The Kingdom Presence: New Testament (8)
“I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house, testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ… I know that you all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, will see my face no more. Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God.” Acts 20.20, 21, 25-27
In our day, many are confused about the Good News concerning Jesus Christ. For some people the Gospel is as plain and simple as “believe in Jesus and receive Him into your heart.” Doing so gains forgiveness of sins—and the release from looming guilt—and the promise of eternal life in heaven. We can know we are forgiven and that we’re going to heaven when we die because we have prayed to receive Jesus.
And certainly, receiving Jesus is an important aspect of the Good News.
For others, the Gospel is rather more “earthy”, promising health, prosperity, fun, and lots of worldly comforts along with the promise of eternal life—your best life now. The “prosperity gospel” is front and center in many churches, and it has affected the way many others proclaim the basic teachings of Christ.
These and other forms of “near Christianity” fall short of the Good News of the Kingdom because they take a primarily people-centered approach to the work of Jesus Christ. You can be saved. You can be forgiven. You can know that you’ll be in heaven. You can be happy and enjoy all the blessings this world has to offer.
And, again, it is certainly true that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is about you and me. But not in the way these inadequate views of the Good News tend to imply.
Whenever the work of Jesus Christ is presented as something done for you, something to help you, something to make your life better, the message is out of focus. Jesus did not live, die, rise again, and ascend to His throne so that you and I could have our best life now. The Gospel is only secondarily about us. That is, the Gospel is true, and its impact is cosmic, whether it ever accomplishes anything for you and me. The Good News is not that we can be happy. The Good News is about Jesus and the Kingdom of God. And that Good News is both an announcement of forgiveness, freedom, and flourishing in the Lord and a warning against ignoring the Lord or misconstruing how we relate to Him.
Jesus, as we have seen, preached and taught the Kingdom of God—an objective, inevitable, all-encompassing, all-overturning reality by which He is vindicated, God is glorified, and the world is blessed. And the apostles of the Lord understood the message of the Kingdom to be that which they must proclaim and bear witness to as well.
Forty days of preparation
Following His resurrection, Jesus met with His disciples for forty days (Acts 1.1-3). Throughout those forty days, Jesus spoke to His disciples concerning “the things pertaining to the Kingdom of God” (Acts 1.3). What did that include?
Surely He must have reviewed all His earthly teaching about the Kingdom: “Remember when I said this? And that?” And He must have recalled all His mighty works to explain the vast reach and power of the Kingdom—healings, resurrections, miracles, creation abounding, spiritual powers bound. And it is likely, if Luke 24 is any kind of template for these teaching times, that Jesus did what we have been doing—He surveyed the growing presence of the Kingdom of God in the minds and teaching of the prophets of the Old Testament. Remember those forty days were devoted to the Kingdom of God! Not your best life now. Or not even going to heaven when you die.
We know also that the coming of the Kingdom was to be associated with the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, promised in Joel 2.28-32, Ezekiel 36.26, 27, and elsewhere in the Old Testament (Acts 1.5, 8). We also know that Jesus emphasized the worldwide scope and world-transforming power of the Kingdom, that it would reach even to the end of the earth with the Good News of His Kingdom (Acts 1.6-8). Finally, we know that Jesus forbade any speculations about matters God had chosen not to reveal—such as the specific details of His return and the full coming of the Kingdom of God (Acts 1.7). Proclaiming and seeking and advancing the rule of King Jesus is hard work and demands all our time. We must not waste our time in vain and fallacious speculations which have no root in, or are speciously derived from, the whole counsel of God in Scripture.
It is not hard to imagine Jesus opening those forty days of instruction with something like, “OK, so here’s the Good News: The Kingdom of God!”
Paul got the message
The apostles got the message. We can see this in Paul’s own words to the elders of the churches in Ephesus. The message of the Kingdom of God is urgent. It must be proclaimed and taught publicly and from house to house (Acts 20.20). The message of the Kingdom of God is helpful because it helps us increase in righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (v. 20). We enter the Kingdom by repenting of our sins and believing in Jesus as Lord and Savior (v. 21), and we believe with such confidence and conviction that we readily testify of the hope we have in Him (v. 21).
The Gospel of the Kingdom is about the grace of God in Jesus Christ (v. 24), of the disposition of God to look favorably upon us, to declare His love to us, and to empower us by His Spirit to live by grace so that praise and thanks redound to God in every place (2 Cor. 4.15). The Kingdom of God, which Paul proclaimed, draws on “the whole counsel of God” in Scripture (v. 27) as a primary theme of God’s Word and covenant and the entire focus of the Good News concerning Jesus. And Paul told these elders, these shepherds of God’s flock, that their full duty in overseeing the people of God would not be faithfully discharged apart from living, preaching, teaching, and shepherding the Kingdom of God (vv. 26-28).
As we shall see, the presence of the Kingdom in the New Testament—as a spiritual reality taught and lived—fulfilled all the promise of the Old Testament concerning the coming Kingdom and launched the trajectory Jesus spent three years and forty days impressing on His disciples. The Kingdom of God is the Good News of Jesus, and the apostles of our Lord and Savior will show us what that entails.
1. What is suggested by the term, “near Christianity”? What’s the difference between this and the Gospel of the Kingdom?
2. How did Paul show that he understood the message of the Kingdom?
3. How will you seek the Good News of the Kingdom of God today?
Next steps—Preparation: Review the teaching of Jesus on the presence of the Kingdom. Based on His teaching, what would you expect to see happen where that Good News is faithfully preached and taught?
T. M. Moore
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A companion book to this study of “The Kingdom Presence” is available at our bookstore. Listen to an excerpt from The Kingdom Turn, by clicking here. Then order your free copy.
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