14:6, note c
The angel's unexpected sermon
^ And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, (Rev. 14:6)
The angel has an everlasting
gospel. What is the gospel? The word means good news. It's the marvelous
good news that Jesus died for our salvation — that weak and helpless sinners
like you and me may choose eternal life!
Did you notice that the angel is specific about his gospel? He preaches an "everlasting" one. This sounds great, until we think about it. Did anyone say the gospel was not everlasting? And while we are considering why this quality of the gospel should even be mentioned, we find that the word just before "everlasting" should be "an" rather than "the." Greek has a definite article corresponding to our word, "the," but no indefinite article "a." Here the article is missing in all manuscripts. This usually means the indefinite in English. The majority of modern translations I looked at show "a gospel." I conclude that the angel preaches not the gospel but a gospel. (Although we would come to the same conclusion with the words, "the gospel," this strengthens the conclusions.)
This all seems a bit strange because Paul told us that even if an angel from heaven should preach another gospel it would not be the one true gospel (Gal. 1:8). Why then the words, "an everlasting"? Could it be that, when the message is preached, many of the people who claim salvation through Christ misunderstand the true gospel? Could they be placing their confidence in a different one that is somehow not everlasting?
In what way might the duration of the gospel be misunderstood? Before we answer, we need to clarify what we are talking about. What actually is the gospel? It's the good news, as we said, but the good news is more than an idea. It's a process. It's the way we are saved. Listen to Paul: "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth. . . ." (Rom. 1:16). The gospel is God's power working for our salvation! That is, indeed, good news because we are powerless. We are terminally ill with the disease called sin. Our case is otherwise hopeless.
The gospel misunderstood
So how might the duration of the gospel be misunderstood? (1) Many Christians seem to believe that today's gospel began at the cross. They would see it as everlasting into the future, but not from the past. In other words, they believe that people of Old Testament times were saved by a different plan — by obedience to the law. (2) Other Christians believe that salvation is possible only through the church, and is determined by human priests who hear confessions and perform certain ceremonies. These ideas would amount to different gospels.
Let's think about the Old Testament gospel for a minute (Gal. 3:6-8; Heb: 4:2; Deut. 32:15). Before the cross, people were directed to trust the coming Messiah for their salvation as He was represented in the sacrificial animals. You may recall that John the Baptist, in seeing Christ, exclaimed, ". . . Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world." (John 1:29). In the sanctuary system, people looked forward to salvation through that Lamb, which would someday be sacrificed on the cross (Isa. 53:4-6), just as we look back to Him now. The way they were given for understanding the gospel is different. The process of salvation, however, is the same. It's the same gospel.
In addition to misunderstanding the gospel as different in the Old Testament times, people tend to see salvation today as forgiveness only. God's gift, they are told, is only a legal transaction which we receive by asking. It is, indeed, a legal transaction, but it's also more. In John the Baptist's statement, the Lamb would not excuse sin but would take it away. In taking away sin, Jesus not only forgives but cleanses (1 John 1:9). He does take sin away from our record of the past by forgiveness, a marvelous gift. But He also takes sin away from our continuing behavior (John 8:11; Rom. 6:1, 2). He cleanses us by empowering us to overcome our natural selfishness (John 1:12; Rom. 7:14, 15; Mark 10:23-27).
When the angel of the Lord announced the birth of Christ, he told Joseph, ". . . thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins." (Matt. 1:21). Jesus saves us from sin, not in it. He not only pardons the evil thoughts and actions we are sorry for, He frees us from our slavery to them! And what is sin? "Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law." (1 John 3:4).
This is where the gospel is misunderstood by many sincere Christians. They have a wrong idea about how people received salvation before the cross and about how they receive it now. Grace is missing from their picture before the cross and cleansed behavior is missing now. Actually the gospel was the same then as now. Grace is the gift and obedience is the response of faith.
Saved by works
before the cross?
We often hear that people before Calvary were saved by their obedience to the law or by their works in sacrificing animals, and that the law was only for the Jews. We have discussed the problems with this last idea in the past. Let's look at the legalism part. Were people then really saved through their works? No, only through the blood of Christ to whom the system pointed (Heb. 10:4; Ps. 51:16, 17; 40:6). The sacrifices helped them remember their heart commitment.
Why was the sanctuary system followed at all? The Lord told Moses, ". . . let them make me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them. According to all that I shew thee. . . ." (Ex. 25:8, 9) And why did He want to be close to them? Through Isaiah, He had explained, ". . . your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear. (Isa. 59: 1, 2). So the whole problem was (and has always been) sin. An understanding of God's requirements was not new at Sinai, however (Rom. 5:13). They were understood from the beginning (murder Gen. 4:7; adultery Gen. 18:20, righteousness 2 Peter 2:5, etc.). When the believers in the true God came out of slavery in Egypt they had only a vague idea and needed to be taught again (Ex. 20:2, 8).
According to the popular way of understanding the gospel, we are now saved by grace because Jesus fulfilled the law (Matt. 5:17, 18; Eph. 2:8-10). Indeed both grace and fulfillment of the law are involved, but not quite in the sense those terms are commonly explained. The whole system of the Old Testament pointed to Calvary. Jesus met the terms of the law, taking our place on the cross (Rom. 6:23; Ezek. 18:4; 2 Cor. 5:21). The penalty demanded by the law was met. That part of the law was, indeed, fulfilled. But consider some terms of the law which have not been fulfilled. The law also expresses the relationship of life and hope by faith in Christ which will be fulfilled throughout eternity (Ps. 40:8; Duet. 30:19, 20; Luke 10:26-28). So we cannot say that following its principles of love for God and man are no longer required, that fulfillment is complete.
The passage about the law being fulfilled says more. Let's read it. "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled." (Matt. 5:17, 18).
This is what we were saying. The duration of the law and the prophets is "till all be fulfilled." Only part of the law was fulfilled at the cross. Clearly, not the slightest modification would be made to the requirements of the Father in heaven (Matt. 5:16) until all is fulfilled. Our Lord paid the penalty in full for our redemption, but eternal life, except in the promise (John 3:36), has not been received by the righteous. We are not in heaven. Our bodies are still wear out and we die (1 Cor. 15:54). Also the penalty of the law has not been fulfilled for those who refuse the grace of Christ. This does not happen until the end of the thousand years when fire comes down and destroys all sinners including Satan himself (Rev. 20:9, 15).
Jesus explained, "till heaven and earth pass," nothing will pass from the law. At the cross, heaven and earth responded (Matt. 27:45, 51), but we would not say they passed away. All this will become clearer as we continue to explore the meaning of the gospel. Wonderful, marvelous grace! (Rom. 5:20; 6:1, 2)
What about the ceremonial laws?
Are they, along with the moral law valid "till heaven and earth pass"?
We discussed how some have
misunderstood the everlasting nature of the gospel, feeling that the law
of ten commandments has somehow been replaced or changed. Here is a verse
we looked at:
"Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled." (Matt. 5:17, 18)
By the "law and the prophets," Jesus meant the whole body of sacred writing in His time — our Old Testament. The "law" (Hebrew, torah) was understood to be the revealed will of God and is generally equated to the first five books of our Bibles, called the books of Moses. Large portions of this early block of sacred writing are divine instruction, the most notable instruction being the ten commandments spoken by God from Sinai ex2001 and then written on stone tablets with His own finger ex3118. By contrast, the body of religious, health and civil laws were written down by Moses as they were communicated them to him de3124ff.
The purpose of the religious ceremonies was to teach people, who had only a vague idea of what the Messiah ge0315 would be like, helping them get a picture of His saving grace. Through the various rules, they were shown how God's great standard of love, the ten commandments (summarized in mt2236ff), applied to their salvation. The various sacrifices helped them understand how their sin, which the commandments revealed ro0707, could be forgiven and removed by the grace of the coming Messiah. So the sanctuary system related law and grace.
Reading the words of Jesus, as we quoted, in verses 17 and 18 of Matt. 5, then continuing on, we see the broader meaning. He had not come to destroy (or lessen the importance of) the law. This, however, was just what the Scribes and Pharisees were doing. He told the people that they needed better righteousness than that of their leaders mt0520. In the rest of the chapter He gave examples of His support for the law. You might want to read for yourself to get the picture first-hand.
We must conclude that the moral law was established, not cast aside, by Christ ro0331. If you stopped to read the rest of the chapter, seeing how He came to establish the law, you may have discovered a puzzle. His explanation includes examples from the ceremonial as well as the moral code. Do we then conclude that the ceremonial rules would also continue — that they do not pass away? Are we responsible to keep both?
Surely James and the others at the Jerusalem council were right about the Gentiles not needing circumcision (Acts 15). And God had made a clear statement about the end of animal sacrifices when the temple veil was torn from top to bottom at the death of Christ mt2751, da0927. My next sentence may sound a little strange, so hold on: I don't believe the ceremonial laws have changed any more than the ten commandments have.
We resolve the dilemma of setting aside laws in realizing that the religious, ceremonial requirements of the Old Testament were conditional. Looking at the observance of the Lord's Supper will help us understand. Jesus said ". . . This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come." (1 Cor. 11:25, 26).
This is our new ceremony to remember the everlasting covenant ga0306, he1320, ge1707, ge0713. By the symbols, we keep before us the Lord's death till he come. The new rule has a time limit. When Jesus returns, we are no longer to observe it. Then we will have a better way to remember His death zc1306, 1jo0302 and we will no longer be looking forward to His coming. Part of the old ceremonies pointed forward to the "the Lord's death" just as the new ceremony helps us look back to it. The old ceremonial laws have not changed. But the time has passed for observing the ones which point forward to the cross. To keep them now would be to deny that the sacrifice of Christ, which they represent, has already taken place.
The ceremonial laws are still important to us as we see how they teach about the process of salvation. We are still blessed by them. Incidentally, some of them were mentioned by the Jerusalem council as still binding ac1522. All of them were applications of the moral law.
What marvelous grace we have just looked at! Without compromising the royal standard of heaven, Christ lifts us up into its pure atmosphere of peace and love.
This may all seem hard to
understand because we often think of the law as incompatible with the gospel.
Some people feel that believing in the importance of the law is salvation
by works and denial of grace. Granted, believing that we find salvation
through the law is indeed salvation by works. All still confusing? Let's
take a closer look:
For those of us who, in faith, accept the grace offered and die to sin,
the accusations of the law, in Christ, have been nailed to the Cross. Our
sins have been forgiven as Jesus bore them at Calvary. Praise God! (Hab.
2:4; Heb. 10:38;
Col. 2:13, 14).
Accepting God's strength to turn from our natural feelings of the flesh and walk instead according to the spirit of life in Christ, we are no longer under the condemnation of the law (Phil. 4:13; Rom. 8:1-5). This does not mean that the law has changed but that our relationship to it has (Rom. 3:31). As we continue to walk with Christ in purity of commitment (Rev. 3:4; Prov. 3:6), living the new birth experience (John 3:3), the law which had been our death sentence because of our sin (Rom. 7:11-13) becomes the law of liberty in Christ (James 1:25; 2:10-12). Our obedience is not the means of our salvation but it is evidence that we are exercising the faith by which we accept God's grace (Eph. 2:8-10, linked above).
Many of the texts I have cited are often only partially understood. I've tried to pull them together in the beautiful picture of God's saving love. I invite you to prayerfully study them for yourself.
Next we see, as an equation and a chart, how we receive grace.