Christ sent out twelve. They were not professionals, nor rabbis, nor divinity scholars. They were plain men, some fishermen, a tax collector, a businessman—we don't even know the occupations of the others. Only a few of them had a good average education. But Christ sent them out on a mission for God.
They had a message, "The kingdom of heaven is at hand!" It meant not the setting up of earthly authority, or even a theocracy on earth. It meant that heaven had dropped down to earth in a great revelation of spirituality in the person of Jesus Christ, and that that revelation was to be transferred to the hearts of men and to shine out over the world.
Without fully understanding what this glorious message meant, or even realizing how different it was from their own expectations, the twelve set out to proclaim the good news. They were given the message, and though lacking complete comprehension, they gave it—"The kingdom of heaven is at hand!"
Many of us believe that this message was given not only throughout Israel but later, in response to the gospel commission, and most important to note, through the power of the Holy Ghost, to the whole world. What else can we conclude from what Paul says: "Which was preached to every creature which is under heaven" (Col. 1:23)?
There is no historical proof of this early worldwide work. The few churches that can trace their origin convincingly straight back to the first century are clustered around the eastern Mediterranean basin. But there are hints; there are traditions; there are legends. And there is Paul's statement.
In the following centuries the news spread that a Person from heaven had come and had brought heaven with Him, and that He would continue to plant heaven in the hearts of men and prepare them for God's kingdom, and permanent communities of believers sprang up, struck roots, and grew.
The church was established. The twelve and their successors proclaimed a great beginning, and the work thus begun has grown.
Eighteen hundred years later came a fresh proclamation of the kingdom of God. It came in a small way, but with energy. It announced the coming of the kingdom through the second advent of Christ. Only a few were willing to give it, for while it was a message of the kingdom, it was different from the message the twelve had given. Theirs had been a proclamation of beginnings. Now came the message of endings. The world, the fallen world of which Satan is called prince, must come to an end, came the announcement. Christ, coming again, would take out of Satan's kingdom those in whom the kingdom of heaven had been born and had grown. Christ is coming, went the message, to take back to God men of His good will.
It is remarkable that the message of the twelve, and the message of 1844 and after, could be so similar, while so different. At the beginning, the kingdom of heaven was proclaimed as at hand. The Advent message is. This is the end; the harvest is about to close; Christ is coming to take His people home; the kingdom of glory is to be a fact for glorified men, and the earth is to be left desolate.
This message has now been preached for more than a hundred years—the end of all things proclaimed for longer than a century!
The end is overdue. Wickedness has long since fulfilled all the dire forecasts of the prophets. Anxiety and despair challenge the happiness of men. The pallor of fear, underlying and belying the flush of confidence and prosperity, makes the future look hectic. The church, having preached a gospel of sorts for nineteen centuries, is building greater palaces on earth than ever, and settling down even more contentedly for a longer and longer stay in a world long since irrevocably lost.
We must make up our minds whether we intend to settle down with the historic church or be ready to go to heaven. We are no longer a handful, rashly proclaiming from a background of a raw frontier that a worldwide proclamation of the end of all things is being undertaken. We are a million now, proclaiming to all the world a message of the end.
What is the message? It is the same as it was nineteen centuries ago—"The kingdom of heaven is at hand!" But it is a message of the end. It proclaims that Christ is coming!
We must make up our minds. We are not twelve now, but a million. Do we believe our message, or do we not? Do we want to go to heaven, or do we want to stay on earth? Do we love the Lord so much that we cannot tolerate the thought of being absent from Him, or are we content to live on, separated from Him by every inducement of a seducing world? Do we believe He is coming, or do we not? Do we love His appearing, or do we not? We must make up our minds!
The twelve accomplished much. We must now demonstrate what the Holy Ghost can accomplish with a million believers. History will come to an end. God will finish His work. If He cannot use us, He will find others.
We must make up our minds!