World Conversion in This Century?

“I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succored thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” —II Corinthians 6:2

HARDLY a Sunday morning passes without one’s hearing some earnest radio preacher warn his hearers of the tormenting agonies of hell-fire that await those who do not in this present life heed the call to repent, turn to Jesus, and be saved. And who has not often been stopped on the street, or had his doorbell rung, by some devout person with the same urgent message! Or had a tract, complete with fearsome illustrations picturing the agonies of hell thrust into his hand by a deeply concerned stranger or neighbor?

A recent issue of a serious and highly respected religious journal expresses much the same urgency, albeit in more tempered tones. In an article publicizing the forthcoming Congress on World Evangelization to be held in Lausanne, Switzerland, in July, 1974, the writer properly deplores the growing tendency of the churches to become increasingly involved in the economic, political, and social aspects of human existence, instead of devoting their energies wholly to the “God-given goal of world evangelization.” (Christianity Today, March 15, 1974) He applauds the statement issued by a group of leaders of the World Council of Churches as to the purpose of that Council’s evangelism and mission commission. That purpose, said the World Council’s leaders, is to assist “the Christian community in the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, by word and deed, to the whole world to the end that all may believe in him and be saved.” This task, the writer goes on to say, should be completed in the present century.

If we are correct in our understanding that the hope and aim of these good people is to present to as many as possible of the world of mankind during the course of their present lives this final opportunity of believing in and accepting Jesus Christ as their Savior so that they may be saved from the well-publicized horrors of hell, then the completion of that task by the year 2000 would not be one whit too soon. For every day more than one hundred and fifty thousand of earth’s inhabitants go down into death, many without ever having heard the name of Jesus, and few with anything approaching a clear understanding of the object of Jesus’ mission on earth.

This charitable but misplaced concern by churchianity on behalf of their fellow man is rooted in an erroneous understanding of the purpose of witnessing, which our good friends suppose requires the conversion to Christianity during this present age of the entire world by preaching the Gospel. But this is not what the Bible sets forth as the purpose of Christian preaching. Nor is it what Jesus or the apostles expected.

A World-Wide Witness

Jesus did indeed instruct his disciples that “this Gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations.” (Matt. 24:14) Jesus himself during his entire ministry “went about all Galilee, … preaching the Gospel of the kingdom.” (Matt. 4:23; Luke 3:18; 4:43; 8:1) Paul and the other apostles spent all their consecrated lives preaching the Gospel. “Daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.” (Acts 5:42) Timothy was instructed by Paul to “watch … in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist.” (II Tim. 4:5) And it is still the task of the church today to preach the glad tidings of salvation, and to do so with every ounce of energy, with every talent and every possession.

But what has been the result of all this preaching, from the time of Jesus and the apostles to the present? If its purpose was the conversion of the world to Christianity, and thus their being saved from eternities of suffering, then it must in all candor be conceded that the results are dismal, even horrifying, indeed. For by any criterion, only a fraction of all earth’s millions have come into the fold of Christianity, the rest having gone into death either totally ignorant of the Gospel, or without having accepted Jesus as their Redeemer.

Announcing the Good News

The Greek word euaggelizo is generally translated in the English by the phrase to preach the Gospel. This is a good translation, for the Greek word means, literally, to announce good news. But the purpose of announcing the good news to the world, or witnessing, has not been the conversion of the world during this present Gospel Age. The purpose has been to call out of the world during this age a little band of faithful, footstep followers of Jesus, to be associated with him in the grand, upcoming kingdom age for the blessing of the remainder of mankind.

This high privilege first went to the Jews of Jesus’ day. In that wonderful sermon just after Pentecost, addressing the Jews, the Apostle Peter points this out, saying, “Ye are the children of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying unto Abraham, And in thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed. Unto you first God, having raised up his Son Jesus, sent him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities.” (Acts 3:25,26; Gen. 22:18) But although the message went first to the Jews, only a small number responded to the call, and the invitation was then extended to the Gentiles.

This caused some misunderstanding among the Jewish converts to Christianity, so James stood up and explained that this was precisely what Amos had prophesied. “Men and brethren,” said James, “hearken unto me: Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. And to this agree the words of the prophets.” And then James quotes a supporting passage from Amos.—Acts 15:13-17; Amos 9:11

The Seed of Blessing

In his letter to the Galatians the Apostle Paul makes this same point. He shows how God had long ago made a promise to Abraham that in his seed all the nations would be blessed. (Gen. 12:3; 22:18; Gal. 3:8) He identifies the seed of blessing as being Christ. (Gal. 3:16) He then concludes with the wonderful statement that all who have been baptized into Christ, both Jew and Gentile, are all one in Christ Jesus, and with him constitute the seed of Abraham which will bring the promised blessings to the whole world of mankind.—Gal. 3:27-29

It is these who have heard the Master’s invitation to deny themselves, take up their crosses, and follow after him. Those who present themselves to the Lord in full consecration, trusting in the merit of Christ’s sacrifice, are justified by their faith. They become members of his body, and of the Seed of blessing.—Matt. 16:24; Rom. 5:1; I Cor. 12:12; Gal. 3:29

But the appeal of the Gospel message during the present age is only to the few, for it is a call to sacrifice, and this Jesus himself made clear. “Strait [difficult] is the gate,” he said, “which leadeth unto life [during this age], and few there be that find it.” (Matt. 7:14) These are seeking after “glory and honor and immortality, eternal life.” (Rom. 2:7) It is to reach these with the invitation to lay down their lives in sacrifice during this life, in order that they may share with Jesus in blessing the world in the next age, that the Gospel is to be preached in all the world for a witness. For such as those who would aspire to this highly exalted privilege, this Gospel Age is the day of salvation.

A Second Day of Salvation

But the Bible tells us that God, in his boundless love, has so arranged it that there is to be yet another acceptable time, yet another day of salvation, this time for the whole resurrected world of mankind. Professor Benjamin Wilson in his Emphatic Diaglott renders our text passage as follows: “For he [God] says, ‘In a season acceptable, I listened to thee, and in a Day of Salvation I assisted thee.’ Behold! now is a well-accepted season; behold! now is a Day of Salvation.” The Gospel Age is an acceptable time, a day of salvation, for the sacrificing followers of Jesus. The next age, the kingdom age, when Christ and the church are reigning, will be a day of salvation for the remainder of mankind.

That the unbelieving of the present time are not forever and irrevocably lost, let alone destined to endure eternal suffering, was made clear by Jesus himself. On one occasion he said, “I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness. And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not; for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day.” (John 12:46-48) The last day during which the unbelieving of the present age are to be judged is the coming thousand-year judgment day, when Christ and the church will be reigning over resurrected mankind—I Cor. 6:2; Luke 22:30; Rev. 3:21; 20:4,6

On another occasion Jesus said that the time was coming when all who were in their graves (in the death condition, not in a so-called fiery hell) would hear his voice, and come forth, “those who have done good [his faithful followers of this age], to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil [the world of mankind], to the resurrection of judgment.” (John 5:29 RSV) Here Jesus is clearly stating that those of the world who do not in this present life hear and accept him as their Redeemer will have a future opportunity to hear, and either to accept or to reject. In this present life it is only a small number who hear the message aright, and fewer still who accept it. But in that future day the matter and the choice will be made clear, “and they that hear shall live.”—John 5:25

A Ransom for All

Jesus came to earth to redeem all men, not merely the few. God “will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.” In spite of centuries-long and ardent preaching, so very few have had a real knowledge and understanding of the truth! But in the kingdom the knowledge of the glory of the Lord will fill the earth, as the waters cover the sea. Paul confirms Jesus’ statement that all men will be given an opportunity to gain life. In his letter to Timothy he writes, “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.” (I Tim. 2:3-6) Jesus said that all in their graves would be brought forth, both the [relatively] good, and the [relatively] evil. And the Apostle John assures us that Jesus “is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”—I John 2:2

Speaking to the men of Athens on Mars’ hill, Paul said that God “hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he bath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.” This future day of judgment for the world of mankind was made possible by the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus on behalf of the whole world. It will be a time of righteous judgment, for all will be brought to a knowledge of the truth.—Acts. 17:31; Isa. 28:17

This coming day of judgment is not a 24-hour day; it will be a thousand years long, so that all will have ample opportunity to hear and understand and obey the righteous laws of the kingdom. The rulers in that righteous kingdom, when judgment will be laid to the line, and righteousness to the plummet, will be the Lord Jesus and his faithful followers, the overcoming, called-out class, the little flock. These are those “that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God.” They shall live and reign with Christ for a thousand years, for the purpose of blessing all the families of the earth.—Rev. 20:4

Times of Restitution

This thousand-year day of judgment, which will begin when the church is complete and Christ’s kingdom established in power and glory, is referred to by the Apostle Peter by another, and peculiarly significant, name. He calls it “the times of restitution.” This designation is specially appropriate, for it will be during this reign of Christ and his church that the obedient of mankind will be restored to that image of their Maker which was enjoyed in Father Adam, but which was lost when the progenitor of the race transgressed, and was condemned to death, bringing a like penalty upon all his progeny.

The Apostle Paul explains that thus it was that death has come upon all mankind from the very beginning. “By one man [Adam] sin entered into the world,” he says, “and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” (Rom. 5:12) Man has been dying because of inherited imperfection, for “there is none righteous, no not one.” “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Rom. 3:10,23) But this woeful state of affairs, he continues, is to be changed by the righteousness of another, the man Christ Jesus. “For as through the disobedience of one man, the many [all, vs. 12] were constituted sinners, so even through the obedience of the one, the many will be constituted righteous.”—Rom. 5:19, Diaglott

In that glad day “the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” (Hab. 2:14) It will not be necessary for each to say to his neighbor, know the Lord, for they shall all know him, “from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”—Jer. 31:34

In that thousand-year day of restitution, righteousness will be reigning in the earth, and all will be required to meet the high standards of justice then in force. “Every soul, which will not hear that prophet, shall be destroyed from among the people.” (Acts 3:23) But no longer will man die for Father Adam’s disobedience. “In those days they shall say no more, the fathers have eaten a sour grape, and the children’s teeth are set on edge. But every one shall die for his own iniquity.”—Jer. 31:29,30

Come, Ye Blessed of My Father

This is the same period of time described by our Lord in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats. “When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him [the called-out class, the faithful overcomers of the Gospel Age], then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: and before him shall be gathered all nations [resurrected mankind]: and [during the thousand-year kingdom reign] he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: and he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”—Matt. 25:31-34

After having commissioned his followers to preach the Gospel of the kingdom in all the world for a witness unto all nations, Jesus added a significant statement. He said, “And then shall the end come.” He was speaking, of course, of the end of the Gospel Age. We believe that this world-wide witness has been substantially completed. By word of mouth, by means of the printed page, by radio and television, and in many languages and dialects, the message has gone to the far corners of the earth.

True, it has not converted the world to Christianity. It was not intended so to do. But it has drawn dedicated disciples, one here, one there, to lay down their lives following in the steps of the Master. We believe that the full number to constitute the church in glory is approaching completion. We believe that the glorious kingdom age, the day of salvation for the world of mankind, is near.

“For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: so shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.”—Isa. 55:10,11

Thus we are graciously granted a fleeting but revealing glimpse of the lengths and breadths and heights and depths of God’s great love: that love that is so all-embracing that he sent his only begotten Son to die for all mankind “while we were yet sinners.”—Rom. 5:8; I John 2:2

We see, too, that in God’s great plan there is not just one day of salvation—and that for his faithful followers of this Gospel Age—but that there is to be yet another day of salvation, this time for all the remainder of mankind. “For he is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only [the faithful of this age], but also for the sins of the whole world,” to be manifested in the next, the kingdom age. (I John 2:2) The faithful overcomers of this present age will live and reign with Christ for a thousand years, for the blessing of all the families of the earth. What a magnificent, wise and loving plan the Heavenly Father has designed on behalf of all his human creation! “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!”—Rev. 20:4,6; Rom. 11:33

Dawn Bible Students Association
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