What Is The Gospel? (Part 5)

waterAfter much thought and consideration over the past few weeks, I am now able to conclude with my fifth and final entry on my series of what is the gospel. Here are some summary points from the first four articles:

I started out by claiming that an attempt to define the gospel is both a simple act and not so simple act. It is simple in that the gospel is not to be overloaded with do’s and do not’s. We don’t really have to write some treatise to simply define that which is the good news. But I also stated that I do not believe it is as simple as quoting John 3:16 or Romans 6:23 and there you have it. Those passages are important, as all of Scripture is. But I am not convinced those passages give us the gospel in it’s nutshell. (More thoughts can be read in my first article.)

I then spent two articles (article 2; article 3) laying out what I believe is central to the gospel. I tried to show how the centrepiece of the gospel is that of the coming kingdom of God. Why would I assert such? When Messiah stepped onto the scene, that’s what He proclaimed – the gospel of the kingdom of God. Since the good news of God’s rule on earth was important to the King, Jesus, I believe this is the vital aspect of the gospel.

In both articles, I also tried to make it very clear that I do not believe the centrality of the kingdom of God makes any other aspects of the gospel unimportant. The incarnation of the divine Son, the sacrificial death of the divine Son on the cross for humanity’s sin, the resurrection of Christ from the grave – they are all very important aspects. But I believe they are a result of the kingdom of God coming on earth as it is in heaven. They are part of the process, if you will, in seeing the King enthroned at the right hand of the Father and reigning over all in His rightful place.

Lastly, in my fourth article, I addressed the issue of why we don’t read too much about the ‘gospel of the kingdom’ post-Christ, meaning, following His resurrection and ascension back to the Father. When reading Acts and the epistles, such words are not regularly found within those writings.

But this should not detour us from what was central to Jesus. Because, for Jesus, the gospel was about the coming kingdom, then we should realise that this would have been at the heart of the message of His first followers as well. When they proclaimed the gospel, they for sure knew about the reality of the King and His kingdom. It’s just that they used many synonyms in explaining such – eternal life, salvation, the gospel [without the phrase ‘of the kingdom’]. Not only that, but to speak of Jesus Himself in regards to the gospel is to also speak of the kingdom. Why? Because Jesus is King. And when one faithfully proclaims the King, they faithfully proclaim the kingdom.

So, though a rather full summary, that is what my first four articles were about as I explored what the gospel is really about – the gospel of the kingdom.

In this final article, I do want to respond to the challenge that I received from a couple of friends on what this all means practically. I mentioned in my last article that, if anything, theology must be practical. And, if anything, the gospel must be practical for real people living real life now.

I have actually posted a couple of articles before on the practical reality of what it means for the kingdom to be here now and what it means for the kingdom to still have a future aspect. But I think there are a few more issues to discuss.

So, what does the gospel of the kingdom of God mean for us practically. I share a few points:

1) A Change In Perspective

I start by giving my own testimony of what began to happen in my life when I realised the gospel was about the kingdom of God, about it being here right now. In the first few years of my new life in Christ, the kingdom was usually conceived of in this manner: a) a place ‘up there’, maybe in the clouds and b) a place you went to when you died.

That was my basic conception of the kingdom of God, which I now realise was quite off.

But when I found out that God’s kingdom is a reality now, this became good news (or gospel) for me, as one can imagine. Of course, we have to keep this in check with the reality that we await the final consummation and completion of the kingdom coming to earth. But Jesus’ words to the disciples about how to pray – ‘Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven’ – were not just words for the future. They were words for today, for now, for my life, for the earth that Jesus told us He had all authority over.

Imagine the flood gates of revelation that opened for a young 20-year old realising this. I was not just awaiting something in the future. Here I was now a disciple of the King, a disciple of the kingdom. Here I was now with the reality of the kingdom in the present. Not everyone had bowed their knee, but I had. And, not only that, there was a worldwide body that had bowed their knees to Jesus. Imagine what God could do with a people that were submitted to His kingship, His lordship. But I think we just don’t realise or easily forget this reality – He is King and He is reigning over all.

Again, imagine if this stuff really sunk in deep within our hearts!

So, the simple truth of knowing that the gospel of the kingdom was a reality now, this changed my perspective in a major way. And, as I’ve said, I truly believe that as God’s people get a glimpse of the kingdom be real today, for now, this can bring a change in perspective that allows us to walk out the desires of the King and His kingdom.

2) A Change In Lifestyle

The reality of the King and His kingdom calls for a lifestyle change. I don’t just mean that one stops cussing, stops drinking heavily, stops smoking, etc, though stopping such things aren’t a bad idea. But what I mean is that we begin to think and live like Jesus did.

But where does that start? I believe it starts with serving, or maybe better stated, with washing feet and laying our lives down. Isn’t that what the King Himself did?

From a biblical standpoint, kingship and leadership is underlined with the act of serving. That is foundational to ruling and leading – for earthly kings, for elders (leaders) in the church, for the one who says they want to follow the King. Matter of fact, look at what the ruling King did one day:

3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, 4 rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. (John 13:3-5)

Did you catch that? Jesus knew all things were given to Him by His Father. He was going to be in charge, going to rule over all heaven and earth, as He later reminded His first disciples in Matthew 28:18.

So, what did He do? He didn’t stand up and bark orders. He got down on His knees and washed feet. Absolutely astounding! And, let’s be honest, such paled in comparison to the brutal death He was about to undergo at the cross – a laying down of His life for His friends. That is our King and that is how His kingdom functions. Of course, this was only enacting what He had earlier said when some of His close friends were arguing about their place in the kingdom to come:

…even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Matthew 20:28)

This is the change in lifestyle, even in mindset, that I am talking about. One who knows how to ‘rule’ is one who knows how to serve, to wash feet, to even lay down their lives for others. And that is the reality of the kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. I believe God is still enacting miracles and healings. I believe revival and major moves of God still happen today. But God is very interested in those small things. Those small things are very instrumental in bringing the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.

Such reminds me of these words from the missionary, Hudson Taylor:

‘Little things are little things, but faithfulness in little things are big things.’

This is the change in lifestyle that the kingdom brings.

3) A Change Within

One of my favourite passages of Scripture that speaks about the kingdom of God is found in Paul’s letter to the Romans. It might not be the most known passage, but there it is in very plain English (ok, it was originally in Greek, but our English translations are pretty reliable here):

For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Romans 14:17)

In the context of chapter 14, Paul is speaking about the believer’s conscience in regards to food specifically sacrificed to idols. Should one eat it or should one not eat such?

We aren’t usually dealing with this kind of issue in modern, western societies. But the principles laid out in this chapter are helpful in regards to issues of ‘gray’ (grey for Brits). We need to be careful in passing judgment on people in regards to our ‘food’ issues, whatever they may be (i.e. movies, music, art, tattoos, etc). To such an issue, Paul gives this very helpful thought in vs14:

I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean.

With these things, let’s stop trying to be the Holy Spirit and, instead, let the Holy Spirit be the Holy Spirit. But, Paul, then, makes a very interesting statement about the kingdom of God and connects this with the activity and role of the Holy Spirit: For the kingdom of God is…a matter…of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

We really need to stop quibbling over such silly issues and get on with the reality that the kingdom rule of God is at work in the believer by the righteousness, peace and joy available in the Spirit of God. That is powerful! That is fantastic!

We can get so caught up in small behavioural matters, moral conduct codes, and petty concerns that we miss the reality of the kingdom of God in our midst through the Spirit, who brings God’s righteousness, peace and joy.

Guess what the rule of God consists of? Yes – righteousness, peace and joy. Yes, there are other aspects we could focus on. But Paul gives some good starters here. And, so, for the Spirit-indwelt believer, we have the reality of the kingdom at work in us, which brings about the possibility of effecting the righteousness, peace and joy of God’s reign right here and right now. I can walk out the things of God’s kingdom right here and right now because the Spirit gives me the life of the kingdom to do so.

Of course, we remain fallen in a fallen world, susceptible to sin. But we can remain focused on the work of the kingdom of God via the Spirit of God in the people of God. We can practically walk out the purposes and desires of God here and now because of this truth.

4) A Change In Wording

As I took time to emphasise in my fourth article, the gospel of the kingdom does not have to be worded as such every time we speak of the gospel. The gospel is the gospel. At times we bring out the reality of the cross, at other times we focus on the resurrection. Then, again, we sometimes speak of Jesus and who He is. Other times, we share a story that draws in people to the story of God (I think Jesus was pretty good at that). Or, at times, we proclaim who is presently reigning over all with a longing for it to be finalised in that final day.

But what I am getting at is that every time we proclaim the gospel, this does not mean we are caught in some bind to call it the ‘gospel of the kingdom’. For an 85-year old atheist lady on her death bed, I might simply and humbly speak of the hope I have, looking to draw her in by such beautiful truth. If anything, the gospel is a gospel of hope. The gospel of the kingdom is about the hope of our reigning God that is available in Christ.

For a 7-year old boy, I’m not going to wax eloquent about the present reality of the kingdom of God. He might simply need to know that this God who created Him truly does love Him.

But that’s just it – the gospel, or the gospel of the kingdom as Jesus called it, has so many varying aspects to it. That’s why I don’t believe you can nail down the gospel by quoting John 3:16. It could prove important to someone who has never heard such a verse. But I am thinking many religious Americans don’t need to know that. Thus, as Paul so pointedly said, we need to be all things to all people that we might save some (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).

Again, for one who is wrapped up in much bondage and addiction, they might need to know that the power of God is available, that Jesus is in charge, He came to destroy the works of the devil, and we can see Him have victory over such sinful bondages. And, of course, the differing situations and circumstances go on and on.

But, the practical reality is that the gospel of the kingdom is true now, is a reality now, and is available now. And whenever the people of God proclaim the gospel of God, they need to remember they are proclaiming the One who reigns over all, has come to bring that kingdom now, has sent His Spirit to work out His kingdom purposes in our lives, and has called His people to serve like true kings (and queens) themselves.

This is the reality of the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven!

There could have been many more aspects to consider, but, for me, these four are very helpful in realising what this gospel of the kingdom means to real people in real life here and now. I can only be thankful of the good news that Christ is King and He is in charge and He is at work by His Spirit in His people. I have hope that I can walk out the words of the King, since He is the One empowering me anyways.

Thus, I close this short series by reminding us to pray that His kingdom come now on earth as it is in heaven. As it does, we will see hearts broken, knees bow and lives changed.

What Is The Gospel? (Part 4)

Christ Stain GlassHere I am, wading through this series I’ve called, What Is The Gospel? I’m considering what is the good news? What is it about? Or, maybe better stated, what is its content?

In my last post, I really took the time to make it clear what I believe the central message of the gospel is, as proclaimed by the Messiah-King Himself. The message of good news that was continually found on the lips of Jesus was that of the kingdom of God (or kingdom of heaven).

When one opens the first pages of the Gospels, especially the synoptics (Matthew, Mark and Luke), one immediately begins to read about the proclamation of the kingdom rule of God finding its way into human history via the King Himself, Jesus. This is seen below as I simply quote a few passages which I have already pointed out previously.

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

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:14-15)

…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)

‘For this is my purpose,’ Jesus stated. His purpose was to make known the message of the kingdom, that is, the gospel of the kingdom.

While emphasising the gospel of the kingdom proclaimed by Jesus, I also looked to make clear that I do not deny the good news concerning God’s Son birthed into human history, His death on the cross on behalf of humanity, nor His resurrection. I hope I can only make it clear that all of those events are very important!! They are truly part of the good news, and anyone who denies such denies the gospel.

But what I tried to communicate is that I believe these things are a part of the gospel of the kingdom, results, if you will. For God’s kingdom to become a reality for us, it called for the humble sacrifice of the divine Son to, first off, became a human being like us, live a life untainted by sin, offer Himself at the cross to the glory of His Father, and come out of the grave on that third day. But they were not the end goal. The end goal was the establishing of God’s kingdom rule on earth as it is in heaven, underlined by the enthronement of King Jesus at the right hand of the Father. But, in this establishing of the kingdom of God, we get to join in with this ultimate intention of the Trinity!

So, I again reiterate that these are all important aspects of the gospel. But these were necessary as the Messiah-King announced and established God’s kingdom rule in our midst as it was perfectly in the midst of heaven.

Following my last article, a couple of my friends gave a great challenge to me (via Facebook, as the RSS feed of my blog publishes my blog posts on Facebook). They basically said, ‘Scott, but what does this mean for us today?’ One even gave a particular scenario of what this means to an 85-year old atheist woman on her deathbed.

I want to say thank you to those challenges and reminders that theology must be practical, if anything. If theology is simply waxing eloquent about biblical concepts, then you will lose 98% of Christians (and non-Christians). Heck, you might even find yourself losing the interest of God Himself!

Therefore, my task is to consider what the gospel of the kingdom means practically, to real human beings living real lives in a real world today. And, I shall do so. But I want to take it up in my fifth and final article. There is one other point of emphasis to bring up in this article.

That point, or question, is this – What happens to this gospel of the kingdom post-Christ? What I mean is, why don’t we really ever read about the ‘gospel of the kingdom’ after Christ ascends to the Father’s right hand?

You might not have ever asked such questions, but they are worth asking. If you check out the rest of the New Testament, the kingdom of God is only referred to about 30 times, with only 8 occurrences found in the preaching in Acts.

What is going on here? I thought the gospel was about the kingdom rule of God, Scott.

Well, I believe there are two major reasons why we don’t necessarily read as much about ‘the gospel of the kingdom’ post-Gospels, that is, from Acts through to Revelation.

1) Synonymous Terms Regularly Used

As Jesus arrived on the scene, He was a Jew born amongst Jews living amongst a Jewish culture. With their Hebrew Scripture heritage (the Old Testament for us), and knowing the words of the Prophets, as well as some stirrings of intertestamental expectations, there was a growing anticipation of the coming kingdom of God. And this is what I expressed in previous articles.

With all of these things at hand, not to mention the oppression of ruling Rome, the Jews were awaiting this long-expected messianic figure. And, so, for Messiah Himself to arrive and speak about the kingdom of God, or kingdom of heaven, some 100 times throughout the Gospels, it would have made sense. Jesus was reaching a Jewish people with a message that, at least, should have made sense to them (though they kept thinking Rome was the great enemy, while there was a still greater enemy to be defeated). We do read that He came to the lost sheep of Israel (i.e. Matthew 15:24).

But, following the resurrection of the Son of God, the giving of the apostolic commission of Acts 1:8, and His ascension back to the Father to be enthroned over all heaven and earth, it was time for this gospel of the kingdom to expand outwards. And, this time, it was even to go to the ends of the earth!

So, we find people like Paul, Barnabas and those others who worked with Paul’s diverse team, considering how best to reach varying groups of people. Paul always started in the synagogues, looking to reach Jews. But his apostolic commission took him to the ‘ends of the earth’ (at least as far as they knew within the Roman empire).

Therefore, Paul was stirred, by the Spirit, to consider how best to reach differing people groups of differing cultures. I think he might have talked about this somewhere – being all things to all people that he might save some. Oh yes, it was 1 Corinthians 9:19-23.

Walking into such different contexts called for the proclamation of the gospel, the gospel of the kingdom, to take shape in a way that would best connect with those people. Paul would run into Jews and would, therefore, speak Hebrew, refer back to the Hebrew Scriptures, talk about Abraham, Moses, etc. Paul would encounter Gentiles and he would find himself speaking Greek, talking about a Creator (in general), maybe even willing to quote pagan poets to the academics of his day.

In his book, Evangelism in the Early Church, Michael Green considers such an important aspect of proclaiming the gospel:

‘That there was a basic homogeneity in what was preached we may agree, but there was wide variety in the way it was presented…Evangelism is never proclamation in a vacuum, but always to people, and the message must be given in terms that make sense to them.’ (p165)

And, so, we must keep this in mind about the proclamation of the gospel as it expanded outwards into the world of Rome. It still remained the gospel of the kingdom, but that gospel was being proclaimed in a way that best connected with each differing group. Green solidly addresses this point in his book:

‘It is called ‘God’s good news’ time and again, and though it is never called by Paul ‘the good news of the kingdom’, this may be fortuitous for he often speaks of the kingdom of God in contexts where he has just been talking of the gospel. It may, on the other hand, be partly, at any rate, deliberate; owing to the political overtones involved in preaching a kingdom Paul wisely preferred for the most part to translate what he had to say into other categories, such as eternal life, salvation or justification.’ (p84)

One of my favourite writers with regards to the kingdom of God, George Ladd, states it more simply:

‘The Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of Heaven, eternal life, salvation: they are all interchangeable terms.’ (The Gospel of the Kingdom, p33)

Why would all of these terms be considered interchangeable? Because it all goes back to that central message of the gospel – the rule of God becoming a reality in Jesus, the Messiah. The time had been fulfilled and Messiah came with a passion and purpose to proclaim the rule of God.

It’s not to negate the reality of life eternal, of salvation, of seeing people born again. I have tasted of these things, and I am so eternally grateful! I am thankful for the cross. I proclaim that glory of the cross regularly! But this all comes back and is connected to that centerpiece of the gospel, which is the kingdom of God coming to earth as it is in heaven. This is the gospel of the kingdom.

2) Jesus Synonymous With The Kingdom

Finally, I make note of the connection between Jesus and the kingdom. As those first apostles and other Christians went out proclaiming the gospel, one thing they regularly did was proclaim Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah. Simply read Peter’s first sermon in Acts 2 to get a flavour of this. He ends with these words:

Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38)

Here, there is no specific mention of the gospel of the kingdom, right?

Well, to that, I believe it a small misnomer to say there is no mention of the kingdom here. Why? Because there is mention of the King!

And this was what the early Christians were doing – proclaiming the gospel of their King, their Messiah. And it was the King Himself, Jesus, who would become synonymous with the message of the gospel of the kingdom. Green takes up this, again, in his book:

‘He who proclaimed the kingdom in his lifetime became the content of the proclamation among the early missionaries, and rightly so, because as the Gospels make clear, it is through the agency of Jesus that men are brought into the kingdom…The kingdom is inseparable from the King.’ (p167)

So, when those first Christians were proclaiming the ‘gospel’, when they were proclaiming Jesus Christ, they were declaring that the King and the kingdom had come. And it was this King that brought forth salvation and life eternal, who was brutally sacrificed on a thief’s cross but gloriously rose again on that third day.

This connection between Christ and the kingdom is what E. Stanley Jones spends so much time passionately laying out in his last work before his death, The Unshakable Kingdom and the Unchanging Person. Here was a man dedicated to proclaiming Christ and the kingdom, specifically in the great land of India. It’s worth a read, or two (though beware there are no edits to the book, as it was decided to publish it as is following his death).

Again, remember who came announcing the kingdom of God was at hand? It was Jesus, the Messiah-King. And it is the Messiah-King and the kingdom which are interchangeable themselves. When one faithfully proclaims the King, they faithfully proclaim the kingdom. When another passionately proclaims the kingdom, they passionately proclaim the King. This is the gospel of the kingdom!

Thus, though a bit longer than anticipated, this ends my fourth insert on what is the gospel. My passion, or even better, Christ’s passion was the kingdom of God. For Him, as King, the gospel was about the kingdom rule of God. There is no doubt in my mind, no doubt in Christ’s mind, that the cross remains absolutely important, as every other aspect of the King’s life remains instrumentally connected to the gospel. But these all find their importance and relevancy as they relate to the reality that Christ is King and His kingdom is coming. And with such truth of the kingdom, God offers humanity salvation, forgiveness of sin, healing, reconciliation, justification, righteousness, and the whole lot. That remains the gospel of the kingdom.

Click here for the fifth and final article.

What Is The Gospel? (Part 3)

Christ in gloryI have been working on this series in which I am attempting to look at what the gospel really is (see part 1, part 2). To understand this very important thing called the gospel, I began by looking at Jesus’ first words, as reported by Mark’s Gospel:

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:14-15)

This was THE turning point in history. Not just because our calendars are situated around the Messiah’s (or Christ’s) arrival, but because a new age was dawning upon history. That is why Jesus could say, ‘The time is fulfilled.’ That is why Paul could also refer to this Christ-event as the fullness of time’ (see Galatians 4:4). This was truly the turning point for the history of mankind.

Thus, we see that, at this major turning point in history, at this dawning of a new age, Messiah Himself came announcing the good news (gospel) that the kingdom of God was at hand. It was here, for the kingly Messiah was here. Gospel is, therefore, not so much a specific genre of music sung by African-Americans. It is the proclamation that the kingdom rule of God was present.

And, as I said, this was a kind of music to Jewish ears, for they had been long awaiting the arrival of God’s kingdom. Of course, they were thinking this kingdom ushered in by the Messiah would wipe out oppressive Rome. But the Messiah-King came with a kingdom that was going to destroy the kingdom of darkness and sin. Sounds much better to me!

But, at the end of my last article, I had the audacity to claim that the central focus of the good news was not that Christ came to save sinners. Nor was the central focus to be the cross.

What??!!

We all know 1 Timothy 1:15:

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.

Or, what about 1 Corinthians 2:2:

For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

So, such statements from me must be, well, if not blasphemous, at least semi-heretical, right?

Well, here is what I didn’t say. I did not deny the reality that Jesus came into the world to save sinners. And I did not deny the reality that the cross was a part of the reason He came into the world. To those statements, I give my full and 100% agreement.

But, what I did say is that these things are not the central focus of why Christ came. The cross and the salvation of humankind is very important in the purposes of God, but they are not THE centerpiece. They are a part, but not the ‘ultimate intention’, as I believe Devern Fromke called it.

What is that centerpiece? Seeing the kingdom rule of God established on earth as it is in heaven.

Remember, this was the central message of Jesus – the kingdom of God, or, as it shows up in Matthew’s Gospel, the kingdom of heaven. This message was on the lips of Jesus some 100 times!!

Author and theologian, George Ladd, could therefore make this simple statement:

‘New Testament scholars generally agree that the burden of Jesus’ message was the kingdom of God .’ (The Presence of the Future, p122)

And Jesus was not just proclaiming it, as in some hope of it coming one day. He was announcing the coming of the kingdom of God. Such is seen to be true when we look back at Mark 1:14-15, as well as a selection of other passages in the Gospels:

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 if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. (Matthew 12:28)

…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)

See also favourite passages like Matthew 6:10 and 6:33.

As Messiah-King, this was His passion, His ultimate intention.

But, again, lest I be seen as some whacko or heretic, I am not negating the importance or significance of the cross, of the shed blood of Christ, or the salvation-restoration of sinners. Those are very important in outworking the purposes of God on earth as they are in heaven. But these become a result of the reality of the kingdom rule of God coming on earth as it is in heaven. They become the outworking of God’s kingdom on earth.

Because God desires to see His glory and kingdom spread into all the earth (i.e. Psalm 72:19; Isaiah 6:3; 11:9; Habakkuk 2:14; Acts 1:8; etc), there are certain things that must take place in order for this to become a reality. Therefore, the incarnation was a must, the ministry of Christ on earth was a definite, the cross was a requirement, and there is no doubt the resurrection needed to come into play.

But all of these were part of the ‘process’, part of the ‘journey’, to see the King-Messiah establishing the kingdom of God and being enthroned at the right hand of the Father. Therefore, He can have all authority in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18). Consequently, Jesus could be placed far above every rule, authority, power, dominion and name, even placing all things under His feet (Ephesians 1:19-23).

As a result, when we speak of the gospel, we must keep in mind that this is centrally about the rule of God being established, as begun by Jesus, Himself. No, the kingdom is not yet fully here. That won’t be a reality until He returns for His bride. This will be when His kingdom is consummated at the end of this age, bringing all righteousness, dealing fully with sin, and establishing that new heavens and new earth, which we even taste of now as new creations.

But what did begin some 2,000 years ago was that the Son of God became a man so that He could proclaim God’s rule was breaking in on humanity as it was in heaven. Again, I don’t mean that He was only establishing some ‘ethereal’ reality. When the Scripture speaks of something being ‘heavenly’, it does not refer to a floaty, spiritual place up in the clouds. It speaks of something being ‘of heaven’, ‘of God’, ‘of His kingdom rule’ (I have written more about this here).

But, in proclaiming and initiating such, the Trinity knew that this would involve a sacrifice, starting with the divine Son becoming flesh and leading to the divine Son being slaughtered for humanity’s sin.

Therefore, when we talk about the good news, with all of its ‘sub-points’ and ‘differing facets’ (if you will), let us keep in mind that this gospel is grounded in the reality that the Messiah-King came to make known God’s kingdom rule. It started 2,000 years ago, it’s continued for 2,000 years, and such will be His passion until it is time for Him to finish all things.

This, my friends, is the gospel of the kingdom!

If you want, stay tuned…I think I would like to share one or two more articles on this subject.

What Is The Gospel? (Part 2)

JesusBaptismSo, this series has been started where I am looking to lay out what the gospel truly is. I started out by concluding that it is both simple and not simple. It’s simple in that it isn’t to be overloaded with rules and regulations of what the gospel really is, but it is also not simple in that I don’t believe you can just quote John 3:16 or a few verses in Romans to define the gospel in its full sense. There is more to this thing called the gospel than quoting such passages.

I also noted that, regardless of how one ends up defining the gospel, we must at least all admit that it is good news. I am only saddened when it seems that many do not understand this simple truth about the gospel.

Now, what I am aware of is that when some Pentecostal church groups speak of the ‘full gospel’, it is in reference to the baptism in the Holy Spirit included as part of the gospel. These groups emphasise that the gospel is not just about forgiveness of sin at the cross, but also the rest of the story – the resurrection of Christ and the outpouring of the Spirit on God’s people to fully accomplish Acts 1:8.

Though I am part of a charismatic grouping of churches, I’m not here to argue for or against the tenets of such a claim above. But I will say that is not what I am hinting at when I refer to the full gospel.

So, where does one start when considering what the content of the gospel truly is?

There is a theological ‘rule’, more of a guideline, known as the law of first mention. This means that, to better understand a theological word or concept, it is best to start with its first mention in Scripture. Of course, following this guideline is not always helpful, as I would contend with the first mention of the English word church. The first place is Matthew 16:13-20, specifically in vs18. But I wouldn’t say that passage always helpfully clarifies for many of us (well, it does for the Roman Catholic church, but that is another article for another day).

But, what about the word gospel? Where does it first show up?

Well, that shouldn’t be too difficult – it first shows up in the Gospels.

But where do we start in the Gospels?

Well, for that, I say let’s look at Mark, since the word shows up in the very first chapter. Now, the word actually shows up in the very first verse, but as with starting in Matthew 16 to understand church, I don’t think starting in Mark 1:1 helps clarify too much. But I might return there near the end of this series to make a few comments.

But, interestingly enough, the first words of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark reference the gospel:

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (vs14-15)

Here we are told that the Christ steps onto the scene proclaiming the gospel, or good news, of God. And, with Mark staying true to form with very short summaries of the words of those individuals he quotes, he attributes one sentence to Jesus: The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.

So, the second half of that statement tells the people to repent and believe in the gospel, but I think we are still left asking questions, trying to ascertain more about this absolutely astounding news.

Now, we could see this second phrase as Jesus communicating, ‘Repent and believe in Jesus’. And such is not wrong. It’s actually a truth of the gospel. But, what are we believing about Christ or what is our believing in Christ about?

Let’s go back to Mark 1:15 – The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.

Well, it’s the second half of that sentence that is intricately connected with the first half. The repentance (literally ‘changing one’s mind’) and the believing the good news (gospel) has to do with the kingdom of God being at hand.

The Messiah arrives proclaiming that the time is now here, the kingdom of God is at hand. This is the time! Get yourself ready! The kingdom is near! The kingdom is at hand!

What we don’t realise is that this was outright good news to a Jew of the first century. The problem is that, many times, we can read Scripture with no reference to what was happening in that day. But what was the mindset of the Jewish people in those days? They were awaiting the arrival of the kingdom of God. There expectation was that the kingdom would soon come, via some messianic figure.

So, Jesus enters onto the scene speaking a kind of music to their ears. But really, the tune wasn’t perfectly in line with the Jewish song. For the kingdom to arrive, it meant the end of Rome for them. Yet that messianic figure came and went, but Rome still stood.

Still, the reality is that Jesus came with the message of the kingdom, the good news that the kingdom of God had come. It was the rule of God that had broken into humanity history. This was the good news, for the Messiah was bring the messianic kingdom!

But, wait. We don’t see Jesus really ever called Messiah in Scripture. Wasn’t that a loaded term?

Yes, it was loaded. They are thinking the end of Rome. He is thinking the end of a greater enemy. But, in all actuality, Jesus is known quite a few times as Messiah (over 50 times in the Gospels). Ah, but the trick is that the New Testament originally comes to us in Greek, not Hebrew. Messiah is from the Hebrew root, Christ is from Greek root.

So, whenever Jesus is referred to as Christ, He is definitely being identified as Messiah.

But Scott, your muddling this all up for us!

Well, I am somewhat good at that. But the point is that I’m trying to lay a little groundwork to get somewhere. I know that stuff is boring, but I will try and go somewhere, even if it is a long way around. Remember, it is simple, but it isn’t always so simple.

So, the Messiah-King shows up announcing the good news of the arrival of the messianic kingdom rule of God. Of course God is King. But here is God-in-the-flesh arriving to bring that rule on earth as it is in heaven. Messiah is faithfully fulfilling His messianic role.

Note these words of one author:

‘To acclaim anyone as Messiah is to announce in him the coming of the Kingdom of God, for it is precisely the business of the Messiah to establish the Kingdom. Messiah cannot be separated from Kingdom…when Messiah comes, the Kingdom comes.’ (John Bright, The Kingdom of God)

That’s paramount! For remember, Jesus is Messiah and He is announcing the kingdom come. This was gospel to the ears. Forget Rome. The rule of God was here to break the rule of another more powerful enemy. Jesus is here to establish the rule of God over Satan and sin!

And that’s the gospel, or good news, message He came proclaiming – the kingdom had come, the rule of God was being established for God’s people.

Bright goes on to remark in his book:

‘It lies at the very heart of the gospel message to affirm that the Kingdom of God has in a real sense become present fact, here and now.’

The central heart of the good news is this – Christ came to save sinners. I would say, ‘No.’ Christ came into the world to establish the rule of God on earth as it was in heaven. That was central to Christ’s message, since the kingdom was on His lips some 100 times in the Gospels. That’s the centerpiece of the gospel.

What? Are you serious, Scott!

What about 1 Timothy 1:15? What about John 3:16? What about the cross? What about the blood shed at the cross? What about forgiveness of sin? Are you really trying to leave this stuff out and tell me its about some kingdom up there coming to earth?

Hold your horses. Those are important factors of the gospel, indeed, outside of the statement that the kingdom is somehow ‘up there’ and trying to come ‘down here’. But I would say such realities are a result of the gospel of the kingdom. They were instrumental because the rule of God had come with Messiah. But let me take up that premise in my next article.

What Is The Gospel? (Part 1)

I have been wanting to do a short series along the lines of such a topic as this – What Is The Gospel? But, with many other things on ‘the list’, I have set it aside for quite a while.

Now, such a title to an article seems simple, right? ‘The gospel is simple, Scott. Don’t muddle it up,’ I say to myself.

Well, I would answer yes and no.

What I mean is that I believe the gospel is to be simple, not overloaded with rules and regulations, nor even certain systematic theological understandings that one must hold to if they truly believe and understand the gospel. Rather, we need to simply communicate the truth that God meant when He meant the gospel.

But I say, ‘No,’ as well because I believe most people (Christians included) do not fully understand what God meant when He meant the gospel.

To further explain, when people look to ‘present’ the gospel, they usually sum it up with passages such as John 3:16 or a smattering of verses from Romans. Now, while I believe such passages can be helpful, and even important, I am not sure you can simply take the ‘Romans Road’ to help fully explain the gospel. Though it’s simple, it’s just not that simple, at least if we want a more holistic understanding of the gospel that Jesus and the first Christians proclaimed and taught.

Most of us know that the word gospel, in its most basic form, means ‘good news’. And, the gospel is good news! If we don’t believe we have good news, and many believe God’s called us to believe some miserable message, then we don’t really believe the gospel that Jesus came to announce and those first empowered Christians subsequently took to the ends of the great Roman empire. It’s absolutely astounding news!

So, that’s a good place to start in understanding the gospel – it is good news.

Still, I believe there is more to this than just trying to explain the linguistics of a word that has lost some, maybe most, of its meaning with us. That’s why I am not sure this is so ‘simple’. And so I hope to clarify more fully what I believe the gospel is.

Now I must confess I don’t know how all of these articles will shape out. I, in my left-brained approach to much of life, usually like to chart things out. Thus, with blogging, I usually know how many articles I will take to lay out my thoughts and what will be addressed in each post. But I am not that planned at this point. And that’s fine (as if you are bothered by this). But I still know I have a passion to pen (or type) some things explaining what the gospel really is, what the good news really is.

So, stick with me over the next week or two (or more). I will probably throw out other articles in the midst about other topics (especially some book reviews, as I have a stack sitting on my desk I would like to share some thoughts about). But, in all, I hope to somewhat bring our ‘prodigal thoughts’ back to what really is the gospel, at least what God meant when He meant the gospel.

So, what is the gospel? Stay tuned……