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Hi, Brian and Kimberly,
My apologies for taking so long to answer you.

Jesus told us that God’s motivation is love, and that his goal is to bring life to whoever believes in Jesus. John 3:16

Of course, the mainstream traditional teaching is that most people self-select themselves out of that opportunity, by choosing to reject Jesus. My Calvinist brothers acknowledge that humans are not really free and capable of responding, but their perspective isn’t very comforting, either: they teach that God has chosen who will escape the wrath of God. Apparently in this view God has chosen to send the majority of the human race to eternal misery. Some Calvinists will tell you that God knew these folks would not do the right thing anyway … others will say that the sovereign God can’t fail, is always righteous, so of course this idea that millions, billions are fore-ordained to hell cannot be an unloving or bad idea. After all, “who are we to reply against God?”, they will say; “who are we to complain as lumps of clay against the potter’s will?” (language Paul used in Romans 9, but not to justify eternal damnation, it seems to me).

However Jesus was well aware that God’s sending of a righteous man into the sinful world would not just magically make everyone all sweetness and light… those who benefitted from the status quo would fight him… and so he states in John 3:17 that again, the goal is not to judge the sin-gripped world through Jesus, but to save that very world through Jesus’ efforts on their behalf.

Jesus stated that he came to give his flesh for the life of the world. Again, life for the entire world is what is clearly and unambiguously stated. It doesn’t say, “I came to give my flesh for every individual who receives me before he dies.” There’s a world dying, and Jesus sets his sights pretty darn high — “I’m going to save the world.”

Pause for a moment to consider the ways in which that phrase, “save the world”, is used so often today.

Here’s the first 5 things that come up in a Google search:

  1. The Save the World Project says, “Today we all face a great challenge…” Indeed. This one focuses on fossil fuels, something Jesus never even mentioned.
  2. The How to Save the World blog focuses on unequal distribution of wealth, species extinction trends, and other ominous facts that make thinking people worry.
  3. Justin Timberlake and Madonna apparently have an orgasmic focus in their 4 minutes to save the world.
  4. Foreign Policy magazine presents 21 solutions from various brilliant people on how to save the world. First is from Garry Kasparov the chess master: a Global Magna Carta.
  5. And at the Save Your World store, you can learn about body care, hair care, and other accessory items at the Rainforest-Mall:

    “By purchasing our products, you are contributing to the Save Your World® project, a partnership with Conservation International and the Government of Guyana Forestry Commission. The project secures rainforest habitat that would have been leased by mining or logging companies. Every purchase you make helps protect one whole acre of dwindling habitat…”

That’s just the top 5 ways various well-intentioned folks think we can save our world. Do you suppose that Jesus was equally misguided when he tossed out the notion that somehow if he died on a cross it would do something to save the world?

Or do you think that the historic results of Christianity so far were what he had in mind when he said “my flesh I give for the life of the world”? According to ReligiousTolerance.org, the percentages of the world that are Christian have barely budged in a hundred years — still roughly 33% of the world population. And that’s counting “Christians” in the broadest, most shallow ways possible.

ReligiousTolerance also quotes Samuel Huntington:

The percentage of Christians in the world peaked at about 30 % in the 1980s, leveled off, is now declining, and will probably approximate to about 25% of the world’s population by 2025. As a result of their extremely high rates of population growth, the proportion of Muslims in the world will continue to increase dramatically, amounting to 20 percent of the world’s population about the turn of the century, surpassing the number of Christians some years later, and probably accounting for about 30 percent of the world’s population by 2025.

Islam is growing faster (2.9% annually, faster than world population growth), while Christianity is slowly slipping as a percentage of world population.

If we try to evaluate Christianity according to the number of adults who have chosen to claim themselves practicing followers of Jesus, a survey published in Crosswalk.com in 2001 stated that 11% of the world “know Jesus”. Quoting ReligiousTolerance.org:

Missiologist Ralph Winter estimated in early 2001 that there are 680 million “born again” Christians in the world, and that they are growing at about 7% a year. This represents about 11% of the world’s population and 33% of the total number of Christians.

So getting back to my main point: Christianity as we know it should not be viewed as a fulfillment of Jesus’ claims that he came to save the world.

Jesus said, “If I be lifted up [on the cross], I will draw all men unto me.” Here he doesn’t talk in general terms about the world, he makes a pretty bold claim about individuals. That’s especially significant, since elsewhere he said, “no one comes to the Father except through me” and “no man CAN come to me unless the Father who has sent me draws him…”

And Jesus not only claims that he is the only way to life, he claims that the opportunity comes from God, and ALL men will indeed be drawn to him.

It should be obvious, it seems to me, that either we should dismiss Jesus entirely as a raging, self-deceived lunatic, or else we should try to find a rational explanation for these amazingly grandiose statements.

Paul, writing about it later, said that Jesus brought life and immortality (two distinct things) to light through the gospel. (That’s from 2 Timothy 1:10)

I would submit that life for the human race (on earth beginning in Messiah’s worldwide reign) was brought to light through the gospel. The whole world will be saved when the redemptive plan of Jesus is fully accomplished. The earth will be restored, the garden paradise will expand to fill the world, the nations will be healed — whoever wants to — and only after they have made their choice will Satan be allowed to attempt to instigate one last rebellion. (see Revelation 20) Though Christians lost sight of this world-wide redemption, orthodox Jews have held fast to it in one form or another and it’s still a prominent part of their hope for the future.

The Gospel also brought to light the promise of immortality or death-proof-ness, the power to live without external sustenance, forever. This distinct quality was not even enjoyed by angels, but only God and the resurrected Jesus. And yet it in the Christian “high calling”, this opportunity is opened up for the victorious followers of Jesus, who will live in heaven as spiritual beings. This is the “special” salvation for the “church of Christ.” In the “first resurrection” they will become part of the “bride, the lamb’s wife”. They will be given the kingdom. They will judge men and angels. They will shepherd the nations with a staff of iron with Jesus in his throne.

In summary, Jesus came to save the world. And he’ll really do it. First he saves a small group who will be so close as to be called his “bride” … but then they together turn their attention to the world and continue the hard work of saving it, through a process of resurrection by judgment, and teaching the world what it means to live in harmony and follow the principles of God’s universe. When they’re done, every man, woman and child who has ever lived will have fully learned what God expects of them, and how wonderful things can be if everyone follows those loving and just principles. Then a final test, and those who choose death will receive it. The vast majority, no doubt, will choose and forever enjoy life and love on a restored earth. “And they all lived happily ever after…”