One of the great theological divides separating those who profess to believe the Bible is their view of the future. Some maintain an optimistic eschatology, with respect to the growth of God’s kingdom in the present era; others expect a growing apostasy that will only worsen as time progresses. Both camps purport to find biblical justification for their position.
What did Jesus teach? In Matthew 13 Jesus presented a series of parables designed to shed light upon the nature and progress of the kingdom of God. Two of them specifically address the matter of its growth. In the Parable of the Mustard Seed, Jesus’ point was that the kingdom would experience almost unbelievable growth. The tiny mustard seed germinates and eventually becomes a “tree.” So the kingdom will grow beyond all expectations. In the Parable of the Leaven Jesus teaches that just as leaven will fully permeate a batch of dough, so the kingdom will eventually saturate the entire world.
This concept of massive kingdom growth is not foreign to the Old Testament. King Nebuchadnezzar has a dream that is subsequently interpreted by Daniel. Among the features of the dream is the appearance of a stone that smashes the image depicting four human kingdoms. This stone then grows to become a gigantic mountain that eventually fills the whole earth. Daniel explains that the four-part image represents four, major human kingdoms that will be destroyed by the kingdom of God, which shall stand forever. Once again, we see a picture of extraordinary, worldwide, expansion of the kingdom, growth that steadily increases from a tiny beginning to earth-filling proportions. It is this dimension that Jesus taught in the two parables cited above.
Fast-forwarding to the 21st century, many Christians in the West are overwhelmed with the growing degeneracy of society and the departure from the Judeo-Christian foundation of our past. We see European cathedrals becoming museums; we observe the increased hostility to anything distinctly Christian, and clouds of despair overwhelm our thinking. Surely the end must be near; surely Christ will return soon to usher in a time gospel victory.
But the Scriptural vision is one of steady growth in this era during which the kingdom will triumph and fill the earth. How can we reconcile this vision with the present reality? The solution begins with enlarging our perspective. Yes, we in America and the West are currently experiencing a decline. But considering the entire earth, the picture is radically different.
The International Bulletin of Missionary Research recently released some telling statistics. The present world population consists of 468 million Buddhists, 951 million Hindus, 1.6 billion Muslims, and 2.3 billion Christians--with about 1.5 billion attending church regularly. So, no, contrary to popular opinion, the Muslims are not set to rule the world.
In 1911 there were an estimated 400,000 congregations of believes around the world. A century later there are now 5 million. In 1900 it is estimated there were about 9 million Christians in Africa; today that number has exploded to 475 million. Sounds a lot like Daniel chapter 2.
Believers must be careful about forming their theological expectations from today’s headlines. But properly understand, the present reality is further evidence that Jesus did not give the Great Commission as an exercise in futility but because He fully expected that, in time and space, during His absence, it would be fulfilled by the church.
Let us seek the face of God for the restoration of our nation and rejoice in what God is doing elsewhere around the world. The mountain is growing.