Last year, I wrote a couple of articles outlining the gospel message presented by John the Baptist. That message can be summarized as follows:
- 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).
John’s message was evangelical, but it was also conditionalist. It did not approach the good news as a means for people to get the type of eternal life they want. It urged people to come to Christ because only he could forgive sin, bring in righteousness, and grant eternal life. Without Christ, there is no eternal life – not even in hell.
When Jesus took over the reins of gospel proclamation from John, did he alter John’s essential message? Did he clarify the message in such way as to suggest that the good news is “heaven when we die?” Let us investigate!
The first appearance of the noun εὐαγγέλιον in the New Testament is a description of Jesus’ preaching ministry in Galilee:
“And he went throughout the whole region of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of his kingdom and healing every disease and every illness the people had.”1
The good news he was preaching was news about him, and his kingdom. In involved the fact that he had come as the long-awaited Messiah and that the Galileans had a choice as to whether they would be a part of that kingdom. The king had come, but he was also going to come again.2 He came, first as a servant of all, but he would come again as master of all. The king from the sky had come, but he would come again, bringing his kingdom from the sky with him.
What, specifically, did Jesus preach about that coming kingdom?
- It is promised to people who are not proud, but poor in spirit.3
- It is promised to people who stay committed to doing the right thing despite persecution.4
- It is promised to people who respect and obey God’s word.5
- It is promised to people whose righteousness is real, not pretend.6
- The best way to pursue it is to pursue God’s righteousness.7
- It will come – not when people go to heaven, but when heaven comes to earth.8
Jesus healed and delivered people from demonic bondage as an illustration of the veracity of his promise of a coming kingdom.9 He taught that the church would continue the preaching of this εὐαγγέλιον until the end (τέλος) of the age.10 But he never taught that this kingdom could be entered by physical death. There are two passages in Matthew’s Gospel which address the issue of the timing of the τέλος compared to the deaths of believers.
“Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will betray their parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who perseveres to the end will be saved.”11
“At that time they will arrest you, persecute you and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because you accept me. And at that time many will rebel and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will appear and lead many off course. And because disorder will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end of the age will come.”12
The τέλος when the kingdom comes is not equated with the death of believers. Betrayal and martyrdom will continue throughout the age, but the kingdom will only come when the king returns to raise and reward his kingdom citizens. Christ does not come to rescue the spirits of believers at their death. He will come to rescue all believers at one time at his return, at the end of the age.
The gospel message which Christ preached is in essential agreement with the gospel message John the Baptist taught. John emphasized the need to repent because the Messiah is coming to judge. Christ taught the same thing. The good news of the gospel is that Christ is coming to reward the repentant as well as judge the disobedient. But nowhere in Jesus’ presentation of the gospel is that reward said to happen at death. As Christ said to John, “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me.”13 His reward is tied to his coming, not our deaths.
- Matthew 4:23 JDV. [↩]
- Matthew 10:23; 21:40; 23:39; 24:37, 46; 25:31. [↩]
- Matthew 5:3. [↩]
- Matthew 5:10-11. [↩]
- Matthew 5:17-19. [↩]
- Matthew 5:20; 7:21-23. [↩]
- Matthew 6:33. [↩]
- Matthew 6:10. [↩]
- Matthew 4:23; 9:35. [↩]
- Matthew 24:14. [↩]
- Matthew 10:21-22 JDV. [↩]
- Mat 24:9-14 JDV. [↩]
- Revelation 22:12. [↩]