The Cross and Eschatology

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Many Christians veer into one of two errors in their view of future history. Either they plunge into a very exciting study of the “end times,” and become consumed with the book of Revelation and newspaper reports about the European Union, killer bees, trouble in the Middle East, and so forth, or they dismiss the whole thing with a wave of the hand and a joke-and usually the same joke. “I am a pan-millenialist. Everything will pan out in the end.” But much more is involved in this subject than the particular “chronology” we set for the events at the end of the world. Christians must come to understand that our doctrine of the power of the cross will be at the heart of our doctrine of the future history of the human race.

“And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world” (1 John 4:14). The apostle John tells us that he, and others with him, have seen something and they testify to it. Now our duty as Christians is to stand with the apostles, and join our witness to theirs. But how can we do this, if we do not see what they saw? And how can we testify to something we have not seen? They saw that the Father sent the Son with a particular purpose in mind-this is the will of the Father to which Christ was submitting in the garden when He prepared to go to the cross. The Father sent the Son as the Savior of the world. The words are very plain, and words very much like them are found throughout all Scripture. This is the apostolic witness. Is it ours? Have we seen this? If we have not, it is because we are not paying attention.

What was the mission of Jesus? What was not the mission? “And if anyone hears My words and does not believe, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world” (John 12:47). Now Jesus says that He did not come to judge the world. But what do most Christians think Jesus is going to do when all is said and done? Judge the world.

We see the same thing in a very famous passage indeed. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:16-17). The reason Christ came into the world was to save it . . . and most emphatically His mission was not to try to save it.

The untutored Samaritans in John’s gospel know more about this than many contemporary Christians. “. . . and we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world” (John 4:42). Why did Christ give His flesh on the cross? For the life of the world (John 6:33,51).

This is the power of propitiation. “And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world” (1 John 2:2). Now propitiation is the averting or turning aside of wrath. God’s wrath was upon our world for its sinfulness and in the cross Christ provided a propitiation for the entire world. Notice that God is attempting nothing-He is doing something. “The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!‘” (John 1:29). He does not offer to take away the sin; He takes it away.

Because of this, we have a ministry of reconciliation. “. . . that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:19; cf. Rom. 11:15). We carry on the ministry which was first entrusted to the apostles, and that ministry is to proclaim the word of reconciliation. Now this is committed to us, entrusted to us. What can be said of unfaithful emissaries who alter the message? We no longer tell people that God actually reconciled the world to Himself, because we don’t think that He did. We are as full of unbelief at this point as the people we preach to!

There are two choices, both bad. Popular evangelicalism wants the atonement to touch every last man, woman, and child. But in order to get it to do so, the touch is made ineffectual. Pessimistic Calvinists want the touch to be effectual . . . for half a dozen people. But we are called to preach an effectual cross, an efficacious cross which will manifest itself in nothing less than the salvation of the world. This salvation is appropriated by faith. “For the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith (Rom 4:13).

Our Lord Jesus Christ “was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world” (John 1:9). Do we really think so? Do we really believe that?

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