John the Baptist had given his listeners a pretty good overview of the gospel message. His proclamation in the Judean wilderness had eight major components:
- God’s kingdom is coming down from the sky soon (Matthew 3:2).
- The world is not ready for that kingdom, so people must make it ready (Matthew 3:2-3; Mark 1:3; Luke 3:4-6; John 1:23).
- People need to repent of their sins to make the world ready for the kingdom (Matthew 3:2; Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3).
- People need to prove that their repentance is genuine (Matthew 3:7-8; Luke 3:8, 10-14).
- Water baptism and righteous living are proofs of genuine repentance (Matthew 3:6,8; Mark 1:4-5).
- The Messiah (Christ) will baptise the truly repentant with the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:8; John 1:32-34).
- The Messiah will destroy the unrepentant with fire (Matthew 310,12; Luke 3:9,16-17).
- Jesus Christ is the Messiah (Luke 3:16; John 1:9,10,12,14,15,26,29,33-36).
So, the good news is the news about Jesus. It is about who he is, what he will do, and how we can respond to him.
David Burge pointed out that many people first encounter the gospel in the Gospel of Matthew, and when they see the term “kingdom of heaven” there, they think it is talking about going to heaven after you die. But, he insists that “the ‘kingdom of heaven’ is not the kingdom in heaven but the kingdom coming from heaven to earth.”1
He insists that “the kingdom of heaven must have reference to the kingdom which the Jews in particular expected, the kingdom prophesied in the Old Testament.” 2 Also, to “possess this kingdom is to inherit the earth, the very place where the kingdom will be set up.” 3
What would it be like if we preached a gospel about Jesus Christ, rather than a gospel about getting what we want? That is how we package the good news most of the time. We tell people that they are going to spend eternity somewhere, so they should make the right choice and spend it in heaven. Examples of this kind of gospel presentation are abundant:
“Is it uncomfortable or joyful to think about where you will spend eternity? Do you know you will spend eternity somewhere?” 4
“We are not born just to die but to live forever. We will all spend eternity somewhere. Jesus has gone to prepare a place for his people in heaven.” 5
“Nobody is created to live and then vanish into nothing. You are going to live forever somewhere.”6
“We Christians should consider our lives here on earth in much the same way we consider a vacation to a foreign land. This is not all there is! Everyone will spend eternity somewhere.”7
“Let us keep in mind, the soul is the only part of us that has an eternal value, the flesh shall return to the dust and the spirit or soul must spend eternity somewhere, and where that somewhere is all depends on the decisions we make as we pass through this world.”8
“We will spend eternity somewhere— in heaven eternally with God, spiritually alive. Or, we will spend it in Hell, eternally without God, spiritually dead. Hell is the worst day of our life repeatedly lived for eternity. Where will you spend eternity?”9
“Man’s soul became just like God, Eternal. In other words our soul will never die. When our physical bodies have returned back to the dust of the ground from whence they came, our soul will live in eternity somewhere.”10
We continue to flood the internet, book-stores and pulpits with messages appealing to the desires and wishes of human beings while ignoring what the Bible actually says about the desires of God. God wants to put his kingdom on this earth and populate that kingdom with redeemed bearers of his image.
He has not granted immortality to the wicked, so the gospel is never about where they might spend eternity. Those who are not part of God’s coming kingdom (according to John the Baptist) will be destroyed with fire when the Messiah comes to set up his kingdom (see point 7). To preach that the Messiah will not – indeed cannot – destroy the wicked is to deny what John the Baptist taught. It strips the gospel of part of its good news. God’s good news includes the reality of hell because hell is about removing the obstacles to God’s plan for an eternal kingdom of righteousness.
God’s plan for us is not a heaven out there, but a new earth down here.
“But does such a conception do justice to biblical eschatology? Are we to spend eternity somewhere off in space, wearing white robes, plucking harps, singing songs, and flitting from cloud to cloud while doing so? On the contrary, the Bible assures us that God will create a new earth on which we shall live to God’s praise in glorified, resurrected bodies.”11
That is why John the Baptist’s presentation of the gospel did not say anything about souls being separated from their bodies and flying to heaven or hell at death. John proclaimed a gospel which was about God and his kingdom. It was good news not because it gave us a place to go when we die, but because it involved God’s plans coming to fruition.
As long as Christians continue to preach the “eternity somewhere” gospel, there will always be a disconnect between what we say and what the Bible says about the gospel. God does not owe us an eternity anywhere. By his grace, we may spend eternity somewhere – his redeemed earth. But if we fail to respond to that grace, God is under no obligation to put us anywhere to live out an eternity without him.
- David James Burge, Heaven Is Not My Home. (Auckland, NZ: Lulu, 2010), 30.
- Burge, 32.
- Burge, 39.
- Zealous James, Where Will You Spend Eternity. (Xulon Press, 2009), 131
- Christopher Robinson, Walking With The Son. (Xlibris,2014), np.
- Miles McPherson, God in the Mirror:Discovering Who You Were Created to Be. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2013 ), n.p.
- Clarence E. Warner, The Promises of God. (Xulon Press, 2005), 371.
- Clifton Jones, A Request for Divine Inspection. (Xulon Press, 2006), 121.
- William T. Golson, Jr., Adjusting Your Copy Quality. (Xulon Press, 2007), 119.
- Pastor Johnny James, What about Your Soul? (Victoria, BC, Canada: Trafford Publishing, 2010), 1.
- Anthony A. Hoekema, The Bible and the Future. (Grand Rapids: Wm B Eerdmans, 1979), 274.