Preaching the Gospel

“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.”
—Matthew 28:19,20

THESE WORDS OF OUR Lord Jesus, quoted as a conclusion to his Gospel by Matthew, have been called the ‘great commission’ by Christian missionaries, and used to inspire their evangelistic missions. Recently there appeared in the June 30, 2003 issue of Time magazine a feature article entitled, “Missionaries Under Cover,” dealing with recent-time missionary efforts to convert Muslims. A caption under the title of the article said, “Growing numbers of Evangelists are trying to spread Christianity in Muslim lands. But is this what the world needs now?”


The cover of the magazine asked, “Should Christians Convert Muslims?” followed by the comment “A new flock of missionaries have launched a campaign to take the Gospel to Islamic countries. But will they inspire more backlash than belief?”

The article began by telling how a school for Evangelical missionaries in Queens, New York, was using dramatization of a Muslim woman trying to explain Islam, and then revealing herself to be a Christian missionary. She then proceeded to give the class ‘do’s’ and ‘don’t’s’ in approaching Muslims, and made comparisons between Jesus and Mohammed.

The article said, “For 21 months now, Americans have been engaged in a crash course on Islam, its geography and its followers. It is not a subject we were previously interested in, but 9/11 left no choice, and the U.S. military in two countries continues its on-the-job training in sheiks and ayatollahs, Sunni customs and Shi’ite factionalism. Yet there is one group that has been thinking—passionately—about Muslims for more than a decade. Its army is weaponless, its soldiers often unpaid, its boot camps places like the Queens classroom. It has no actual connection with the U.S. government (except possibly to unintentionally muddy America’s image). But in the past few months, its advance forces have been entering the still-smoldering battlefield of Iraq, as intent on molding its people’s future as the conventional American troops already in place.

“Not for a century has the idea of evangelizing Islam awakened such fervor in conservative Christians. Touched by Muslims’ material and (supposed) spiritual needs, convinced that they are one of the great ‘unreached mega peoples’ who must hear the Gospel before Christ’s eventual return, Evangelicals have been rushing to what has become the latest hot missions field. Figures from the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts, suggest that the number of missionaries to Islamic countries nearly doubled between 1982 and 2001—from more than 15,000 to somewhere in excess of 27,000. Approximately 1 out of every 2 is American, and 1 out of every 3 is Evangelical. Says George Braswell Jr., a missions professor at the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, ‘We’re having more now than probably ever before go out to people like Muslims.’ Sept. 11 appears only to have fueled the impulse.


“Yet this boom has coincided with mounting restrictions on missionary efforts by the regimes of Islamic-majority countries and with swelling anti-Western militancy. The resulting tensions have sometimes erupted tragically: the past two years have seen the arrest and imprisonment of two American missionaries in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan and the apparently religiously motivated murders of four more in Yemen and Lebanon. The botched bombing last month of a Dutch-German missionary family in Tripoli, Lebanon, suggests the danger is not abating. Says Stan Guthrie, author of the book Missions in the Third Millennium: ‘People are beginning to count the costs. If you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time, you could be killed. Missionaries have always considered the possibility, but now it’s a lot more real.’

“Such fears, plus the recent entry of evangelical missionaries into Afghanistan and Iraq on the heels of American troops, have raised other questions. The new arrivals mean well: in addition to the Christian Gospel, which they consider their most precious gift, they have channeled millions of dollars in aid and put in countless hours of charitable work. But some fieldworkers for more liberal Christian organizations claim that some of the more aggressive evangelical tactics can put all religious charities at risk, as when the Taliban, angered by missionary activities two years ago, shut down every Christian aid group in Kabul. Muslim critics accuse missionaries of lying about their identities and their faith to achieve their goals. And as the tensions between Islam and the West continue to boil, some familiar with the Middle East have begun asking whether the missionaries, who love Muslims but despise Islam, are the sort of nonappointed goodwill ambassadors the U.S. really needs in a region dense with the rhetoric of holy war. Says Charles Kimball, a Baptist minister who was director of the National Council of Churches’ Middle East office in the 1980’s: ‘Sincerity isn’t the issue, or commitment to one’s faith. It is just that the region is at a pivotal and volatile juncture, and it is arguably not the time for groups coming in, like someone with a lighted match into a room full of explosives, wearing Jesus on their sleeves.’


“Just how large a proportion of Christian religious workers fit that profile? One reason it is difficult to know is that zeal is often tempered after some time spent in-country. Two centuries ago, in a similar burst of enthusiasm, such mainline denominations as the Presbyterians and the Methodists sent thousands of missionaries to the Middle East. Like the current crop, they started eager for conversions. But over time they settled for a more modest agenda that obeyed local antiproselytizing laws and focused on building educational and charitable institutions and providing humanitarian aid. Such groups still constitute the major visible missionary presence in the area, and they enjoy fruitful and respectful, if circumscribed, relationships with local regimes and populations.

“In the past century, as mainline Protestants and the Roman Catholic Church in the U. S. adopted a social Gospel that stressed aiding the poor over preaching to the unenlightened, evangelizing at its purest fell to Evangelicals. Rare is the conservative Protestant church that doesn’t send its teens off on short-term mission trips or play host to a stream of missionaries on home leave, their stories full of exotic places and changed hearts. Although they would never admit it, the returnees are Evangelicalism’s paragons, making its philosophy of relentless outreach their lives’ work. Says Beth Streeter, a Moraga, California, health-care consultant who left on a short mission trip to Egypt with her husband and two young children shortly after September 11: ‘When you believe at your core that the love of Jesus Christ really is the best gift to humankind, you want to find ways and places for people to hear that for themselves. Sometimes it drives us places that can be awkward and uncomfortable.’”

The article went on to detail the experiences of some of the Evangelicals who were assigned to Muslim countries but were careful not to preach on the street corner or hand out literature to someone they didn’t know. In general, many of these were tending toward the same missionary style of conservative churches, who learned 200 years ago to downplay preaching and to concentrate on good works for the needy. There were descriptions of violence against missionaries that cost them their lives. Some Evangelicals take employment in a Muslim country and look for opportunities to approach someone they get to know. Although it is too early to tell what some of the more aggressive Evangelicals will do, it is clear that the climate for their reception is not favorable.


Should there be such an effort to convert Muslims and peoples in other countries of other faiths to Christianity? It is true that there is “none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved,” referring to the name of Jesus. (Acts 4:12) Salvation can only come through a knowledge and acceptance of Jesus as one’s personal Redeemer. Is now the time for everyone to know about Jesus? A knowledge of God’s plan as revealed in the Bible gives us the answer as ‘no.’ The present time, known as the Gospel Age, is a time devoted strictly to the selection of “a people for his [God’s] name.” (Acts 15:14) This is a class also known as the ‘elect’ or ‘chosen.’ Jesus said that “many are called, but few are chosen.” (Matt. 22:14) Many would come to know about Jesus (not all people), but only a few would be chosen. Those who would be chosen would be invited to follow Jesus by denying themselves and taking up their cross to follow him. (Matt. 16:24) Not all Christians are doing this.


When Jesus began his ministry, he frequently used parables in his teachings. This caused his disciples to ask, “Why speakest thou unto them [the multitudes] in parables? He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath. Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them. But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear.” (Matt. 13:10-16) Many might suppose that Jesus was speaking specifically about wicked people being those whose eyes and ears would not be opened. This is not so, because Jesus also said, “I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them.”—vs. 17

It is interesting to note that Jesus quoted Isaiah 6:9 to show that the Old Testament prophesied about favor not being extended to many but only to a few. These few would become “joint-heirs with Christ.” (Rom. 8:17) The concept that now is the time to convert the world is so engrained in the various churches that they have accepted a misquotation of the Old Testament to prove their erroneous contention. The Apostle Paul quoted the Old Testament, Isaiah 49:8, when he was encouraging the brethren of Corinth not to receive the grace of God in vain. (II Cor. 6:1,2) The King James Version, however, quotes the Isaiah 49:8 prophecy erroneously. Instead of saying “in a day of salvation have I helped thee,” they say “in the day of salvation have I succoured thee.” The emphasis is on the present time—‘the day of salvation’—as the only acceptable time to learn of Jesus. Whereas, the Old Testament is saying that it is a day of salvation, implying another such day is to follow.


When the Apostle Paul was preaching to the Jews in Antioch of Pisidia, the Jews eventually started to contradict and oppose him so that he and Barnabas said that their message was supposed to be first presented to them. But since they were rejecting it, they would turn to the Gentiles. Paul quotes Isaiah 49:6 to show that the Old Testament prophesied this situation which precedes Isaiah 49:8. Isaiah 49 is a prophecy telling of the experiences and development of the church. In it are found such statements as (referring to Jehovah), “he shall choose thee” (vs. 7), and “I will … give thee for a covenant of the people, to establish the earth, to cause to inherit the desolate heritages.” (vs. 8) This reference is to the New Covenant being made through the Christ, of which the church as his body will share. Then comes the resurrection of all mankind when in verse 9 it says, “thou mayest say to the prisoners [in death], Go forth; to them that are in darkness [of the grave], Shew yourselves.” Telling of the blessings of God’s kingdom the prophecy reads, “They shall feed in the ways, and their pastures shall be in all high places. They shall not hunger nor thirst; neither shall the heat nor sun smite them: for he that hath mercy on them shall lead them, even by the springs of water shall he guide them. And I will make all my mountains a way, and my highways shall be exalted. Behold, these shall come from far: and, lo, these from the north and from the west; and these from the land of Sinim. Sing, O heavens; and be joyful, O earth; and break forth into singing, O mountains: for the Lord hath comforted his people, and will have mercy upon his afflicted.”—vss. 9-13

The tenth verse has language identical to that of Revelation 7:16 that tells of the trials being over for the great multitude and they are ushered into the presence of the glorified Lamb—our Lord Jesus. So also will be the experience of mankind raised from the dead. In each situation the church shares with her Lord Jesus in the resurrection work. The eleventh verse reminds us of the highway described in Isaiah 35:8. As all hindrances and obstacles to walk righteously are removed for those traveling on that highway, so also they are removed in this case. All mankind shall participate in these blessings which is what verse twelve is saying. Young’s Concordance suggests that the land of Sinim is a land to the far east and is likely China, whose people, because of the language barrier, know the least about Jesus. Verse thirteen animates the mountains, heavens, and earth to have them all join in the gladness that has come to the poor afflicted people of earth.


The prophecy then changes and goes back to the time when the church, Zion, appeared to be forsaken and forgotten. This appeared to be the case during the church’s development, or her militant state, during the Gospel Age. God assures her that she has not been forgotten. He uses the example of a mother with her child. Would she ever forget her child? She might, but he never would forget the church, Zion. As proof, Jehovah says, “I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me.” (Isa. 49:16) Then God says, “Thou shalt soon be built by those by whom thou wert destroyed, and they that made thee desolate shall go forth of thee.” (vs. 17, Septuagint Translation) The world that opposed her will become involved in the great reconstruction project of God’s kingdom, and her enemies will not be there. The prophecy continues, “Lift up thine eyes round about, and look on them all; behold, they are gathered together, and are come to thee. As I live, saith the Lord, thou shalt clothe thyself with them all as with an ornament, and put them on as a bride her attire.” (vs. 18, Septuagint Translation) As the bride of Christ she inherits all the people of the world as her offspring. As these coming back from the resurrection say that the earth as they knew it wouldn’t be big enough to accommodate them, they say “make room for me.”—vs. 20, Septuagint Translation

Instead of replying, the church looks on in amazement at all returning to earth from the grave and says, “Who has begotten me these? Whereas I was childless, and a widow; but who has brought up these for me? And I was left alone; but whence came these to me? Thus saith the Lord, even the Lord, Behold, I lift up mine hand to the nations, and I will lift up my signal to the islands: and they shall bring thy sons in their bosom, and shall bear thy daughters on their shoulders. And kings shall be thy nursing fathers, and their princesses thy nurses, they shall bow down to thee on the face of the earth, and shall lick the dust of thy feet; and thou shalt know that I am the Lord, and they that wait on me shall not be ashamed.” (vss. 21-23, Septuagint Translation) The prophecy then tells how all those who caused trouble and problems during the Gospel Age will no longer be around, being destroyed. The final verse says, “Then all mankind will know that I, the Lord [Jehovah], am your Savior, your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob”—vs. 26, New International Version


How important it is to know that the prophecy quoted by the Apostle Paul in Antioch of Pisidia, and the one he quoted to the Corinthian brethren, tells of the broad scope in the Lord’s search of a people for his name. It explains that there is a day of salvation for these chosen ones, and how they will be used in making possible another day of salvation for the world of mankind. It makes clear to us that now is the time to find such as will be willing to deny themselves, to take up their cross, and follow Jesus.

Most translators, who are influenced by the concept that now is the only acceptable time and are dedicated to converting the world, who believe that Isaiah 49:8 should be translated ‘the day of salvation’ in II Corinthians 6:2, will still correctly translate Isaiah 49:8 in the Old Testament as ‘a day of salvation,’ except for a few. One is the New International Version which is not known for translating word-for-word in Hebrew and Greek but rather concentrates on conveying the correct thought, as they see it. They have also translated Isaiah 49:8 as “the day of salvation.” Reliable translators translate II Corinthians 6:2 and Isaiah 49:8 as “a day of salvation,” among which are the American Standard Version and Rotherham. Wilson’s Emphatic Diaglott translates II Corinthians 6:2 correctly, and the Septuagint translates Isaiah 49:8 as “a day of salvation.”


What about the great commission given by Jesus in Matthew 28:19,20? Doesn’t this say to go to all nations? It does. God did not intend that the church class should be found in a single nation of earth. Rather it would be composed of faithful followers of Christ selected from all the nations of earth. God is not partial. Hence the commission was given by Jesus for his disciples to go everywhere to seek those who would be drawn to Jesus by the Father. (John 6:44) This has been done faithfully by his people.

This point is emphasized when Jesus received God’s plan to execute it as the slain Lamb of God. The incident is introduced dramatically in chapter five of the Book of Revelation. After showing God sitting on his throne (ch. 4), John saw in God’s right hand a book sealed with seven seals representing his plan. No one was found worthy to open the book. So dramatic and real was this scene that John wept much. Then one of the twenty-four elders comes to John and tells him not to weep because “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book.” Then John saw “a Lamb as it had been slain” taking the book to open it.—Rev. 5:5-7

As the drama unfolded further, the four beasts and twenty-four elders fall down before the Lamb and, having harps, sing a new song “saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.” (Rev. 5:9,10) It appears from this translation of the Bible—the King James Version —that the four beasts and twenty-four elders have been redeemed by the Lamb and are to reign upon the earth. In Revelation 4 they are shown to be a definite part of God’s reign and they do not need redemption by the Lamb. The translation is erroneous. We know that the four beasts represent the attributes of God’s character.

Both the American Standard Version and Rotherham render this passage correctly and replace “us” with “men.” The American Standard Version says: “And they sing a new song, saying, Worthy art thou to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and didst purchase unto God with thy blood men of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation, and madest them to be unto our God a kingdom and priests; and they reign upon the earth.”—Rev. 5:9,10

Several points are noteworthy. Jesus as the Logos in his prehuman existence was not worthy to open the book. When he was slain as the Lamb of God, he became worthy. Following the ransom, the next most important feature of God’s plan is the selection of those who would be associated with Jesus as kings and priests, the church class. These are to be taken out of every tribe, tongue, people and nation. This was the reason for our Lord’s great commission.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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