The Word of God was more than a man and more than an earthly Messiah whom the Jews incorrectly assumed would restore national Israel. The Word was the person of the Son of God who had heavenly origins, and thus, had no earthly aspirations in reference to a worldly kingdom reign. His kingdom was simply not of this world (See Jn 18:36). We must continue this understanding into the second document (Revelation) that John wrote in order to encourage all Christians, especially Jewish Christians.
Though John had in the back of his mind the Gentiles who would eventually bring down judgment on national Israel in A.D. 70, the Holy Spirit turned John’s thinking to the subject of God’s judgment of those who would bring judgment on Israel. He would before the consummation of national Israel—the time which John did not know—ask Jewish Christians to remember that in Israel’s past God used nations of the world as Assyria and Babylonia in order to bring judgment on apostate Israel. These were nations that God used by proxy to judge His people who had gone into apostasy. However, these nations were eventually judged themselves by God. Though God used unbelieving nations to punish His people, He eventually brought judgment on those He used to judge His people. This was a principle of judgment on the part of God throughout the history of Israel, specifically during the years of the judges of Israel (See Jg 2:11-15). It was now time for God to move in the same way against Rome, which nation of government would eventually be consummated by the middle of the fifth century.
The document of Revelation is a reassuring message that God had not changed His means by which He judged the nations of this world He had used to preserve a remnant of Israel for the revelation of the Word of God. Therefore, in the visions of Revelation the Holy Spirit turned His attention to God’s judgment of the Roman Empire.
In the writing of the document of Revelation, John did not want the Romans to understand that their end would also be the work of God. Revelation, therefore, was written in the style of apocalyptic literature with cryptic symbols (Rv 1:1). The Jewish Christians at the time of writing could understand the visions of Revelation. However, those who were not familiar with either Jewish history or the Old Testament could understand the visions of the book. And in many cases, since we ourselves are removed over two thousand years from the writing of the document, as well as the experiences of the Jews at the time of writing, we also have some difficulty understanding portions of the book.
Those Jewish Christians who read the document of Revelation knew preciously what John was saying. Because of their historical background and knowledge of Old Testament history, they understood that the nation who brought judgment upon apostate Israel would eventually have judgment brought upon them. It is for this reason that the document of Revelation was possibly written before the consummation of national Israel in A.D. 70.
At the time, the Holy Spirit wanted to bring some comfort to Jewish Christians who personally witnessed the decimation of their national heritage. If Revelation were not written until the latter part of the first century, then surely the visions of the book had been revealed to John before A.D. 70, which visions he communicated to the church before the fall of Jerusalem.
The message of the visions was that the Jewish Christians would survive the consummation of national Israel in A.D. 70. As the church, they would continue to be the reflection on earth of the kingdom reign of Jesus from heaven. During His ministry, Jesus specifically promised this to the Jewish believers in His audience. In the context of His prophecy of the consummation of national Israel, He stated “Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Mt 13:43). National Israel had to be extracted from the scene of world history before the world could understand that God’s work was no longer through the Jews, but through the new Israel of God, the church. In other words, before the world could focus exclusively on Jesus as the revealed Word of God, all religious distractions in reference to Judaism had to be removed. Those who lived in obedience to the gospel could shine forth to the unbelieving world only when the confusion of Judaism was removed. When the unbelieving Jews realized that their God did not spare them through the destruction of Jerusalem, then they would reconsider that Jesus was the Word of God who was revealed through the preservation of His body of believers.
Therefore, John carried the metaphor of the incarnate Word of God into the book of Revelation. At the very beginning of Revelation, the Lord Jesus surely referred back to John’s gospel account of Jesus when He revealed in the book of Revelation that “He sent and signified it [the visions of revelation] by His angel to His bondservant John, who testified to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Rv 1:1,2). John had previously in the “gospel according to John” testified to the Word of God in His testimony to the Jews (Jn 1:1-3). In this introductory verse of Revelation, the Lord Jesus here linked the two documents of John and Revelation.
The first document (John) was a defense that through the Word of God, God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit declared the gospel to the world through the incarnate Son. The second document (Revelation) revealed that regardless of all the social chaos through which Jewish Christians were about to go, God was still working with Israel as He did throughout their history. At the time of writing, or when the visions occurred, the Word of God was no longer on earth, but was reigning as King of kings and Lord of lords at the right hand of God (1 Tm 6:15). If the Jews rejected His will while He was on earth, then He would bring destruction upon them (See Hs 4:6). They subsequently rejected Him, and thus, God brought down judgment upon them (See Jn 1:11).
There is a specific theme that is maintained throughout John’s documents of both John and Revelation. The focus of both documents is on the Word of God in the person of the incarnate Son of God. Emphasis is not on a catechism of rites, rituals or ceremonies that would identify some organized religious structure. This is abundantly clear in both documents. In the document of gospel, John wanted to turn his readers’ attention directly to the Word of God. He wanted his readers to focus on Jesus as the Son. In the document of Revelation, his focus was on the reigning Word of God.
Since our focus must be on the person of the Word of God, then we must concentrate on the present gospel reign of King Jesus. Those who lead in the defense of this kingdom reign are the obedient subjects of His kingdom. In other words, those who defend Jesus as the reigning Messiah (Christ), as the incarnate Son of God, are those who are the church. We must never reverse this order. We do not doctrinally defend the church, and thus make ourselves as the “true church” the defenders of the Son of God as the revealed Word of God. It is always the other way around. We are defenders of His church because He is the present reigning Word of God. All judgment has now been given unto Him (At 17:30,31). At this time, the sword of judgment goes forth from His mouth (Rv 1:16).
Because our King is the Word of God who revealed the gospel to the world, we are simply those of all His kingdom of subjects who have responded to His message, and thus we are the manifestation on earth of His kingdom reign from heaven. Our existence as the church is evidence that He is the Word of God through whom God has communicated to mankind. This is precisely what Paul meant when he wrote that “the manifold wisdom of God” was made known to many through the church (Ep 3:10).
We are sure that many will miss this point in reference to our discussions concerning the gospel. When we use the word “gospel,” meaning good news, we are not talking about some systematic theology that is propagated by the subjects of the kingdom, as was the case of Judaism that inspired nationalistic aspirations for Jewish independence. On the contrary, we are not talking about defending religious heritages. We are not talking about the doctrines and commandments of man, nor the religious traditions of some sect. We are discussing a personality, an entity, an incarnation of God Himself. Submitted subjects of the kingdom reign of King Jesus are the church of His subjects on earth.
The Word of God was, and is, a personality. John was clear on this matter. “And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. And we behold His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father” (Jn 1:14). It is the Word of God as the incarnate revelation of the person of God into this world who must receive all glory. This is what Jesus said: “If God is glorified in Him [the Son], God will also glorify Him in Himself, and will immediately glorify Him” (Jn 13:32).
Those religious groups that establish their foundation for existence on the religious heritage of their fathers have missed the point. Some groups even preach the doctrines of the New Testament as the gospel. These too have missed the point. They turn the gospel into a system of law by which they can identify themselves as the “true church” because the perform according to a system “sound doctrine.”
It is preaching Christ and His gospel crucifixion for our sins that defines us as the church (See 1 Co 1:23). Preaching specific subjects as the Lord’s Supper is not preaching the gospel, for the Supper is not the gospel. It is a remembrance of the gospel. We teach the Supper to all those who have obeyed the gospel. The Supper would mean nothing if it were not for the truth of the gospel. Likewise, preaching acappella singing is not preaching the gospel, for we sing in praise of the gospel of the revealed Word of God. Preaching a supposed name of the church is not preaching the gospel, for the church is the assembly of all those who have obeyed the gospel. Even preaching baptism is not preaching the gospel, for baptism is a response to the gospel. Paul was clear on this matter. “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel” (1 Co 1:17). Therefore, if one would preach the gospel, then he, as Paul, must “preach Christ crucified” (1 Co 1:23). The Holy Spirit instructed the behavior of those who have obeyed the gospel, but the instructions for gospel living are not the gospel.
Gospel refers to the sacrificial atonement of God in the flesh who was nailed to a cross outside Jerusalem. This gospel atonement that was revealed from the throne of God continues to this day. The word of God was revealed in the person of Jesus two thousand years ago. In the book of Revelation, Jesus, through the visions, wanted to reassure us that He was still alive and in control of all things (Hb 1:3). His present gospel reign reassures us that He was the only One who was worthy to reign because of His incarnate offering (See Rv 4:9-11).
We can determine if one is a preacher of a religious sect if he preaches primarily the identity of his sect, with little focus on Jesus Christ and Him crucified for the sins of the world. We have witnessed that there are so many who are indoctrinated with the doctrine and traditions of their particular religious sect that they cannot distinguish between the gospel of the incarnate Word of God and the identity of their religion. Those who cannot make this distinction are actually preaching, as Paul wrote, “another gospel” (Gl 1:6-9) They are preaching “another gospel” because they are preaching the gospel of the incarnate, crucified, resurrected, ascended, and reigning Son of God, plus all the added traditions of their particular religious box. They are subsequently preaching the gospel with required rites, rituals or ceremonies that identify their particular sect.
We can understand now the mission of the early evangelists as they went forth to preach the gospel. As John, they were persecuted for preaching the revelation of God through the incarnate Word of God (Rv 1:9). Nevertheless, regardless of all the opposition from those who were boxed in religion, they continued unabated to preach the Word of God, that is the person of the incarnate Son of God. In preaching Jesus as the Christ and Son of God, they were seeking to bring people out of religion and into the freedom they can enjoy in Christ.
If one does not understand the nature of the gospel, therefore, he is not a preacher of the simple gospel. He has complicated the message of the gospel by adding law to the gospel. For example, if he is preaching “the Lord’s Supper on the first day of the week” as the gospel, then he is trying to preach law, not the simple gospel of the incarnate and atoning sacrifice of Word of God about whom the Supper is to be our reminder. Some have enacted so many rites, rituals and ceremonies surrounding the observance of the Supper that they have marginalized their focus of the Word of God about whom the Supper is to remind us.
If one is preaching some unique name of the church as the gospel, then he is preaching an addition to the gospel of the atoning sacrifice of the Word of God. He is preaching the gospel plus law, and thus preaching another gospel than that which was preached in the first century in order to deliver people out of the boxes of religion in order to celebrate freedom through the Lord’s Supper. In other words, we must not substitute, or add to good subjects for Bible study and teaching for the gospel of the Son of God who gave Himself for us. There is simply a difference between law and that which inspires us to be obedient to the instructions of the Holy Spirit in the Bible.
When one finds himself involved in endless squabbles with others over opinions and contradictory theologies, it is time to reevaluate one’s primary focus in reference to the person of the incarnate Word of God who is now reigning as King of kings. Even if one finds himself in debates over valid teachings of truth, he must continually remind himself that when preaching, he must focus on the gospel. We must teach the revealed written word of God at all times. However, we must not forget that the Bible, and the teachings therein, are not the gospel. The incarnate Son of God who gave Himself for our redemption is the gospel. The Bible explains this clearly. We preach the gospel that is revealed in the Bible. We do not preach the Bible as the gospel.
[Next in series: April 9]