Acts 3:20 and 21 says,
20 And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you, 21 whom the heavens must receive [dechomai, “accept, receive, take”] until the times of the restitution [“restoration”--NASB] of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.
It is a function of the Elijah ministry to “restore all things” (Matt. 17:11), and Acts 3:21 above tells us that this ministry of restoration was prophesied throughout the Old Testament (“since the world began”). Thus, we should expect to find it clearly referenced not only in the New Testament, but all through the Old as well.
The need for restoration in the ages to come implies that the world has become corrupted and is in need of restoration. The verse also tells us that the second coming of Christ will bring about this restoration, for “the heavens must receive” Him until this time of restoration begins.
Normally, Christians are taught that Jesus is coming back soon--and boy is He mad! We are afflicted with Jonathan Edwards' ”Angry God” Syndrome, instead of the biblical view of the God of Love as manifested in Jesus Christ.
Jesus is indeed coming to judge the world, for all judgment has been committed to Him (John 5:27). But judgment is not synonymous with condemnation. The Greek word for judgment is also the word for discernment. To judge means to rightly divide the word of truth. Once a judge has heard from the witnesses and has discerned who is lying and who is telling the truth, he is able to render a proper judgment in the case to restore the lawful order. He then may judge the sinner by making him pay restitution, or he may judge the righteous by justifying or acquitting him.
Both types of judgment are done out of a heart of love, for love pursues the truth, and where there is offense (sin), love corrects the sinner through the judgment of the law. The sinner's heart may be self-centered and hardened, of course, and thus from his viewpoint, the law is evil, but this perception is an illusion. The purpose of the law is to correct the sinner and restore the lawful order.
And so, the divine judgments that are coming upon the earth are meant to restore all things, not to destroy all things. The law destroys the sin, not the sinner, and the law's judgments destroy the sin from the earth, rather than destroying the earth itself.
If we aspire to be overcomers that will rule and reign with Him as “priests” in the age to come (Rev. 20:6), then we should now be in training for the priesthood. This does not necessarily require going to seminary, but it does require learning how to judge (discern truth). Paul alludes to this in 1 Cor. 6:2 and 3, when he says,
2 Do you not know that the saints shall judge the world? . . . 3 Know ye not that we shall judge angels? how much more things that pertain to this life?
Many have this idea that only Jesus will judge the world. We are taught a distorted view of Matt. 7:1, which says, “Judge not that you be not judged.” While it is true that we will be judged according to our own standard of measure (as the law itself teaches), Paul chides the Corinthian Church for not having anyone who can judge their internal disputes in a godly fashion (1 Cor. 5:4, 5).
Was Paul contradicting Jesus? No, of course not. A mature believer who knows the law and understands the mind of its Author renders righteous judgments (decisions). Such a judge takes this job seriously, knowing that if he renders judgments that are contrary to the divine law, he will be held accountable even in this present life. Why? Because God will teach him by personal experience. He will probably have to experience the same kind of wrong judgment laid upon himself that he decided earlier.
I say this, by the way, because I had to learn this lesson the hard way myself. But having gone through it, I now thank God for always judging me according to the standard of my own measure when I judged others unrighteously. It taught me what it feels like to be falsely accused or to be judged more harshly than the law allows.
In past ages God has been training judges for the age to come, that they might partake of the Elijah ministry to “restore all things,” as Jesus said. Paul himself was in training as a judge, and we get a glimpse of his concept of judgment in 2 Cor. 5:14 and 15,
14 For the love of Christ constrains us, because WE THUS JUDGE, that if One died for all, then are all dead; 15 and that He died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him which died for them and rose again.
What kind of judgment is that? He is saying that Christ died for all, or on behalf of all. Therefore, all are dead (because all are identified with Christ in His death). The result of this is that they will live no more for themselves (selfishly) but rather will live for Christ who died for them and rose again.
This is an incredible statement that not many have fully grasped— simply because it seems too good to be true. Yet Paul enlarges upon this in the next verses, telling us the message that we are to give to the world as ambassadors of Christ and His Kingdom:
18 And all things are of God, who has reconciled US to himself by Jesus Christ and has given to US the ministry of reconciliation; 19 to wit, that God was in Christ reconciling THE WORLD unto Himself, not imputing THEIR trespasses unto THEM; and has committed unto US the word of reconciliation. 20 Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us; we pray you in Christ's stead, be YE reconciled to God.
Take note especially how Paul speaks of “us” and “them.” We who have become believers are “us.” We are ambassadors giving a message to “them,” that is, to “the world” of unbelievers. What is our message? It is “the word of reconciliation.” We are to tell the world that God is “not imputing their trespasses unto them.”
This statement is so foreign to Christians today that their minds often cannot grasp what Paul is saying. Because Christians have been taught so thoroughly about the Angry God who judges sinners, they have a difficult time taking Paul at his word. They make excuses for Paul saying, “Well, he could not possibly mean this, because of all the other verses dealing with divine judgment upon sinners. So we have to be careful not to take this out of context with all of those other verses about divine judgment.”
I agree that we should always take things in context, as long as we do not make the “context” contradict the present passage.
Paul says we are ambassadors. An ambassador represents his government and is its spokesman. As ambassadors we represent Jesus Christ to the world. Our message boils down to this: “that God was in Christ reconciling THE WORLD unto Himself, not imputing THEIR trespasses unto THEM.”
Secondly, our message is an appeal for THEM to be reconciled to God (vs. 20). It is apparent that they are not currently reconciled to God, otherwise there would be no need for such a message to be given. How, then, can God not impute their trespasses unto them, seeing that they are not yet reconciled to God? Does it not require belief in Christ and the Cross to avoid the judgment for one's trespasses?
Yes, of course it does. That is made abundantly clear all through Scripture. We will resolve this dilemma as we continue.