The Storyline of History – Finishing the Last Lap
– By Steve Smith –
Too often we start with the wrong question: “What is God’s will for my life?” That question can be very self-centered. It’s about you and your life.
The right question is “What is God’s will?” Period. Then we ask, “How can my life best serve that?”
To glorify God’s name, you need to understand what God is doing in our generation—His purpose. To figure that out you need to know what God is doing in history: the storyline that began in Genesis 1 and will finish in Revelation 22.
Then you can find your place in the historical plot. For example, King David uniquely served God’s purpose in His own generation (Acts 13:36) precisely because he was a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22). He sought to contribute his efforts toward the Father’s storyline. The Abrahamic promise (inherit land and become a blessing to the nations) took a huge leap forward when God found a man who would have his heart and serve his purposes. According to 2 Samuel 7:1, his promise of inheriting the land was fulfilled as there was no place left for the Israelites to conquer.
Our Father’s heart is the storyline of history. He speeds up the plot when He finds protagonists who have his heart. God is calling up a new generation that will not just be in the plot but will finish the plot, hastening the story to its climax. He is calling out a generation that will one day say, “There is no place left for the Kingdom of God to expand” (as Paul wrote of one large region in Romans 15:23).
Knowing the storyline is knowing God’s will.
Once you know the storyline, you can take up your place in it, not as a side character but as a protagonist driven forward by the power of the Author.
The grand storyline began in Creation (Genesis 1) and will end at the Consummation (the return of Jesus — Revelation 22). It is the story of a great race. Each generation runs a lap in this relay race. There will be a final generation that runs the last lap—a generation that sees the King receive His reward for His history-long efforts. There will be a last-lap generation. Why not us?
The Purpose of History
This central storyline runs throughout the Bible, weaving its way through each of the 66 books. Yet it is easy to forget or ignore the storyline, and many people scoff at such a thought.
Scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming?” For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation. (2 Peter 3:3-4)
This reality describes our generation as well as Peter’s.
What is the storyline of history?
- CREATION: In Genesis 1-2, God created humanity for one purpose: to become a Bride (companion) for His Son, to dwell with Him forever in loving adoration.
- FALL: In Genesis 3, through sin, humans fell away from God’s design—no longer in relationship with the Creator.
- SCATTERING: In Genesis 11, languages were confused and humanity was dispersed to the ends of the earth—out of touch with the redemption of God.
- PROMISE: Starting in Genesis 12, God promised to call the peoples of the earth back to Himself through the blood-price of a Redeemer proclaimed by the good-news-sharing efforts of the God’s people (the descendants of Abraham).
- REDEMPTION: In the Gospels, Jesus provided the price to pay the debt of sin, to buy back the people of God—people from every ethnos (people group).
- COMMISSION: At the end of His life, Jesus launched God’s people to finish God’s mission: the great storyline. And he promised his power to do so.
- DISCIPLE-MAKING: From the Book of Acts until today, God’s people have been blessed in order to accomplish one great mandate. “Go into all the world” and fulfill this redemption: making disciples of all ethnē, to be the complete Bride of Christ.
- CONSUMMATION: At the Consummation, Jesus will return to take up His Bride— when she is complete and ready. Everything from Genesis 3 to Revelation 22 is about calling back Jesus’ Bride from among the nations. Until the Bride is complete, the mission of the church is not finished.
Peter refers to this storyline in the last chapter of his second epistle.
But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfil his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. (2 Peter 3:8-10, emphasis added)
God is patient. He will not send His Son back until the story is finished. God is not slow; he does not wish any people group (ethnos) to perish. He wants all the scattered nations of Genesis 11 to be a part of the Bride of Christ in great number. These are the ethnē Jesus referred to in Matthew 24:14. These are the ethnē he spoke of in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20 “make disciples of all ethnē”). These are the ethnē pictured in Revelation 7:9.
The climax of history’s storyline is a complete Bride presented to the Son with a great wedding banquet to celebrate. In Peter’s last chapter, he referred to the gathering of this Bride and also to Paul’s writings:
Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters.… (2 Peter 3:14-16, emphasis added)
Paul referred to the same storyline using the same words:
Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish…. This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. (Eph. 5:25-27, 32, emphasis added)
Paul referred to the same plan in Ephesians 1:
God has now revealed to us his mysterious will regarding Christ— which is to fulfill his own good plan. 10 And this is the plan: At the right time he will bring everything together under the authority of Christ….everything in heaven and on earth. (Ephesus 1:9-10, NLT, emphasis added)
God’s plan from Creation to Consummation has been to regather people from every language and culture to return to life in Christ, as His Bride forever. But right now, that Bride is incomplete. She is still missing an arm, an eye and a foot. Her dress is still blemished and wrinkled. While the Bridegroom stands at the altar ready to wrap his Bride in his arms, the Bride seems to be in little hurry to prepare herself for the Wedding Day. But the posture of the Bride is changing. This is one of the great distinctives of our generation, and it points us to the uniqueness of our lap in the race of history. Over the last two decades the global church has increased the pace toward engaging the remaining 8000+ unreached people groups in the world—the parts of the world still not well represented in the Bride.
This is a good first step, but engagement was never the end goal. Since over two billion people in the world still have no access to the gospel, our efforts to engage them must change. We need to reach them, not just engage them.
Jesus told us to pray for God’s Kingdom to come fully on earth as in heaven (Matthew 6:9-10). When the gospel engages an unreached place, the Kingdom of God must break loose. Jesus always envisioned his disciples making disciples to make disciples and churches planting churches which can plant churches. This is what happened in the Book of Acts. The DNA of early discipleship was that each disciple would be both a follower of Jesus and a fisher of men (Mark 1:17).
Jesus is not satisfied with a small or incomplete Bride. He wants a Bride that no one can count, from all the ethnē. The only way to do this is through the Kingdom multiplying in every one of them. Momentum is building for movements of God to become common again. In the last 25 years the number of these Church Planting Movements around the world has grown from fewer than 10 to over 1,000! God is accelerating the timeline of history!
Yet thousands of unreached people groups and places still have no multiplying church among them. With Peter, we must join God in speeding up the plot line toward its finale.
Become a protagonist in the story—not a side character. Choose to focus on reaching every unreached people and place, and do so through Acts-like movements of multiplying disciples, churches and leaders.
Ask “What is God’s will?” and “How can my life best serve that purpose in this generation?”
Jesus promises His powerful presence to all who join in that effort (Matthew 28:20).
Some generation will finish the final lap. Why not us?
Steve Smith, Th.D. (1962-2019) was co-facilitator of the 24:14 Coalition and author of multiple books (including T4T: A Discipleship Re-Revolution). He catalyzed or coached CPMs all over the world for almost two decades.
Adapted from “Kingdom Kernels: The Storyline of History— Finishing the Last Lap,” in the November-December 2017 issue of Mission Frontiers, www.missionfrontiers.org, pages 40-43, and published on pages 17-24 of the book 24:14 – A Testimony to All Peoples, available from 24:14 or Amazon.