Monday, February 2, 2009

The World's Response to Jesus

by Bruce Mills

I have been pondering a completely hypothetical issue. What would be the response to Jesus if He was to return to earth in the exact same form as He did in His incarnation? That is to say, rather than returning in the clouds with power and great glory in righteous judgment (Matthew 24:30), suppose He was to return as as a man--God incarnate in human flesh--and live among us like He did the first time. What would be the world's response?

I realize this is an impossible hypothetical question because, according to the Scriptures, such will never happen. And I don't want to be misunderstood as wasting my time on some kind of ridiculous hypothetical discussion like those who spend their time pontificating about such matters as what would Jesus say about global warming, nuclear disarmament, or alternative fuels. Jesus never spoke to those issues because they are not the most important issues facing mankind. Man's greatest problem is his sin and the eternal death that sin brings. Man's greatest need is for a Savior who is qualified to pay the price for that sin and offer forgiveness and eternal life. Those are the issues to which Jesus spoke.

But I ask this question because one might wonder what the world's response would be if Jesus returned, performed the miracles He performed, and taught as He taught in His first coming. After all, there are hundreds of millions of people in the world who claim to be His followers; who embrace His name and claim to love Him. So one might hypothesize that Jesus would be joyfully and warmly received by hundreds of millions of people in the world. But is that true? Would the world's response to Him today be any different than it was when He came 2,000 years ago?

I believe the answer is no, the world would respond to Him exactly as it did in His first coming. I base my answer on Jesus' statement in John 15:18-25. He explained that the world hates believers because the world hates Christ. We have been chosen out of the world, we are no longer a part of its ungodly, sinful system, and thus, Jesus said, "because of this the world hates you" (John 15:19). Genuine Christians are Christ's ambassadors, His emissaries, and the world responds toward them as it does because the world hates Christ.

The world loves its sin, it loves its pursuit of self, it loves its sensual desires. And when believers show up and call the unregenerate people of the world to repent of their sin and turn to Christ in saving faith, they respond to them exactly as they did to Christ--with hatred, contempt, and disdain.

Jesus was the epitome of love, graciousness, compassion, and kindness, and He demonstrated those characteristics in the miracles He performed and the things He taught. Yet, even then, He recognized that the hearts of men were motivated more by what they could get out of Him rather than a desire to obey Him by turning from their sin and receiving Him as their Lord and Master. For example, in John 6 the story is given of how Jesus fed a crowd of thousands with a small boy's lunch. But instead of recognizing the miracle as a sign that He was the Messiah who had come to them, they were only interested in following Him because they saw Him as means of obtaining more food (John 6:26). When Jesus pointed out that the miracle was only a sign to point them to Him as the true Bread who offers eternal life to those who follow Him, they became upset and began to grumble and finally, the Scripture tells us that "as a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore" (John 6:66). They were only interested in Him for the physical benefits He could bring to them, not for the spiritual life He could give them.

That would be the world's response to Him today. They would see Him as a wonderful source of physical supply--food, health, wealth--but when confronted by His hard demands of repentance from sin, submission to Him as Lord and Master of their lives, and righteous living that considers others as more important than one's self, the world would turn on Him with a vengeance and slaughter Him, just like it did the first time.

The evidence of such a conclusion is seen in how the world has treated Christ's representatives throughout history. Men and women of God have been torn apart by lions, burned at the stake, and executed in a myriad of ways for no other crime than standing for truth and righteousness.

You say, "But Bruce, what about the two billion people in the world who claim to be Christians? Wouldn't they respond differently to Christ than the rest of the world?" No. Most of those people are "Christian" in name only. Perhaps they were born into a family that identifies itself with the Christian faith, or perhaps they live in a nation in which Christianity is the dominant religious group, but they only practice a religion of external ritual and not one in which they have been internally transformed by Jesus Christ. Those who truly trust in Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord are very few.

So if Jesus was to return in the same manner which He came the first time, the majority of those who identify themselves as Christians would respond like the Jews of the first century did to Jesus. They were looking for a Messiah who would come as a conquering hero, destroy their Roman oppressors, and make them the new rulers of the world. But when Jesus came, He sought to rule their hearts rather than to conquer their enemies so they rejected Him. And if Christ returned to earth today as a humble servant-king as He did in His first incarnation, most of the people in the world who call themselves Christians would become quickly disillusioned with Him and turn on Him along with the rest of the world.

Don't ever think that the world loves Christ. It hates Him. It hates Him because of His claim to be only way to God (John 14:6), and His demands for submission to Him, repentance from sin, and holy righteous living. And it hates anyone who faithfully represents Him. But that's just the way Jesus said it would be (John 15:18-25).

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