OK, since it’s the 4th of July, and everyone is hovering over their phones and computer screens hunting for something else to read, I’ll toss out one more thought and send you back out to your patriotic shenanigans.
I’m fully convinced that lots of the “regeneration,” “rebirth” language in the Bible is way cosmic, political, global, talking about the beginning of the New Heavens and Earth, the New World reborn through the work of the Spirit, the New Eon, the New Era of King Jesus. Yay, and double yay.
The redemption accomplished in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is global, cosmic, universal. It’s bigger and more thorough than anything our little brains can even begin to imagine. It extends to economics and foreign policies, science and nutrition, technology and space exploration and much more. So when we zoom in on the question of individual salvation and perseverance, don’t think for a moment that we’re leaving the big picture behind. In fact, we’re talking about the same thing. And double in fact, that’s the way the New Testament talks. The gift of the Holy Spirit to men and women and children is the down payment, the first fruits, a miniature of what will become of the nations, the world, the universe.
And that’s precisely why it’s worth jumping up and down on a bit. And it really comes down to the topics of sanctification and postmillennialism, two measuring tapes that every Christian ought to keep close at hand. Just before Jesus ascended into heaven, He gave us our marching orders. He plainly stated that the ends of the earth had been given to Him as His possession and sent us to announce that to every creature, every nation, every president, every slave, every sleazy politician, every blue collar worker. And Jesus told us to make them all disciples by baptizing them in the Triune Name and teaching them to submit to the words of King Jesus in everything.
That’s our task, and Paul says in 1 Corinthians that Jesus must reign until every enemy has been put down, the last enemy being death itself. So Jesus has given us our orders and a glimpse of the future. The plan is for the Kingdom of Jesus to be proclaimed throughout the earth until every knee bows and every tongue confesses allegiance to the name of Jesus, to the glory of God the Father. In other words, the history of the world will be the rebirth of the world. The world will be born again as surely as Jesus rose from the dead. The universe will be raised up from the curse of sin, the shadows will be driven away, light and life will reign forever. Russia will bow the knee to Jesus. China will bow the knee to Jesus. Columbia will bow the knee to Jesus. One day America will repent of her sin and fall down and worship Jesus.
From one angle, we can look across the ages and see the Spirit poured out at Pentecost hovering over the world, slowly blowing, roaring over the chaos and darkness, raising up pastors and priests, kings and nobles, slaves and prostitutes. The Sunrise from on High has visited us; it’s getting lighter out every minute, every moment. But when we watch the particular stories of nations, generations, families, individuals, the shadows don’t just disappear, they seem to meander, they seem to curl and spin, like watching one of those high speed stop-action sequences on a nature show. The shadows even seem to crawl in the wrong direction at times.
But an imperishable seed has been planted. That seed was the body of Jesus that went into the ground, and on the third day burst up in light and life that can never die. That same life and light was poured out at Pentecost, and that imperishable seed exploded, sending the infectious shrapnel of grace to the ends of the earth by the preaching of the gospel. But it isn’t good enough to say that Jesus wins and who cares about the details. The announcement that Jesus wins means that Jesus conquers sin. Jesus conquers death. Jesus frees the slaves. Jesus destroys the wicked. Jesus forgives sinners. And in order for this to be the end of the story, it must be wound throughout the story.
People are conquered by Jesus. Individuals are conquered by Jesus. And Jesus wins them. Jesus becomes their King. Jesus washes them clean. Jesus chases the shadows out of individuals as surely as He is bidding the shadows flee this world. And this is why sanctification and postmillennialism go hand in hand. When Jesus claims possession of an individual formally at the moment of his baptism, that is fundamentally a declaration of war on the old man. And either that man will cling to his old man and go down to destruction with all of God’s enemies or he will cling to the sword that slays him and be raised to new life. But Jesus always gets His man.
The Spirit blows where He wishes. We don’t bind Him. We don’t tame Him. And God will have plenty of surprises, plenty of jokes that will make our bellies ache with laughter and our cheeks shine with happy tears. There’s piles of mystery, piles of hard cases, but we can cheerfully leave all of those to Jesus, keep working faithfully in the vineyard, and wait expectantly for the punch line on the last day. But in the mean time, we have God’s normal, obvious, manifest goodness. The children of God and the children of the devil are as obvious as the nose on your face. Nothing really that mysterious about it. The good guys and the bad guys pretty much wear uniforms St. John says. They either love Jesus, love to obey Him, and love His people or they don’t. It’s really pretty simple.
And all of that is to say that people who know Jesus are as different from people who don’t know Jesus as the old world will be to the new. Of course, we await the resurrection of our bodies. Our old, creaking, broken bodies constantly remind us of the old world, but we are being renewed day by day in the inner man. We have this treasure in earthen vessels, rotting nations, rebellious pottery, but it’s a treasure that cannot be lost, cannot be undone because Jesus is born again and now, so are we.