The King Jesus Gospel

As I recently made known, we started up a series on the kingdom of God at Cornerstone this past Sunday (the audio and notes can be found at this link). And, though I had originally planned to purchase and read Scot McKnight’s newest release, The King Jesus Gospel, I had thought I would do it at some point down the road. Yet I decided to go ahead and get the book this week, believing it would be able to give some more insight into the gospel of the kingdom as I prepared my messages.

Hence, this week I purchased the book and have read about a third of it so far. The reason I held back at first is that, from what I can tell by reading other’s blogs about some of the book’s central points, I believe I was already on a similar page to McKnight. And I reckoned a lot of what he says has already been addressed by such New Testament studies pillars as N.T. Wright and George Ladd.

But, again, noting my recent preaching series that has begun, and also knowing I really like McKnight’s approaches to biblical studies and theology, I decided to purchase the book sooner rather than later. It has proved a good and stirring read thus far. Continue reading

The Gospel of the Kingdom

If you follow my blog, you will note that I recently began a series on evangelism and the gospel. This past Sunday, I also began a series at Cornerstone on the kingdom of God, or the gospel of the kingdom.

If you would like, you can listen to my message on the gospel of the kingdom, as well as see my notes, as I have embedded both here in this post. This is not too unlike my second post in my series on evangelism. You can also download the message from iTunes. Continue reading

Paradigm Shift

I read these words a few days ago from a book I am currently reading. I will leave the book and author anonymous for now. But these words were penned with regards to the author explaining how Jesus brought a paradigm shift in regards to our understanding of the kingdom rule of God.

True they are.

‘The term paradigm shift was originally used over forty years ago to explain the transition from an established scientific viewpoint to a radically new one… A standard paradigm, ordinary model, or traditional interpretation continues undisturbed for such a long time that we think of it as reality itself. Problems, anomalies, and things that do not fit tend to get swept under the rug of normalcy, until the mound gets so big that people start stumbling over it. But the set paradigm or normative model holds fast until a new vision emerges that explains not only all the older one did, but also those other discrepancies that the old model could not.’

And do not these words relate to every generation of history? How much more do these words relate to the unfolding of church history over the past half millenium? Since the great Reformation, within each generation, there has been a stirring by one or a few or a larger group, challenging the status quo, calling for a paradigm shift.

We should not partake of such for simply the sake of taking part in such. Movements are just movements. Revolutions are just revolutions. But if they are of God, they will have a lasting effect.

I am reminded of the words of one wise man:

So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” (Gamaliel – Acts 5:38-39)

There are even now ‘mounds of normalcy’ that have been gathered under the rug. People have been stumbling over them and more are beginning to take notice. Change is our lot in life. We are called into a life of transformation and restoration. Let us, as we hear and are stirred by God, be challenged to bring about the transformative, paradigm-shifting of the kingdom rule of God.

The Gospel of the Kingdom

Recently, I had posted two articles sharing some thoughts on what I believe is the central focus of the gospel, as well as the whole biblical message, that being the kingdom of God. You can read the posts here – post 1 and post 2.

I strongly believe that the gospel is connected to the reality that Jesus reigns and that the kingdom rule of God is here to bring about redemption, restoration and reconciliation with the Father. From the good news that ‘all authority in heaven and on earth’ has been given to Christ (Matt 28:18), we can also proclaim the good news that people can be forgiven of their sin, reconciled to the Father and receive new-eternal life.

In those articles, I have spent time pointing to plenty of passages in the Gospels that centre the gospel itself in the reality of the kingdom of God. One of those is found in Luke 4:43:

But he [Jesus] said to them, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.”

If anything, I think it highly important to ground the gospel in what Jesus identified as central. And many, many times Jesus spoke of the good news as the good news of the kingdom of God (or heaven).

Now, what some might say, and I do understand this perspective, is that the good news is not so much the good news about the kingdom of God but rather the good news that comes from the kingdom of God. This good news flows out of the kingdom of God.

Therefore, for some, it would be readily recognised that God reigns, as does His Messiah, Jesus. There is an agreement that the kingdom has come in the work of Christ and now the continuing work of God’s Spirit in the world. But the good news is not a telling of the fact that God reigns and is King, but that the good news (however it might be defined) comes from the King and His kingdom.

You see the difference?

So I understand that and, lo and behold, I am even willing to work with this. But I still find myself convinced of the reality that Jesus himself proclaimed the kingdom of God itself as good news. And he expected his first followers, the 12 apostles (and I suppose us as well), to continue this same message.

I have been reading Luke’s Gospel as of late. That’s just where I am at in Scripture. I had read Matthew and Mark. Now it was on to Luke. And, if Luke 4:43 above was not interesting enough to consider, this week I read a most compelling passage in the same Gospel account.

1 And he called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, 2 and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. 3 And he said to them, “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics. 4 And whatever house you enter, stay there, and from there depart. 5 And wherever they do not receive you, when you leave that town shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them.” 6 And they departed and went through the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere. (Luke 9:1-6)

You see, in vs2, we read that Jesus sent out the 12 to ‘proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal’. But, if you keep reading, in a kind of parallel fashion, we read in vs6 that, ‘they departed and went through the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere’.

In vs2, Jesus tells them to proclaim the kingdom of God and heal. Then, in vs6, we are told that, in obedience to Jesus, they preached (proclaimed) the gospel and healed everywhere.

I believe this passage is very telling. There is a plain-as-day connection between the kingdom of God and the gospel.

Now, of course, one might point out that it is just one passage. Well, it is. But it is not left as a dangling, side statement all on its own. As I have looked to point out, there are plenty of passages right through the Gospels, actual recorded words of Jesus or statements surrounding the words and work of Jesus, that continue to emphasise the connection between the good news and the kingdom of God.

Again, I reiterate and clarify, I believe that when we proclaim the forgiveness of sinners, the redemption through Christ’s work on the cross, the new life that comes via the Spirit of God, we are truly proclaiming gospel, the good news. But I also strongly believe these flow from the reality that Jesus is reigning, He is King, and the kingdom of God is here to bring the just and gracious rule of God on earth as it is in heaven. Out of this foundational truth of the gospel that Jesus himself proclaimed we can be assured of the King’s plan to redeem, restore, reconcile, forgive, judge and finally make all things new.

That is gospel.

The Central Message of the Kingdom

I recently posted an article sharing my deep distress of the age-old debate between Calvinism and Arminianism. Within that article, I challenged that it is time to move on to more important things. Not that I believe it is unhealthy to discuss the intricacies of the atonement, election, regeneration, etc. One must understand that I love to read and study theology (or most of it).

But I underlined the fact that the gospel, the good news, is what is important. And the gospel is that of the gospel of the kingdom. Why would I say such? To simply reiterate myself – because the King said such.

Just a browsing of the references of Jesus’ proclamation of the gospel confirms such:

From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17)

And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. (Matthew 4:23)

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:33)

…but he [Jesus] said to them, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.” (Luke 4:43)

When the word gospel shows up in the Gospels, the proclamation of the kingdom of God is regularly found within the immediate context. And when those specific words are not found alongside gospel, I am convinced the kingdom of God is still very inherent in the proclamation of the good news.

The gospel and the kingdom rule of God are so intertwined that New Testament theologian, George Ladd, would be moved to pen these words:

‘New Testament scholars generally agree that the burden of Jesus’ message was the kingdom of God…’ (The Presence of the Future)

One might say Jesus’ burden was the gospel. But to say such would not contradict Ladd, for, again, the gospel is truly the gospel of the kingdom rule of God.

I believe one problem that people face is that, when they turn to the rest of the New Testament, they find quite a lack of references to the kingdom of God alongside the proclamation of the gospel. The kingdom of God (or heaven) is referred to about 110 times in the Gospels. After the Gospels, just 30, with only 8 references found in the preaching of Acts.

If the gospel is a proclamation that the kingdom of God has broken into history, then why such a shift in wording?

There are two responses to this:

1) There is no doubt that the conceptual understanding of the kingdom of God is quite a Jewish thing. Jesus was the Jewish Messiah. He stepped into a Jewish context. His message of the kingdom of God (for that was his great proclamation) meant something significant within that first century, second temple, Jewish culture.

But as the disciples moved outwards into a much larger Gentile context, we find an attempt to make the gospel an understandable reality within that larger context. It doesn’t negate the fact that, as Jesus proclaimed, the good news of the kingdom of God had come. But the apostles and others found further terminology in making the gospel known, such as eternal life, salvation, and even quite unfamiliar terms to our western thinking like The Way.

2) Secondly, and this is probably even more pertinent to the discussion, when the apostles and others went about proclaiming Jesus, we must bear in mind that they were proclaiming the King. And so, to proclaim the gospel as the reality of Jesus and the work he had done for humanity, that was an announcement of the King and the work of his kingdom.

To tell others about the justice and forgiveness and righteousness and grace and judgment and mercy and covenant faithfulness of God in Christ is to proclaim all inherent attributes of the King himself.

And here is another important aspect of this: Jesus, himself, taught that we should seek the kingdom and its righteousness. In today’s church, we more hear that we should seek Jesus. Do we have a contradiction here? I don’t believe so, for the King and the kingdom are inherently connected at their deepest core. To seek the King is to seek His rule and righteousness in our lives. To seek the kingdom is to seek the rule and righteousness of the King.

So to proclaim one is actually the proclaim the other. Hence, why the gospel of the kingdom and its King remain central to the proclamation of the gospel throughout the New Testament. (As a side note, E. Stanley Jones champions the connection between the king and his kingdom in The Unshakable Kingdom and the Unchanging Person.)

Ok, so I have 1) looked to emphasise that Jesus’ major gospel message was that of the coming kingdom of God and 2) underlined that this message remained central with the apostles and other first believers.

But the next big challenge arises when we ask what was central to the gospel in the Old Testament. The gospel in the Old Testament? Huh? Yes, it’s there. We might say in more ‘seed’ form. But the gospel is truly there from the opening pages.

The first problem that can arise is when we refer to the Hebrew Scriptures as the Old Testament. I am not asking that we abandon such terminology. I simply recognise that the word ‘old’ could create problems. Why? Well, I am a firm believer that the new covenant (or New Testament) revelation is the actual continuation and clarification of what was in the Old Testament/Hebrew Scriptures. Most theologians recognise the revelation of God being progressively laid out in Scripture, meaning we don’t get it all in Genesis 1. It is the patient process of our God looking to communicate His ultimate planned as summed up in His Son.

So, we don’t have a 100%, completely new thing started with Christ and the New Testament. We have the unfolding of the final chapter(s) of the work of God to redeem humanity and all creation.

Therefore, what we find in full revelation in the New Testament must have been in seed form (or more) in the Old Testament (and the intertestamental period). There were hints, intimations, foreshadowings of this gospel that we see jumping off every page in the New Testament.

So, do we find the kingdom of God central to the Old Testament text and the good news of what God is doing in His world?

Well, I suppose you know how I am going to answer such a question.


But where is it?

In the opening pages of Genesis, we start with the creation of the cosmos and all that is in it. But what was going on pre-Genesis? Yahweh, our God, as Father, Son and Spirit, were together. We don’t have a great deal of insight from the Scripture text of what all was going on. So we can only speculate. We have a little bit more to chew on in John 1, but not much.

Nevertheless, in the beginning before the beginning, we have Yahweh. And, lo and behold, He is King. Seems simple enough, but something to remind ourselves. He is so much the King that He can choose to create this whole thing we now recognise as the universe. Only a true King, the King, can do such.

The psalmist celebrates this fact a few times:

The LORD is king forever and ever;
the nations perish from his land. (Psalm 10:16)

The LORD sits enthroned over the flood;
the LORD sits enthroned as king forever. (Psalm 29:10

For God is the King of all the earth;
sing praises with a psalm! (Psalm 47:7

Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
and your dominion endures throughout all generations (Psalm 145:13)

Yahweh is King and we read of His creation of male and female bearing His image. Even more, we see God entrusting His rule to Adam and Eve (i.e. Gen 1:26-28). They were to rule on earth as it was in heaven (sound familiar?).

Now, we know the story just 2 chapters later. They failed to obey the King and rule on His behalf. And so paradise was lost. But, as Calvin himself stated in his commentary on Romans:

‘For certainly Christ is much more powerful to save than Adam was to ruin.’

And so, the King takes up a redemptive-restoration work. Redeeming back what? Restoring back to what?

Back to the original intention as expressed in the beginning. God was King and He would entrust those made in His image to carry out that rule. And we begin to see signs of one who would come to accomplish this, starting in Gen 3:15. It makes you want to turn the pages to see who this is and how it turns out (too bad we know the story, for this does somewhat knock at the excitement and anticipation).

Remember, God is the eternal King. But we soon realise that humanity is not that helpful in bringing about the rule of the King on earth as hoped. But the good news is that God has a Messianic King that can do such. This King would himself be both divine and man. Quite an interesting plan. But, I get ahead of myself…..

To simply summarise some things, we have God’s calling of a man and his family (Noah, etc) that would carry on that same purpose as expressed in our beginning. Note the similarity between the wording of Gen 1:26-28 and 9:1-3. God has really not reverted to Plan B. He wants His image bearers to bring His rule.

We move into Abraham and the patriarchs. God makes it clear that the blessing of the King would come to all people’s through this one man and his family (which is good news that it is a blessing).

Moses is called out and we see a form of theocratic kingdom set up. These people were the original kingdom priests (see Ex 19:5-6). They were to remember the words to Adam/Eve, Noah and Abraham.

Following a pitiful time of ruling by the judges, God sets up the greatest expression of His kingdom through the forebearer messiah, David. The throne and temple in Jerusalem were the greatest intimation of the kingdom of God on earth that we can find in the Old Testament. It was such good news left ringing in the ears of the Israelites that a king and the kingdom had been established.

But, not learning from the past, things quickly spun out of control, ultimately leading to exile upon those who had been called to submit to the messianic-Davidic rule. Yet, we begin to hear rumblings from the voices of quite a few prophets, each and all letting us know that a special one is coming. His kingdom would both increase and have no end (Isa 9:7). His rule would be in form with David’s rule, but would be even more significant.

This king and his kingdom would truly be of peace, justice, righteousness, redemption, restoration, strength, mercy, covenant faithfulness and on and on. For God would actually take up shepherding His people Himself. Good idea! The King would get things done in a much better way.

Now, fastforward to the arrival of the Messiah, God’s Son, the ruler-shepherd-king, who is Jesus. He arrives on the scene and, in summarising his first words, we find his call to people to repent, believe the gospel, for the kingdom of God has come near (i.e. Mark 1:15; Matt 4:17). The very first words of the King himself!

Ah, the anticipation and expectation was ending and the arrival of the good news of God’s kingdom was here. And it was good news! This was sweet music in the ears of a people once again exiled (for they saw themselves in exile, or really never having been restored from exile).

Of course, they thought they were under the rule of harsh Rome. But the kingdom had not come, at least yet, to make sure Rome was out of the way. Another enemy stood at bay – that of the adversary, Satan, and the grip of sin.

But the king and His rule was powerful enough to break such a bondage.

Now true, there are many central themes to the whole of Scripture: God, God’s Messiah, salvation, and others. But I believe all these fall under the reality that Yahweh was King before our ‘in the beginning’ and God has always looked to see on earth what was already in heaven, that being His rule. And it was His Son, the Messianic King, who came proclaiming that God was doing just what He had intended from the beginning, of which we had only tasted hints before. And with His rule truly present amongst us in the King (and now the empowering Spirit of the King), we would see salvation proclaimed, captives set free, the oppressed liberated, sin judged, peace and justice extended, and a recreated humanity in God’s Son, with a recreated universe to come one day.

That is truly good news. That is gospel.