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New Wine for the End Times
All New Testament doctrine comes from five Jewish sources: Jesus, John, James, Peter, and Paul. We must strive to interpret their words in a manner that ancient Jewish readers would have understood, and in the context of the Jewish culture as seen in the Old Testament.
When the term “ancient Jewish eschatology” is used, it is meant to represent a literal interpretation of Old Testament Scripture. Why should ancient Jewish eschatology be applied? The answer is simple, and lies in the authority of Old Testament Scripture. This is not to say that we should incorporate aspects of their beliefs aside from those found in Scripture itself. There are two traditional approaches to Old Testament prophecy:
Preterists would say, correctly, that the Church is Israel. The New Testament Church is simply a continuation of God's chosen people, under a New Covenant. However, Preterists views hold that Old Testament prophecies concerning Israel were completely fulfilled in Christ's first coming. This requires massive and confusing allegorical and symbolic techniques of interpretation. Many Preterists admit that the Jewish writers themselves would never have interpreted the prophecies in this way.
Dispensationalists interpret Old Testament prophecies much more literally and naturally, following ancient Jewish tradition. But they believe the Church is a "parenthesis" between two dispensations of Israel, completely separating Old Testament prophecies from the Church. These prophecies apply to a separate group of God's people they consider to be Israel.
My approach is to interpret Old Testament prophecies literally and naturally, as ancient Jews would have done, and to apply these principles directly to the Church. Gentile believers have been grafted into Israel. The prophecies are literally fulfilled in the Israel, or those who are in Christ. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile. There is one body, one faith, one baptism. If one is in Christ, then they are a part of the true Israel. During the first half of the great tribulation, the Jewish part of Israel will be unhardened and will accept Jesus as the Messiah. But not all Jews are a part of the true Israel (Romans 9:6-7). Only those who mature in Christ are the true Israel.
This is not to say the Church replaces Israel. It's not "Replacement Theology." Gentiles are grafted into the vine, which is Israel. There are two kingdoms in Israel. Gentiles who are in Christ can be understood to be the northern kingdom. Jews, when they are grafted back in, are all from the southern kingdom. When Christ returns, these two kingdoms (sticks) of Israel will be reunited, as promised in Ezekiel 37:15-28.
This changes the entire focus of the New Testament from a Greek emphasis to one that is considerably more Jewish. While it is true that the New Testament was written to Greeks, much of it consists of letters written to churches addressing problems within these churches. Paul had already started these churches, taught them, and naturally taught doctrine consistent with his beliefs. Unless God revealed to Paul an error in his teaching, Paul would have taught from a Jewish perspective because of his background as a Jewish Pharisee.
The specific things God disclosed to Paul as being errant were that Gentiles could be a part of Israel, and that the Messiah had to die for sins and then come back a second time to reign. Other than these, we can assume Old Testament Jewish culture as the context for interpreting the New Testament. The Old Testament cannot be interpreted based on traditional Greek understanding of the New Testament. Instead, the New Testament must be interpreted in the context of the Old Testament, in a manner similar to that of ancient Jews.
Traditional belief states that when someone dies, he or she goes directly to heaven or hell. Their eternal destiny is decided at that point, based on their actions or beliefs during their lifetimes. This has been ingrained into our belief system so strongly that every New Testament verse is interpreted on this basis.
The story of Jesus telling the thief on the cross, “Today you will be with me in Paradise,” is commonly interpreted under a filter of pre-existing traditions. When we read what Paul said about being absent from the body is being present with the Lord, we interpret it under the filter of our pre-existing traditional beliefs. When we read the parable of Lazarus, with the rich man talking to Abraham in Hades, we interpret it under the filter of our pre-existing traditional beliefs. So these interpretations of these verses reinforce our pre-existing beliefs.
Ancient Jews did not believe that death led immediately to heaven or hell. Under their belief system, both the just and the unjust were asleep in Hades awaiting the resurrection on the Day of the Lord. The resurrection marks the beginning of the Messianic reign to come, a period when Israel will rule the world. This is what ancient Jewish children were taught from their youth. Reading the New Testament with their system of beliefs in mind can produce vastly different interpretations than those common today. These New Testament verses should not challenge the ancient Jewish belief system. Instead, we should challenge the belief that heaven or hell comes immediately after death.
This is not to say that people aren’t eventually destined for heaven or hell. But the final judgment is not until after the Messianic reign. In other words, the Great White Throne Judgment will take place a thousand years after the resurrection of both the just and the unjust. At that time, those not written in the Lamb’s Book of Life are thrown eternally into the lake of fire, which is hell-fire.
After the first century of the early Jewish disciples, the next generation of early church fathers had Greek backgrounds. Unlike Jewish culture, Greek culture taught that punishment or bliss came immediately after death. The Greeks did not believe in a resurrection. Consequently, the Greeks who read the New Testament misinterpreted it in exactly the same way believers do today. Yes, they added a belief in the resurrection. But it was a resurrection after you are already in heaven. Today, the Christian focus at funerals is on heaven or hell immediately after death. The Jewish focus was on the resurrection. Our incorrect traditional beliefs heavily distort the way we understand the New Testament.
For example, Jesus said, “I am the [road], the truth, and the life. No man [journeys] to the Father except by me." (The Greek word used here for 'way' means 'road.') If we have been taught from childhood that an eternal destiny of heaven or hell is decided at the time of death, then this verse is naturally interpreted as saying that those who don’t receive Christ before death are destined for hell. But for the ancient Jew, this verse simply says that Jesus is the Messiah. In the age to come, the Messiah will be the only way that anyone will be able to ascend to the Father. Nobody is left out by this verse under ancient Jewish interpretations because both the just and the unjust are both resurrected prior to the Messianic age to come. Death is not the end of the journey of righteousness.
When Old Testament Jewish eschatology is applied to the New Testament Church, seven major problems that have divided the churches over the centuries are resolved. (1) It solves Calvinism vs. Arminianism (election vs. free-will). (2) It solves issues about the dichotomy of free-grace verses vs. holiness verses. (3) It solves Lordship Salvation vs. Free Grace Theology. (4) For the Catholics, it gives a free-grace alternative to purgatory. (5) And, since death is not the end of the journey, it solves this problem of people who die having never heard about Christ. (6) It gives Scriptural evidence that children who die young do not go to hell. (7) And it gives Scriptural evidence for the purpose of the millennial reign. Many other Scriptural problems are solved as well.
The merchant in this passage sold everything he owned to buy the Pearl of Great Price. Was he ripped off because he bought something that was given freely to everybody else?
What about the man who found a treasure hidden in the field? (Matthew 13:44) He sold everything he had to buy that piece of land. The treasure within represents the kingdom of heaven.
Salvation is a free gift (Romans 3:24, 5:15-17, 6:23), but these men sold everything they had to inherit the kingdom. Does this mean that inheriting the kingdom is different from salvation? “The kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it” (Matthew 11:12 NIV).
To those who are saved by his blood, Christ gives a directive to seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness. You can't seek something that is already yours. Salvation is a free gift, but inheriting the kingdom requires lots of work.
This would make sense to the ancient Jew, who focused on the resurrection instead of immediate transportation to heaven or hell upon death. They focused on being a part of Israel and ruling with Christ as priests and kings in the age to come after the resurrection. The resurrection, which is to be saved from the grave, is a free gift. But ruling over the nations is only for those who overcome sin (Revelation 2:26-27). The resurrection does not guarantee inheritance of the kingdom. Those who don't overcome sin, despite possessing faith in Christ, will be included with the nations at the resurrection, but will not reign with Christ.
The difference between simple salvation and inheriting the kingdom can be seen in the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). The word “prodigal” means extravagantly wasteful. The younger son received his inheritance in full, and wasted it. The older son spent his life working for his father. The younger son’s return filled his father with joy, and he celebrates the return of his son. The younger son would have been happy to simply work as one of the father’s servants, but instead he is forgiven, restored, and given a celebration.
One thing is often overlooked in this parable. The father tells his older son “Everything I have is yours.” The older son still has his inheritance. However, the younger son receives his life back. He has received salvation as a free gift, but he has still lost his inheritance.
Those who seek the kingdom of the Father and His righteousness in this age will inherit the kingdom in the age to come. The older son represents those who will rule over the nations with Christ. But the Father still loves the younger son. Those who repent in the age to come will be welcomed back as sons. They will be given life again, but will not inherit the kingdom. They will not be the priests and kings who reign with Christ during the millennium.
What about those who have lived and died in cultures, generations, and times where it would have been simply impossible to learn about the saving blood of Jesus Christ? Would a loving, caring, and merciful God create souls and place them in hell until they repent? And if that was the case, wouldn’t everyone repent under torture only to find out later that he or she falls back into sin? And how does that count as coming to the Father through faith in Jesus Christ?
Both the traditional Calvinist and Arminian systems tend to have uneasy solutions for those who die having never heard about Christ. Even Christian Universalists say they will be punished in hell, even if it is temporary.
Calvinism tells us that God has chosen, before they were even born, those who will go to heaven and those who will go to hell. God chooses who He will draw to Himself so that we will ask for Christ’s forgiveness and salvation. This indicates that God creates souls knowing that they have no chance for salvation, and will spend eternity in hell. From a merciful point of view, it would have been better for these souls to never have been created. For many, this simply does not fit the character of a loving, caring, and merciful God.
Arminians tell us that we have free will to accept Jesus Christ as our personal Savior, and thus can individually choose heaven or hell by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. This would seem be more aligned with the character of a loving God. But many still have problems with this view. What about those who have lived and died in times and cultures where hearing about Jesus Christ would have been impossible? Do they really have a free-will choice to accept Jesus as Savior?
The New Wine System, on the other hand, says God chooses who will inherit the kingdom, but does not choose those who will eventually place their faith in Jesus Christ. Those who inherit the kingdom will rule over the nations, but those in the nations are still on the road of righteousness, towards complete holiness, and will still have the opportunity to receive eternal life through a personal (discipleship) relationship with Jesus Christ, after the resurrection, during the age to come.
Let’s take a look at various types of special provisions which have been developed to address this problem.
Pluralism and Unitarian Universalism state that all religions lead to salvation.
Annihilationism groups such as Jehovah’s Witnesses state that souls who do not believe in Jesus Christ are destroyed, and that there is no hell.
Christian Universalists affirm there is some form of punishment after death for those who do not believe in Christ, but this punishment is not eternal. Eventually, all will be saved.
Inclusivism or Extended Mercy states that all who have faith in God will be saved by the blood of Christ, whether or not their belief includes faith in Jesus Christ.
The view of Postmortem Evangelism says that everyone receives the opportunity to believe in Jesus after death. Presumably, God judges whether or not the person would have accepted Christ, had they been given the opportunity. Others say that it is an issue of election, in which God elects those who are to be saved after death.
Some say God gives every person an opportunity to receive Christ soon before death. This can be through visions, dreams, or angels. Others say this occurs at the moment of death via middle knowledge.
There are many problems with these views. Some are assumptions made without sound Scriptural evidence. Others require distortions of the natural meaning of Scripture. All of these systems either deny hell’s existence, or they simply disregard Scripture’s requirement for a meaningful and personal (discipleship) relationship with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ to overcome sinful habits.
Most of these systems, including traditional Calvinism and Arminianism, are based on a presupposition that is not taught by Scripture. They assume that after death people go immediately to heaven or hell, thus making death the end of our journey. This teaching is indoctrinated into our culture. At funerals, the preacher tells us our loved one is in a better place (hopefully). What does Scripture say? What did the ancient Jews believe? When Martha was grieving over the death of her brother Lazarus, did she seek comfort in knowing Lazarus was in heaven? Or did she seek comfort in knowing he would be raised on the last day (John 11:24)?
In Old Testament times, the Jews believed everyone goes to Sheol (Hades in the Greek) when they die. In New Testament times, the Jews may have understood there to be different regions in Hades for different types of people. But everyone, both righteous and the unrighteous, still went to Hades when they died, where they awaited the resurrection. For the Greeks, Hades was only the place for the wicked. The word ‘Hades’ in the Bible began to be translated as hell. However, a more correct approach would be for only the Greek word Gehenna to be translated as hell. This is not to say that there is no hell. But people do not go to the lake of fire as soon as they die. It's only after they are judged. And the final Great White Throne Judgment is not until a thousand years after the resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous.
The New Wine System interprets Scripture in a manner much more closely resembling the ancient Jewish hope in the resurrection and the Messianic age. The focus of Scripture is on the resurrection. But the modern-day Church seems to remember the resurrection only on Easter. Every other day of the year we focus on going to heaven when you die. The resurrection becomes very anti-climactic since one is assumed to already be in heaven at the time of the resurrection. People say we will be spirits in heaven but will get our “spiritual bodies” at the resurrection. Where in Scripture does it say we will be spirits in heaven? Just as in Scripture, the New Wine System puts the focus back on the resurrection.
The blood of Christ was the atonement for everybody’s sins. God “causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (NIV Matthew 5:45). The New Wine System recognizes Paul’s teaching in Romans 5:10-21, and 1 Corinthians 15:22, as saying that just as sin came into the world for all men through Adam, reconciliation came into the world for all men through Jesus Christ. We are all reconciled by the blood of Christ. Everyone has been reconciled to God and can thus be resurrected, which is to be saved from death. Adam brought death for everyone. And likewise, the second Adam brought “justification to life” for everyone. But we must still have justification by faith and a completion of sanctification through faith before we can receive eternal life.
All men were reconciled to God at the cross. We are justified by faith when we become believers. This is the start of our journey of sanctification, which leads to the glorification of our bodies when Christ returns. Those who don’t complete their journey can continue their journey after the resurrection. Thus, salvation has four parts: reconciliation, justification, sanctification, and finally glorification.
This is true for people of all ages, generations, and cultures. Every human being, beginning with Adam, has been given the opportunity to live their life for Christ. Our journey might or might not include an encounter with Jesus Christ during this lifetime. Death does not end this journey. Almost everyone will be resurrected. When Christ returns to reign as King of Kings, almost everyone will have the opportunity to put their faith in Christ and to continue their journey.
Those who have completed the journey with Jesus Christ in this lifetime will be resurrected with spiritual bodies and will reign with Christ when He returns. They are represented biblically as the Bride of Christ. People from every nation, tribe, people, and language will be a part of this wedding banquet as the Bride of Christ. But this is just the tip of the iceberg compared to the total number of people from all past generations who will complete their journey of righteousness during the millennial Messianic age to come.
There is no requirement for infant baptism, nor is there a need for an age of accountability for children. An age of accountability for children is not found in Scripture. Christ has died for the sins of all children. If the child dies, he or she will simply continue his or her journey of righteousness after the resurrection.
Likewise the mentally ill, who mature physically but never develop the mental capacity to understand Christ's gospel, are covered under His salvation. They will simply be resurrected, free of their mental illness, and will then have the opportunity to learn about Jesus Christ.
Paul said that Jesus is "the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe" (ESV 1 Timothy 4:10b).
Because of the cross, all people were born as already reconciled to God. All people can be resurrected. Jesus said, "When I am lifted up from the earth, [I] will draw all people to myself" (ESV John 12:32). In other words, the Holy Spirit will reveal Christ to everybody. Everyone’s name has been written in the Lamb’s Book of Life from the foundation of the world. However, as Old Testament Scripture shows, those who harden their hearts and no longer hear Christ’s voice (Hebrews 3:7, 15, 4:7) will forfeit their salvation. This is called the unpardonable sin.
The unpardonable sin is to blaspheme the Holy Spirit. This was seen in the days of Moses, when the Israelites worshiped the golden calf after witnessing the miracles of Moses (Exodus 32:32-33). It’s also described in Hebrews 6:4-6 and 10:26-31, which is an intentional rejection of Christ after having received the knowledge of the truth. During the great tribulation, the unpardonable sin is taking the mark of the beast. And after the millennium, when Satan is released, those who march against Jerusalem will be committing the unpardonable sin. All of these are examples of the hardening one’s heart to the point of no longer being capable of hearing Christ’s voice.
Everybody continues on their journey of salvation unless he or she commits this unpardonable sin. This does not include sins that occur in moments of weakness. This is talking about a perpetually hardened heart for which even the miracles of the Holy Spirit have no effect. This sin cannot be forgiven, in this age or in the age to come (Matthew 23:32, Mark 3:28-29, Luke 12:10), because it’s sin for which there is no longer a sacrifice (Hebrews 10:26-31 and would require Christ to be crucified again (Hebrews 6:4-6). The unpardonable sin is a decision that men can make out of their own free will, just like Adam. Even believers have this free-will to reject their salvation. And it has the same consequence as Adam’s sin for the same reason. Adam had the knowledge of the truth about God. But Christ died for this first sin that separated us from God. Christ’s death on the cross brought reconciliation. But Christ will not be crucified a second time.
God does not show favoritism (Romans 2:11). The New Wine System is the only system that has no favoritism for specific generations, cultures or nationalities. The New Wine System is the only system that truly reflects the character of a loving, merciful, and caring God, while at the same time giving all men of all generations, cultures, and nationalities the true free-will ability and opportunity to accept or reject Jesus Christ and to mature in that relationship.
The New Wine System is the simple application of Jewish eschatology to the New Testament Church. When the Messiah comes, Israel will rule the world and salvation will be brought to all the nations through that rule. Likewise, when Christ returns, the Church (which is Israel) will rule the world with Christ. The Church is the firstfruits (Jeremiah 2:3, Romans 8:23, James 1:18) of the harvest. We are the Bride who gets into the wedding banquet. We are the priests and kings who will lead the nations to eternal salvation during the millennium.
We are told to seek first the kingdom of heaven and His righteousness. Those who, in Christ, seek the righteousness of the kingdom will find it. Those who don’t seek the kingdom will not find or inherit the kingdom. We have been taught that to inherit the kingdom has the same meaning as salvation. However, “Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (NIV 1 Corinthians 6:9-10). Yet all of these sins have been atoned for by the blood of Christ, especially for believers.
We confuse inheriting the kingdom with “getting saved” because we incorrectly assume our journey of righteousness ends with death. Those who complete this journey before they die are the elect. But the elect are not the only ones who will receive salvation. Because all men have been reconciled, both the just and the unjust still have the hope of the resurrection (Acts 24:15). Then, the unjust will still have the opportunity to continue their journey of salvation.
The elect are those who are totally on fire for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. They find God’s purpose for them as individuals, and develop enthusiasm about fulfilling that purpose. Nothing else matters, even if it costs them their lives. They help others as the Father brings people into their paths. In doing so, sin is completely overcome and they find Christ’s righteousness. Others see Christ in them and would not hesitate to want them to hold positions of authority in the government. They walk as Jesus walked (1 John 2:6), which is to walk without sin. In other words, as they do the good works the Father has for them, all their sinful habits just naturally disappear from their lives.
Those who confuse “getting saved” with election have a tendency to water down the gospel‘s requirements of what is necessary to inherit the kingdom. But the narrow gate that few find is that of election. The narrow gate is for the elect. It’s the prize for which Paul ran the race. This leads to inheriting spiritual bodies at the time of the resurrection. The wide gate, in the context of the Sermon on the Mount, is about the destruction of money when we build our houses on the sand. The foolish try to serve two masters. You cannot serve both God and money. We store treasures in heaven as we do good works for the Father. If we serve money, we go through the wide gate that leads to the destruction of both the money and the worldly possessions that money buys.
These and many other Scriptural problems are solved by one simple application of Jewish eschatology to the Church. The people of Israel are a “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own purposes” (1 Peter 2:9, Exodus 19:5-6). This means that the people of Israel are the elect. The Gentile believers are grafted into Israel. To be chosen does not simply mean you are saved. The people of the nations can be saved and still not be the chosen nation that will rule the world. New Testament Jewish writers such as Peter quoted Old Testament verses such as Exodus 19:5-6. They applied Old Testament prophecies about Israel to the Church. If we do likewise, then the Old Testament prophecies about Israel must be literally fulfilled in the Church as well as in Israel. Therefore, according to Bible prophecy, the Church/Israel will rule the nations with Christ during the millennium (Revelation 2:26-27, 5:10, 20:6).
The more liberal Christians today, both Catholic and Protestant, believe that salvation can be achieved through other religions. However, traditional Catholics would say that salvation is available only to those who are baptized in the Catholic Church. Anyone who is not baptized as an infant (or at conversion) in the Catholic Church is destined for hell when they die. Infant baptism is said to remove Adam’s original sin because Christ is the second Adam.
After baptism, Catholics believe a journey begins that leads to holiness. This journey involves overcoming sin. Confessed sins are forgiven by grace and by the blood of Jesus Christ. Merits are also rewarded for good deeds performed during this journey. A combination of grace and merits results in eternal life.
Those who reach a certain level of holiness through grace and merits, prior to death, are considered saints. The saints go directly to heaven when they die. Others in the Catholic Church must first spend some time in purgatory and be cleansed by fire for whatever shortcomings they have regarding holiness. Time in purgatory can be very long, but is still temporary. Eventually, those in purgatory are released to go to heaven.
As a Catholic, Martin Luther was terrified of God. He perceived God as unjust and impossible to please. The Protestant system he founded eliminated the beliefs of purgatory and merits. Under the Reformed system, no one becomes perfect. Everyone continues to sin. Perfection comes only upon reaching heaven. All believers are considered to be saints. According to Protestant teachings, good deeds do not earn merits that contribute to one’s salvation.
Under the Reformed Protestant system, salvation becomes simply a matter of making a decision to believe in and to follow Jesus Christ. The gospel is that anyone can put their faith in Christ and go to heaven when they die. One is imputed with justification by the blood of Jesus upon making a decision for Christ. Thus, salvation is not a journey. Or it can be considered a journey that does not require completion. It’s a decision that occurs at a specific time. The Reformed Protestant believes he was saved (past tense) on a specific date when he first asked Jesus to come into his life.
The advantage of the Protestant system over the Catholic is that one’s relationship with Jesus Christ and the Father is much more personal. Salvation doesn’t feel like a long journey that will never end in this lifetime before reaching the Father. The Father doesn’t have to be sought through saints and priests. There is no fear of punishment in purgatory for lack of holiness or merits.
The disadvantage of the Protestant system is that one can lose the sense of the importance of holiness. The claim is nobody is perfectly holy, so sinful habits that have taken hold can be excused as irrelevant to salvation. The Protestant is still going to heaven, even if the sinful habits are never overcome. Evangelism and missions can be seen as the only important function of the church. After all, it is reasoned, one only needs to “get saved” in order to go to heaven.
Under the New Wine System, the good news of Jesus Christ combines the best from both the Catholic and Protestant doctrines. In this system salvation is a journey and not a past-tense decision. Salvation involves becoming holy, like Jesus Christ is holy. Complete sanctification, or perfect holiness, can be found on this side of the grave. Only those who reach this perfect holiness are considered saints, or “Holy Ones.” Death does not make one perfect.
Under the Catholic system, Adam’s sin is removed with infant baptism. Romans 5:10-21, and 1 Corinthians 15:22 talk about Christ being the second Adam. But these passages do not mention baptism. Everyone is reconciled to God (Romans 5:10) because everyone starts out as an enemy of God. Adam’s sin was removed for everyone by the blood of Christ. Adam’s penalty for eating the fruit was death. Everyone continues to sin. And the wages of sin is death. But now that Adam’s sin has been removed for everyone, everyone can be resurrected.
Good deeds do not contribute to salvation. We are justified by faith. Our sins are forgiven entirely by the blood of Jesus Christ when we become believers. We should not feel guilty, except to know that our sinful habits must be overcome. Believers are on the journey of righteousness toward complete sanctification. Good deeds are a mechanism for overcoming sinful habits and reaching complete sanctification, but are not involved in the forgiveness of sin. That has already been accomplished through the blood of Jesus Christ alone.
As believers, since our sins are already forgiven, we can have a relationship with Jesus Christ and Father that leads to righteousness. There is no need to pray to the saints. Only through a personal (discipleship) relationship with Jesus Christ can we even hope to become like Him and overcome all our sinful habits.
If we do not reach holiness before we die, there is no fear of punishment. Death is not the end of the journey. The good news is that sinful habits can be completely overcome by faith. It’s a faith that involves works. But for those who don’t have this faith, even death is not the end of the journey of righteousness. This is the true good news about Christ’s sacrifice. This is the true gospel, which will be preached to all nations. Then the end will come.