Dear Radio Friends,
Let us take our Bibles today and open to the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 24:14, where Jesus writes, “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.” Usually when we speak of something as a sign of the times, we mean that in a kind of a negative way. We learn about a great natural calamity and we say, “It’s a sign of the times.” We hear of wars, we say, “It’s a sign of the times.” We look at where our nation is morally and spiritually and we say, “It’s a sign of the times.” We hear of the church under persecution and we say, “It’s a sign of the times.” We mostly think of that and use that expression in a negative way.
Today, though, as we begin to look at the different signs of the coming of Jesus Christ, I want to start on a very positive note from Matthew 24:14. Here Jesus tells us that before He comes again and before the end of the world, the gospel, which is the good news of salvation through His suffering and death, must and will be preached in all the world. Only after this has happened will the end come. What a positive perspective on history and on the signs of the times that is! When we hear about missions or we hear about the gospel going to new parts of the earth where it has never been before, then we should say, “It is a sign of the times.” As we wait for Jesus to come, one of the things that we should want more than anything else is the fulfillment of this verse—that the gospel be preached in all the world. That means that those who watch and wait for the coming of Jesus Christ will have an interest in and a zeal for the work of missions.
This is my first message on the signs of Jesus’ return. Last week we looked at the subject of the signs more generally. Today we begin to look at them more specifically. I have chosen this one first because it is the central and most important sign of all the signs of the coming of Jesus Christ. The reason that Jesus, at least from our point of view, delays His coming is that this sign must first be fulfilled. This gospel must first be preached in all the world. That means that all of history waits for this. All of history serves this. All the other signs of the coming of Jesus Christ serve this one: that the gospel be preached in all the world.
In order to understand this, we first must understand what the gospel is. I say three things. First, the gospel is the good news of deliverance for sinners. It is the good news of the death of Jesus Christ in the place of sinners. It is the good news of the power of the grace of God to deliver us from the power of sin. Do you struggle with the power of sin? Are you weighed down with the guilt of sin? Do you look around you at the world that is obsessed with sin? Here is the good news: God, in Christ Jesus, has delivered sinners.
In the second place, the gospel is the call that goes out to sinners to repent and believe. That is an essential part of what the gospel is. When Jesus came preaching the gospel in Mark 1:14, 15, we read this: “Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.” As He preached the gospel, He called sinners to repentance over their sins. Now, you will not understand the good news of the gospel unless first you see your sin and repent. That means that the gospel cannot be good news for all men. It is a good news for those who repent. It is offensive to others but it is not good news for them.
The third thing we should understand about the gospel is that, that the gospel’s focus is the glory of God. Central to the gospel is who God is—a declaration of who God is—not just what God gives or what we get. But this, that God is righteous and that God is gracious. That, because He is righteous, our sins require a payment in order for God and His wrath to be turned away from us, and that God is gracious—that in His grace He has given His Son Jesus Christ as the substitute for sinners. This is the good news of the gospel.
Now, you notice here in Matthew 24 that Jesus describes the gospel further this way: “And this gospel of the kingdom.” Here He ties the kingdom with the gospel. He means not only that the content of the gospel is the kingdom, but that by the gospel God establishes His kingdom and His rule. And that tells us what the kingdom is. What does the gospel do as it comes? It brings sinners to repentance, it brings them into reconciliation with God, it brings them under the rule of Jesus Christ so that they bow to Him and they worship Him. It makes them citizens and willing subjects of His kingdom. It brings them into the experience of all the blessings of His kingdom. The preaching of the gospel, then, establishes the spiritual kingdom of Jesus Christ.
And, again, that is what Jesus said in Mark 1:14, 15 when He said, “The kingdom is at hand.” That means that the kingdom is not our kingdom, the kingdom is not an earthly kingdom, it is not a man-centered kingdom, it is not a kingdom of earthly peace and pleasure. Rather, the kingdom is the gospel-conquering power that goes throughout the world and overcomes sin in the hearts of all God’s people. And that is why we should want to hear the gospel. That is the coming of the kingdom into our hearts.
Jesus identifies the gospel very specifically. He says, “This gospel of the kingdom.” That means there are rival gospels that are not good news. A gospel that says that man has to save himself is not good news. A gospel that promises earthly wealth and peace and that says that this is the kingdom is not good news. This gospel, this gospel of the righteousness of Christ and the rule of Christ by the work of His grace and Spirit through the Word in the hearts of His people, this gospel must be preached, and this gospel will bring the kingdom of Jesus Christ. Nothing else will do it. We may bring health and food and medicine to countries where there is poverty, but that does not bring the kingdom of Jesus Christ. We may improve someone’s opportunities in the world by teaching them to read and write and giving them an education, but this does not establish the kingdom of Jesus Christ. This gospel is the gospel of the righteousness and grace of God in Jesus Christ. Jesus says, “This gospel shall be preached in all the world.” In the gospel of Mark, it is put this way: “This gospel must be published….”
The word here for preached emphasizes the character of preaching—that the one who brings the gospel is a herald of this good news. This teaches us that Jesus has in mind here more than just the content of the good news of the gospel going forth in printed material or over the Internet or through the witness of believers or even in the Bible. But He has in mind here the preachers of the gospel going forth, men who would be His official representatives, ambassadors for Christ as Paul calls them in II Corinthians 5. And this tells us what the work of the church is in missions: it is to go and teach all nations (Matt. 28). This means that the church may not give up on this important task of preaching the gospel. This is her charge, this is her commission—to bring the good news of the kingdom in all the world, through the preaching of the Word of God.
“In all the world.” This does not mean that every ear of every man and woman and child must hear the gospel before Jesus returns. If that is the case, He can never come. Nor can this mean that God can only judge people in the final judgment if they have heard the preaching of the gospel. No, the Bible tells us that mankind hears the voice of God and received witness against his conscience in many other ways, particularly in the creation.
Neither does this verse teach that before Jesus comes again there will be a mass conversion and a universal acceptance of the gospel of Jesus Christ. If that is what we are looking for, then Christ cannot and will not come again.
Rather, what Jesus has in view here when He says “this gospel must be preached in all the world,” is the geographic spread of the gospel as history progresses; that the gospel is an unstoppable force moving through the world, expanding; that, as history progresses, the gospel will move from one nation to another throughout all the different parts of the earth till God has saved from every nation, tongue, and tribe, and in that, saved the core of humanity. And then Jesus will come again.
This shows us, first, that the signs of Matthew 24 cannot be limited to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. This gospel, Jesus says, must be preached and shall be preached in all the world before the end comes. But it also shows how close we are to the end of the world. It is true that we do not know the day or the hour, and so long as Christ delays His coming there is still work for us to do in the preaching of the gospel. But, at the same time, most of humanity has heard the gospel. Only about four percent of the world’s population do not have the gospel and the Scriptures in their language today. Jesus has this in mind when He speaks of the gospel going to the ends of the earth—that after His departure and before His return the gospel would go to all nations.
Now, what is the purpose of this declaration and this proclamation of the good news of the gospel to all nations? The purpose is not only, from our perspective, positive. The purpose of the preaching of the gospel is not just to get people saved and to get as many people saved as possible before the return of Jesus Christ as though time is running out. If that was the purpose of the gospel, then the gospel is a failure. This presents God as a weak God who is, as it were, scrambling to get as many things as He can done before the deadline of the end of the world.
No, that is not the way to understand the spread of the gospel. Instead, the goal is the establishment of the kingdom of Jesus Christ, which is His spiritual kingdom, which comes through, not just salvation, but also judgment. Wherever the gospel goes forth, it always has a twofold effect. In II Corinthians 2, Paul says of himself as a preacher of the gospel, and all who preach the gospel in truth, that they are a savor of life unto life and of death unto death, and that, wherever the gospel comes, there will be this twofold effect—some will believe and others will be hardened in their unbelief. The gospel is a two-edged sword. That is true even when the gospel comes to me, personally. Part of me has to die under the gospel so that I repent of my sins. And then I am quickened, as I believe.
So, as we think of the purpose of the gospel, we could say that the gospel has an immediate purpose, a present purpose in present history, and an ultimate or final purpose. The immediate purpose is the gathering and the saving of God’s elect from all the nations of the earth. This is why we preach the gospel. We do not know who those are. We do not know who it is that God has determined to save through His Son Jesus Christ. The gospel is the means that God uses to gather them. So we preach the gospel to every creature. And God is pleased to use that preaching to gather His own sheep. Jesus says that there are other sheep who will hear His voice through the preaching of the gospel.
At the same time, the gospel has this purpose in the present, that it serves the hardening of the reprobate in their unbelief, and becomes a witness against them. That is the idea, in the text, of the gospel being a witness unto all nations. Yes, there is a witness in the creation. Man by nature has a hard heart to the witness of God. And Romans 1 tells us that his conscience either accuses or excuses himself before the witness that God gives. Men hold the truth of God under in unbelief. But now God comes in the gospel to these same hard hearts and makes them even harder. This is the reason that Isaiah had to go and preach (Is. 6:9, 10), so that hearing they would not believe and seeing they would not understand. This is how the gospel is a savor of death unto death. And now, just as we do not know who the elect are, so we do not know who the reprobate are. We preach to one and all the same gospel, which God is pleased to use to gather His elect into the kingdom, and at the same time to prepare the world for the final judgment by leaving them with a witness and without excuse. And so the immediate purpose of the gospel is the gathering of the elect and the hardening of the reprobate.
But then we should see that there is an ultimate or a final purpose in the gospel as well. Jesus mentions this at the end of the verse when He says, “then shall the end come.” “End,” in reference to the last time and the time when Jesus returns, is not just the termination of time as we know it. But it is God’s purpose, His purpose in all of history is this end. His purpose is the return of Jesus Christ, the judgment not just of the world, but of all, and then the creation of a new heavens and a new earth and the gathering of all things together into one in Jesus Christ.
The signs of the coming of Jesus Christ bring that end. They work together towards that final end. Jesus is constantly coming with that end and that purpose in view. And the preaching of the gospel, more than anything else that ever happens in the history of the world, prepares everything for that day. In fact, all the other events in history should be seen as serving and subservient to this great work of the preaching of the gospel. Jesus says, “This gospel…shall be preached in all the world…and then shall the end come.” The idea is that this is the supreme thing throughout all of history.
We see this when we put the sign of the preaching of the gospel alongside some of the other signs of the coming of Jesus Christ. For example, the sign of the great apostasy and the great falling away of from the truth; or the great sign of abounding wickedness and tribulation—all of these are responses to the truth of the gospel as the gospel is declared. So the gospel has to come first. The gospel takes priority. Or, we can look at the signs of wars and rumors of wars that take place throughout history. God causes these to continue to go on so that the world and the political powers of the world are distracted from their main enemy, which is the church and Christ, and are busy fighting one another, so that the church has the liberty still to preach the gospel.
Even the coming of the kingdom of Antichrist at the very end of history is controlled by the progress of the preaching of the gospel. The Antichrist cannot rise until this gospel has been preached in all the world. That is even true of the natural disasters that take place. Romans 8 tells us that the whole creation groans and travails, waiting for the redemption of the Son of God. The creation wants to be redeemed. It wants to be made new, but it has to wait until all the sons of God have been redeemed and called by this gospel.
What a marvelous thing is this little power, this little power that is foolishness in the eyes of the world, and is so insignificant as far as man is concerned. It is the governing force of all of history. And by it Christ is establishing His kingdom in all the nations of the earth. This is the little stone in Daniel’s vision in Daniel 2:34, 35, a stone that is cut out of the side of the mountain without hands and becomes a great mountain that fills the whole earth. And this is the white horse of Revelation 6 that rides forth conquering and to conquer throughout history.
As we have indicated in earlier messages, the signs have a practical purpose, and Jesus gives us these signs with this calling, that we watch and be ready, that we pay attention and discern the signs of the times so that we are ready for His return.
How do we watch this sign? We do not do it by simply sitting back and observing the progress of the gospel to the different parts of the earth and throughout history. But, rather, because our earnest prayer is: “Come, Lord Jesus, yea, come quickly,” we do everything that we can to promote the preaching of the gospel to the ends of the earth. Or, to put it another way, the more earnestly we pray for the coming of Jesus Christ, the more enthused we will be about the preaching of the gospel in missions to the ends of the earth.
We could ask this question: Why is Christ not yet returned? And then the answer from the text would be: Because the gospel has not yet reached the ends of the earth. Or, as Jesus put it in John 10, because not all of His sheep have yet been gathered into the fold by hearing the shepherd’s voice. Or, as Peter put it in II Peter 3:9, because God is long suffering and He forbears and waits until every one of His has been drawn in by the gospel. So, throughout time, the gospel net is cast forth to gather in God’s elect until finally one day the full body of them will be gathered as one, brought to faith by the gospel, brought to repentance under the Word, and then there will be no reason anymore for Christ to tarry. So, when this gospel has been preached in all the world, then shall the end come.
What an incentive for us to be busy in the work of missions as the people and the church of God.
So, I want to close with this thought: How do you personally watch for this sign? First, you do it by honoring the preaching of the Word. You put yourself under a faithful proclamation of the Word of God. You see to it that you are in a church that is busy with this work—not humanitarian work, but this work, the work of preaching the good news of the gospel. You take your families, you take your children, to hear the Word of God because you are interested, not in entertainment but in instruction from the Word of God. By this, God establishes His rule, and His kingdom comes in your hearts.
Then, also, you have a personal, active interest in the work of the church in missions. You support the work of the church in missions by prayers and by giving. And you do this with the goal of the coming of Jesus Christ and the glory of His kingdom in the final day.
Then, finally, you do this, and you promote this sign of the coming of Jesus Christ, by your own witness, your own godly living, your conversations with others. The Word of God that you hear becomes a living witness in your words and in your life to others. This is how we live in view of the day of Christ’s return. This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations and then shall the end come.
Let us pray.
Father, we pray for the coming of the end, and so we pray that the gospel may go forth to the ends of the earth with great power, gathering Thine elect with a view to that day when Jesus will come and make all things new. So we pray, Come, Lord Jesus, yea, come quickly. Amen.
Dear Radio Friends,