Is the good news necessarily good?

Revelation 14:6-7

And I saw another angel flying in mid-heaven, having a gospel of the age to proclaim to those sitting upon the earth and to every nation and tribe and tongue and people, saying in a loud voice: “Fear God and give him glory, for the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of water.”

Peter G. cites this passage in a comment here as evidence that euangelion does not necessarily signify good news. The message of the angel to the pagan world, to the nations and peoples ruled by Rome, is that the hour of God’s judgment on the whole idolatrous, unjust, immoral system is approaching. They are called to worship instead the one true creator God, not the ineffectual works of human hands. A second angel announces the fall of “Babylon the great”—that is, Rome, the power that has corrupted the world (14:8). A third angel adds that those who worship the beast and its image, etc., will also “drink the wine of God’s wrath” (14:9-11).

So clearly this “gospel of the age” or “everlasting gospel” (euangelion aiōnion), which is proclaimed (euangelisai) by the angel, is not all good news—or not good news for everyone. We have a similar situation in the Gospels, where Jesus’ “gospel” of the kingdom (Mk. 1:15) is accompanied by a call to Israel to repent because the nation faces the catastrophe of divine judgment. But I don’t think this means that we should not translate euangelion “good news” or should replace it with such an expression as “God’s authoritative message”, as Peter suggests.

John understands the angel’s message to be good news in the sense that it predicts the victory of Israel’s God over the nations and more importantly the emancipation of the peoples of the empire from the control of a corrupt and corrupting system. The angels proclaim a liberation theology. Because of the suffering of the Lamb and the faithful witness of the martyrs (Rev. 14:1-5) the nations will have the freedom to worship the God who “made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of water”. That is not merely an authoritative message; it is good news for the world.

The same point would apply in the case of Jesus’ gospel. The “good news” of Israel’s forgiveness and restoration is inseparable from the thought that the nation faces judgment.

A quick look through the LXX and Josephus suggests that the word group always carries the positive connotation of good news. Interestingly, according to BDAG euangelion originally referred to the reward that was given to the messenger who brought good news.

Clearly, one man’s meat may be another man’s poison. What’s good news for me may not be good news for you. When the Philistines found the body of Saul on Mount Gilboa, they cut off his head and sent messengers through their land, “proclaiming the good news (euangelizontes) to their idols and to their people” (1 Sam. 31:8-9). But this does not alter the meaning of the word: euangelion means “good news”.