Many sincere Christians — clerics and laymen alike — look at our world with its hordes of “unsaved” or “unchurched” people numbering in the multiple millions. And, with great urgency and compassion, these Christians long with all their hearts to reach out to these people with the gospel of salvation in Christ.
Indeed, as Jesus Himself said, He came “to seek and save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). Jesus was referring here to the Jewish tax collector Zacchaeus and other human beings like him (including you and me!) who are all sinners and are “lost” on their way to salvation and eternal life. “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one, to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6).
Because of our sins, we are all like stray or lost sheep hanging by a cliff, ready to fall off into a ravine, to our death (Luke 15:4; Romans 6:23; Revelation 21:8)!
The good news
The good news is that, in His mercy and compassion, Jesus came to rescue mankind from falling into that spiritual ravine. “God demonstrates His own love towards us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
As God in the flesh, Christ poured out His life-blood on the cross at Calvary as a ransom for our sin (Matthew 20:25), so we won’t have to die [the “second death” (Revelation 20:11-15); this is apart from the “first death” to which all of us mortals are appointed once (Hebrews 9:27); sew: The Ransomed of the LORD].
“The LORD has laid on Him (Jesus) the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). Like sheep rescued from the deadly cliffs of our sinful lives, we whom God has chosen have been brought by Jesus safe into His sheepfold (John 10:1-18).
The question is: how many lost sheep have been recovered from those cliffs and brought into Christ’s sheepfold? And was it — or is it — Jesus’ intention that all lost sheep be rescued at once — “in one fell swoop” — and brought into that sheepfold in this age? What about those who are missed by the “rescuers” — are they lost forever?
For a number of reasons many sincere believers in Christ feel guilty about — even feel responsible for — peoples and nations that are unable to be “reached” with the gospel of Christ before He returns.
Have we prayed — even fasted — enough for these people groups to be reached? Have we trained and prepared enough missionaries (or multimedia and personal evangelists) to go into these “unreached” peoples to bring the gospel of Christ to them? Have we supported these servants enough with our resources, prayers and encouragement so they would succeed in their mission?
Of course, these are things that every Christian individual and church should be doing — even more than ever before.
But what about nations that restrict the entry or inroads of the Christian message into their communities?
Because of this and other obstacles, as missions manuals state, so far only about a third of the world’s population has been reached with some form or other of the Christian “gospel.” The vast majority of people are in the various major other faiths: Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism. The rest are in the many smaller faiths outside these religions.
After all these millennia and centuries of efforts by Christians at “evangelizing” the world, the majority of humanity has remained outside the pale of Christianity. And these other major faiths seem at times to have greater “missionary zeal” than the average Christian community and are gaining more proselytes!
This fact has had a lot of Christians feeling guilty about not doing enough. It has driven many Christians to feel “responsible” for reaching these nations with the “gospel” before Jesus returns. Some have worked up zeal for this even to the point of themselves or their missionaries getting harmed or, worse, killed (even beheaded in some cases).
If God were in a contest with Satan to “get” the souls of men saved, statistics show that God is lagging far behind: 1 against 2!
But is God into such a contest with Satan?
God is in control!
When we examine the whole testimony of the Holy Scriptures, we will begin to understand that God is in no such contest with Satan. In reality, God is in full and supreme control!
With Satan still reigning as the “god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4) who has deceived the whole world (Revelation 12:9), God’s Word shows that — before Christ returns — only a few people will make it to God’s kingdom or receive everlasting life at this time.
Jesus said: “Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life [everlasting], and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:14). The vast majority of mankind has, as it were, been “put on hold” for some future time of salvation.
God is interested in calling and choosing only a small “firstfruits” of humanity to be saved at Christ’s return. For a fuller discussion of this Bible truth, see: Predestination and God’s Feasts and the Jews — Part 2 (the section on “The Feast of Weeks/Day of Pentecost and the Jews”).
In Revelation 3:7-8 Jesus identifies Himself as One “…who has the key of David [a reference to Ezekiel 44:1-3]; He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens.” He then tells the Philadelphia church: “I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name.”
A word of caution
Since Jesus holds the key to open or shut “doors” such as those through which His gospel is to go into all the world, a zealous believer needs to make sure that any “door” that seems open has indeed been opened by Christ and not by mere human endeavor or thrust.
As prophecy long foretold, in our end-times there will be many “false prophets” preaching “false Christs” who will deceive many, not just the few (Matthew 24:4-5, 24-25). These are zealous preachers who feel they have been sent by God or by Christ, but Jesus tells us “I have not sent them” (Jeremiah 27:15; 23:21; 29:9). [See: Beware of False Prophets and The True Christ.]
In their zeal to save as many people as they believe God wants to save in this age, missionaries venture out into the “mission field” with a lot of zeal but, sadly, with little or no knowledge of what God is really doing at this time. As a result, the “doors” that they think God has opened have, in many cases, often turned out to be trap doors instead! They, not God, have pried these doors open!
I remember an incident some years back where some natives or locals became converted into Christians in an extremely hostile community. They soon built some chapel or church building. When persecution came from that community, these converts refused to get away from their building and, thus trapped, they suffered excruciating but needless death. Why didn’t someone tell these people what our Lord said in times of persecution: “When they persecute you in this city, flee to another” (Matthew 10:23).
That is because, in their zeal without proper knowledge, those who think they are serving God and Jesus Christ fail to teach what they ought, and teach what they ought not. [See: A Great Omission in Doing the “Great Commission” and Is Jesus your Lord — Really?]
The gospel to be preached worldwide before the end
Regardless of what many zealous people do to try to “save” as many in the world as possible before the end of this age through preaching the gospel of Christ in all the world, God Himself will take care of getting that gospel preached! It will be the right gospel — and it will save the right number of people as God has appointed!
God’s Word has prophesied that God will send His “two witnesses” who will preach the true gospel to all the world some 3 and 1/2 years before Jesus returns (Revelation 11:1-13). After them an angel of God will also preach “the everlasting gospel” to all the world (Revelation 14:6-7).
All eventually given the chance to be saved
When we understand the desire of God to save all of mankind (1 Timothy 2:4) , we will see His wisdom and His abundant mercy. But all in God’s own time. God’s Feasts, which picture God’s step-by-step plan of saving all of mankind, should give us great peace and assurance concerning the majority of people who are not being saved yet by God at this time.
Today is but “a day of salvation” (as the proper translation of the Greek hemera, in 2 Corinthians 6:2 should be, as contrasted with the Greek te hemera which is rendered as “the day” [of the Lord], in 2 Corinthians 1:14). This is not the only day of salvation. God has reserved other “days” or periods for saving the rest of mankind.
The Feast of Tabernacles pictures the great “harvest of souls” all through the 1,000-year reign of Jesus Christ with the glorified “saints” on this earth. After that 1,000-year period will be “harvest time” for the rest of all humanity who have never had their chance to hear and believe the “only name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12) — the name of Jesus Christ. That will happen when all these multiple billions of dead people will be resurrected to physical life for their time of judgment and salvation (Revelation 20:5, 11-12). In this way, all — every single human being — will have their fair chance or opportunity to be saved, if they would. None can accuse God of being unfair or showing favoritism or discrimination. [See: God’s Feasts and the Jews — Part 3, Predestination, The Divine Prerogatives, and The Value of the “Firstborn”.]
A damper on evangelistic zeal?
Some have expressed concern that the teaching about there being other times of salvation will make people less likely to believe the gospel of Christ. “If people know that there will be another time for salvation, they will naturally say, ‘Okay, then, I’ll just wait for that other time to get saved. Meanwhile, let me enjoy this world and its pleasures,'” goes this concern.
This concern fails to consider that God is not saving all of mankind in this present age. What should motivate every true Christian to help in getting Christ’s gospel out to all the world is the desire that the message may reach out to those whom God has “appointed … to obtain salvation” in this age (1 Thessalonians 5:9). These are those who constitute — and will constitute — the people of God’s Church, who are among those who have “first trusted” or believed in Christ (Ephesians 1:12).
For the rest of the world, the gospel is being preached — and will continue to be preached till the end of this age — “as a witness” to all nations (Matthew 24:14) about God’s plan. This in hopes that, in their time of salvation as God chooses, those who do not believe in Jesus at this time will later remember God’s message, come to repentance also, receive God’s Spirit and eventually everlasting life.
This should not dampen but rather ignite to greater fervor a Christian with the desire to get the gospel of Christ out to all the world before Christ returns. Only, let’s be sure we are fired with zeal with true knowledge, not zeal without knowledge (Romans 10:2). [See: A Great Omission in Doing the “Great Commission.“]
Pedro R. Meléndez, Jr.