by Grant McClung
“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).
With every new headline announcing the latest crisis, it seems the world is coming apart at the seams. As expected, the chatter in Christian circles centers once again on Bible prophecy and the end times. There are predictions, prophetic insights, and privileged information available for purchase. The latest products reveal hidden mysteries and heretofore undiscovered secrets to understanding our personal, national, and global destinies. Bible prophecy is a growth market. Growing up in church, I have had quite an “education” in Bible prophecy. Like many, I have probably heard anything and everything — biblical, sub-biblical and extra-biblical — preached as a “sign of the times.”
In Matthew 24, Jesus warned about wars, rumors of wars, famines, earthquakes, persecution, false prophets, and the increase of wickedness (Matt. 24:6 – 12). He said, “Such things must happen, but the end is still to come” (Matt. 24:6). All these things are not the end, but the beginning, He declared (v. 8). Jesus indicated that the final sign of the end is the worldwide proclamation of the gospel in the entire world to every nation. After this, He said, “then the end will come” (v. 14).
The global preaching of the gospel is directly connected to the closing of time. The message of missions is, therefore, an “end times” message. This symbiotic relationship between world evangelization and the end times can be discussed with four words: escapism, evangelization, event, and enduement.
As never before, the imminent coming of Christ is a motivation to propel Christian witnesses across the globe in order to bring the good news of salvation. Unfortunately, some fold their hands in fear, waiting on their deliverance while ignoring the Great Commission of Jesus Christ. The Church cannot allow an escapist mentality to form its view of world evangelization. This would be unfaithful disobedience to the Lord of the harvest. While looking to the skies for His return, we must also keep our feet in the field and our hands on the plow, occupying until He comes!
We are under explicit evangelistic orders. We are commanded to make disciples of all nations and reach every individual with the gospel (Matt. 28. 18 – 20; Mark 16.15). Scripture clearly states that God, “…wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4). God does not want, “…anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
The reach of the love of God is coupled with the reality of the judgment of God. Following his statement of truth regarding the heart of God for the lost, Peter also goes on to soberly state, “But the day of the Lord will come” (2 Peter 3: 9-10). “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord,” Paul warned, “we persuade men” (2 Corinthians 5:11). Because of this urgency, we must work while it is day, before the night comes when, “…no one can work” (John 9:4).
Our eschatology must always motivate us toward evangelization. We must be careful to allow Bible prophecy to work for us and not against us in our task of making disciples of all nations. When we stand before the Lord, the most important thing will not be how correct we were in our interpretation of Bible prophecy but rather how careful we were to obey His commission. Jesus said that the gospel of the Kingdom would be preached in the whole world to every nation (every tribe, linguistic, culture group, even “nations within a nation”). We cannot override His straightforward command and allow any construction of prophetic interpretation — regardless of how confidently systematized, articulated, or marketed — to hinder the prior commission to reach all
peoples everywhere with the gospel!
Through world evangelization, we participate in God’s grand prophetic event. In all of the cataclysmic signs in scripture — such as famines, earthquakes, and wars – Christians also suffer the consequences as casualties. But in the process of world evangelization, we are active partners in the prophetic process! Through our witness, we share in the coming of the kingdom. Times and dates, however, are set by the Father’s own authority (Acts 1:7). The event is God’s event. We are only emissaries, not experts. Our strong belief in the second coming of Jesus Christ must be a reason to proclaim, not to predict. Still, our eschatology and evangelization work together. We preach because the end is coming; the end is coming because we preach.
The enduement of power through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is clearly a fulfillment of prophecy, and we continue to live in the outworking of this sign in these last days. This was how the prophecy of Joel 2:28-32 was understood by the early church (Acts 2:16-21). The biblical promise of evangelistic power was also embraced by our Pentecostal fathers and mothers at the turn of the 20th century. Many went to the far flung corners of the earth without booking return passage, expecting the immediate return of the Lord. They were nicknamed “Missionaries of the one-way ticket” by Pentecostal historian Vinson Synan (see his chapter in Grant McClung, Editor. Azusa Street and Beyond: Missional Commentary on the Global Pentecostal/Charismatic Movement. 2012, 41 – 52).
Like the early disciples, today’s Christians are very curious about prophecy and the end of time, wanting to know how explicit details affect them personally. The disciples asked Jesus about the restoration of Israel, about times and dates. Jesus said it was not for them to know but to receive. “But you will receive power,” He promised, “when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). When today’s Christians become as concerned about being witnesses to the ends of the earth as they are about the end of the earth, then the “forgotten sign of the times” will be faithfully carried out until all have heard or until He comes. Until that day there is no other option.
Grant McClung is president of Missions Resource Group and missiological advisor to the World Missions Commission of the Pentecostal World Fellowship. Among many books, chapters, and articles, he is editor of Azusa Street and Beyond: Missional Commentary on The Global Pentecostal/Charismatic Movement.