Restoring the Stolen Vision
I began sensing some years ago that the Church’s walk on earth during the last three and one-half years of this age would mirror Jesus’ public ministry of three and one-half years. I remember studying Revelation and all the references to the last three and one-half years of the age, and I remember how my spirit leaped as I was walking along one day listening to a cassette tape and heard mention of Jesus’ public ministry of three and one-half years. It was as if the Holy Spirit welded the two periods together in my mind, never again to be separated. It was one of those moments when you know God has spoken.
As we consider the public ministry of Jesus and compare it to the prophetic destiny of the Church outlined by Scripture for the last three and one-half years of the age, astonishing parallels emerge. We have seen that Ephesians 3:8-12 states that God created all things in order to demonstrate His wisdom through the Church to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. The wisdom of God is defined as the cross of Christ (1 Corinthians 1:24). We could then say that God will demonstrate the wisdom of the cross of Christ through the Church to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. The wisdom of the cross that God demonstrated through His Son will again be demonstrated through His Son’s corporate body, the Church.
We have seen in Revelation 13:7 that Satan is allowed to war against the saints for three and one-half years and is granted authority to overcome them. It is no coincidence that both Jesus’ time of public ministry and this particular period of time in which the saints are overcome/overcomers are both periods of three and one-half years. It is no coincidence that both Jesus and these saints are physically overcome at the end of these respective periods of three and one-half years and yet emerge victorious. That is the wisdom of the cross that God has chosen to demonstrate through His Son in both His individual and corporate form.
Revelation 12:9-10 describes a series of events that seem to occur simultaneously at the beginning of the final three and one-half years. Satan is thrown out of heaven to earth, and concurrently come the salvation, the power, the Kingdom of God, and the authority of Christ. Where will these things come other than to the saints alive on the earth at that time? This would seem to explain the source of the holiness and power of the saints of Daniel 12:7. It is coincident with the giving of authority to the two witnesses of Revelation 11.
The timing of this power and authority coming to the saints coincides with the revealing of the ultimate evil of antichrist and the granting of his temporary power and authority. Notice how great darkness and great light are established and revealed on earth at the same time. The players are on stage for the great final battle between good and evil. The outcome of the entire war hinges on this final battle. God has created all things in preparation for the outcome of this battle which will demonstrate His wisdom through the Church to the devil and his angels.
Notice the unmistakable parallels between Jesus' time of public ministry and the walk of these saints. Both take place during a three and one-half year time frame. Both are initiated by the coming of the Holy Spirit in great power, anointing, authority; and both bring the Kingdom of God. Both take place amidst a time of intense Satanic government and religious persecution which ends in both parties physically overcome by Satan yet ultimately victorious. Both result in Satan’s defeat.
It is crucial that we understand that Jesus died to overcome Satan, and yet He is authorizing and empowering His Church to also die to overcome Satan at the end of the age. (They overcame him by the Blood of the Lamb, the word of their testimony, and that they did not love their lives unto death.) Why is God allowing this seeming repetition? Didn’t Jesus thoroughly overcome Satan on the cross two thousand years ago? Yes, He did. But the eternal plan of God in Christ Jesus is that through the Church God said He would demonstrate His wisdom to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.
God is going to use fallen mankind that Satan deceived to overcome Satan through the redemptive process enabled by His Son. That redemptive process is legally possible because Jesus came as a man, and as a man He legally overcame Satan on the cross. He specifically and purposely emptied Himself (Philippians 2:7) and came as a man to live and die as a perfect man in order to gain authority over Satan which He could then delegate to His Church, a corporate body of redeemed men.
The Church is called by faith to overcome Satan in the power and authority that Jesus has delegated. The death of the Church is obviously redemptive in God’s plan, or the death of Jesus would have been the end of it. Scripture indicates that the primary purpose for Jesus’ coming was to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8). The Church does not yet realize that He accomplished that legally on the cross as a man in order to direct and authorize His Church to carry the sentence out on earth, ultimately by laying down their lives even as He laid down His life. This is the wisdom of the cross that God desires to demonstrate to Satan through redeemed man.
I have given You Power
God has seemingly chosen to use the Church, in the last three and one-half years of this age, to reflect the last three and one-half years of Christ’s life and purpose for ministry on this earth. In fact, Jesus delegated everything that He came to do, short of the redemption of His Church, to His Church for accomplishment. He came to set the captives free, to heal the sick, to raise the dead, to reconcile Israel back to their God, to be a light of salvation to the Gentiles, to go into the world and make disciples of all nations, and to destroy the works of the devil. These are ongoing processes which have yet to be fully accomplished and have been delegated to the Church for completion. Ultimately it is Jesus Who does all these things, but all things short of the redemption of His Church are completed through the body of His Church. He gave us the power and authority to do these things and then said to go and do them in the power of His Spirit. He came to enable us to do all the things that the Bible says He came to do.
The specifics of the parallels between Jesus’ time of public ministry and the ministry of the saints at the end of the age are intriguing and yet to be fully explored. These will surely be those days in which Jesus said His disciples would do even greater things than He did. I believe this is the Church on earth in its final and finest hour. This fully empowered and anointed Church will be the target of Satan’s final and ultimate fury in the form of his champion, the antichrist. God has scheduled events so that His fully empowered Church and the evil of Satan in the form of the antichrist will appear on the earth at the exact same time.
God’s power will be demonstrated through the meekness of His Church, for Scripture clearly indicates that Satan is granted power sufficient to physically overcome the Church. God will demonstrate His wisdom by allowing this portion of the Church to be physically overcome, even as He allowed His Son to be physically overcome on the cross.
The wisdom of God in the form of the cross of Christ (1 Corinthians 1:24) demonstrated by Jesus as an individual will again be demonstrated at the end of this age by Jesus as His corporate body.
It is this staggering restatement of God’s wisdom in Jesus Christ as demonstrated through His Church that will fulfill the Ephesians 3:10 intent to demonstrate God’s wisdom through the Church to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This is the glorious destiny the Church is called to. We have the privilege of walking as Jesus walked so as to have God's wisdom demonstrated through us.
That demonstration must incorporate all of Church history; however, the ultimate demonstration would seem to be the battle fought at the end of this age between the fully empowered Church and the darkest evil of antichrist. No wonder a great cloud of witnesses is watching and waiting for the Church to fulfill a destiny without which they cannot be made perfect (Hebrews 11:40-12:1). And no wonder Satan is so eager to keep the Church from fulfilling this destiny.
A calling awaits the Church at the end of this age which has all creation standing by until it is accomplished. It is something so staggering that prior saints cannot be made perfect without it.
We are called to run this race with endurance (Hebrews 12:1). We are called to fix our eyes on Jesus as an example during this race and to consider that He endured the cross for the joy set before Him so that we, in turn, do not grow weary and lose heart (Hebrews 12:2-3).
How vastly this scenario differs from teachings that assure us that we will be raptured away before the tribulation starts. Jesus will bring to completion His purposes through His corporate body. Therefore, it would be equally as illogical to say that the saints should be raptured out before the last three and one-half years of their ministry at the end of the age as to say that Jesus should have been raptured out before the last three and one-half years of His public ministry. God’s purposes are that both parties should demonstrate the wisdom of the cross in seemingly the same manner.
The last-days persecution of the saints will not entirely be between believers and non-believers, but to a large extent between those of a perverted religious structure and those who follow Jesus. Even as the religious leaders of Jesus’ day persecuted Him and delivered Him up to be killed, so will a corrupt Babylonian religious system serve the saints up to be killed by a one-world government antichrist system.
Jesus foretold of a time when His disciples would be delivered up to be killed by those who would think they were doing God a service (John 16:2). Mystery Babylon is drunk with the blood of the saints and the witnesses of Jesus (Revelation 17:6).
Much of what we consider today as good is nothing more than religious structure. It is a man-conceived and upheld structure with a form of godliness but denying the power of the true gospel. If we are not walking with Jesus and being led moment by moment by His Spirit, then we are walking with and being led by another spirit, the spirit of the antichrist. I shudder to think where the dividing line may be in this confrontation. Jesus said family members would betray one another and brother would betray brother.
Are Other Reasons for Jesus’ Death Applicable to the Church?
Obviously the Church could not die to save itself. It would not have been an adequate sacrifice. There is only one perfect Lamb of God. But now that Jesus has gained the victory and delegated His power and authority to His Church, what other purposes which Jesus established by His death might also be parallel purposes for the death of His Church?
The purified and glorious Church during the last three and one-half years of the age will be Jesus’ body. This won’t be about us. It will be about Jesus living and dying through us. We can aspire to be nothing greater than cleansed vessels to be used for noble purposes. But to what noble purposes? To what extent might the death of that perfected body be considered redemptive in the restoration of the creation groaning for redemption? For example, to what extent might the death of that perfected body be considered redemptive in the restoration of Israel as a nation? What life will spring forth from the seed of the Church laying down her life? What multitude of sins might be covered by this love, a love which can prove no greater demonstration of its existence than by the laying down of earthly life? What redemptive purposes might God have awaiting this demonstration of love from potentially millions if not billions of His saints?
This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends (John 15:12-13).
The Return of a Favor?
In the previous chapter on redemptive suffering, we explored Scriptures that indicate that the nation of Israel has in part been turned over to disobedience in order that Gentiles could partake of the salvation offered through the Jews. How intriguing is the thought that even as Jesus died for the sins of His nation, so His corporate body, which will be largely Gentile, might fill up what is lacking in His suffering for the redemption of that nation.
And now says the LORD, who formed Me from the womb to be His Servant, to bring Jacob back to Him, in order that Israel might be gathered to Him (For I am honored in the sight of the LORD, and My God is My strength) . . . (Isaiah 49:5).
We have seen that the Church is called to die to overcome Satan even as Jesus died for the same purpose. We see also that Jesus came to die in order to restore Israel back to their God. If the reasons for Jesus coming to die apply as well to His Church, and I believe Scripture is clear that they do, then the death of the Church will also be redemptive in that restoration as she assists in filling up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ (Colossians 1:24).
We are seeing staggering parallels between the life of Jesus and the walk of His Church at the end of the age, both in timing and function. As Jesus came to His nation but was rejected two thousand years ago, will He come again through His corporate body to again lay His life down? Will God again use the sufferings of His Son in the form of His Church as redemptive seed for the nation of Israel? When this happens, the eyes of Israel will be opened.
The Church as Suffering Servant
I believe that in this context the suffering of the Church is a possible third application for the suffering servant of Isaiah 53, who dies specifically for the sins of the nation of Israel.
I believe the willingness of the Church to lay down her life for the nation of Israel at the end of the age will perhaps be the demonstration of the cross through the corporate body of His Son that God is seeking before He turns again to His chosen people and pours out His mercy to restore that nation. Perhaps it will be this demonstration of love by their Christian brothers that will drive them at long last to jealousy. Perhaps it will be this that will prompt Israel to cry out, "Blessed is the One Who comes in the name of the Lord!"
The purposes for which Jesus came, which have yet to be fully worked out, will be fully worked out at the end of the age when His corporate body fills up what is yet lacking in His suffering. Satan does not want the Church to understand this. He wants her to be deceived, and if possible, fall away before her glorious destiny can be fulfilled, because his trip to the lake of fire is tied in with that destiny. Once again, I believe that much of his effort to deceive up to this point has been in the form of teachings which insist that the Church has no reason to be on earth during the upcoming period of great tribulation at the end of this age. It is the Church’s demonstration of the wisdom of the cross during that great tribulation that is the very reason for which God created all things.
There is nothing of virtue that man has to offer in this process. We are at best empty and cleansed vessels through which Jesus can flow unhindered. This is not about anything the Church originates or brings to pass. This is about Jesus. When He gave up His life and said, "It is finished," He gained total victory over Satan.
Nevertheless, He has chosen to involve His Church in the victory over evil. It’s His choice because He paid the price and gained the victory. Who are we to question His motives? We can only say, "Yes, Lord," to His plan. His plan happens to involve the Church, not of her own goodness, but of His goodness which He has chosen to demonstrate through her. Everything that the Church will demonstrate at the end of the age that is life-giving and of value will be of Jesus. He will relive and complete His purposes through His corporate body. We must individually decrease so that He can increase. We must die to ourselves so that He can live and die again through us.
The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him (Romans 8:16-17).
A Light of the Nations
The vision of the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 grows to embrace all nations, tribes, tongues, and peoples.
Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. For behold, darkness will cover the earth, and deep darkness the peoples; but the LORD will rise upon you, and His glory will appear upon you. And nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising (Isaiah 60:1-3).
Technically this Scripture would seem to apply to Israel, but the Holy Spirit has quickened this in application to the Church as well at the end of the age. In the sequence of events, light will come first from the Church before it comes forth from Israel. It will be the light of Christ through His Church that will illuminate darkened Israel from their centuries of sleep.
Awake, sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you (Ephesians 5:14).
We must develop and embrace a theology that allows for the systematic slaughter of potentially several billion Christians at the end of the age, and we must understand that it is an outworking of God’s love for the restoration of His creation. In light of eternity, it is a trivial price to pay, but it requires faith to see things in eternal perspective. That is a challenge that few if any theologians have met. I presently have difficulty embracing minor obstacles that the Lord puts in my path and call them God’s love. The potential slaughter of several billion of our brothers and sisters, ourselves included, is the theology which we must rise to embrace.
We must learn to live only for Him now, or we shall not live for Him then. We must die to ourselves before that day, or we shall not be able to die for Him on that day. The journey is too great. Grace is our only hope. Without God’s grace poured on us at the end of the age, we will never endure and rise to this call. Our best laid beliefs and doctrines will not support us at the chopping blocks. Only the grace of God will get us through. He must be our victory or we will have no victory.
Will it be Jesus or the Church?
The astonishing parallels between Jesus’ time of public ministry and the walk of the Church during the last three and one-half years of the age make it hard to distinguish between who is Jesus and who is His Church. But Jesus is His Church! When we hesitate to ascribe this glorious walk to the Church because we feel it diminishes from what Jesus has already accomplished, we miss the point. This will be Jesus walking at the end of the age, but through His corporate body.
When pride and selfishness are totally burned out of us, we will not presume to see this as stealing His glory, but rather as glorifying Him. Of Him and through Him and to Him are all things. This will be the walk of a selfless devoted body of believers who seek nothing for themselves and everything for His glory. Only then and in that state will they be considered as worthy vessels for the power and authority that He intends to demonstrate through them. They will seek only to follow the Lamb wherever He goes, and as He walks so they will walk. He is calling us to lay down our lives for the same purposes that He laid down His life. Those who seek to follow the Lamb will be expectantly and joyfully prepared to do so.
We will Live the Vision
As we meditate on this Biblical vision for the Church, it will turn our gaze toward Him, for surely the journey is too great for any of us. Without Him we can do nothing, but in Christ all things are possible. We will increasingly be conformed to the soldiers that Jesus would have us be at the end of the age. We will increasingly become like Jesus. We will set our faces like flint toward the destiny before us, seeing the eternal joy that awaits at the end of our endurance.
We will not be able to speak a message of hope and joy to a world writhing in the agony of birth pains unless we live that message, not just in the words that we speak but more importantly in the demonstration of our very lives. Anything less is a false witness. If we do not portray Jesus by our lives, we betray Him by speaking of Him. We cannot be the good news if we are the bad news. The Kingdom of God is not a matter of words but of power.
If we cannot bring bread to the hungry and healing to the sick, we are not walking the walk that Jesus walked, and we are not allowing His life to flow through us to the degree that He insists upon. If we cannot portray to the lost masses the Bread of Life, then we are limiting Him. Our failure will not be that we are lifeless; it will be that we obstructed the flowing of His life through us. Perhaps we thought it was about something that we had to offer, when all along it was only of Him. We cannot of ourselves be loving. We cannot of ourselves be anything good, as He is everything that is good. It is only as we partake of Him and allow His life to flow through us that love or anything else of value can be demonstrated. Only what’s done by Christ will last. The rest is but wood, hay, and stubble . . . the works of the flesh done on a foundation of sand..
Restoring the Stolen Vision
I believe we have now recovered a portion of the vision for the Church which has been stolen by Satan. The vision is clearly outlined in Scripture. The heart of God for His Church is to demonstrate His wisdom through His Church to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places by overcoming the devil while conforming us to the likeness of Jesus. All of creation will be restored in the process. Everything that happens in our lives is a means to that end. The path that Jesus walked is the path for us to walk. It involves a choice and leads to the cross. The wisdom of God is the cross of Christ, and as we embrace the cross the vision will be realized. There are no shortcuts or alternate paths. The path is narrow and not without obstacle. Satan will scratch and claw and fight us every step of the way. It is a fight to the finish, a fight for survival, and even if we don’t realize it, he does. He pulls no punches, fights dirty, and has a contract out on each of our lives. He wants us to fall away and not realize the vision and fulfill our calling. He does not want creation restored and God to be glorified, and he does not want to be crushed underfoot and thrown into the lake of fire. But he will be. Praise the Lord!!
The Final Act
This will be our last opportunity for worship this side of eternity. It will be the last opportunity to lay down our lives in obedience and love before we are swept up in the glory to come, beyond which we have no inkling of what God has prepared for us. The laying down of our lives may well be seed that sweeps many into the Kingdom with us. What more glorious destiny on this earth could there be? Embrace the cross, Saints, for the glory of our Lord and our eternal joy in His presence!
"This is all about You, Jesus. It’s all about You."