If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin.
When someone hears the gospel of Jesus Christ, it is a divine appointment and they are accountable to God for their response.
The evangelist may be gifted and brilliant or clumsy and boring, but if the gospel is presented then the Spirit of God brings conviction to hearts and minds and people are accountable to God for their response. Jesus spoke of the Spirit of God when He said, in John 16:8-11:
And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.
The meaning of this three-fold convicting and convincing work of God’s Spirit is that (a) He convicts of sin and the need of forgiveness, (2) He convinces that Christ is the righteousness of God and is the answer to our sin problem, and (c) He stresses also the urgency of the matter, that the judgment of God is coming upon the world.
With regard to the judgment of God toward those who reject Christ, it is essential to remember that God is a completely fair and just Judge. This is our beginning point to understand the cost of rejecting Christ, that we will all be judged by the fairest Judge of all. Christ said of the city of Capernaum, where He had performed miracles, “But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you” (Matt. 11:24), leading us to understand that there will be degrees of judgment against those who reject Christ. (See Luke 12:47-48.)
In the verse above (John 15:22), Christ referred to the sin of rejecting Him. Throughout the gospel of John are recorded many instances where Christ appealed to the Jews to believe in Him. Many, of course, did, and the early church was comprised mostly of Jewish Christians initially. Yet the nation as a whole rejected Him.
Christ had not only come and spoken to them, not only had He taught them, but He also performed miracles and reasoned with them to believe in Him. The occasion recorded in John 10:24-27, for example, shows the pattern of His witness to the Jews:
So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me…”
Pointing to His miracles, which should have been sufficient evidence of who He was, He spoke to the Jewish people pointing out their unbelief. He addressed the subject from the perspective of election by God – they were not among His sheep – but elsewhere He addressed the subject from the perspective of the obligation of mankind to believe, “They have no excuse for their sin.” We are better off, I believe, to leave the mystery of God’s election and our human responses in the hands of God. Both truths are proclaimed – God chooses, and we have an obligation to believe.
This was the great sin of the nation of Israel – the rejection of Christ. On His Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, one week before Easter, Christ stopped to weep over the city (Luke 19:41-44):
And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”
The “time of your visitation” refers to His life and ministry among them. He was the Key to everything for the nation and for the world, yet He was rejected. Christ had desired and was prepared to bless the nation and exalt it to prominence, but instead they rejected Him and crucified Him. The cost of their rejection was not only eternal separation from God, but also the destruction of the Nation by the Roman army, and Israel did not exist again as a nation until 1947.
In Scripture it was common for Jewish disobedience to result in national oppression by pagan peoples (see the entire book of Judges). In the foreknowledge of God, He had already seen the rejection of Christ and knew that this was the means by which the sins of the world would be paid and humanity would be redeemed. Christ was chosen “before the creation of the world” to be our Savior (1 Peter 1:20). Paul spoke of the Jewish nation when he wrote, “through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles” (Rom. 11:11). This has a direct reference to the response of Gentiles to the gospel, but indirectly it is an illusion to the very means of our salvation – the sacrificial death of Christ.
There is a cost of rejecting Christ as Savior, and there is a cost for the Christian in rejecting His Lordship in our lives. God had planned to bring the Nation of Israel into the Land of Canaan, to possess it, after only two years in the wilderness. Yet because of their unbelief, He kept them in the wilderness for another forty years. And there are ways that He desires to bless and to use us believers today, and when we do not surrender to Him as Lord, when we become selfish and disobedient, then we miss those opportunities to be used by Him.
But for us Gentile Christians, we should be humble, not proud, for, as Paul wrote, “For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you” (Romans 11:21). He used the illustration of an olive tree and the Gentile Christians were like a wild olive branch that was grafted onto the tree at the place where the natural branch had been cut off. This “olive tree” stood for the work of God through the ages and we Gentiles have inherited by faith the history of the dealings of God with the Jewish Nation. “Do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you” (Romans 11:18).*
For the Christian who does not obey Christ in everything, God still saves him for eternity, but in time we must all stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ and give an account of our life (2 Cor. 5:10). We will then see clearly the ways in which God had planned to use us, what things He was capable of doing in this world in and through our lives – if they had been completely surrendered to Him. I believe we shall all, in one way or another, to one degree or another, understand that our hope has never been in ourselves. Rather Christ was and is and will remain forever the only true Hero of the story of salvation – whether it is just our own story or the story of the entire Church. We have all failed in some way, and we have all missed opportunities for Him in some way or another.
So our response should be to humble bow before Him each day, to acknowledge Him as Lord and Savior every second. To be quick to confess our sins and receive His forgiveness, and to follow the path He has for us each day. This is the way of joy, of peace, and of usefulness for Him.
*The relation of the Church to Israel is a point of some interest and disagreement between biblical students, resulting in generally two different views. Truly, I believe it is essential to point out, there is more shared in common than in difference with one another. We all agree that the Church is built on the foundation of the prophets and the apostles with Christ Jesus the Chief Cornerstone (Eph. 2:20). We all agree that Gentile Christians have inherited the experiences of God’s dealings with Israel and with others such as Adam, Noah, Abraham, etc., all before Moses. So the sacred history recorded in the Old Testament is just as relevant and precious to Gentile Christians today as Jews. And we believe in the visible, victorious return of Christ, and the judgment and the resurrection of the just and the unjust, and the final establishment of the new heaven and the new earth prophesied in Revelation 21-22.
The division comes in the area of Revelation 20, and with it such topics as the Antichrist (2 Thes. 2:1-12), the rapture (1 Thes 4:13-18), and the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:12-58), as well as many other issues related to the end times. What are the differences and how are they to be understood?
Amillennial View: Some see the nation of Israel as entirely cut off never to be grafted in again. The Church has inherited all of the promises yet unfulfilled to Israel. This typically leads to what is called the “Amillennial Interpretation.” The word “millennial” is connected to Revelation 20 where a thousand year period is mentioned and the “amillennial” view sees this as symbolic and not literal. They usually quote Acts 15:15-17 where, as they claim, James spiritualized or generalized the prophecies of Amos 9:11-12 to apply to the Gentiles. That the Gentiles are the fulfillment of the rebuilding the “tent of David” is plain from the passage, so, therefore, the promises of Israel are inherited by the Gentiles.
The great reformers were almost all Amillennialists, and there is a tendency among them to (a) identify the Roman Catholic Church and the Pope as the Antichrist, (b) to believe that the Nation of Israel is entirely written off by God, except for those Jews who become Christians, of course, (c) to see the Millennium as figuratively describing the current gospel dispensation, or the church age. The number 1,000 is take entirely symbolically and is meant to be applied to all those who trust in Christ. The loosing of Satan is a reference to what Christ and the Apostles prophesied about the end of this church era prior to His coming, that there will be great apostasy and unbelief prior to His return.
There are, however, several problems that arise with this interpretation. First, the use of Acts 15:15-17 as a model for the interpretation of Old Testament prophecy has many problems. In the passage, James was addressing the issue of Gentile conversion and his intent was to find some scripture that addressed and justified this matter. There are two verses alluded to here, from Amos 9:11-12. The first “quotation” is not a quotation at all but a paraphrase, being neither exactly in the words of the Hebrew Bible or of the Greek Septuagint. It is likely that James spoke these words in Aramaic, the common language of Palestine in the days of Christ, and that Luke summarized them in Greek. We believe, of course, that the Spirit of God was active in the process, inspiring the Scripture, but this still leaves us with merely a general reference to Amos 9:11, so it is hard to prove in this passage a definitive hermeneutic that should dominate all interpretation of Old Testament scripture. Acts 15:17 is a quote from the Septuagint version of Amos 9:12, but the point is that the remnant of Israel shall return to Israel and possess the Gentiles. That James saw this as applying to the issue of Gentile conversion does not mean that it has no other interpretation.
Another problem it does not address is the other quotations from the Old Testament where the prophecies were given a literal fulfillment, Acts 3:21, for example: ” [Jesus] whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.” There is here no suggestion that the prophecies were to be spiritualized or that they would not be literally fulfilled, only that the Lord awaits in heaven until the time for restoring them has come.
Clearly between Acts 2:21 and 15:15-17 there must be no disagreement in the mind of the Spirit who inspired them. The Reformers tended to take the Scriptures written later as more inspired than the ones which were written earlier. Premillenialists tend to see all scripture as equally inspired and, if anything, let the earlier passages shape the later ones. So Acts 3 that speaks of Christ waiting in heaven until the restoration of all things should shape our understanding of Acts 15, and certainly Acts 15 does not need to be understood as teaching a new hermeneutic to the church.
Thirdly, there is the problem with identifying the Roman Catholic Church and the Pope as the Antichrist. This is simply an historical interpretation – all of which have tended to proved themselves to be highly unreliable. The worst type of interpretation of Revelation is one that picks and chooses historical people and circumstances as being described in the book. The problem is with the sheer subjective reality of this method. One person says a character is Napoleon, another that it is Hitler, another Mussolini, and who can say who is right?
In summary, the Amillennial View runs the risk of spiritualizing or allegorizing or symbolizing prophetic passages until the meaning can be lost and the application can be bent in almost any direction. It tends toward an historical, subjective interpretation, that runs into other problems as well.
I will also be the first to say that Premillennialist also treat many passages with an incredible subjective method, taking great liberty with Scripture for the sake of sensationalizing a sermon or teaching. Generally speaking, Amillennialists tend to be better theologians and Premillennialists tend to better biblical exegetists. Both, however, can tread into areas where they insist on interpretations that have very flimsy foundations.
Premillennial View: Others of us see it that God is not yet finished with Israel, and though there is no means of Israel being reinstated other than through Christ, we believe the Bible prophesies a future great turning of Israel to Christ. In Romans 11:23 we read, “And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again.” So, God has a means by which He is able to graft in a truly Christian Nation of Israel in the future to use as He had originally planned. In Romans 11:25 says, “Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.” The hardening of Israel is partial only, for many Jews have believed in Christ through the centuries, but there will come a time of great turning of Israel to Christ in mass.
Two passages that support a Premillennial View are:
- Acts 3:21: “whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.” This plainly understood means that the fulfillment of the prophecies to Israel are still to be done by God, and will be fulfilled when Christ returns, setting up a logical understanding of a literal Millennium of some sort on earth, after the return of Christ.
- 1 Corinthians 15:20-26: “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” This lays out an order to the last days (1) the resurrection of Christ, (2) the resurrection of those who belong to Christ at His coming, (3) the end when He hands over the kingdom to God, after destroying every rule, authority, and power. The Premillennial View sees this order in the return of Christ to earth with those who trust in Him, adn then a Millennial kingdom on earth for a period that will be handed over to the Father after the destruction of the enemies of God. This is precisely the order that is laid out in Revelation 19-21.
Summary: To me these disagreements are tempests in teapots between Christians. Surely the popularity of one view or the other will not force the hand of God to act in any single way. He will fulfill His plan as He has always planned and purposed to. We may favor one view over the other, but neither one should be seen to reinterpret how Christians live their lives today, and our obligation to evangelize the world. We haven’t dealt with the Postmillennialist View, which was very popular 100 years ago, nor distinguished between the Dispensational Premillennialist or the Historical Premillennialist views.
But we should preach some view of the return of Christ. To me the greater error is to neglect the doctrine all together because (a) we are afraid of offending someone or (b) we are not sure where we stand ourselves. We should preach that victorious return of Christ, the final judgment of all who live, the future establishment of His kingdom on earth, as well as the Christian’s obligation to live for Christ today.