How is the work of God, the work of preaching the gospel and the Ezekiel warning to Israel and the world, different in its effects today than in the first century? Is our time unique, and if so, how?
Is there something special about our time that increases the importance of preaching the true gospel and the Ezekiel warning to this generation?
One thing is the coming great tribulation. It will soon come upon the nations of Israel. That was not true in the first century.
But I am talking about something else.
This coming Sunday is Pentecost, one of the seven annual holy days and one of the seven annual festivals of God. Like all the holy days and festivals it has special meaning. As with all of the annual feasts of God, the full meaning is not given in the Old Testament, but the New Testament. Observance is commanded in the Old Testament. But the full meaning is brought out in the New Testament.
The Old Testament defines the observance of Pentecost, called the feast of weeks (Exodus 34:22), as a day of rest and assembly (Leviticus 23:15-21).
The New Testament helps us understand its meaning and what it represents.
Pentecost represents the gift of the Holy Spirit (John 14:15, 26, 15:26; Acts 2:1-4). It represents the start of the New Testament Church of God. It also represents the truth that the Church of God is only the first early harvest, the small harvest of souls, not the larger harvest which comes later (Leviticus 23:17; John 6:43-44, 64).
When the Holy Spirit was given to the disciples on the day of Pentecost, it had an effect. It provided an opportunity and motivated the disciples to preach the gospel to the public.
"And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language. Then they were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, 'Look, are not all these who speak Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born?' " (Acts 2:5-8).
"But Peter, standing up with the eleven, raised his voice and said to them, 'Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and heed my words....Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.' Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, 'Men and brethren, what shall we do?' Then Peter said to them, 'Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.' And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, 'Be saved from this perverse generation.' Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them" (Acts 2:14, 36-41).
That is another meaning of Pentecost. It represents the work the Church is to do to bring the gospel to others.
Today, the preaching of the gospel and the Ezekiel warning to the public is an important part of the work of the Church, often called "God's work".
The United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and many other nations are about to go through the great tribulation as punishment for our sins - the greatest time of trouble the world has ever seen. During this time, which will probably begin in a few years, two thirds of our people will die in famine, disease, and war, and the remainder will go into slavery. And most of those who go into slavery will die in that slavery (Ezekiel 5:12).
God commands that we warn our peoples. How does God command us, and how can we know the command applies to us?
God commands us several ways, principally three ways.
He establishes a general principle. We are to love our neighbors as ourselves. We are to do unto others as we would want them to do for us.
"Jesus said to him, ' "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind." This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets' " (Matthew 22:37-40).
"Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets" (Matthew 7:12).
How do we want others to treat us? If we were headed for trouble and didn't know it, would we not want others to warn us before it is too late? If our apartment building were on fire while we were asleep, would we not want someone to knock on our door so we could escape the fire? If there were a hazard ahead on the road we are driving on a dark night that could cause us to have an accident, would we not want someone to warn us with a flare?
The religious people of this world do not know that they are sinning. Millions of Catholics and Protestants think they are on good terms with God because they keep their religious traditions. They do not know that their traditions are wrong, because no one told them. An entire generation has risen that never heard of Herbert W. Armstrong, and the whole Church of God with all of its fellowships and organizations only scratches the surface of warning the people.
These people need a warning. They need to be told. They need the opportunity to decide whether or not to believe God, but they won't have that opportunity unless we point out to them what the Bible says.
If we were in their place, we would want that opportunity to heed a warning and escape.
Most will not heed, but a few will. But they need to hear and read the warning. We have a job to do.
We are to deliver the gospel message and the warning to express love to our neighbors.
God also narrows the principle of love down further. He specifically commands us to warn those headed for trouble.
"Deliver those who are drawn toward death, And hold back those stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, 'Surely we did not know this,' Does not He who weighs the hearts consider it? He who keeps your soul, does He not know it? And will He not render to each man according to his deeds?" (Proverbs 24:11-12).
This places the responsibility on us. Why? We see this world headed for disaster. The only way to "hold back" the people is by warning them. And the only ones who can do that are us because only we know the truth.
But God gets very specific in Ezekiel. This is where God directly commands us to warn the people. God places murder-guilt on us and calls us murderers if we refuse the job.
"Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore hear a word from My mouth, and give them warning from Me: When I say to the wicked, 'You shall surely die,' and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life, that same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand" (Ezekiel 3:17-18).
We are murderers in God's sight if he places the blood of the people on our heads. That is what blood-guilt means.
God tells us to warn the people whether they heed or not.
Proverbs 24:11-12 is the one place that directly gives us the responsibility to warn. It is based on the principle of love towards neighbor. And Ezekiel 3:17-21 shows the consequence of our obedience or disobedience to the Proverbs 24 command.
Ezekiel 3:17-21 is a warning in two ways. It refers to warning the wicked to turn from their ways, and this applies to our warning to the nations. But it is also a warning to us to deliver God's message or face the consequences. That is part of what I am trying to do with this post, for those who read it.
I asked at the beginning of this post, how is our time unique and how is our work of preaching the gospel and the Ezekiel warning unique and increased in importance in its effects compared to the first century.
How is this time different?
Some of the people we preach to will live into the millennium and be the first generation of Israel ruled by Christ and the saints after the return of Christ. To put it another way, the first generation of Israel ruled by the Kingdom of God will be made up mostly of people alive today who will hear, or not hear, a warning message from the Church of God while there is time for them to heed and escape the suffering.
By doing the job God gave us, we can help prepare that first generation in the millennium. We are actually doing some of the work of the millennium right now.
That was not true in the first century or any previous time.
The two witnesses will begin their special work when the tribulation begins or is ready to begin. It will be too late to serve as a warning. Their work can help our people understand why they are being punished, but will not warn them in time for them to heed and escape. We must do that, now.
This is extremely important for a particular reason.
Our people will have to repent during the tribulation and be teachable at the beginning of the millennium. But to do this they will have to have learned to trust God. They will have to trust in God's mercy, His love, and His fairness.
But how hard will that be if the people know that God did not get a warning message to them that they were sinning and in danger of punishment while there was time for the people to heed the warning and escape the punishment?
Catholics and Protestants do not know they are doing wrong. No one has told them. No one has warned them.
We have warned a few, but very few, so far.
Should not God get a warning to them before the tribulation starts? And won't they remember if God warned them or not? Won't they think about that when it is time for them to decide whether or not to trust God and repent?
Granted, most who hear the warning will not heed it.
But the human mind is funny. It will be natural for those who have never heard a warning to justify themselves and think to themselves, "If only God warned me, I would have repented. But God never gave me a chance."
Whether we warn the people or not, in God's name, will have a direct bearing on God's reputation among the people for fairness and love.
If we get a warning out, we demonstrate God's love and fairness. We glorify His name and reputation, in other words. Even those who choose to ignore the warning will acknowledge, during the tribulation, that God was fair to warn them. They can accept their own responsibility, and say, "I should have listened. God was right and I was wrong". That can lead to godly repentance, and eventually to salvation. And it will help them be teachable to become the model nation and a right example in the millennium for the rest of the world to follow.
But if we don't get the warning out, and millions of our people go through the tribulation knowing they had no warning and no chance to escape, they will blame God. That is the natural reaction. It is human nature, and Satan will be around to reinforce that carnal reaction. They will say, many or most of them, "God never gave me a chance. If He had warned me, I would have repented." With that thought and that attitude, it will be very hard for people to trust God, and without trust and faith in God, how can they repent? Their repentance, and thus their salvation, becomes more difficult. And perhaps, even probably, if their salvation is more difficult, it will also be less likely. Fewer will be saved. More will be lost.
The eternal lives of millions of people may hang in the balance on what we in the Church of God do now.
No wonder God, in Ezekiel 3:17-21, calls us murderers if we do not do what He has commanded us to do to get a warning message out to the people.
During this time of the Coronavirus, many Church of God members may feel isolated, physically at least, from other members. But this can be an opportunity to spend our time drawing closer to God in prayer, Bible study, meditation, and fasting. We have to remember that we must be willing to serve God alone, if necessary.
In the history of the Church of God in the twentieth century, many prospective members who heard Herbert W. Armstrong on the radio in the 1950s and early 1960s and wanted to be baptized had to wait a long time for a minister to visit them and baptize them when a few men from Ambassador College conducted baptizing tours. And then after they were baptized, they had to wait a long time, sometimes years, for a local congregation to be established so they could fellowship with other Christians. They had to be willing to obey God alone. Yet this was a time when God blessed the Church and the work with rapid growth.
God reminds us of how Abraham and Sarah obeyed God alone.
"Listen to Me, you who follow after righteousness, You who seek the Lord: Look to the rock from which you were hewn, And to the hole of the pit from which you were dug. Look to Abraham your father, And to Sarah who bore you; For I called him alone, And blessed him and increased him" (Isaiah 51:1-2).
Though we are physically isolated, as were many Church members in the 1950s and 1960s, we are spiritually united because we share the same Holy Spirit that makes us children of God. That Holy Spirit leads us to obey God in all things, including supporting the preaching of the gospel and the Ezekiel warning to the nations, a work that will save eternal lives in the long run.