Today, there is much pessimism among evangelicals concerning the future. We look around and we see much sin and ungodliness everywhere. Some teach that the world will continue to get worse and worse and that all we can expect is that we will be a witness in the midst of all this evil. We are just a remnant and that is all we can expect for the future. The gospel is primarily to be a witness to the world but to expect any widespread victory of the gospel in this age is not to be. Is this the kind of pessimism that the Bible teaches?
Psalm 86:9 says, “All nations whom thou hast made shall come and worship before thee, O Lord; and shall glorify thy name.” Charles Spurgeon in commenting on this verse talks about the pessimism of his time and compares it with what this verse says. He writes, “David was not a believer in the theory that the world will grow worse and worse, and that the dispensation will wind up with general darkness, and idolatry. Earth’s sun is to go down amid tenfold night if some of our prophetic brethren are to be believed. Not so do we expect, but we look for a day when the dwellers in all lands shall learn righteousness, shall trust in the Savior, shall worship thee alone, O God, ‘and glorify thy name.’ The modern notion has greatly damped the zeal of the church for missions, and the sooner it is shown to be unscriptural the better for the cause of God. It neither consorts with prophecy, honors God, nor inspires the church with ardor. Far hence be it driven.” P. xiv, Puritan Hope
In 1983, Hal Lindsey wrote, “Few people today doubt that history is moving toward some sort of climactic catastrophe. As I have discussed in previous books, current events are moving toward a showdown between major world powers. Many secular scientists, statesmen, and military experts believe that the world is heading for a global holocaust, involving an all-out nuclear war. The only variable with most of these experts is when.” (p. 1 – The Rapture) Lindsey expresses a common belief among evangelicals. Yet, here we are over twenty five years later and the world is still here. There has been no holocaust as yet. Is it inevitable that we will soon see a holocaust and the end of the world? Will we Christians soon be swept up out of the way by a rapture and then the whole world experience a holocaust? This is what many Christians hold on to today. Is this really the viewpoint of God?
God rebukes the people of Israel for offering blemished sacrifices to Him. Their worship of Him has become corrupt. He despises their offerings to Him. The Lord says, “When you bring blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice crippled or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?....Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altar! I am not pleased with you and I will accept no offering from your hands.” (Malachi 1:8, 10) So, everything looks gloomy, we might say. God’s people are disobedient and not faithful. How could the church, the people of God survive? Surely it was a lost cause. Yet, God saw it differently. He knew the future and He knew it was not a lost cause. In the very next verse (Malachi 1:11) God says, “My name will be great among the nations, from the rising to the setting of the sun. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to my name, because my name will be great among the nations…” What happened to Israel at that time was only for a moment. The church would survive to a much greater extent than could then be envisioned. Yet, God knew. Not only would the people of Israel know the Lord but the whole world would come to know Him and worship Him as their God. From the rising to the setting of the sun, in every place the true God would be worshipped. His name would be great among the nations. This situation in Israel was only temporary. God’s cause would not die.
Not only would God be worshipped in Jerusalem, but He would be worshipped all over the world. Jesus, in talking to the Samaritan woman pointed this out. In John 4:21-24 we read, “Jesus declared, ‘Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” Jesus was pointing out to the Samaritan woman that a time was coming and actually had already come when God’s true worshippers would not have to go up to the temple in Jerusalem or to Mt. Gerizim in Samaria. They would be able to worship God anywhere in the world for they would worship Him in spirit and in truth. When Jesus came, He came to fulfill the temple and all it stood for. He was the ultimate sacrificial lamb that the sacrifices at the temple were only a type of. When John the Baptist saw Jesus coming unto him, he said, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29) Jesus by His death and resurrection fulfilled the temple and opened a way to worship God not just in Jerusalem but throughout the world through faith in Himself. He was he Messiah the Savior of the world.
God knew all this when he observed the unfaithfulness of Israel in their worship. He could have become discouraged and given up on His people, but He knew what was coming. He knew that the temple worship was only a type of a greater form of worship that was yet to come. He knew that one day the Messiah would come and issue in a new order and that men and women from every nation would become true worshippers of God.
Our God is a great optimistic God. He calls things that are not as though they were. (Romans 4:17) Today, the preachers of doom paint a bleak picture of the future for the church in this age. Yet, the Bible leaves much room for a much more optimistic view of the church in the future. After all Jesus said to Peter, “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” What a statement! The church will be like a mighty tide that continues to roll and Satan and all His demons cannot stop it. That’s the gist of what Jesus was saying. He has tried to stop the church through the Jewish persecutions in the early days, then through the ten great Roman persecutions, and then through bringing into the church false teaching and idolatry and almost seemingly putting the true church to death. But at the reformation, God struck back with a mighty blow and the church like a sleeping giant rose up and continues to this day to march forward. She has not been defeated and will yet win the victory.
God is an optimistic God. He has a plan for His church. He has a plan for the nations and He will carry it through for He says, “My name will be great among the nations, from the rising to the setting of the sun. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to my name, because my name will be great among the nations.” (Malachi 1:11)
All Scripture quotations are from the New International Version unless indicated otherwise.
Murray, Iain. The Puritan Hope. The Banner of Truth Trust, London, 1971.
Lindsey, Hal. The Rapture. Bantam Books, New York, 1983.