Many evangelicals believe that the Church is now in the Last Days before the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. Before the end the gospel of the kingdom must be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations (Matthew 24:14). Many in the Church feel assured that we have nearly fulfilled this task, and that therefore Christ could return any day now. Supernatural signs of the Second Coming as prophesied in the Bible indeed now abound, especially the formation of Israel in 1948. “The Lord is near.”
But there is also sobering news. Some missiologists inform us that some 3,000 people groups in the world have never heard the gospel, meaning, there is still much work to be done before the end. In fact, billions of Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, idol-worshipers and animists inhabiting vast swathes of our planet must be included in this “never heard” category. Not only that, such people groups are usually not only resistant to the gospel, they can vehemently oppose what they understand to be “Christianity” and have been known to persecute those in their midst who are called “Christians.”
The Church therefore is faced with a dilemma. We believe that the Messiah Jesus Christ is at the door, yet a monumental task remains to be accomplished before He appears. How can we preach the gospel fruitfully to the billions who have not yet heard in the relatively short time remaining? Our track record preaching the gospel to such resistant people groups is very poor. Everyone has heard of the struggles and difficulties faced by many missionaries sent to reach such groups. Although here and there on the map of world missions there are bright spots, as a whole missions today is but a dim reflection of what is recorded in Acts. What does Acts tell us about the missionary efforts of the early disciples?
Acts tell us the disciples faced vigorous opposition from both the Jews and the Gentiles. Despite this, however, they were very fruitful for the gospel. Within a few generations the gospel had spread rapidly to the ends of their known world. The early disciples appeared to believe that the Lord’s Coming was very near, perhaps because they thought they had just about completed the Great Commission.
Why is it so different in missions today? There are two considerations worthy of note.
First of all, today’s missionaries face a new and different obstacle to overcome: the history of European colonialism. The religion of the erstwhile colonial masters of much of the Third World was “Christianity.” Although today the gospel we preach to Third World people groups has nothing to do with the European colonialism of past centuries, in the minds of the people the gospel is automatically identified with a European “white man’s” religion which is completely foreign to their treasured beliefs and traditions, some of which predate “Christianity.” There are, of course, ways to minimize the effect of this obstacle. But we will not deal with that consideration here.
Secondly, the way the gospel is preached today by most missionaries is in one notable way markedly different from how the early disciples preached the gospel in Acts. Powerful miraculous healings frequently accompanied their preaching as convincing evidence to the idol-worshiping Gentiles that Jesus is the Messiah and the only way to His Father—the One True God who created the heavens and the earth. Often such miracles resulted in great harvests of souls. Such overwhelming evidence however is generally lacking in the ministries of most missionaries today, resulting in little fruit compared to that of the disciples in Acts. As a result many missionaries today instead resort to humanitarian good works to draw gospel-resistant peoples to Jesus Christ. But in terms of advancing the gospel, that approach has proved to be relatively fruitless.
Thus we are faced with the dilemma of little time remaining before the coming of the Messiah, yet billions of gospel-resistant peoples yet to hear the gospel for the first time. There is only way to solve this dilemma. There must be an acceleration in missions during these Last days.—missions as we see in Acts must be restored before the end can come.
How can this seemingly impossible task be accomplished? (Some might say that such a question is not relevant.) Let us begin by examining the ministry of Jesus and his disciples in the gospels, and after that the ministry of the disciples in Acts after Jesus ascended to heaven.
Let us look at the promise of Jesus Christ in John 14:12. Let’s start with the preceding verse 11.
John 14:11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves.
According to the rendering of this verse in the 1985 Edition of the New International Version, Jesus said, “…or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.”
The incomparable miracles Jesus performed were the actual evidence that He and the Father were one—that He is the very Son of God. In support of this, John 20:30-31 states: “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
After verse 11 above comes a promise from Jesus which on the surface is so difficult to accept that it has generated various interpretations.
John 14:12 Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.
Let us dare to interpret this ironclad promise (“Very truly I tell you“) in the simplest way possible before we dismiss it as no longer valid today or not referring to the miraculous works Jesus did. The “works” which Jesus promised believers will do must refer to the antecedent miraculous works Jesus performed in the preceding verse 11 as evidence to the world that He is the Son of God and the Messiah. Note that strictly speaking this promise applies within the context of evangelism. When preaching the gospel to the lost, believers will perform the miraculous works that Jesus did as evidence to them that He is the Messiah. They will heal the sick and cast out demons as He did, and even greater works. The meaning of John 14:11-12 appears to be unambiguous.
The difficulty arises in accepting and believing this incredible—and to some nearly nonsensical—promise. We will really do greater works than Jesus? Ha!
How is it possible that we sinners can do miracles? After all, only Almighty God in heaven who has all authority can do miracles. Only Jesus the Only Begotten Son of God who came down from heaven can do miracles. It makes no sense at all to say we can do miracles.
Before we go on, allow us to clarify that we are not arguing from a “charismatic” perspective—focusing on the operation of the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit. Our argument will be based rather on what Jesus entrusted to His disciples in the gospels in terms of “miraculous works” even before the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost. And even after Pentecost as recorded in Acts we will see that they usually continued to minister in the same supernatural way that Jesus taught them before Pentecost.
Our purpose here is not to diminish the work of the Holy Spirit, but rather to examine closely from Scripture how Jesus taught His disciples to preach the gospel while He was still with them on earth. What He trained them to do at that time should not be invalidated by what took place later at Pentecost. The work of the Holy Spirit does not negate or conflict with what Jesus taught His disciples, but rather enable them to obey and serve Him even more boldly and fruitfully.
Luke 9:1 When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, 2 and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.
(An important note before we go on: although in the gospels the disciples were sent only to the Jews in this way, later in Acts we see that they preached the gospel in the same way as they reached out to the Gentiles. Therefore Luke 9:1-2 applies also to us today for preaching the gospel to the billions of Gentiles around the world.)
Similarly in Luke 10:9 Jesus sent His 72 disciples to “heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘the kingdom of God has come near to you.’”
Based on Luke 9 and 10, we see that Jesus gave supernatural power and authority to His disciples to heal the sick and cast out demons as miraculous and convincing evidence to the lost that He is the Coming King and the Messiah.
When we study the Scriptures where Jesus Himself healed the sick and drove out demons using power and authority, we will learn the principles by which his disciples were also to heal the sick after He sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God armed with His power and authority.
Since 2000 The Elijah Challenge has been training the Lord’s disciples how to apply these very principles to heal the sick as supernatural evidence for the gospel of the kingdom of God to the lost. In this way we are now seeing the early stages of John 14:12 being fulfilled. “Nameless faceless” disciples are beginning to do the miraculous works that Jesus did—healing the sick and casting out demons—as they proclaim the kingdom of God to gospel-resistant peoples in the Third World. Just as is recorded in Acts we are now witnessing tens of thousands of otherwise gospel-resistant Hindus and animists turn to Jesus Christ in India. Such harvests are not with “superstar” world-famous evangelists in huge crusades, but rather through an army of “ordinary” disciples sent to remote villages where no one else wants to go.
As mentioned earlier, the training does not focus on the operation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. While we do not at all deny the existence of the gifts, they are not necessary to the effective use of supernatural power and authority to heal the sick and cast out demons as evidence of the gospel of Christ. According to 1 Corinthians 12:7 and 14:12, the gifts of the Spirit are for the common good of the members of the Body of Christ and for building up those inside the Church. But supernatural power and authority are to be used for proclaiming the kingdom of God to the lost outside the Church.
We are convinced that if we are to fulfill the Great Commission during the little time that remains, we must go back to the gospels and Acts in order to train a vast army of disciples and missionaries around the world to obey Jesus’ command to heal the sick and cast out demons as evidence to the billions around the world who have never heard the gospel.
The training can be received by both cessationist as well as charismatic believers who of course believe in the miraculous. Cessationists generally hold that the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit including the gift of healing “ceased” at some point following Acts. Since our training does not touch on the gifts of the Holy Spirit (such as the gift of healing or the gift of miracles), but rather on the power and authority given to the disciples in the gospels prior to Pentecost for the preaching of the gospel to the lost, there actually need be no conflict for cessationists. Instead, the training can actually foster unity within the body of Christ so important to the Lord (John 17:21) by focusing on the Church’s paramount task during these Last Days: preaching the gospel in the whole world as a testimony to all nations.