The grizzled old missionary paused. He’d been preaching the good news of the gospel, but now his raspy voice was silent.
He placed both hands on the pulpit and gazed about the packed room. Deep lines around his mouth and eyes gave him a fierce expression, and he seemed to scowl at each person there.
It was December in South Africa. Summertime. Outside, it was a blistering heat.
It was not much better inside. The sweltering air was still, and the little bush church smelled like a stale locker room. I could feel trickles of sweat running down the back of my neck. I was miserable.
Lizards clung to the dried mud walls. They watched flies pinging against the smudgy windows. A captive chicken in a basket panted with open beak. Women wrapped in colorful garb fanned themselves with sheets of paper, grass fans, and scarves – anything they could use.
The elderly preacher suddenly slammed the pulpit with his fist. Everyone flinched.
“AND THIS GOSPEL OF THE KINGDOM SHALL BE PREACHED IN ALL THE WORLD FOR A WITNESS UNTO ALL NATIONS!” he bellowed. His voice was like a sonorous growl forced through a bed of gravel.
The young Zulu translator reached over and struck the same pulpit on the other side. We all saw it coming this time, so nobody jumped.
“LELI VANGELI LOMBUSO LIYAKUSHUNYAYELWA EMHLABENI WONKE, KUBE NGUBUFAKAZI EZIZWENI ZONKE!” His voice was high and shrill, but he did his best to emulate the elderly preacher.
I was quite young at the time. Growing up on the mission field as I did, I’d often heard Matthew 24:14 quoted like this. It was not until I was older that I realized there was a Part B to this verse, “….and then the end will come.”
I wish I could tell you that faithful old warrior was the only one I’d ever heard to use that verse out of context, but it’s a staple for mission conferences. That verse is still employed to excite candidates and to infuse them with a “higher calling.”
Earlier, in Matthew 24:3, we find Jesus’ disciples asking Him about “….the sign of your coming and of the end of the age(?).” This was just before Jesus’ crucifixion, and verse 14 is part of His reply.
Jesus emphasized two themes as He responded to His disciples’ queries. They are:
THE JEWISH PEOPLE – Jesus told of the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in verse 2. He called out “those who are in Judea” in verse 16. He warned of the restraints of the Sabbath in verse 20 and about false Messiahs in verse 23. Jesus also used the example of a fig tree in verse 32. The Bible likens the nation of Israel to a fig tree, and His disciples did not overlook that connection.
THE END OF TIME – In Matthew 24 and in the parallel accounts of Mark 13 and Luke 21, Jesus reveals the signs of His proximal Second Advent. These are listed as signs on planet Earth (earthquakes, famines), signs within humanity (lawlessness, deception), signs of eroding faith (apostasy, false prophets), signs in the heavens (fearful cosmic disturbances, asteroids), and signs concerning Israel and the Jews (wars, severe persecution, hatred by all nations).
The phrase, “….this gospel of the kingdom,” sits squarely within the mix of these two themes. It is a Jewish-centric phrase, and it is associated with the end of time just before the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
In context, Matthew 24:14 chiefly concerns Christ’s future Millennial Kingdom, during which time He will reign from Jerusalem. Certainly, Jesus preached a message of both personal repentance and kingdom expectation (Matt. 3:2, Et Al.), but as Dr. Stan Toussaint remarked, “Every time the term kingdom is used theologically in Matthew it refers to the same thing, the kingdom yet to come on this earth inaugurated and governed by the Messiah.”
Jesus’ disciples understood it that way too. In Acts 1:6, shortly after Christ’s resurrection, they asked Jesus a related question, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” They remembered Jesus’ words in Matthew 24:14 just a few weeks before. This shows Israel’s promised kingdom was top of mind for them, even if they were “a little off” on its timing.
All said, it is mostly ignorance that assumes the church will succeed in comprehensively evangelizing this fallen world. It is mostly arrogance which argues the church will gain dominion over this present earth by means of spiritual combat. Neither position is supported in the Bible.
What IS supported in the Bible is the fact that evangelism will reach its peak during the Tribulation – a point AFTER the church has been removed. What IS declared in the Scriptures is the good news of salvation will finally reach every corner of the globe within those seven years of horror. These truths conform to the larger message of Matthew 24:14.
To properly understand this future time of unprecedented trauma when the good news of salvation will be advanced as it never had been before, we need to accept three basic facts:
- It will be a time of supernatural phenomena (Matt. 24:24; 2 Thess. 2:9; Rev. 13:13; Et Al.)
- It will be a time of unprecedented deception (Matt. 24:24; 2 Thess. 2:11; Rev. 13:14; Et Al.)
- It will be a time of unparalleled persecution (Dan. 7:21, 25; Matt. 24:9; Rev. 12:17, 13:7; Et Al.)
Together, these three facts clarify how and why the seven years of the Tribulation become the zenith of worldwide evangelism.
Today, the strategies to spread the good news of salvation are many. Personal witness, printed materials, radio, television, social media, public events, and music and art are among the available means to advance the fundamentals of the great commission (Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15; Acts 1:8; Et Al.).
However, very few of these conventional approaches will find any opportunity during the Tribulation. The antichrist and his murderous globalist regime will make sure of that. They will work to stop it all.
Even in our time, censorship has begun. You are just as likely to have your Facebook or Twitter account shut down for stating Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6) as you are for exposing the facts about COVID-19 or for supporting a large prayer ministry for Jews. Truth is no longer welcome.
In the years just prior to Jesus Christ’s Second Coming, the means of spreading the good news of salvation will therefore include some unconventional approaches. It’ll be God’s way of getting the job done despite Satan’s best efforts to squelch it.
The Bible unpacks these exceptional methods as follows:
THE SAINTS – There is no question that people will come to saving faith during the Tribulation. The end-time Scriptures are replete with this evidence, and the Holy Spirit will remain omnipresent as He continues to convict the world of its sin (John 16:8).
It’s not this article’s purpose to argue those points. My point here instead is the gospel will still get advanced through personal witness – via those saints who have gained salvation AFTER the church has been supernaturally raptured.
But these won’t be your ordinary saints! They’ll be distinct from saints now – that’s why their personal witness is exceptional. These people will have lived in the church age, but they will not belong to the church. While they will wear robes made white “….in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev. 7:14), they are not part of the Bride of Christ.
These Tribulation saints are exceptional in two other ways. First, as a group, they’re radically committed to the gospel of salvation during the absolute worst period of human history (Matt. 24:22; Rev. 6:9; 12:11, 17; 20:4; Et Al.). Over and over, the point is made that this group of saints is known for “….the Word of God and the testimony they had maintained” (Rev. 6:9, Et Al.).
These Tribulation saints will actively LIVE and DECLARE the gospel, and so they will contrast starkly with the unprecedented depravity and deception around them. Perhaps some of them will once have attended a church, but they were not truly saved. They will realize they were much more part of the world at that time than they were any part of the body of Christ.
That leads to the second reason these tribulation saints are exceptional, because again – as a group – they are far more likely to be martyred for their faith than not (Rev. 6:9; 20:4, Et Al.). The world will hold no promise for them – except to lose their life – so they will live 100% for the assurance they have in Jesus Christ. They will viscerally understand Paul’s words, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21).
THE 144,000 JEWS – Much has been debated about this special group. Various efforts exist to define it as something other than what God’s Word plainly states (Rev. 7:4-8).
Chief among those misguided efforts is the assertion that these 144,000 are not ethnic Jews – but the Bible is transparent about this. It’s 12,000 Jews from each of 12 tribes of Israel, and they are identified around the start of the Tribulation. The fact that we – or even they – may not know their bloodlines does not discount the fact that God DOES!
The second claim detractors make is these 144,000 Jews are not evangelists. This point is touted because the Bible does not specifically call them such. It is similar faulty logic that concludes the church will not be supernaturally snatched from this earth since the word “rapture” doesn’t appear in the Bible.
The Scriptures make the points of the rapture quite clear, and it’s much the same with these 144,000 Jews. What we learn of them, and the context within which we learn it, tells us what their impact will be. It is evident this group will play a major role in declaring the gospel of salvation during the Tribulation.
Besides their Jewish descent, they are supernaturally selected and sealed by God between the opening of the 6th and 7th Seal Judgments. They are called “servants of God,” and they are marked for divine protection against the unparalleled persecution of that time (Rev. 7:3-4). They are completely devoted to the service of their Lord and Savior (Rev. 14:3-4), they are “firstfruits to God” (Rev. 14:4), and they’re noted for their purity and righteous conduct (Rev. 14:4-5).
I have this growing conviction that these 144,000 Jews are not necessarily from the land of Israel at the time God seals them. The Bible makes no case that they are. While they eventually show up on Mount Zion (Rev. 14:1), it is reasonable to assume they arrive in Israel at that time as part of the second – and final – worldwide regathering of Jews to their homeland.
The Bible says this future regathering of Jews to Israel will be in belief (Isaiah 11:11-12:6). A true faith in Jesus Christ as their Messiah will mark the Jews of this future occasion. That is a very different dynamic than “making Aliyah” in unbelief, a prophetically significant process we are seeing in our present time (Ezek. 34 to 37, Et Al.).
Meantime, Jews live in nearly every nation as a result of the diaspora (Deut. 28:64; Jer. 29:18; Ezek. 12:15; Amos 9:9; Zech. 10:9; Et Al.). They know the people, cultures, and languages of these diverse places they are now part of. They are perfectly positioned for spreading the good news of salvation “in all the world” when God supernaturally seals 144,000 of them.
Imagine the impact 144,000 Jews from all parts of the globe would have once they are commissioned as devoted “servants of God.” Some scholars liken this to multiplying Paul’s ministry 144,000 times. It is little wonder this group appears to be key in leading “….a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language” to salvation (Rev. 7:9). This supports the core message of Matt. 24:14.
THE TWO WITNESSES – A mysterious duo shows up at the start of the Tribulation. Like the 144,000 Jews, there are things we know about them, and things we can conclude about them.
Among the things we know from Rev. 11:3-12 is they are based in Jerusalem. Their mission will be “to prophesy”; they will declare God’s Word and events to come. They will do this for 1,260 days – right up to the midpoint of the Tribulation. We know their message will be so unwelcome to a depraved world that multiple attempts to harm these two figures will occur. Those efforts will be unsuccessful.
We also know these two witnesses will have miraculous powers, including “striking the earth with plagues, turning water to blood, stopping rain, and consuming their enemies with fire” (Rev. 11:6). “Seeing is believing,” and it will be no different here when these two witnesses validate their message.
When their appointed time of ministry is complete, God will permit the antichrist to kill them. Their deaths will be celebrated as a worldwide spectacle. Just as public will be their supernatural resurrection and their ascent into heaven three and a half days ‘post mortem.’
What we can conclude about these two witnesses is their ministry of prophesying will be blunt. They will be hated by “the inhabitants of the earth” for speaking the truth and for showing evidence of their preternatural commission by God.
We can also sensibly conclude these two witnesses’ primary focus is the Jewish inhabitants of Israel. While the impact of their message will be worldwide, it seems most likely these two witnesses are sent by God to remind the Jews of the Messianic prophecies, to expose the truth about the antichrist and his covenant with Israel (Dan. 9:27), and to challenge the nation’s errant return to a temple worship system.
When all the issues are weighed, I feel we can reasonably conclude that these two witnesses are a miraculous physical return of two Biblical figures: Moses and Elijah. While Enoch warrants consideration too, Moses and Elijah best represent “the law and the prophets” to Jews. The miracles these two witnesses will perform are like those miraculous signs Moses and Elijah had performed.
Furthermore, it was Moses and Elijah that appeared with Jesus at the transfiguration (Matt. 17:3-4). Jesus had dressed this event in end-times language by stating some of His disciples would still be alive when they saw “….the Son of Man coming in His kingdom” (Matt. 16:28). The fact that Jesus gave a show of his future glory in physical accompaniment with Moses and Elijah is not a dynamic to lightly dismiss.
One last thing we can responsibly conclude about these two witnesses – regardless of who they may be – is they will call others into a proper relationship with Jesus Christ. That is not specifically stated, but it’s clear in context. Why would these two witnesses send judgments upon the earth and devour their enemies with fire if such consequences were not proof of Almighty God who had sent them?
THE ANGEL – Of all the unconventional approaches to communicating the message of salvation during the Tribulation, the angel “….flying in midair” in Rev. 14:6-7 is the most dramatic. It underscores God’s determination to communicate the gospel by any means – even those apart from human agency.
In this passage, an angel flies around the earth and delivers an important dispatch. Remember, this is a time when life on earth will see the unnatural and the natural coexist. We cannot assess events during the Tribulation by today’s routines. Supernatural phenomena will mark those years.
I have little doubt this angel will be visible to “….those who live on the earth.” What is most important is He’s audible to them. The Bible says this angel delivers his message in “….a loud voice,” and he’s heard by “….every nation, tribe, language, and people.”
The point is nobody is missed. From the remotest jungles of the Amazon to the icy vistas of Siberia, and from lonely atolls in the Pacific, to dusty villages in the Sahara – the angel’s words are received and understood by all.
The Bible states the angel’s message is “the eternal gospel,” but it’s not what you might hear in church. It is in every sense of the concept the “last hope” for anyone that hears it:
“Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.”
It’s simple and straightforward. It’s Genesis to Revelation. It’s creation, and it’s judgment. It’s about the need for a right relationship with Jesus Christ. Everyone who hears it will be compelled to make a choice.
This is not the seeker-sensitive salvation message we often toss out with dubious intentions today. There is no goal in the angel’s approach to be attractive to the lost or to “have a conversation.”
The “eternal gospel” declared by the angel is based in urgency and common sense. Conditions in the world at that time will support everything he says. The result is the angel’s words are confrontational, brief – and by every one of today’s lukewarm standards, “politically incorrect.”
They’re also effective! Everyone on the planet will know the truth, and everyone will be accountable to it.
Roughly two thousand years ago, Jesus sat on the Mount of Olives and gazed down upon a city and a religious system that had rejected Him. He knew the church age was about to begin. While Jesus would task the church to be His witnesses “….to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8), He also knew it would conclude with work still left to do.
With His disciples around Him, Jesus pulled the curtains back on the future. His words were grim. He explained how things in the world would get much worse. But, by God’s sovereign design, it was all part of the plan. The good news of the gospel would finally be preached in all the world.
And then the end will come.
© Steve Schmutzer 2021. All Rights Reserved