The Great Commission or the Great Omission? (John 20:20-21)
Good morning everyone; if we could take our Bibles and open them to John 20:20, unfortunately my new prescription does not allow me to see 20/20 but we’re in 20:20, so there go. God has a sense of humor, doesn’t He? John 20:20, the title of our message this morning is The Great Commission or the great Omission? And we, as you know, are continuing our movement through John’s Gospel. We find ourselves in that latter section of John’s Gospel, really speaking of the events surrounding Christ’s death, and then the events surrounding His resurrection; chapters 20 and 21 revolving around the resurrected Christ.
We have taken a look at the empty tomb, chapter 20, verses 1-10, and then the Gospel of John wraps up with various post resurrection appearances of Jesus, either to five individuals or groups and we’ve seen Him reveal Himself to Mary Magdalene, chapter 20, verses 11-18, and we are in the midst of studying His revelation of Himself to the ten. The reason there is ten is Judas has already left, as you know, back in chapter 13 and the only other person that’s not with the group is Thomas, who won’t show up until eight days later. So according to my old math, twelve minus two is ten, right? Does that make sense? You guys agree with that thought pattern? Okay! There’s not too much common core involved in that I guess.
So we have ten individuals left and now Jesus is essentially revealing Himself to them in His post resurrected state. We’ve see the fearful disciples and that quickly gave way, at the end of verse 19 into verse 23, to the faithful Savior. Jesus appears, as we saw in verse 19, the second part of the verse, and the first thing He does is He begins to speak words of comfort to these disciples. After He speaks words of comfort to them He gives them their commission or their assignment from God.
Notice the comforting words that Jesus has given to these disciples. We’ve already taken a look at verse 19 but notice verse 20, the comfort continues and it says this: “And when He had said this, He showed them both His hands and His side. The disciples then rejoiced when they saw the Lord.” The first order of business Jesus engages in here is He reveals Himself to these disciples, these ten, in His resurrected body.
It talks here about how He showed them His hands and then His side. The interesting thing about crucifixion is it pierced hands and feet. Psalm 22:16, written about Jesus Christ, about a thousand years before the crucifixion happened, in the form of a Messianic prophecy says, “They pierced my hands and my feet.” It is over in Luke 24:39 that He makes a reference to His feet; here He’s only making a reference to His hands and His side. Luke 24:39 adds this detail, “See My hands and My feet,” evidence of the crucifixion. John 19:34, you might remember, said this: “But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear and immediately blood and water came out.” So not only was He injured in terms of His hands and His feet, Psalm 22:16, in fulfillment of that prophecy, but His side was also wounded as well.
And it is interesting that what Jesus does here is He shows these disciples, this ten, fearful there, which is probably the Upper Room, He shows them evidence of the fact it is really He. And He shows them the parts of his body that just went through the ordeal of the cross.
Now when the disciples saw Jesus originally, Luke 24:37 says, “they were startled and frightened and thought that they were seeing a spirit.” So you have to think of these disciples, the distress they are already in having their Rabbi killed, or their Lord, and now all of a sudden He appears to them; they don’t really know it’s Him right away, they think it’s some kind of spirit, or some kind of ghost. And consequently “they were startled and frightened.”
But that feat that they were experiencing quickly turned into joy, again, John 20:20 it says, “when He had said this, He showed them both His hands and His side. The disciples then rejoiced when they saw the Lord.” Fear quickly turns into faith; faith quickly turns into joy. And is that not the trajectory of our lives? I know that when I am not walking in faith I am typically walking in fear and I have no joy. But when I am walking in faith fear has a tendency to subside and internal joy has a tendency to increase.
As you look at your life today would you say that you are walking in fear or joy? That will determine are you really relying upon the promises of God, because as you live your life dependent upon the promises of God through faith there really is very little room for fear, and there is a lot of room for joy. So we’re watching this transition happen here with these ten disciples.
Now one of the things that’s very, very interesting to observe is Christ here is in His resurrected body and you’ll notice that the wounds that He endured through the ordeal of the crucifixion are still visible. In fact, when we finally get down, maybe next week or the week after, into Christ’s interaction with Thomas, He actually lets Thomas touch those wounded areas so Thomas himself can see it truly is Jesus Christ.
Now we might ask a question: didn’t he receive a resurrected body? Yes He did. If He received a resurrected body why are these wounds still plentiful? Why are they still conspicuous? It’s interesting that John wrote another book called the book of Revelation. He wrote that book about 60 years after these events here had transpired. John, in the book of Revelation, sees a vision of the glorified Christ in the distant future, and this is what John says in Revelation 5:6: “And I saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain….” Isn’t it interesting that John, 60 years later, when he sees a vision of Jesus Christ in the distant future, what we call the book of Revelation, or the Apocalypse, he observes that Jesus Christ is “a Lamb standing as if slain.”
The only conclusion I can come to is the wounds of Jesus Christ, that He experienced through the crucifixion, will be permanently and are permanently part of His resurrected body. And we could ask ourselves, well, why did God do it that way? Why not put Him back into a body where there is no evidence of wounding or scaring of any kind? I personally believe the answer is so that throughout the ages of time, in eternity, we will be able to look at Jesus, we will be able to see His wounds and consequently we will never forget why we are with Him in heaven.
Moving off into the grace of God as we do as New Testament saints, it is so easy to forget about the price that was paid. Yes, salvation is free to the human race, especially for those who will, and ONLY for those who will trust in what Christ has done and we receive from God grace upon grace, unmerited favor. In fact, you might recall that’s how John’s Gospel started, grace upon grace. There probably is not a people group alive any time in human history that has received, in the last 2,000 years, the grace of God the way we have. And being the recipient of God’s grace, or unmerited favor, there is a tendency to forget the price that was paid. We forget that salvation is free to us but it certainly was not free to Jesus Christ. And so we’re given this reminder throughout the ages, looking at His resurrected body, seeing the wounds in it, so we will never forget the price that was paid to procure for us so great a salvation.
And as I tried to explain a little earlier that’s the whole logic of the Lord’s Table. The Lord’s Table, which we just celebrated, is something that is to be practiced in the church. It is a command of God. And we say well, if the Lord’s Table has no saving value why do we practice it? It’s to assist memory and assist worship; it causes us to reflect upon the wounded body and spilled blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. God the Father simply will not allow, through the Lord’s Table and the wounds that Jesus incurred as even being visible in His resurrected body… God the Father is simply not going to allow to go out of memory what God the Son went through. And so we see these wounds still evident there in Christ’s resurrected body. And consequently we can rejoice and praise Him throughout the ages, knowing that it’s only because of Him and what He did that we are in the glorious position that we are in.
These words of comfort and these signs of comfort, as He is showing them His body, quickly move into His commission. When you receive the grace of God we have a tendency to think well, I’m just going to sit, soak and sour. But you see, the more understanding you have of the grace of God and the more spiritual light that you have the more that there is an expectation on the part of God that we would become His ambassadors, His emissaries, if you will, His witnesses, whereby we would dispense this knowledge to other people.
And so consequently what happens in verse 21 is He begins to give the commissioning to this new man that is about to be raised up in Acts 2, called His church. Notice this commissioning and notice what it says there in verse 21; it says, “So Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you,” now watch this, “as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.’” Notice the repetition of this phrase, “Peace be with you,” and the fact it says there in verse 21, “again.” In fact, when we studied this and we made reference to this last week, it appears in verse 19, it appears in verse 21, the verse that we just looked at, and it appears again in verse 26.
And last week we described that the reason this reference, “Peace be with you” is extended is not just a common greeting, although amongst Jews Shalom, or peace is a common greeting. But why would it be repeated three times? It’s repeated three times because it characterizes Christ’s ministry. And last week we talked about how in Christ we have two forms of peace that we had no access to before; one is positional peace, which we identified last week as right standing before God and the second is experiential peace. Since Jesus, through the Holy Spirit now takes residence in our lives, as we go through life’s traumas and valleys and difficulties and adversities, there is a reservoir of internal tranquility that is available to every child of God, if we will simply tap into it by faith, and live our lives not based on our perception or on human emotion, but live them based on the promises of God.
There are so many promises that God has given us if we would just take time to think and look and examine and if when the trial comes, better said, when the trial comes, not if, we have these promises from God who cannot lie as we go through these trials of life and we depend upon God. And isn’t interesting that when we’re depending upon Him we’re in faith, when we’re in faith we have this internal peace. Positional peace is wonderful; internal peace is even beyond positional peace. So the repetition again, “Peace be with you.”
Now where I want to focus our attention is verse 21, the second part of the verse because that is John’s rendition of the great commission. Notice what it says in verse 21 again, “as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” This reference to Jesus sending out His disciples, this is not the first time this has occurred in John’s Gospel. You might remember John 17:18 as Jesus was praying for these disciples, in that very long prayer in John 17. It says in John 17:18, Jesus says this, praying to the Father, “As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.” And then you find almost the identical language here in verse 21, “as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”
What is happening here with these disciples? What is happening here is it’s graduation day; in fact, graduation is the subject on my mind because next week is the College of Biblical Studies, we will be graduating all of our graduates, including Will Miller. And so I’ll make reference to that next week. But you see these students do not fully understand, and I did not fully understand it when I walked across the stage and received my diploma, but these students are about to be transformed from disciples into sent ones. And the transition from being a disciple into one who is sent is something that happens lickety-split. In fact, as I lecture there at the college I tell my classes constantly, in a nanosecond everything that you’re learning here is about to be converted into a ministry; it’s going to happen very quickly. In fact, it’s going to happen with the blink of an eye and God moves just that fast when we’re ready and at the right time.
And this is, in a certain sense, graduation day for these ten. They are no longer just disciples but they are what we would call “sent ones.” Now what is a disciple? The word “disciple” in Greek simply means a learner. That has been the role of these ten as they have been with Christ for over three years now, they have been learning and learning and learning, and now what happens is they are transitioned from disciples into apostles. The word “apostle” comes from the verb, apostelo, which means to send, apostle literally means sent ones.
Now we have to be very careful about this word “apostle” because the word is used two different ways in the Greek New Testament. Sometimes it is used in a very technical sense in reference to those that saw the resurrected Christ. In Acts 1:21-22 this is what it says, “Therefore it is necessary that one of the men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us—  beginning with the baptism of John until the day that He was taken up from us—one of them must become a witness with us of His resurrection.” Now that is dealing with how are they going to replace Judas, who has committed suicide? We’re going to replace him with Matthias. Well, you can’t just replace him with anybody, you have to replace him with somebody who was with us from the beginning, who has seen the baptism of John, and was with us from that time period as eyewitnesses up until the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, right up to His ascension.
So in that technical sense of the word there are not apostles today. Many people like to introduce themselves to me as I’m apostle So and So; I usually like to say how do you keep yourself looking so young, because you ought to be about 2,000 years old by now, because only someone that is 2,000 years old could have actually seen the resurrected Christ.
However, the word “apostle” in the New Testament is also used in a nontechnical sense as simply a sent one. That is how the word is used with Barnabas, who was not one of the original twelve, in Acts 14:4 and Acts 14:14, exact same Greek word! Paul even used the word “apostle” as those who were collecting an offering for the struggling saints in Jerusalem, 2 Corinthians 8:23, and then you’ll find this man, Epaphroditus, who was not one of the original apostles, is called an apostle by Paul in Philippians 2:25.
[Acts 14:4, “But the people of the city were divided; and some sided with the Jews, and some with the apostles.” Acts 14:14, “But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it….” 2 Corinthians 8:23, “As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker among you; as for our brethren, they are messengers of the churches, a glory to Christ.” Philippians 2:25, “But I thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger and minister to my need….” ]
So what can we say? We can say that this word “apostle” means two different things, depending on its context. Sometimes it refers to something very technical in terms of the original twelve. Other times it’s used more generically in a non-technical sense in terms of someone that is sent out.
So are there apostles today? It depends how you use the word. If you’re using it in the technical sense of the meaning, in Acts 1:21-22 sense then there are no apostles today. If you’re using it as someone who is sent, like from a church, or a missionary group, someone who is sent out as a common missionary, then in that sense there are apostles. [Acts 1:21-22, “Therefore it is necessary that of the men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us— beginning with the baptism of John until the day that He was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection.”]
And when Jesus is transitioning them from disciples to apostles, in essence what he’s doing is transferring them, not from their technical status as apostles but into those that He is actually sending out into the world. So they are moving, it is graduation day; they are moving from disciples into actually being “sent ones” who are going to be used by God.
It’s fascinating that this interchange already happened with them when He sent them out to offer the kingdom to the nation of Israel. He said go out with this message and go only to the Jews, Matthew 10:5-7, repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand, now go out and preach that and offer it to Israel.
[Matthew 10:5-7, “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;  but rather go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’”]
And the moment that He gave them that assignment they transitioned from disciples to apostles. In fact, in Matthew 10:1-2 you’ll see both words used. “Jesus summoned His twelve disciples,” Matthew 10:1, “and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every kind of disease and every kind of sickness.” Watch this, verse 2, “Now the names of the twelve apostles,” see how he just switched the vocabulary, “are these,” and he lists the twelve. So they went from “disciples,” Matthew 10:1 into “apostles,” Matthew 10:2, sent out ones.
So they’ve gone through this transition before, but you see that was a different scenario back in Matthew 10. Israel, first century Israel was being given the opportunity to receive the kingdom, which we know, John 12, Matthew 12, they forfeited. And so we have gone through the ordeal of the crucifixion and the resurrection that follows, and the church is about to be sent out.
Now when this church, or believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, after they are finally dispatched from Jerusalem in Acts 2, having been clothed with power from on high, they are not offering the kingdom to Israel any longer. They don’t go around saying repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand. That is not our gospel; we are not Israel, we are the church. There has been a change that has happened, given Israel’s rejection of the Messiah. What we are to do is go forth to all nations, not just Israel, and spread the gospel. We don’t tell people the kingdom is at hand; we tell people believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. It is that great commissioning in that latter sense, second sense, not in the Matthew 10 sense, that is being spoken of here.
So there is graduation; they are moving from being learners to actually being sent out ones. And may I just say to you that the Lord has the identical calling on your life. He calls all of us as believers, sadly some respond to the calling, some don’t, but He calls all of us as believers into a mindset where we are actually being discipled by Him. We are learning. It’s not something that comes before salvation; it’s something that comes after salvation. So we are, as Christians, in this learning process and God does not give us the learning associated with being a disciple just for our benefit. He wants to use us for some reason. And the moment He launches us off into being used by Him, then that is graduation day; we are no longer simply disciples but we become apostles, not in the technical sense of the word but in the missionary sense of the word, and God wants both.
Now there are those that want to be sent out ones but they never submit to discipleship. If you’re not a learner of Jesus Christ and His truth and His ways, submitting to His authority, then you really don’t have a message to give to the world. What would you say? You’ve never learned. And there are other people that really like the role of disciple but they think the end game is simply to sit, soak and sour; I’m just going to horde and keep all of this learning to myself, and that’s not God’s plan either. He wants to transition us at some point from “disciples,” into the non-technical sense of the word “apostles.”
Are you a disciple who is fearful of being an apostle? Are you an apostle who is fearful of being a disciple? In either scenario you are outside the will of God. God wants us to be both; He wants us to be saved, He wants us to grow and to mature and then He wants to use us. And as we move into usability it’s a marvelous thing where we actually become used by God for His purposes on the earth.
This was something that was very hard for me to understand as a new Christian because I just though being saved was it; I mean, it was so great and wonderful that I received the grace of God, that’s it! And I was happy in that situation, but then as you walk with the Lord in the process of discipleship He starts showing you other things. He starts showing you spiritual gifts, He starts showing us unique callings, and I began to understand that there was a lot more to my life than simply being kept out of hell, which would be enough. I’m not saved from something, I am saved to something, and that’s what God wants. Are you a believer? I hope so. Are you as a believer an active disciple of our Lord Jesus Christ? I hope so. And are you as a believer comfortable with the switch that will happen very fast in your life, where you will not just be a disciple but you will be actually used by God to expand His purposes upon the earth? So as they move from discipleship into apostleship, in the non-technical sense, what are they supposed to say? What is their job description? What is their commission?
Again, it says in verse 21, “…as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.’” This is the rendition by John of what commonly is called “the great commission.” Part of the post resurrection ministry and appearances of Jesus Christ is to introduce these disciples, who are about to be called apostles, in this case technical sense of the word, and non-technical because they were both, but He’s trying to move them out of their comfort zone into their role as sent ones, and this is God’s blueprint for the church, this is God’s assignment for the church, this is called the great commission.
John is recording this for us here in verses 20-23. John is not the only one, the only Gospel writer that speaks of the great commission. The most famous statement by Christ of the great commission is found in Matthew 28:19-20, no doubt you know those verses. Jesus says, “Go therefore and make disciples,” not just of Israel, but “of all the nations,” see how the scope is broadened in the church age? “…baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,  teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Mark records the great commission as well in Christ’s post resurrection ministry, in Mark 16:15-16 it says this: “And He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.  He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.” So Matthew speaks of it; Mark speaks of it. Jesus’ words of the great commission are also recorded in Luke 28:46-48, “and He said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day,  and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.  You are witnesses of these things.”
Now remember Luke, what I just read from, is a prequel because it’s followed by Acts, same author, a sequel. Acts picks up where Luke left off; Luke leaves off with the post resurrection ministry of Jesus Christ and the great commission. Acts 1:8 picks up that same theme and this is what Jesus said to His disciples before He ascended, “‘but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.’”
There you have it, and you should jot these verses down and study them; John 20:21-23, the great commission; Matthew 28:19-20, great commission; Mark 16:15-16, great commission; and then Luke in, not only Luke 24:46-48 but also in Acts 1:8, the great commission.
How significant are these passages? It’s hard to emphasize them enough because they are the explanation of why the church exists? Why does God allow this unique people group, who have trusted in the Messiah (that Israel rejected) from all nations this spiritual man called the church, which exists worldwide, why does God have it on the earth? Why not just rapture us all to heaven? The reason is because God wants to use the church to fulfill its assignment, as given by Jesus Christ, which is the great commission.
What is the church? What’s its purpose? Is it a place of entertainment? Is it a social club? Is it a place to come and do commerce and bartering? There are all kinds of false definitions of the church floating around but what is God’s definition of the church? The church exists, and this comes from my systematic theology teacher, Dr. Robert Lightner, the church exists, number one, to glorify God. Ephesians 3:21 says, “to Him be the glory in the church,” that is our primary focus, is to glorify God. Number 2, we are to edify the saints, you’ll get a description of that in Ephesians 4:11-16, the function of the church as it faithfully ministers the various gifts of the Spirit of God is to bring the saints to maturity through the perpetual teaching of the Word of God.
[Ephesians 4:11-16, “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers,  for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ;  until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.  As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming,  but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ,  from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes for the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.”]
What is the purpose of the church, number 3, world evangelization, the great commission, the calling not just to lead people to saving faith in Christ but to begin to disciple them and this is supposed to happen all over the world. It’s interesting that when a consulting company comes into a troubled business the first thing they ask for is let me see your vision statement; let me see your mission statement because your vision statement or your mission statement will tell me as a consultant why your organization exists. If you don’t have a vision statement or a mission statement you don’t even understand the purpose for your own existence and what you’re doing.
What is the vision statement or the mission statement for the church? It’s all right here; it’s to glorify God, it’s to edify the saints and it is to fulfill the great commission. Therefore, all of our lives as New Testament believers should relate somehow, some way, to this. We all play different roles, but if our lives are not relating somehow, in some way, to this and these three purposes we miss the point of why we are on the earth as a church. And sadly, what is happening today is the great commission is becoming the great omission. There is, as you survey the evangelical literature a total confusion in the minds of Christian leaders and laymen alike.
Let me tell you what the great commission is not. The great commission is not setting up the kingdom of God on the earth. If you go back to Acts 1:6-7, this matter of the kingdom, which Israel had rejected in Matthew 12, is prominent on the thinking of the disciples. And this is what they said to Him, in Acts 1:6-7, “So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, ‘Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?’” They haven’t transitioned in their thinking yet to the great commission to all nations; they’re still thinking Old Testament terms.  “He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by His own authority.’”
He never denies that there will be a kingdom one day through Israel; He’s simply challenging their timing of it. They think it’s going to happen now, and Jesus is patiently trying to disclose to them a new age, if you will, that will not be the kingdom, but it will be the church age.
And after He clarifies that then in verse 8 he says, “but you,” here’s what you’re supposed to do, “will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” No, the kingdom is not now, you’re not to preoccupy yourself with the Davidic kingdom; God will set that up in His timing. What you are to preoccupy yourself with is the spreading of the gospel and making disciples of all nations.
And we look at this and we say well, that’s a very simple thing to understand. May I just say to you that the church of Jesus Christ has been confused about this going all the way back to the 4th century A.D. through the rise of a movement known as amillennialism, which simply means there will be no future reign of Christ through Israel because we are in the millennial kingdom now. Now you say well, this is just a debate amongst theologians, isn’t it? No it’s not, and here’s why: if you get confused on this point you will be confused as to what the church should be doing. If our business is establishing the kingdom then everything changes. We are in the business of setting up, structurally, the kingdom of God on the earth and that is an assignment that God never gave to the church.
The “kissing cousin” of amillennialism is postmillennialism which is this idea that the world is getting better and better and better. I’m not sure if they’re reading the same newspapers I read but the world is getting better and better and better through Christian progress, and that will merge into the thousand- year kingdom of God. And therefore when Jesus returns he will be returning to a world that is in “apple pie order.” It is all about setting up the kingdom of God without the King present. Sadly, even in my own Alma mater, which is embarrassing and hard for me to talk about, is this movement called so-called progressive dispensationalism. And what they say is it’s already but not yet; that’s their buzzword. We’re already in the kingdom but there’s a greater kingdom coming.
What do amillennialism, postmillennialism and progressive dispensationalism all have in common? They all sidetrack the church into kingdom building and not doing what the Lord said we should be doing, which is fulfilling the great commission. One of the things you need to understand about Sugar Land Bible Church is we teach from a premillennial perspective. What does that mean? It means you will not have the kingdom of God on the earth until Jesus returns and sets it up. Premillennial simply means Christ comes back first and the thousand-year kingdom follows.
“…we hold to a,” this is one of our position statements, “to a premillennial position. That is, we teach that a literal thousand-year period of time (the millennium) lies ahead in the future.” If it lies ahead in the future that rescues us from a mindset that says we have to set it up now. So as this basic prophecy chart shows you, there is a church age, the church age culminates with the rapture, then you’ll have a seven year tribulation period in which Israel, the remnant, will be converted after the church is gone, Jesus will return, and then premillennialism, establish His kingdom upon the earth.
Daniel, in chapter 2, saw a giant statue as he was interpreting Nebuchadnezzar’s vision; the head was made of gold, the chest and arms were made of silver, the stomach and thighs were made of brass, and the legs were made of iron and the feet were made out of iron and clay. That is a description of all of the kingdoms of man that will run their course. The feet of iron and clay is the final global empire of the antichrist. And then Daniel saw in this vision a stone cut without human hands, representing the kingdom of God, striking the feet of that statue. And as that stone cut without human hand hands struck that statue it collapsed, the statue did. And then the stone cut without human hands grew and grew and grew till it filled the whole earth.
What is that vision teaching? It is teaching that you will not have the stone cut without human hands until the antichrist’s empire has run its course. There is a chronology that is given which is what we would call in theology, premillennial. Daniel saw the same thing in chapter 7, almost an identical vision, this time it took the form of various grotesque beasts. The final ten-horned beast, the antichrist, after his empire runs its course he would be deposed and disposed of, and then the kingdom of the ancient of days would be set up… premillennialism.
Sugar Land Bible Church position statement number 4, we believe in three dispensations that are prominent, “the Dispensation of the Mosaic Law,” that’s Old Testament, “the present Dispensation of Grace,” that’s us, the age of the church, watch this, “and the future Dispensation of the Millennial Kingdom. In interpreting the Bible, we believe that these are distinct and should not be intermingled or confused.”
If I began to teach kingdom now theology, if I began to take doctrines from the future kingdom and put them into the age of the church, I would be confusing this order that God has established and laid out. I’m simply trying to make the point that we are premillennial.
Well, if we’re not going to bring in the kingdom, when is it going to come? I’m glad you asked. Revelation 11:15 tells us when it’s going to come. “Then the seventh angel sounded; and there were loud voices in heaving, saying, ‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and he will reign forever and ever.” Translation is the kingdom will not come to the earth through the church’s power; the church was never given any authority to bring in the kingdom. The kingdom, rather, will come in when God brings it in through the events of the book of Revelation.
And that’s why when you study the book of Revelation so much of the judgments sound like the book of Exodus. The sixth plague of Exodus, sores, sounds a lot like the first bowl judgment in Revelation: rivers to blood, first plague in Exodus, third bowl judgment book of Revelation. Darkness, ninth plague in the Exodus event, fifth bowl judgment in Revelation. Hail, seventh plague in the Exodus event, seventh bowl judgment, book of Revelation.
Why the parallels? Because you see in the book of Exodus God is taking His whole nation out of bondage that it had been in for 400 years under Pharaoh. And that happened through ten judgments that we read about in the book of Exodus. The book of Revelation is just like the book of Exodus but a land grander because you see, in the book of Revelation God is not simply taking His own nation out of Egyptian bondage, he’s taking the whole world out of the bondage that it has been in since the fall back in Eden. Satan is typified by Pharaoh; Pharaoh was running the show, he thought. God says no, I’m about to break your will and take My people out. Satan believes he’s running the show, in fact, he is running the show (to a large extent) in the world. God says in the book of Revelation you’re not in charge, Satan, any more than Pharaoh was, I’m about to break your back, take the world out of the bondage that you’ve had it in for all these years—Premillennialism.
Well, how do you discern if somebody is theologically wrong on this issue? You ask them one simple question and how they answer this question will show you an awful lot about whether they have a proper understanding of the church or a confused understanding of the church. You simply ask them what is Jesus doing now at the Father’s right hand? The correct answer is He is at the Father’s right hand functioning as high priest. That’s the correct answer. The wrong answer, whether it comes from progressive dispensationalists, postmillennialists, amillennialist, they all say the same thing, they will tell you that Jesus is on David’s throne. What’s He doing on David’s throne? He’s reigning. Who’s He reigning over? He’s reigning over the earth; He is reigning over the church.
Beloved, that is NOT what is happening right now. Jesus is not on David’s throne. There isn’t a shred of Scripture that supports that, not a shred! And beyond that, the last time I checked David’s throne was on the earth, in Jerusalem, unoccupied. How could it be up in heaven somewhere? But how they answer that question will tell you an awful lot about them, their theology, and their view for the church. That question, as minor as it sounds, is a game-changer. And the reason it is a game-changer is because it will shift the focus of the church.
What you have to understand about theology is it’s dominoes in a row. If you knock over one domino the rest of them will follow very quickly. If you get confused on this subject of a future kingdom it will eventually confuse what you believe the role of the church should be. I believe this is a satanic deception to get the church out of the will of God. And it’s amazing how good Satan is at playing this game.
Hal Lindsey wrote a very good book called The Road to Holocaust, I encourage you to read that. Bestselling author, Hal Lindsey warned what could happen to the church in the church in the last days if she began to see herself as the establisher of God’s kingdom. Quote, “The last days of the church on earth may be largely wasted seeking to accomplish a task that only the Lord Himself can and will do directly.” God never told us to establish the kingdom; what he said is fulfill the great commission. Now if we buy into kingdom now beliefs and kingdom now theology, we get sidetracked into projects that we don’t even have the power to pull off anyway. We simply do not have the ability to bring the kingdom of God to the earth; the church was never given that task. It was called to rescue people out of Satan’s kingdom through the great commission. The kingdom building, premillennialism, is what Jesus Himself, and only Jesus Himself can do. We will not have the kingdom without the King.
You say well, wait a minute now; don’t you talk about political things? Don’t you have a blog where you blog about political things? Don’t you believe in political activism? And I do, but I never believe in it where I see it as kingdom building. You can be political active to restrain evil; we can vote to hold back the progress of the course of evil, to slow things down, but the moment we shift in our thinking that through activism and different things of society, fighting pornography, fighting gambling, fighting abortion, all of these kinds of things that we see all around us, the moment we think that that will bring in the kingdom of God is the moment we have been deceived into a false agenda.
In fact, if you’re involved in that do you know whose kingdom you’re building? The devil’s! You’re not building God’s kingdom because only God can build His kingdom. The next kingdom that’s coming is the antichrist’s kingdom which will be overthrown by the kingdom of God. Yes, we can be salt and light today in a decaying world. Yes, there are certain things we can do as Christians to slow down the progress of evil but they do not relate to the establishment of the kingdom of God on the earth. The great commission is not setting up the kingdom.
Number 2, the great commission is not the social gospel. You say well, what’s the social gospel? The social gospel is we’re going to dig wells, we’re going to clothe the destitute and the naked, we’re going to feed the hungry and in the process of doing those things, those things, as well-intentioned as they can be, become the focus. And what begins to slip through the cracks is the life-changing gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
What good does it do somebody to feed their stomach with a meal that will last 24 hours if you are not also going to give them the gospel which will keep their soul out of an eternal hell? And how confused we get into thinking that our job is humanitarian aid. Am I against humanitarian aid? NO, but humanitarian aid should always be used as a platform to preach the gospel. If we are not using humanitarian aid as a platform to preach the gospel then the great commission has become the great omission.
Charles Ryrie well articulates in his book, Dispensationalism, Social gospel “…can easily lead to placing an unbalanced, if not wrong, priorities on political action, social agendas, and improving the structures of society.” The focus becomes improving the structures of society, social action, which is not wrong in and of itself but when the gospel begins to be eclipsed by those activities we have been hoodwinked by the devil.
What do we have in our possession? The gospel of Jesus Christ which, Paul says, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” [Romans 1:16]
We dare not relinquish that most valuable, indispensably valuable commodity that we have, which is the gospel. Social action is fine as a platform to preach the gospel, not for the purpose of eclipsing the gospel. We have to watch so-called missionaries very carefully because what you’ll discover in the area of missiology, which is the study of missions, that there is widespread confusion about this amongst missionary organizations and even amongst missionaries themselves, where they begin to see their role as humanitarian, and if the gospel comes up we’ll sneak it in.
Study Paul in the book of Acts; it was gospel first, it was preaching first. He said, “I am not ashamed of the gospel,” humanitarian aid, demonstrating the love of Christ would follow. And beloved, you might be totally in agreement with me on this, but what I’m telling you is this is a strategy of the devil over and over again, throughout the ages of church history, to get us off the task. If you want evidence of it look at the seven sisters; the seven decaying and dying branches of denominational Protestant Christianity. Not that there aren’t good people in these organizations, American Baptists, Lutheran, Presbyterian USA, Methodists, United Church of Christ, Episcopalian, Disciples of Christ, what are they today? They are institutions that have gotten away from their purpose and consequently when we move outside of our purpose we are emptied of our power.
The church has power when it fits into the design of God. If the church strays from the design of God it is emptied of its power; it is nothing but an organization that might have a budget and they might have some impressive buildings and endowments but the transformative power of the gospel is not there. It’s just a group, just like you would have the Rotary Club or some other manmade organization.
And the very interesting thing is when you leave your purpose you have to fill that void with something, don’t you? You’ve got to keep something going to rally the troops. And you know what happened with the seven sisters? Do you know what they filled their void with? Left-wing politics. You go into those churches today and in many cases you will hear more about the environment, climate change, global warming, world hunger, structural racism, all of these buzz words than you will hear about the transformative gospel.
Let me just give you some quotes to show you the thinking of people today. This is group called the emergent church. They say: “The Kingdom of God is a central conversation in emerging communities… And let me tell you that the ‘Kingdom of God’ language is really big in the emerging church.”
Brian McLaren says, “He selected 12 and trained them in a new way of life. He sent them to teach everyone tis new way of life…. Even if only a few would practice this new way, many would benefit. Oppressed people would be free. Poor people would be liberated from poverty. Minorities would be treated with respect. Sinners would be loved, not resented.”
“Industrialists would realize that God cares for” the environment and the “sparrows and wildflowers – so their industries would respect and not rape the environment. The homeless would be invited in for a hot meal. The kingdom of God would come, not everywhere at once, not suddenly, but gradually like seed growing in a field, like yeast spreading through a lump of dough, like light spreading across the sky….”
What did you not hear in that statement? Not a single word about the gospel. If you want to hear something about the gospel it’s just silence, it’s crickets. Brian McLaren says, “If Revelation were a blueprint of the distant future, it would have been unintelligible to its original readers…In light of this, Revelation becomes a powerful book about the kingdom of God here and now, available to all.”
You say well, does this really matter? “The church,” McLaren says, “has been preoccupied with the question, ‘What happens to your soul after you die?’ As if the reason for His coming can be summed up in, ‘Jesus is trying to get more souls into heaven as opposed to hell, after they die.’” I’m trying to do that. I’m trying to preach His gospel to keep people out of hell. McLaren says, “I just think a fair reading of the Gospels blows that out of the water.”
We’ve been in John for three years; we’ve been in John longer than Jesus ministered on the earth. What do you see here in John? Individual salvation, believe, over and over again. This is the priorities of Jesus.
One of the worst offenders in this is Rick Warren, he’s called America’s Pastor, best-selling author, and he pastors a multi thousand, ten thousand, twenty thousand member church not too far from where I grew up. Rick Warren says, “I stand before you confidently right now and say to you that God is going to use you to change the world… I’m looking at a stadium full of people right now who are telling God they will do whatever it takes to establish God’s Kingdom on earth,” Rick, count me out. “What will happen if the followers of Jesus say to Him, ‘We are yours?’ What kind of spiritual awakening will occur?’” See how “kingdom” keeps coming up in all of these statements.
And so consequently Rick Warren has developed his peace plan. Each letter of peace stands for a different dimension of the plan. “P.E.A.C.E. is an acronym for Promote reconciliation; Equip servant leaders; Assist the poor; Care for the sick; and Educate the next generation. Coalition members see these actions as Jesus’ antidote to five ‘global giants,’ problems that affect billions of people worldwide: spiritual emptiness, self-centered leadership, poverty, pandemic disease, and illiteracy.’”
I’m not pro poverty and illiteracy, believe me. But what he’s doing is he is setting, or trying to set up the kingdom of God; only Jesus is going to get rid of these things. And in the process what do you not hear here? I don’t hear Acts 1:8, I don’t hear Matthew 28:19-20. I don’t see anything about Mark 16:15-16. I don’t see anything about the gospel, which is the primary calling that we have.
What are some buzz words for churches and organizations that get away from the gospel and drift into kingdom building? You’ll hear the following words: social justice, holistic redemption, that’s what Brian McLaren used in a quote I used earlier, what does he mean by holistic redemption? He is saying the point of it is not to get folks saved, it is to change the structures of society. In his mind it’s a leftist sort of approach.
You’ll also hear the buzzword “collective” salvation; what do they mean by collective salvation? They’re talking about salvation that changes nations structurally, when in reality what was Jesus talking about, over and over again? Individual salvation! The collective salvation, the changing of the structures of society that happens when Jesus returns and establishes His kingdom on the earth.
I don’t think I am up here today just blowing smoke or hot air. If you immerse yourself in the kind of literature that I have been reading you will see the same trend. It is the recycling of an ancient heresy, going back to Augustine, amillennialism, in some cases, although they wouldn’t like that label. What’s the point? It gets the church away from what God called it to do. That’s the danger. How do we get refocused? Look at verse 21 one more time, John 20:21, how do you get refocused? You get refocused by going back to what Jesus said in verse 21, “as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” Just as the Father sent Me, I am sending you. If you want to understand your ministry, and the church’s ministry, you need to understand Christ’s ministry. What, then, was Christ’s ministry? It was individual salvation. It is as simple as John 3:16 which says, ‘For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life,” individual salvation.
Do you know how Paul shut down the idol makers in Ephesus? He did not, in Acts 19, start a political campaign, although political campaigns are not wrong. He did not go out arguing that the structures of society need to change. Do you know what he did? He set up shop in this little school, called the school of Tyrannus, and he taught the Word of God for two years. And Acts 19:10 says all in Asia Minor heard the Word of God through Paul’s ministry of teaching. [Acts 19:10, “This took place for two years, so that all who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.”]
And you know what they did with their idols? They said we’re saved now; I guess we don’t need these idols anymore and so they took them and they dispensed with them and that indirectly drove the idol manufacturers out of business. If you want to change racism, do you want to change poverty, do you want to change abortion, do you want to change the homosexual agenda, if you want to change all of that here’s how you do it—you spread the gospel! And as people get saved they won’t want to be a homosexual anymore, and they won’t want to have an abortion anymore. And sometimes I fear that we have gotten the cart before the horse, although there’s a place to be salt and light in a decaying society.
So Jesus says, “As the Father sent Me, I am sending you,” now why does He have to send them? Because they have been called out of the world. He said that in John 15:19, “If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.” They were called out of the world and now He is sending them on graduation day back into the world, not to bring in the kingdom, which only God Himself can do, but to spread this precious commodity called the gospel.
And how easy it is, through well-intentioned individuals and the subtle deception of Satan to move away from what we’re called to do. And speaking of individual salvation, there might be someone here today that’s never experienced that, never received it, don’t know anything about what I’m talking about. And our answer to you is the answer we give to everybody; the dominant issue in your life is if you died today where would you spend eternity? With God in eternal bliss, or under God’s wrath and judgment? And that destiny hangs on what you do with Jesus.
We have to, at some point in our lives, as we come under the conviction of the Spirit of God, to trust no longer in ourselves but what Jesus did in our behalf. We have to trust in Him and in His promises alone. And as that happens our whole eternal destiny is changed; we experience individual salvation. And if you’ve never done that, even as I am talking, you can do it right now. As the Spirit of God convicts you respond to the convicting ministry of the Spirit. It’s not something you raise a hand to do, walk an aisle to do, give money to the church to do, it’s a personal moment between you and God where he places you under conviction and you respond to Him. If that’s something you’re doing now or have done in your life, then on the authority of the Word of God your whole eternal destiny is changed. If it’s something that you need more information on I’m available after the service to talk. Shall we pray.
Father, we’re grateful for Your great commission; forgive us, Lord, as a church for the last 2,000 years for not remaining sharp and crystalized in our thinking on this. Help us, Father, during these waning days that you have us upon the earth to fit into Your purpose and Your design, not our own. And help us to walk under the power of the Holy Spirit, sharing Your gospel. We will be careful to give you all the praise and the glory. We ask these things in Jesus name, and God’s people said . . . Amen.