The HOPE of Unity

The HOPE of Unity

Four Positive Trends at the End of the Age: Trend 2: John 17 Unity

Matthew 24, a passage that describes the events preceding Jesus’ second coming, sounds like it was ripped from the front page of the newspaper: Rampant deception, wars and rumors of wars, racial conflict, kingdom against kingdom, famine, pandemics, shakings, lawlessness, offense and hatred increasing while love grows cold, and persecution of followers of Jesus.  These are some of the negative trends that Jesus tells us will precede His second coming and the end of this age of human history.

It’s easy to see how looking at these negative trends we could get into a bunker mentality, like people in a life-raft in the middle of the ocean—let’s just hold on and try not to die until we’re rescued by the second coming! To do so would be a fatal mistake.
 
Jesus is not expecting us to “bury our talent” during these times.  In fact, He’s laid out a clear agenda of “positive trends”, places where His Kingdom is going to advance as never before leading up to His return. These trends give us a direction for our work and prayer and they’re what motivate us to make unusual sacrifices for the Kingdom of God.
 
An interpretive key to this duality is the parable of the wheat and tares in Matthew chapter 13:24-30.  As the good seed grows up and matures, the evil seed is also maturing side-by-side.  Right now, we are seeing Good and Evil growing up side-by-side.  We should not be surprised that evil is maturing but more focused on what God is doing through the maturing of His vision and His people!

As we approach this fall’s 10 Days, we’re examining four positive trends that we see in Scripture leading up to the return of Jesus Christ.  10 Days is a time to lay hold of our beautiful King in prayer for the fulfillment of these unbelievable promises!

 

Jonathan Friz and Gregg Healey discuss how the HOPE of Unity in the Church is one of four positive trends at the End of the Age.

Positive Trend 2: The HOPE of Unity in the Church

In John chapter 17, Jesus prays a seemingly impossible prayer three times:  “Let [my disciples] be one just as We [God the Father and God the Son] are one.”

There’s a few things to note about this prayer:

·         Jesus is praying for human beings to be one as God is one with God: He prays for human beings to be "one" just as the Father is one with the Son.
·         That seems completely impossible because of our sin, our weakness, and the incredible gulf of difference between human beings and God
·         Jesus is praying this for the Church in this age, prior to His coming again
·         While this seems to be impossible, the bottom line is this: Jesus gets what He prays for!
 
To put it another way, Jesus’ prayer is actually prophetic.  Jesus gets what He prays for—if He asks for it, the Father is going to respond!  And when the word of God meets “the impossible”, I’m betting on God’s word every time!

Jesus’ John 17 prayer will have a visible, global fulfillment prior to the second coming.

·         Visible Fulfillment: We know this because in John 17:23, Jesus explicitly ties our perfect unity to the declaration of who He is!  When we’re one, the world will know that Jesus was sent by the Father.  This also shows how the first positive trend (the gospel to the nations) is tied into the second trend (unity).  We can’t “finish the task” of global evangelism apart from John 17 unity.

·         Global Fulfillment: By this, I mean that this perfect unity will be a global phenomenon within the Church, something that affects the whole church.  We know this because Jesus prays for “those who will believe [in the future]” and he prays “that they all may be one”.

To put it another way, Jesus is not praying for little pockets of unity somewhere, out of the public view—he’s asking for something that is widespread and visible to all!

Some Common Questions:

There are a number of questions that naturally occur surrounding this teaching. I’ll address two of the most common ones here:

·         We’re already one: we just need to maintain the unity of the Spirit, not seek after John 17 unity.

This dynamic (don’t ask for it or seek it, we’ve already got it) plays out in many different ways in the church.  For instance, I’ve heard people say we shouldn’t ask for the Holy Spirit to “come” because “He’s already here”.  I think it’s important to realize that we have the Holy Spirit, but just because we have Him doesn’t mean that we can’t have “more”!

The key difference here is between “being” and “manifesting”.  We are made for John 17 unity, but we’ve never seen the full manifestation of Jesus’ prayer.  An apple tree sprout, just bursting forth from its seed is genetically “being” an apple-tree.  However, you’d be foolish to conclude from that that you’ll be eating apples anytime soon.  That little sprout needs to grow-up!

We have John 17 unity in our new covenant DNA, but we’re called to persevere and pursue its full manifestation through loving one another, prayer, and serving and giving our lives for the body of Christ just as Jesus did.  We want to see this unity manifesting, becoming visible to all.  Ultimately, we’ll know when we’ve “arrived” because people will be overwhelmed by a revelation of who Jesus Christ really is and a revelation of how much God has loved us as His people (John 17:23).

However, those who emphasize being over manifesting have a good point: we’ll only manifest the fruit of John 17 unity as we grow up in who God has made us to be.  Ephesians 4 captures this dymanic by equating the “unity of the faith” (John 17) with “maturity).  Unity and Maturity—they’re really the same thing!
 
·         Scripture warns about wide-spread deception in the end-times, including a one-world religion. Therefore, we should be very suspicious of “unity movements”.

Revelation 13 predicts the emergence of a “second beast” prior to the return of Christ, who is called the “false prophet”.  Coupled with Jesus’ warnings about religious deception and false-prophets being rampant at the end of the age, I think we need to be alert regarding deceptive religious movements.

However, if we emphasize the negative trends and exclude the positive trends, we’ll have a distorted and anemic view of the return of Christ.  We need to see that Good and Evil are maturing side-by-side.  This positive, worldwide unity movement is also foreshadowed in Revelation 7:9ff of a “great multitude that no one could number of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues standing before the throne and before the Lamb…crying out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb!’”  Let’s be part of that group!

In conclusion, it’s as simple as this: Jesus gets what He prays for!  We need to begin living life in light of the coming reality of the answer to Jesus’ prayer in John 17.  10 Days is an annual strategy where we seek to grow up into the fullness and maturity of who we’re called to be as the people of God!

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