From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 4:17
The focus of the Gospel
The Gospel that Jesus proclaimed, that He taught His disciples to preach, and that the first Christians boldly embraced and declared, is emphatically “the Gospel of the Kingdom” (cf. Matt. 4:23, 9:35; Mk. 1:14, 15; Lk. 9:1-6; Acts 8:12).
The Gospel is “good news” concerning a “Kingdom” which Jesus declared had “come near”, was “at hand”, and had appeared “within” or “among” men with His own coming to earth. The Kingdom that Jesus brought near intruded a new reality into the affairs of men and nations, calling for universal submission.
The Gospel we are called to embrace and proclaim must be none other – and nothing less – than this me “Good News” concerning the “Kingdom of God.” Anything less than the Gospel of the Kingdom is another gospel – at best, a form of near Christianity – but not the Good News that Jesus announced.
In this section I want to examine the focus of this “Good News” – the Kingdom of God. We will see that there are six facets to the Kingdom and its coming among men which have profound implications for our understanding of the Gospel.
We are not likely to proclaim the Kingdom as the substance of the Gospel until we first understand its unique and glorious character. The better we understand the Kingdom of God, the more fervently we will seek it, and the more boldly, consistently, and compellingly we will proclaim it.
A new era
The focus of the Good News that Jesus proclaimed is the Kingdom of God, or, the Kingdom of Heaven (these terms are virtually interchangeable). In heralding this Kingdom Jesus was announcing something altogether new in the affairs of men and nations. There are, in fact, six facets to the “newness” which comes with the Kingdom of God. The first of these is the inauguration of a new era in human history.
In Acts 2:14-17 Peter referred to this “new era” in terms of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, as foretold by the prophet Joel. This new era entails an opening up of revelation, as the Word and will of God became more broadly known among men (vv. 17, 18). The entire cosmos is affected in startling and perhaps alarming ways (vv. 19, 20), and the knowledge of salvation goes out far and wide, to be embraced by all who put their trust in the Lord (v. 21; cf. vv. 38, 39).
This new era of the Spirit, increased revelation, and the far-reaching message of salvation was foreseen in various ways in the Old Testament (cf. Gen.49:1, 8-12; Ps. 2; Is. 2:1-5; Mic. 4:1-5). On the first Christian Pentecost Peter recognized the first surge of the Spirit in this new era of the Gospel, but even he would discover greater wonders and mysteries about the rule of Christ as the new era unfolded around him (cf. Acts 10-15).
Jesus Christ had been exalted as Savior and Lord, Peter proclaimed, and the new era He inaugurated by His redemptive work had now, with the coming of the Spirit, begun to advance in earnest.
A new sovereign
Second, the coming of the Kingdom of God means that a new Sovereign has appeared, whose claims and purposes must be reckoned with by all men. The people of Thessalonica immediately recognized that Paul and his associates “practiced” another King, and that His name was Jesus (Acts 17:1-9). They also understood that this allegiance put the Christians at odds with the dominant worldview of the day; they “opposed” the doctrine of Caesar by proclaiming Jesus as Lord and insisting that all should submit in loving obedience to Him.
Again, the rule of a King descended from Judah, whose reign would prevail over all the nations, was foretold as early as Moses (Genesis 49:1, 8-12 – here, the word, Shiloh, means literally, “Him Whose it is”). Further, Isaiah (9:6, 7), David (Ps. 110), and the sons of Korah (Ps. 45:2-7 – cf. Heb. 1:8, 9; Rev. 6:1, 2 and 19:11-16) saw the coming of this new Sovereign, as did the prophets Micah (5:2-5a) and Zechariah (9:9, 10). It is the uniform testimony of the New Testament that Jesus Christ fulfilled these hopes and reigns now as King of Kings and Lord of Lords (cf. Acts 5:29-32, 17:5-7, 17:29-31; Eph. 1:15-23; Phil. 2:5-11).
The new era of the Kingdom of God has been realized precisely because a new Sovereign reigns over the entire cosmos, bringing His Kingdom to reality on earth as it is in heaven.
A new economy
In the third place, the coming of the Kingdom of God means a new economy has begun to unfold in the affairs of men and through the course of history. By “economy” we simply mean “administration” – a new way of doing things. Whereas prior to the coming of Christ and His Kingdom men had only their own wisdom, wits, and strength on which to rely, now a whole new way of making our way in the world is opened before us.
In the divine economy now established within the Kingdom of God, the Spirit of God works with the Word of God to build the Church and further the reign of Christ. An ethic of love and hope prevails within that realm which serves as a platform for embodying and proclaiming the truth of God and Christ. Salvation comes to those who believe, bringing them into the community of the saints and dramatically affecting every aspect of their lives in relationships of mutual service and love (cf. Acts 2:14-36; Gal. 4:1-7; Ezek. 36:26, 27; Matt. 22:34-40; Acts 2:42-47, 4:32-37, 6:1-7; Mic. 4:1-5; Acts 1:8).
This divine economy is fueled by spiritual power to accomplish eternal ends of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Spirit of God (Rom. 14:17, 18).
A new agenda
Fourth, the coming of the Kingdom of God indicates that a new agenda is in effect. The King has announced this new agenda as the principal means whereby He intends to support and advance the new economy He has inaugurated in this new era. Central to the new agenda of the Kingdom era is the work of building the Church, the Body of Christ (Matt. 16:13-19; Eph. 4:11-16). This is a work of God’s Spirit as He engages the members of the believing community in worship and in mutual acts of service and love to build unity and maturity in the community as a whole.
The life of a church comes to expression principally in worship, koinonia sharing and giving, and every- member disciple-making, and then in service and witness to the surrounding community and the world. Through such efforts individual churches grow strong as expressions of the Body of Christ. And, as churches within particular communities find ways of actualizing and expressing together the unity they have in Christ, they realize an even richer and fuller manifestation of His Body.
Churches which grow in this way become beacons of light and hope in their communities, showing the way to full and abundant life in Jesus Christ (Ps. 48:1, 2; Matt. 5:13-16; Jn. 17:21; 1 Pet. 3:15).
A new priority
Because of this new era, new sovereign, new economy, and new agenda, the Kingdom of God also brings with it a new priority. Jesus summarized this new priority in Matthew 6:33, seeking the Kingdom of God.
Believers seek the Kingdom of God as they exercise diligent stewardship of all the Lord’s gifts (Matt. 25:14-30); wield the power of the Spirit for loving witness to the Lord Jesus (1 Cor. 4:20; Acts 1:8); pursue holiness and the fruit and gifts of the Spirit (2 Cor. 7:1; Gal. 5:22, 23; 1 Cor. 13); pray earnestly for the coming of the Kingdom (Matt. 6:9, 10); serve others in love (Mk. 10:42-45); and sow the true seed of the Kingdom by their lives and words in all the “as-you-are-goings” of their lives (Matt. 13:18-23; 28:18-20).
Kingdom-seeking is the defining priority for every aspect of life for those who have embraced, not the gospel of near Christianity, but the Gospel of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ.
A new hope
Finally, the coming of the Kingdom ushers in an era of new hope. Paul says that, being justified by faith we have entered into a new place, where we stand in hope of the glory of God (Rom. 5:1, 2). The glory of God is the presence of God, experienced as a “weighty” and overwhelming engagement with inexpressible joy and pleasure (Ps. 16:11). It is this presence of God, promised by our Lord and King (Matt. 28:20), that Kingdom-dwellers earnestly seek; and, while they enter that presence with fear, they experience it as transforming power and glory (2 Cor. 3:12-18).
Thus the hope Christians seek becomes the hope they express to the watching world, and that in every area of their lives, no matter how trivial or mundane (1 Cor. 10:31). The Kingdom-dwelling Christian thus will make every effort to make his calling and election sure, so that he may know the hope of his calling and may show that hope to the world, bringing the knowledge of the glory of God to light in everyday ways and words (2 Pet. 1:5-11; Hab. 2:14).
The Gospel of the Kingdom is about the Kingdom of God, first and foremost – about a new reality that has broken into human experience with irresistible, transforming power, making all things new and bringing the knowledge of the glory of God to light in the sight of all men and nations.
This, as we shall see, is Good News indeed!
For reflection or discussion:
- What is the Kingdom of God? Why is it appropriate to say that the Kingdom of God has come, but not in its entirety?
- What difference does it make if you are calling a lost sinner to receive the Gospel of the Kingdom as opposed to the gospel of near Christianity?
- In what particular ways does the character and coming of the Kingdom of God typically feature in your preaching and ministry?
If you’re just getting started in the Kingdom Civics series, you may want to get a quick overview of the Kingdom of God and why it matters. Here’s a brief meditation from Crosfigell, introducing the “Wondrous Kingdom” that Jesus brought near to men.