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The Restoration through the Spirit

The sixth of a series of six w e e k l y w o r d s expounding the biblical grounds and goals of our hope.

B.III The goals of our hope – THE RESTORATION THROUGH THE SPIRIT
‘… this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.’
Col. 1:27 NIV

Hope, we have said, begins and ends with the revelation of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Like matching bookends, the three-fold grounds of our hope correspond to the three-fold goals of our hope, again based on the Triune Godhead.

God the Holy Spirit
At Pentecost, the new Age of the Spirit opened. This age remains to the present day, and will do so until Jesus returns. These are the ‘last days’ Joel talks about, the period between the first and second comings of the Messiah, when the Spirit would be poured out. Yes, we are in the ‘last days’ and have been now for nearly two thousand years! All through these two millennia the Holy Spirit has been active. He has never been on holiday. He has been the driving force behind the advance of God’s Rule – the Kingdom – on planet earth. Granted, there has been much done in the name of Christianity throughout church history that was not the work of the Holy Spirit, but that should not hide the fact that the Spirit is the motor, the energiser, the power fulfilling God’s promises.

We noted in the last chapter that the central theme of these promises is the coming of the Kingdom – on earth. We looked at promises of the spread of the Kingdom among all peoples in the psalms, and in such prophetic books as Isaiah, Daniel, Joel, Habakkuk and Zechariah. We recalled Jesus’ promises about the yeast and the mustard seed, and John’s promise that representatives from all peoples would stand before the Throne one day.

What then can we hope for this side of the Second Coming? According to all these promises, we can expect to see God’s Rule continuing to advance until Messiah comes again. We can expect to see more and more ethnic and cultural groups being reached and blessed with the message of Abraham’s God. In fact, God promised to Abraham that all peoples on earth would eventually be blessed through his descendents; and Jesus told his disciples that the good news of the Kingdom would be declared to every people group before the end came.

We can deduce from the prayer Jesus taught his disciples that he expects the Father’s Kingdom to come in greater and greater measure here on planet earth, not just in heaven where it is already established. This advance of his Kingdom, said Jesus, ought to be the primary concern, the main business, of his followers: ‘Seek first God’s Kingdom.’

Therefore our perspective of Europe’s future ought to be one of hope and expectation, not gloom and doom! We should be standing on the promises of God about what the Holy Spirit will yet do in human history.

Do we believe Isaiah’s prophecy that there will be no end to the spread of his government? Then what does that mean for our expectation of Europe’s future?

Do we accept Daniel’s interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, of the stone that became a great mountain filling the earth? Then what does that mean for our expectation of Europe’s future?

Do we trust Jesus’ stories of the mustard seed and of the yeast as reliable descriptions of the impact of God’s rule on human societies? Then what does that mean for our expectation of Europe’s future?

Do we receive John’s vision of the cosmopolitan crowd before the Lamb’s Throne as revelation? Then what does that mean for our expectation of the ultimate success of the church’s missionary task in Europe and beyond?

What then is the first goal of our hope? Simply this: we can expect to see the Holy Spirit at work extending the King’s rule on earth within human history. According to the promises we have noted, there is still yet much to happen before Jesus returns.

The great hope of the Puritans in the 17th and 18th centuries was that the knowledge of the glory of the Lord would cover the earth as the waters cover the sea. In their day and age there was little evidence that this vision – which God told Habakkuk to write down so that others could run with it – was coming to pass. After some 16 centuries of church history, there was still little prospect of the Gospel being carried to all peoples. Biblical Christianity was contained to a few corners of northern Europe and the sea routes were controlled by Catholic Spain and Portugal. In fact, in protestant circles there was little interest in missions. Yet when the Puritans read the Bible they believed literally that someday, somehow, God’s promises would be fulfilled and his glory would be known worldwide. They even believed a state of Israel would be re-established one day. Call them fundamentalists if you like, they chose to believe God’s Word in the face of all signs to the contrary. The instrument they believed God would use was revival, precipitated through concerted prayer. Such awakenings would send ripples to the ends of the earth, eventually fulfilling Habakkuk’s vision.

The Puritans had little evidence to point to for their hope. But they certainly had vision for the future. Today we have all the evidence of the worldwide Christian movement. All too often, however, we have lost our vision for the future. The past two hundred years have seen the rise of the modern missionary movement which has indeed carried the Gospel to peoples, societies and cultures on every continent. The centre of gravity of the worldwide church has in recent years shifted from the so-called First World to the Two-Thirds World (the developing world with two-thirds of the global population). Surely our faith in the ultimate fulfilment of God’s promises should be boosted by this remarkable advancement which the Puritans foresaw!

Best and worst
Yet despite such amazing worldwide progress, God’s Kingdom has obviously not yet fully come on earth! Clearly we still need to pray the Lord’s Prayer for his kingdom to come and his will to be done down here. But how far can we expect his rule to extend before Jesus returns? Will we see the Kingdom fully ushered in this side of the Second Coming? Will we see sin and rebellion completely subdued in the face of the advance of God’s rule? Will we see sickness and death eradicated? war and poverty made obsolete? unemployment and crime abolished? racism and sexual abuse erased? Obviously not.

While Jesus talked about the Kingdom growing like the mustard seed, or impacting the whole like yeast, he also told the story about the wheat and weeds to illustrate the growth of the Kingdom. While the wheat kept growing, so too did the weeds – right up until the harvest!

The twentieth century vividly demonstrates the truth of this parable. Charles Dickens’ opening line in A tale of two cities would be an apt description of this past century: “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.”

For if the Age of the Spirit began at Pentecost, then surely we would be justified in describing the twentieth century as being the Century of the Spirit. No other century can match the extent of the activity of the Holy Spirit over these last one hundred years. Sparks of revivals in the first decade were scattered from both Wales and Azusa Street, Los Angeles, starting the modern pentecostal movement and other streams around the world. Revivals and awakenings became a regular feature of spiritual life in Latin America, in Africa and Asia, often in places where Christianity had been newly-planted. Perhaps the greatest revival in history has happened in China under communism, where the church has grown over fifty-fold from one million, in 1949 when the missionaries were expelled, to more than the total population of Britain! In countries like South Korea, Argentina, Brazil, Guatemala and Nigeria, church growth in the twentieth century has been phenomenal. In the west, from the 1960’s onwards, the charismatic movement brought the pentecostal emphasis on the Holy Spi
rit into the historic church
es and breathed new life into many dying congregations.

Yes, in many ways, this century has been the best of centuries!

At the same time, this has been the worst of all centuries. Never before has there been such widespread genocide caused by ideology, and implemented by modern technology, as in this century. Fascism and communism have justified the annihilation of multiple millions, especially in Europe and Asia. Stalin’s pogroms and mass starvation, Hitler’s gas chambers, Mao Tse-Tung’s cultural revolution and Pol Pot’s killing fields all add up to history’s worst chapter of human injustice. Never before could man deliver weapons capable of destroying whole cities and nations – even the whole human race. Never before have international criminal networks had so many technological possibilities at their disposal.

Yes, in many ways, this century has been the worst of centuries!

So both the wheat and the weeds have grown dramatically in this century. The increase of the Kingdom has been spectacular, but so too has the increase of evil. Yet too often we have focused only on the increase of evil in the world, and have become pessimistic about the future. Imagine watching your country play in a World Cup football game on television where the cameras only focused on the goal of the opposite team. Each time the opposition scores, you get more and more downcast, unaware of the fact that your team is still several goals ahead!

We evangelicals have been often guilty of a myoptic view of the future. We have been pessimistic about what God the Holy Spirit will yet do in human history. We have sometimes counted up the number of wars, famines, persecutions and earthquakes happening around the world today to prove how close we were to the end, forgetting that Jesus specifically told his disciples that these were not the signs of the end. They were just the beginning of the birth-pangs of the coming order! Sometimes we even confuse the results of our failure to be salt and light as being end-time signs. But more about that later.

No, we should not expect to see utopia established by human effort on earth. We do not expect to see God’s Rule finally established prior to Christ’s return. We must be realistic about the fallen nature of the world around us. Yet we can expect the ongoing growth of the wheat, the increase of the Kingdom of God, as we enter the twenty-first century. And we as God’s People are to accept the role of being change agents for this Kingdom. These are essential elements of the believer’s hope.

This is the dimension of hope on which we are primarily focused in this book: the contemporary hope of the Gospel of the Kingdom, the hope and expectation of the believer for what God the Holy Spirit will yet do in human history, the hope of the continuing extension of God’s rule here on earth before the return of the King himself. As we have seen, this is a hope based on who the Father is and what the Son has done, guaranteed by the Holy Spirit.

Hope, we have said, begins and ends with the revelation of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Like matching bookends, the three-fold grounds of our hope correspond to the three-fold goals of our hope, again based on the Triune Godhead.

Till next week,

Jeff Fountain

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