It is evident, I think, that the subject of missions revolves around the preaching of the gospel. There are those, even in our day, who deny this. But these denials come from liberal circles. And, although we shall turn to this in some future article, the Lord willing, it seems that this is sufficiently agreed upon by more of those interested in our subject to assume its truth for the present. It is therefore, to the general importance of the preaching of the gospel that we turn first of all in this series of articles.
As we concentrate our attention upon what Scripture has to say concerning the importance of the preaching of the gospel (also in relation to the subject of missions) we cannot help noticing that the whole idea of the preaching of the gospel is most intimately connected with the signs of the return of Christ. And it is to this subject that I wish to turn first of all.
It may come as some surprise that a discussion of the preaching of the gospel should begin with the relation between this preaching and the signs of our Lord’s return — especially if we are considering the subject of missions. But it seems to me of paramount importance nevertheless; that precisely in this light we must consider the gospel if we are to understand properly what the work of missions is all about. In other words, only when missions in put in the perspective of the Lord’s return at the end of this age, can we also correctly understand the principles which underlie this important calling of the church.
That there is such a close relationship between missions and the coming of the Lord is evident from the fact that this dispensation in which we now live is on the one hand, the age of the gathering of the church; and, on the other hand, the age of Christ’s return.
That this is the age of the gathering of the church is evident from the words of Christ Himself as He sent His apostles and His church with the abiding command: “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel. . . . ” But that this same age is the age of the Lord’s return is evident from the fact that on Pentecost, which glorious event ushered in this dispensation, the apostle Peter spoke of the fact that the prophecy of Joel was fulfilled — a prophecy which speaks emphatically of the end of time:
But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy: And I will show wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke: The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come: And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.
It ought not to be surprising therefore, that the work of missions is most closely connected with the return of Christ.
This is also strikingly emphasized by the Lord Himself. Near the end of His earthly ministry, we find Christ on Mount Olivet discussing with His disciples the signs which shall mark His return upon the clouds of heaven. Christ had spoken of the destruction of Jerusalem and particularly the temple. This had disturbed the disciples and they inquired concerning it, identifying it, apparently, with the end of the world. They had asked the Lord: “When shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?”Matthew 24:3. The Lord had not answered the first question concerning the “when” of these things except to remind them that no one knew, not even the angels, but that it was their calling to watch and pray. But the Lord gave a very elaborate and detailed answer to the second question concerning the signs of His coming. He mentioned many signs, but among them we find the sign of the preaching of the gospel. “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.” vs. 14.
The importance of this sign is evident from the fact that the Lord closely identifies it with the end by means of the important word “then.” The preaching of the gospel, as a witness to all nations cannot possibly be point of the Lord here is that when this gospel of the kingdom has indeed been preached to all nations, at this point also the end comes — indeed, must come. In other words, the end cannot come until this is done; and when this work is finished, then the end can be delayed no longer.
If we inquire into this just a bit further, then it must strike our attention that there is good reason for this. The end of this age comes when the purpose of God is fully accomplished. We believe, most emphatically, that all the history of this world is the revelation of the eternal counsel and purpose of God. When God’s counsel is realized and His purpose fully reached, then there is nothing more to be done in history. The goal of history has been attained; the purpose accomplished. The end must come. But, evidently, this purpose of God is reached principally through the preaching of the gospel. It is, from a principal and basic point of view, true that all God’s purpose is attained through this preaching.
Apparently this is also the general idea of the first vss. of Revelation 6. Those who are at all acquainted with the general contents of the book of Revelation will know that its general scheme deals with the signs of the return of Christ. These signs of Christ’s return are introduced in the sixth chapter with the opening of the seven seals. The seventh seal becomes seven trumpets; the seventh trumpet becomes seven vials. And all (seals, trumpets and vials) speak of the many signs of Christ’s return upon the clouds of heaven.
Now of particular importance to us is the fact that the first four seals describe to us the running of the four horses—a white horse, a red horse, a black horse and a pale horse. It is not our intention to enter here into the general meaning of these four horses; but of considerable importance is the fact that the white horse signifies the victorious progress of the preaching of the gospel.
Perhaps we ought to pause momentarily to establish this point, for it is of crucial significance to our argument.
That this white horse signifies the triumph of the preaching of the gospel is generally agreed upon by orthodox students of Scripture, a few of which we quote. Wm. Hendriksen, in his book “More Than Conquerors” writes:
Our Lord Jesus Christ is conquering now; that is, throughout this present dispensation his cause is going forward, for he is exercising both his spiritual and his universal kingship.
By means of the Word (Gospel,
and the Spirit, the testimonies and the tears of his disciples, his own intercession and their prayers, the angels of heaven and armies on earth, the trumpets of judgment and the bowls of wrath, our Lord is riding forth victoriously, conquering and to conquer. That, in all probability, is the meaning of the Rider on the white horse. p. 117. (Italics our’s) R.C.H.
Lenski, in his commentary on Revelation writes:
The Word of God rides forth into all the world. Its carrier, the horse, is white, which is the color of holiness and of heaven.” p. 222 (Italics are the author’s)
In his detailed and important work on the book of Revelation Rev. H. Hoeksema takes this same position. He writes:
The victorious warrior on the white horse evidently stands for the triumphant progress of the cause of Christ’s kingdom in this dispensation…. The world lies in darkness, is the dominion of the prince of darkness, stands inimical over against the kingdom of Christ that is to come. And therefore, if that world is to be transformed into a kingdom of God, it is not sufficient that the evil-doers be destroyed, but spiritual victories must be won. The power of the new kingdom must go forth into this inimical world and make subjects for the kingdom of heaven. For this purpose Christ sends forth His Spirit and Word to regenerate and call and bring to a conscious faith, to cause men to fall down before the great King and worship Him instead of the evil one. And it is this combined effort of the Spirit and Word, and all that is connected with their work, which is portrayed under the symbolism of the white horse and its rider. That victorious warrior, going forth conquering and to conquer, shoots his sharp arrows into the hearts of the enemies, and thus brings them into subjection to the Lord of lords and King of kings. Up to the present day this rider has pursued in the main a very definite course. He did not ride at random and roam in every direction, all over the earth; but clearly he had his course prescribed and definitely mapped out. Starting from Jerusalem, he drove to Antioch and through the various cities of Asia Minor. From thence he crossed over into Europe, first scoring his victories in Macedonia and Greece, then boldly striking for the very heart of the mighty Roman Empire, in order from there to sweep over the mountains and plains of Europe, and finally cross over into the western hemisphere when the time was ripe. Surely, today he also rides in other parts of the world, and the inhabitants of Asia and Africa must bow before his power. But there is a distinct difference between his work in Europe and America, and that among the nations of the far east and south. In the former countries his victories were so pronounced that outwardly entire peoples have been Christianized, while in the latter the result of his drive is noticeable only in the conversion of individuals. And thus the ultimate result of the drive of the first warrior is that the tremendous contrast is called into existence between the so-called Christian world and the world of heathendom, Israel and the Gog: and Magog. (Italics our’s) Standard Bearer, Vol. XXXIV, p. 30.
We shall return again to this important and interesting quotation.
But for the present, it ought to be evident that there is an internal connection between the various signs which are so symbolically described in the book of Revelation. They are not merely thrown together in an arbitrary order. The various signs are not arranged capriciously. There is close and important connection. This is evident throughout the entire book of Revelation, but is of particular interest to us in that the four horses introduce the whole discussion of the signs. And while the four horses introduce the whole discussion of the signs, the white horse introduces the four horses.
Therefore it is evident that the white horse is not set at the very beginning of all the signs without purpose. Its place is of considerable importance. For the conclusion is forced upon us that the sign of the preaching of the gospel is not only the most important of all the signs, but is itself the cause of the signs which are described after it, This is especially true of the signs which occur in the history of the world. To put the matter in the symbolism of the seer of Patmos, the running of the white horse is the cause of the running of the red horse, of the black horse and of the pale horse. And all the other signs which John is commanded to record with such vividness follow in the most intimate relation of cause and effect the sign of the gospel and its triumphant progress through the world.
We shall discuss this a bit more in a following article and demonstrate the importance of this to our discussion of missions.