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What is the message of the Gospel or ‘Good News’ that Jesus said was to be preached throughout the entire inhabited earth before ‘the end’ comes? That may sound like a silly question. Everybody knows that according to Matthew 24:14, it is to be ‘the good news of the Kingdom.’ However, what many religious leaders fail to tell their followers is that there’s some dispute over these words.
Luke’s gospel quotes Jesus as saying something quite different just before he was taken to heaven. Luke 24:47 says:
‘Then in his name, [the message of] repentance for forgiveness of sins is to be preached in all the nations, starting from JeruSalem.’
Compare to the same account in Matthew 24:14:
‘For this good news of the Kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole habitation of mankind as a testimony to all the nations before the end arrives.’ —Matthew 24:14
Which is correct?
Well, it could be that Jesus said both things, but there is a realistic possibility that the text of Matthew was simply corrupted sometime in the 2nd century CE. Firstly, Luke (whom the majority of Bible scholars agree wrote the most accurately) records Jesus as giving different instructions on that occasion. Secondly, the source manuscripts for Matthew are the most corrupted of all the Gospel texts.
The likely reason for this corruption is that Matthew was probably translated into Greek from an Hebrew or Aramaic original sometime early in the 2nd century CE. This dates it to after the great ‘turning away’ (foretold at 2 Thessalonians 2:3) had occurred, and all kinds of false teachings had begun infiltrating Christianity. It’s clear that many changes were made to Matthew both at that time and through the ages since. Indeed Matthew’s account differs quite markedly from the other Gospels in many places, even when those Gospel writers are clearly quoting from Matthew’s account (yes, Mark and Luke did quote from Matthew)! –See the translator note on Matthew for more information
Further, preaching a message of repentance would be continuing the message that John the Baptist preached (who was sent to ‘prepare the way’ for the coming of Jesus). At Matthew 3:11 we read:
‘Indeed, I baptize you in water [to show your] repentance.
But the one that is coming after me is greater than I am.
He will turn many sons of IsraEl back to Jehovah, their God.’
And again at Luke 1:16, 17:
‘He will travel before him in the power and spirit of EliJah, and he will prepare a people for the Lord by turning the hearts of fathers back to their children, and the [hearts] of those that don’t obey to righteous good sense.’
In other words, John’s message was to be one of repentance and the need to return to righteous ways. If we believe Luke 24:47, it seems that Jesus’ command was to continue this work.
So, are we saying that ‘the Kingdom’ should not be preached? Obviously not, for Jesus did in fact also preach about the Kingdom in many of his most well-known parables. However, it seems that many use the questionable words of Matthew 24:14 to overshadow Jesus’ instructions to preach ‘repentance for forgiveness of sins’ before his return. How inappropriate, in an age where faithlessness, immorality, and lack of love have become so rampant!
There’s also much historical evidence that the Early Christians primarily preached about repentance of sins. For example, the writing called the Didache is now widely dated to around 100 CE. It purports to be a description of how the Apostles instructed the Christian message to be preached to the Gentile nations. Although it did undergo later changes and insertions, its overwhelming and primary message is that of repenting of sins.
This actually makes sense. Preaching such a message would attract people who are humble, recognize their personal failings, and who wish to change. This would hopefully gather together like-minded people together who truly wish to improve themselves and change for the better. On the other hand, preaching a message that promises material rewards in exchange for worship (e.g. so-called prosperity theology which promises financial rewards for worshiping God) may not attract truly humble people to become Christians.
But hasn’t the message of repentance already been preached? No, just look around. Has the world population repented of their sins? Are they ready for Jesus’ second coming? Judge for yourselves.
For a greater discussion of this issue, please see the commentary, Christian Forgiveness and Repentance.