The Billboard Gospel

ArkansasAs I was driving down to Arkansas with my wife the other day, I noticed two Christian billboards which, although a mile apart from each other, ironically speak of two spectrums of belief concerning the gospel. The first billboard was set up by a local church. One corner of the sign mentioned the name of this church, while in bold letters, front and center, their catchphrase: “Possessing the Land for Christ!” About a mile later stood another billboard with clouds on the left and flames on the right with the words: “If you die tonight? Heaven or Hell”

In context to each other, these two billboards present an obvious, and yet maybe not so obvious confusion in Christianity today. They express a dichotomy between our mission and our destiny: We are to take over the earth now, but eventually our hope is to die and escape to heaven. How does that work?

Humans are reactionary beings and the same is true about Christians. When one view is emphasized, you can nearly guarantee that a polar opposite perspective will spring up. In this case the contrast may sound something like this: “Those hell-fire evangelists, they don’t get involved in shifting culture!” Or, “Those Christian humanitarians! They don’t speak out and save souls. They just sort chairs on a sinking ship!”

Though the ideas of man may contradict, the New Testament is clear that the mission and destiny of the church are not in juxtaposition AND they are not the words on these billboards. Biblically, our mission of command is to “make disciples” (Mt. 28:19) not “possess the land”. And our destiny is “the redemption of creation and our bodies” (Rom. 8:18-25) not “heaven or hell”.

Questioning Billboard #1:

As disciples of Jesus, are we really supposed to “possess the land for Christ”?
possess

What does that even mean? Though Israel was commanded to possess the promised land through Joshua (Josh. 1:11), they were soon exiled because of sin. As promises of Israel’s restoration were announced as “near” (Mt. 3:2), One greater than Joshua said that the restoration of their kingdom lies in a sure, yet future day (Acts 1:6-7). Though sin has been dealt with through the sacrifice of Himself, Jesus will come a second time to bring salvation to us who eagerly await Him (Heb. 9:28). Indeed, Yeshua (short form of Joshua) will bring us into the promised land and, just as He promised, the meek “will inherit the earth” (Mt. 5:5), “inherit the kingdom” (Mt. 25:34), and “sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the feast in the Kingdom” (Mt. 8:11). Until then, the meek are NOT inheriting the earth, but are called to live as “sojourners”, or as the NLT says, “temporary residents and foreigners” (1 Pet. 2:11, cf. Heb. 11:13-16), “waiting for new heavens and a new earth, the home of righteousness” (2 Pet. 3:13), an earth without wickedness, war, death, sickness, poverty, and decay, where Yahweh will dwell among us and Jesus will rule from Jerusalem forever (Is. 2:1-4, 25:6-8, Rom. 8:20-21, Rev. 21:1-7).

Simply looking to the Scriptures, the New Testament glossary is one of “waiting” (Gal. 5:5, 1 Cor. 1:7, Phil. 3:20, 1 Thess. 1:10, Heb. 9:28, Jude 21), “looking” (Tit. 2:13, 2 Pet. 3:12-14), “longing” (2 Cor. 5:2, Phil. 1:23), and “groaning” (Rom. 8:23, 2 Cor. 5:4) for our future inheritance (Mt. 5:5, Mt. 25:34, Col. 3:24, Tit. 3:7, Rev. 21:7), not “possessing the land”. This type of “take the land” language is simply absent from the New Testament because the theology and lifestyle of the early church was one of sojourning in “this present evil age” (Gal. 1:4, Tit. 2:12) until our future inheritance at the Day of Christ as we boast in the cross of Jesus alone for forgiveness in the sight of God (Rom. 5:9-11, Tit. 3:7).

Does this Biblical idea of a sojourning lifestyle make us inactive, disengaged Christians? Absolutely not. To the contrary, it gives us the right aim and motivation for our labor today. If you were playing football but were actually thinking like a basketball player with basketball rules, changing and clarifying your mindset to think like a football player may be awkward at first, but it would make you a much more effective player. In the same way, if the Biblical “game” is “sojourning until the Day of Christ”, but you have the mindset of “possessing the land for Christ”, you are operating under a wrong mindset which will inevitably result in disillusionment and twisting of the rules.

However, if we believe that a glorious inheritance awaits us in the resurrection, we can more fully imitate Christ by denying ourselves, embracing our cross, and following Him unto death (Lk. 9:23-24, 1 Pet. 2:21-23, Heb. 12:2). Unlike a “possessing the land” mindset which resists suffering, a sojourner rightly understands suffering and martyrdom as a necessary sacrifice in displaying the cross of Christ to the world (Col. 1:24, 2 Cor. 4:10) as we look to our eternal gain in the resurrection.

“…to die is gain.” (Phil. 1:21)

“For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one.” (Heb. 10:34)

Questioning Billboard #2:

When someone dies, do they immediately go to a disembodied state in heaven or hell to receive their reward or punishment?
hell
While this is a big topic, it is important to note that you would be hard pressed to find a sermon in the book of Acts (or anywhere in the New Testament for that matter) that presents the gospel in context to the modern idea of “heaven or hell”.

First off, God’s purpose has always been to dwell with man on the earth (Gen. 2:8, Ex. 25:8, Lev. 26:11-12, Ez. 37:26-27, Zech. 2:10, Jn. 1:14) and He will ultimately fulfill His plan to dwell with man on this earth forever (Rev. 21:3). God’s glory and faithfulness are at stake in this matter.

“God doesn’t throw away his handiwork and start from scratch—instead, He uses the same canvas to repair and make more beautiful the painting marred by the vandal. The vandal doesn’t get the satisfaction of destroying his rival’s masterpiece. On the contrary, God makes an even greater masterpiece out of what His enemy sought to destroy. Satan seeks to destroy the Earth. God seeks to restore and renew the Earth, rule it, and hand it back over to his children. God will win the battle for us and for the Earth.” -John Harrigan

Though an overwhelming majority of the church holds to an idea of heaven as their eternal destiny and “home”, the Scriptures are clear that the inheritance of the believer is physical resurrection from the dust to live forever [footnote 1] on the earth [2] at the return of Jesus… [3], NOT “a better place” in heaven “if you died tonight”.

In the same way, the punishment of the wicked occurs in the future (Mt. 16:27, Rom. 2:5-11, 1 Pet. 4:5, Rev. 22:12) at their resurrection (Jn. 5:28-29, Acts 24:15-16, 2 Tim. 4:1, Rev. 21:11-15). The implications of this truth are massive. The dead have yet to be judged (“Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead”, 2 Tim. 4:1) and Paul the Apostle has not yet received his reward.

Consider Paul’s final words: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for His appearing.” (2 Tim. 4:7-8). Paul clearly states that the reward of the believer occurs “on that day”, namely, the day of “His appearing”.

In light of the clear language of Scripture concerning our mission and destiny, believers are not called to possess the land until we “fly away, O glory”. Rather, in light of the Day of the Lord being near [4], the foundation of the church’s mission in this age is patient enduring faith in God, His Messiah Yeshua, and the restoration of all things [5] as we faithfully witness to Jesus and the judgment to come, making disciples ready for His return [6]. Come, Lord Jesus.

[footnote 1] (cf. Jn. 5:28-29, Acts 24:15-16, Acts 26:6-8, Rom. 8:23, 1 Cor. 15:12-57, Tit. 3:7, Jude 21)

[2] (cf. Mt. 5:5, cf. Ps. 37:9-11, 28-29; Gen. 17:8)

[3] (cf. Mt. 16:27, Rev. 22:12)

[4] (cf. Rom. 13:12, Phil. 4:5, Heb. 10:25, Jam. 5:8, 1 Pet. 4:7, 2 Pet. 3:3ff)

[5] (cf. 1 Cor. 1:7, Phil. 3:20, 1 Thess. 1:10, Tit. 2:13, Heb. 9:23, Jam. 5:8, 2 Pet. 3:12, Jude 20-21)

[6] (cf. Mt. 28:19-20, Mk. 16:15-16, Lk. 24:46-48, Acts 1:7-8, Acts 10:42-43)

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