How did Jesus’ messengers, sent to the nations, fare? At first, spectacularly. Hundreds of thousands of changed lives, every corner of the Roman Empire, from the top to the bottom, radically effected. Love replacing hate. Complete strangers to Yahweh now intimate friends of His. Blessing and restoration raging from nation to nation…truly one of the most incredible movements the world has ever known. But it did not last. For various reasons beyond the scope of this article, carnality seeped into the church. Corruption and error replaced holiness and truth until the church’s purity, power and purpose became lost.
The Power of an Old 40 Watt Light Bulb
During the Middle Ages (approximately 400 AD-1400 AD) and even on to the Reformation, there was a dearth of Christlikeness. Believers burned other believers at the stake for doctrinal disagreements (murdered them while quoting scripture!); we’ve physically and psychologically harmed our brothers and sisters in Judaism; Catholics have hated Protestants and Protestants have hated Catholics; protestants have hated protestants as we’ve persecuted each other over petty theological squabbles (thousands of denominations later, and counting); we’ve loved little; we’ve lacked Holy Spirit power; we’ve inflicted rampant colonial arrogance all over the world—the sad list goes on and on. And everyday life through much of Europe was tough…
I walked back to my hut today from the fields. I think I own the hut, but the truth is it can be taken away from me at any time, by thieves or even by my boss. It gets very cold in the winter and can get very hot in the summer. Pretty crowded in the evenings since we bring in our few animals at night so they don’t get stolen. Makes the flea situation worse and the smell can get bad if we don’t clean up after them pretty quick. Our life expectancy is short—our kids have a 50/50 chance of growing up what with the starvation that hits, the utter lack of medical expertise and the smokey air in the hut. No running water, no toilets, no shampoo, no soap. We are not allowed to wear clothes above our class…not a problem for most of us since we have no access to nice clothing. (Our lords even have jewels sewn onto their clothing…beautiful stuff!). About 90% of us Europeans are peasants—we don’t have a ‘middle class’ like you. Funny phrase, middle class…in my world you’d be called nobility. Once I’m done lunch (very basic fare compared to your United Nations pizza), I will not be going to a park to ‘play’ with my son. If he has the time, he will be working with me in the fields. If we do travel (well, we don’t) we must be extremely careful as roaming thugs from the other towns are in a constant state of agitation. In fact, one of your historians notes that the likelihood of my son being murdered is between ten and fifty times what it is for your son. Mini wars are an accepted part of life here. Life is hard…life is dangerous…and life is exhausting.
He gave us His very presence to take to the nations, His splendour that shines like the sun, and we ended up spreading darkness. During the better centuries, we’ve shone, but like old 40 watt light bulbs.
But what was God’s original intent for planet earth and how far is he willing to go to see it come to pass?
Jesus loves His bride and never gives up on her. He cares for and grooms His body like we care for and groom our own. Hence, transformational revival after revival (the Reformation, the Great Awakening, the Welsh Revival, Azusa Street Revival, the Latter Rain, the Third Wave, etc.) ignited by His Spirit to renew, correct and woo her back to the light she was destined to be, to the light of the kingdom, the light of heaven shining here where it was meant to shine and forever rest (remember, what does New Jerusalem do? It doesn’t wait for us to come up, it comes down).
Two thousand years since Abraham’s descendant Yeshua sent the first crew out to bless and restore the nations, to re-align them to the fullness of life described as unhindered harmony and intimacy between us and God, us and ourselves and us and creation…to bring heaven down. It is utterly fascinating to observe the effect on the nations of the world and to weigh the ancient prophecy of “blessing” against present reality: The United Nations (2013 U.N. index of quality of life) rates the world’s countries for quality of life (Biblically understood as ‘blessedness’). Out of the world’s top ten countries to live in, 100% of them are “Judeo-Christian” countries, countries that have been majorly influenced by Abraham’s descendant Yeshua (remember, a supposedly deceased Jewish carpenter who never held a degree or a political or religious office or had any inventions to his credit or any money). Yeshua, Abraham’s descendant, has his fingerprints all over Norway, Canada, the U.S., Switzerland, Finland, New Zealand, Austria, Ireland, Australia, and Germany.
Fascinating that we can actually gauge, to some degree of accuracy, whether what Abraham thought God told him would happen, in fact, happened. Again, why did Yahweh give Abraham this wild promise? Because He wanted the world blessed. He wanted a worldwide Eden. He created the world, loved and loves it and wants it blessed. That is how Jesus sees it—He said He was sent to earth from the Father because of how much the Father loved the world (John 3:16).
Out of the next 40 countries the U.N. Index describes as having ‘very good’ quality of life, 72% have Yeshua as the primary architect of their moral/religious foundation (which helps shape the culture and society in a multiplicity of ways). The next 40 nations, described as experiencing a ‘good’ (as opposed to ‘very’ good) quality of life, see 65% that would trace their faith roots all the way back to Yeshua and further still to that bizarre promise recorded in the book of Genesis. Out of the next 40 countries, listed as a ‘fair’ quality of life, it drops to 54%, and out of the bottom 40 nations who experience the worst quality of life, we see the least amount of his influence (44%). In every bracket, the degree of influence corresponds to the degree of blessing.
Yet despite this obvious connection, even believers have often attributed the quality of modern life to man-made progress, missing the mysterious power of the gospel, the yeast that quietly, without fanfare, permeates the whole batch of dough, and has been the incubator for the scientific, artistic, technological, moral and economic growth that has made the nations we call “the West” so blessed. So blessed that millions of refugees the world over long to experience a taste of that ‘blessedness’, with ten of them tugging at the robe of one “Westerner” and asking to be taken to their….(fill in the blank).
Now if an old 40 watt light bulb can produce the quality of life we see in the West, if 40 watt light bulbs can propel nations to the top of the world’s best countries-to-live-in lists, what would the sun-like brilliance of Christlikeness produce?
Jesus is longing for His people to awaken and arise to the
present day emergence of heaven on earth.
As the church gets filled with the very presence of God Almighty, as we mature into His sons and daughters and actually look and act like Jesus, what effect would that have on a country? Are all those Old Covenant promises actually “Yes” in Jesus? How much of those promises will we really experience as we increasingly become one with Him, as we are formed into His image (Eph 4:11-13; 1 Cor. 12)?
When Jesus taught us about heaven, He said it would grow. God’s reign on earth would be a process. It would start out pathetically small (the seed of a dozen ordinary, and at times bumbling, men). But Jesus guaranteed us that despite its unimpressive inauguration, heaven would eventually emerge. Isaiah proclaims that Israel’s Messiah would be unstoppable in his dogged determination to bring “justice to the earth” (Isaiah 42:4). (Justice…to the earth). Paul echoes the Old Testament prophet’s characterization of this unyieldingly intense Messiah when he reveals the risen Jesus as ceaselessly and relentlessly advocating, groaning even, for our wholeness (Romans 8:26,27,34). Why such passion? Because He is a man of His word, and because He has a vested interest in it coming about—heaven/justice/wholeness are other ways of describing His bride, of describing life with the one He adores (us).
Isaiah and the Brightness of the Ninth Inning
So it should not come as a surprise to find Yahweh really flexing His muscle now as He stirs world events to bring all things into alignment with His Son’s promise. Through His prophet Isaiah (chapters 40-55) God promises that His people, Israel, will be restored. And Isaiah interweaves two themes beautifully: the return of Israel’s exiles back to their land and the abundant blossoming of that land both physically and spiritually. For approximately 3,000 years Jews were without a country, exiled all over the earth. After the second world war when the United Nations formalized the borders for the nation Israel, the exiles returned in droves. And the land blossomed (irrigation has transformed deserts into forests and farmland). Spiritually the blossoming has been very muted, though more Jews have turned to their Messiah Yeshua in the last 30 years than at any other time in history. Isaiah’s prophetic declaration has come to pass.
But Isaiah said something else that was remarkable. He globalized the theme. He used the geographically local and ethnically specific prophecy (of exiled Jews and their patch of land in the Middle East) as a springboard for a worldwide fulfillment. As Israel’s fulfillment would unfold, as Israel’s destiny would be restored and her salvation realized, all peoples, exiled from their God and the original relationship of the Garden, would return. The knowledge of Yahweh would cover the whole earth as the waters cover the sea. John describes it as Babylon falling and the city of God, New Jerusalem, taking its place. Heaven, God’s kingdom, would triumph. The New Bible Dictionary capsulizes the message of Isaiah chapters 40-55 this way: “Israel’s liberation from exile is viewed as the beginning of the great era of salvation, in which all things will be made new.”
Jesus is longing for His people to awaken and arise to the
present day emergence of heaven on earth.
Well, “all things” is a lot of things. And, what might “new” look like?
“All things.” Not one thing will be left old or decayed or a product of selfish worldly imagination that pollutes or minimizes life. Not one. Everything restored. Not so much all new things, but all things…NEW.
Jesus came to usher in the end of the ‘old’ age and inaugurate the ‘new’. “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God (heaven)… for I was sent for this purpose” (Luke 4:43). His answer to the question from an imprisoned and confused John the Baptist was: ‘It’s happening! The joyous days of Isaiah are here!’ (Luke 7:19-22). Restoration! The Kingdom! (Many of us are similar to John. We don’t see ‘it’ happening, and we question…actually, we don’t question, we create theologies that put everything off until after we die. Restoration? For the here and now? Kingdom? For the here and now? But the newly minted excuses, sorry, theologies, clash with what the Lord promises through his Old Testament prophets).
For the last two thousand years we’ve been living in the end of the age (game seven of the World Series, if you will). (Heb 9:26; 2 Cor 6:1). Isaiah, though, is describing the ninth inning. The end of the end of the age. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, He says that accompanying the restoration of Israel will be the restoration of the world. What is God’s intent? Here it is. Isaiah describes it in detail:
-the lame will leap, the deaf hear and the blind see
-new things will be declared; the spirit will be poured out
-streams will gush in the desert and the wilderness will blossom like a garden, like Eden; life will be restful and peaceful; we will live in our own houses
-rulers will rule with justice
-God’s people will become shelters from the storm that surrounds them
-in the midst of calamity God’s people will be free and protected
-no sickness; infants born won’t die young; longevity of life
-understanding for the nations will replace confusion and veiledness as the nations will see us as blessed and come to the light of God’s people; cities of ruthless nations will revere God; they will put their hope in God’s law and learn peace; a feast of rich food for all nations with God as the cook
-all powers are imprisoned and punished; king of Babylon is defeated and all the lands rest; the poor will find comfort and the brokenhearted will be given beauty for ashes
-the wolf will lie down with the lamb because the earth will be filled with the knowledge of God
-captives will find pasture on every barren hill and there will be no hunger or thirst
-glory of God will be on God’s people while darkness covers the earth
-wealth of the nations will be brought to God’s people
-countries that refuse to serve God’s people will experience ruin
-a new earth and new heavens will be created
-death will be defeated; there will be resurrection
Clearly Isaiah is not describing the afterlife since he includes children being born and people dying. But it is amazing stuff. Is His intent this good?
Has it already began? Is it gaining steam?
How could it not?
This should not come as a surprise. Daniel prophesied that the rock that crushes world empires would ‘fill the earth’ and Isaiah prophesied that unto us a child would be born and that the INCREASE of His just reign would see no end. And of course the keys. Yeshua handed Peter the keys to heaven and guaranteed him that in his battle to see the Father’s will done here, the opposition (gates of hell) didn’t stand a chance.