The Great Surprise from Islam
"Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through Him forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and through Him everyone who believes is freed from all things, from which you could not be freed through the Law of Moses. Therefore take heed, so that the thing spoken of in the Prophets may not come upon you: 'BEHOLD, YOU SCOFFERS, AND MARVEL, AND PERISH; FOR I AM ACCOMPLISHING A WORK IN YOUR DAYS, A WORK WHICH YOU WILL NEVER BELIEVE, THOUGH SOMEONE SHOULD DESCRIBE IT TO YOU.'" As Paul and Barnabas were going out, the people kept begging that these things might be spoken to them the next Sabbath. Now when the meeting of the synagogue had broken up, many of the Jews and of the God-fearing proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, were urging them to continue in the grace of God. The next Sabbath nearly the whole city assembled to hear the word of the Lord. But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began contradicting the things spoken by Paul, and were blaspheming. Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and said, "It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you first; since you repudiate it and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us, 'I HAVE PLACED YOU AS A LIGHT FOR THE GENTILES, THAT YOU MAY BRING SALVATION TO THE END OF THE EARTH.'" When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was being spread through the whole region. But the Jews incited the devout women of prominence and the leading men of the city, and instigated a persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district. (Acts 13:38-50)
As I listened to this being read in church yesterday, I realized that this resonates with something I have been thinking about for several years now, something that may transform the whole world very soon. I see potential for an explosive development to take shape that will shock nearly everyone and at the same time open up a time of intense violence like this world has never witnessed since history began. And these events may likely parallel the story related above in many respects.
Notice the progression of events and attitudes in the various groups of people in this story. The people of God, the ones chosen by God and who believed they were following Him, were approached first with the amazing good news, the real truth about God that was strikingly different than anything they had heard or even imagined previously. I'm not sure how many non-Jews were present when Paul and Barnabas preached that first Sabbath in the synagogue, but the report says that afterwards people kept begging them to come back and present more the next Sabbath. At this point in the story there is not a lot of evidence of resistance among the Jews except the warning words of Paul near the end of his talk pleading with them not to reject this truth.
I can't help comparing this story with things happening today and especially with things that may soon transpire on a far grander scale. Most every Christian denomination that I know of wants to increase their numbers through evangelizing. Many are content with seeking to attract other Christians from other churches to switch labels and join them, but there is earnest effort on the part of some to try to convert Jews or Muslims over to a Christian way of life. But for the most part it has been a very discouraging effort with very few exceptions.
Yet in the above story Paul and Barnabas found themselves overwhelmed with apparent success in their efforts to awaken the interest of people in a new city. But again, the main people they were speaking with at first were people of their own religion and culture to a great extent. In those days Christians were not that much different than Jews in many respects. This may sound strange to people today, but for quite a period of time, new Christian converts often worshiped each week in the synagogue with Jews and had little problem with that. After all, Jesus was a Jew and nearly all of the preachers who were spreading Christianity were also good Jews. And their core beliefs about God and their day of worship were all about the same.
But notice what transpired next in this story. When Paul and Barnabas showed up the next Sabbath, it says that nearly the whole city turned out to hear the good news. Now whatever transpired during the six days between when Paul first preached to enthralled listeners and the immense turnout that showed up the next week, it would appear that Paul was now spectacularly successful almost beyond imagination. If today we had that kind of exponential increase in interest when presenting the gospel to new people, we would hardly be able to contain ourselves for joy. And I'm sure the apostles were thrilled with what they saw taking place as hearts longing to hear truly good news were drawn by the power of the gospel.
What I suspect today is that the reason we have so little success in our efforts of evangelism is not because we can't produce good enough advertising but because the messages we preach thinking we are spreading the gospel have precious little actual good news in them. We have convinced ourselves that we are preaching the gospel; yet the gospel that the early believers embraced and the so-called gospel being taught today hardly resemble each other in many respects. I believe the reason the gospel we preach now is insipid because we have lost the essence as well as the passion that caused the early church to be a threaten to the major kingdoms of the world. Their gospel included a subversive demonstration of agape love and a message of a Messiah who conquered death and the devil by humbling Himself completely. The message of the gospel back then was a message about a non-violent God who was radically different than all the other deities and even the God that the Jews taught.
But here is where the story really takes a dramatic turn. When the Jews, the very ones who claimed to know God the best, the ones whom God had chosen as the people to represent Him to the world – when these Jews saw the immense popularity of Paul and Barnabas in contrast to their own dim recognition and status; instead of being excited they suddenly turned hostile, jealous and even went so far as to blaspheme. Instead of embracing the radical truth about God that would have required them to adjust life-long assumptions about Him, they instead chose to subvert the work that God was doing all around them. All of this because they selfishly chose the path of jealousy instead of humility and truth.
Now, what does this have to do with anything in our future? It may have far more to do with it than we might ever imagine. Just consider this highly potential scenario and see if similar events might easily transpire in our own time.
Consider the previously mentioned situation about attempts to convert Jews and Muslims to Christianity. Most people know that it is nearly impossible to convert people from either of these religions. But have you ever wondered what the real reasons are for such difficulty? Is it because they are so stubborn and filled with hatred of our God that we cannot attract them to want to know Him. Maybe with some of them. But the real reasons lie much closer to home than many of us are willing to admit. Some of the main reasons that Muslims in particular despise Christians so much is because of how Christians have presented Christianity in ways that fail to reflect the Jesus that they claim to follow.
Consider this: Many Christians trying to convert people from these other religions insist that to prove they are converted and no longer living under the law, that new converts must demonstrate their freedom by engaging in reprehensible practices that seriously violate their conscience. They are expected to eat unclean meats like pork, be willing to drink alcohol, begin to observe a pagan holy day rather than the Sabbath of God and any number of other such practices that are in fact not supported by Scripture. The world of Islam generally associates all the moral corruption and degradation flaunted by Western nations and their entertainment power houses as what Christianity is all about. It is little wonder that there is such tremendous resistance against even considering the option of converting.
But there is one denomination that is uniquely positioned because of their core beliefs to offer a very different view of God from the kinds of offensive pictures of Jesus that the rest of the denominations present. This church, though it currently is itself rather inept at knowing how to approach Muslims with a humble, non-confrontational spirit, is still uniquely poised because of its advanced knowledge of truth and its growing appreciation for who God is. And when the time is ripe it very well may create the same kind of explosive interest from these groups as what was observed in this story of Paul.
I know of at least one preacher who for a number of years now has been learning and practicing how to work with Muslims with great humility, kindness and patience. He has become so effective that he has experienced stunning acceptance and generated interest not unlike what Paul encountered. Highly educated and very influential leaders in the world of Islam have welcomed this man's presentation of the gospel and have recognized in it the call of God to Muslims everywhere to take a new look at Jesus. And while they still extremely avoid any association with the label 'Christian', they are also extremely drawn by the core truths as they see the real gospel lived and taught by this man and others like him.
Now enter the enormous explosive potential of events when in the very near future a growing number of people from this denomination finally begin to take hold of the real truth about God and His Word, internalize it and begin to live out the radical teachings and example of the Jesus who modeled extreme humility, love and acceptance. Combined with the unique core truths of the Word of God that they already possess and couple that with lives that actually reflect those truths, I can easily foresee an awakening among millions of sincere, God-seeking Muslims and even Jews world-wide suddenly surging eagerly to hear the real truth about God as presented by this small minority of 'Christians'.
What I am suggesting is this: What is likely to be the reaction of every other Christian denomination who has been earnestly and sincerely attempting to convert Muslims for decades unsuccessfully when they suddenly see Muslims by the thousand or even millions surging toward the truth of salvation in Jesus Christ presented by a church they themselves have despised and marginalized? How did the Jews, similar in culture and in many points in religion, react when they saw unbelievers suddenly responding with great attraction to these strange teachings of a minority sect?
I am sensing that the very same hostility, jealousy and anger will surge into the open as many feel cheated and betrayed even by God. Because they still fail to wield the influence over these Muslims like they see happening with this minority group, their likely reaction of envy will drive them to do the very same things that is reported about the Jews in the story above.
They will begin circulating false rumors and insinuations about these people to undermine their credibility.
They will seek to link the reputations of this minority with the already strong prejudices of the masses against Muslims in general, insinuating that by association these people must not be real Christians at all but must be terrorists in disguise. And given the prep work that Satan is already doing to skew the minds of the public against all Muslims and even Jews, it will take very little effort to transfer hatred of the whole world to focus on this one group and make them the pariah of of the world.
Even Muslims who refuse to embrace the truths presented to them will turn with intense rage against those of their own faith who decide to follow their hearts instead of their traditions. A time of persecution unlike anything seen in history will suddenly break out when possibly millions or even billions of people will lose their lives for Jesus. But then, is that any different except in magnitude, to all the persecution that true Christians have suffered throughout history? Paul stated bluntly that indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. (2 Timothy 3:12)
I believe the reason this revival of true godliness will not be stopped by intimidation and even death through persecution will be the same reason that it could not be stopped in Paul's day. The true gospel of Jesus Christ contains a power that cannot be suppressed by fear because it instills in the hidden places of the soul a love so effective that it frees one of all fear. When the true gospel of God's agape love takes hold of people no matter what label they have lived under, the lines will be drawn, the battle will be engaged and the final days of this earth's history will quickly come to a close as Jesus' true character is finally once again displayed for all the world to witness.
This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come. (Matthew 24:14)