Whether you agreed with him or not, once you’d heard Barry Smith you would never forget him. Barry hailed from New Zealand and visited our churches in the UK often during the 1980s and 90s. His specialist subject was Bible prophecy and he brought to his preaching a passion, eloquence, creativity and insight that made his meetings unmissable.
I first heard Barry preach in the late 1980s when I was on the team at Kensington Temple. The senior ministers were out of the country and I was asked to ‘hold the fort’ whilst we hosted five nights of meetings with Barry on the subject of the end times.
For the first four nights Barry gripped the more than 1,000 people who packed the church every night as he opened the Scriptures showing what the Bible had to say about the end times. He had a gift for illustrating his teaching from recognisable, real-life situations. At the end of night four, he urged everybody to be there the following night for the grand finale.
Again the church was packed but instead of going further into Bible prophecy Barry made an appeal for salvation. He invited people who’d been with him on the journey through the Scriptures over the previous nights and those who had just come that night to accept Jesus as Saviour and Lord.
For the next two hours he talked about what it meant to receive eternal life and follow Jesus for the rest of your life. It was some of the most compelling teaching on becoming a disciple and living a new life in Christ with a new purpose and mission that I have ever heard.
I told that story to one of our Elim ministers in New Zealand who’d known Barry well. He smiled and said, “At heart Barry was an evangelist.” The people that Barry led to the Lord in those meetings weren’t frightened into the Kingdom. In fact, they proved to be some of the most genuine followers of Jesus, with deep and lasting faith.
Looking back through Elim history, I’ve been struck by how from the very beginning the early Pentecostal pioneers spoke often about the second coming of Jesus. In fact, when Elim was developing as a movement from 1915, they presented the gospel of Jesus Christ against the backdrop of a World War followed by a paralysing global recession, with the clear message that Jesus not only died for sinners and rose from the dead to bring new life to all who would receive him, but that he was coming again.
That message gave them an urgency to tell everyone about Jesus and gave them a perspective on their world and on world events that brought courage, hope and faith even in times of great trouble and even tragedy.
By the late 1920s, Elim was using the phrase ‘the Foursquare Gospel’– Jesus the Saviour, Healer, Baptiser in the Spirit and Coming King. It became foundational to their teaching and seemed to keep evangelism and outreach at the very centre of every local church. It’s striking that as they went through times of incredible shaking they had a worldview that looked beyond the present to a clear and certain promise that Jesus was coming again to judge the world and to fulfil the promise of the Father to give eternal life to all who trust him.
In Matthew chapters 24 and 25 the disciples ask Jesus about the future and he begins to open up to them about what is to come. He’d told them before that the people of this age have some understanding of the natural seasons but no understanding of the signs of the times. They can read and predict the weather but they can’t understand what’s going on around them.
So, he begins to tell them that in the future tough times will come, there will be wars and famines and earthquakes. He tells them there will be false teachers and false prophets seeking to deceive the people of this world and even those who follow Christ. But he tells them not to be afraid. He is telling them in advance so that they will put their trust in him. He tells them, “I am with you to the end of the age.”
In our own times of shaking, through a global pandemic followed by brutal war, economic uncertainty and social upheaval, we need to hear those words again. Jesus prepares his people for challenging times by promising his presence and his power.
Yet he goes further. Jesus begins to assure them that even in times of trouble, it is harvest time. God is moving by his Spirit and he will bring people to himself. He will still save, still heal, still fill with his Spirit those who come to him, and he will be with us. I know that across our churches and communities we are hearing stories and seeing evidence of people coming to Jesus at the most unexpected times and in unlikely circumstances. We thank God that for him it is still harvest time.
I do think we have lost something regarding our understanding and sharing of the vital truth of the second coming of Jesus. We need a renewed experience of the coming King and a fresh commitment to Jesus’ teaching about the future. We need his revelation concerning how we should understand and interpret our times in the light of his promises.