Over the last two days I have been pondering how the gospel, as it was preached by the Apostle Paul, emphasizes judgment, justice, and wrath as much as it does justification, mercy, and grace. In Acts 17.16-34 we have a Lukan depiction of Paul’s preaching. Whether Paul said it like this, or it is just an outline, or Luke takes great poetic license is a matter of debate. Nevertheless, I find it to be very similar to what we have seen Paul say about his own gospel.
In this narrative Paul proclaims the gospel to the philosophical elite in Athens. A lot can be said about how Luke presents his overarching attempt to build a bridge with his listeners by starting with their idols and poets, but that is not my focus here. Rather, it is the content which Luke emphasizes that, again, matches well what Paul says about his own gospel and it likely a Lukan way of making a narrative out of the content he knew to be familiar with Paul’s proclamation.
Paul begins with God as everlasting Creator and Life-giver (vv. 24-25). He emphasizes humanity’s unity from one man (likely Adam) and his sovereignty over the nations (vv. 26-27a). Since God is our Creator and God rules the world, we are never far from the true God (vv. 27b-28).
This should lead humans to forsake idolatry (as if we can create God) (v. 29). Previously, God overlooked our worshiping of idols (which I take to mean not that God excused it but that he withheld eschatological judgment). Now, God is beginning to announce that he will be asking humanity to pay her dues (v. 30).
In v. 30 we see Paul calling for repentance and in v. 31 Paul cites the resurrection as evidence that Jesus has been chosen to be the one through whom God judges the world (see Ps. 2, Rom. 1.1-7). Jesus is the judge. Jesus will return and God will demand humanity stand before his Christ.
It seems that for many the mention of a “resurrection from the dead” didn’t sit well, so they sent Paul away (v. 32). Paul left (v. 33), but he did make some converts (v. 34).
What is important to note is that Paul’s gospel is an invitation to grace, but it also consist of a warning about a coming judgment. I have understood apostleship to be (primarily) those particular chosen royal heralds going forth to tell the world that the new King of Kings has been installed on his throne, his inauguration has occurred, and now he demands allegiance. The resurrection was that ceremony (again, Rom. 1.1-7) and he will return to see who are his loyalist. Those who are in rebellion to the gospel now will be in rebellion against the rightful King of the world on that day (sorry, God doesn’t see a democracy as the best approach).
What does this tell us about gospel proclamation? For those of us who live now, how do we proclaim the demand for allegiance to a returning King in a world where such an idea seems so archaic? Do we change our language (i.e. Should we say “government of God” rather than “Kingdom of God”?) or does the language carry the power of the message? Thoughts?