Their jaws set purposefully, the two men pushed roughly through the crowd. Their teacher was imprisoned, in peril of his life, and they had been sent on an urgent mission. They had a message to deliver and an answer to obtain, and they would not be delayed. “Are You the One we’ve been expecting, or shall we keep looking for someone else?” one of them blurted out above the din of the pressing crowd. His teacher John had never been one to mince his words.
Neither was Jesus.
Go and report to John what you hear and see.The blind receive sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who does not take offence at Me. (Matt. 11:2-6)
When John the Baptist relayed this pivotal question to Jesus, Jesus response was not a sermon, or a comment on John’s apparent lack of faith or even a suggestion that John should ‘man up’. He immediately sent John’s messengers back with one clear, irrefutable, direct response: Tell him about the signs! Signs of change, signs of upheaval, signs of a new emerging season.
Jesus understood exactly what John was seeking – confirmation that his own mission was drawing to a close and his days left on earth were few. John had been sent as a forerunner preparing the way of the King and announcing His eternal Kingdom. Jesus’ response affirmed he could now depart in peace with Jesus’ blessing, His mission successfully accomplished.
In recent years parts of the church have become rather fixated on supernatural signs in the assumption that such signs as healings, deliverances etc., are evidence of the Kingdom’s presence. And so they can be, though not always (Matthew 7:21-22). Yet the Kingdom of God is far more than these. And signs from God are not restricted only to the area of human need. They are often also evident in events and phenomenon occurring in the natural world. As Christ followers we can become so focused on a narrow, church-centred understanding of ‘signs and wonders’ that we miss God’s prophetic signs occurring in the world around us.
I believe God’s signs are primarily for the principalities and powers who oppose Christ and His Kingdom. For example, healing of a human body is wonderful for the person healed and those who witness the healing, but more importantly it’s a sign to principalities and powers that the sin-disease has a Healer who has defeated them – an indisputable reminder that with all their power they were unable to hold Christ in the grave, a declaration that He lives and His Kingdom, not theirs, is eternal. Signs are God making a statement, putting on notice all those who stand against His advancing Kingdom that their season is passing, and a new one imminent that will be an absolute game-changer. Sometimes we forget that though God is consistent and faithful towards His own, to His spiritual enemies He is dangerously unpredictable.
Jesus compared prophetic signs with natural seasonal changes that were visibly evident around those He was teaching.
Then He spoke to them a parable: Behold the fig tree and all the trees. As soon as they put forth leaves you see it and know for yourselves that summer is now near. So you also, when you see these things happening, recognize that the Kingdom of God is near (Luke 21:29-31)
What things? Well, Jesus made this statement in a discourse with His disciples about things to come. Three times in that conversation He mentions powerful signs upon the earth and in the heavens as signals of great change and turmoil for humanity (Luke 21:11; 21:25; 21:26). Signs always point us to something or Someone else! As followers of Christ we are meant to watch for them, seek to understand them and adjust our lives accordingly.
One momentous sign that things were about to change big time was the earthly ministry of John the Baptist. One of the most difficult gospel passages Bible scholars wrestle with is Jesus words in Matthew 11:12:
From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force (NASB).
I am not a Bible scholar but personally the Passion translation resounds well with me:
From the moment John stepped onto the scene until now, the realm of heaven’s kingdom is bursting forth, and passionate people have taken hold of its power.
Jesus goes on to say: For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John (Matt. 11:13). John was a Kingdom preacher (Matt. 3:2). He was also a living sign to Israel. With John’s arrival the long season of the Law and the Prophets had ended, and the new season of the Kingdom was being birthed.
In our own day, I believe that earlier this year God gave a specific prophetic sign on the earth of a dramatic and irrevocable change in spiritual seasons. That sign was the passing of the renowned American evangelist Billy Graham on 21st February 2018.
Now I am not discussing Mr. Graham’s ministry, its merits or otherwise here. I am simply attempting to present a picture that will help us discern what I believe is an important prophetic sign in our times. This is by no means the only sign God has given or will give concerning this new season upon us, but it is the one I am considering in this article.
Billy Graham died at the age of 99 years. In the Bible the number nine prophetically speaks of fullness of time, or finality. For seven decades he preached the gospel of salvation to over 100 million people and is said to have “’proclaimed the gospel’’ to more people than any other person in history¹. He shared his faith with notable leaders such as presidents, a queen, and at least one dictator. He was known as a man of deep integrity and respected by believer and non-believer alike. His influence on the modern western evangelical church is immeasurable.
The gospel proclaimed by this great evangelist was incomplete. It was a gospel of salvation, but not the gospel of the Kingdom. Despite what many of us have been taught in organised Christianity, being born again, while being a gateway into the Kingdom of God, is only part of the full gospel of the Kingdom preached by Jesus and the first apostles. So many of us, past and present, have believed we received the full gospel, but we have not. Being born again is necessary to see the Kingdom, but is not the Kingdom (John 3:3, 5).
Billy Graham was an anointed evangelist, who I believe to have faithfully proclaimed the gospel that was passed to him. But I also believe with his demise God is giving us a very clear prophetic sign that the season of the incomplete gospel has come to an end. The gospel preached by Jesus Christ and which He entrusted to His disciples was the gospel of the Kingdom – a gospel so much fuller, freer, liberating, and radical than most modern Christ followers have heard or imagined (Mark 4:11; 2 Pet. 1:11; Rom. 14:17).
It is this gospel of the Kingdom that must now once again go forth on the earth more powerfully than has yet been seen, heard or demonstrated. Its season, once interrupted, has come full circle. Heaven holds its holy breath, principalities and powers tremble, the Bride looks heavenward, reaching for the Hand of our Beloved. If we have not yet gotten serious with God about seeking first His Kingdom, here and now, passionately, wholeheartedly and without looking back, then when will we?
In my next post we will further unravel the Kingdom of God, what it is and what it isn’t. Your genuine thoughts, contributions and comments are always welcome in the comment section.
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© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2018. Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included. To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission.