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THE NEW TESTAMENT AND A REDEEMED WORLD

Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr. —  Leave a comment

by Loraine Boettner

The New Testament puts a strong emphasis on the fact that it is the world that is the object of Christ’s redemption. “Christ is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the whole world” (I John 2:2). “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God sent not the Son into the world to judge the world; but that the world should be saved through him” (John 3:16, 17). “The Father hath sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world” (I John 4:14). “Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). “We have heard for ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Saviour of the world” (John 4:42). “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12). “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself” (II Cor. 5:19).

The parable of the leaven teaches the universal extension and triumph of the Gospel, and it further teaches that this development is accomplished through the gradual development of the Kingdom, not through a sudden and cataclysmic explosion. There we are told that “the kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till it was all leavened” (Matt. 13:33). The Kingdom of heaven, like leaven, transforms that with which it comes in contact. All the meal was transformed by its contact with the leaven. Similarly, Christ teaches, society is to be transformed by the Kingdom of heaven, and the result will be a Christianized world. Premillennialists cannot admit this. To do so would contradict their whole system. Hence they seek another meaning, and where Christ says the Kingdom of heaven is like leaven, they say that the leaven is not symbolical of the Kingdom of heaven, but of evil. J. S. Silver, one of their representative writers, says: “Literally, it denotes sin, therefore here it means apostasy” (The Lord’s Return, p 247). And another representative writer, W. E. Blackstone, says: “We believe that the leaven in the parable of Matthew 13 represents . . the false doctrines which have crept in and so pervaded the professing church that it has, in the main, become merely formal and nominal” (Jesus Is Coming, p. 95). We are at a loss to understand how any one professing to take the Bible at face value, particularly those who lay great stress on literal interpretation, can deliberately contradict the words spoken so clearly and unequivocally and make them mean the exact opposite, in this case, false doctrine. These are the very people who protest so strongly against “spiritualizing.” Anyone who can so change the meaning of Scripture can make it mean anything that he pleases. According to this interpretation Christ is to be understood as saying in effect that, “The kingdom of heaven is like an evil influence which brings the whole world into a state of apostasy.” This is an example of the extremity to which some will go, the forced interpretation to which they will resort, in defending a theory. They would never arrive at such a meaning if they were not attempting to avoid the clear implication of the parable.

Premillennialists seize upon the words of Jesus in Matthew 24:14, “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come” (King James Version), as proving their doctrine that the gospel is to be preached only as a “witness,” or as a “testimony” (American Standard Version), and therefore that it is not intended to convert the world. This verse in itself may not be decisive as to the purpose and effect of such preaching. But such definitely was not the case when Christ gave the Great Commission to the disciples. There He said: “All authority hath been given unto me in heaven and on earth. Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the 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 commanded you: and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Matt. 28:18- 20).

Here we are told that “all authority” in heaven and on earth has been given to Christ for the performance of this work. Commenting on this point Dr. Snowden says:

“All authority includes all power of every kind that is applicable to this task. Jesus Christ can never have any more power than He has now, for He now has all there is. Premillenarians put their confidence in some ‘rod of iron’ with which Christ will ‘smite down all opposition’ when He comes, but Christ now has omnipotence and has pledged it to the present work of preaching the gospel for the conversion of the world.” He goes on to say that, “The Greek word translated ‘make disciples of ‘ is a strong one, meaning not merely to ‘preach’ or ‘evangelize’ but to convert into disciples … We have in this commission express and inescapable teaching that the gospel is preached not simply for ‘evangelizing’ or ‘for a witness’, but for the deeper work of conversion .. . These nations are to be converted into Christian disciples, and this work is not done but only begun when they are ‘evangelized,’ or simply had the gospel preached to them. Jesus here speaks in world terms, here is the splendid universality of His gospel . . . Premillenarians say that Christ the King is absent and tell us what great things He will do when He comes again. But Christ Himself assures us He is present and is even now with us in our work … To reduce this great commission to the premillenarian program of preaching the gospel as a witness to a world that is to grow worse and worse until it plunges into its doom in destruction, is to emasculate the gospel of Christ and wither it into Pitiful impotency. This is to send the gospel out into the world as a futile thing, foreordained to failure from the start. No, the gospel is the power of God unto salvation, and Jesus Christ, marching in the greatness of His strength, sends us on no empty errand of uttering a message that will die away in the air on an unheeding and hostile world, gathering only a few out of its innumerable multitudes and consigning the vast majority to destruction, but He sends us to ‘make disciples of all the nations’ and thereby win the world itself” (The Coming of the Lord, pp. 98-103).

We find that Christ’s work of redemption truly has as its object the people of the entire world and that His Kingdom is to become universal. And since nothing is told us as to how long the earth shall continue after that goal has been reached, possibly we can look forward to a great ‘golden age’ of spiritual prosperity continuing for centuries, or even for millenniums, during which time Christianity shall be triumphant over all the earth, and during which time the great proportion even of adults shall be saved. It seems that the number of the redeemed shall then be swelled until it far surpasses that of the lost.

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Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

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Ken is a Presbyterian pastor and the author or co-author of over thirty books, most on eschatology. He has been married since 1971, and has three children and several grandchildren. He is a graduate of Tennessee Temple University (B.A., 1973), Reformed Theological Seminary (M.Div., 1977), and Whitefield Theological Seminary (Th.M., 1986; Th.D., 1988). He currently pastors Living Hope Presbyterian Church (affiliated with the RPCGA) in Greer, SC. Much of his writing is in the field of eschatology, including his 600 page book, He Shall Have Dominion: A Postmillennial Eschatology and his 400 page, Before Jerusalem Fell: Dating the Book of Revelation (his Th.D. dissertation). He contributed chapters to two Zondervan CounterPoints books on eschatological issues: Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond (edited by Darrell L. Bock) and Four Views on the Book of Revelation (edited by C. Marvin Pate). He also debated Thomas D. Ice in Kregel's The Great Tribulation: Past or Future? His books have been published by American Vision, Baker, Zondervan, Kregel, P & R, Greenhaven Press, Nordskog, Wipf & Stock, and several other publishers. He has published scores of articles in such publications as Tabletalk, Westminster Theological Journal, Evangelical Theological Society Journal, Banner of Truth, Christianity Today, Antithesis, Contra Mundum, and others. He has spoken at over 100 conferences in America, the Caribbean, and Australia. He is a member of the Evangelical Theological Society and a Church Council Committee member of Coalition on Revival.

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