Toward the end of the 1980s there was great enthusiasm and confidence among many Christian leaders that the world would be evangelized by the end of the year 2000. Numerous programs targeted that seemingly propitious date. In ecumenical fervor, evangelicals and Catholics joined together in a "new evangelization" that would supposedly present to Christ a world more Christian than not at the beginning of the new millennium. As anyone would realize who heeded Scripture, it wouldn't happen—and it didn't. The world is more pagan today than ever, and the "third millennium of Christianity," so highly touted, is daily more apostate. The attempt to make Christianity popular has perverted it.
Yes, history has seen times of apparent great revival—not as a result, however, of Christianity's popularization, but in the face of fierce opposition and severe persecution. Author Wesley Brady writes, "On innumerable occasions, the meetings of the Wesleys, Whitefield and other itinerant preachers were attacked by drunken, brawling rabbles armed with...clubs, whips, clods, bricks, staves, stones...and rotten eggs. Sometimes they procured a bull and drove it into the midst of an open-air congregation; sometimes they contented themselves by producing noise with bells, horns, drums and pans to drown out the preacher's voice...and not infrequently they expended their fury in burning or tearing down the houses, and destroying or stealing the...possessions of the preacher's followers.
"John Wesley [sometimes] narrowly escaped with his life...while Whitefield, covered with blood...was rescued in the nick of time from the brutal fury of an Irish crowd at Dublin....Without regard to age or sex, [the persecutors] pelted whole congregations with showers of dirt and stones. Many they beat mercilessly with clubs." (England: Before and After Wesley, p. 106). Before his death, however, Wesley saw great fruit from his labors as he presented the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit. To a large extent, England became a nation that loved Christ and sent missionaries to the ends of the earth.
Today, however, England is in a sorrier state than before Wesley and Whitefield. Larger numbers now worship in mosques than in Christian churches. Holland, once a stronghold of morally austere Calvinism, is heedless of God and attracts billions of dollars in tourist trade by its licensed brothels and legalized homosexual and lesbian marriages.
The Dalai Lama was welcomed into the pulpit in Geneva, Switzerland, where John Calvin used to preach to what many thought (and some still imagine) was the ideal Christian society. The cathedral's dean, William McComish, General Treasurer of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, called the Dalai Lama "His Holiness," praised his "spirituality" and declared that Calvin's cathedral was "becoming a home for a new religious centre to experience understanding between the world's major faiths."
The same downward path has been observed in the United States. In their beginnings, for example, the YWCA and YMCA were truly Christian; they are anything but Christian today. All of America's first universities were Christian: Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Brown, Dartmouth, the University of Pennsylvania, etc. Today they are not only atheistic but anti-Christian.
Harvard was founded in 1636 to train evangelical ministers. Its divinity school is now headed by a Roman Catholic priest and prides itself on being open to anything—except evangelical Christianity. With 18,000 students, an endowment of $13 billion and an annual income of $1.6 billion, Harvard is now a bastion of liberalism, pro-abortionism, radical feminism, relativism and militant anti-Christian rhetoric.
Yet not only Reconstructionists but most charismatics and many evangelicals are still boasting that Christianity is growing stronger through a last-days great revival and will eventually take over the world. Yes, it will, but it will be a false "Christianity" headed by Antichrist in partnership with the Vatican—the woman riding the beast of Revelation 17. One would have to be both spiritually and physically blind not to see this rapidly growing development, exactly as the Bible foretells it.
True Christianity was never intended to take over the world but to call out for heavenly citizenship those who would heed the gospel. Christ's solemn question, "when the Son of man cometh, shall he find [the true] faith on the earth?" (Lk 18:8) hardly promises a growing, much less dominant, Christianity in the last days. Instead, only a "little flock" will inherit the kingdom (Lk 12:32), having entered through that "strait gate" along the narrow way "which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it" (Mat:7:14). These are the "faithful in Christ Jesus" (Eph:1:1; Col:1:2; 2 Tim:2:2; Rev:17:14, etc.) and hated by the world (Jn:17:14).
Today, persecution of true believers in much of the world is far more prevalent than in Wesley's time, with more martyrs for Christ in the twentieth century than in the previous nineteen. Is that cause for discouragement? No. In fact, Christ said, "Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you....Rejoice ye in that day, and leap for joy: for, behold, your reward is great in heaven..." (Mat:5:11-12; Lk 6:23).
Our hope and our inheritance is not in this world, for we are "partakers of the heavenly calling" (Heb:3:1). As Christ told the first disciples, "If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you....The servant is not greater than his Lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you..." (Jn:15:19, 20). In our travels in Eastern Europe in Iron Curtain days we were asked by Christians why they were being persecuted when Christianity seemed to be so popular in America. A good question!
The best antidote to the mistaken beliefs that keep so many of today's Christians oriented toward an imagined conquest of this world is found in Paul's prayer for the Ephesian believers: "That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of his power to usward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead..." (Eph:1:17-20).
And what is "the hope of his calling" to which Paul referred? Peter tells us very clearly: "But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you" (1 Pt 5:10). Our calling which we have in and through Christ Jesus is unto God's eternal glory! Nothing could compare with that! What could it mean and how is it possible?
God created man "in his own image, in the image of God created he him..." (Gen:1:27). It was, of course, in His spiritual image, not in a physical image, for "God is a Spirit" (Jn:4:24). The wonder, happiness and perfection of the relationship Adam and Eve enjoyed reflected a heavenly love, patience, compassion, goodness, generosity, grace, mercy, peace, gentleness, selflessness, meekness—the very character of their Creator lived out in His creatures. Nothing to compare with the pure love and rapturous companionship these two daily experienced has thereafter been seen on earth!
Then sin entered that garden, bringing death (Rom:5:12). That beautiful relationship between Adam and Eve, and between them and their Creator, was destroyed. Adam blamed Eve, Cain murdered Abel, and humanity has gone downhill ever since. The glorious image of God in which man had been created was marred. Thus sin is defined as coming "short of the glory of God" (Rom:3:23). The glory of God's character once expressed so beautifully through the first man and woman became a receding memory that must have haunted them with a remorse which we cannot even begin to understand.
Christ is called, in the precise language of Scripture, "the second man." There was no one after Adam's fall who deserved to be called a "man" until "the man Christ Jesus" (1 Tim:2:5) came into this world in a body prepared for Him (Heb:10:5) in the womb of the virgin Mary. When Pilate led Christ forth and pronounced to the mob, "Behold the man!" (Jn:19:5) he did not realize what he was saying. Here was God's perfect man! The "second man is the Lord from heaven" (1 Cor:15:47)! And He brings from glory to a fallen race the hope of glory, for through His death for our sins the image of God can be restored.
Again in the rigorous parlance of God's Word, Jesus is called "the last Adam" (1 Cor:15:45). Yes, He is the second Adam, but He is also the last. There will never be a third or fourth, etc. He is not only the progenitor of a new race of born-again believers. Christ is God's final solution. Sin will never mar God's new creation.
The first man, Adam, was made in the image of God but lost that likeness through the sin of rebellion. The second man, the last Adam, bears that image in a permanent perfection that the first Adam could not know. The man Christ Jesus is "the brightness of his [God's] glory, the express image of his person" (Heb:1:3). Just as the descendants of the first Adam inherited his warped and defiled image, so those who become Christ's descendants by faith will be brought into His Father's house in His perfect and glorious image! Those who receive Christ have been predestinated by God "to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren" (Rom:8:29).
Christ, having paid the penalty for all sin and thereby having "[taken] away the sin of the world" (Jn:1:29), has "abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel" (2 Tm 1:10). "For as in Adam all [of his descendants] die, even so in Christ shall all [of His descendants] be made alive" (1 Cor:15:22). He will bring "many sons into glory" (Heb:2:10) "in the likeness of his resurrection" (Rom:6:5). "For our conversation [citizenship] is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body...." (Philippians:3:20-21).
Understanding the hope of His calling provides both the motivation and faith to begin, increasingly, in advance of heaven, to realize this glorious prospect in our lives here below, for "...every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure" (1 Jn:3:3). Paul said it like this: "Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory. Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth..." (Col:3:2-5).
This glorious calling for both Jew and Gentile to become the children of God and to dwell eternally in heaven was unknown to Old Testament saints. Paul called it "the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations...which is Christ in you, the hope of glory." His passion was to "present every man perfect in Christ Jesus..." (Col:1:26-28). That heavenly perfection will be fully realized only at the Rapture: "Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and...when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is" (1 Jn:3:2). What a hope, to be like Him eternally!
In the meantime, we are to become more and more like our Lord as "we all, with open face, beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord" (2 Cor:3:18). Recognizing our failure to glorify Him as we should in our bodies and spirits, which are His (1 Cor:6:20), we long not so much for crowns or rewards but to be like Him.
Surely Paul said it for all of us: "...this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus" (Philippians:3:13-14). It is not enough to look forward with eager anticipation to that day when we shall see Christ and be fully like Him. We are here and now to "press toward the mark for the prize" of this high calling—for ourselves and for others as well. Concerning this "hope of glory," Paul declared, "Whereunto I also labor, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily" (Col:1:29).
Always there must be that balance between the working of God's miraculous power in and through us and our working together with Him: "...work out [not for] your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure" ( Philippians:2:12-13). Paul gave everything he had to be and do all that God intended for him: "I follow after [to] apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus..." (3:12).
When bygone failures would haunt us, God's solution is clear: "forgetting those things which are behind...press toward...the high calling...." We do not dwell on the past, nourishing the regrets that would imprison us. All is under the blood of Christ; and we dishonor Him by continuing to be burdened with that which He has forgiven and forgotten.
Our joy is in the future prospect of realizing the hope of His calling, of being forever with Him and like Him in His eternal glory. A foretaste of that glory can be realized here below in ever greater measure through Christ dwelling in our hearts by faith (Eph:3:17). May the hope of His calling grip us and propel us onward and upward in fulfilling His will here below as we await His coming! TBC