The richest and most beautiful of all the so-called proofs for the existence of God is the teleological (design & purpose). It means to lead us up not only to a superpower over all, or final cause of the world, but also to a personal designer of all things, possessed of intellect and will, of knowledge and wisdom.
In the world about us, as well as in our own being, we see design and purpose everywhere. How beautifully and perfectly all things are adapted to one another so that each creature exists, moves, lives, and acts within the sphere of its own law, and all its needs are satisfied. The fish is adapted to the water, the bird to fly in the air, the beast to roam in the jungle, trees and flowers to grow and flourish in the soil, and clouds, rain, and sunshine to cause the seed to sprout in the earth. The eye is adapted to the light, the ear to sound. The human mind is adapted to interpret the world round about it and to subject all things under it.
Everywhere there is purpose and design, and all things loudly proclaim a designer marvellous in wisdom, goodness, and power. That designer is God. To be sure, the believer loves this argument. He loves to sing with the inspired Psalmist: “O LORD, how manifold are thy works! in wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches” (Psalm 104:24). Again this is the language of faith, not of reason without faith, and it is based on Revelation (Bible). Faith does not seek to prove the existence of God, but proceeds from the certainty of existence.
As far as pure or unbelieving reason is concerned, let us note that also this so-called proof proves exactly nothing as to the existence of an intelligent being outside of the world, who is infinite in power and wisdom and the designer of all things. It may as well be employed by pantheistic evolutionism to demonstrate that nature itself is intelligent, that God is the world, and the world is God, reaching his highest consciousness in man.
Moreover, if there is design in the universe, there are also many phenomena that would seem to demonstrate the very opposite of design and purpose. There is friction, conflict, death, destruction, and apparent foolishness everywhere. A babe is born, and its mother dies in the pangs of birth, or the babe itself is snatched away by the merciless hand of death. A tree grows, and the lightning strikes it down. A crop is almost ready for harvest, and a hailstorm destroys it. The world as we perceive and know it today is full of phenomena that appear to be foolish, that some have denied the design altogether and have pronounced the universe the worst that anyone could possibly have conceived.
Faith is God’s revelation (Bible) has its answer to these objections, for it knows of God’s wrath against sin, and it considers the wisdom of God in the face of Jesus Christ the Lord, in whom the believer finds the solution for all of these phenomena and looks in expectation for the final and perfect theodicy (vindication of divine providence in view of the existence of evil) in the day of the revelation of the righteous judgment of God. But unbelieving reason that sets aside or contradicts God’s own revelation (Bible) of himself cannot recover God in the way of the teleological (design & purpose) argument. As a rational proof it has no power.
The early church fathers were agreed on these following seven points concerning the Antichrist, the man of lawlessness (2Thessalonians 2).
1. That before the end of the world or age, there would be an apostasy, which in its culmination would be not merely a corruption of the Christian faith, but a total denial of it, an apostasy not universal, but very general.
2. That the last representative and leader of this apostasy would be a man, “the man of sin,” “the wicked one,” “the son of perdition,” or “the Antichrist.”
3. That this man would attain to universal dominion, all nations becoming subject to him.
4. That this dominion would continue but a short time, forty-two months, or three and a half years.
5. That he would claim divine honours for himself, and persecute all upholding the faith of Christ, and suppress, as far as possible, all Christian worship.
6. That the time immediately preceding and during his reign would one of great tribulation.
7. That many of the Jews would receive him as their Messiah.
8. That he would be destroyed with his adherents by the Lord at his appearing.
Besides these points of general agreement, there were diverse particular opinions about the person of the Antichrist.
The term the Antichrist is rarely and often one of vagueness to most Christians today. That he is against God, Christ and us that we know and understand for sure. That he is hostile to Christ and his church is also known and understood. He is both an enemy and also a ‘substitute’, in place of Christ and his work. Jesus Christ atoned for our sins, this the Antichrist will totally deny. He will know nothing of atonement, it will be religion without a cross. His hostility to Christianity will be openly declared. His kingdom will be an earthly one as opposed to the Messianic Kingdom of Christ. In this he will offer himself as a substitute for Christ. A cross-less earthly global religion promising blessing to all mankind. In the words of Archbishop Trench, “He will not call himself Christ, for he will be filled with deadliest hate, both against the name and office, against the whole spirit and temper of Jesus of Nazareth, now the exalted King of glory…He will not assume the name of Christ, and so will not in the letter be a false Christ, yet assuming to himself Christ’s offices, presenting himself to the world as the true centre of its hopes, as the satisfaction of its needs, and healer of its hurts, he will, in fact, take upon himself all names and forms of blasphemy; will be the false Christ and the Antichrist both at once.” Not a subject to be over alarmed about? On the contrary, it is a subject of the utmost importance, vital to every one who names the name of Christ.
The thorny, controversial business of eschatology. Well, we all believe Jesus is coming again, that is all that matters, yes? Let’s not speak of the details as to how, when, or the circumstances of his coming. That surely will disunite us even more. There are those of us who live with the expectation of a coming tribulation but tempered with the hope that we will be ‘whisked’ out of it, to the safety of heaven. Then there are the eternal optimists, whose expectations are for the spread and triumph of Christianity on a global scale. A spiritual resurgence leavening the entire world. A Christianised civilisation embracing all nations. This latter breed would see the church requiring major modifications along the way, adapting to the new and dawning age. The leaders with modern and progressive thinking. The organism must evolve, as they believe did creation itself, it must adjust to its present circumstances, whatever they may be. So the church, its doctrine, policies and workings must respond to the demands of the new age, adapt itself. The church must progress or perish, so they think. That Christendom has over many centuries been down this road, modified its principles, policies and practices, only to find that they have failed, is no deterrent to these progressive optimists.
The church finds itself at war with a world that has grown up, it is now more intelligent. Unbelief has reached adulthood. We must bring a new religion to such a world, much more eclectic. In terms of origins and ethics, the church also must evolve, fit in with the age, or perish. Where this progression will end no one knows, but optimism knows no bounds and all thoughts pessimistic must be abolished. For those who see in the present wide-spread apostasy and a world that thinks it has outgrown Christianity as the harbingers of the Antichrist, away with such pessimists. To the sword with them. A world growing worse? Perish the thought. Thus the blind optimist leads the blind, and both end up in the ditch. To bury our heads in eschatological sand and disregard all that our prophetic Scriptures have forewarned us of, regarding the signs of and the reign of the Antichrist, invites catastrophe. Is to lay the church bare to the wiles, deceptions and attacks of Satan’s final General, “the man of lawlessness…the son of destruction…proclaiming himself to be God.” A pessimistic theory? More than.
It is in this person that the spirit of the age will find its truest representative. The sovereign head of humanity without God. The kingdom of man without God is the kingdom of the Antichrist. But, his kingdom will be welcomed by one and all (excepting a small remnant) as the “kingdom of God.” Such will be the overwhelming consequence of his deception. It is only in the light of Holy Writ that we can understand fully the character and the work of the Antichrist. It is of the utmost importance that we study, and heed the Bible’s teaching concerning the Antichrist, lest we too be deceived. Those of course who despise Scripture’s teaching will undoubtedly be taken in. Those also who have succumbed to a false ecumenical spirit will also be deceived. This ecumenism will see Christianity evolving into a larger global religion, the instrument of the second beast (Revelation 13:11-18), its members bearing the mark of the beast, 666.
For those of us who accept, adhere to the Divinely inspired Scriptures, who believe them to be an intelligent revelation of God’s purpose for the world, there is light. Abandoning our prejudices and what is unreasonable, and for some of us perhaps what we have long-held to, we ask the age-old question, what does the Scripture say? As there were many long years of preparation for the coming of the Son of Man, from creation, through the Patriarchs, Moses the Law-giver and the prophets of the Old Testament, so too has there been for the coming of “the man of lawlessness.” He appears not overnight. As there was a fulness of time for God sending his Son (Galatians 4:4). So too is there a fulness of time for the coming of the Antichrist. The antichristian leaven must spread first throughout Christendom. Note I said Christendom, not God’s church, true church. He, the Antichrist, has his types and shadows in the Old Testament as does Christ. We see him typified in Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar to name but two. They were Satan’s tools also. The Antichrist, the first beast (Revelation 13:1-10) is Satan’s last General. The second beast (Revelation 13:11-18) is the Antichrist’s prophet. Satan is the father of lies, deception is what he is best at, he is the master of deception, and his servant’s task is, with the releasing of Satan (Revelation 20:3) to deceive the nations.
The deception will be gross. If it were possible even the elect would be deceived in this period of history (Mark 13:20-22). That is, those who despise the prophetic word and disbelieve the appearance of such a figure on the stage of history, will be deceived. They will believe the strong delusions, they will be attracted to him and fettered by him. His appearance is by no means ugly. He will not be an open blasphemer of God. He will not appear as an enemy of all religion. He will not appear detestable because of gross vices. He will appear as a saviour of the world and, yes, a religious leader. The word of God (2 Thessalonians 2:1-12)is the Divinely inspired antidote to this fatal attraction and deception. He will not compel, that is ‘make’ people worship him. Neither by brute force, sword or fire, it will be done willingly, voluntarily. He will appear to men as one who is without doubt worthy of divine worship. He will appear so Christ-like, if I may so say. He will not appear as some horrid ghoul but as an angel of light. So those who succumb, who worship him? Not irreligious people. It will be the most religious period of history. He will rise before the world in great pomp, a king. A king with a kingdom, the kingdom of the Antichrist. Which is the kingdom of man without God, that’s what the number 666 means. He will herald an end of the world’s social problems, war and famine, the evolvement of the unity of the nations. The highest expression of social democracy. He, it, will be welcomed by multitudes.
This will be the last test for the true church of God. The final battle between the two forces, good and evil, Christ and Satan, the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of man without God. So what are the signs of his appearing, are we examining our present day, what do we see, and are we looking at it through the lens of Scripture? What are our eschatological hopes, are they dreams or nightmares, real, sure, concrete hope, or just religious sand. We must progress you cry, but what are you progressing to? Or are you progressing away from the God-appointed path? This is not a defence of antiquarianism. This is a demand that’s God’s elect stand upon and remain with their God-given Scriptures. This is a demand for courage amongst true believers, to not only maintain the truth but declare it fully, fearlessly whatever the outcome, the cost to ourselves. It is a demand for preachers to stop giving God’s people stones for bread. It is demand for the church to preach and teach the truth, to give to God’s people a truly biblical perspective on the where this world is going and what to expect. It is a demand to prepared God’s people for suffering. God has not declared and promised a Christianised version of this present world. God has declared war on evil and he is sending his Son back again to destroy it completely, and to usher in a new heaven and a new earth, in which only righteousness will dwell. Do not be deceived!
The cross is the very heart of the gospel. The cross is about surrendering, giving up power and wealth. It’s about the church pouring out her resources and serving a world lost in sin. In our country the gospel has been around a long time, we are very familiar with, hence quite contemptible of it too. Trouble is, when the gospel has been in a place of power and wealth for a long time, something happens to it. It morphs. It changes. The radical message of sin, grace and the cross becomes either muted or lost altogether. What was once gospel religion becomes nice, safe, cosy, lifestyle religion? Which is for middle-Englanders trying to be good.
I am almost sure I read somewhere that John Wesley at the end of his days was moaning about his beloved Methodism having become just ‘respectable religion’. Nothing much has changed since. The only folk who have been effective amongst the working classes (if such still exists) are the Pentecostals. Our Reformed churches are for posh middle-Englanders, nicely educated, safely housed, in a cosy environment, with a lifestyle and religion that doesn’t really put the lie to the wealth, health and prosperity gospel. It’s not believed in, in theory, at least. No gospel cutting-edge, no outpouring of resources and little self-denying service to a nation that has lost its way. When it came to the cross Jesus was right in their midst, the ‘scum of the earth’ to coin a phrase. Where the ‘rubber hits the road,’ to coin yet another phrase. And believe me there was nothing nice, safe, cosy about the cross, neither did it speak of lifestyle, the opposite, it was a vile death. If you wanted to be a celebrity preacher in the Apostolic world, you kept quiet about the cross. Same as today.
From posh religion to gospel powerfulness will be a hard road to travel. Who will pay the toll? To get with the sinners. You can’t live on knob hill and do a hit-and-run raid into the nearby ghetto and expect to convince the inhabitants that change is either good or necessary. You need to get with them. And to get with them you need to love them. The Incarnate Word took upon himself flesh, and dwelt in our midst, he came where we were, he was with us. The gospel is not a soul-computer, just google salvation and press enter, and find converts popping up all around. The gospel confronts people where they are at and the proclaimer (i.e., the church) needs to be there with them. In home, hospital, prison, Marketplace, no holes barred.
One author speaking of Jesus on the cross between the two notorious thieves said, “It wasn’t as if he (Jesus) was forced to endure the company of sinners. He identifies completely. He lets himself be reckoned as a sinner, and dealt with as a sinner; and not only by men, but by God.” The same author goes on to quote Calvin on the same issue, “By hanging him in the middle, they gave him first place as though he were the thieves leader.” He also quotes Luther, who is even more graphic, “he bore the person of a sinner and of a thief, and not of one, but all sinners and thieves…and all the prophets saw this, that Christ was to become the greatest thief, murderer, adulterer, robber, desecrator, blasphemer, etc., that has ever been anywhere in the world.” Here, says the author, on the cross, he not only bears but is the sin of the world (2Corinthians 5:21).
How do you fancy a position in leadership? Leading, I mean a bunch of thieves, murderers, adulterers, robbers, desecrators, and blasphemers? Being with them, lovingly, willingly so you can lead them to Christ of the cross? Who was made sin for them, that they might be made the righteousness of God, in him?
In the apostle Peter’s first epistle, chapter two and verse nine, we read, “but you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession; that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light (ESV).” This is what I call an epitomising text, it epitomises wonderfully, the church of God in Jesus Christ. It reveals to us much in regards to the church. It gives us the reason for the existence of the church, her first and primary concern, the glory of God. Secondly, it gives us her stewardship, bearing with perseverance, the revelation entrusted to her by God, to the world. And then thirdly, it gives us her task, projecting the great mercy of God in Christ to a lost and perishing world. She is responsible for displaying God’s grace. Her worship is to be a shop window in which passers-by may behold God’s marvellous grace, while reflecting resurrection joy. The text indicates the isolation of the church, God’s separated people, the antithesis. For they are a chosen, a holy, a people belonging especially to God, therefore separated by their calling out from the world. They are in the world, but they are not of it (John 17:16). There is also here the intention, God’s that is, for the church, proclamation. Of the excellencies of the One who called them. Then, of course, the very instigator of the church, God himself, who by the operations of his Spirit, calls, convicts, converts and revives his church in the midst of the years.
In regards to glorious purpose of the church in proclamation, the question here is, how does she approach such a great and glorious task? Her principles of course, must come from Scripture, they alone regulate all of her earthly business. It is a serious lament however, that in this day and generation, there is a tragic, a profound ignorance on her part of her God-given Scriptures. Even amongst those who we would call would-be missionaries. If, as Christians, we are to be of any help to anyone in this fallen world that we find ourselves living and witnessing to, we must be a people soaked in the Scriptures. We need to have a worldview derived from holy writ. We need to study the Scriptures with a missional hermeneutic, we need to begin to feel God’s heart-beat for mission that unifies the Bible. And that in itself ought to unify us, God’s people.
The Recipients of the Proclamation: Evangelism is a powerful emotive reaction to the glory of God grace. Our need today is to see the throne. It is yet another tragedy that theology and mission do not mix. The result is that we end up with missionary endeavour that is absent of theology, or vice versa. Where there is no theory, you have either no, or you have bad practice. Would you for instance send a man to build a bridge over a raging torrent who has not been to college and studied the theory of civil engineering? If not, then why send a man to evangelise a lost world, who hasn’t been in God’s school of learning, studying the theory of mission? Then there is the tragedy of theology with no missional impetus, full-time students. Bags of theory, but no practice. The Church is made for mission. But what about those who are to be the recipients of our missionary endeavours?
There are no abstract, disembodied, history-less sinners, such do not exist. Their sin-lives are determined by cultural, historical factors that we must take into account. Poverty, hunger, superstition, chronic illness, tribal morality or the lack thereof, etc., etc. It is to such we must bring the gospel of God’s grace. We must consider the question, to whom are we preaching? For instance, we do not speak to children in the same way as we would to adults. God speaks to real people, he speaks differently to different people throughout the generations. He does not speak in the same way to Abraham as he does to Moses, or even yet to Pharaoh. The Lord Jesus also speaks differently to different people. The revelation of God we are told came in a variety of ways throughout redemptive history (Hebrews 1:1-2). The incarnate Word took upon himself flesh, and dwelt in our midst, so that we could experience a real, living, concrete encounter with the Word. The proclaimer is not above his Master. We need to recognise the would-be recipients of our proclamation. We need to get to know them, seek them out, and love them. That is, if we want to bring them also to a living encounter with Christ.
That, ultimately of course, is our aim in proclamation. That is where God meets man. Everything else is that the church does is, or should be, subservient to this. The word of God tells man what he should and what he should not do, but it is more than this, more than just a theory, a philosophical system. It has for its content, God himself. We are not postmen, we are ambassadors (2Corinthians 5:20). It is in our proclamation that God himself exhorts people, that Christ confronts a lost and confused human race. John Piper in his blog article “Pleading, Persuading and Predestination“, gives us an excellent illustration of what is meant here. Through the proclaimer (i.e., the church), the sinner should see the irresistible Christ beckoning him to be reconciled to God. What happens in mission is seriously important. That is why the how, the approach is vital. There must be a recognisable expression of Christ’s great love and unfathomable mercy. Our attention to the matter of communication and its recipients is of the utmost importance. The proclamation must be intelligible (1Corinthians 14:23). Contemporaneity does not necessarily mean compromise. Nor is the word context a curse word. Whatever, due and serious consideration must be given to the who, the recipients of our proclamation.
The Personality of the Proclaimer: The person or persons involved in the proclamation whatever the circumstances or wherever it takes place. The gospel must pass through living persons. There needs to be serious consideration given to this in the light of modern streaming, TV, and internet sermons. They are never, and must never become an alternative for ‘live’ proclamation. It involves the entire nature, life and temperament of the proclaimers (i.e., the church). A piano and a violin make different sounds, but together they can play the same tune, quite harmoniously. We see in Scripture Elijah and Elisha, Matthew (Levi) and John the Baptist, all of them completely different characters with differing backgrounds and circumstances. We are told that Jeremiah’s whole life was monitored, moulded and managed by the Lord (Jeremiah 1:5). Each was given his own task and place in God’s church. The proclaimer is not a thing, but a living organism, as is the church. So it is unwise to dictate how each missionary should approach his given task in a particular culture and community. How much more so in our modern multi-cultural society. We who are, or have been parents with the responsibility of rearing children, we well know each child is different, you may, you ought to treat them all with fairness and without prejudice, but you cannot treat them all the same.
Some missioners have sought to, and with some success reached the adult community through children’s work. Others have tried that and failed. Each missionary must unquestionably bring the same message, but in different ways. Therefore the proclaimer (i.e., the church) must remain natural, be themselves, not forced or artificial. We must work with what we have got. Many of us would like to do what we see other local churches doing. But do we have the man-power, the resources, the gifts that they do, are the circumstances and needs of the communities the same? Then what about the background of the people doing the proclaiming? All this governs our situation, it either restricts or enhances our ability in our proclamation. One thing of course that we can all, and must do, is pray. Perhaps for a new and major advance of the gospel, by the sovereign operations of the Spirit of God in revival. However as much as each situation is different, we all as God’s human instruments must adopt biblical policies. God can and does manifest his power, through brethren being themselves and doing what they can to proclaim the excellencies of our God. But doing so without looking over their shoulders, being free to do what they can, in the way they can. And at the same time leaving others free to conduct their missionary endeavours in the way that they see fit. God amazingly and wonderfully uses what men and churches are (2Corinthians 4:7). We must avoid the slavish imitation of others, which puts us in bondage. It is a divine mandate, a commission from God that we are to fulfil, and it is that, not human traditions that must guide us. The proclaimer’s (i.e., the church) call is to proclaim and defend the gospel, not the traditions of men, nor yet antiquarianism.
The Circumstances of the Proclamation: The time and the place must be given some consideration. For the encounter is significant also. We proclaim differently to folk who are sick, from those who are working perhaps. We see how the apostle Paul’s approach differed on occasions. On Mars Hill with the Greek philosophers we find him debating. With the seamen in peril there is an urgency. Each moment will have its own particular opportunities and difficulties, some better than others. There are times when need to seize or even make the opportunities. We find the Lord Jesus Christ doing this, at the Feast of Tabernacles, which was a time in the Jewish calendar when they prayed for rain on the land. Jesus we find seizes this in the temple as opportune time to speak about the ‘streams of living water’ available to those who believe in him (John 7:38). So perhaps religious seasons would be an opportunity to proclaim the grace of God to sinners. Christmas and Easter time. Some of course argue they have done so for many years but it has borne no fruit. Well, God will not hold us accountable for the seed not bearing fruit. He knows that he alone can change hearts, that is his work alone, not ours. But he will hold us accountable for not sowing the seed, at every opportunity we can. I find great encouragement in the work of our Saviour. I see him in Scripture, sometimes he must have been exhausted, as the crowds come relentlessly to him. But he continues to teach them. He knows the majority of them are heedless to what he is proclaiming, and careless about their souls. But he continues sowing the seed nonetheless. He is ever our example.
The apostle Paul speaks about redeeming the time (Colossians 4:5). What about redeeming the opportunities, on a train journey, at a sick-bed, at work or in the Market Place. Paul again writing to Timothy who is just starting his ministerial career, he bids him to preach both in and out of season. We are in the midst of a crisis era in history, I believe we are in the last of the last days. These are proclamation times, and urgently so. Some argue that it is dark, there not many are responding, there are not many being converted, so why bother? On the contrary, it makes it all more urgent, vital that we continue on proclaiming the word of God. Once again, there are always different possibilities and difficulties too, in homes, at camps, hospitals, missions and in churches, wherever. Some situations are more helpful than others. We need to remember how difficult in can be for some people to attend church for the first time. Not everyone is familiar with church. The author of this article was raised in Scottish Presbyterianism and knew what went on, how one behaved in church. Yet in later life on being converted my return to church after many years absence, I did not find easy at all. We who are so used to it need to be conscious of how difficult it can be for someone who has never been in a church in all their life. The people came to John the Baptist, but Jesus willingly went to people’s homes.
On conversion we find Matthew the taxman (Levi), holds an evangelistic evening in his home, inviting people for a meal. Yes, he is young in the faith, unable to articulate his faith at this point. But he invites a guest speaker who can, Jesus (Luke 5:29). This of course is not to be a substitute for the church institute and her formal gatherings for worship together, never. The prophet Ezekiel we find was able to speak to the people authoritatively and with understanding, why? Because he went with the people, where they were, he was with them in exile. You cannot appreciate or understand a community from outside. I recall some years ago I ministered on occasions to a city centre church, a fairly large evangelical, Bible-teaching church. It was an inner city situation with all the social problems that that incurs. I asked one of the leaders, how many of those in membership and of those actually attending belong to the local community? He said, none! They came in from outside, all middle-englanders, drove into this downtrodden locality to do church. But they were not even scratching the surface in that community, let alone reaching it. That just does not work. You cannot appreciate or understand a community from the outside. The gospels is not a soul-computer, just google salvation and press enter, and find converts popping up all around. The gospel confronts people where they are at and the proclaimer (i.e., the church) needs to be there.
Of course the church, the proclaimer must needs proclaim the excellencies of God in word and deed. It needs to be living, breathing, speaking for him. The sinners in and around your local church will judge the gospel, God even by the church. It is not better gifts, or even better preachers we need, but better Christians. The enemies of Jesus accuse him of being the “friend of sinners.” Could that charge be laid at your feet? For a first century preacher to connect with his audience, he would have needed to fairly mute about the cross. It was the most vile death imaginable, and to suggest that God’s Son would save a perishing world by dying such a death, would have been ridiculous, scandalous even. It is no different in our modern society today. But from ancient Ephesus to Timbuktu, the message of the cross for that last two thousand years has been bringing peace to countless thousands of souls. To those who have embraced the truth about themselves and Jesus Christ. But remember, whatever the results, God is glorified in the proclamation of the gospel. That is our given task, our soul task, to proclaim the excellencies of him who called out of the darkness, into his marvellous light.