The Gospel of the Kingdom

Jesus is a Jew, with a Jewish name.[1] Even archaeology bears this out. Some people have trouble with this, others can’t get enough. There are hundreds of variations of belief among those who claim to be followers of Jesus of Nazareth. Much of what he said and did is speculation from interpretation. What all can agree on however, is that he is God’s anointed one, in Greek we say christos, from the Hebrew meshiach which is where we get the words christ and messiah. These are not proper nouns, but titles. He was anointed to “bring salvation”, which is what his name means; Yahweh’s salvation, or Yahweh brings salvation.
His very own words in regards to his message were, “I have not spoken on my own initiative, but the Father who sent me has given me a command, namely, what to say and how to say it...”[2] I want to examine a little closer what Jesus’ mission was, and what this gospel or good news was that he preached. What is the purpose of Christianity? There are many more that could be cited, but here are a few that point out some key elements:
“I came to call sinners to repentance” (Lk. 5:32), “I came to save that which was lost” (Lk. 19:10), “he came to destroy the works of the Devil” (1 Jn. 3:8). There we have three important elements in the ministry and mission of Jesus. How exactly did he do that? Luke 4:43 "I must preach the kingdom of God…I was sent for this purpose."
Ask just about anyone what the gospel message of salvation consists of and they will likely answer, “Jesus died for our sins, rose from the dead and ascended to the Father”. I don’t think there have been many people who have actually raised the question of, “is this really what the Bible teaches”? To see the message that Jesus proclaimed, we need to start in Genesis. We cannot pick up in the NT in the middle of the plot, and expect to get the entirety of the message. His message is rooted in the Hebrew scriptures.
If we go to the gospels and read the testimony of Jesus preaching the gospel, and remember that Jesus was commissioned by God to give the “gospel of salvation,”[3] what was it that Jesus presented to the public as “the gospel”? Was it his death and resurrection he centered on? Not according to Matthew, Mark and Luke.
Now I want to say up front, if there is no death and no resurrection, our faith is pointless. His death, burial, resurrection and atonement for sin are no doubt part of the gospel, but is that all there is to the gospel, and is this actually what Jesus preached?
In Matthew 3:2, John the immerser came saying the same thing, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." What is also interesting about John is that he even asks Jesus if he is the “coming one”[4] or should they keep looking?[5] If someone of John’s caliber is preaching the “good news/gospel” shouldn’t he more so than anyone know the death and resurrection theme?
Mark 1:14-15 Jesus picks up the same theme John had been announcing; “the kingdom”. Jesus makes his first imperative declaration by saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel." If this is the foundation of the gospel, God’s kingdom, then we could safely say that the death and resurrection is what unfolded as time went on.
The problem is that there seems to be a divergence from the gospel that Jesus preached and the gospel that many modern Christians preach. What is the kingdom of God?
Jesus was proclaiming this kingdom in the Galilee, and it is clear that the audience of Jesus (in the Galilee)[6] was privy to this kingdom. All of the prophets had foretold of this kingdom, especially Daniel, and they had great expectancy of a time when God would rule through the “coming messianic figure”, in Jerusalem on the throne of David. Jesus never redefines the kingdom as anything other than what the prophets had said. The Sadducees knew, for they opposed any prophets as being from God. They only accepted the Torah[7] and nothing further. They also denied any type of bodily resurrection, which we find is a key element in the kingdom and life in the “age to come”.
It is important to note, that at this point, he did not say a word about his death and resurrection. He has commanded repentance (which is an about turn; a change of course; a new direction) and to believe and grab a hold on the gospel of the kingdom of God.
In Luke 4:43, he gives us the very reason for his ministry: "I must preach (proclaim) the kingdom of God…I was sent for this purpose." In Luke 9:2, 6 Jesus is sending his disciples with the same gospel message, “And He sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God…departing, they began going throughout the villages, preaching the gospel…”
What was this message about? Was it about the death and resurrection of Jesus? Absolutely not. It is known to serious readers of the Jesus story that he preached “the gospel”, and what is a startling fact when you examine in detail his context and his content,[8] you find that he is not talking about his death, burial and resurrection at all. That should have bells and whistles going off. It is clear he is preaching the gospel, but he is not saying at that point anything about his death, and what is even more amazing is that when he does reveal his death and resurrection privately in the last third of his ministry (Matt 16, Luke 18); his disciples did not believe it, “But the disciples understood none of these things, and the meaning of this statement was hidden from them, and they did not comprehend the things that were said.” They had even been preaching “the gospel”.[9]
In Matthew, Mark and Luke if you add up the chapters where Jesus’ ministry is described, and where Jesus is this tireless “itinerant preacher” of the gospel of the kingdom, you will come up with about 30. If this message of the gospel is just about the death and resurrection, why does it say that “He warned the disciples that they should tell no one that He was the Christ. From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day.[10] This is when Jesus begins talking about death and resurrection. If this is not so, and he and his disciples had been proclaiming his death and resurrection, why then after Jesus’ revelation of this to his disciples does Matthew record this: “Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, "God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You."[11] This is not exactly a likely response from someone who had been out proclaiming that this Jesus is going to die for your sins! This is obviously news to Peter, it took him by complete surprise and blew him away. This reaction to me is puzzling if in fact Jesus had been preaching about his death and resurrection in “the gospel”. So that begs the question, “what was Jesus preaching about”?
In Matthew 4:17, “Jesus began to preach and say, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Then also in verse 23, “Jesus was going throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people.”[12] In chapter 4 of Matthew he is preaching the kingdom, and in chapter 9 he is still preaching that same kingdom. He was teaching the people how to live (i.e. sermon on the mount) like “kingdom” citizens, or as someone who was destined to participate in the coming kingdom that he was so clearly proclaiming. And to be fair, these passages I have brought up are by far not isolated. Jesus came beating the kingdom of God drum.
After Jesus’ death and resurrection, there is no doubt that the fulfillments of the prophecies “proving”[13] that Jesus was the messiah were added to the gospel, and was preached.[14] The gospel of the kingdom was still the name for the gospel, but now it had been further illuminated in light of Jesus’ resurrection, and was incorporated into the message of the “kingdom”. What remains clear is that the good news of the kingdom of God/Heaven,[15] was still the primary message. “But when they believed Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, men and women alike” (Acts 8:12). Paul “entered the synagogue and continued speaking out boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God” (Acts 19:8). Paul “was explaining to them by solemnly testifying about the kingdom of God and trying to persuade them concerning Jesus, from both the Law of Moses and from the Prophets, from morning until evening…he stayed two full years in his own rented quarters and was welcoming all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered” (Acts 28:23, 30, 31). Paul just like Jesus (Luke 4:43), said, “my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God… I went about preaching the kingdom…For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God” (Acts 20:24-27). For Paul, the kingdom was the “whole purpose of God”.
Jesus’ death and resurrection are a vital part of the gospel, but they are not the whole gospel. We all know and have heard, “Your kingdom come”. We were taught to pray for something to come. This is the first definition Jesus gives to the kingdom of God. It is the time in the future when God introduces His revolutionary government and reigns with the hand of the one He has appointed/anointed, and shalom will prevail for the first time since the garden of God. We are all longing for this, whether we know it or not. This is a global theme and very participatory for all the saints, according to the prophets. The parables that the messiah taught included teaching about stewardship as preparatory steps in recruiting rulers of this kingdom. Even the twelve disciples were told that they would judge the twelve tribes of Israel. The time which we now live is essentially a training ground for a future time when we will become rulers with the messiah.
The gospel of the kingdom has already come in one sense in the hearts and minds of those who “love his appearing”.[16] In the same sense, a word from the Almighty can be spoken in the “prophetic perfect” tense of already happening, because it is as good as if it already has (Rev 13 “lamb slaughtered before the world was founded”). The gospel of the kingdom is not something that originated with Jesus either, but has been coming and will culminate in the future.[17] It will come “with birth pains”. Does the church today hold a different gospel than that which Jesus taught?
The kingdom message could be described as everything wrong with the world being made right; God’s will being done on earth, as it already is done in heaven.
The story of the kingdom is found in Genesis to Revelation. God made the earth good. God put man on earth and in the garden to manage it, enjoy it, have dominance over it and be with God in intimacy. God dwelt with man in perfection, everything was right, there was safety, shalom; no violence. Everything was in its proper sphere. Man chose to go against God’s instruction, and since the times of old, God has been putting the pieces in place to restore it once again. Jesus has become the ultimate ruler of God’s kingdom, having won it back through obedience, [18] and this is our hope; for if God raised Jesus, He can raise us as well.[19] This kingdom will be handed back to the Father as Paul states, “then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet” (1 Cor 15).
Restoration is the word. The hope of the believer is not to escape “hell” and enter “heaven”, this is foreign to the message of the gospel. It is the hope of the resurrection or parousia.[20] It is the hope of the kingdom that the messiah inaugurated through the anointing of the Father, and will culminate in his return to earth with the resurrected saints to bring about the shalom that has been promised from the very beginning. He has placed this kingdom in/on our hearts and we can live in the peace of that kingdom, and spread tastes of that kingdom even as Jesus himself did when he did “the works of his Father”. It’s not that are to cope with “nasty now and now” with hope of a “sweet by and by”, our joy can be full now. He has given us the power, the strength, the armor and the tools, to “overcome the world”. This starts first and foremost with love (Mark 12:30-31, John 13:35). It is the Fathers love, because we cannot give what we don’t have. The messiah has placed this “kingdom” work on us as his followers. What is it we preach? Do we desire to see, “the period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time” (Acts 3:21)?
This has been by no means an exhaustive study of the kingdom. I am sure I cannot do it justice, but I do hope that we can all come to the reality that there have been and continue to be important elements neglected from the entirety of the gospel. Do we want to sound like Jesus when we speak? Do we want to be on board with God’s plan? This messiah will return and all his saints with him.[21] Christians are also commanded to preach that same gospel of the kingdom (Matt. 28:19-20; Luke 9:60). How well are we doing with this task? How well are you doing?

[1] Yeshua
[2] John 12:49
[3] Heb 2:3
[4] Zech 9:9, Mal 4:5, Matt 11:3, Luke 7:19-20
[5] There is much more to this exchange between John and Jesus, but it is not pertinent to this discussion.
[6] Most of Jesus ministry took place in what is called the “triangle”. It is a 3x3x3 mile area comprising of the towns of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum.
[7] Books of Moses Pentateuch
[8] His content came from the Father, and right out of what most of us call the “old testament”, the Hebrew scriptures
[9] Luke 9:6, 60; 10:9
[10] Matt 16:20-21
[11] Matt 16:22
[12] Matt 9:35 is very similar
[13] Acts 3, 4, 13, 17
[14] i.e. 1 Cor 15
[15] We can get off track with these phrases. Matthew is the only gospel writer to use kingdom of Heaven, meaning, the God of Heaven establishing a Kingdom. Heaven was a word that was used by the Jews as a replacement of God’s name (i.e Luke 15 prodigal saying, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight”. If you compare the parallel passages from the synoptic gospels, you will find the kingdom of God and Heaven used interchangeably (see Matt 19:23-24). There is no sense of “going to heaven” in the use of kingdom of Heaven.
[16] 2 Tim 4:8
[17] This is quite fascinating, but it is quite a rabbit trail. If you want, look at all the times Jesus makes reference to the kingdom of Heaven/God is like… and see if you can find the place in the old testament he may be referencing.
[18] Acts 2, Heb 5
[19] Acts 17, 2 Cor 4:14
[20] Second coming
[21] Jude 14