming soon." And our reply is the last word of response: "Amen. come, Lord Jesus." Then John closes the book—the last verse in the Bible—with these words: "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with all the saints. Amen."
So concludes our study of prophecy by the Book.
| 1. Introduction: The Return of Christ | 2. Procedure in Studying Prophecy |
Content Copyright ©1996 by J. Rodman Williams, Ph.D