As a very new Christian I was taken along to hear an evangelist speak. He spoke in a town hall in the north of Sydney night after night for a week. Every message ended the same way. Jesus was on the cross dying for the sins of the world and then there was an appeal to come forward and make a commitment to him. I was puzzled. A question pressed in on me: What is Jesus doing now? Maybe that is your question too as you look out on a world seemingly bereft of God for so many.
I had little knowledge of the Bible at that stage in my life. I owned my first Bible at eighteen. Years have passed and my knowledge of Scripture has grown with them and so have the number of answers to my question.
Theologians call the period of time in which we live regnum Christi (‘the reign of Christ’)
Ruling the Universe
For a start, Jesus reigns now. Theologians call the period of time in which we live regnum Christi (Lat. “the reign of Christ”). He is Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36): “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” He reigns as Paul makes plain to the Corinthians: (1 Corinthians 15:25-26): “For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” In fact, the word “Christian (Gk. Christianos) conveys the idea of belonging to the party of Jesus and of loyalty to him and not to Caesar who was also called “Lord.” (In Matthew 22:16 we learn of the Herodians “herodianoi” who were plotting to kill Jesus. These loyalists belonged to the party of King Herod.) Hence owning up to the name “Christian” was offensive to imperial Rome. Early in the second century, Governor Pliny of Bithynia wrote to Emperor Trajan. He reported that if he found any who claimed the name “Christian” he put them to death. Loyalty to Caesar was at stake. To own the name “Christian” with understanding is to confess that we live under the present reign of Christ.
Sending Out the Gospel
Next, Jesus is directing the progress of the gospel even now. For example, he converted and commissioned Saul (Acts 9:1-18) and opened Lydia’s heart (Acts 16:11-15). Indeed the Book of Acts is best described as the Acts of the Risen Christ through the Holy Spirit with Special Reference of Peter and Paul. In Acts 1:1-2 we read:
In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen.
The implication is clear. Acts continues the focus on Jesus that begins with Luke. That focus is also on view at the very end of Acts where we read about Paul (Acts 28: 30-31): “He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.” This important New Testament book begins and ends with Jesus on centre stage.
Further, Jesus is saving sinners in today’s world. As Paul writes: “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” (1Tim 1:15). I. H. Marshall notes that “salvation” in the NT that sums up the benefits of the gospel, including regeneration, justification, forgiveness of sins, eternal life and glorification—to name just some.
Our language [about salvation] has become increasingly anthropocentric and not theocentric. In so doing it may inadvertently mask what Jesus, the Saviour of the World, is actually doing now.
In the 1890s people who responded to the gospel said that they were saved. By the 1930s it became popular to say that you had been converted. Then in 1950s the language of having made a decision became prominent. Today saying that you have made a commitment seems to be the common response. I note that the language has become increasingly anthropocentric and not theocentric. In so doing it may inadvertently mask what Jesus, the Saviour of the World, is actually doing now.
Still further, Jesus is our Great High Priest right now who ever lives to intercedes for us. We have someone to go to when we are in need. We read in Hebrews 7:23-25 of Jesus as our Great High Priest:
The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.
It is worth noting that both salvation and intercession feature in this passage.
Lastly, Jesus is evaluating church life even ours. For example, in Revelation 2:1-4 we find the church at Ephesus addressed in these terms by the risen Christ: ‘“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:
The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands. “I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.”
Sadly Jesus had a complaint against five out of the seven churches mentioned in Revelation 2-3.
In the circles in which I move few if any believe that the Christian can be sinlessly perfect in this life. And yet I wonder if a number of us expect an ecclesiastical perfectionism. So much of the Old Testament shows Israel behaving badly (e.g. Amos) and likewise the New Testament reveals Christians behaving badly (e.g.1 Corinthians). In that light we should be disappointed when there is scandal—especially involving leaders—in the church but we should never be surprised.
So as we wait and as we hope we can be assured that our Lord reigns, directs, saves, intercedes and evaluates. This is a matter of faith not sight but a day is coming when faith will give way to sight. On that day every knee will bow (Philippians 2:5-11).
Photo: Jordan Wozniak, unsplash.com