I do not read the book of Revelation as future-forecast, not as prophecy, not as road map for the end times, but rather as Gospel. No doubt, Revelation is prophecy and it is apocalyptic literature. But that is problem if we get caught up in how it sounds strange to our modern ears. As 21st century listeners in the Western World not accustomed to the subversive nature of 1st apocalyptic literature, we risk missing what God is saying in Revelation as we try to force the message into our context. I propose reading it first and foremost as Gospel, God's good news.
Chapter 14 is an example. "I saw another angel ... with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth - to every nation and tribe and language and people." We know the word Gospel means 'good news,' and comes from the same Greek root word that gives us evangelism. Gospel is only truly good when it is shared, which is evident in this verse. So what is this good news we who are in Christ are to share with everyone everywhere in the world? What specifically is the "eternal gospel" proclaimed in Revelation 14?
Verse 7 - "Fear God and give him glory, for the hour of his judgment has come." Along with Alan Johnson who writes the entry on Revelation in the Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary, vol. 2 (p. 1197), I ask, why is judgment good news? A second angel comes along in the passage and proclaims the fall of Babylon (the ancient Roman empire which actively persecuted the church when Revelation was written). A third angel declares that those who worship the beast (the Roman emperor) will drink the cup of God's wrath. "They will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the Lamb" (v.10).
Good news? It sounds horrifying. The prospect of a fiery eternity scares me. I am confident in Christ and I know that I have been saved from such a future. But it scares me that anyone would have to face that, even my worst enemy. I long for an afterlife in I which experience God's goodness; I do not eagerly anticipate the demise of the ungodly. So why is this good?
I think the hope of this judgment passage is contained in verse 6, quoted earlier. Recall that in Revelation 5:9 and also 7:9, there was a vision of believers gathered in Heaver - Christ followers from every nation, all tribes and peoples and languages. There we are told the outcome of the effort that is put forward in 14:6. The angel had an eternal gospel that was to be shared to every language and tribe and nation and people. As Craig Blomberg points out, angelic activity in Revelation is mirrored by the church's activity on earth (NIV Application Commentary: Revelation p.372) . Verse 6's depiction of the angel evangelizing is seen in real time in our world when the body of Christ, the church, takes the good news to all peoples. And all who receive Jesus and acknowledge him as Lord are not subject to the wrath reserved for the wicked on the Day of Judgment.
Thus, judgment is gospel because it is an opportunity for the church to be at work.
I recently read about Physicist Stephen Hawking's 'discovery' that God is not needed for the creation of the universe. He proposes a scenario in which all that exists can be explained apart from God or the Bible. The article from Associated Press was posted on Yahoo News. Over 26,000 people commented on the article. Many of comments I read came from professing Christians who sanctimoniously judged the heart and declared the fiery eternity of Mr. Hawking and any who would agree with him. I was saddened. People claiming Christ almost took glee in how lost Hawking is.
That must not be. Our attitude is not that of Christ if we revel in someone's spiritual downfall. The "eternal Gospel" as spelled out in Revelation 14 tells of an awful eternity for those who worship anything other than Jesus. But also contained in that gospel is the call for the church - you and me - to share the Gospel with the world so that they will turn to the Lord on not suffer under the weight of God's wrath. What we read here is a summons to action. We are called to be Jesus' witnesses in the world.