Friday, April 4, 2008

The Gospel Jesus Preached

Over the passing centuries since Jesus lived, traditional Christianity has unfortunately obscured many of the teachings of Scripture. In some cases, this veiling of certain truths has been deliberate—for instance, in the doctrines of justification and of the Sabbath—while others have been allowed to fade from memory or to be eclipsed by emphasis on other doctrines. The early Roman Catholic Church bears much of the blame for these significant changes, having decreed through their councils that Roman Christianity would follow paths contrary to God’s Word.

The gospel that Jesus taught during His ministry is one such area that has been purposefully diverted from scriptural reality. Ask any nominal Christian what Jesus’ gospel was, and the answer is likely to be, “He preached a gospel of grace” or perhaps, “a gospel of salvation.” Both of these are correct answers but not strictly accurate ones. Many Protestants sit in their pews each week and hear a gospel about Jesus Himself. This, too, is not wrong—certainly, Jesus is central to the gospel—but it is not exactly what the Bible says it is.

Mark 1:14-15 provides the inspired answer to our question: “Now after John [the Baptist] was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel’” (emphasis ours; see also Matthew 4:23; 9:35; 24:14). His message, then, was bigger than grace and salvation—as wonderful as they are—or even bigger than Himself, for that matter. His message was about the reign, the rule, the dominion, of God the Father, as well as of the Son, the One who is to be the King of that Kingdom (see John 18:37; Revelation 19:11-16).

The phrases “Kingdom of God” and “Kingdom of Heaven” are found over a hundred times in the New Testament, the majority of them in the four gospels. “Kingdom of Grace” never appears, nor—to the surprise of many—does “gospel of grace.” “Gospel of peace” is found twice, in Romans 10:15 and Ephesians 6:15, both probably echoing Isaiah 52:7 and Nahum 1:15. In Ephesians 1:13, Paul calls it “the gospel of your salvation.” Yet, by far, the gospel is most often called “the gospel of Christ,” “the gospel of God,” or something similar. From the Bible’s own wording, then, we can conclude that the divinely inspired gospel is about the Kingdom of God.

“The gospel of the Kingdom of God” encompasses grace, faith, redemption, justification, sanctification, salvation, glorification, and all the other doctrines of Christianity because all of these teachings comprise the major tenets of God’s way of life and the process of fulfilling His plan for humanity. The Kingdom of God is the goal of God’s great purpose, and if we desire to have a part in it with Him, it must be our goal too. Jesus’ preaching of the gospel of the Kingdom of God provides us with our objective, as well as with all of the component parts needed to reach it.

As many know, the word “gospel” derives from an Old English word, gödspel, which literally means “good news” or “good tidings.” Thus, when Christ preached, He proclaimed the good news of the soon-coming Kingdom of God. But, some may wonder, is this not God’s world? Is He not its Creator? Is He not sovereign of the entire universe? Why, then, did Jesus have to announce that God’s dominion was on its way?

The answer is simple: This is not God’s world! Yes, He created it. Yes, He governs all things. However, from the time of Adam and Eve’s sin in the Garden of Eden, God and man have effectively been separated from each other. The holy God cannot abide sin: “But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you,” declares Isaiah 59:2. In turn, sin has made humanity hold God at arm’s length for thousands of years, and man’s banishment of God from his life has resulted in his perpetually miserable condition: war, poverty, disease, deception, distrust, and death.

Taking advantage of the vacuum, as it were, Satan the Devil has enthroned himself “the god of this age” and blinded the minds of men and women to the truths that would set them free (II Corinthians 4:4). He has managed to deceive the whole world (Revelation 12:9), not only about himself, but about God and His way of salvation. This is why, among the first things He had to do, Jesus had to endure the Devil’s temptations and overcome him and them without sinning (Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13). He had to prove Himself superior to Satan’s devices and worthy of His throne over the whole earth and all mankind.

Luke in particular shows the link between Jesus’ overcoming of Satan and His preaching of the gospel of the Kingdom of God. Just three verses after the end of the temptation narrative, Luke recounts the episode of Jesus’ announcement of His Messiahship in Nazareth’s synagogue (Luke 4:16-21). He quotes from Isaiah 49:8-9, which provide His job assignment:

The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD. (Luke 4:18-19)

His mission, He says, is to preach the good news to the spiritually poor people of this world, whom Satan has imprisoned and deceived, and to begin the process of freeing them from the oppression of sin. He would proclaim liberty from their debt of sin, just as the year of Jubilee freed the Israelites from their financial debts (Leviticus 25:8-12). The Jubilee is a type of Christ’s thousand-year reign, often called the Millennium, which will begin with His second coming and the binding of Satan (see Revelation 20:1-6).

The gospel of the Kingdom of God balances these present and future elements of God’s purpose. By His calling, God is selecting a few chosen servants to be the firstfruits of His Kingdom (John 6:44; Matthew 22:14; James 1:18; Revelation 14:4). These elect, who believe the gospel, are put through the process of salvation: They hear God’s Word, believe, repent of their sins, are baptized, and receive the gift of God’s Holy Spirit. God forgives and justifies them through His grace, and then they become sanctified both by the imputation of Christ’s holiness as well as through the lifelong process of overcoming their sins, growth in righteousness, and bearing fruit of godliness. At Christ’s return, they will be resurrected and changed into spirit, given eternal life, and glorified as God’s sons and daughters. They, as the Bride of Christ forever (Revelation 19:7-9), will reign as kings and priests (Revelation 5:10).

Such is the gist of Jesus’ message of good tidings to mankind. In reality, it is the message of the entire Bible—God’s wonderful plan of salvation and the establishment of His everlasting Kingdom.