“I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:6).
Increasing numbers of Bible scholars and missiologists who consider themselves evangelical are calling into question the traditional ideas about hell and the way of salvation. The first question to ask, a question often skipped, is, “what are we talking about?” In other words, definition must come first. Are you advocating universalism, that all will ultimately be saved? Or are you advocating that many may be saved without the knowledge of Christ? Or do you merely mean that salvation by grace through faith alone is no longer a biblical non-negotiable?
After determining what the issue actually is, that concept must be rigorously examined in the light of Scripture. Have we identified all passages which deal with the issue and have we examined all teachings of Scripture which correlate with this teaching? Having identified all the passages, not a select few, have we done the rigorous work of applying all principles of interpretation to determine the meaning intended by the author of each passage and correlating all those passages and all those doctrines? For example, have we given decisive weight to the clear teaching over the obscure text, to the abundant teaching over the occasional, to the New Testament over the Old? Only with such rigorous, honest work can we claim to be doing missions under the functional authority of Scripture.
Increasingly, the way of salvation is being redefined and the lostness of those out of Christ is being called into question. For example, when salvation is treated as a direction, not an event, so that Muslims are acceptable to God when headed in the right direction, godward, culture has imposed its authority over Scripture in the most critical of affirmations. Again, increasing numbers of those who consider themselves evangelical no longer believe in hell. And that is in process of cutting the nerve of the Church’s enterprise. Scripture is not in functional control of reasoning when such conclusions emerge.
Since Scripture does not describe what the evangelistic task will look like when it is finished, we can get on with the task of being sure that every person on earth has the opportunity to hear the Gospel and that a congregation of God’s people is established in every community. Until that goal is accomplished, the church cannot say, “It is finished. The task you gave us to do we have accomplished.” God may choose to say, “It is finished” before we do, but obedience to the command means that the church must pursue the goal of evangelization and church planting until then. To have more restricted, targeted goals is legitimate for tactical purposes as part of the over-all task, but it is not biblical to make a limited goal and market it as the biblically required task of the church.
And God’s promises, from Genesis to Revelation assure a successful conclusion to his plan of world evangelization. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing…and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you (Genesis 12:2, 3).
That’s the reason God blessed Abraham – to make him a conduit of God’s blessings to the nations. And why does He prosper us?
May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine upon us that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations…God will bless us and all the ends of the earth will fear him (Psalm 67:1,2,7).
Remarkable! Abraham’s blessings and ours are for the same purpose: that God’s salvation may reach all people. And it will happen. God promises both Abraham and us. Yet, in spite of this revelation of God’s redemptive purposes, Jews, including Jesus’ own disciples, expected Messiah to deliver them from Roman bondage and set up a Jewish state. In these two ancient promises of a coming Messiah, note how mistaken they were.
The Father promises the Son: Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession (Psalms 2:8).
The Father promises the Son: It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob…I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth (Isaiah 49:6).
Repeatedly in Old Testament prophesies the coming of Messiah was predicted, but he was not just for Israel. He was coming for all peoples. That’s Old Testament. What does the New Testament predict about Christ’s second coming?
Jesus Himself said: And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come (Matthew 24:14).
John draws the curtain on the final act of earth’s drama: After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9).
From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible is full of promises about God’s plan of gathering from among all peoples his people. The Spirit has a global plan, and He is bringing it to pass in our day as never before.
God’s promises assure that his salvation purpose will be accomplished. Surely this major theme of Bible promises demands that in my prayer life, in my conversations about heaven and hell, in my lifestyle of obedience, I reach beyond those glorious promises of personal peace, protection, and provision, constantly reaching out to embrace the world God loves.