Previous article in this series: October 1, 2021
In our previous article we noted that the most prominent precursory sign of the return of Christ is the worldwide preaching of the gospel. It is the sign of all the signs. It shows us more than any other precursory sign how soon Christ will appear to bring all things to an end.
As we ponder this sign and look for its fulfilment, we discover that the gospel of Christ’s kingdom has already, for the most part, been proclaimed in all the earth. The Word of God has gone out into almost all of the inhabited world. This has included its spread in recent decades into nations and peoples who had never heard it before.
It would be a mistake, however, to think this worldwide spread of the gospel is accomplished only through missions. We need to realize that the preaching of the Word to all nations and peoples begins with it being proclaimed in the established congregations of the people of God. It must start there. If we would neglect the families of the people of God in our established churches, then we would make the mistake of thinking they are not part of the world that must hear the preaching of the gospel.
The Word must first be preached in our churches. That is necessary with a view to the salvation and building up of the covenant people of God in their generations. The faithful preaching of the gospel is the chief means of grace for them first of all. It is the means Christ uses for the gathering of His elect in our own generations.
In addition to that, the Word that is preached to those who are already saved and already in the church is the means to equip the people of God to bring the gospel, in turn, to others. The preaching equips believers individually in their calling to give a witness of the truth. And it also, very importantly, equips the church as a whole to carry out the work of missions.
Missions is also, then, an important calling given to the church. She must proclaim the truth to others. We realize that not all churches are able to do the work of missions to the same degree, for not all are given, in the providence of God, the same resources and opportunities. But every church is called to do what it can.
Christ uses His church for the spread of His gospel into all the world. He has been doing this for centuries. As a result, there are few places (if any) where the gospel has not been. There is hardly a nation or people in the world that has not heard it. This sign of all signs tells us, therefore, that Christ’s return is very near.
The objection might be raised, however, that there are many persons, both in the past and in the present, who have never heard the gospel. And if that is true (and it certainly is), what then does “worldwide” preaching of the gospel mean?
What we must understand is that the fulfillment of the sign of worldwide preaching of the gospel does not mean that every individual in the world must hear the preaching before Christ will return. If that were the case, the end would never come, for millions have already died who never heard the preaching of the gospel, and millions of children die (or are killed) who never hear the gospel. Besides all this, there are also many millions who have never heard or who will never hear true and faithful preaching of the Word. But the reality is, it has never been God’s purpose that every single person who is born into this world must hear the preaching. Nor is that necessary, for God leaves all men without excuse in other ways (see Rom. 1).
We also need to remember that God deals with and judges nations organically. Each nation will be judged as a whole for what that nation has done with the gospel. When a nation rejects the gospel, the whole nation is accountable before God for that, and not only those who actually heard the true gospel preached to them. Every member of those nations is corporately responsible for rejecting that Word. Each individual will be called to give account on the Judgment Day for that, and will be judged accordingly.
Thus the idea of the gospel going into all the world is not that the truth must be preached to every individual in every age and nation, but that it be preached within each nation upon the earth. That serves God’s purpose of the hardening of the ungodly and their filling the cup of iniquity. And it also serves God’s all-important purpose of saving the elect kernel in each nation.
That the worldwide preaching of the Word has for the most part been fulfilled does not mean, however, that the church of Christ may stop preaching, or that believers may stop witnessing, or that the church need not be concerned about mission work. In reality, the very opposite must be true. The fact that the world still exists is exactly the proof that the gospel has not yet completed its course around the world. The gospel has not yet reached all nations and peoples, for if it had, Christ would have already returned.
Thus, the child of God and the church of Christ who urgently desire, by faith, the return of their Savior have here a powerful incentive to be busy in the work of the preaching of the gospel.
Because of this sign, the faithful church will be focused on preaching. Preaching will be a high priority. It will continue to be the main element in the worship services and in all the church’s activities and work. The church and the people of God will be energetic about the preaching of the truth both within their congregations and on the mission field. This will be true of them because they know that Christ has made this determinative with regard to His return.
These are the end times. This is the last hour of history. And therefore, this is the age of the preaching of the gospel of Christ for the salvation of the church.
Whenever and wherever His Word is faithfully preached, we hear the footsteps of Christ. For it is He who preaches the Word and it is His mighty voice that brings His people to believe in Him. The fact that Jesus Christ, through faithful preaching, is gathering, defending, and preserving to Himself His church in every nation under heaven means that His return is imminent.
There is no more important work to be busy with than being a church that faithfully proclaims the gospel of Christ to herself and her children and then to all the world. May we remain busy in this, also through our prayers and support. And may God be pleased to use us as weak means to accomplish His purpose of saving His elect with a view to the glorious appearance of Christ.
We hear His footsteps through the worldwide spread of the gospel. That quickens our hope concerning His return. In all our sorrows and persecutions, with uplifted heads, we look for Christ to come as Judge from heaven. For then He will cast all His and our enemies into everlasting condemnation, and will translate us with all His chosen ones to Himself into heavenly joys and glory (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 19).
What a blessed hope we have. More urgently and more sincerely we pray, “Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly.”