“And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.”
What exactly is meant here by “this gospel of the kingdom,” which will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations? Is it as many suppose that the great commission to take the gospel of Christ’s salvation to the nations will be completed before Christ returns? Does it mean the church will overcome Nations, Governments, and society and be the ruling influence upon the earth bringing in a golden age before Christ comes? Or does it mean something all together different. When you take the New Testament as a whole the two dominate doctrines center around Christ coming as Savor and Christ coming as King. The “gospel” of grace, and the “gospel” of the kingdom. One centers upon Christ’s Salvation, the other upon God’s Sovereignty. It is the gospel of the Kingdom we need a greater understanding of as much confusion exist today in the church concerning its meaning.
“This gospel of the kingdom” is a very specific gospel, this kingdom is referred to as a mystery. The mystery of Christ involves both Jew and Gentile coming together in Christ for a greater purpose. A purpose which has been hidden in God since the foundation of the world, revealed now through Christ, that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs of the same body and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel (Eph. 3:1-13). It is the Kingdom of God which Christ taught was the Father’s good pleasure to give you (Luke 12:31-14.) When we are seeking the things pertaining to the Kingdom of God we don’t have to worry about the things pertaining to this life. Why? Because the Kingdom of God is not of this world, it is something set apart, it is a Kingdom that one day will come! It is a kingdom which began with the resurrection of Jesus Christ according to Daniel chapter two. The dream that God gave to Nebuchadnezzar concerning the kingdoms of Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome. In the vision a small stone comes and destroys the statue (kingdoms) and becomes a great mountain filling the whole earth. The stone prefigures Jesus Christ, God’s consummate Ruler over all governments and all history. Upon His return, He shall set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed as he consumes all kingdoms upon his return.
The Kingdom of God consist of God finally taking back the reins of history, at the end of the age God’s intervention in history will arrive, and Christ is the agent of that intervention. Presently, God’s kingdom is not fully realized according to inaugurated eschatology, that is, between the initial coming of the Kingdom and its definitive consummation with the Day of the Lord judgment.
Inaugurated eschatology is the position that the end times were inaugurated in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and are both “already” and “not yet” aspects to the Kingdom of God.1 Oscar Cullmann suggested the analogy of D-Day and V-Day to illustrate the relationship between Jesus’ death and resurrection on the one hand, and His Parousia on the other. In other words, the Kingdom of God has already started, but awaits full disclosure at the Coming of Christ for it is in Christ that the Kingdom of God is fully realized. A good example for this is seen in 1 John 2:18; “Little children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come, by which we know that it is the last hour.” The last hour was established by the First Coming of Christ. At the end of this “hour” the one known as the Antichrist will come, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming (2 Thess. 2:8), until such time, many antichrists are at work in the world. Here you can see both the “already” and the “not yet” characteristics of the coming Kingdom.
The Kingdom of God then is about God’s Sovereignty! It represents Christ’s sovereign power over history, a sovereignty that is implemented currently through human rulers but ultimately ends all human government upon the Second Coming of Christ. The mistake many have made with Matthew 24:14 is it has led some to teach that the gospel of Christs salvation must be preached before Christ returns. However, this gospel of the kingdom mentioned in the Olivet Discourse does not concern the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Here in Matthew 24:14, Jesus prophetically indicated that a universal proclamation would immediately precede the end of the age. And this is exactly what we see in Revelation 14:6-13.
“Then I saw another angel flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth, to every nation, tribe, tongue, and people, saying with a loud voice, ‘Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgement has come; and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water.’ And another angel followed, saying, ‘Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she has made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.’ Then a third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, ‘If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives his mark on his forehead or on his hand, he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out full strength into the cup of His indignation. He shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night, who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.’ Here is the patience of the saints; here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus. Then I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, ‘Write; Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’’ ‘Yes,’ says the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them.”
Clearly, the message of the kingdom is the eternal universal gospel concerning the coming Wrath of God. It is good news to those who respond to it but judgment to those who refuse it. That the message of the Gospel of the kingdom focuses on the coming wrath of God can be easily established. A simple chronology of the Gospel of Matthew will demonstrate this. When considering John the Baptists appearance, he preached, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!’ (Matt. 3:2) Linked to his gospel of the kingdom message was a solemn warning to the Pharisees and Sadducees who came to his baptism, John said; “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?…I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (Matt. 3:7,11-12)
The real importance of taking the step of repentance is in essence a flight from the wrath to come. Connected to John’s message of the Kingdom of God is the wrath of the Messianic age which will have complete fulfilment in the manifestation of the wrath of God at the last judgment. Jesus also, upon his public appearance and “From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matt. 4:17) The verb “is at hand” means “has come,” “has arrived,” or “is here,” and suggests the inauguration of the reign of God, which still awaits its consummation at the end of the age.
It wasn’t until Matthew 16:21 where Jesus indicates a change in his message. Prior to this time, Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom (Matt. 9:35). But here in Matthew 16:21 Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day. This clearly marks the difference between the Gospel of salvation and the Gospel of the Kingdom. The Gospel of Christ is a message of Grace. The gospel of the kingdom is a message of wrath.
It is notable that the gospel of the Kingdom refers to the consummation of the age when, the glory of the coming reign of Christ on earth is seen, the righteous inherit the kingdom of God, and the wicked are destroyed in the Day of the Lord judgment (Rev. 11:15-18).
This however should not cause confusion when considering the timing of the Day of the Lord’s Wrath, something which is of great importance. Because the word “wrath” is not mentioned in the Book of Revelation prior to the sixth seal (Rev. 6:16-17), and because the signs given in the sun, moon, and stars are mentioned in relationship to the sixth seal, perfectly parallel the signs that will occur announcing the Day of the Lord’s wrath (Matt. 24:29), and because the word “wrath” is mentioned numerous times in the chapters that follow in relationship to events directly associated with the opening of the seventh seal, the context of the sixth seal becomes self-evident, when the signs are given in the sun, moon, and stars, the wrath of God is about to begin. And when the seventh seal is opened, it will (Rev. 8:1).2
The critical phrase in the sixth seal passage is the phrase “has come,” which is a translation of the Greek verb elthein. Elthein is in the aorist tense, indicative mood of erchomai, the most common Greek verb for “come.” The aorist tense is, generally speaking, timeless. It can be used to describe the simple past but the common use of the aorist tense is to describe the beginning of something. This is called the ingressive use of the aorist, and is the clear use of the aorist in this context. The wrath of God is on the threshold of happening and is only contingent upon the sign given in the sun, moon, and stars. Only after the sixth seal is opened does John declare that “the great day of His wrath has come.” There is no exegetical basis for making the sixth seal retroactive.
Revelation chapters 12-14, parenthetical chapters, serve as a backdrop to the events described from the fourth seal (Rev. 6:7-8) onward to the blowing of the first trumpet (Rev. 8:1). The relationship of the fourth, fifth, and sixth seals to the wrath of God is demonstrated in how the forth seal invokes God’s wrath (The Great Tribulation against God’s Elect Church), the fifth seal demands God’s wrath (Martyrs) and the sixth seal announces God’s wrath (Sign in the sun, moon and stars).
Revelation chapter 12 depicts supernatural cosmic upheavals marking the middle of Daniel’s 70th week, Satan and his angels are cast and bound to earth, having great wrath he begins his campaign of persecution first against Israel who finds an escape, and secondly against Israel’s offspring, the Church.
- The Sign; Robert Van Kampen, p. 294 (Technical Notes)