Kingdom Uprising

Reclaiming Jesus' Hope, Gospel, and Way

Category: Kingdom as Gospel

Matthew 13.19: The Parable of The Sower and The Kingdom of God

When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is the one on whom seed was sown beside the road. (Matt. 13.19 NASB)

Matthew 13 can easily be called the kingdom chapter. In this chapter Jesus disseminates seven parables that unveil the message of the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is compared to a costly pearl, where everything should be sold to obtain it. The Kingdom of God is like leaven. That is, it’s influence starts small but soon grows and infects everything. The first parable that Jesus compares the kingdom with is about a farmer tossing seed and it falling on various surfaces. The farmer’s seed lands upon four surfaces: the road, the rocky places, the thorns, and the good soil.

Jesus identifies that the seed the farmer is tossing is really “the word of the kingdom”. In other posts on Matthew, we have seen that Jesus has been preaching the gospel of the kingdom of heaven (the terms ‘kingdom of heaven’ and ‘kingdom of God’ are identical to each other click here). Thus, “the word of the kingdom” that Jesus is speaking of is the gospel of the kingdom.

Notice what Jesus says about this ‘word of the kingdom’. Anyone who hears it and does not understand it, the evil one, the adversary, the enemy comes and snatches away the kingdom message that has been sown in their heart. The verb translated “snatch” has the image of taking something by force or taking something violently. In short, the enemy wants to rip the gospel of the kingdom out of the hearts of those who hear it. We also learn other important bits of information concerning this parable in the parallel accounts of Mark and Luke.

According to Mark:

And [Jesus] said to them, “Do yo not understand this parable? How will you understand all the parables? The sower sows the word. These are the ones who are beside the where the word is sown; and when they hear, immediately Satan comes and takes away the word which has been sown in them. (Mark 4. 13-14 NASB italics mine)

We learn two details from Mark’s account:

  1. The parable of the sower is the most important parable that Jesus teaches. We must understand it or we can’t understand the other parables.
  2. Not only is Satan violent in taking the kingdom message, but also he reacts immediately to it.

According to Luke:

Now the parable is this: the seed is the word of God. Those beside the road are those who have heard; then the devil takes away the word from their heart, so that they will not believe and be saved. (Luke 8. 11-12 NASB)

We learn two details from Luke’s account:

  1. The “word of God” as defined in the gospels, is not the bible, but the gospel of the kingdom of God.
  2. This message of the kingdom is a matter of life and death.

The parable of sower, found in Matthew, Mark, and Luke is the most important parable Jesus taught and it was about the kingdom of God. In short, we learn that kingdom message is meant for all, but the enemy does not want you to have this life giving message of hope.

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Matt. 9.35: The bookend of Matthew’s kingdom section

Jesus was going through all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness. (Matt. 9.35) NASB

Matthew 9.35 is nearly parallel to Matthew 4.23-together they form an inclusio. An inclusio is a rhetorical device used by an author to bracket a section of material that belongs together. The beginning of the inclusio starts the section, the inclusio at the end marks that section off. In addition, the inclusio informs the reader what the contents will be about. In the case of Matthew 4.23 through 9.35 the contents are focused on three actions that Jesus preforms: teaching, proclaiming, and healing. The foundation that these three actions are rooted in is the kingdom of God.

The material between Matthew 4.23 and 9.35 can be broken into two sections: chapters 5-7 and chapters 8-9. What was Jesus teaching? What was he proclaiming? The kingdom of God. Chapters 5, 6, and 7 expound on what Jesus was proclaiming and teaching, otherwise known as the sermon on the mount. But Matthew also tells us that Jesus was healing all diseases and sicknesses that were brought to him. In chapters 8-9 a bevy of miraculous healings are reported:

  1. Jesus cleansed a leper – Matt. 8.2-3
  2. Jesus healed a Centurin’s servant is healed from paralysis – Matt. 8.5-7
  3. Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law from sickness and fever – Matt. 8.14-15
  4. Jesus exercises demons from two men in the country of Gadarenes – Matt. 8.28-32
  5. Jesus heals a paralyzed man – Matt. 9.2-6
  6. Jesus raised back to life the daughter of a synagogue official – Matt. 9.18, 23-24
  7. Jesus heals a woman with chronic bleeding – Matt. 9.20-22
  8. Jesus heals two blind men – Matt. 9.27-30
  9. Jesus heals a mute demon possessed man – Matt. 9.32-33

What is Matthew trying to tell his audience? What is he telling us? The gospel of the kingdom that Jesus is preaching manifests itself in an enhanced ethical system that cuts to the heart of the matter and the reality of that kingdom brings with it great healing power for all: Jews, gentiles, men, women, and children.

What does it mean when we read that Jesus was preaching and teaching the gospel of the kingdom? Matthew 4.23 – 9.35 tell us the power, reality, and true good news that the kingdom of God brings. For Jesus, this kingdom was gospel.

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The Forgotten Gospel

Here’s a documentary Restoration Fellowship put out some years ago about the shocking lack of knowledge about the kingdom of God in mainstream Christian evangelism and teaching. Although some evangelical leaders have made great progress in understanding the kingdom message, the average church-goer remains attached to the old heaven-at-death mythology.

Watch on YouTube

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History in the Making (Psalm 110)

Time for a little trivia! What Old Testament scripture is the most frequently quoted scripture in the New Testament?

In case you hadn’t already figured it out from the subject of the article, Psalm 110 is the most quoted scripture in the New Testament, and it can be found a total of 33 times! That sure says something about the importance that the New Testament writers placed on this biblical passage!

Let’s take a look at this popular text:

Psalm 110 [NASB]
 1 The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at My right hand
Until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.”

2 The LORD will stretch forth
Your strong scepter from Zion, saying,
“Rule in the midst of Your enemies.”
3 Your people will volunteer freely in the day of Your power;
In holy array, from the womb of the dawn,
Your youth are to You as the dew.

4 The LORD has sworn and will not change His mind,
“You are a priest forever
According to the order of Melchizedek.”

5 The Lord is at Your right hand;
He will shatter kings in the day of His wrath.
6 He will judge among the nations,
He will fill them with corpses,
He will shatter the chief men over a broad country.
7 He will drink from the brook by the wayside;
Therefore He will lift up His head.

In the New Testament, the first verse of this psalm is regularly applied to Jesus. In this way, the writers of the New Testament are identifying Jesus as the Davidic ruler to whom this psalm ultimately points, the one who is currently seated at the right hand of God in heaven and waiting for Yahweh, the LORD, to subdue his enemies before him.

The psalm goes on to say that Yahweh will extend the power of this Davidic ruler out from Zion, Jerusalem, and give him the authority to reign “in the midst of his enemies” and to crush opposing rulers and nations of the earth “in the day of his wrath.” Sure sounds like this Davidic ruler will be reigning over (and on) the earth, doesn’t it?

Well, that’s because he will be. In fact, that’s the good news that Jesus went around proclaiming: namely, that God, through his appointed agent Jesus, would establish God’s kingdom on the earth, and with it bring the justice and peace of God’s government into the created realm once again.

So, as you have probably figured out, we have yet to see this psalm brought to complete fulfillment because we are waiting on Yahweh to send back his son from heaven. When he returns, he will destroy those who oppose God and establish God’s just government.

Come, Lord Jesus!

 

 

 

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The Kingdom of Heaven Defined (Matt. 4.23)

Matthew defines for his audience what he means by the phrase “kingdom of heaven”.

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. ( Matt. 4.23) NASB

After reading in Matt. 4.17, that Jesus began to preach the kingdom of heaven, Matthew defines what the kingdom of heaven actually is. According to Matthew, what Jesus was preaching and teaching was the kingdom of heaven as gospel. The kingdom of heaven is not a code phrase for going to heaven as some might think. Rather the kingdom of heaven is synonymous with the kingdom of God (see article on Matt. 4.17). How Matthew defines kingdom of heaven is by calling it gospel or good news. The good news is the kingdom. There are two aspects to the kingdom of heaven or God, and that is a present aspect and a future aspect. Matthew 4.23, shows the present aspect of the kingdom. Verse 4.23 and 24 tell us about all sorts of people coming from all over the area just to see Jesus and be healed. Jesus brought a piece or a glimpse of the kingdom with him in the present. Hebrews 6.5 helps explain this further. In verse 4 the author talks about those who have been enlightened and have tasted the heavenly gift and partakes of the Holy Spirit, which Jesus fits into that category. Verse 5 says that they have tasted the word of God (the New Testament definition for ‘the word of God’ not the Bible, rather the gospel) and the powers of the age to come. Jesus brought with him in his ministry the powers of the age to come, we saw this through his ability to forgive, heal the sick, raise the dead, and preforms miracles. Jesus was preaching and teaching in the synagogues this gospel of the kingdom continuously. The kingdom message has power for people now, as we see in Jesus’ ministry to those who believed it.

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The Inaugural Statement of Jesus’ Ministry (Matthew 4.17)

The first words of Jesus’ public ministry outline and provide a foundation for his ministry that changed the world forever.

Matthew 4.17 [NASB]
From that time Jesus began to preach and say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’

In the gospel of Matthew these are the very first words of Jesus’ public ministry. Up to this point in Matthew’s narrative, we have read about his birth, baptism, and temptation in the wilderness. But one of the accounts covered in the first four chapters of Matthew does not directly involve Jesus, but rather John the Baptist. His story is in chapter three, and one of the very first things we learn about John the Baptist is that he was preaching “repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 3.2).  Now fast forward to Matt. 4.12, we learn that John is taken into custody, he is arrested and is not able to preach “the kingdom of heaven” as freely as he once could. And we read in Matt. 4.17,  that “from that time”, from the time that John is taken into custody, Jesus takes the responsibility of preaching the kingdom of heaven upon himself and starts proclaiming it.  Six verses later in Matt. 4.23, Matthew tells us that the Kingdom of heaven Jesus was preaching is the gospel or good news.

Next I want to look at the phrase ‘kingdom of heaven’. This phrase is unique only to Matthew, the other 65 books of the Bible when they mention the kingdom, it is the ‘kingdom of God’. But even in Matthew’s Gospel there are a few instances where he uses the ‘kingdom of God’ instead of the ‘kingdom of heaven’.

Matt. 6.33 – But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. ESV

Matt. 12.28 – But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. NASB

Matt. 19.23-24 – And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. NASB

Matt. 21.31 – Truly I (Jesus) say to you that the tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you. NASB

Matt. 21.43 – Therefore I (Jesus) say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people, producing the fruit of it. NASB

Even though Matthew primarily uses kingdom of heaven, he uses kingdom of God a few times. They are the exact same thing. They are not two different phrases meaning two different things. For Jesus and his contemporaries the gospel was about the kingdom of heaven/God. And for Matthew, this is his summary statement about Jesus which is unpacked in the rest of the gospel.

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Continuity of Message from Jesus to Disciples and Beyond (Clement of Rome)

Clement of Rome wrote and epistle to the church at Corinth between a.d. 80 and 100 because the younger generation ousted the established leadership. In the course of his epistle he mentioned the kingdom twice:

1 Clement 42
The apostles received the gospel for us from the Lord Jesus Christ…Having therefore received their orders and being fully assured by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and full of faith in the word of God, they went forth with the firm assurance that the Holy Spirit gives, preaching the good news that the kingdom of God was about to come. So, preaching both in the country and in the towns, they appointed their first fruits, when they had tested them by the spirit, to be bishops and deacons for the future believers.

1 Clement 50
…All the generations from Adam to this day have passed away, but those who by God’s grace were perfected in love have a place among the godly, who will be revealed when the kingdom of Christ visits us. for it is written: “Enter into the innermost rooms for a very little while, until my anger and wrath shall pass away, and I will remember a good day and will raise you from your graves.”…

The first of these quotes shows that Clement recognized Christ’s disciples performed the same ministry as Jesus. Mark described Jesus’ own gospel message with the following words:

Mark 1.14-15
14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

It is hard to miss the continuity between how Clement describes the disciples and what Mark said about Jesus himself. They both preached the kingdom as gospel. Furthermore we can also observe that Clement does not believe the kingdom came during Jesus’ ministry or even on the day of Pentecost. The disciples carried on the ministry of preaching the kingdom gospel right up until the time when they appointed overseers in the various churches that were present in Clement’s time.

The second text attests not to the proclamation of the kingdom message but to Clement’s own expectation. He looks for the time “when the kingdom of Christ visits us.” Thus, for Clement, the kingdom was undoubtedly a future expectation.

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The Promise to Abraham that He Would Be Heir of the World: The Heart of Biblical Christianity

by Anthony Buzzard

“If you are Christians, then you are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the Promise (Gal. 3:29).”

The Christian world in general does not understand the ultimate purpose for being a Christian. It seems reluctant to believe Paul’s clear teaching that the destiny of Christians is closely related to the destiny of Abraham.

Along with his fellow Jews, Paul, a leading exponent of Christianity, knew well that God had promised Abraham that he would eventually come into possession of the land of Palestine and consequently of the whole world. The certainty of the coming inheritance of the world formed the basis of Israel’s national hope of participation in the covenant promise God had made with “father Abraham.”

According to Paul, however, only Christian believers, Jews and Gentiles alike, become potential participants in the very same inheritance of the world promised to Abraham (Rom. 4:13). Paul says this so plainly that only the force of a contrary tradition can account for the unfamiliarity of this basic New Testament teaching.

In Galatians 3:29 Paul makes one of his determinative statements for the whole Christian faith: “If you are Christ’s [i.e., if you are a Christian], then you count as Abraham’s offspring and are heirs according to the promise [made to Abraham].”

In Romans 4:13 Paul’s illuminating definition of the promise reveals what the future had in store for Abraham and his spiritual offspring: “The promise made to Abraham and his offspring that he should be heir of the world…”

Combining this information with Galatians 3:29, the truth becomes apparent that the promise to Abraham and to all true Christians is that they should be heirs of the world.

This staggering fact, one would think, would be trumpeted constantly from every Christian pulpit, involving as it does a divine statement about the future of our earth and the ultimate control of the world. To be heir, of course, is to look forward to possession — in the case of Christians, possession of the world. Could any challenge be more calculated to stir the hearts of believers and drive them onwards to their ultimate goal?

Once grasped, this basic truth of the Bible will throw light on numerous parallel passages referring to the destiny of believers: They are “joint-heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:17), “God’s heirs” (Rom. 8:17), “heirs, because we are the children of God” (Rom. 8:17).

Heirs of what? Supplying the data from Romans 4:13, we see that Christians are “God’s heirs to the world,” “joint-heirs to the world with Christ,” “heirs to the world, because we are the children of God” (Rom. 8:17). Paul made the same point when he wrote to the Galatians: “For if the inheritance [of the world] is based on law it is no longer based on a promise, but God granted it [the inheritance of the world] by means of a promise…And if you belong to Christ then you are Abraham’s offspring and heirs [of the world] according to the promise” (Gal. 3:18, 29),

THE TEACHING OF JESUS

Jesus’ teaching is virtually a commentary on the momentous information about God’s plan and promise revealed to Abraham. This is to be expected since Paul described the whole ministry of Jesus as a confirmation of “the promises made to the patriarchs” (Rom. 15:8). It will therefore be impossible to understand Christianity if we are unclear about the promises made to Abraham.

The New Testament cannot be grasped without an understanding of the central message of the Old Testament. God had initiated a Plan for the restoration of mankind when he invited Abraham to leave his native land of Babylon and take up residence in the land of Canaan (Palestine) (Gen. 12:1-4). By covenant oath he promised to give possession of the land of Canaan to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (13:14, 15; 17:8). Long after the Israelites had entered the promised land under Joshua, it was clear that the ultimate acquisition of the land by the patriarchs still lay in the future, for Abraham had never owned a square foot of the territory promised to him. All who reckoned themselves as Abraham’s descendants would share in the same inheritance. To this compelling goal every pious Israelite looked forward with the eyes of faith. Despite every national setback the “covenant” or “word” spoken by God to Abraham served as a rock-firm guarantee of the eventual triumph of the faithful and their possession of the land (see Ps. 105:8-15).

As is well known, Jesus constantly promised his followers that in the future they would inherit the Kingdom of God. It is a very simple matter to deduce from this that “inheriting the world” (Rom. 4:13) and “inheriting the Kingdom of God” mean exactly the same thing. Christians, therefore, are heirs to the world and heirs to the Kingdom of God.

The destiny of the faithful described throughout the New Testament is to inherit the “world” or “Kingdom” with Christ when he returns. This is a cardinal New Testament teaching repeated constantly by Christ and Paul and the other writers of Scripture.

Believers in the Bible must make a conscious effort to rid themselves of the well-entrenched idea that their destiny is to “go to heaven,” “get to heaven,” “gain a home in heaven,” “gain a kingdom beyond the skies,” etc. These phrases are without a shred of biblical support. They have the unfortunate effect of dismantling Paul’s assertion that Christians are going to inherit the world, as promised to Abraham and Jesus (Gal. 3:29, Rom. 4:13, above), and rule the world with Jesus (cp. Rev. 5:10; 2:26; 3:21; 20:1-6; Matt. 19:28; Luke 22:28-30; Luke 19:17; II Tim. 2:12; I Cor. 6:2).

Romans 4:13, therefore, should be a primary text in the thinking of those who seek to follow biblical teaching. The point needs to be emphasized: the promise of “heaven” is nowhere offered to believers. In New Testament times, unlike today, “The thought of Christian inheritance of the Kingdom [or the world, Rom. 4:13] was evidently well enough established in the churches known to Paul so that he has no need to be more explicit” (James Dunn, Word Biblical Commentary on Romans, Word Books, 1988, p. 463).

With nearly two thousand years of non-biblical tradition working against them, Bible readers must take time to meditate on the above passages and adjust their thinking to the teaching of Jesus and the Apostles. Jesus, after all, could not have made himself much clearer! “Blessed are the meek, for they are destined to inherit the EARTH” (Matt. 5:5). This is simply a restatement of the promise made to Abraham — a promise repeated six times in Psalm 37:9, 11 18, 22, 29, 34, and written long after the death of Abraham:

“But those who wait for the Lord will inherit the land…The meek will inherit the land…The Lord knows the days of the blameless and their inheritance will be for ever…For those blessed by Him will inherit the land…The righteous will inherit the land and dwell in it for ever. Wait for the Lord and keep his way and he will exalt you to inherit the land.”

True to his Israelite heritage, Jesus reiterates and confirms the Abrahamic promises of Psalm 37 with his famous dictum that the “meek will inherit the land (or earth)” (Matt. 5:5).

We could not wish for a less ambiguous statement about the Christian destiny. The difficulty is that what we know as Christian literature is thoroughly steeped in unbiblical language about “heaven” (“when I get to heaven,” “I’ll fly away,” etc.). Passages like Matthew 5:5 are no longer “heard” in their original context. Their meaning is “blocked” by conflicting tradition. They will therefore require close attention, especially in relation to their Old Testament background, in order for the necessary shift in thinking to occur. Preachers who continue with language about “heaven” should be encouraged to give clear expository sermons on Romans 4:13, Matthew 5:5 and Revelation 5:10, plus the numerous texts which plainly describe the Christian goal as the inheritance of the Kingdom of God on earth. Revelation 5:10 is a precious text which amplifies the original promise to Abraham, confirmed in Christ:

Christ purchased for God with his blood “men from every tribe and people and nation, and you have made them to be a Kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.” How very confusing, then, to talk about “going to heaven”!

THE PROMISE TO ABRAHAM AND HIS OFFSPRING

Romans 4:13 connects the promise to Abraham closely to the promise to all believers. What then was that promise?

Paul calls it “the inheritance of the world” (Rom. 4:13). Jesus refers to it as the “inheritance of the earth” (Matt. 5:5). Only Christian tradition, which differs radically from the Bible, talks confusingly of the Christian future as “heaven.”

The details of the promise to Abraham, well understood by the New Testament church but often unknown to contemporary churchgoers, are laid out in Genesis:

Genesis 12:7: “The Lord appeared to Abraham and said, ‘To your offspring I will give this land [Palestine].’”

Genesis 13:14, 15: “Now lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward; for all the land which you see I will give to you and your offspring forever…Arise, walk about the land through its length and breadth; for I will give it to you.”

Genesis 15:18: “On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abraham, saying, ‘to your offspring I have given this land.’”

Genesis 17:7, 8: “And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojourning, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.”

We have seen that all Christians are reckoned as spiritual offspring of Abraham (Gal. 3:29) and that with Abraham they are “heirs of the world.” This is because the covenant promise given to Abraham (texts just above) guaranteed him the land forever.

It is obvious that God initially promised part of the earth to Abraham, certainly not a home in “heaven.” He was invited to inspect his future inheritance by walking up and down in it and by looking to the four points of the compass (not upwards to heaven!) (Gen. 13:14, 15). Thus modern commentaries recognize properly that “the idea of ‘inheritance’ was a fundamental part of Jewish understanding of their covenant relationship with God, above all, indeed almost exclusively in connection with the land — the land of Canaan, theirs by right of inheritance as promised to Abraham” (Dunn, Commentary on Romans, Vol. I, p. 213).

Before the time of Jesus and Paul the promised inheritance of the land had been understood to include not just Palestine but the whole world. This was based on a legitimate reading of many passages in the prophets and Psalms, which expected the Kingdom of God to extend across the earth. The following texts from various Jewish writings document this concept and throw light on Paul’s thinking about the Christian’s future:

Ecclesiasticus 44:21: “Abraham, the great forefather of a host of nations, no one was ever his equal in glory. He observed the law of the Most High, and entered into a covenant with him…The Lord therefore promised him on oath to bless the nations through his descendants, to multiply him like the dust on the ground, to exalt his descendants like the stars, and to give them the land for their inheritance from sea to sea, from the River to the ends of the earth” (quoting Ps. 72:8).

Jubilees 22:13, 14: “May the Most High God give you all the blessings with which he has blessed me [Abraham] and with which he blessed Adam and Noah…May he cleanse you from all sin and defilement, so that he may forgive you all your transgressions, and your erring through ignorance. May he strengthen you and bless you, and may you inherit all of the earth.”

Jubilees 32:19: “And I shall give to your [Jacob’s] offspring all of the land under heaven and they will rule in all nations as they have desired. And after this all of the earth will be gathered together and they will inherit it forever.”

I Enoch 5:7: “But to the elect there shall be light, joy and peace, and they shall inherit the earth” (cp. Matt. 5:5).

IV Ezra 6:39: “If the world has been created for us, why do we not possess our world as an inheritance? How long will this be so?”

THE CHRISTIAN’S DESTINY

Both the Bible and extra-biblical Jewish writings are filled with the promise to the faithful of future possession of the world.

Psalm 2:8 invites God’s Messiah to “Ask of me and I will surely give the nations as your inheritance and the very ends of the earth as your possession.” This is simply the ultimate form of the promise to Abraham of the possession of the world (Rom. 4:13).

The meaning of this astonishing fact about the destiny of the faithful is appropriately brought out by the International Critical Commentary on Romans (pp. 109, 111). The verse is paraphrased and explained in a way which beautifully expounds the mind of Paul:

“The promise made to Abraham and his descendants of worldwide Messianic rule…” “The promise is that through Christ Abraham should enjoy worldwide dominion…the right to universal dominion.” That promise is extended to all who accept the terms of the Gospel (Acts 8:12).

Throughout the New Testament believers are said to be “sons of God” and, as such, heirs of the “worldwide Messianic rule” promised to Abraham and his offspring. As James Dunn says:

“Integral to the national faith was the conviction that God had given Israel the inheritance of Palestine, the promised land. It is this axiom which Paul evokes and refers to the new Christian movement as a whole, Gentiles as well as Jews. They are the heirs of God; Israel’s special relationship with God has been extended to all in Christ” (Commentary on Romans, emphasis added).

INHERITING THE KINGDOM

The standard New Testament term for the world dominion promised to Abraham and all the faithful in Christ is simply the Kingdom of God. The inheritance or possession of the Kingdom is something which believers await. The same promised inheritance appears under another name as future “glory,” glory being a well-established alternative term for “Kingdom”:

Mark 10:37: James and John request of Jesus, “Grant that we may sit in your glory, one on your right and one your left.”

Matthew 20:21: The mother of James and John requests for her sons prominent positions in the future Kingdom: “Command that in your Kingdom these two sons of mine may sit, one on your right and one on your left” (cp. “Thine is the Kingdom and the power and the glory”).

So Paul, in Romans 8:17, speaks of “the coming glory to be revealed as ours.” In Romans 5:2 he describes Christians as “exulting in the hope of the glory [or Kingdom] of God.” James has exactly the same prospect in mind when he speaks of Christians as “heirs of the Kingdom which God has promised to those who love him” (James 2:5).

Elsewhere the Kingdom of God is repeatedly offered to believers as their future reward, with dire warnings about types of conduct which will result in exclusion from the promised Kingdom:

Matthew 25:34: At his return, “The King will say to those on his right hand, ‘Come you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’”

I Corinthians 6:9, 2: “Do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the Kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers shall inherit the Kingdom of God.”

I Corinthians 15:50: “Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God.” The Kingdom is therefore the great event of the future which can only be inherited by resurrection or transformation at the return of Jesus. Christians in their present state of frailty cannot yet inherit the Kingdom. But they must prepare for it with all urgency.

Galatians 5:21: “I forewarn you, just as I forewarned you that those who practice such things [immorality, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these] shall not inherit the Kingdom of God.”

Ephesians 5:5: “For you know with certainty that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the Kingdom of Christ and God.”

James 2:5: “God chose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the Kingdom which He promised to those who love Him.”

Matthew 21:38, 43: “God sent his Son…This is the heir, let us kill him and seize his inheritance…Therefore the Kingdom will be taken away from you [hostile Jews] and given to a nation producing the fruit of it.”

Matthew 5:5: “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth…Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Inheritance of the earth is equated with gaining the Kingdom of heaven (a synonym for Kingdom of God).

Titus 3:5: “being justified by grace we might be heirs of eternal life according to hope.”

The well-known phrases “eternal life” and “everlasting life” represent a single phrase in the original Greek of the New Testament. The literal meaning of these terms is “Life in the Coming Age (of the Kingdom).” This is exactly equivalent to participation in “the coming worldwide Messianic Rule on earth” (see above on Rom. 4:13). There is no essential difference between the promise of “eternal life” — “life in the coming age ” — and the promise of the Kingdom of God or the land/earth. Permanent life, immortality, in the future Kingdom will be possessed by all true believers.

The future of the world is inextricably bound up with the future of believers, because at the time when Jesus reappears “creation itself will be set free from the slavery of corruption into the liberty of the glory [or Kingdom] of the children of God.” Note the mistranslation in some versions which weakens and obscures Paul’s statement: “glorious liberty” (NIV) instead of (correctly) “liberty of the glory,” i.e. worldwide Messianic rule or Kingdom of the sons of God (Rom. 8:21).

ABRAHAM AND THE LAND

The writer to the Hebrews insists that Abraham is yet destined to come into his promised inheritance of the world. In chapter 11 the faith of the noble heroes of the Old Testament is celebrated. It was “by faith [that] Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive as his inheritance…By faith he lived in the land of the promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise…All these died without having received the promise…We [and they] are seeking the city which is to come” (Heb. 11:8, 9, 13; 13:14).

Now what reward was Abraham expecting? It was to live permanently in the land of the promise, described in Hebrews 11:8 as the “place which he was to receive as his inheritance.” This place was not “heaven” as some ethereal state of bliss removed from the earth. (The inheritance is sometimes described as “heavenly,” meaning that its origin is in heaven, though its location will be on earth.) The place destined to be Abraham’s possession was none other than the land of Canaan to which he was called and in which he lived (Heb. 11:9), and by extension, as we have seen, the whole world (Rom. 4:13). The promised land of inheritance was the earth with Palestine as its center.

The same writer exhorts Christians not to neglect their promised salvation which he spells out as dominion over “the inhabited earth to come” (Heb. 2:5). God, says the writer, has not subjected to angels the “inhabited world to come,” but He has subjected it — and this is the “greatness” of the salvation which awaits the true believers — to Christ and to believers as joint-heirs (Rom. 8:17). The Gospel Message of salvation is precisely and expressly a statement about that great future promised to believers. This salvation “was first spoken through the Lord and confirmed to us by those who heard” (Heb. 2:3). It is “the inhabited earth of the future about which we are speaking” (Heb. 2:5). The Gospel proclaimed by Jesus was, of course, the Gospel of the Kingdom, which implies the gift to all followers of Jesus, of world rulership in that future society. The content of the Gospel hope is appropriately summarized in the verse which follows. The verse bears repetition: “For God did not subject to angels the inhabited earth to come about which we are speaking” (Heb. 2:5). But he has planned to subject it to man in Christ (Heb. 2:8).

It must be plainly stated again that the cherished, popular talk about “heaven” as the destiny of Christians is fundamentally misleading. Indeed it undermines and distorts the whole framework of biblical Christianity. It dissolves the reality of the Christian hope into a nebulous prospect of life as a disembodied soul (a meaningless concept!) in some unknown region away from the earth. It negates God’s great world plan to establish peace on the earth, as promised to Abraham. It negates the Gospel of the Kingdom (see Dan. 7:18, 22, 27; 2:35, 44).

The Bible promises believers that they will share control of the renewed earth of the future to be introduced by the return of Jesus. As participants in the worldwide dominion of Jesus — the Kingdom of God — they will have power to affect the destiny of countless members of the human race. They will be instrumental, with Christ, in bringing about the utopia of world peace which is now the dream of so many, but which man apart from Christ will never achieve. All this forms the core of the Gospel of the Kingdom as Jesus and the Apostles proclaimed it (Mark 1:14, 15; Luke 4:43, etc.). Contained within the same message, but not as a substitute for it, are the facts about the resurrection of Jesus and his sacrificial death for our sins. The forgiveness freely offered and the grace of God enable believers to enter on the path which leads to the inheritance of the Kingdom of God.

Preaching and teaching which persists in offering “heaven” to the believer should be challenged in the name of the teaching of Jesus who expressly promised the meek that they “shall inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:5) and “rule as kings on the earth” (Rev. 5:10). “Fear not, little flock,” Jesus said to his disciples, “for it is my Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom” (Luke 12:32).

To be given the Kingdom is to be granted royal office in the coming worldwide dominion of the Messiah. In response to Peter’s direct inquiry about what the disciples might expect to receive as followers of Christ, Jesus replied that they would become ministers of state in the future Kingdom, the inauguration of which would be in the New World (see Matt. 19:28; Luke 22:28-30).

THE GOSPEL AND WORLDWIDE MESSIANIC RULE

As we saw above, the International Critical Commentary correctly understood the promise to Abraham that he would inherit the world to mean that he would take part in the coming “worldwide Messianic rule.” This is only a synonym for the Kingdom of God. Our grasp of the stupendous future offered to believers directly affects our reception of the Gospel itself.

This is simply because the Christian Gospel of salvation contains as its core the promise of the Kingdom of God: It is the Gospel or Good News about the Kingdom. This is the key term in Jesus’ teaching and the reason for his whole mission (Luke 4:43).

The essential content of the New Testament Gospel is seen in the following primary texts describing the ministry of Jesus and Paul. The term Kingdom of God embodies the ancient hope of worldwide rule promised to Abraham and his royal descendant, Jesus Christ:

Mark 1:14, 15: “Jesus came into Galilee proclaiming the Gospel of God [i.e. God’s saving Message] and saying, ‘The Kingdom of God is approaching; repent [reorientate your life, your priorities and your commitments] and believe in the Gospel.’”

Matthew 4:23: “And Jesus was going about in all Galilee and teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom.”

Matthew 9:35: “And Jesus was going about all the cities and the villages teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom.”

Matthew 13:19: “When anyone hears the Message about the Kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart.”

Matthew 24:14: “This Gospel of the Kingdom shall be proclaimed in the whole inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations and then the end shall come.”

Matthew 6:33: “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these [other] things will be added to you.”

Luke 4:43: “Jesus said to them, ‘I must proclaim the Gospel of the Kingdom of God to the other cities also, for I was sent for this purpose.’ And he kept on proclaiming the Gospel in the synagogues of Judea.”

Luke 8:1: “And it came about soon afterwards that he began going about from one city and village to another, proclaiming and preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom, and the twelve were with him.”

Luke 8:10, 12: The Message or Word concerning the mysteries of the Kingdom must take root in the heart of anyone desiring to believe and be saved. The Devil’s object is to destroy the gospel message about the Kingdom

Luke 9:2: “He sent them out to proclaim the Gospel of the Kingdom of God.”

Luke 9:6: “They began going about among the villages preaching the Gospel.”

Acts 1:3: “He [the resurrected Jesus] spoke of the affairs of the Kingdom of God.”

Acts 8:12: “When they believed Philip as he proclaimed the Gospel about the Kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ they were being baptized, both men and women.”

Acts 19:8: “And Paul entered the synagogue and continued speaking out boldly for three months reasoning and persuading them about the Kingdom of God.”

Acts 20:25: “…all of you among whom I went about preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom.”

Acts 28:23: “And when they had set a day for him, they came to him at his lodging in large numbers; and he was explaining to them by solemnly testifying about the Kingdom of God and trying to persuade them about Jesus from both the Law of Moses and from the prophets from morning till evening.”

Acts 28:31: “This salvation of God [cp. Gospel of God, Mark 1:14] has been sent to the Gentiles; they will also listen. And Paul stayed two full years in his own hired house proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered.”

I Thessalonians 2:5, 9, 12: “Our Gospel did not come to you in word only…We proclaimed to you the Gospel of God…who is inviting you into his own Kingdom and glory.”

II Thessalonians 1:8, 5: “…that you may be considered worthy of the Kingdom of God for which you are suffering.” God will destroy “those who do not obey the Gospel of the Lord Jesus.”

I Corinthians 4:15, 20: “I became your father through the Gospel…The Kingdom of God does not consist in words but in power.”

II Timothy 4:1, 2: “I solemnly testify to…Christ’s appearing and his Kingdom. Proclaim the Message [i.e. Gospel]…”

In addition to these passages the term “Gospel” occurs some 60 times in the letters of Paul. In every case this key “technical term” should be “filled out” by adding the words “about the coming worldwide Messianic rule, or Kingdom of God.” In this way the content of the gospel message will be protected against the loss of its central element — the Kingdom of God.

Thus, to cite two examples by way of illustration, Paul is “not ashamed of the Gospel [about the coming worldwide Messianic rule — the Kingdom of God], for it is the power of God leading to salvation” (Rom. 1:16).

Paul is profoundly disturbed by an attempt to subtract from or add to the saving Gospel. He insisted in Romans 4 and Galatians 3 that the Gospel is founded on the promises made to Abraham — the posterity promise and the property promise of land. Thus “the Gospel was preached beforehand to Abraham” (Gal. 3:8; cp. Rom. 1:1-2). On no account may it be altered in any way:

“But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a Gospel other than [the Gospel about the coming worldwide Messianic rule — the Kingdom of God, including the death of Messiah for our sins and his resurrection], let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:8).

RULERSHIP WITH MESSIAH

The entire fabric of the New Testament has suffered a drastic distortion because the key biblical terms have been “reinterpreted” — a sophisticated term for perverted — by reading an alien, post-biblical system into them. Thus “heaven” has replaced the biblical term “Kingdom of God,” giving a thoroughly misleading impression of the teaching of Jesus and the Apostles. In the Bible there is no such thing as “going to heaven” when you die. What is promised is participation in the worldwide rule of Messiah on earth when Jesus reappears. For those Christians who die before Jesus returns, participation in the Kingdom will be via resurrection from the dead (I Thess. 4:13ff, I Cor. 15:23, 50-52).

At present an anti-biblical, Greek philosophical system colors and distorts the ordinary reader’s perception of biblical teaching. This system which misled believers as early as the second century exercises a stranglehold on the minds of many who sincerely want to understand the teaching of Jesus and Paul. A revolution is needed by which Bible readers refuse to use non-biblical language about “heaven,” “going to heaven” and “the dead in heaven” (now propagated incessantly by funeral sermons as well as evangelistic appeals promoting “heaven,” both as the present residence of the departed and as the goal of the convert).

It is tragic that churches have not paid attention to Jewish historians who recognize that the Messianic hopes of the prophets were directed to a renewal of the earth. Speaking of the Hebrew expectation of the coming Kingdom taught by the early Christians, Hugh Schonfield writes:

“What is clear is that a transformed human world is in view, and not a harp-playing home in the heavens. Pointers in the latter direction are of later date and partly inspired by Gnostic repugnance to a material dwelling place for the soul. We may dismiss Messianic eschatology as a fantasy; but we cannot say that Jesus and his early followers did not subscribe to it. What it did was to set a target for achievement which would justify the creation of man and make it worthwhile to persist in well-doing. Ultimately righteousness would be rewarded, and God’s will would be done on earth as in heaven. There is no ‘pie in the sky when you die’ in the Messianic programme” (For Christ’s Sake, pp. 84, 85, emphasis added).

Once the biblical meaning of Romans 4:13 is reinstated, Bible readers will be able to grasp the tremendous destiny offered in the Gospel to believers. With Abraham, the “father” of all the faithful (Rom. 4:12, 16), Jew and Gentile alike, Christians will strive to “be considered worthy of the Kingdom” (II Thess. 1:5) to which, by the Gospel, they are invited. Now joint-heirs of the world with Jesus, they will later reign and rule over the nations with him in the renewed society of the Kingdom of God on earth (Isa. 32:1; Rev. 5:10; 2:26; 3:21; 20:1-6). Such a calling affords them the greatest future imaginable for a human being. The Gospel of the Kingdom or the coming worldwide Messianic rule is the ultimate Good News for a world groaning under the slavery of corruption and waiting for the manifestation of a state of incomparable glory, in which the sons of God, in company with the Son of God, will administer the world in righteousness and endless peace. This is the Christian hope and it is in that hope that we are saved (see Rom. 8:24). It is that hope which purifies (I John 3:3) and on that hope faith and love are built:

Colossians 1:5: “We have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love which you have for all the saints because of the hope laid up for you in heaven of which you previously heard in the Message of the Truth — the Gospel.” (Note that the hope is at present kept in reserve in heaven waiting to be manifested on earth at Christ’s return.)

Colossians 1:23: “…if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the Gospel” (i.e. the Hope of the coming Kingdom of God presented in the Gospel of the Kingdom). “Christ in us [now is] the hope of glory [i.e. the Kingdom of God]” (Col. 1:27).

JUSTIFICATION BY FAITH

The loss of the Bible’s strongly future-oriented Gospel can be traced to the Church’s loss of the Old Testament. Elizabeth Achtemeier devotes an entire chapter to “The Results of the Loss of the Old Testament: The Loss of the New Testament and the Development of ‘Reader’s Digest’ Religion” (The Old Testament and the Preaching of the Gospel, Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1973). She complains that what goes under the name of Christianity in American churches is a vague religion which has borrowed the name of Jesus but not understood his teaching, especially as it relates to the central covenant promise made to Abraham.

As the Hastings Dictionary of the Bible says, “The whole future of Israel is conceived as bound up in something which God said to Abraham” (Vol. IV, p. 105). The future of Israel is of critical importance to Christians. In the words of Paul, “Through the Gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 3:8). This is a summary statement of the whole New Testament faith.

The important doctrine of “justification by faith” has not escaped the distortion caused by the loss of the land promise made to Abraham which underlies Jesus’ Gospel of the Kingdom. Justification is often limited to the concept of forgiveness of sin. But as the Pulpit Commentary (Vol. 18, pp. 121, 122) points out:

“We must not restrict justification to deliverance from deserved penalty, but must attach it to the further idea of inheritance. As one writer has well remarked, ‘Justification is applicable to something more than the discharge of an accused person without condemnation. As in our courts of law there are civil as well as criminal cases; so it was in old time; and a large number of the passages adduced seem to refer to trials of the latter description, in which some question of property, right or inheritance was under discussion between the two parties. The judge, by justifying one of the parties, decided that the property in question was to be regarded as his. Applying this aspect of the matter to the justification of man in the sight of God, we gather from Scripture that whilst through sin a man is to be regarded as having forfeited legal claim to any right of inheritance which God might have to bestow upon his creatures, so through justification he is restored to his high position and regarded as an heir of God’” (Girdlestone, Old Testament Synonyms, pp. 259, 260, emphasis added).

Thus it is that man is justified in order to regain his status as son of God and in consequence his right to be heir of the promises given to Abraham and made possible through Christ. The goal of the Christian, which unconditional forgiveness and the grace of God place him in a position to strive for and reach, is to rule with Christ in the coming Kingdom of God on earth. A number of high frequency New Testament terms describe this goal: “Kingdom of God/Heaven” (Matt. 19:14, 23, 24), “eternal/everlasting life”— literally “life in the Age to Come” (Matt. 19:16), “life” (Matt. 19:17, Rom. 5:17), “salvation” (Matt. 19:25), “rulership with Christ as royal family in the New Age to come” (Matt. 19:28), “inheritance of eternal life” (Matt. 19:29).

Inheritance of the promises of world dominion is invariably placed in the future. For the present time of struggle towards entrance into the Kingdom of God the Christian is promised the spirit of Christ as a “downpayment” of the future inheritance (II Cor. 1:22; 5:5; Eph. 1:14). But the inheritance itself is plainly to be received in the future (no New Testament text says that we have already inherited the Kingdom): “Whatever you do, do your work heartily as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance [of the world promised to Abraham, i.e. rulership in the Kingdom of God]” (Col. 3:23, 24).

Inheritance and possession of the world are offered to the faithful believers. The Greek word kleronomia — inheritance — is derived from two words, kleros, lot, portion, possession, and nemein, to control or administer. The Christian reward involves administration of the possession to be received. Thus Paul believed that “the saints are to manage the world…The world is to come under your jurisdiction” (I Cor. 6:2, Moffat), while the wicked will be unable to “inherit the Kingdom of God” (v. 10). The one phrase defines the other: Inheriting the Kingdom is equivalent to managing the world.

The notion of a future world government in the hands of the immortalized saints is derived not only from the promise made to Abraham of world dominion, but also from key passages in Daniel who predicted that “the God of heaven will set up a Kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that Kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put to an end all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure for ever” (2:44). To the Son of Man (the ideal Human Person, Jesus) “was given dominion, glory and a Kingdom that all the peoples, nations and men of every language might serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away and his Kingdom is one which will not be destroyed” (7:14).

The location of this Kingdom of the God of heaven is described in Daniel 7:27: “Then the sovereignty, the dominion and the greatness of all the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be given to the saints of the Highest One. Their kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom and all the dominions will serve and obey them” (RSV). It should be observed that this Kingdom will not come into power until the return of Jesus. Any attempt by believers to dominate the politics of the world now, before the reappearance of Jesus, is utterly mistaken.

The final word to Daniel was that he should expect to arise from the sleep of death to receive his portion or inheritance in the Messianic worldwide rule (Dan. 12:13) which was the subject of the visions he had received (Dan. 2, 7, 11, 12).

Paul obviously shared the hope given to Abraham and confirmed by the prophets. As a leading Christian he had not abandoned the biblical, Jewish expectation of world dominion. He confessed before King Herod Agrippa that he was on trial “for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers, the promise to which our twelve tribes hope to attain” (Acts 26:6-7). That promise involved the future resurrection of the dead (v. 8, cp. Acts 24:15) and the inheritance of the world (Rom. 4:13). Speaking to Jews shortly before his martyrdom Stephen likewise testified that “God had removed Abraham into this country in which you are living, and he gave him no inheritance in it, yet he promised that he would give it to him as a possession and to his offspring after him forever” (Acts 7:4, 5).

The false hope of “heaven,” as opposed to the possession and administration of the world, deserves to be revealed for the fraud that it is. As a leading British biblical scholar noted: “Heaven is never in fact used in the Bible for the destination of the dying” (J.A.T. Robinson, In the End God, pp. 104, 105). He observed that “the whole of our teaching and hymnology has assumed that you go to heaven, or of course, hell when you die. But the Bible nowhere says that we go to heaven when we die, nor does it ever describe death in terms of going to heaven” (On Being the Church in the World, p. 130).

The reflective reader will realize that popular sermons and preaching at funerals are in need of drastic revision. They are at present vastly non-compliant with the Truth of the Bible and the teaching of Jesus.

The truth is that a serious loss of the original Christian faith and Gospel has occurred under the influence of a Gnostic tendency which despised the things of the earth and therefore could not tolerate the idea of the earth renewed and reorganized under the Messiah as ruler. Despite the Old Testament’s passionate yearning for the restoration of the world under sound government, the churches have continued to promote a hope of bliss removed from the earth. The plainest teachings of Jesus that the meek can expect to inherit the earth as their reward have been treated by theologians as metaphors and are supposed not to mean what they say! Churchgoers are left with the vaguest idea of the ultimate purpose of faith in Christ. They do not see how Christianity has anything to say about the future of the earth. Traditional talk about “heaven” thus thoroughly frustrates and confuses God’s Grand Design to bring peace on the renewed earth (for example, Isa. 65:17ff) through the return of Jesus to establish his Kingdom.

May pulpits everywhere undertake the long overdue restoration of the language of the Bible and return to the Christianity which is based on Jesus’ confirmation of the promises made to the patriarchs (Rom. 15:8). Paul was alert to the danger that doctrinal corruption could result in the abandonment of the hope contained in the Gospel. Believers could expect to be presented “before Christ holy, blameless and beyond reproach, if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the Gospel [of the Kingdom] which you have heard” (Col. 1:22, 23).

That hope of ruling the world with Christ was presented to converts in the Gospel of the Kingdom proclaimed throughout Judea by Jesus, designated “the Message” some 32 times in Acts, and summarized as “the Gospel” 60 times in the letters of Paul. (Acts 8:12 provides an essential summary of the content of the Christian Gospel.).

JESUS AND THE GOSPEL OF THE KINGDOM

Jesus is proclaimed by the New Testament to be the Messiah of biblical prophecy, the heir to the permanent throne of David (II Sam. 7; I Chron. 17; Luke 1:32ff, etc.). The Messiah was the promised seed of Abraham, the one to whom the covenants and promises were directed (Gal. 3:16). As recipient of the Kingdom of God and rulership of the world Jesus recognized that his life purpose was to announce the Good News about the Kingdom (Luke 4:43). To carry out this commission he saw himself as a sower sowing the message/Gospel of the Kingdom (Matt. 13:19). Those who listened and understood his saving message became candidates for royal office in the coming Kingdom. The issue of salvation and the destiny of man hinges on our response to the Gospel of the Kingdom as Jesus preached it. Thus the parable of the sower informs us that forgiveness and repentance depend on an intelligent and willing reception of the Gospel of the Kingdom. In an amazing statement Jesus claimed to have revealed the secret of immortality and the destiny of both man and the world: “I have explained the secret about God’s Kingdom to you, but for others this comes only as an enigma. The reason for this is [as Isaiah said]: ‘These people will look and look but never see, they will listen and listen but never understand. If they did, they would turn to God [repent] and He would forgive them” (see Mark 4:11, 12).

Plainly, repentance and forgiveness are conditional not just on belief in the death of Jesus, but on understanding and believing his prior Gospel preaching about the Kingdom (“Repent and believe the Gospel of the Kingdom,” Mark 1:14, 15). The issue for Jesus in the critically important parable of the sower is comprehension or non-comprehension of the Gospel of the Kingdom. No wonder, then, that Luke records the Messiah’s brilliant intelligence report about how the message of immortality is treated in the present wicked system. Jesus said: “The seed is God’s Message/Gospel…But the Devil comes and snatches the Message out of their hearts so that they will not believe and be saved…Pay attention to how you listen. Everyone who has something will be given more. But people who have nothing will lose what little they think they have” (Luke 8:11, 12, 18, The Promise, Contemporary English Version).
The destiny and the future of each of us hinges on our comprehension and intelligent reception of the Gospel of the Kingdom as it fell from the lips of the Messiah.

CONCLUSION

The Bible tells a coherent story. God’s World Plan, in response to the fall of Adam, is to reestablish just government on earth under the rule of the Messiah Jesus.

Man sinned by coming short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). The result was that his glorious destiny as co-ruler with God (Gen. 1:26) was forfeited. The Gospel of salvation, therefore, is the invitation and command to repent and believe in the Gospel of the restored Kingdom (Mark 1:14, 15), which means a return to the lost glory of man and the restoration of Garden of Eden conditions on earth. Sin is defined by Jesus in John 16:9 as failure to believe in Jesus which is failure to believe his Gospel/words (John 12:44-50; note verse 48).

The groundwork of this grand purpose was laid when God called Abraham to go into the “land of the promise,” in which he lived as an alien (Heb. 11:8, 9) but which was promised to him and his offspring (later defined as the faithful Christians, Gal. 3:29) as a permanent possession. This promise remains unfulfilled to this day (as Stephen said in Acts 7:5) and is dependent upon the future resurrection of Abraham and all the faithful to take possession of Palestine and the world Kingdom with the returning Messiah (Heb. 11:13, 39). That stupendous event — the return of the Messiah to inaugurate his Kingdom on earth (Rev 11:15-18) — is encapsulated in Peter’s brief reference in Acts 3:21 which speaks of Jesus’ temporary absence in heaven “until the time comes for the restoration (apokatastasis) of all things about which the prophets spoke.”

The Christian story was foreshadowed in the Exodus, which symbolizes our redemption from sin in the cross of Christ. But the story does not end there. The resurrection of Jesus guarantees the presence of Jesus with the faithful as they proceed throughout their “wilderness” pilgrimage towards the promised land. Christians have not yet entered the promised land of the Kingdom, though they have a foretaste of their inheritance in the spirit of God. Traditional Christianity knows little about the end of the story and dispatches the believer to a location away from the earth to enjoy a vague celestial existence as a disembodied soul. It is as though the children of Israel disappeared in the desert haze and never reached Palestine. The Exodus then loses its whole point.

The oft-repeated talk of “heaven” as the destination of the believer is entirely false to the Hebrew faith of Jesus and the Apostles who, in their Gospel, put before us a momentous statement about the future of human society on earth. The Gospel of the Kingdom, the Christian Message, summons all who hear to prepare now for the staggering privilege of ruling the earth with Christ and sharing in the fulfillment of the age-old covenant promise to Abraham that he would one day inherit the world (Rom. 4:13; Matt. 19:28; I Cor. 6:2). This should provide ample reason for believers to “exult in the hope of the glory of God” to be manifested in the coming Kingdom of God. No prospect could be more calculated to instill the highest moral-spiritual idealism than the challenge of being “worthy of the Kingdom to which we are invited” (II Thess. 1:5; I Thess. 2:12). I Thessalonians 2:13 promises that God’s energy will be at work in all who accept the Gospel of the Kingdom and thus align themselves with the mind and Plan of God and the Messiah.

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The Gospel of the Kingdom as Motivation for Repentance

by Sean Finnegan

“For Yahweh of hosts will have a day of reckoning against everyone who is proud and lofty and against everyone who is lifted up, that he may be abased.” Isaiah 2.12

Introduction

This paper was inspired by the phrase “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3.2; 4.17; Mark 1.15). There are perhaps more questions generated in the mind of the modern reader than there are words in this simple gospel catchphrase. “What is the kingdom of heaven?” “What does it mean that this kingdom is near?” “Has the kingdom already come?” “Did Jesus get it wrong?” “Why should the nearness of the kingdom be a reason for repentance?” “What about the death, burial, and resurrection?” “What does it mean to repent?” “What happens if one does not repent?” It is beyond the scope of this paper to answer all of these questions; however, I would like to focus on two of them: “What is the kingdom?” and “Why does its nearness inspire repentance?”

The curious issue with the phrase “kingdom of God”[1] is that it is never found in the Hebrew Bible.[2] Thus, we are faced with two distinct possibilities: (1) Jesus is introducing a new concept, (2) Jesus is using his own phraseology to refer to something his hearers would easily recognize from the Hebrew Scriptures. Since Jesus never took the time to define “the kingdom of God” as he used the term, we are left to assume that his hearers would have already been familiar with the notion.

Fortunately, it is not difficult to arrive at the meaning from a study of the Old Testament. Five elements that roughly encompass the concept as defined in the Hebrew Bible are: (1) the rule of God on earth through his agent—the Messiah (Psalm 2.6-8; Isaiah 11.1-5; Daniel 7.13-14), (2) the inheriting of the land by Abraham and his descendants forever (Genesis 17.8; 26.3; 28.13)[3], (3) the reestablishment of the throne of David in Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 17.11-14; Psalm 89.35-37; Ezekiel 37.24), (4) the restoration of the planet (reversing the effects of the fall and the flood) (Isaiah 11.6-9; 35.1-10), and (5) the restoration of morality in humankind (no more war, violence, stealing, or other forms of wickedness) (Jeremiah 31.33-34; Micah 4.1-3). However, as I have contemplated Jesus’ gospel language, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is near,” I have been left at a loss to understand why the arrival of paradise would cause men to repent.

It is my hypothesis that these five elements of the kingdom of God are lacking something significant.[4] As I have searched through the Scriptures to find this missing ingredient (that makes the gospel a matter of repentance not simply acceptance), I came across a plethora of “Day of the Lord” texts. It is the intention of this paper to discuss the dark side of the kingdom—the coming judgment of the wicked—in order to fill in the definition of the kingdom of God a bit more as well as answer the question, “Why is the nearness of the kingdom a cause for repenting?” First, I would like to talk about the problem with the world, then look at the passages that speak about the Day of the Lord in the Old Testament, see what changes have been made by Jesus and the apostles, and finally focus on how all this relates to the proclamation of the gospel then and now.

The problem with the world today

The world is sick. Corruption in government, natural disasters, wars, violence, child abuse, rape, murder, thievery, dishonesty, poverty, prostitution, greed, and disease are commonplace. Many take one look at the world and conclude that there is no God. This position is certainly understandable; yet, the Bible gives insight into why the world is so desperately wicked. God is not now ruling the world.[5] Satan has been given the domain of all the kingdoms of the world (Luke 4.6). He is called “the god of this age” because he is ruling now (2 Cor 4.4). This is not limited to one region or country, but the whole world lies in his power (1 John 5.19). Worst of all, he has deceived the whole world (Rev 12.9) to such an extent that most do not even think there is a devil or demons.

Once one comes to understand that Satan is ruling the kingdoms of this world, then the evil in the world starts to make sense. If God were in charge, then crimes would be punished swiftly, and righteousness would be rewarded. However, this is not what is happening today. The world is so afflicted because it is dominated by one who actively prowls around seeking someone to devour (1 Pet 5.8). He has worked for millennia to contrive social and political systems by which people may be deceived into thinking that what God says is wrong.

All humans are born dead in trespasses and sins, and all are by nature children of wrath. Everyone lives according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit now working in the sons of disobedience. Naturally, one follows after the lusts of his or her flesh and indulges in those desires both in thought and action (Ephesians 2.1-3). Like choking smog, the thoughts of Satan imbibe everyone who has not been supernaturally cleansed. The educational, cultural, political, and economic systems of the kingdoms of this world serve to conspire against one coming to know the truth which would set them free from the bondage of sin. Satan has worked and continues to work through the spirits allied with him to deceive.

One of the most important tenets of the worldview of Jesus is cosmic dualism. This concept of dualism contrasts the forces of good against those of evil. There are two ages: the present evil age and the age to come. There are two ways to follow: the narrow way which ends in life and the broad way which leads to destruction. There are two Lords one can follow: Jesus the anointed of God and Satan the cursed of God. There are two kinds of people: the children of the kingdom and the children of the evil one. There are two sets of helpers: angels used by God to liberate and aid and demons used by Satan to incarcerate and harm. According to this belief, one is never in both categories, and there is no gray area.

Freedom comes through the gospel, which functions as an oxygen mask to save us while we still live in this toxic environment.[6] In this age the evil prosper, and the righteous suffer. Those who are God’s have crucified their desires and have adopted God’s desires. In fact, as imitators of God (Ephesians 5.1), we love what he loves and hate what he hates. So, as it pains God to see evil, it should pain us. In this case, we are in a state of perpetual suffering until things are made right. Thus, a major part of the hope for the people of God is the judgment of the wicked and their ruler, Satan.

Even though some may be rescued from the gripping influence of Satan, most will remain in his firm grasp, all the while convinced that they are thinking independently. As these two groups collide with each other violent reactions occur like two volatile chemicals. The holiness of the children of God offends the children of Satan like a bright light shining into their half closed eyes (John 3.19-20). The unrighteous malign Christians calling them “narrow-minded” or “bigots” or “intolerant.” As the kingdom worldview has collided with the world’s paradigm, persecution and martyrdom have been the result. Jesus wisely warned all who would be his disciples that they would suffer and be hated because God has called them out of the world. Untold thousands of saints have been murdered throughout the centuries for their uncompromising faith. Christianity today rests upon a legacy of sacrificial bloodshed in keeping with the spirit of the founder’s supreme example on the cross.[7]

As this present age spirals towards its culmination, persecution will increase exponentially. The suffering of the saints will not be haphazard but organized under the auspices of the Antichrist and his supporters. This violent storm will make the persecution under Diocletian or the drowning of the Anabaptists look like a sun shower. Indeed, the world will unite in its hatred for what God loves. As war is waged against the disciples of Christ, most who confess Christianity in name alone will fall away and join those who would rather enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season than suffer. Then, just when all hope looks lost and the immense forces of evil are going to overcome the flickering specks of light, suddenly and dramatically God will act. Jesus taught that in the end “the history of the world would come to a screeching halt, that God would intervene in the affairs of this planet, overthrow the forces of evil in a cosmic act of judgment, and establish his utopian Kingdom here on earth.”[8] Since this final act of God will occur in real space and time, it begins on a real day, and that day in the Scriptures is called “the Day of Yahweh” or “the Day of the Lord.”

The Day of the Lord defined from the Hebrew prophets

The prophets of ancient Israel spoke vociferously of the coming destruction of the wicked. Sometimes this proclamation was focused on the enemies of Israel and other times it was focused on Israel herself. The prophets painted the dismal picture of the Day of the Lord using many hues of gray. As we will see, this Day was proclaimed as a grotesque and grisly nightmare from which there was seemingly no escape. We shall turn now to the prophets themselves and allow them to speak.

The Day of Yahweh will come with clouds and thick darkness (Joel 2.1-2). It will be a Day of wrath, trouble, distress, destruction, desolation, and gloom (Zephaniah 1.15). God will arise in the splendor of his majesty to make heaven and earth tremble in the fury of his burning anger (Isaiah 2.19; 13.9, 13). There will be famine (Joel 1.16). Cosmic signs accompany this judgment to the degree that neither sun nor moon nor stars will shed light (Isaiah 13.10; 34.4; Joel 2.10; 3.15).

Men will be so frightened that they will scurry into caves and dive into holes in the ground to escape (Isaiah 2.21). They will say to the mountains, “Cover us!” and to the hills, “Fall on us!” (Hosea 10.8). Even hardened warriors will cry out bitterly (Zephaniah 1.14). Pains and anguish will take hold of pale faced men causing them to writhe like a woman in labor (Isaiah 13.8; Joel 2.6). The whole world will be punished for its evil, for its disregard for what God has said is right, for its arrogance and ruthlessness (Isaiah 13.11).

The coming cataclysm is not limited to one or two countries, for Yahweh’s wrath is against all nations and their armies (Isaiah 34.2; Ezekiel 30.3; Joel 3.12; Obadiah 1.15). He will command an army of mighty warriors to execute his anger (Isaiah 13.3-4; Joel 2.11). This army will be unlike anything that has ever come before it, and never again will there be anything like it (Joel 2.2). The earth quakes as fire consumes before them, and behind then a flame burns (Joel 2.3, 10). The army is God’s instrument of indignation which he will use to decimate the land and exterminate the sinners from it (Isaiah 13.5, 9). God will utterly destroy the armies of the earth, and their corpses will be strewn about drenching the mountains with their blood (Isaiah 34.3). Because they have sinned against Yahweh, their blood will be poured out like dirt and their flesh scattered like manure (Zephaniah 1.17). So thorough will this judgment be that the earth will be depopulated to a point that mankind is scarcer than gold (Isaiah 13.12). Yet, there are some who will survive (Isaiah 14.2; Joel 2.32; Obadiah 1.17).

The proud will be humbled, and Yahweh alone will be exalted (Isaiah 2.12). Not even the riches of the wealthy will help them in escaping the destruction (Zephaniah 1.18). The Day of Yahweh will be especially dark for those who think that they are innocent by association (Amos 5.18). For them, the judgment of God will be like one who escapes a lion and a bear catches him; or perhaps he finds his way home unmolested and leans his hand on the wall to catch his breath, and a snake bites him (Amos 5.19). All will be beckoned to come to the valley of decision where judgment will be passed (Joel 3.14). Even those who are stagnant, neither violent nor righteous, will be sought out and punished (Zephaniah 1.12). Those who are in power, who wear the garments of royalty, will be punished (Zephaniah 1.8). The wealthy will have their money stripped away from them, and their houses will become desolate (Zephaniah 1.13).

The Day of Vengeance will be to those who are afflicted, brokenhearted, and imprisoned a favorable year, a time of comfort and joy (Isaiah 34.8; 61.1-3). Those who call on the name of Yahweh in this time of distress will escape this wrath (Joel 2.32).

The purpose of proclaiming the Day of Yahweh is that men would repent

Why did these prophets speak in such a terrifying manner? The purpose of preaching the imminent destruction of the wicked was to splash cold water onto the faces of lethargic sinners. The message shocked men into responding. On the heels of a “Day of the Lord” section, one will typically find a call for repentance.

The prophets urged the people to respond with wailing to their message (Isaiah 13.6; Jeremiah 25.34; Ezekiel 30.2; Joel 1.5, 8, 10, 13). Joel said, “Alas for the day! For the day of Yahweh is near, and it will come as destruction from the Almighty” (Joel 1.15). He requests that the warning be sounded so that all will know that the day of Yahweh is coming (Joel 2.1). Joel appeals to the people to repent:

“Yet even now,” declares Yahweh, ”

Return to Me with all your heart,

And with fasting, weeping and mourning;

And rend your heart and not your garments.”

Now return to Yahweh your God,

For He is gracious and compassionate,

Slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness

And relenting of evil.

Who knows whether He will not turn and relent

And leave a blessing behind Him,

Even a grain offering and a drink offering

For Yahweh your God? (Joel 2:12-14)

Now is the time to blow the trumpet, fast, gather the people, and come before the altar to weep and ask God to spare his people (Joel 2.15-17). Then, Yahweh will forgive and have compassion on his people and pardon them (Joel 2.18-19). This sentiment is shared by Zephaniah:

Gather yourselves together, yes, gather,

O nation without shame,

Before the decree takes effect—

The day passes like the chaff—

Before the burning anger of Yahweh comes upon you,

Before the day of Yahweh’s anger comes upon you.

Seek Yahweh,

All you humble of the earth

Who have carried out His ordinances;

Seek righteousness, seek humility.

Perhaps you will be hidden

In the day of Yahweh’s anger. (Zephaniah 2.1-3)

Following these pleas for repentance are wonderful passages promising restoration (the restoration is sometimes conditional on the people’s repentance). A prophetic template emerges from our study so far: (1) conviction of sin[9] (2) preaching about the coming Day of the Lord (3) urging the people to repent, and (4) sharing a vision of restoration. This procedure is not exactly followed by each book of prophecy, but the ingredients reappear frequently. Usually, the restoration texts with which Kingdom believers are so familiar begin right after the wrath of God has been proclaimed. Thus, repentance is often squished between these two contrasting themes. The indignation of Yahweh approaches, everyone must repent in order to survive, and then the remnant will enjoy restoration. “The establishment of a remnant of a pious Israel was the germ of the hope of the Messianic kingdom; and the Day of Jehovah itself became the Day of Judgment, which figures so largely in both Jewish and Christian Messianism. In fact, it is not too much to say that the eschatology of Judaism is really a development of the implications of the prophetic teaching as to the Day of Jehovah.”[10] Before we will turn to the Greek Scriptures to see if this theme has been dropped, changed, or expanded upon, we need first to consider how this concept appears in the book of Daniel.

From the Day of the Lord to the kingdom of God via Daniel

Daniel provides the necessary glue between “the Day of Yahweh” terminology and “the kingdom of God” phrase which is found so often in the New Testament (especially on the lips of Jesus). Although the phrase “Day of the Lord” does not appear in the book of Daniel, the concept is undeniably present. For example, the kingdom of God obliterates the kingdoms of the world like a huge rock smashing into a statue (Daniel 2.34-35; 44). Even so, Daniel does not focus on the wrath of God coming on the wicked; rather, his perspective is almost exclusively focused on the righteous. For example, in chapter seven, he sees a series of kingdoms in a vision. The last kingdom before the Son of Man comes is worldwide in scope and influenced heavily by “the little horn.” This person not only speaks out boastfully against the Highest One, but he also actively persecutes, wages war against, and overpowers the saints (Daniel 7.20-21, 25). However, this last kingdom will be crushed by the Son of Man when he comes in glory and power:

“And to Him was given dominion,

Glory and a kingdom,

That all the peoples, nations and men of every language Might serve Him.

His dominion is an everlasting dominion

Which will not pass away;

And His kingdom is one

Which will not be destroyed.” (Daniel 7.14)

Then the kingdom will be given to the saints of the Most High to possess it forever (Daniel 7.18, 22, 27). So we conclude that although Daniel primarily focuses on the destiny of the righteous (including tribulation and vindication at the coming of the Son of Man), he nevertheless understands that in order for the kingdom of God to have dominion, all other kingdoms must be crushed.

Day of the Lord with John the Baptist and Jesus

Unlike Daniel, John the Baptist focused on the unrepentant and what they needed to do in light of the coming kingdom. He does not warn the righteous to endure through the messianic woes (the tribulation) but instead cries out for all to get right with God before the Day comes. He spoke of “fleeing from the wrath to come” (Luke 3.7) and preached about the precarious thread by which God’s wrath hung over everyone’s heads.

“Indeed the axe is already laid at the root of the trees; so every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Luke 3.9).

Even being a descendant of Abraham will not save one from this coming Day. “John the Baptist appears to have preached a message of coming destruction and salvation. Mark portrays him as a prophet in the wilderness, proclaiming the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah that God would again bring his people from the wilderness into the Promised Land (Mark 1.2-8). When this happened the first time, according to the Hebrew Scriptures, it meant destruction for the nations already inhabiting the land.”[11]

This all sounds just like the prophets mentioned earlier. However, John expanded on the traditional “the end of the world is at hand” message by speaking about “the one to come.” As a standard ingredient to his message, John would prophecy about the coming judge.

John answered and said to them all, “As for me, I baptize you with water; but one is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to untie the thong of his sandals; he will baptize you with the holy spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand to thoroughly clear his threshing floor, and to gather the wheat into his barn; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Luke 3.16-17)

The one who is coming will divide all into one of two categories: the wheat or the chaff. Those deemed wheat will be properly cared for (i.e. enter the kingdom), but the chaff will be burned with “unquenchable fire.” Apparently this coming one, for whom John the Baptist is merely a forerunner, would be the agent of God’s judgment to be carried out on the last Day.[12]

All of this is brought to a climax in John’s ministry when Jesus came to be baptized by him. Jesus did not choose to focus on the traditional interpretation of the law with the Pharisees, he did not emphasize the role of the temple like the Sadducees, he did not take off to the monastic lifestyle of the Essenes, nor did he take up the sword like the Zealots; instead, Jesus associated with John the Baptist, an apocalyptic preacher who called the people to repentance through baptism. The only reasonable explanation for this association (Jesus went to John for baptism) was that Jesus agreed with the message of John.

If this is the case, then one would expect to find “Day of the Lord” material on the lips of Jesus in his preaching ministry. I propose that this is exactly what the phrase that started us on our journey, “repent for the kingdom of God is at hand,” implies. Jesus did not change or marginalize the message of the prophets concerning judgment and restoration; instead, he amplified it and enriched it with full color. Everything Jesus did was an outgrowth of his faith in this coming kingdom of God both the judgment and the restoration.

Jesus sent his disciples out preaching and told them that anyone who rejects this message will be punished more severely than Sodom and Gomorrah on the Day of Judgment (Matthew 10.15). He proclaimed imprecations on the unbelieving cities of Chorazin and Bethsaida saying that they will be punished more severely than Tyre and Sidon on the Day of Judgment (Matthew 11.21-22). Furthermore, Capernaum will be punished on the Day of Judgment for disbelief despite the miracles done in her (Matthew 11.24). Not only does Jesus invoke “Day of the Lord” pronouncements on cities, but each individual will be judged by the every careless word spoken as well (Matthew 12.36-37). In fact, the door to the kingdom is narrow, and most who try to enter will not be able; once it is closed, there is no admittance (Luke 13.24-25). Those who fail to enter will be outside weeping and gnashing their teeth because they will see Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but they will be thrown out (Luke 24.28-29).

In the parables of both the tares and wheat and also the dragnet, the climax occurs at the end of the age when the Son of Man commands his angels to separate the wicked from the righteous and burn them in the furnace of fire (Matthew 13.40-43, 49-50). It is apparent also in Jesus’ view of the end that the saints will be persecuted first and that after this tribulation, the darkening of the sky will occur, and then the Son of Man comes (Matthew 24.29). Of note is the predicted response to the coming of the Son of Man: “all the tribes of the earth will mourn and they will see the son of man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory” (Matthew 24.30, cp. Rev 1.7). Although the elect will be gathered together at the coming of the Son of Man, the wicked will be punished. His coming puts an end to their rebellion, and that is why they are so upset to see him “with power and great glory.”

To the weeping women who followed Jesus as he marched to the place of The Skull Jesus said:

“Daughters of Jerusalem, stop weeping for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.’ Then they will begin TO SAY TO THE MOUNTAINS, ‘FALL ON US,’ AND TO THE HILLS, ‘COVER US.’ For if they do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?” (Luke 23.28-31)

Jesus was completely in agreement with the historic prophetic belief that the Day of Yahweh would be a time of tremendous duress. He alludes to several Hebrew texts when he speaks of the desire people will have to find a cave to hide (cf. Isaiah 2.19; Hosea 10.8; Revelation 6.16). Jesus was just as apocalyptic, just as emphatic about the coming Day of Judgment as was John the Baptist, Isaiah, Joel, and the others who spoke concerning these things. The only difference is that he understood that it was through the Son of Man and his words that Yahweh would bring about the last Day (John 5.26-29; 12.48). Furthermore, he, like Daniel, also spoke about the righteous enduring a time of great persecution prior to their vindication and possession of the kingdom. In this sense, Jesus shared not only the bad news (Judgment Day is coming for the wicked), but also the good news (that the righteous will enjoy the messianic age with the patriarchs). Now, we shall turn to how the term “Day of Yahweh” or “Day of the Lord” is used in the rest of the New Testament.

Day of the Lord in the rest of the New Testament

“The expectation of the day of the Lord plays a key role in the eschatological [end times] teaching of the New Testament (1 Corinthians 5.5; Acts 2.20; 2 Peter 3.10), where it is usually identified with the expectation of the Parousia, or second coming of Jesus. This identification is possible because the Greek word for ‘Lord’ (kyrios) can refer either to YHWH (as in the Septuagint) or to Jesus.”[13] Furthermore, since the Lord Jesus is the primary agent through which Yahweh acts, the Day of Yahweh can rightfully be called the Day of the Lord Jesus Christ without any contradiction or redefinition of who Yahweh is. It is still the Day of Yahweh, but now since the Messiah has been openly identified as Jesus of Nazareth (i.e. through resurrection cf. Acts 17.31; Romans 1.3), it makes sense to incorporate him in the proclamation of the coming judgment. The incorporation of the Messiah’s role in speaking about the Day of the Lord finds precedent in the Old Testament[14] and can also be seen at Qumran.[15] Here are the different ways that the writers of the Greek Scriptures referred to the Day of Yahweh.

Terminology Used for the Day of the Lord in the New Testament

the day of judgment Matthew 10.15; 11.22, 24; 12.36;

2 Peter 2.9; 3.7; 1 John 4.17

the day of wrath Romans 2.5; Revelation 6.17
the day of Christ Philippians 1.6, 10; 2.16
the day of our Lord Jesus 1 Corinthians 1.8; 2 Corinthians 1.14
the last day John 6.39-40, 44, 54; 11.24; 12.48
the day of God 2 Peter 3.12; Revelation 16.14
the day Romans 2.16; 1 Corinthians 3.13
that day 2 Thessalonians 1.10; 2 Timothy 1.12, 18; 4.8

“The day is pictured primarily as the last judgment, when all people will be tested (1 Corinthians 3.13) and either rewarded (1 Corinthians 1.8) or punished (Romans 2.16).”[16] The destruction in the time of Noah as well as the annihilation of Sodom and Gomorrah are examples of the future coming judgment (2 Peter 2.5-9). Although men may scoff at the notion, the world as we know it will be scorched with fire (2 Peter 3.7). When the Day of the Lord comes, it will be sudden (like a thief); all the works of the earth will be burned up (2 Peter 3.10-12). In fact, as time goes on, the stubborn and unrepentant are storing up for themselves wrath in the Day of the righteous judgment when God renders to each according to his deeds (Romans 2.5-6). The judgment of the last Day falls not only on humans but also on Satan and his demons (2 Peter 2.4; Jude 6; Revelation 20.10). God executes his final wrath through the Son of Man who commands myriads of angels to come in flaming fire to deal out retribution to those who do not obey the gospel (Matthew 13.41-43; 2 Thessalonians 1.7-10; Jude 1.14-15). Though the ungodly should fear, the ones who are like Jesus can have confidence in the Day of Judgment (1 John 4.17). Those in whom God has begun a good work will be able to stand blameless and in glory on the Day of Christ if they continue in the faith (Philippians 1.6-10; 2.16). So the Day of the Lord Jesus has essentially replaced the Day of Yahweh, and it is both a bad day to the unrighteous and a good day to the saints.

Analysis of the gospel proclamation in the New Testament

By now, it should be well established that (1) the prophets of the OT proclaimed the Day of Yahweh—a time of horrendous judgment of the wicked followed by fantastic restoration for the righteous. (2) John the Baptist and Jesus both firmly believed in the coming Day of the Lord and had not in any way watered it down, rather they (with OT precedent) focused on the role that the Son of Man or Messiah would play on that Day. (3) The rest of the New Testament writers believed in this coming Day, and it had already taken on a distinctly Jesuanic character—it became the Day of the Lord Jesus—because Jesus is understood to be the agent though whom Yahweh will execute his Day. Now, I would like to turn to discuss the gospel message proclaimed by John, Jesus, and his disciples to see what role, if any, the Day of the Lord material plays in their evangelism.

As we have already seen, John the Baptist is undoubtedly a proclaimer of the coming judgment of God and in particular of the coming one who will separate the wheat from the chaff (Luke 3.7-17). However, is John’s proclamation of coming judgment the same as the preaching of the gospel? This question is answered by Luke at the conclusion of John’s message when he says, “and with many other exhortations he preached the gospel to the people” (Luke 3.18). Furthermore, Matthew abbreviates what Luke records by saying, “Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’” (Matthew 3.1-2). Thus, we conclude that the apocalyptic message concerning the Day of the Lord and in particular the role that “the coming one” plays is indeed the gospel (or at least a very significant part of it) and can be summarized by the phrase “the kingdom of God is at hand.”

This is the very same terminology that Matthew used to describe the gospel proclamation of Jesus the Christ. The continuity between these two men is unmistakable. John is arrested in Matthew 4.12, and as Jesus arrives in Capernaum, Matthew says in verse 17, “From that time Jesus began to preach and say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” Matthew wants us to connect these two men together not by relation per se but by message. John’s message continued in the preaching of Jesus. Then, just a few verses later (Matthew 4.23), another summary statement appears, “Jesus was going throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom….” Therefore, whatever is concluded regarding John’s usage of the Day of the Lord material in his gospel proclamation should be likewise applied to Jesus. Thinking along these lines yields a remarkable consistency between the prophets of old, John, and Jesus. However, did Jesus change the message during his ministry? In fact, he did not (Matthew 9.23; 24.14). He sent out his disciples bequeathing to them his apocalyptic kingdom message, “And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand’” (Matthew 10.7). Mark insightfully sums up the message preached by the twelve as, “they went out and preached that men should repent” (Mark 6.6).

Peter the Apostle firms up our suspicion that Jesus commissioned the disciples to warn of the coming judgment when he said to Cornelius, “And he [Jesus] ordered us to preach to the people, and solemnly to testify that this is the one who has been appointed by God as judge of the living and the dead” (Acts 10.42). Peter faithfully carried out the ministry of Jesus by challenging men to repent in light of the coming Day of the Lord in order that the righteous may be able to partake in the period of “restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time” (Acts 3.21).

Even so, it is often alleged (at least since Luther) that Paul the Apostle preached a different gospel than what Jesus preached—the gospel of grace. However, this claim is erroneous since Luke equates Paul’s preaching of the kingdom with the gospel of grace (Acts 20.24-25). Nevertheless, we have even more evidence than this to conclude that Paul preached as gospel the imminent destruction of the wicked on the last Day.

“Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17.30-31).

It is my contention that this is the expanded version of “repent, the kingdom of God is at hand.” Paul calls for repentance but substitutes, “he has fixed a day in which he will judge the world…” for kingdom. This manifests a striking resemblance to the prophetic warnings discussed earlier. More evidence for our proposition can be located in the letter Paul wrote to the Romans. He speaks of the unrepentant “storing up wrath…in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God” (Romans 2.5). Those who have repented instead look forward to immortality, glory,[17] and honor (Romans 2.7, 10). Remarkably, this section of his letter concludes equating the coming judgment with his gospel, when Paul says, “On the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Messiah Jesus” (Romans 2.16).

We conclude that the primary information that the unrepentant were confronted with was their own impending ruin because of sin. If this is true, then preaching the gospel is a very dangerous endeavor, because most people will be offended immediately by the notion that their Day of demise draws near. In fact, it is likely that one would suffer persecution if they so preached in modern times.

The principle of godly sorrow leading to repentance in actual experience

The preaching of the gospel inspires repentance. However, why would one want to repent? In light of this question, consider the words of Paul to the Corinthians:

I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us. For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death. (2 Corinthians 7.9-10)

There is a simple chain of action put forth: godly sorrow leads to repentance leads to salvation. As I meditated on this principle, I remembered back to when I first repented. It was a very uncomfortable experience (i.e. I had godly sorrow). In fact, it was painful to come to the gut wrenching realization that my life was a not a fragrant aroma but a repugnant odor in the nostrils of God. When I changed, it was because I came to understand that I was wrong and that if I did not change, I would be miserable.[18] Yet, if I never experienced “godly sorrow,” I would never have repented. Before this time, I had believed that Jesus had died for my sins and rose from the dead. I also had confessed that Jesus was Lord. However, I still lived the same way; my Christianity did not seriously affect my lifestyle. However, once I had godly sorrow and cried out, “God be merciful to me a sinner,” things began to change. Everything was different because I had made a commitment to do what was pleasing in the eyes of God (i.e. I had repented).

Perhaps the difference between godly sorrow and worldly sorrow is that when one feels bad for what he has done in the sight of God, he is promised forgiveness (on the basis of the cross of Christ in order to enjoy the restored earth and ruling with Jesus); whereas the worldly sorrow ends in despair.

A prime example of this is found in the sermons Peter preached in the early chapters of Acts. In both of them (the day of Pentecost and the day the lame man was healed), the climax of his preaching was to convict his hearers of the sin they had committed in crucifying Christ (not literally, but perhaps they were in the crowd shouting “crucify him”). The people came to realize that they had done wrong and cried out “brethren, what shall we do?” Peter’s immediate response was to repent. This is a fine example of the “godly sorrow leading to repentance” principle at work.

Putting it all together

The gospel is not just that the Messiah is coming to establish the kingdom on earth. The gospel is not just that this utopia is nearly here. The gospel is not just that with the kingdom comes judgment for the wicked. Nor is it just that Jesus died for our sins to enter the kingdom. It is all of this plus that repentance is necessary. This is all included in the biblical gospel. One must understand the sickness before he desires the cure. But once a chronically ill man (sin is a chronic disease) finds the cure, unspeakable gratitude and joy result. So it is with the repentant sinner who is forgiven, who swings from the dominion of Satan to Christ, who no longer fears judgment because of the love he has experienced at the mercy of a gracious God and an obedient Son. Knowing and serving this perfect God and receiving his outrageous love (through repentance and holy living) put us in a whole new category of mind as John so aptly described:

We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. (1 John 4.16-18)

But even once we have understood the gospel as Jesus preached it, another major problem immediately presents itself. How does one cross the chasm between the thought world present at the time of Jesus and that of modernity? Jesus could declare “the kingdom of God is near,” and everyone would understand that he meant both that judgment was near for the wicked and national and individual rewards (inheriting the land etc.) were near for the righteous. However, today, we have so much more work to do. We cannot speak about the kingdom because no one knows what it is, other than that it is “within you” (apparently this is the only text modern Christians connect with the kingdom concept). Furthermore, even defining the kingdom is not sufficient; we must take a couple of steps back. We have to prove that there is a God, that he is one, that the Bible is true, and that there are moral absolutes, all before our preaching can be understood. Nevertheless, that will have to be the subject of another paper. For now, I hope we can be satisfied to know something more about the kingdom (both the judgment and restoration) and how this precious message motivates repentance and prepares the heart to receive forgiveness through the Cross. May we echo the sentiment of the Qumran community as we proclaim the gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ:

“[Rise up, O Hero!

Lead off Thy captives, O Glorious One!

Gather up] Thy spoils, O Author of mighty deeds!

Lay Thy hand on the neck of Thine enemies

and Thy feet [on the pile of the slain!

Smite the nations, Thine adversaries],

and devour flesh with Thy sword!

Fill Thy land with glory

and Thine inheritance with blessing!

[Let there be a multitude of cattle in Thy fields,

and in] Thy palaces

[silver and gold and precious stones]!

O Zion, rejoice greatly!

Rejoice all you cities of Judah!

[Keep your gates ever open

that the] hosts of the nations [may be brought in]!

Their kings shall serve you

and all your oppressors shall bow down before you;

[they shall lick the dust of your feet.

Shout for joy, O daughters of] my people!

Deck yourselves with glorious jewels

[and rule over the kingdom of the nations!

Sovereignty shall be to the Lord]

and everlasting dominion to Israel.” (1QM XIX, 2-8)

[1] Kingdom of God = Kingdom of Heaven (cp. Matthew 19.23 & 24).

[2] The closest one can find to “the kingdom of God” is in Daniel 2.44 where it says, “in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed…”

[3] Inheriting the land has been extended to the Gentiles because of what Jesus has done in breaking down the barrier between us (the law) and thereby making the Gentiles fellow heirs of the promises (Matthew 5.5; Romans 11.17-25; Galatians 3.29; Eph 2.11-20; 1 Peter 2.11).

[4] If you are not familiar with these five elements and would like to study more on them, please visit us on the web: www.lhim.org/topics/kg.php

[5] Revelation 11.15-17 indicates that at the seventh trumpet when the kingdom of the world becomes the kingdom of God and his Christ, God will begin to reign.

[6] Yet, it is only freedom from Satan’s effect on us, and not until the end will true freedom be granted when Satan is imprisoned and then destroyed

[7] Jesus died for those who hated him while asking God to forgive them rather than punish them. Is this not the model we are to emulate in regards to our enemies? Does not the Cross teach us what is meant by the phrase “love your enemies” (Matthew 5.44).

[8] Jesus: The Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium, Bart Ehrman, page 3, 1999 Oxford University Press, Inc.

[9] Although we have not covered this element, it is clear that many of the prophets began with a laundry list of sins that the people were committing, followed by a denunciation of this behavior (cf. Isaiah 1).

[10] Shailer Mathews, “Day of the Lord,” Hastings Dictionary of the Bible, ed James Hastings, Hendrickson Publishers, 2001, pg. 179.

[11] Jesus: The Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium, Bart Ehrman, page 138, 1999 Oxford University Press, Inc.

[12] The role of the Messiah on the Day of the Lord is found in some places of the Hebrew Bible (Isaiah 11; Psalm 110; Daniel 7; et al.) although it was not nearly as emphasized as it came to be with John the Baptist, Jesus, and the apostles.

[13] “day of the Lord” page 151, Dictinoary of Judaism in the Biblical Period ed. Jacob Neusner & William Scott Green. Hendrickson Publishers, 2002.

[14] Daniel 7.13-14; Isaiah 11

[15] “[May you smite the peoples] with the might of your hand and ravage the earth with your scepter; may you bring death to the ungodly with the breath of your lips…For God has established you as the scepter. The rulers [and all the kings of the] nations shall serve you. He shall strengthen you with his holy Name and you shall be as a [lion; and you shall not lie down until you have devoured the] prey which naught shall deliver.” 1QSb V, 25

[16] “Day of the Lord” page 152, Dictinoary of Judaism in the Biblical Period ed. Jacob Neusner & William Scott Green. Hendrickson Publishers, 2002.

[17] Glory is used in Scripture to refer to the glorious coming kingdom (Daniel 7.13-14; Matthew 24.30).

[18] However, although I didn’t think I would perish, due to my belief that I could not lose my salvation after I had accepted Jesus as my savior

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The Amazing Shift Away from Jesus in the Popular Gospel

by Anthony Buzzard

“Jesus came to do three days work”— Billy Graham

Protestants have inherited a Gospel from their Protestant heritage. The question is, does this Protestant Gospel do justice to the Bible’s and particularly Jesus’ definition of the Gospel? Jesus was the initial preacher of the saving Gospel: “How then can we escape if we take no notice of an offer of salvation so important that God announced it first through the Lord himself? Those who heard him confirmed it to us” (Heb. 2:3; see also Matt. 4:17, 23; Luke 4:43). I Timothy 6:3 and II John 7-9 warn that any departure from the words of Jesus is a grave mistake. Jesus’ own definition of the Gospel is therefore the foundation of biblical faith.

Commentators on the history of Christian ideas point out that Luther and Calvin arbitrarily excluded Jesus’ own preaching of the Gospel. Current evangelicalism is unknowingly dominated by a dogmatic and fundamentally confusing approach to the question “What is the Gospel?”

Creating his own dogma, Luther decided arbitrarily to define the Gospel by taking texts from John and Paul and ignoring the other accounts of Jesus’ ministry. The first casualty of this procedure was the Gospel of the Kingdom of God, the saving Gospel presented by Jesus himself as the model for all subsequent Gospel-preaching (Mark 1:14, 15, Luke 4:43, etc.).

G.F. Moore wrote (our comments in square brackets):

“Luther created by a dogmatic criterion a canon of the gospel within the canon of the books [he chose some books and ignored others, using a selective and misleading procedure]. Luther wrote: ‘Those Apostles who treat oftenest and highest of how faith alone justifies, are the best Evangelists. Therefore St. Paul’s Epistles are more a Gospel than Matthew, Mark and Luke. For these [Matthew, Mark and Luke] do not set down much more than the works and miracles of Christ [this is quite false: the gospels constantly describe the very Gospel as Jesus preached it]; but the grace which we receive through Christ no one so boldly extols as St. Paul, especially in his letter to the Romans.’ In comparison with the Gospel of John, the Epistles of Paul, and I Peter, ‘which [says Luther] are the kernel and marrow of all books,’ the Epistle of James, with its insistence that man is not justified by faith alone, but by works proving faith, is ‘a mere letter of straw, for there is nothing evangelical about it.’”

Moore comments perceptively: “It is clear that the infallibility of Scripture has here, in fact if not in admission, followed the infallibility of popes and councils; for the Scripture itself has to submit to be judged by the ultimate criterion of its accord with Luther’s doctrine of justification by faith. [Luther, in other words, replaced one dogmatic system with another, making the Scripture submit to his own process of selection.]” (Moore, History of Religions, Scribners, 1920, p. 320).

C.S. Lewis reflects exactly the same tendency. He does not seem to think that Jesus preached the Gospel! The following quotation points to a fundamental and amazing misconception of the heart of Christianity: C.S. Lewis: “The epistles are for the most part the earliest Christian documents we possess. The Gospels came later [but Jesus preached the Gospel long before the epistles were written]. They are not ‘the Gospel,’ the statement of the Christian belief…[so Christ’s words are not the statement of Christianity?]. In that sense the epistles are more primitive and more central than the Gospels — though not of course than the great events which the Gospels recount [what about the great words/teachings of Jesus which are the saving Gospel?]. God’s Act (the Incarnation, the crucifixion, and the Resurrection) [what about the preaching of the Gospel by Jesus?] comes first: the earliest theological analysis of it comes in the epistles: then when the generation which had heard the Lord was dying out, the Gospels were composed to provide the believers a record of the great Act and of some of the Lord’s sayings [Matthew, Mark and Luke in fact record the Gospel, as does John]” (Introduction to J. B. Phillips’ Letters to Young Churches, Fontana Books, pp. 9, 10).

What about Jesus’ saving gospel of the Kingdom? Luther and C.S. Lewis rather skillfully bypass the gospel according to Jesus.

In contrast, Moore, as a historian with less of a theological ax to grind, recognizes that the teaching of Jesus recorded in the gospels is absolutely essential for the new birth, i.e., for salvation:

“The idea that the entrance into the new and higher life, the immortal life, must be by a spiritual or intellectual rebirth, or rather regeneration, meets us often in the mysteries [mystery religions], and especially in the intellectual mysticisms of the age. anagennasthai (to be born again) and paliggenesia (rebirth) are familiar terms in them. In John rebirth is the sine qua non [absolute essential] of salvation. Flesh breeds flesh; spirit alone can engender spirit, and only he who is begotten by the divine spirit can enter the ‘Kingdom of God’ (John 3). In the thought of the time spirit was not only the principle of divine life but of the higher knowledge; so Paul conceives it (e.g. I Cor. 2:14). In John [recording Jesus] the two are inseparably connected, or rather they are the same thing” (Moore, History of Religions, p. 142).

Billy Graham and the Gospel

A widely-circulated tract entitled “What is the Gospel?”[1] which contains no reference to the Kingdom of God, declares that Jesus “came to do three days work, to die, be buried and raised” and that “He came not primarily to preach the Gospel . . . , but He came rather that there might be a Gospel to preach.” It is difficult to reconcile these statements with Jesus’ declaration that He was commissioned for the very purpose of proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom (Luke 4:43)! Again, Billy Graham says: “Jesus came to do three days work.” But Jesus said, “I came to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom”; that is the reason why I was commissioned” (Luke 4:43).

It cannot be too strongly emphasized that Christianity which is not rooted and anchored in the historical Jesus may turn out to be just another faith. If people are asked to “accept Christ” without being told about the Message of the historical Christ, how can we be sure that “Christ” is not just an abstract symbol? The real question then is, in the words of Jon Sobrino,

“whether this Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus or some vague, abstract Spirit that is nothing more than the sublimated embodiment of the natural “religious” person’s desires and yearnings. If it is the latter, then it is not only different from, but actually contrary to the Spirit of Jesus.”[2]

More from the Billy Graham Association

“…The word Gospel occurs over one hundred times in the New Testament…What then is the Gospel of the grace of God? Let us ask Paul. He would point us to I Cor. 15:1-4: ‘I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you…that Christ died for our sins, that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day’…Paul never discussed the earthly life of our Lord…The fact that the Lord Jesus died to save is one half of the Gospel! The fact that he rose from the dead…is the other half of the Gospel.”[3]

Is that true? Why is there not a single sentence about the Gospel which Jesus preached, i.e., the Gospel about the Kingdom of God? Why are we not pointed to Paul’s own definition of the Gospel of God given in the very next verse after he speaks of the “Gospel of the grace of God”?:

(Paul): “The ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus [was to] testify solemnly of the Gospel of the grace of God …to you among whom I went about proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom” (Acts 20:24, 25; cp. Acts 19:8; 28:23, 30, 31).

The Gospel of the grace of God is the Gospel of the Kingdom. There is no difference. God’s grace is proclaimed in the proclamation about the Kingdom of God — that great world government which Jesus has promised to establish, with His followers, on earth when He returns (see Dan. 7:13, 14, 18, 22, 27). Jesus was and is preparing for that great coming day in which he and the immortalized saints will take charge of the renewed earth.

Jesus’ Saving Gospel of the Kingdom

The Christian Gospel of salvation was proclaimed by Jesus and the Apostles. It was (and is) the Gospel about the Kingdom of God and the Name of Jesus Christ (Mark 1:14, 15; Luke 4:43; Mat. 4:23; 9:35; 24:14; Acts 8:12; 19:8; 20:25; 28:23, 31). The death and resurrection of Jesus are essential elements included in the Gospel, but they do not constitute the whole Gospel.

The saving Gospel — “the Message about the Kingdom,” “This Gospel about the Kingdom” (Matt. 24:14) which Jesus stated is the basis of salvation (see Matt. 13:19; Luke 8:12; cp. Acts 8:12) — was the center of all biblical preaching. It is the Message which Satan hates (Luke 8:12; Matt. 13:19). It is called throughout the New Testament “the word,” or “the word of the Lord.” The term “word” is positively not just another way of saying the Bible. “The word” is the core of the Bible and that core is found in the saving words of Jesus — his Gospel of the Kingdom.

It appears that we have abandoned Jesus’ Gospel of the Kingdom. To abandon Jesus’ Gospel is to abandon Him (Mark 8:35, 38; 10:39). We have claimed, by prooftexting from one passage in Paul, 1 Corinthians 15:1-3, that the Gospel is a message only about the death of Jesus for our sins and His resurrection. That this is untrue is proved by the fact that Jesus and the disciples preached the Gospel, calling it “the Gospel about the Kingdom” and “the Gospel” long before a word was said about His death for sin and His resurrection!

The “evangelical Gospel” in contemporary America leaves out Jesus’ own Gospel and distorts the Gospel of Paul, dividing the Apostle from Jesus and omitting vital information. Without the right facts, how can we successfully believe for salvation?

The tract we quoted at the beginning is right: Faith must have an object. We must believe some fact. But it must be the right facts! The question is, what facts are we going to believe? It is a question of obedience and the Lordship of Jesus. Are we willing to obey His first commandment: “Repent and believe the Gospel about the Kingdom of God” (Mark 1:14, 15)?

The Loss of the Jesus of History

The history of Christianity ought to give churchgoers cause for alarm. Because of an anti-intellectual approach to faith, many remain in ignorance of the great issues affecting their relationship with God. When theologians ponder the condition of the Church over the centuries, they often expose an extraordinary departure from the historical Jesus. David Kaylor writes:

Christian faith has not centered on the historical Jesus. The Apostles’ Creed demonstrates the truth of this statement, for it moves from “born of the Virgin Mary” to “crucified under Pontius Pilate.” The Creed’s omission suggests that the intervening years and activities of Jesus were of no real consequence to faith . . . Theologically and ethically, it is not enough to say that a death and resurrection have occurred. Who Jesus was whom the Romans executed and God raised from the dead matters not only for the historian but for the theologian and believer. The historical character of Jesus, and not merely a spiritual Christ, provides Christian faith with its reason for being and its power to bring about change in personal social life.[4]

If the Jesus claimed as Savior is not anchored in the historical figure recorded in the New Testament, who knows what kind of Jesus may be embraced? It seems to me clear that Satan could well play on the weakness of the religious spirit of man by presenting a Jesus who is only vaguely and superficially the Jesus of the Bible. The counterfeit could, however, be most subtle. Satanic strategy would work hard to separate Jesus from His own teachings (laid out in their clearest form in Matthew, Mark and Luke). “Jesus” might then be only a religious symbol offered as a spiritual panacea for the world’s and individuals’ ills. The Jewish, apocalyptic Jesus, preacher of a coming just society on earth — the Kingdom of God — might then fall into disrepute and obscurity. His reappearance in preaching would probably appear strange and unwanted even to churchgoers who have been fed a diet missing the New Testament Hebrew ingredients.

The safest policy against deception would be to reinstate the Gospel about the Kingdom at the heart of all preaching. This would ensure against the tendency to make Jesus up out of our own minds.[5] It would also safeguard believers against the extravagant assertion of a leading theologian who remarked: “What can be said about the historical Jesus belongs to the realm of the ‘Christ according to the flesh.’ That Christ, however, does not concern us. What went on within Jesus’ heart I do not know, and I do not want to know.”[6] This tendency, less blatantly expressed, plagues a number of theological schools of thought, not least the school which relegates the teaching of Jesus to a ministry to Jews only and applies His ethical instructions to the future millennium.

Confessing Jesus as Messiah, Son of God

It is with good reason that Christology, the study of the identity of Jesus, has always engaged the attention of theologians. When Jesus inquired of Peter: “Who do you say that I am?”[7] Peter’s truthful response that He was the Messiah was greeted with the highest praise. The correct answer to the question, so Jesus said, can only be supplied by divine revelation. To recognize Jesus as the Messiah is to grasp the secret of Christianity and open the way to possession of the Kingdom.[8] To acknowledge Jesus as something other than the Messiah, Son of God, is to miss the point of the Christian faith. John echoes his Master when he says: “There is no falsehood so great as the denial of the Messiahship of Jesus.”[9]

Luther and Calvin arbitrarily excluded Jesus’ Gospel, as though Jesus did not really preach the Gospel!

It is reasonable to ask why the Kingdom of God features so little in modern evangelism. The answer is to be found in a long-standing de-emphasis on the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, dating from Calvin and Luther. An unconscious offense at the Messianic Jewish Jesus caused these two Protestant leaders to express a curious preference for the Gospel of John over the other three Gospels. Luther, writing the preface to his translation of the New Testament (1522), stated: “John’s Gospel is the only Gospel which is delicately sensitive to what is the essence of the Gospel, and is to be widely preferred to the other three and placed on a higher level” (Cited by D. Fuller, Gospel and Law: Contrast or Continuum, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980, p. 160).

He was followed by Calvin in this opinion. Calvin even ventured to suggest a different order for Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, making John the ideal introduction to his three fellow reporters of the life of Jesus: “The doctrine which points out to us the power and the benefit of the coming Christ, is far more clearly exhibited by John than by the [synoptists]. The three former [synoptic Gospels] exhibit [Christ’s] body…but John exhibits his soul. On this account I am accustomed to say that this Gospel is a key to open the door for understanding the rest…In reading [the four Gospels] a different order would be advantageous, which is, that when we wish to read in Matthew and others that Christ was given to us by the Father, we should first learn from John the purpose for which he was manifested” (Foreword to Calvin’s commentary on John).

Christians should awake to the fact that their various traditional systems, claiming to be based on Scripture, have not served them well. Scripture nowhere says that John’s Gospel is to be preferred over Matthew, Mark and Luke. Nor does it teach that Jesus preached a Jewish Message up to the cross; whereupon Paul then took a different Message of grace to the Gentiles. The fact is that the Gospel as Jesus preached it is so essential for our salvation that it is repeated in no less than three complementary versions (Matthew, Mark, Luke), with John only confirming the very same teaching, often in different vocabulary. The New Scofield Bible, read by millions, says that a “strong legal and Jewish coloring is to be expected up to the cross” (p. 987). The fact is that the whole New Testament faith is Jewish in character and consistently makes strong demands for obedience.

Jesus and the Promise of the Land

We are at the crux of the problem which afflicts current versions of the faith. A false distinction and division is being created by the so-called “dispensationalist” school. The teachings of Jesus do not remain at the center of the scheme of salvation proposed by dispensationalists. John Walvoord says that the Sermon on the Mount: “treats not of salvation, but of the character and conduct of those who belong to Christ…That it is suitable to point an unbeliever to salvation in Christ is plainly not the intention of this message…The Sermon on the Mount, as a whole, is not church truth precisely…It is not intended to delineate justification by faith or the gospel of salvation.” Rather ambiguously he adds that it should not be relegated to “unimportant truth” (Matthew: Thy Kingdom Come, Moody Press, 1984, pp. 44, 45).

The parable of the sower in Matthew 13, Mark 4 and Luke 8 in fact gives us exactly the information we need to define the Gospel and how it must be accepted. Jesus made it very clear that acceptance of his own preaching of the Kingdom of God is the first step in salvation: “When anyone hears the Gospel of the Kingdom and does not understand it, the Devil comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart so that he cannot believe it and be saved” (Matt. 13:19 and Luke 8:12).

The Land/Kingdom Promise, which is the heart of Jesus’ Gospel, has been lost. The 77% of our Bible which is the Old Testament has been detached from the New Testament. We have forgotten that God preached the Gospel to Abraham (Gal. 3:8) and that the New Testament Gospel preaching by Jesus is based on the covenant made with Abraham. God promised the land to Abraham and the seed (Gal. 3:29). Jesus promised the land to Christians (Matt. 5:5; Rev. 5:10).

The “murder of the [Old Testament biblical] text” by critical scholarship (The Gospel and the Land, p. 48) has been equally responsible for the suppression of the covenant-hope of “life in the land.” Fragmenting the Hebrew Bible in the interests of a theory of composition, scholarship lost sight of what James Dunn has called the Pauline presupposition about the authority of Scripture, “that a single mind and purpose [God’s] inspired the several writings [the Bible]” (Commentary on Romans, Word Books, 1988, p. 202). After nearly two thousand years of uncomprehending Gentile opposition, the promise to Abraham of progeny, blessing, greatness, and land must be reinstated in the churches’ teaching as the coherent and unifying theme of biblical faith in God and Christ and the essential core of the Christian Gospel about the Kingdom of God. There could be no greater rallying point for fragmented Christendom. No other theme than that which ties together all of divine revelation can provide the churches with the unified Message they so desperately need.

As James Dunn says: “The idea of ‘inheritance’ was a fundamental part of Jewish understanding of their covenant relationship with God, above all, indeed almost exclusively, in connection with the land — the land of Canaan theirs by right of inheritance as promised to Abraham…[This] is one of the most emotive themes in Jewish national self-identity…Central to Jewish self-understanding was the conviction that Israel was the Lord’s inheritance…Integral to the national faith was the conviction that God had given Israel the inheritance of Palestine, the promised land. It is this axiom which Paul evokes and refers to the new Christian movement as a whole, Gentiles as well as Jews. They are heirs of God. Israel’s special relationship with God has been extended to all in Christ. And the promise of the land has been transformed into the promise of the Kingdom…That inheritance of the Kingdom, full citizenship under the rule of God alone, is something still awaited by believers” (Commentary on Romans, pp. 213, 463, emphasis added).

Again we must insist on the direct link between early Christianity and the covenant with Abraham. As Dunn says: “The degree to which Paul’s argument is determined by the current self-understanding of his own people is clearly indicated by his careful wording which picks up four key elements in that self-understanding: the covenant promise to Abraham and his seed, the inheritance of the land as its central element…It had become almost a commonplace of Jewish teaching that the covenant promised that Abraham’s seed would inherit the earth [cp. Matt. 5:5; Rev. 5:10]…The promise thus interpreted was fundamental to Israel’s self-consciousness as God’s covenant people: It was the reason why God had chosen them in the first place from among all the nations of the earth, the justification for holding themselves distinct from other nations, and the comforting hope that made their current national humiliation endurable…

“Paul’s case reveals the strong continuity he saw between his faith and the fundamental promise of his people’s Scriptures…Paul had no doubt that the Gospel he proclaimed was a continuation and fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham [cp. Gal. 3:8]. But he was equally clear that the heirs of Abraham’s promise were no longer to be identified in terms of the law. For Genesis 15:6 [‘Abraham believed God and its was reckoned to him as righteousness’] showed with sufficient clarity that the promise was given and accepted through faith, quite apart from the law in whole or in part” (Commentary on Romans, pp. 213, 463, emphasis added).

“The first task of exegesis [explaining the Bible] is to penetrate as far as possible inside the historical context(s) of the author and of those for whom he wrote. So much of this involves the taken-for-granteds of both author and addressees. Where a modern reader is unaware of (or unsympathetic to) these shared assumptions and concerns it will be impossible to hear the text as the author intended it to be heard (and assumed it would be heard). In this case, a major part of that context is the self-understanding of Jews and Judaism in the first century and of Gentiles sympathetic to Judaism. Since most of Christian history and scholarship, regrettably, has been unsympathetic to that self-understanding, if not downright hostile to it, a proper appreciation of Paul in his interaction with that self-understanding has been virtually impossible [cp. Peter’s warning about the danger of misunderstanding Paul!]” (Commentary on Romans, pp. xiv, xv, emphasis added).

The Eclipse of the Jew Jesus

Canon H. Goudge warned of disaster in preaching and practice. The replacement of Jewish ways of thinking (the thinking of the Bible writers) by Gentile ideas has been a disaster affecting the denominations: “[After New Testament times] the great people of God’s choice [the Jews] were soon the least adequately represented in the Catholic [universal] Church. That was a disaster to the Church itself. It meant that the Church as a whole failed to understand the Old Testament and that the Greek mind and the Roman mind in turn, came to dominate its outlook: From that disaster the Church has never recovered either in doctrine or practice. If today we are again coming rightly to understand the Old Testament and thus far better than before the New Testament also, it is to our modern Hebrew scholars and in part to Jewish scholars themselves that we owe it. God meant, we believe, the Jews to be His missionaries; the first great age of evangelization was the Apostolic age, when the missionaries were almost entirely Jews; no others could have done what they did. If today another great age of evangelization is to dawn, we need the Jews again” (“The Calling of the Jews” in the volume of collected essays Judaism and Christianity (London: Shears and Co., 1939), quoted by Lev Gillet, Communion in the Messiah, London: Lutterworth Press, 1942, p. 194).

Let us finish by reminding ourselves of the startling difference between popular definitions of the Gospel and Jesus’ and Paul’s definition:

  1. S. Lewis: “The Gospel is not in the gospels.”

Billy Graham: “Jesus came to do three days work. Jesus came not primarily to preach the Gospel.”

[Our function in heaven will be] “to prepare heavenly dishes” “play with children, “tend gardens” or “polish rainbows.”[10]

Jesus: “I am duty-bound to preach the Gospel about the Kingdom of God. That is the reason God sent me” (Luke 4:43)

“They [believers] shall reign as kings upon the earth” (Rev. 5:10)

Paul: “I went around preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom” (see Acts 20:25; cp. v. 24)

“Don’t you know that the saints will manage the world… and if the world is to come under your jurisdiction…” (I Cor 6:2, Moffatt).

Note also how churches have substituted “heaven” at death for disembodied souls for the Christian goal, which is to inherit the land/earth when Jesus returns. Scholars protest the erroneous church traditions, but very few pay attention:

“Heaven in the Bible is nowhere the destination of the dying.” — Cambridge Biblical scholar, J.A.T. Robinson, In the End God, p. 108.

“No Bible text authorizes the statement that the soul is separated from the body at death.” — The celebrated Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible (Vol. 1, p. 803).

William Strawson, a tutor in systematic theology and the philosophy of religion, made a detailed study of Jesus and the Future Life and dedicated 23 pages to an examination of the word “heaven” in Matthew, Mark and Luke. He concluded:

“In few, if any, instances of the use of the word “heaven” is there any parallel with modern usage. The gospel records of our Lord’s life and teaching do not speak of going to heaven, as a modern believer so naturally does. Rather the emphasis is on that which is “heavenly” coming down to man…Our modern way of speaking of life with God as being life “in heaven” is not the way the gospels speak of the matter. Especially is there no suggestion that Jesus is offering to his disciples the certainty of “heaven” after this life.”[11]

“Heaven as the future abode of the believers is [a conception] conspicuous by its absence from St. Paul’s thought. The second coming is always from heaven alike in the earliest (I Thess. 1:10) and the latest (Phil. 3:20) of Paul’s letters…Possibly he so takes it for granted that believers will have their place in a Messianic earthly Kingdom that he does not think it necessary to mention it.”[12]

“Jesus was not thinking of a colorless and purely heavenly beyond, but pictured it to Himself as a state of things existing upon this earth — though of course a transfigured earth — and in His own land.”[13]

The Gospel of salvation — gaining immortality in the coming Kingdom of God on a renewed earth — is all about how to prepare now to inherit the land with the Messiah at his future, spectacular return to bring about peace among all nations (Isa 2:1-6).


[1]Published by The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, 1980.

[2]Christology at the Crossroads, Orbis Books, 1982, p. 384.

[3] Roy Gustafson, Billy Graham Association, emphasis added.

[4]R.D. Kaylor, Jesus the Prophet, His Vision of the Kingdom on Earth, emphasis added.

[5]Unitarian Universalist theology seems to have fallen into the very trap against which the Bible warns (II John 7-9). A tract on Unitarian Universalist views of Jesus says: “It is not possible to describe the historical Jesus, yet many descriptions of Him exist . . . Each of us may imagine the historical Jesus as we wish . . . The important aspect of personal reality with which we must come to terms is not the historical Jesus, but the idea of Jesus as it exists in our contemporary culture . . . I find it exhilarating to believe that the perfection we have poured into the figure of Jesus has come from the minds of human beings, from human imagination and ethical aspiration . . . I’m for a better and better Jesus, born from the aspiring heart of humanity” (J.G. MacKinnon).

[6]R. Bultmann, “Zur Frage der Christologie,” in Glauben und Verstehen, cited by G.R. Beasley-Murray in “The Kingdom of God and Christology in the Gospels,” in Jesus of Nazareth: Lord and Christ, ed. J.B. Green and M. Turner, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994, p. 23.

[7]Matt. 16:15.

[8]Matt. 16:19.

[9]I John 23:22 as rendered by J.W.C. Wand, The New Testament Letters, Prefaced and Paraphrased, Oxford University Press, 1946.

[10] “What Heaven is Really Like,” Hope for the Troubled Heart, Word Pub. Co., 1991

[11] p. 38.

[12] “Heaven,” Dictionary of Christ and the Apostles, Vol. I, p. 531.

[13] W. Bousset, Jesus, London: Williams and Norgate, 1906, p. 82.

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