In short, for 13 years Abraham sincerely believed that Ishmael was the promised son, but the Lord told him that Ishmael was not the promised child after all, but Isaac. Similarly, I see Ishmael and Isaac as representing two very important emphases in modern church history, both of which are part of God's strategy.
Many Pentecostals and charismatics have assumed that what God has done in recent years is the ultimate promise for these last days, just as Abraham sincerely believed that Ishmael was the promised child. But he discovered that God had a different idea in mind—that Sarah would conceive and give birth to Isaac—the true promised child. But he discovered that God had a different idea in mind that Sarah would conceive and give birth to Isaac—the true promised child.
This news did not thrill Abraham. "'If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!'" was Abraham's initial reaction (Gen.17:18, NIV). What would have once excited Abraham—the thought of Sarah conceiving—was now received with disappointment. After all, Ishmael was from his loins and met the conditions of being Abraham's own seed. It was reasonable for Abraham to think as he did. But he was wrong.
Similarly, many charismatics and Pentecostals want what they are a part of to be it, that is, the long-awaited promise of God for these last days. But, I believe that a manifestation of the glory of God is coming greater than anything since the days of the early church. It will mean God's immediate and direct power, signs, wonders, miracles that exceed our wildest dreams. But there will be more. The Word will have equal profile to the supernatural.
This is not to underestimate the incredible impact of what has gone on in the last century, but I believe that many of us—both charismatic and evangelical—honestly admit that we do most certainly need something more. But, more of what?
First, we need supernatural power to such an extent that healings are undoubted by the people prayed for and the claim to miracles is easily verifiable by those who want to be sure. Second, we need evident authority and power in preaching. The rarity at which these two are found in tandem is another aspect of Ishmael's presence.
There has been a silent divorce in the church today, between the Word and Spirit. Those on the "Word" side stress that the honor of God's name will not be restored until we rediscover the faith once delivered unto the saints, expository preaching and sound doctrine. Those on the "Spirit" side emphasize that the honor of God's name will not be restored until we see signs, wonders, the gifts of the Spirit in full operation, prayer meetings in which the place is shaken, power as when Peter's shadow healed people.
Some would say these are simply cultural differences between charismatics and evangelicals—that nothing will change. Some go so far as to say that charismatics will never be interested in the Word as much as evangelicals and that evangelicals will never be as interested in power as charismatics are. The problem is this: Generally speaking, evangelicals don't expect miracles, and charismatics don't believe that the preached Word can grip people as a miracle can.
The need of the hour is not more of the Word without the Spirit (which is Ishmael) or more of the Spirit without the Word (which too is Ishmael), but a remarriage of the two. While Ishmael represents the Word without the Spirit as well as the Spirit without the Word, Isaac will bring this remarriage—when the two will flow in equal proportion. I believe the simultaneous combination will result in spontaneous combustion.
I am not saying that Word churches and Spirit churches should hold services together. That would be superficial—only window dressing. What is needed is for evangelicals to experience the Holy Spirit in raw power, and for Spirit churches to believe and teach the Word—not in a shallow manner, but in depth.
The trouble is, this message often offends both sides. Evangelicals say: "Are you suggesting we don't believe in the Holy Spirit? Of course we do." Pentecostals and charismatics say: "You don't think we believe and teach the Bible? Of course we do." Both sides feel misunderstood.
Isaac is coming. The next great move of God is at hand—and is far nearer and greater than many imagine. Isaac will bring the long overdue remarriage of the Word and Spirit.
When people used to come to hear me at Westminster Chapel, they did not come to see anything, they came to hear. "Thank you for your word," they would say. That is what they came for; that is what they got. There are probably churches where people go to "see," but they don't really expect to "hear" anything. But the coming of Isaac will mean that those who come to see will hear. And those who come to hear will see.