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The Great Commission in Light of the Second Coming

Five imperatives for ministers of the gospel

George O Wood on April 20, 2022

Novelist Lloyd Douglas told about a man who visited his violin teacher and asked, “What’s new?”

“I’ll tell you what’s new,” said the teacher.

He grabbed his turning fork and banged it.

“That’s an A,” he proclaimed. “Now, upstairs a soprano rehearses endlessly and she’s always off-key. Next door I have a cello player who plays his instrument very poorly. There is an out-of-tune piano on the other side of me. I’m surrounded by terrible noise, night and day.”

Tapping the tuning fork again, the teacher continued, “That’s an A today. That will be an A tomorrow. It will never change.”

I want to bang the A of biblical teaching about the return of Christ as it relates to fulfilling the Great Commission.

Study every passage in the New Testament regarding the Second Coming, and you will find that it is a Blessed Hope and help to the Church. It ministers strength to believers so our hearts will not sag, our hands will not tire, and our heads will not droop under the burden of life and the opposition of the world. The glorious message of Christ’s appearing invigorates the Church and helps us remain diligent in the task of evangelism.

All the New Testament passages about the Second Coming fit into one of the following themes. The hope of our Lord’s return …

  1. Provides a powerful incentive for righteousness in our daily life;
  2. Galvanizes us to risk greatly for the King and His kingdom;
  3. Steadies our resolve to endure to the end;
  4. Fills us with the anticipation of reward;
  5. And makes us long for reunion with Him, whom we serve and love.

Let us drink deeply from the well of help provided in the doctrine of the Blessed Hope so we may be encouraged to stand and lift up our heads because our redemption is drawing near (Luke 21:28).

 

Live Righteously

The hope of our Lord’s return provides a powerful incentive for righteousness in our daily life.

Jesus gave an example of Pentecostals who do not enter the eternal Kingdom:

Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?” Then I will tell them plainly, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (Matthew 7:21–23).

Why are these people not qualified for the Kingdom? Because they confused doing God’s will with being in His will. They thought their outer deeds would accredit them, but the Lord was looking for righteousness in the inner life. Although they had a charismatic ministry, Jesus sent them away as “evildoers.”

All of us know people who fit this category: They preached to large crowds and did mighty deeds, but their lifestyle did not bear the marks of Christ. They were puffed up with pride and led an excessive lifestyle. They accepted the sacrificial offerings of widows but lived like kings themselves. They preached the crucified life but wore the most expensive jewelry and clothes, talking as though they were citizens of Jerusalem but living like those in Sodom.

The hope of our Lord’s return provides a powerful incentive for righteousness in our daily life.

Charisma without character leads to catastrophe.

Jesus admonished us to stay watchful for His coming: “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back — whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’” (Mark 13:35–37).

Look at some of the ways Christians go to sleep and thereby fail to watch:

  • A materialistic lifestyle that stores up treasure on earth, not in heaven (Matthew 6:19–21).
  • A leadership style that mistreats fellow workers, abusing them through harsh words and actions while living indulgently (Matthew 24:45–51).
  • A goat mentality that equates the Christian life with success rather than a sheep heart that values service: giving food to the hungry and water to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, and visiting those who are sick and in prison (Matthew 25:31–46).
  • Refusing to say no to ungodliness and worldly passions, failing to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives while waiting for our Blessed Hope — the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ (Titus 2:11–14).

How differently do we live in light of the sanctifying truth of His appearance?

  • We lack no spiritual gift as we eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed (1 Corinthians 1:7).
  • Our hearts are strengthened, blameless, and holy in God’s presence when our Lord comes with all His holy ones (1 Thessalonians 3:13).
  • We are not ashamed of Him or His words, and He will not be ashamed of us when He comes in His Father’s glory (Mark 8:38; Luke 9:26).
  • We understand the present time. We wake from slumber because our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. We put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light because the Day is almost here (Romans 13:11–12).
  • Knowing the elements will be destroyed by fire, we live holy and godly lives as we look forward to the Day of God and speed its coming (2 Peter 3:10–13).

An expectation of the Lord’s return puts us on the tiptoes of readiness. The apostle John capsulized the effect of our expectancy upon our lifestyle: “We know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure” (1 John 3:2–3).

In the past few years, our Movement has been brought low in the eyes of the world through a failure of righteousness. Scandal has affected our efforts all over the world to fulfill the Great Commission. In many places we lost our good name — and it takes years to repair our credibility.

But we repeat the error of the past if we think such scandals were caused by the missteps of only a few. Our system allowed them to flourish without accountability long before their sins were exposed. We did not stand up to their excess, pride, or slashing attacks against other believers. We invited them to our conventions, gave them honored places, and secretly coveted their lavish lifestyles and positions of power. We confused bigness with godliness, volume with power, and self-promotion with anointing.

We need godly leaders who are servants. Let’s end the flashy lifestyles and put forward those who are servants in our midst, not gluttons at the offering plates. Let’s not have a double standard — where some are expected to sacrifice for the gospel while others live off the fat of the land. “Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream” (Amos 5:24).

Questions for personal reflection: If Jesus were to come today, would I want to meet Him? Is there any relationship I would seek first to heal? Someone to forgive? A sin to forsake? Some omission to correct? Do I need a deeper baptism in His love?

 

Risk Greatly

The hope of our Lord’s return galvanizes us to risk greatly for the Kingdom.

Jesus told of a man who took no risks. Knowing his master would return and require an accounting of the talent given him, he became paralyzed with fear and hid what he had in the ground. He gained nothing from the talent, so his master took back what was his and threw out the unworthy servant (Matthew 25:14–30).

One day Jesus will ask us what we did for Him. What accounting will we make? The greater the risk, the greater the reward.

As a Movement, we are nearing the end of our 11th decade. Some have taken large risks for God. They planted the flag of the gospel in difficult places, laying down their lives and those of their families. Look at any place where a work of God exists, and you will find a story of those who risked greatly.

One example is Assemblies of God missionary J.W. Tucker. He had served in the Belgian Congo since 1939, residing in the city of Paulis. (Today, that city is called Isiro and serves as the provincial capital of Haut-Uele in the northeastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo.)

In November 1964, during the Simba rebellion, a mob captured Tucker. It set upon him with sticks, clubs, broken bottles, and fists. His screams could be heard for blocks in the 45 minutes it took the crowd to kill him.

The mob then took his body, threw it in a truck bed, drove 50 miles, and dumped it into the crocodile-infested waters of the Bomokandi River.

One day Jesus will ask us what we did for Him. What accounting will we make?

Tucker had risked everything. What was there to show for it?

Only time would tell.

The Bomokandi flows through the Nganga region inhabited by the Mangbetu people. At the time, they were virtually without the gospel. Repeated efforts had been made over the decades to reach them, including that of famed British missionary C.T. Studd, who nonetheless made no converts. Discouraged, Studd went elsewhere, turning over his efforts to the African Inland Mission, which similarly labored there for decades with few results.

Distressed by the violence of the Simba rebellion, Mangbetu leaders convinced a well-known, competent law enforcement officer nicknamed “The Brigadier” to move from Isiro to Nganga and become its chief police officer. It just so happened that Tucker had won this man to the Lord before he was murdered.

When The Brigadier came to Nganga, he began to witness to the Mangbetu about the gospel, the only way to peace. The Mangbetu had a saying, “If the blood of any man flows in our river, the Bomokandi River, you must listen to his message.” The Brigadier used this saying to make his appeal:

Sometime ago a man was killed, and his body was thrown into your river, the Bomokandi River. The crocodiles in the river ate him up. His blood flowed in your river. Now before he died, he left me this message.

This message concerns God’s Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, who came to this world to save people who were sinners. He died for the sins of the world; He died for my sins. I received this message, and it changed my life.

Now if this man (Tucker) were here today, he would tell you the same message. He’s not here, but his message is the same. And because this is the message of the man whose blood flowed in your river, you must listen to my message.

This message was the key to unlocking revival among the Mangbetu. Soon, churches in Isiro were sending pastors and evangelists to Nganga. The gospel took root, accompanied by signs and wonders, and many began to follow Christ.

Today among the Mangbetu, thousands of Assemblies of God believers and scores of churches trace their spiritual lineage to the powerful message about the man whose blood had flowed in the Bomokandi River.

Note once again Jesus’ parable about the talents. The only person who ever loses is the one who does not risk. Even a martyr like Tucker seems to have risked in vain; but when the records of eternity are opened, a far different result will be visible.

Questions for personal reflection: If Jesus came today, would He find me taking risks? What risks am I involved in right now for His name’s sake? Have I shrunk back in fear from something on His heart for me to do, rather than venturing forth with faith? Am I willing to be discomforted for His name’s sake? Are the risks I’m taking designed to produce long-range results, or are they foolish knee-jerk reactions to momentary impulses? Am I daring much for my King today?

 

Resolve to Endure

On July 4, 1952, a drama unfolded off the coast of Southern California.

A young woman named Florence Chadwick waded into the Pacific Ocean, intending to swim the 26-mile channel between Catalina Island and the California coast. Long-distance swimming was not new to her; she was the first woman to swim the English Channel in both directions.

The water was numbingly cold that day. The fog was so thick she could hardly see the boats in her party. Several times sharks had to be driven away with rifle fire. Chadwick swam more than 15 hours before she asked to be taken out of the water — only a half-mile from her goal.

It wasn’t the cold, fear, or exhaustion that caused Chadwick to fail; it was the fog. She later said, “I’m not excusing myself, but if I could have seen the land, I would have made it.”

Two months later, Chadwick walked off the same beach, into the same channel, and swam the distance. She set a new speed record because she could see land.

Our Lord knew about the fog. Here are some terms He and the apostles used to describe it:

Hatred so strong and an increase of wickedness so great the love of most will grow cold and only those who stand firm to the end will be saved (Matthew 10:22; 24:12–14).

Suffering so heavy it will seem to outweigh the coming glory revealed in us (Romans 8:18).

Trials so hot they will require the shield of God’s power until the coming of salvation ready to be revealed in the last time (1 Peter 1:3–9).

An ordeal so pressing it will seem surprising and strange, and its dark night will be eclipsed only through the inner joy of entering into Christ’s suffering and the coming outer joy when His glory is revealed (1 Peter 4:12–14).

The expectation of the Lord’s return gladdens our hearts in days of weariness and desert. It provides the resolve to continue.

Who will defeat the carrying out of the Great Commission? Discouraged and depressed believers. Children of God who have lost their hope in this midnight of earth’s shadows.

The expectation of the Lord’s return gladdens our hearts in days of weariness and desert. It provides the resolve to continue.

Paul reminded us we are not without hope (Ephesians 2:12). We are to have the eyes of our hearts enlightened to know the hope to which Christ has called us, the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints, and His incomparably great power for us who believe (Ephesians 1:18–19).

We know that after the trial comes the crown of life; therefore, we can even now begin to rejoice (James 1:12). Like farmers waiting for their crops to ripen, we are called to patience since the Lord’s coming is near (James 5:7–9).

Because we will receive what has been promised us, we do not throw away our confidence as those who shrink back and are destroyed; rather, we are among those who persevere, believe, and are saved (Hebrews 10:35–39).

We take the Lord’s word to the Philadelphia church as a personal message: “I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown” (Revelation 3:11).

In the Spirit, we welcome the admonition to take hold of the hope offered to us and be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf (Hebrews 6:18–20).

Setting our hope on Him (2 Corinthians 1:10) gives us the resolve to abide faithfully, to continue at our task. We do not become escapists by believing in His soon return. We become strengthened and galvanized to action. The grand news of His coming invigorates our actions and thrills us with expectation.

C.S. Lewis accurately described the effect of hope in Mere Christianity:

If you read history you will find that the Christians who did the most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. … It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at heaven and you will get earth “thrown in”: aim at earth and you will get neither.

Questions for personal reflection: Have I resolved to endure to the end? Are my present trials even more heavy because I have lost the shining hope of His return? Have I been looking down instead of up?

 

Anticipate Reward

My uncle, Victor Plymire, was a pioneer missionary to China and Tibet. He went there in 1908 and served for 16 years before he won his first convert. Most would have quit from discouragement — but he resolved to persevere.

In his 19th year of missionary service, his only son, 6 years of age, and his wife died from smallpox within one week of each other. The cemetery refused him burial, so he bought a small plot of land on a hillside outside of town. It was the middle of winter. He had only enough strength to dig one grave through the frozen ground for the two of them.

What was his reward in all this?

Especially in the West, we live in a period of instant gratification. We expect immediate reward for labor rendered, service given, and investment made.

Especially in the West, we live in a period of instant gratification. We expect immediate reward for labor rendered, service given, and investment made.

But the Bible talks about delayed reward. “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it” (Mark 8:34–35).

My uncle Victor died in 1956 without ever knowing what purpose the death of his wife and son filled in the economy of God.

In 1988, the church Victor Plymire had planted wanted to officially reopen. Permission was denied on the grounds the church had no proof that the property purchased and building erected by my uncle had ever been used as a church. The officials knew the truth, as did everyone in the town. But officials were playing games with the pastor, the son of the martyred leader Plymire left in charge of the work in 1949.

In desperation, the pastor asked my missionary cousin, David Plymire, if any written evidence existed that could prove the buildings and property belonged to the church. David searched the file of his father in Springfield, Missouri. He found a deed, but it was not the deed to the church property. It was to the grave on the hillside.

For reasons known only to God, Victor Plymire had deeded that grave in the name of the church. When David Plymire returned to China and gave the deed to the pastor, local authorities accepted it as incontrovertible evidence that the church had existed. The property was returned, and the church reopened.

So after a century, we understand a little more about that dark night. God did not cause the deaths of Victor Plymire’s first wife and son. Nevertheless, He used that loss to anchor the church in that town. Plymire never knew what happened to that church; but we now can see an earthly reward for his sacrifice.

An even greater day of reward is coming. The grave itself will open and the dead will come forth to receive a reward from the hand of Jesus himself. That reward will eclipse all sorrow.

The people of God can take great comfort from the last message Jesus speaks in the Bible: “Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done” (Revelation 22:12).

Questions for personal reflection: What will be my reward on that day? Have I voluntarily borne my cross daily, carried suffering in my own life for the gospel’s sake — not because I had to, but because of my own choice? Have I been faithful and true? Can He really count on me today?

 

Set Your Heart on Reunion

The last time the Church was small enough to fit into one room was the Day of Pentecost. One hundred and twenty were present. When the Spirit was poured out, the Church grew by 3,000 in one day. It never met again in a single room.

Keep that in mind as you reflect on what happened during the Last Supper. Jesus took the cup and said, “I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matthew 26:29). After saying this, Jesus sang a hymn with His disciples and went out to the Mount of Olives (verse 30).

Nothing unusual strikes us about this sequence: cup, hymn, going out.

But if you have participated in a Passover celebration, you know it is intersected by drinking four cups at specified intervals. The cups symbolize the fourfold promise of Exodus 6:6–7:

  • “I will bring you out.”
  • “I will free you from being slaves to them.”
  • “I will redeem you.”
  • “I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God.”

Each cup was drunk at a specific time: the first at the beginning; the second after the eating of the bitter herbs and stewed fruit, but before partaking of the lamb; the third, sometimes referred to as the cup of redemption, after the lamb was eaten.

It was common to remain together at the table for several hours after the meal, deep in conversation about God’s past and future acts of redemption. Conversation ended with the singing of selections from Psalms 113–118, the hallel (or praise hymns).

Then Passover would end with all drinking the fourth cup, that of consummation. This cup looked forward to the future when God’s redemptive acts were complete: His judgment poured out on unbelievers and His regathering of the redeemed in Jerusalem.

Note the text of Matthew 26: There was a cup before the hallel, and there was supposed to be a cup following it. But after singing, the small company with Jesus simply “went out” (verse 30).

What happened? Jesus prematurely ended the meal. When He said, “I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on” (verse 29), He was holding the third cup. He never drank the fourth cup.

The third cup is the cup of redemption. We drink it in all our Communion services as memorializing the Lord’s redemptive death until He comes (1 Corinthians 11:26).

When will we finish the meal and drink the fourth and final cup, the cup of consummation? Jesus said He will “drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matthew 26:29). That will not happen until the Church is all together in one room again at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.

Picture that banquet hall, so vast it stretches as far as the eye can see, but so intimate each feels a part. Look at the tables set with linens, dishes, and utensils of heaven, ornamented with dazzling elegance and beauty. Banners stream from the vaulted ceilings, and visual delight presses on the senses from rainbows of color fashioned by the Master Artist.

Jesus said the problem of the harvest lies not in the readiness of the crops, but in the lack of willing workers.

Orchestras play instruments with symphony in praise. Harps sing, cymbals flash, trumpets sound, wind chimes ring. Bells and horns, lutes and violins, dulcimers and clarinets. From time to time the instruments quiet so the vast angel choirs can break in with such melodies of joy as to banish every memory of the pain-filled night of earth.

The tables are for the guests who have been washed in the blood of the Lamb. They are clothed with white — although if you look closely, you will notice that the white seems to miraculously change for an instant into earthly dress, and most at the table wear the simple browns and blacks of peasants and prisoners.

An angel steps to the rostrum and announces: “Please stand at your place. The meal will begin momentarily.”

A hush falls in the room. We look at the vast tapestry of guests in grand assembly. We note faces of joy all around.

Entering to the head table is the company of apostles, prophets, and martyrs who bore the burden in the heat of the day and remained faithful.

Then the moment comes. The last earthly guest is standing. Another angel announces the Host: “I present to you the King of kings and Lord of lords, Jesus of Nazareth!”

Trumpets begin their fanfare, and myriads of angels lift their harmony of hallelujahs. A heavenly honor guard waving flags and streamers fills the hall.

Then He enters, majestic in His beauty. The Son of Man and Son of God strides to His place of honor. Silence falls. His voice breaks the stillness: “Welcome to My Marriage Supper. Let us take the cup of consummation.”

And together with Him, saints of all ages, nations, languages, and cultures, from villages and cities, farms and desert places — all will lift our cup in toast to Him. And in that moment as we drink the fourth cup, redemption’s saga is complete, and the eternal age has opened before us.

In this present there are still invitations to be sent. The guest list is incomplete. Through a parable, the Lord has given us the privilege of inviting everyone to the Marriage Supper. “Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full” (Luke 14:23).

Our knowledge of that great reunion with Christ should fill us with such urgency to obey that we take the gospel to every person, no matter where they live, what their age, the language they speak, their color of skin, their condition of health, their gender, their economic status, their need, or even the false gods they serve.

Questions for personal reflection: Do I really miss Him, or have I settled down in too much comfort? Do I really ache for those now outside His family — so much so that I’ll renew every effort to bring them to that great reunion?

I want to be at that Marriage Supper of the Lamb, and I don’t want a single person to miss it.

What a happy day that will be!

 

Maranatha!

What is the relevance of the Second Coming to the Great Commission?

Jesus said the problem of the harvest lies not in the readiness of the crops, but in the lack of willing workers (Matthew 9:37–38). Much of the Church has gone to sleep because it does not believe Jesus is coming.

The doctrine of the Second Coming aims directly at the worker and not the world. In view of His imminent return, the worker is told:

Live righteously — in readiness for His coming.

Risk greatly — it will be worth it all.

Resolve to endure — persevere.

Anticipate the reward — it is with Him when He comes.

Set your heart on reunion — so shall we ever be with the Lord.

Maranatha! Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

 

From the editors: This article first appeared as a five-part series in the Pentecostal Evangel published in January 1993. It has been edited for concision and clarity, Bible quotations have been changed to the 2011 edition of the New International Version, and chronology and place names have been updated. We republish it here to honor Wood’s legacy and to promote the evangelistic mission of the Fellowship that he served for six decades as a Bible professor, college chaplain, local church pastor, denominational official, and university president.

This article appears in the Spring 2022 edition of Influence magazine.

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