Kingdom Uprising

Reclaiming Jesus' Hope, Gospel, and Way

Tag: Paul

Don’t You Know That the Saints Will Judge the World? (1 Corinthians 6.1-11)

My future determines my present. As I write these words I’m in training; I run almost every day. Each week I log over 50 miles on the road, in the woods, or in the park. October is pulling me forward like a magnet, determining my daily activities in June. This is because on October 13th, I intend to run a marathon. Running 26.2 miles is not something I can just go out and do. It requires months of intense and consistent training. Day after day, I put my shoes on and run countless hours so that on that one day, for about three hours, I will achieve my peak performance. Like someone whose signed up for a marathon, the coming kingdom should affect how we live in the present. This is what Paul is getting at when he writes the following.

1 Corinthians 6.1-11
1 When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? 2 Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? 3 Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! 4 So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? 5 I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, 6 but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers?

7 To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? 8 But you yourselves wrong and defraud– even your own brothers! 9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Paul was bewildered that Christians were taking each other to court. He could barely believe that something so absurd could even happen. Of course, from an old covenant perspective, there is nothing wrong with taking one’s neighbor to court if there was a just cause. In fact, extensive provision was made for exactly such a scenario under the Mosaic Law. So, what was so shocking here? Why was Paul beside himself? There were two offenses: (1) they were taking their fellow Christians to court and (2) they were going to court before non-Christians. His core driving thought was expressed by the question: “Do you not know that the saints will judge the world?” Since the Corinthians disciples were destined to rule the world, could they not figure out how to do community without appealing to outsiders to settle matters? Was there not even one wise man among them before whom the two could go? In fact, Paul argues, it would be better to be defrauded than go before unbelievers since that would testify to the opposite of the kingdom message. Besides, the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom. Notice how the people’s future role as kingdom citizens was to affect how they lived. The first question is, “How will it be in the kingdom.” The next is, “How can I embody kingdom living now in this situation?”

Note how many times Paul mentions the future kingdom when he’s reproving the Corinthians. Over and again he brings their focus to their destiny. Look, you are going to rule the world one day, so I’m sure you can figure out this insignificant matter without having to go to unbelievers. The kingdom does not only give us hope for the future. It is not restricted to our gospel message. It also needs to affect what we do now. If we are the kingdom people, then we need to act like it.

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A Long Lost Hope

by Bethany Reise

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul writes that there is but one hope to which believers have been called.[1] Most Christians have been taught that the hope they are awaiting is eternal life in heaven, to which their immortal soul will depart after death. They would be surprised to find out that this is not the hope to which Paul was referring. Paul was speaking of the resurrection of the righteous which is to occur at the second coming of Christ. It is only at this time that the dead who have been sleeping in their graves will be awakened and clothed with immortality. They will live and reign with Christ in the kingdom of God which is to be established on the earth at the end of the age. At this point most would argue, “Well, what about when Paul said that he would ‘prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord?’”[2] “Or,” they contend, “When Paul said that his ‘desire to depart and be with Christ?’ Surely that proves that his hope was to die and immediately be in heaven with Christ!”[3] However, interpreting Scripture while under the influence of Greek philosophy is a dangerous idea. One must abandon the influences of pagan philosophy and adopt the perspective of the Hebrew writers of the Bible in order to understand Paul’s hope, the hope of all believers.

While the early church was growing, Paul implored believers adhere to the truth and warned them of the dangers of “philosophy and empty deception.”[4] Paul’s admonitions went unheeded, however, and Greek philosophy started becoming entangled in Christian belief, before it was finally welcomed into Christian tradition by the early church fathers. Platonic philosophy asserts that a separate and immortal soul inhabits the body while it is alive, but after death the soul is released from the body, departing to another realm. By the second century, the Platonic philosophical thought had made its way into the writings of influential church theologians and writers, such as Tertullian, Origen, and Augustine.[5] They adopted the belief that man was an immaterial and immortalized soul, housed in a physical body. Upon death, they asserted, the disembodied soul of the believer departs from the body and goes to heaven. Under their care, the precious hope of the apostles and all the faithful of times past were exchanged for a false hope.

Therefore, since most are under the influence of Greek philosophy, one must adopt a Hebraic understanding of the nature of man when trying to understanding Paul’s statements about the hope he professed. The Bible teaches that man is mortal. As author Greg Deuble rightly states, “The stubborn fact is that there is not one passage to be found anywhere in the Bible that teaches man has an immortal soul.”[6] God also defined mortal man as a living soul. In Genesis 2:7, the author states that “the LORD God formed man [of] the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”[7] So, the “equation” for man is as follows: “body + breath of life = living soul.”[8] Man is a living soul; he is not some sort of combination of a physical body and an immaterial soul.

Accepting this definition of the nature of man impacted the Hebrews’ understanding of death and life in the age to come. For the Hebrews, death was simple: when a person dies, they rest in the grave in a state of unconsciousness, much like sleep.[9] It is in this state of unconsciousness that the dead wait, until they are resurrected on the last day.[10] On the last day, the Messiah will come and the righteous will be resurrected or “wakened” and clothed with immortality. At this time, the final kingdom of God will be established on the earth and God will dwell with His people.[11] Job expresses this hope in one of his discourses: “As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will take His stand on the earth. Even after my skin is destroyed, yet from my flesh I shall see God.”[12] From this, it is evident that Job was anticipating that at future time after his death, he would be raised with renewed flesh. This raising was associated with his Redeemer coming to take his stand on the earth. This was the great hope to which the faithful of the past looked forward to, and the very same hope that Paul professed: the resurrection of the righteous, who would be clothed with immortality at the second coming of the Messiah.

Based on his letters to the early churches, it is possible to see that Paul’s eschatological view contained the same three basic elements as Job’s did, namely; the resurrection, the return of the Lord Messiah, and the change from mortality to immortality. These elements are evident in Philippians 3, where Paul expresses his hope of being awakened from the dead and receiving a new resurrection body at the second coming of Jesus, saying: “…If by any means I might attain to the resurrection from the dead… eagerly await a Savior from [from heaven], the Lord Jesus Christ… [who] will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.”[13] Clearly, Paul’s eschatological view was consistent with that of the Old Testament writers.

There are some however, who would disagree, citing certain verses that Paul wrote in his letters to the Philippians and Corinthians. In the eschatological view they propose, the hope of believers is an individual event separate from the return of the Messiah, where the disembodied, immortal soul of the individual is released from its physical body immediately after death. The return of Christ loses most, if not all, of its significance and the hope of the faithful of the Old Testament is nullified; what kind of hope is a resurrection from the dead at the return of Christ, if believers are already Him in heaven immediately after death? This is a contradiction of both the Old and New Testament Scriptures, and even Paul’s own words! Therefore, in order to resolve the conflict, one must compare the verses that are unclear to the ones that are more so, all the while keeping in mind the context of the author and the passage.

The context of Paul’s clear description of the resurrection in I Corinthians 15, serves to undermine the traditional orthodox belief and support Paul’s hope of the resurrection. This chapter provides a similar foundation from which to explain II Corinthians 5:8, one of the commonly cited proof texts for those whose hope is heaven. In this verse, Paul yearns to “be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.”[14] By looking back only chapter earlier, the context of Paul’s remarks in chapter five are clarified. Just as in his first letter to the Corinthians, he is speaking of the resurrection hope at the second coming of Christ when he writes in his second letter, written only a year later, that “He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and will present us with you.”[15] This directly correlates with the remarks of his first letter; “But now Christ has been raised from the dead… after that those who are Christ’s at His coming”[16] Thus, it can be seen already that the two letters share common ground; namely the hope of resurrection at the coming of Christ.

This connection is strengthened further by Paul’s use of a trio of identical metaphors, making it reasonable to conclude that the thematic material of both chapters is the same.[17] The first two of these metaphors are found to be located in close proximity to each other, even in the very same verse. The first describes the resurrected believer as being “clothed” and the second describes mortality as being “swallowed” up by immortality. In I Corinthians 15:54, Paul writes that when the perishable is “clothed with the imperishable and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.””[18] He echoes this statement in II Corinthians 5:4: “we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.”[19] Paul’s third parallel revolves around the idea that salvation in Christ will arrive from heaven. In I Corinthians 15:47, Paul writes that “the second man is the Lord [arriving] from heaven.[20] Later on in his second letter, Paul relates that the immortality that he so “earnestly desires to be clothed upon with [is the] house which is from heaven.”[21] According to Cambridge biblical scholar, John A.T. Robinson, to say that II Corinthians 5 suggests this, would be “to read the passage in clear opposition to 1 Corinthians 15.”[22] Thus, through these three repeated words and phrases found in both I and II Corinthians, an apparent unity in Paul’s eschatological view emerges.

Clearly, based upon the correlations between the two letters to the Corinthian church, it may be ascertained that there is but one hope to which Paul was referring, and it cannot possibly be a departure of the soul to heaven immediately after death. In fact, Paul expresses his horror at the very thought of such a prospect, when he adamantly stated “we do not wish to be unclothed” nor be “found naked.” Therefore, when Paul writes that he would “rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord” he cannot possibly mean that he desires to be a disembodied soul in heaven before the return of Christ, because he just condemned that notion only a few verses earlier! Rather, Paul is eagerly anticipating the time when he will become immortal-an event which cannot be separated from the return of Christ. He is speaking of his two simultaneous desires, to be both “absent from the body” and “present with the Lord.” He did not say “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord,” that is a dangerous misquotation.[23] Therefore, there is no doubt that Paul remains consistent in his writings: the hope of Christians lies in the immortality that is to be realized at the return of Christ.

In light of Paul’s obvious aversion to the prospect of becoming disembodied, arguments over the other common “proof-text,” Philippians 1:23, dissipate quickly. In this verse, Paul says that he has a “desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better”[24] that to continue to live on in the flesh. If Paul is so strongly against the idea of being without a body, it is unreasonable to maintain that this verse suggests this. Paul’s remarks must be read in context and with respect to his character, which reveals Paul’s true motivation is to exalt Christ, either through his life or his death. As author Greg Deuble notes, “One this in sure: Paul is not seeking to escape his ministry by death just so that he can get some personal and selfish benefit,” as the traditional interpretation of Philippians 1:23 implies.[25] This would be contrary to his character and his hope. Rather, in this verse, Paul is once again expressing his hope that he “may attain to the resurrection from the dead,” at which time, he would finally be with Christ for eternity.[26]

Paul never wavered in his position that there is but one hope. Somewhere along the way however, the church lost sight of this hope. Yes, they propose that there is hope, but it is a different hope than the Bible presents. This false hope has presupposed immortality, effectively clouding over the reality that the precious gift of immortality is only to be given to the righteous at the second coming of the Messiah. Thus, the very hope that the entire New Testament has been trending towards is overlooked entirely, greatly diminishing the significance and unspeakable joy of the future resurrection of the dead and the glorious return of Jesus Christ. It is time to lay aside the false hopes and traditions, and to take hold of that which has been promised to us: resurrection from the dead, immortality, and eternal life in the kingdom of God on the earth. It is time to reclaim the lost hope of the church.

[1] Eph 4:4 (NIV)

[2] II Cor 5:4 (NASB)

[3] Phil 1:23 (NASB)

[4] Col 2:8 (NASB)

[5] Bacchiocchi, Dr. Samuele. Popular Beliefs: Are They Biblical?.

[6] Deuble, Greg S. They Never Told Me THIS in Church!: A Call to Read the Bible with New Eyes. Restoration Fellowship, 2006, p 295.

[7] Gen 2:7 (KJV)

[8] Deuble, Greg S. They Never Told Me THIS in Church!: A Call to Read the Bible with New Eyes. Restoration Fellowship, 2006, p 296.

[9] Ecc 9:5, 6, 10; Ps 13:3, 146:3; Jn 11:11-14 (NASB)

[10] Dan 12:2 (NASB)

[11] Dan 2:44; Job 19:24-26; Is 25:8; Ez 37:23 (NASB)

[12]Job 19:24-26 (NASB)

[13] Phil 3:11,14,20 (NASB)

[14] II Cor 5:8 (NASB)

[15] II Cor 4:14 (NASB)

[16] I Cor 15:20,23 (NASB)

[17] Deuble, Greg S. They Never Told Me THIS in Church!: A Call to Read the Bible with New Eyes. Restoration Fellowship, 2006, p 320.

[18] I Cor 15:54 (NIV, emphasis mine)

[19] II Cor 5:4 (NIV, emphasis mine)

[20] I Cor 15:47 (AKJV, emphasis mine)

[21] II Cor 5:2 (KJV, emphasis mine)

[22] Robinson, John A. T. In the End, God – A Study of the Christian Doctrine of the Last Things. London: James Clarke & Co, 1950, p 106.

[23] Deuble, Greg S. They Never Told Me THIS in Church!: A Call to Read the Bible with New Eyes. Restoration Fellowship, 2006, p 322.

[24] Phil 1:23 (NASB)

[25] Deuble, Greg S. They Never Told Me THIS in Church!: A Call to Read the Bible with New Eyes. Restoration Fellowship, 2006, p 325.

[26] Phil 3:11 (NASB)

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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


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:

[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 Christian Hope: Life in the Land of the Promise Made to Abraham

by Anthony Buzzard

In one of the most solemn declarations of all time the Almighty God promised to give to Abraham an entire country. On a mountain top somewhere between Bethel and Ai, in the land of Canaan, God commanded “the Father of the faithful” (Rom. 4:16) to “look from the place where you are, northward, southward, eastward and westward: For the entire land you are looking at I will give to you and to your descendants for ever” (Gen. 13:14, 15). As an additional assurance of God’s gift to him, God then instructed Abraham to “arise, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I will give it to you” (v. 17).

Abraham’s conception of the ultimate reward of faith was firmly linked to the earth. As he looked northward Abraham would have seen the hills of Judea marking the border with Samaria. Towards the south the view extended to Hebron where later the Patriarchs were to be buried in the only piece of the land ever owned by Abraham. To the east lay the mountains of Moab and to the west the Mediterranean sea. The divine oath guaranteed to Abraham perpetual ownership of a large portion of the earth. Later the promise was repeated and made the basis of a solemn covenant. “And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your descendants after you in their generations as an everlasting covenant…and I will give to you and your descendants after you, the land in which you now reside as a foreigner-all the land of Canaan-as an everlasting possession” (Gen. 17:7, 8).

It would not seem possible that the terms of God’s promise could be misunderstood. And yet, by a miracle of misinterpretation, “theology” has handled these innocent passages in a way which deprives Abraham of his inheritance and makes God a liar. Traditional Christian theology has almost no interest in the land promised to Abraham, as can be seen by inspecting the indexes of standard systematic theologies, Bible dictionaries and commentaries. And yet, as Gerhard von Rad says, in the first six books of the Bible “there is probably no more important idea than that expressed in terms of the land promised and later granted by Yahweh.”1 The promise is unique. “Among all the traditions of the world this is the only one that tells of a promise of land to a people.”2 Because the land is promised on oath Davies suggests that it might more properly be called “The sworn Land.”3 So compelling was the promise of land to Abraham that it became “a living power in the life of Israel.”4 “The promise to Abraham becomes a ground for ultimate hope…. There is a gospel for Israel in the Abrahamic covenant.”5 (Cp. Paul’s statement that “the [Christian] gospel was preached in advance to Abraham,” Gal. 3:8) W.D. Davies points out that large sections of the law make “the divine promise to Abraham the bedrock on which all the subsequent history rests.”6 Von Rad maintains that “the whole of the Hexateuch [Genesis to Joshua] in all its vast complexity was governed by the theme of the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham in the settlement in Canaan.”7 We might add that the Abrahamic covenant permeates the whole of Scripture.

That the patriarchs expected to inherit a portion of this planet is obvious not only from the divine promises made to them but also from their zeal to be buried in the land of Israel (Gen. 50:5). The land promise to Abraham and his offspring runs like a golden thread throughout the book of Genesis. The key words in the following passages are “land” “give,” “possess,” “heir,” “covenant.” (It is interesting to note the frequency of the word “land” in Bible indexes (concordances) and then to see how the same word is absent from the indexes of books claiming to explain the Bible.)
The Promise to Abraham

“Go to the land I will show you (Gen. 12:1). All the land which you see I will give to you and your offspring forever (Gen. 13:17). A son coming from your own body will be your heir (Gen. 15:4). I am the Lord who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldees to give you this land to take possession of it (Gen. 15:7). On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, to your descendants I give this land (Gen. 15:18). I will make nations of you and kings will come from you. I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. The whole land of Canaan where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you and I will be their God (Gen. 17:6-8). Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him. For I have chosen him… (Gen. 18:18, 19). Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies (Gen. 22:17). God promised me on oath, saying, ‘to your offspring I will give this land’ (Gen. 24:7). [Abraham] is a prophet” (Gen. 20:7).

“I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him…. My covenant I will establish with Isaac (Gen. 17:19, 21). Through Isaac your offspring will be reckoned (Gen. 21:12). To you and your descendants I will give all these lands and will confirm the oath which I swore to your father Abraham (Gen. 26:3).

“May God give you and your descendants the blessing given to Abraham, so that you may take possession of the land where you now live as an alien, the land God gave to Abraham (Gen. 28:4). I will give you the land on which you are lying…. I will bring you back to this land (Gen. 28:13, 15). …the land I gave to Abraham and Isaac I also give to you, and I will give this land to your descendants after you” (Gen. 35:12).
The Twelve Tribes

“God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land He promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” (Gen. 50:24).

The promise to the nation of Israel received a primary fulfillment under Joshua’s leadership (Josh. 21:45). Long after the death of the patriarchs, both the Law and the writings of the prophets of Israel express the conviction that Israel’s settlement of the land under Joshua was only an incomplete fulfillment of the covenant made with Abraham. It was clear that the patriarchs had never gained possession of the land. A further and final fulfillment was to be expected. The point is a simple one with momentous implications for New Testament Christians who become heirs to the Abrahamic covenant. Von Rad points out that

“Promises which have been fulfilled in history are not thereby exhausted of their content, but remain as promises on a different level….”8 “The tradition, however changed, continued to contain the hope of life in the land. Deuteronomy makes it clear that there is still a future to look forward to: the land has to achieve rest and peace…. The land looks forward to a future blessing.”9

Thus in the Old Testament the hope of an ultimate and permanent settlement in the land, accompanied by peace, remains in view:

“My people shall live in peaceful dwelling places, in secure homes, in undisturbed places of rest” (Isa. 32:18).

“…descendants from Jacob and Judah…will possess My mountains [i.e., the land]; My chosen people will inherit them and there will My servants live” (Isa. 65:9).

“Then all your people will be righteous and they will inherit the land forever” (Isa. 60:21).

“[Israel] will possess a double portion in their land; everlasting joy will be theirs” (Isa. 61:7).

“Thus they shall inherit the land a second time, and everlasting joy shall be upon their heads” (Isa. 61:7, LXX).

“But the man who makes Me his refuge will inherit the land and possess My holy mountain” (Isa. 57:13).

“The righteous shall never be removed: but the wicked will not inherit the land” (Prov. 10:30).

“Dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture…. The meek will inherit the land and enjoy great peace…. The inheritance of the blameless will endure forever…. Those the Lord blesses will inherit the land…. Turn from evil and do good, then you will dwell in the land forever…. The righteous will inherit the land and dwell in it forever…. God will exalt you to inherit the land; when the wicked are cut off you will see it…. [Note carefully that the righteous should not expect to inherit the land before the wicked are cut off. There is a caution for dominion and reconstructionist theologies here!] There is a future for the man of peace” (Ps. 37:3, 11, 18, 22, 27, 29, 34, 37).

“The days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will bring my people Israel and Judah back from captivity and restore them to the land I gave their forefathers to possess” (Jer. 30:3).

The integrity of God’s word is at stake in this question of the future of the promised land. It was obvious to all that Abraham had never received the fulfillment of the covenant promise that he would possess the land. Moses was not allowed to enter the promised land and Israel was eventually expelled from her homeland. Based on the Abrahamic covenant, however, the faithful in Israel clung with passionate tenacity to the expectation that the land of Israel would indeed become the scene of ultimate salvation. That hope remained as the beacon light not only of the prophets but also of the original Christian faith as preached by Jesus and the Apostles -until it was extinguished by the intrusion of a non-territorial hope-“heaven when you die.” A non-biblical view of the future, divorced from the land and the earth, was promoted by Gentiles unsympathetic to the heritage of Israel, for whom the promise of the land to Abraham was the foundation of the nations deepest aspirations. In direct contradiction of Jesus, Gentilized Christianity has substituted “heaven at death” for the biblical promise of life in the Land. The message of Jesus’ famous beatitude, “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the land” (Mat. 5:5) can no longer be heard above the din of endless funeral sermons announcing that the dead have gone to heaven! Gentile antipathy to the covenant made with Abraham has rendered large parts of the Old Testament meaningless to churchgoers. Worse still, it has put the New Testament under a fog of confusion, since the New relies for its basic understanding of the Christian faith on the promises of God given to Israel through Abraham. All the major doctrines of the faith are adversely affected when the Abrahamic Covenant is disregarded or misinterpreted.

The “murder of the [Old Testament biblical] text”10 by critical scholarship was later equally responsible for the suppression of the biblical hope of “life in the land” based on the promise made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, promises which according to Paul, Jesus came to “confirm” or “guarantee” (Rom. 15:7).11 Fragmenting the Old Testament text in the interests of a theory of composition, scholarship lost sight of what James Dunn calls the Pauline presupposition about the authority of Scripture, “that a single mind and purpose (God’s) inspired the several writings [the Scriptures].”12 After nearly two thousand years of uncomprehending Gentile commentary, the promise to Abraham of progeny, blessing and land must be reinstated as the coherent and unifying theme of New Testament faith in God and Christ and the essential core of the Christian Gospel of the Kingdom of God. The Gospel rests on the promise to Abraham that in Christ all the faithful will possess the land forever (Mat. 5:5, Rev. 5:10). Not only will they possess the land but that “future inhabited earth” will be under the authority of the Messiah and the saints (Heb. 2:5). This concept is what the writer to the Hebrews calls the “greatness” or “importance” of salvation which we ought not to neglect:

“How shall we escape if we disregard so great a salvation…. For God did not put the coming society on earth under the authority of angels but the Son of Man” (Heb. 2:5ff.)

The results of the inexorable process of dismantling the divine Revelation

to Abraham can be seen in the comments of the Pulpit Commentary on Gen. 13:14, 15. The problem for the commentator (who sees no relevance in the land promises for Christians) is to reconcile God’s declaration, “I will give the land to you [Abraham]” with the assertion made by Stephen some two thousand years later that God

did not give Abraham any inheritance [in the land of Palestine]- not even a square foot of land, but he promised to give it to him as a possession [kataschesis; cp. LXX Gen. 17:8, ‘everlasting possession’] and to his descendants with him.”

How is the apparent contradiction to be resolved? The Pulpit Commentary offers two solutions. Firstly a retranslation so that the promise of Gen. 13:15 reads: “To you I will give the land, that is to say, to your descendants.” In this way the failure of Abraham to receive the land personally will be explained: God promised it only to his descendants and they received it under Joshua. But this is no solution at all. Throughout God’s dealings with Abraham the promise of land to the Patriarch himself is repeatedly made. Gen. 13:17 reads: “Walk through the length and breadth of the land; to you I will give it.” Abraham would have every right to complain, if this were to mean that he personally should not expect to inherit the promised land!

The commentary offers a second way round the difficulty. It maintains that the land did in fact belong to Abraham during his lifetime. “The land was really given to Abram as a nomadic chief, in the sense that he peacefully lived for many years, grew old, and died within its borders.”13 However, this is to contradict the emphatic biblical assertions that Abraham definitely did not possess the land. Gen. 17:8 specifically reports that God said to Abraham:

“And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your descendants after you in their generations to be a God to you and your seed after you. And I will give to you and to your seed after you the land in which you are a stranger-all the land of Canaan for an everlasting possession” (Gen. 17: 7, 8).

These, then, are the biblical premises: Abraham is to possess the land forever. He lived out his life as a stranger owning none of the land (except for a small piece of property bought from the Hittites as a burial site for Sarah, Gen. 23:3-20). Abraham himself confessed to the Hittite inhabitants of Canaan: “I am an alien and a stranger among you” (Gen. 23:4). As the New Testament witnesses: “God gave Abraham no inheritance here [in Palestine], not even a foot of ground. But God promised him that he and his descendants after him would possess the land” (Acts 7:5, NIV).

How then is the covenant grant of land to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to be fulfilled? The answer to the problem throws a flood of light on the Christianity of the New Testament. There is only one way in which the Covenant can be realized-by the future resurrection of Abraham, enabling him to inherit the promised land for ever. To Abraham and his descendants the land belongs for ever by covenant-oath. Abraham died. Abraham must therefore rise from the dead to receive the “land of the promise,” which is Canaan, the land to which he ventured forth from Babylon and in which he lived as a foreigner. The promise to Abraham will be fulfilled, as Jesus said, when

“…many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the Kingdom of God” (Mat. 8:11 and Luke 13:28, 29).

The absolute necessity for resurrection in the divine plan was the point of Jesus’ important interchange with the Sadducees, who did not believe in any resurrection and thus denied the covenant hope of life in the land for the Patriarchs and all the faithful. Jesus’ response to their inadequate understanding of eschatology and consequent failure to believe in the future resurrection of the faithful to inherit the land involved a stern rebuke that they had departed from God’s revelation:

“You are in error because you do not know the Scripture or the power of God. At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. But about the resurrection of the dead-have you not read what God said to you: ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. He is not the God of the dead but of the living” (Mat. 22:29-32).

The logic of Jesus’ argument was simply that, since Abraham and Isaac and Jacob were then dead, they must live again through resurrection in the future so that their relationship with the living God could be restored and they could receive what the covenant had guaranteed them.

The Book of Hebrews expounds the drama of Abraham’s faith in the great promises of God making a future resurrection the only solution to the mystery of Abraham’s failure as yet ever to own the land.

“By faith Abraham when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance…” (Heb. 8:11).

So the story begins. Abraham’s inheritance, we observe, is to be the “place to which he was called,” i.e., the land of Canaan. This is exactly what the Genesis account describes. That very land Abraham was destined to receive “later,” but how much later we are not yet told. The writer continues: “By faith Abraham made his home in the land of the promise like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents as did Isaac and Jacob who were heirs with him of the same promise” (Heb. 11:8, 9). Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and other heroes of faith “died in faith not having received the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance and admitted that they were aliens and strangers in the land (v. 13). Note that the wrong idea is suggested by our versions when they translate “in the land” as “on the earth,” giving the impression that the Patriarchs were expecting to go to heaven! However, the point is that people who say they are aliens in the land “show that they are looking for a country of their own” (Heb. 11:13, 14), i.e., the same land renewed under the promised government of the Messiah.

The important truth about the land promise has been rescued by George Wesley Buchanan:

“This promise-rest-inheritance was inextricably tied to the land of Canaan, which is the place where the Patriarchs wandered as sojourners (11:13). It was called the land of the promise (11:9) and the heavenly country (11:16)…. This does not mean that it is not on earth any more than the sharers in the heavenly calling (3:1) who had tasted the heavenly gift (6:4) were not those who lived on earth. Indeed, it was the very land on which the patriarchs dwelt as ‘strangers and wanderers’ (11:13). [‘Heavenly’] means that it is a divine land which God himself has promised.” 14

“Heaven” will be on earth

It is important to note the evasion by popular Christianity of the implications of Heb. 11:8, 9. In order to preserve the tradition that heaven is the reward of the faithful, it is argued that the geographical land of Canaan is a type of “heaven” to be gained at death. However, this New Testament passage specifically says that Abraham actually lived in the place designated as his future inheritance. “He made his home in the promised land” (Heb. 11:9, NIV) and this was on the earth! “Heaven,” therefore, in the Bible is to be a place on this planet-our own earth renewed and restored.15 The promised land in this New Testament comment on the Old is still the geographical Canaan and it is precisely that territory which Abraham died without receiving. Resurrection in the future is the only path by which the Patriarch can achieve his goal and possess the land which he has never owned. Indeed, as Hebrews emphasizes, none of the distinguished faithful “received what had been promised”-the inheritance of the promised land (Heb. 11:13, 39). They died in faith fully expecting later to receive their promised possession of the land. This is a very far cry from the idea, which so many have accepted under the pressure of post-biblical tradition, that the Patriarchs have already gone to their reward in heaven. Such a theory invites the rebuke of Paul who complained that some had “wandered away from the truth” by saying that “the resurrection has taken place already” (II Tim. 2:18). The loss of faith in the future resurrection destroys the fabric of biblical faith.

Paul and Abraham

Paul treats the story of Abraham as the model of Christian faith with no hint that Abraham’s inheritance is different from that of every Christian believer. In fact, the very opposite is true: Abraham is “the father of all who believe” (Rom. 4:11) Abraham demonstrated Christian faith by believing in God’s plan to grant him land, progeny and blessing for ever. Abraham’s faith was demonstrated in his willingness to respond to the divine initiative; to believe God’s declaration of His plan to give Abraham and his descendants the land for ever. This is the essence of biblical faith. Justification means believing like Abraham in what God has promised to do (Rom. 4:3, 13). This entails more than the death and resurrection of Jesus. Apostolic faith requires belief in the ongoing divine plan in history, including the divinely revealed future. Grasping what God is doing in world history enables a man to attune his life to God in Christ. A Christian according to Paul is one who “follows in the footsteps of the faith of our father Abraham” (Rom. 3:12). Abraham’s faith “was characterized by (or based on) a hope which was determined solely by the promise of God…. Abraham’s faith was firm confidence in God as the one who determines the future according to what he has promised.”16 So Jesus summons us to faith, first of all, in the Gospel of the Kingdom of God (Mark 1:14, 15; cp. Acts 8:12) which is to be nothing less than the final fulfillment of the covenant made with Abraham and his (spiritual) offspring. Paul defines the promise. It was that Abraham should be “heir of the world” (Rom. 4:13). 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 the 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.17

Paul links the Christian faith directly to the promise made to 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…. 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….”18

Dunn goes on:

“…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. But he was equally clear that the heirs of Abraham’s promise were no longer to be identified in terms of the law. For Gen. 15:6 showed with sufficient clarity that the promise was given and accepted through faith, quite apart from the law in whole or in part.”19

The point to be grasped is that Paul does not question the content of the promise. How could he without overthrowing the whole revelation given by the Bible? The territorial promise was clearly and repeatedly spelled out in the Genesis account and was his people’s most cherished national treasure: To faithful Israel, represented first by Abraham, God had given assurance that they would inherit the land. Paul introduces a revolutionary new fact- that this grand promise is open to all who believe in the Messiah as the seed of Abraham. For it was to Messiah, as Abraham’s seed, that the promises were made, as well as to Abraham himself. But Gentile Christians, if they believe the promise in Christ, may claim full share in the same promised inheritance. Paul reaches a triumphant moment in his argument when he declares that to his Gentile readers that “if you are a Christian then you count as Abraham’s descendants and are heirs [of the world, Rom. 4:13] according to the promise [made to Abraham]” (Gal. 3:29).

The promises, however, are certain only, as Paul says, to “those who are of the faith of Abraham” (Rom. 4:16), i.e., those whose faith is of the same type as his, resting on the same promises. Hence Paul speaks of the need for Christians to be “sons of Abraham” (Gal. 3:7), “seed of Abraham” (Gal. 3:29, Rom. 4:16), and to reckon Abraham as their father (Rom. 4:11), to walk in his steps (Rom. 4:12) and consider him the model of Christian faith (Gal. 3:9), because the Gospel had been preached to him in advance (Gal. 3:8). But how much do we now hear about the Christian Gospel as defined by the promises made to Abraham? The “blessing given to Abraham” (Gal. 3:14) which is now available to both Jews and Gentiles in Christ is described by Gen. 28:4. It is to “take possession of the land, where you now live as an alien, the land God gave to Abraham.” Speaking to Gentile Christians, Paul states that “the blessing given to Abraham” (exactly the phrase found in Gen. 28:4) has now come to the believers in Christ (Gal. 3:14).

It is essential that we do not add alien material to Paul’s exposition of God’s salvation plan. The promise to Abraham and to his offspring is that he and they are to be “heir of the world” (Rom. 4:13). Paul has not abandoned the account in Genesis from which he quotes explicitly (Rom. 4:3, Gal. 3:6 from Gen. 15:9). Since the promised land of Canaan would be the center of the Messianic government it was obvious that inheritance of the land implied inheritance of the world. But the promise remains geographical and territorial corresponding exactly with Jesus’ promise to the meek that they would “inherit the land/earth” (Mat. 5:5), His belief that Jerusalem would be the city of the Great King (Mat. 5:35), and that believers would administer a New World Order with Him (Mat. 19:28; Luke 22:28-30; Rev. 2:26, 3:21, 5:10, 20:1-6). In short the promise of the land, which is fundamental to the Christian Gospel, is now the promise of the Kingdom of God-the renewed “inhabited earth of he future” (Heb. 2:5), which is not be subject to angels but to the Messiah and the saints, the “Israel of God” (Gal. 6:16) who are heirs of the covenant. Such a hope corresponds exactly with the hope of the Hebrew prophets. J. Skinner20 observes that “the main point [of Jeremiah’s hope for the future] is that in some sense a restoration of the Israelite nationality was the form in which he conceived the Kingdom of God.” Paul in Romans 11:25, 26 expected a collective conversion of the nation of Israel at the Second Coming. The Church, however, in Paul’s thinking, would be leaders in the Messianic Kingdom (I Cor. 6:2, II Tim. 2:12). In this way the Abrahamic Covenant guarantees a part in the Messianic Kingdom for all who now believe the Gospel and it assures us that there will be a collective return to the Messiah on the part of a remnant of the nation of Israel (Rom. 11:25-27). This hope is seen clearly in Acts 1:6, where the Apostles (who had not had the benefit of a Calvinist training!) asked when the promised restoration of Israel might be expected. Since they were hoping to be kings in the Kingdom, and the holy spirit (v.5) was the special endowment of kings, they naturally expected an immediate advent of the Kingdom. In His mercy God has extended the period of repentance.
Worldwide Inheritance

It was common to Jewish thinking and Paul, as well as to the whole New Testament that the whole world was involved in the promise made to Abraham that he would inherit “the land of the promise.” This is seen from biblical and extra-biblical texts:

Psalm 2:6 “I have installed my King on Zion…. Ask of Me [God] and I will make the nations your [Messiah’s] inheritance and the ends of the earth your possession. You will rule then with an iron scepter; you will dash them to pieces like pottery” (See Rev. 12:5 and 2:26, 27-the latter passage includes the Christians in the same promise).

Jubilees 22:14: “May [God] strengthen you, and may you inherit all the earth.”

Jubilees 32:19: “And there will be kings from you [Jacob]. They will rule everywhere that the tracks of mankind have been trod. And I will give your seed all the land under heaven and they will rule in all nations as they have desired.”

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

4 Ezra 6:59: “If the world has indeed been created for us, why do we not possess our world as an inheritance. How long will this be so?

II Baruch 14:12, 13: “The righteous…are confident of the world which you have promised to them with an expectation full of joy.”

II Baruch 51:3: “[The righteous] will receive the world which is promised to them.”

Paul’s definition of the promise to Abraham that he “would be heir to the world” (Rom. 4:13) fits naturally into texts such as these and is implied by the covenant made with Abraham. Henry Alford comments on the connection between Paul’s view of the future and Jewish hopes:

“The Rabbis already had seen, and Paul who had been brought up in their learning, held fast to the truth,- that much more was intended in the words ‘in thee, or in they seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed,’ than the mere possession of Canaan. They distinctly trace the gift of the world to this promise. The inheritance of the world…is that ultimate lordship over the whole world which Abraham, as the father of the faithful in all peoples, and Christ, as the Seed of promise, shall possess….”21

H.A.W. Meyer notes that to be “seed of Abraham” meant that one was destined to have “dominion over the world,” based on Gen. 22:17ff: “Your descendants shall gain possession of the gates [i.e., towns] of their enemies.”22 With this promise in mind, Jesus envisages the faithful assuming authority over urban populations (Luke 19:17, 19).

The International Critical Commentary on Rom. 4:1323 speaks of the promise that Abraham’s seed [in Christ] should “enjoy worldwide dominion,” “the right to universal dominion which will belong to the Messiah and His people,” and “the promise made to Abraham and his descendants of worldwide Messianic rule.” Something of the fervor of Israel for the land may be seen in the 14th and 18th Benedictions repeated in the Synagogue since AD 70:

“Be merciful, O Lord our God, in Thy great mercy towards Israel Thy people and towards Jerusalem, and towards Zion the abiding place of Thy glory, and towards Thy temple and Thy habitation, and towards the kingdom of the house of David, thy righteous anointed one. Blessed art Thou, O lord God of David, the builder of Jerusalem Thy city.” “Bestow Thy peace upon Israel Thy people and upon Thy city and upon Thine inheritance, and bless us, all of us together. Blessed art Thou, O lord, who makest peace.”

Even where the land is not mentioned directly, the land is implied in the city and the Temple which became the quintessence of the hope for salvation.24 Exactly the same hope is reflected in the New Testament:

“The Lord God will give [Jesus] the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; His Kingdom will never end” (Luke 1:32)

“[God] has helped His servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as He said to our fathers” (Luke 1:55).

“[God] has raised up a horn [political dominion] in the house of his servant David…to show mercy to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath He swore to our father Abraham” (Luke 1:69, 72, 73).

“[Simeon] was waiting for the consolation of Israel” (Luke 2:25).

“[Anna] gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38).

“Blessed is the coming Kingdom of our father David” (Mark 11:10).

“Joseph of Arimathea [a disciple of Jesus-i.e., a Christian, Mat. 27:57], a prominent member of the Council…, was himself waiting for the Kingdom of God” (Mark 15:43).

“We [disciples of Jesus, i.e. Christians] had hoped that [Jesus] was the one who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21).

The Apostles asked: “Is this the time that you are going to restore the Kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6.)

“It is because of my hope in what God has promised our fathers that I am on trial today. This is the promise our twelve tribes are hoping to see fulfilled as they earnestly serve God day and night” (Acts 26:6. 7).

The Bible does not for a moment abandon or replace these hopes based on the great covenant made with Abraham. The disciples closest to Jesus, who were the products of His careful tuition over several years and for six weeks after the resurrection (Acts 1:3), obviously look forward the “restoration of the Kingdom to Israel” (Acts 1:6). It had not entered their heads to abandon the territorial hopes of the prophets. Paul insists that he is on trial “because of my hope in what God has promised our fathers. This is the promise our twelve tribes are hoping to see fulfilled as they earnestly serve God day and night” (Acts 26:6). The nature of this hope is expressed in a Rabbinical saying of the third century reflecting the ancient expectation of life in the land held in common with the New Testament:

“Why did the patriarchs long for burial in the land of Israel?. Because the dead of the land of Israel will be the first to be resurrected in the days of Messiah and to enjoy the years of Messiah” (Gen. Rabbah, 96:5)

Paul’s statement in Acts 26:6, 7 (above) expressly defines the Apostolic Christian hope as the same as the hope held by the ancient synagogue — the prospect of worldwide dominion for the faithful in the Messiah’s kingdom. New Testament Christianity confirms this interest in the unfulfilled promises to the patriarchs with its expectation of a restoration of the Kingdom to Israel. Jesus promises the land to the meek (Mat. 5:5) and locates the Kingdom of the future “on the earth” or perhaps “in the land” (Rev. 5:10). It makes little difference whether we render “epi tes gys” “in the land” or “on the earth,” because the Kingdom is destined to extend to the “uttermost parts of the earth” (Ps. 2:8). The promise to Abraham is to be fulfilled in the Messiah when the latter is invited to “Ask of me [God] and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession” (Ps. 2:7, 8). All these blessings are contained in Paul’s phrase “inheritance of the world” (Rom. 4:13) which he sees as the essence of the promise made to Abraham-the promise to which Gentile believers should cling since in Christ they are equally entitled to it:

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

References in the New Testament to “heaven” are limited to contexts in which the future reward of believers is said to be preserved now as treasure with God in heaven. “Heaven” as a place removed from the earth is, however, never the destination of the believer in the Bible-neither at death nor at the resurrection. Christians must now identify with their reward, at present stored up in heaven for them, so that they may receive it when Jesus brings it to the earth at His Second Coming (Col. 1:5, I Pet. 1;4, 5). That reward was made known to the converts when the Christian Gospel of the Kingdom of God was preached to them (Mat. 1:14, 15; Luke 4:43; Acts 8:12, 19:8, 20:25, 28:23, 31). Belief in the Gospel in Apostolic times was not confined to belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus, but included the whole invitation to prepare for a place in Messiah’s worldwide dominion to be realized on earth. The situation is very different today when little or nothing is preached about inheriting the earth with Jesus. There is an urgent need for believers to heed Paul’s warning not to be “moved away from the hope held out in the Gospel” (Col. 1:23). The loss of the Kingdom in the Gospel is symptomatic of the loss the roots of Christianity in the Old Testament.
Faith in God’s World Plan

Nonsense is made of the New Testament scheme, and God’s plan in world history, when it is proposed that the Christian destiny is to be enjoyed in a location removed from the earth. This destroys at a blow the promises made to Abraham and his descendants (i.e., Christ and the faithful) that that they are to inherit the land and the world. The substitution of “heaven” at death for the reward of inheriting the earth nullifies the covenant made with Abraham. That covenant is the foundation of New Testament faith. The repeated offer of “heaven” in popular preaching renders meaningless the whole hope of the prophets (based on the Abrahamic promise) that the world is going to enjoy an unparalleled era of blessing and peace under the just rule of the Messiah and the resurrected faithful-those who believe in “the Kingdom of God and the name [i.e., the Messiahship and all that this entails] of Jesus,” and who are baptized in response to that early creed in 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.”

This text remains a model for evangelism and calls the contemporary church back to its roots in the Covenant made with “the father of the faithful” which can be fulfilled only in Messiah Jesus. For the fulfillment of that plan we are to pray, “Thy Kingdom come,” and strive to conduct ourselves “worthy of God who is calling us into His Kingdom and glory” (I Thess. 2:12). The truth about our Christian destiny will be reinstated when we return to the biblical language about “entering the Kingdom,” “inheriting the earth” (Mat. 5:5), and ruling on earth (Rev. 5:10) and abandon our cherished hopes for “heaven.” The way will then be open for us to understand that Christianity is a call to Kingship and that a Saint is one appointed to rule on the earth in the coming Kingdom of the Messiah (Dan. 7:18, 22, 27).

“The general tenor of prophecy and the analogy of the divine dealings point unmistakably to this earth, purified and renewed, and not to the heavens in any ordinary sense of the term, as the eternal habitation of the blessed.”25

“May God give you the blessing of Abraham my father, to you and to your seed with you-the inheritance of the land in which you now reside as a foreigner, the land which God gave to Abraham” (Jacob).

“The blessing of Abraham [will come] to the Gentiles in Christ.” (Paul)26


1The Problem of the Hexateuch and Other Essays, 1966, p. 79, cited in W.D. Davies, The Gospel and the Land, U of C Press, 1974, p. 15. Back to text.

2M. Buber, Israel and Palestine, London, 1952, p. 19. Back to text.

3The Gospel and the Land, p. 15. Back to text.

4Ibid., p. 18. Back to text.

5Ibid., p. 21. Back to text.

6Ibid. Back to text.

7Ibid., p. 23. Back to text.

8The Problem of the Hexateuch, pp. 92ff. Back to text.

9The Gospel and the Land, p. 36. Back to text.

10Ibid., p. 48. Back to text.

11“Jesus Christ was a minister to the Jews on behalf of God’s truth [the Gospel] to confirm the promises made to the Patriarchs, so that the Gentiles may glorify God for His mercy.” Back to text.

12Commentary on Romans, Word Books, 1988, p. 202. Back to text.

13Pulpit Commentary, Eerdmans, 1950, Vol. I, p. 200. Back to text.

14Anchor Bible, Commentary to the Hebrews, Doubleday and Co. 1972, pp. 192, 194. Back to text.

15Cp. J.A.T. Robinson’s observation that “‘heaven’ is never in fact used in the Bible for the destination of the dying…. The reading of I Cor. 15 at funerals reinforces the impression that this chapter is about the moment of death: in fact it revolves around two points, ‘the third day’ and ‘the last day'” (In the End God, Collins, 1968, pp. 104, 105). Back to text.

16Dunn, p. 219. Back to text.

17Ibid., pp. 213, 463. Back to text.

18Ibid., p. 233, emphasis added. Back to text.

19Ibid., p. 234. emphasis added. Back to text.

20Prophecy and Religion, Cambridge, 1922, p. 308. Back to text.

21Commentary on the Greek Testament, Vol. II, p. 350. Back to text.

22Commentary on John, Funk and Wagnalls, 1884, p. 277. Back to text.

23Sanday and Headlam, Epistle to the Romans, T & T Clark, 1905, pp. 109, 111. Back to text.

24Davies, p. 54. Back to text.

25Henry Alford, Commentary on the Greek Testament, Vol. 1, pp. 35, 36. Back to text.

26Gen. 28:4; Gal. 3:14.

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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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