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EVANGELISM AND THE ESCHATOLOGICAL IMPERATIVES

Dr. Thomas F. Zimmerman

Evangelism -- the Church’s active response to the total program outlined in the Great Commission -- constitutes the greatest task man has ever been allowed to share with God. The span of this evangelism is bounded by Pentecost and the Parousia of Christ. He will come again to consummate redemption and to bring judgment upon those who “obey not the gospel” (II Thess. 1:8). Therefore the return of Christ serves as the orienting factor that compels the Church to make human history the history of world-wide evangelization.

The fact that eternity is always crowding time makes the prospect of His coming a genuine one in every generation. Whatever differences evangelicals may express concerning the temporal relationship of Christ’s return to the millennium, we can all agree that the sure fact of His coming takes precedence over all other pertinent considerations. With Christians of all time we eagerly anticipate His appearance (Luke 12:36—40; I Cor. 1:7; Phil. 3:20; I Thess. 1:9, 10; Titus 2:12, 13; James 5:7, 8; Rev. 16:15) and announce its import for the world just as did the apostolic Church (Acts 2:20; 3:19—21; 10:42; 17:30, 31; 24:15, 21).

It is the anticipation of the End found in the uniqueness of Christ’s resurrection, and re—enforced by the ascension (which supplies the pattern for His Parousia —— Acts 1:11), that causes the Christian to know with certainty the inevitability of Christ’s Second Coming. Of immense concern is the meaning of this sure event for evangelism. What factors arising out of the eschaton make evangelism imperative today? How should the truth of the imminent appearing of Christ direct contemporary evangelism?

The first inexorable imperative is this: Our generation must be confronted with the fact that God’s judgment stands over this wicked world to be meted out when Christ returns to take vengeance on the un-evangelized and the Gospel—rejectors, both living and dead.

Whatever our problems in understanding the plan for imposing Christ’s judgment “when He shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire dealing out retribution . . .” (II Thess. 1:7, 8), the central fact remains that His judgment

will be universal and final (Matt. 25:31—41; II Tim. 4:1; Rev. 20:11—15).

 

The early Church had no qualms about preaching the “fixed day” (Acts 17:31) of judgment as well as the Gospel of grace. Indeed, there is only one alternative to the Gospel -- and men must be told! Christ’s final judgment is as certain as His resurrection. His verdict will be absolute. At His word men will “depart ... into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt 25:41) or into the kingdom prepared for the righteous.

There is nothing more repugnant to modern mentality than the preaching of judgment and genuine repentance. Some argue that since the Gospel means “good news” by definition, this should be the whole of the message we give to the world. A “dooms day” doctrine is decried as hindering man from accepting the idea that he is reconciled to God just as he is without his sensing the condemnation of God (Rom. 7:24) or without experiencing eschatological alarm.

Often side by side with this creeping universalism is the subtle denial of all eschatology under the subterfuge of “realized eschatology.” Thus the end—time events of the New Testament, viz., the resurrection of Jesus Christ, His Parousia, and His judgment are denied objective realization in concrete human history. They are conceived as “realized” existentially and exclusively in one’s own present experience. Such revisions of New Testament doctrine will never stand the scrutiny of Scripture and must be stoutly rejected in favor of the whole counsel of God.

A further caution needs to be given evangelists intent upon obeying the imperative implicit in the imminent judgment of the world. Two kinds of preaching of eschatological truth must be avoided: (1) rehearsing merely the fear aspect in judgment, unloading only the emotional cargo of the subject without giving instruction in repentance and faith in the Gospel; (2) reduction of eschatology to an “exact science,” alleging a detailed knowledge of future events and personalities in such a way as to pander to the curious rather than to present them with Christ as Lord and. Saviour.

The awesome anticipation of the Church’s standing before Christ’s judgment seat serves as the basis for the second major imperative: the Church to evangelize the world, we must faithfully and. concertedly carry out His word, if we are to receive Him with joy when He returns! No reason for evangelism is more compelling than the earnest desire to please Him.

A sure sign that one will be ashamed at His coming is a reticence now about confessing the Gospel before men. The penalty for being ashamed of the Lord Jesus and His words will be unbearable (Mk. 8:38).

The parables of our Lord relative to His coming and to the Church’s intervening activity admonish us to constant alertness for service in His kingdom (Luke 12:35—48; Matt. 24:45—51), to preparedness for a long wait if necessary (Matt. 25:1—13), and to individual responsibility in terms of resources committed to us (Matt. 25:14—30),

Argumentation about eschatological issues (“Lord, and what about this man?” -- John 21:21, 22; “Lord is it at this time you are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” -- Acts 1:6) constitutes no substitute for evangelism.

The prevalence of apostasy before the End (II Thess. 2:3) must not deter the true Church from her propagation of the true Gospel. Let her increase her efforts correspondingly in order to counteract the contagion of counterfeit Christianity.

For the Church as well as for all men the Second Coming will be “the moment of truth” (cf. II Cor. 5:10, I Cor. 13:12). Some will receive praise from God (I Cor. 4:5), but others “saved” though they be, will suffer loss (I Cor. 3:11—15). Paul was jubilant about the Parousia because of his converts (I Thess. 2:19). To the extent that the Church evangelizes will she “love His appearing” (II Tim. 4:8)!





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Wheaton College 2006