Conclusion of “World Evangelization and the Kingdom of God,” a paper prepared for the forthcoming International Congress on World Evangelization

Genuine Christian faith in the Kingdom has always been marked by an awareness which is joyful and painful at the same time. It is the joy that the Kingdom of grace has already come with the first arrival of Christ. And it is the pain that Christ has not yet come again to establish his kingdom in power and glory by demonstrating his victory before the eyes of all mankind. There is still something which contradicts the lordship of Jesus Christ:

5. The opposition between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Satan involves the evangelist in warfare.

When we see the role of evangelism within the framework of God’s coming kingdom, we must still consider the existence of that opposing metaphysical force which the Gospel of John calls the “prince of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). The world which is to be won for the Kingdom of Christ through evangelism is no neutral territory. It is in a state of active rebellion. The idolatrous religions of men are ways in which Satan seduces the heathen to worship him (1 Cor. 10:20; 2 Cor. 6:16). Their personal, cultural, and social life is under demonic captivity, where love of God and one’s neighbor is replaced by suspicion and hostility (Rom. 1:24–30). This grim fact gives a dramatic notion to the concepts both of the Kingdom of Christ and of evangelism. The advancement of the Kingdom of Christ takes place by a successive dethronement of Satan (Luke 10:17–19). The decisive victory has already been won on the cross, where Satan lost his legal rights over mankind (John 12:31). Evangelism, therefore, is accompanied by the fight with satanic forces (Matt. 10:1–8). It is to proclaim over them the victory of Christ and to command them to depart.

But according to the testimony of the New Testament, the power of Satan on earth has not been totally annihilated yet, nor will it be before the glorious return of Christ; nor will the totality of mankind be won over from Satan’s dominion to the Kingdom of Christ. Evangelism calls for a decision. The Holy Spirit gives us the freedom to say “yes,” but he also leaves to us the liberty to say “no.” Therefore the final result of evangelism is not the unification of mankind under the rule of Christ but on the contrary a growing polarization between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Satan.

One of the most fatal errors in mission work is the idea that it is our task in this present age—before the visible reappearance of Christ—to Christianize the world and thereby to establish the messianic Kingdom by our own power. Such mistaken Christians are directed by the utopic vision of a unified mankind in which perfect peace and justice have become a universal reality now. They are, however, frustrated by the fact that a great part of mankind simply refuses to accept the Gospel and to live according to the new law of Christ’s Kingdom. Therefore they despair of the efficiency of purely spiritual means, i.e., an evangelistic method which relies wholly on the challenging impression of the Word of God on the human conscience.

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Two dangerous alternatives are offered to an eschatologically oriented evangelism. The first one is the development of a misdirected form of evangelism which in order to achieve striking visible results resorts to psychological methods like mass hypnosis, group dynamic experiments, personality cults, or even the radiation of para-psychological forces disguised as the work of the Holy Spirit. Some people try to attract their listeners by material benefits or by the promise of spectacular healing or earthly prosperity which will follow their conversion. There is no real blessing in such work. It might even drive the evangelist himself into secret cynicism and loss of his faith.

The other equally mistaken alternative is offered by Christians who substitute for the messianic Kingdom a utopic vision to be realized by political means. They repeat the error of the Zealots at the time of Jesus, who wanted to force the Kingdom of God to come by ejecting the Romans by the sword. The physical resources of the Christian churches do not suffice, of course, to remove all forces of oppression. Therefore one even advocates an alliance with the liberation movements within all non-Christian religions and ideologies. This new concept of “mission” is today’s greatest menace to the worldwide Church; I would call it the Mission of Barabbas. It has no promise of the Lord. It might, however, reach at least a transitory success. But such a world-wide kingdom which is achieved by the combined spirits, concepts, and methods of the dynamic movements of this age would be a kingdom without Christ. It would be the anti-Christian kingdom.

And this is what we, in fact, have to expect. The New Testament clearly predicts that in spite of great victories of the Gospel amongst all nations the resistance of Satan will continue. Towards the end it will even increase so much that Satan, incarnated in the human person of Antichrist, will assume once more an almost total control over disobedient mankind (2 Thess. 2:3–12; Rev. 13). It is important to notice the religious appearance of the reign of Antichrist. He will gain his stronghold over mankind not by military or political force alone, but also through the magic enchantments of his false prophet (Rev. 13:11–17).

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But God has given us a weapon with which to resist. It is the sword of the Spirit (Eph. 6:17), the Word of God. It is the damaging testimony of the martyrs that through Christ’s victory on the cross Satan has lost his dominion (Rev. 12:11, 12).

I am afraid that many evangelical Christians are neither prepared nor equipped yet to fight this battle. We need new biblical clarity in order to get reassured of our evangelistic motivation and to be able to discern the spirits. Today Satan attacks churches, missions, and individual Christians all over the world by heretical movements which threaten them with spiritual confusion. The Declarations of Wheaton and Frankfurt have undertaken to penetrate this smoke-screen theologically. The issues mentioned in these historic statements ought to be taken up on all levels of the world-wide mission. They must be answered by way of affirmation and refutation in clear-cut confessional statements which are binding to our evangelistic activities and identify us in the eyes of our Christian supporters.

6. Evangelism is inspired by the vision of the Kingdom in glory which will be established through the return of Christ.

Evangelism comes to men with a present offer based upon Christ’s victory on the Cross, and with an eschatological promise based on his final victory by his return. This dialectical tension within the historical movement of God’s Kingdom is the driving dynamic of evangelism. It offers God’s grace in Christ and new life in the Holy Spirit now. It promises total redemption of our bodies and of the whole creation in the Kingdom of Glory to come. Paul says that the whole “creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the Son of God, … because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Rom. 8:19, 20). This will take place at the return of Christ. He will transform his militant Church into his triumphant Church, who will reign together with him in his messianic Kingdom of universal peace (Matt. 19:28, 29; Luke 22:28–30; 1 Cor. 6:2; Rev. 20:4).

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This eschatological notion has always been the distinct mark of a truly biblical understanding of evangelism. It has inspired many missionaries with a holy restlessness. But there is one question which is controversial even amongst evangelicals. What will be the exact nature of the Kingdom which Christ will establish by his return? Will it be the totally new heaven and the new earth which John describes in Revelation 21 and 22 (amillennialism)? Or will it be the Millennium which he mysteriously speaks about in Revelation 20:1–6 (premillennialism)? The biblical texts give us material support but also difficulty for both of these views.

Amillenarians understand Revelation 20:1–6 not literally but symbolically. They hold that we live in the Millennium now, or rather at the end of it, when Satan is loosed again. The risen saints would be those who after their victorious death are united with Christ now in heaven, although their bodies are not resurrected yet.

Premillenarians conceive the Kingdom in power, which the returning Christ will establish, as an anticipation of the final Kingdom in glory, which will only come when even death has been swallowed up into victory (1 Cor. 15:24–26).

Still another attempt to solve the apparent tension between the different eschatological texts like Revelation 20:1–6 and Second Peter 3:10 is postmillennialism. Here the Millennium would be the last victorious phase of church history before the return of Christ. It brings an almost universal recognition of the Gospel amongst the nations through a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit. But it is difficult to reconcile such a view with the clear biblical prediction of the numerical shrinkage and tribulation of the Church at the close of this age. Jesus himself prophesies that the very survival of the elect will be threatened (Matt. 24:21–31). The persecutor is Antichrist, whom “the Lord Jesus will slay with the breath of his mouth and destroy by his appearing and his coming” (2 Thess. 2:8). In fact, are not these apocalyptical features becoming visible even before our own eyes? Isn’t the shadow of Antichrist falling on us already? Where do postmillenarians place his appearance? If they have no answer to this question, their view of the Millennium can hardly be called biblical.

Personally I am inclined to agree with a modified premillenarian view which meets the confessional criticism directed against Chiliasm, a materialistic form of the Millennium. The Parousia, i.e., the appearance of Christ, is not a plain melting of the invisible and the visible realms of Christ’s reign into a political theocracy where he and his saints permanently reside on our old earth again. Rather we should understand the Parousia as the climactic encounter of the yet invisible Lordship of Christ with present world history. Thereby the dividing world between here and beyond, between now and then will become transparent for a definite period, until all cosmic power has been subdued to Christ (1 Cor. 15:25, 26) and world history is swallowed up by new creation.

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Only God’s final fulfillment of the biblical prophecies will bring us the solution to all exegetical problems. In any case the controversy between amillenarians and premillenarians need not affect our understanding of evangelism as urgently oriented toward the appearance of Christ’s coming with his kingdom in power and glory. Absolute agreement is necessary only on two points: First, that Christ will establish this kingdom only after we have carried out faithfully his commission to evangelize all nations (Matt. 24:14; Mark 13:10; Acts 1:6–8); second, that churches and missions have to be watchful against the antichristian temptation (Matt. 24:4, 11, 23–26).

7. The crowning link between the evangelization of the world and the establishment of the messianic Kingdom will be the restitution of Israel.

Why do I believe that the Millennium is an intervening period between the return of Christ and the creation of a new heaven and a new earth? It is because of the specific role which the Old Testament has assigned to the people of Israel within the messianic Kingdom. These prophecies have neither been fulfilled yet, nor have they been obliterated by the creation of the Church as the new spiritual Israel (Acts 1:6). Paul, in Romans 11:29, very definitely states that the gifts and the call of God to Israel are irrevocable. He clearly predicts the final conversion of the historic Israel. This reinclusion into the olive tree of the people of God will mean great riches for the Gentile nations (v. 12).

Now there is an important threefold relationship between the Church’s world-evangelism to the Gentile nations and the final acceptance of the people of Israel:

First Paul states that one vital purpose in his ministry to the Gentiles is to make his fellow Jews jealous of their salvation in Christ (Rom. 11:11–14). This means that our evangelistic work should always be done with an eye cast desirously on the promised salvation of the Jews as well. This Christian witness to Israel must always accompany mission to the Gentiles.

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The second connection is the mystery that the present hardening of Israel will cease when the full number of the Gentiles has come in (v. 25). This actually means that the time of world-evangelism is limited. The times of grace for the Gentiles are exactly the interval between the hardening of Israel which followed their rejection of their Messiah and his Gospel, and their eschatological restitution, which will, according to Ezekiel 37:8–10, be first physical and thereafter spiritual.

The third connection between the Church’s mission to the Gentiles and the restitution of Israel is of vital importance to our understanding of the limitation of our task in world evangelism. Israel’s conversion will mark the transformation from world-evangelization to world-Christianization. The Church’s assignment in the present dispensation is not to take the world of nations politically under the law of Christ as expressed in the Sermon on the Mount. Under the present conditions where Satan still is unbound, this is simply not possible. But in the messianic reign Satan will be bound and not be able to deceive the nations any more (Rev. 20:3). Therefore the rule of peace exercised through the ministry of Israel from Mount Zion will also establish a long-lasting political peace. Meanwhile, however, world-evangelism has only one direct purpose. It is to call and to gather the eschatological community of the elect out of all nations.

That Israel forms the decisive eschatological linkage between world-evangelism and the establishment of the messianic Kingdom is a prophetic insight especially exciting to our present generation. Jesus has said to the Jews: “Jerusalem will be trodden down by the Gentiles, until the [appointed] times [of grace: kairoi] of the Gentiles will be fulfilled” (Luke 21:24). This is exciting. For in the year 1967 our very generation became witness to how Jerusalem in an amazing war was recaptured by the Jews. For the first time since its destruction in A.D. 70 the capital of Israel is not trodden down by the Gentiles. But the Yom Kippur war in 1973 brought about a new turn. Because of the oil boycott of the Arab states nearly all peoples of the earth are turning against Israel, as predicted by the Old Testament prophets (Ezek. 38; Zech. 12:3). Does this mean that the times of grace for the heathen, i.e., the appointed times for world-evangelization, are drawing to their end as well? I believe so. In fact, we are observing this already in many parts of the world. Is there then no point any more in convening this International Congress on World Evangelization? On the contrary!

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8. Re-enforced evangelism is the erected sign of victory in the final battle of the Kingdom of Christ with the powers of Antichrist.

In his apocalyptic sermon on Mount Olivet about the fate of Jerusalem and the end of world history Jesus answers a question which is equally burning to our generation (Matt. 24:3): “When will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and the close of the age?” Jesus mentions a number of striking signs. They appear in nature and in world history as well as in the life of the Christian Church: wars, famines, earthquakes, false prophets. They all signalize that the end is approaching; but they are not the end yet. Then Jesus comes to the dramatic last phase: the great apostasy, where most men’s love will grow cold (Matt. 24:10–12), precedes the great tribulation (vv. 21, 22). The final phase of church history will not be marked by great revival movements or by the complete Christianization of the nations. On the contrary, only a minority of elect will endure and be saved (Matt. 24:22, 25). Yet one basic function of the Church will go on even under these circumstances. Nobody will stop it until it has reached its target: “And this Gospel of the Kingdom will be preached throughout the whole earth, as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matt. 24:14). This prophecy puts Christ’s commission to evangelize the world into an apocalyptic context. Evangelism is the chief contribution of the Church to hasten the visible establishment of Christ’s Kingdom on earth. Only when this work is complete will Christ come to redeem the groaning creation from its present bondage.

The purpose of such eschatological evangelism is not only to make as many converts as possible. In that case statistics would decide the meaning of world-evangelization. Our task is not to boast in numerical results (although we may rejoice at them!), for the full number of those who will be saved is known to God alone (John 10:16; Rom. 11:25). It must be assumed that the majority of the listeners will not receive our offer of grace. Still Jesus insists that the gospel of the Kingdom will and must be preached throughout the world until the end. Why? Because each nation on earth must have heard the testimony of Christ as the Lord and Redeemer of the world in order to recognize him when he comes in glory (Matt. 24:30; Rev. 1:7). Then people will either be accepted or be judged according to their obedience or disobedience to the Word. But all knees in heaven and on earth and under the earth will bow, and every tongue will confess that Christ is the Lord, to the glory of God (Phil. 2:10).

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What does this mean for our task here and now? Let me conclude by stating a threefold challenge:

1. The still opened doors for the Gospel call for an all-out effort to evangelize all six continents. Churches and missions should make it their target to reach every living person with the good news within the next ten years. It is clear that we thereby should make the best use of all modern means of communication and prepare excellent programs for radio and TV. But wherever it is legally possible, our evangelistic outreach should culminate in personal visitation and in a face-to-face-encounter. This means that the whole believerhood in a given locality ought to be involved: Evangelism-in-depth!

2. All such efforts would benefit greatly if they could draw from the experiences of fellow Christians in other parts of the world, and if they were coordinated in a world-wide strategy. It should include all churches, mission societies, Christian groups, and individuals who sincerely believe that the proclamation of the undiluted Gospel to the unreached two billion is our most important task in this decisive hour of world history. I fully trust that the Lausanne congress will result in a new spiritual awareness of evangelical unity. But if we want this to be more than a transitory emotional upheaval as experienced by so many previous conferences, this feeling should become visible. What we are called to at this hour is to make a decisive step to form a world-wide association for the evangelization of the world in our generation.

3. We do not know, however, how much time we still have to prepare such bold plans for world-evangelization. God’s mission can express itself in our plans, but he is not bound by them. On the contrary, his mission can proceed even in a situation of persecution, where any organized mission is no longer possible. There he uses instead the confessing testimony of individual Christians and small groups. This is already the situation in most countries behind the Iron Curtain. Let us support these our brethren and sisters by our intercessions. And let us prepare ourselves and our constituencies for a time when such martyrdom may overtake us, too.

For it is “through many tribulations we must enter the Kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).

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