Kingdom Uprising

Reclaiming Jesus' Hope, Gospel, and Way

Tag: gospel

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.

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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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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 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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