Publication: One-to-One, Summer 2005
In Revelation 7:9, we read a prophetic word picture of staggering proportions: “After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from EVERY nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb” (NIV) (emphasis added).
Sounds great, doesn’t it? Very encouraging! But I can tell you by personal experience, we are certainly not there yet! The fact is, we have had 2000 years to reach the people of the earth, and today, less than
one-third would even generally define themselves as “Christian.” In fact, I was in Bangladesh a few weeks ago, and it was hard to find a Christian anyplace among those millions of people thronging the streets.
How can we know that EVERY nation, tribe, people and language will actually be represented before the throne one day? We know because it is based on the strongest promise in the Bible.
THE STRONGEST? Oh, yes; this is a “double-double dare you” kind of promise repeated many times throughout Scripture. By the way, it is also the foundation of the Gospel itself, the reason we non-Jews were included in God’s Kingdom, and the promise itself is identified in Scripture as “the Gospel in advance” given when there may have been only one “for-sure” believer on the face of the earth.
That one “for-sure” believer was the son of an idol worshipper, and he was raised in the worst idol-worshipping city of his day. One day,with no warning that we know of, God said to this man, “If you will leave everything and go where I tell you to go, I will bless you, and you will be a blessing, and all the peoples of the earth will be blessed through you”(Genesis 12:1-2).
We don’t know HOW Abraham knew this was the voice of God, let alone to act on it and wander out into the wilderness not knowing where he was going. We are just told that “Abraham believed the Lord” and because he did, God regarded him as righteous.
That promise is known as the Abrahamic Covenant. It is the basis of our covenant with Jesus Christ today.
Peter quoted it when he explained the Resurrection of Christ and the miracles of Pentecost to the Jews in Solomon’s Temple. Basically, he said to the crowd that everything that had happened to them in Acts 2 and 3 was based on this short statement (see Acts 3:17-25). According to Scripture, five thousand men instantly believed, and Peter and John landed in jail within “a New York minute”. Why would a 2000 year-old promise to Abraham create such a ruckus?
“God announced the Gospel in advance to Abraham” when he made this promise; this was Paul’s even more striking claim! In advance? Yes, and Paul also said God sent Jesus to fulfill that promise so we unqualified heathen could receive “the blessing given to Abraham” and “the promise of the Spirit” (see Galatians 3:8, 14).
It is obvious that Peter and Paul thought this promise was critical. But I still haven’t told you why it is the strongest promise in the Bible.
Here’s why…when God made that promise to Abraham, He did something He never did to back up any other promise: He swore by Himself that it would surely be fulfilled!
“I swear by myself” declares the Lord . . . “I will surely bless you. .. and through your offspring ALL nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”
WHY, with all the promises in the Bible, would God go all out and actually swear by Himself with regard to this one? The writer of Hebrews says it was for one reason:
“Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, He confirmed it with an oath. God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we … may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor …” (see Hebrews 6:17-18).
Apparently, God thought the Christians of the Twenty-First Century might look at the difficulty of evangelizing the world, at the sorry statistics so far,at all the money it takes from the local church budget to support those missionaries, at all the unsaved heathen after 2000 years, at all the Muslims and Hindus and communists who thumb their noses at us, and God thought we might actually think He had changed His purpose!
NO! “Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of His purpose very clear to the heirs…He confirmed it with an oath.”
Don’t ever think that “missions” is not the most important thing going on in the earth, or that maybe it won’t work,or that God has other priorities!
He SWORE on Himself to Abraham, His OATH was the reason Jesus rose from the dead, His STRONGEST PROMISE was the reason He redeemed you and gave you His Spirit, and He confirmed it “by two unchangeable things (His promise and His oath) in which it is impossible for God to lie” (see Hebrews 6:18).
A great multitude that no one can count-from EVERY nation, tribe, people, and language-will stand before the Throne and in front of the Lamb, and every knee will bow,and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. God swore on Himself it would happen, and it is His number one priority in the earth today.
Now, doesn’t that make you want to become a missionary?
Scripture Reference: Revelation 7:9; Genesis 12:1-2; Acts 2 & 3; Acts 3:17-25; Galatians 3:8, 14; Hebrews 6:17-18
Gary Henley is a member of the International Outreach Ministries (IOM) Board of Directors. He served as the President and Executive Director of IOM for twenty years, traveling widely and encouraging missionaries around the globe. In addition, he spent twenty-six years as a church planter and pastor.