What the Bible says about
Gospel of the Kingdom of God
(From Forerunner Commentary)
God's freeing of the Israelites from their bondage and His use of them in the journey to the Promised Land and in the Promised Land were for an entirely different purpose than salvation at that time. Ultimately, the experiences these people had will stand them in good stead.
Of course, God certainly did not use them for the purpose of abuse. He was causing Moses, primarily, and others to reflect on those experiences in the wilderness so that they would write them down under God's inspiration, supplying us with an accurate record to consult and come to understand the purpose of God, be humbled by it, and have the right perspective on salvation.
For this reason, He never gave the Israelites the Spirit of God. No salvation was really offered to them—no forgiveness of sin, no invitation to join God's Family. They did not even have access to Him. They were, in a sense, actors on a stage; God was moving them about so that a record would be left for us: the Bible. When they are resurrected in the second resurrection (see Ezekiel 37:1-14), they can look back on the record, hit themselves in the forehead, and say, "Now I see!" The scales will be removed at that time.
Nevertheless, He never gave them His Spirit and never really revealed to them what He was doing with their lives. Thus, they reacted to their circumstances as human beings would normally react without the miracle of His Spirit being performed on them, opening up their minds and revealing what His purpose is all about.
In Hebrews 4:2, Paul reflects that God preached the gospel to these people, or at least a gospel that pertained to them. They heard a "good news," yet because it was not mixed with faith, it did them no good. All through the wilderness trek and on to their deaths, neither they nor their relationship with God improved in any way. If anything, as Hebrews 3:17 declares, they deteriorated as they went along.
John W. Ritenbaugh
We Are Unique!
Jesus came to this earth as a Messenger from God the Father: "'Behold, I send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple, even the Messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight. Behold, He is coming,' says the LORD of hosts" (Malachi 3:1). Two messengers are mentioned in this verse. The first is John the Baptist, who prepared the way for the second Messenger, "the Messenger of the covenant," Jesus Christ.
It is helpful to understand that, as Messenger, He did not speak His own words. John 8:38-42 combined with John 12:49-50 confirms this. Thus, the message He brought is notprimarily about Himself but about the good news of the Kingdom of God that the Father ordained to be announced on earth. This does not discount Jesus in any way because He is clearly the most important person ever to inhabit this earth. Rather, it emphasizes the fact that the gospel Jesus preached is not just about Himself.
The inspired Word of God makes it quite clear that the good news Jesus brought is about the Kingdom of God. Mark 1:14-15 is typical: "Now after John 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.'" Luke 8:1 shows that proclaiming this good news was His customary activity, "Now it came to pass, afterward, that Jesus went through every city and village, preaching and bringing glad tidings of the kingdom of God." He says plainly in Luke 4:43 that this was His appointed task: "I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also: because for this purpose I have been sent."
Even in those last days before He ascended to heaven and the church was born, He used His time with the disciples to teach the same message. ". . . to [the apostles] He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God" (Acts 1:3).
Jesus was not alone in preaching the gospel of the Kingdom of God. He charged His disciples with this responsibility, and they followed through as commanded. "Then He called His twelve disciples together and . . . He sent them to preach the kingdom of God . . ." (Luke 9:1-2). Later, others like the evangelist Philip joined in this effort: "But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized" (Acts 8:12).
Just in case one might think the apostle Paul preached a different gospel, he himself states in his farewell to the Ephesian elders, "And indeed, now I know that you all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, will see my face no more" (Acts 20:25). As Paul reached the end of his life, Acts 28:30-31 states of him, "Then Paul dwelt two whole years in his own rented house, and received all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him."
One final reference, Galatians 1:8-9, is pertinent to this important issue:
But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.
The Father's message, purposely given to Jesus to deliver to mankind, had already been corrupted just a few decades after Christ's death, and the Galatians had been deceived into believing the corrupted one! Similarly, the gospel Jesus Christ brought has been corrupted in modern times. Rather than focusing on the coming Kingdom of God, the message being palmed off in our day primarily focuses on the Messenger.
Without a doubt, within the context of the message, Jesus is important as God in the flesh, our sinless Savior, and our resurrected High Priest. However, the message He preached focuses on other important issues besides Himself. If this were not so, why did God not title the message with something focusing directly on Jesus? God intends the title "gospel of the Kingdom of God" to fix our attention on the issue He wants to be the focus of our lives after we are called and converted, since it is the only hope for the resolution of mankind's numerous and presently unsolvable problems. The Kingdom of God is of such importance that, once we grasp the essence of its instruction, we can honestly say, without exaggeration, that it is the theme of the entire Bible.
Spiritual resurrection into the Kingdom of God is held out as the goal of those making the New Covenant with God. A covenant contains requirements that are to be met by both parties entering into it. Will those of us who have done so escape the responsibility to make efforts to live up to the New Covenant's terms comparable to those required of Israelites under the Old Covenant? Many - those who say that no works are required of Christians - believe so.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Is the Christian Required To Do Works? (Part Five)
When Jesus Christ was on earth, He preached the gospel of the Kingdom of God (Matthew 4:23; 9:35; Mark 1:14-15). However, something foundational happened before He began preaching the gospel and performing the various miracles that showed He was from God. Something essential happened before He could preach and perform works as a man. We can find what this was in John 10:36-38:
. . . do you say of Him whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, "You are blaspheming," because I said, "I am the Son of God"? If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that you may know and believe that the Father is in Me, and I in Him.
The key element appears in verse 36. Jesus says that He was sanctified before He was sent into the world. He was set apart in order to do all that He did, and that certainly includes the preaching of the gospel. His three-and-a-half-year ministry was the result of the sanctifying done by the Father.
The gospel accounts are overflowing with statements by Christ that show that all of His words and actions had their source in the Father. His preaching of the gospel is no exception. The content of His message and the power to proclaim it both came from the Father.
Jesus testifies in Luke 4:18 that He was "anointed" to preach the gospel to the poor, another way of saying that He was set apart. He says that He could do nothing of Himself, but only what He saw the Father do (John 5:19, 30). He declares that the works He did bore witness that the Father had sent Him, meaning He was being directed by the Father (John 5:36-37; 8:18). He asserts that He could do nothing of Himself, but He could speak only as the Father taught Him and of what He had seen while He was with the Father (John 8:28, 38). He states that He did not speak on His own authority, but that the Father commanded Him in what He should speak (John 12:49).
John the Baptist demonstrates this same principle when saying, "A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven" (John 3:27).
All of these statements set the stage for understanding Christ's preaching. When Jesus went about preaching the gospel, saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel" (Mark 1:14-15), the only reason it had any effect is because He had been sanctified—set apart—by the Father to do this.
When Jesus said that it was the Father who was actually doing the works, the preaching of the gospel was one of them (John 10:32; 14:10). This means that, regardless of what human instrument God uses or what method He employs, the reality is that it is God who preaches the gospel! If He is not the Source of everything, as He was for Jesus, then it is a work of man and not of God, and "the weary workers toil in vain" (Psalm 127:1, paraphrase).
It actually does not take anything miraculous to know what the true gospel is or to speak the words. In fact, when Jesus sent the disciples out to preach the gospel, they did not even have the Holy Spirit! They were not even really converted yet, though they had been called. Even so, if something is going to be accomplished, it will be as a result of God's sanctification, which the disciples had. That is the consistent biblical pattern.
The bottom line, then, is that the gospel is not preached through human effort or human will. It is proclaimed through submission to God's leadership. If submission to God is absent, the works that God desires will not be produced. If men go outside God's will—however well-intentioned they may be—their words, to borrow from Shakespeare, may as well be the proverbial "tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."
David C. Grabbe
'This Gospel of the Kingdom Shall Be Preached'
When the gospel of the coming Kingdom of God is preached in all the world as a witness (Matthew 24:14), the ears that hear it are not always receptive of this priceless knowledge. In the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:3-8, 19-23; Mark 4:3-9, 14-26; Luke 8:4-8, 11-15), Jesus reveals why, using three component elements: the sower, the seed, and the soils.
This parable describes what happens after the seed is sown, the different types of soils on which it falls, and the resultant effects. The parable's focus is not on the sower as much as on the various soils. Nevertheless, the sower—Jesus Christ (Matthew 13:37)—is not incidental, for without Him there could be no sowing and thus no possibility of fruit being produced.
Martin G. Collins
Parable of the Sower
To understand Jesus' command, we need to examine some other things that He said to the same people. We should also determine just whom He commissioned to preach the gospel in all the world. Many today believe that God divinely commissioned everyone who has ever heard or read this command to "witness for Christ" and make converts for his religion.
To whom did Jesus issue this command? Only to the eleven disciples (Matthew 28:16-19; Mark 16:14-15)! "And they went out and preached everywhere. . ." (Mark 16:20). These eleven disciples became Jesus' apostles, just as Jesus Himself was His Father's apostle (Hebrews 3:1-2). An "apostle" is one personally commissioned to deliver a message to someone else. Christ was sent with a message from His Father, and He, in turn, sent these eleven to convey the same message to yet other people! The message is the good news of the Kingdom of God (Mark 1:14-15).
'Go Ye Therefore Into All the World...'
What is the gospel—the "good news"? "Just believe on the name of Jesus and you will be saved" is a common message of many preachers. Others proclaim that the gospel is that Jesus came to die for our sins. Still others preach a rather insipid and saccharine "Jesus loves you" message. All of those catchy phrases have relevance to Jesus' message—we certainly must believe in Jesus, He did die for our sins, and He surely loves us—but nowhere does Jesus directly state that the gospel is about Him!
Instead, the good news is about a momentous purpose that God is accomplishing. Jesus spoke the words that the Father gave Him to preach, most emphatically confirmed in John 12:49-50:
For I have not spoken on My own authority; but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak. And I know that His command is everlasting life. Therefore whatever I speak, just as the Father has told Me, so I speak.
What is Jesus' own testimony about the subject of His preaching? Notice these verses:
» Matthew 4:23: "And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people."
» Matthew 24:14: "And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come."
» Luke 4:43: "[Jesus] said to them, 'I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, because for this purpose I have been sent.'"
» Luke 16:16: "The law and the prophets were until John. Since that time, the Kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is pressing into it."
Jesus' announcement of the good news is that the Father will establish His Kingdom and His capital city on earth. He Himself will be here, no longer separated from His children—no longer unseen and ruling indirectly through agents from His present location in heaven but ruling directly on earth. It is to this awesome, mind-boggling future that we, as a part of His Family, are being summoned to prepare for and to participate directly in.
Jesus is certainly mankind's Savior, having died for our sins, but to be properly understood, that event must be seen within the context of preparation for and the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth. A kingdom has four basic elements: a king, a territory it occupies, subjects within that territory, and laws through which the will of the ruler is exercised. Each of these elements is part of the gospel.
Has the founder of any other religion offered a message and program that can even begin to match what Jesus taught? This is truly the most wonderful message mankind could possibly receive, and it came only through Jesus.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Where Is God's True Church Today?
Though many today conclude that the essence of Christianity is the forgiveness of sins or the wonder of God's love, a considered reading of the gospels reveals that Christ's message centered on the Kingdom of God (or the Kingdom of Heaven). His ministry began with preaching repentance and the good news of the Kingdom (Matthew 4:17, 23; 9:35; Luke 4:43; 9:11; Acts 1:3).
His forerunner, John the Baptist, preached the same basic message (Matthew 3:1-2), as did the apostles (Matthew 10:7; Luke 9:2, 60; Acts 8:12). The Kingdom theme accompanied Paul on his travels (Acts 14:22; 19:8; 20:25; 28:23, 31) and lights up his epistles (Romans 14:17; I Corinthians 4:20; 6:9-10; 15:50; Colossians 4:11; I Thessalonians 2:12). Though Christianity comprises many principles, the essence of Christ's message is the Kingdom of God. Grasping God's purpose for humanity begins with comprehending the Kingdom.
The same Greek word for “kingdom,” basileia, is used in all these references, and its basic meaning is “dominion.” However, the Bible's writers do not always speak of the divine Kingdom in the same way, so understanding the Kingdom of God depends on recognizing its different applications.
A common usage of basileia is future-oriented: The great hope of true Christians is Christ's return to bear rule over the earth (Revelation 11:15; Daniel 2:44).
The Kingdom of God is also a present spiritual reality, such that those God calls in this age are figuratively translated into that Kingdom (Ephesians 2:6; Colossians 1:13), even as they live out their lives in, but not of, the world. God has dominion over the church, making it a component—though not the fullness—of the Kingdom of God now.
A third usage of basileia refers to Christ Himself as the King of His Kingdom, such as when He told the Pharisees that the Kingdom of God was in their midst (see Luke 17:21).
Basileia is used in yet another, often-overlooked way that is necessary to understand a large measure of Christ's ministry. This disregarded usage appears most clearly in the Parable of the Wicked Vinedressers (Matthew 21:33-44). At the end of the parable, Jesus says, “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it” (verse 43; emphasis ours). This refers not to the future establishment of Christ's Kingdom on earth, but to a dominion then in existence.
Jesus considered the chief priests, the elders, and the Pharisees part of God's Kingdom, and also certified that they would have the Kingdom taken from them. They, like tenant-farmers, had a measure of responsibility over that national Kingdom because of their leadership positions within it. They wielded religious power that Jesus acknowledged (Matthew 23:2-3), which had its source in God (Romans 13:1).
In the Parable of the Wicked Vinedressers, the vineyard is the Kingdom of God, and the vinedressers are those tasked with attending to it. Jesus prophesied that stewardship would be transferred because the original caretakers had proven themselves unfaithful. Psalm 80:8-19 also represents the Kingdom of Israel as a vineyard (as does Isaiah 5:1-7), and the shared symbol confirms that the Kingdom of Israel was the Kingdom of God at that time, though not in its fullness. This fourth usage of basileia is found in a number of Christ's least understood parables, particularly those in Matthew 13.
David C. Grabbe
God's Kingdom in the Parables (Part One)
The gospel Jesus proclaimed is focused on the Kingdom of God. In fact, Jesus' own words bear this out: Only once does He modify the word "gospel," and He does so with the phrase "of the kingdom." In accordance with their Savior's usage of the term, Matthew, Mark, and Luke call it nothing other than this. In several other places, Jesus speaks of "preaching the kingdom of God" to the people.
The Kingdom of God is a huge subject in itself, but its basic meaning whittles down to God's dominion, rule, governance, or realm. In many places in the Gospels, such as His parables (Matthew 13) and the Olivet Prophecy (Matthew 24-25), Jesus points to a future establishment of God's Kingdom on the earth. Notice Matthew 16:27: "For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works."
On the other hand, the Kingdom of God is now ruling over those whom God has called (Colossians 1:13), though they have not yet inherited or entered it fully because they are still flesh (I Corinthians 15:50). The called and chosen await the return of Christ at the last trumpet when He will change their mortal, corrupt, physical bodies into immortal, incorruptible spirit bodies like His (I Corinthians 15:51-52; Philippians 3:20-21; I Thessalonians 4:14-17; I John 3:2).
Thus, the Kingdom of God has both present and future implications. It is a present reality in a spiritual sense for those who believe the gospel in that God rules over them already. As such, they are subject to all the laws and responsibilities being part of God's Kingdom entails. When Christ returns and sets up His government on earth, the gospel will have prepared them for rulership with Him (Revelation 19:7-8). They are presently watching for, praying for, and expecting its fullness at any time (Matthew 24:32-44).
As a future event, the Kingdom of God implies that the gospel concerns itself with prophecy as well. Though many biblical prophecies predicted the coming of Jesus Christ as a Man to die as our Savior, many more prophecies concern His second coming as King of kings and Lord of lords. The Christian hope revolves around the belief that He will come again, put down all rebellion against Him, grant eternal life to His saints, and establish a Millennium of peace, prosperity, and spiritual growth for surviving humanity. The gospel includes this message of a future utopia.
What we see, then, is that "the gospel of the Kingdom of God" is a general term that covers more than just an announcement of God's Kingdom. It contains the teaching about the soon-coming establishment of God's government on the earth, as well as its present rule over those God has called. It includes instruction for preparing the elect for their responsibilities in His Kingdom, particularly regarding character development in God's image. In a way, "the gospel of the Kingdom of God" is an umbrella term that encompasses the entire revelation of God to man in the Bible. Paul calls this "the whole counsel of God" in Acts 20:27.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The True Gospel (Part 4)
Is there any doubt in our minds that we are within striking range of the return of Jesus Christ? The gospel of Jesus Christ has been preached for almost two thousand years, and prophecies made by Him and others regarding His return are being fulfilled. The crisis at the close is almost upon us. Mankind's only hope is revealed in the gospel, yet we find great ignorance regarding what His good news is.
The complete secularization of the Western, "Christian" world is almost accomplished, and doctrinal confusion abounds. It seems as though the vast number of professing Christians believe that all one must do is believe in the name of Jesus Christ to be saved. This is most certainly required, but Jesus Himself says in Mark 1:15 that one must believe in the gospel in order to be saved.
That is quite a bit different than merely believing in Jesus. While it is definitely true that Jesus died for our sins, the true gospel provides a great deal more instruction regarding Christianity and its purpose than solely Jesus' part in our salvation. It reveals that a Christian must play an active part in the spiritual creation that God is working in and through men.
One of the more effective deceptions Satan has palmed off on mankind is that all God is attempting to do is to "save" people. Most Christians somehow fail to think of God and His Son, Jesus Christ, as actively involved in doing something more with those who are converted.
Consider this process, which most people believe: At some time in his life, the "saved" one had perceived the need to be forgiven of his sins. He then asked God to forgive him, and from that point on, because of Christ's blood, he was "saved." Is this true? Though this illustration has been simplified a great deal, it is nevertheless close to the prevalent belief.
We will add a biblical fact to that scenario. Almost all Bible commentators hold that the Israelite's experience of walking through the wilderness following Israel's release from bondage to Egypt is a type of a Christian's walk following his conversion. Walking is typical of laboring or working to reach an objective.
Did the Israelites arrive in the Promised Land - a type of the Kingdom of God - immediately upon release from their bondage? No! They had ahead of them a forty-year journey filled with trials. As they journeyed, God worked with them and supplied their needs, preparing them for their inheritance. Release from Egypt only began another aspect of God's work with them. To reach their objective, a great deal of labor lay ahead of them.
We all need to come to grips with the reality that our Creator is a God who works. He is not merely observing mankind, or worse still, having gone way off somewhere in the vastness of the universe, letting things run more or less on their own. Jesus says in John 5:17, "My Father has been working until now, and I have been working." More plainly, the Father began working in the indefinite past and has continued working right up till now. God is not sitting around passively saving people.
In Psalm 74:12, notice the psalmist Asaph's revelation of what God is doing: "For God is my King from of old, working salvation in the midst of the earth." The salvation of human beings requires God to work, yet some seem to think that all He does is as simple as turning a "forgiveness switch," and the person is saved. However, in various places both the Father and the Son are called "Saviors." It ought to be apparent that saving a person from circumstances he needs deliverance from requires a savior to work. If a deliverer or savior does not make a strenuous effort, the one in need of rescue will not be saved.
Jesus testified that the Father was working at that very moment. The Bible provides abundant records of Jesus, our Savior, working on behalf of mankind: teaching, counseling, praying, healing, setting the example for His disciples, and obeying His Father flawlessly in order to be the sacrifice for the forgiveness of our sins. Further, He says in John 14:10, "Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works." Jesus thus shows the Father to be His partner in His ministry.
In addition, when Jesus rose from the grave and ascended to heaven, He was made Head of the Church, as well as its High Priest. As such, He is responsible to the Father for working with the members of His Body, interceding on our behalf. He thus bears great responsibility for the salvation of its individual members and the success of the church as a whole. These vital tasks require His careful attention, especially as events near the crisis at the close of the age.
The conclusion is obvious: The work of God abounds with works for all concerned in seeking the objective He has set before us in His purpose. That objective is the Kingdom of God.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Is the Christian Required To Do Works? (Part Five)
Not only does Christ come to announce the soon-coming Kingdom of God, in particular to those whom God calls, but also to prepare the elect for their spiritual responsibilities now and in the Kingdom.
Repentance is a prerequisite for belief. What is repentance? Its basic meaning is to change the mind. Once a person hears the gospel and is convicted that his way of life is wrong, he must alter his present behavior and "bear fruits worthy of repentance" (Matthew 3:8).
The fruits of repentance are visible actions—often called "works"—that show that a person has indeed changed. When John the Baptist preached repentance to prepare the way for Jesus' ministry, his audience asked him what they should do to repent. He answered: Clothe the naked, feed the hungry, do not steal, do not use one's authority to oppress, do not lie or accuse falsely, and be content with one's wages (Luke 3:10-14). In general, these actions are either showing love for one's neighbor or obeying God's laws.
Jesus says, "If you want to enter into [eternal] life, keep the commandments" (Matthew 19:17). Later, when asked what are the greatest commandments, Jesus answered, "'You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart. . . .' And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself'" (Matthew 22:36-40). When we put all these things together, bearing fruits worthy of repentance is simply living as God does!
Believing the gospel is closely related to having faith. When one believes something, he has faith, trust, confidence, that it is true. This confidence leads him to begin to act in accordance with what he believes, and the result is obedience to it or following it. Notice how the apostle Paul shows this in Romans 10:8-10:
But what does [Scripture] say? "The word is near you, even in your mouth and in your heart" (that is, the word of faith which we preach): that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes to righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made to salvation.
Verse 10 provides the balance to verse 9. It is not enough just to confess Jesus verbally and believe in the resurrection as an intellectual exercise. Paul explains that heartfelt belief leads to righteousness, which is simply right doing or godly behavior. Faith, then—living faith (II Corinthians 5:7)—is trusting God's Word and doing it, even in the face of hardship, sacrifice, the contrary opinions of friends and family, or even death. The author of Hebrews, likely Paul, commends the "Heroes of Faith" to us for just these reasons (Hebrews 11).
Thus, Jesus' urgent command for us to repent and believe the gospel provides us with the negative and positive sides of a single, godly action. He tells us to rid ourselves of the evil we have been doing ("repent") and to begin doing what God expects of those to whom He has revealed His way of life ("believe"). This will lead to righteousness and salvation and—God promises—entrance into His Kingdom (II Peter 1:2-11)!
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The True Gospel (Part 5)
Where did Christ's message originate? Jesus spoke only what His Father in heaven told Him to speak! Thus, our Messiah, Jesus Christ, was a Messenger from God the Father, bringing the message of God's plan for all mankind, the message of the New Covenant (Malachi 3:1). The gospel of God, the gospel of Jesus, and the gospel of the Kingdom are the same gospel! It originated in God, was proclaimed by His Son, and tells of the coming rule of God and our part in it!
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The True Gospel
Even after Jesus died, He could not wait to get back and tell them more and more about the Kingdom of God, which then He was sending them out to preach. It almost seems as if He was not quite finished telling them everything by the time He died, so He appeared to them during forty days time to give them further instruction. If we could say such of Him, He was "obsessed" with—driven by—the idea of preaching the Kingdom of God. He instilled that "obsession" in His apostles, as we see in spades in the apostle Paul.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
These verses tie several things together. II Timothy 1:9 says that God's purpose began before time. Could God plan His awesome purpose without an end result in view? Would He name His message of salvation after something that was going to happen in the middle, or would He name it after the goal toward which He was working?
Peter calls God's purpose "the restoration of all things," another descriptive phrase for the good news of the Kingdom of God. God will put the Kingdom of God on earth, governing through His law. These verses explain not only the end toward which God is moving, but also that God has been prophesying of this since the world began. God too is looking toward the goal.
God's purpose began before time, but He has revealed this purpose to mankind since at least the days of Enoch, who lived long before Noah. In Jude, Enoch is quoted as saying, "Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of His saints" (Jude 14). We must take God's word at face value: From the beginning He has prophesied of the culmination of His purpose.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Guard the Truth!
It is quite plain what the apostles preached (Acts 8:12; 19:8; 20:25; 28:23, 31). They preached the Kingdom of God with the same zeal as their Master, who had given them the example. To those who have ears to hear, it is clear that the gospel of the Kingdom is the gospel. Otherwise, why did Christ not call it something else?
Every time the word gospel appears—if Jesus qualifies the word at any point—it is always "of the Kingdom of God" or "of the Kingdom of heaven." That is what He preached! He preached the coming of a great Kingdom that would turn this world upside down and establish His Father's rule over all things.
That is what He lives for—and I use the present tense purposely. He still lives for it! He is just anxious to come back and finish His work—this time as King of kings and Lord of lords with the authority to make real changes. This is the same gospel—the same message—that His ministry must teach. We must preach the Kingdom of God.
We know that grace, peace, salvation, and Christ's life and example are certainly part of that preaching, but the primary thrust is the Kingdom of God. Our hope of being resurrected and changed to be part of that Kingdom, and all of the things that come with it, will all come about because the gospel of the Kingdom is the focus. This is how God works through human, physical, fleshly people. He gives them the gospel, and He sends them out. It must be preached, for by it salvation comes (Romans 1:16).
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
1 Corinthians 2:2
First, notice that Paul does not say the only thing he would preach was Christ and the crucifixion, as some have assumed; he says the only thing he would know among the Corinthians was Christ, the One crucified. The Amplified Bible renders it this way: "For I resolved to know nothing (to be acquainted with nothing, to make a display of the knowledge of nothing, and to be conscious of nothing) among you except Jesus Christ (the Messiah) and Him crucified."
Looking at the audience (the people of Corinth were Greek) and the verses preceding this one, it is clear that Paul's intent is not to be distracted by extraneous topics that the Corinthians might have been more inclined to listen to. His statement in verse 2 ties back to two different themes before it:
For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe's household, that there are contentions among you. Now I say this, that each of you says, "I am of Paul," or "I am of Apollos," or "I am of Cephas," or "I am of Christ." Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? (I Corinthians 1:11-13)
At the beginning of the letter, we see that Corinth seemed to be more focused on the human leadership than on the Messiah. Paul's statement in I Corinthians 2:2 gives an answer to this. He says, in effect, "I'm not going to be focused on myself, or on any other servant of God; I'm going to be focused on God Himself."
The second theme starts in I Corinthians 1:18 and goes through the end of the chapter. Paul is addressing something else the Corinthians were dealing with: The Greeks are renowned for their love of human wisdom, philosophy, metaphysics, and debate, as well as a religious system of multiple gods and goddesses. To such a mindset, the fact that a God would not only submit Himself to a lower (human) form, but also die for the very people He created, was unthinkable! This is why Paul says in I Corinthians 1:23, "But we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumblingblock and to the Greeks foolishness." The God of Christianity, and the whole Christian system, did not make any sense to the Greek philosophers, intellectuals, and theologians.
Paul contrasts the Greek ideals, which were largely humanist, with the godly ideals. In I Corinthians 1:26-29 Paul shows that God is not interested in what the Greeks (or mankind in general) were interested in; instead, He called the weak, the base, the foolish things of this world to confound the wise, the mighty, the noble - those that the Greek world certainly would have been holding in high esteem. Paul continues this thought in I Corinthians 2:1, where he says he did not come to the Corinthians with "excellency of speech" or "wisdom" - again, things the Greeks regarded highly. Instead, as verse 2 says, he came to "know" Christ among them and Him crucified.
It is evident from Paul's letters to the Corinthian church, as well as his other writings, that the life and death of Christ were not his only topics. I Corinthians 5 explains the defilement of immorality. Chapter 6 deals with working things out among the brethren rather than taking matters to a civil court. Chapter 7 contains principles of marriage. Chapter 8 covers not defiling the conscience. Chapter 9 speaks of service and self-denial. It is easy to see that Paul wrote on a great deal more than just the life and death of Jesus Christ - they were just the starting point for his instruction. With Christ's sinless life and willing self-sacrifice comes remission of our sins, and justification - being brought into alignment with God and His inexorable law. Once we have been forgiven and have entered into the New Covenant, our responsibility becomes focusing on the Christian walk and conforming our life to the life of Christ. This is where all of Paul's instructions on "Christian living" come into play.
The ultimate reason for this is that the gospel message is not just about our forgiveness of sins through Christ's sacrifice. The gospel is also about the soon-coming Kingdom and government of God. The scriptural evidence that the Kingdom is a foundational part of the gospel is overwhelming:
In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!" (Matthew 3:1-2)
From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Matthew 4:17)
And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people. (Matthew 4:23-24)
For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:18-20)
But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. (Matthew 6:33)
Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. (Matthew 7:21)
Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people. (Matthew 9:35)
The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear! (Matthew 13:41-43)
And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come. (Matthew 24:14)
Now after John 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." (Mark 1:14-15)
This is just a small sample from Matthew's account (with an additional verse from Mark to demonstrate what Christ preached) - and it does not even include the parables, the vast majority of which were about the Kingdom!
Paul also wrote a considerable amount about the Kingdom, even to the Corinthian church (I Corinthians 4:20; 6:9-11; 15:20-25; 15:50; Galatians 5:19-21; Ephesians 5:5; II Thessalonians 1:3-5; II Timothy 4:1-2; Hebrews 12:28-29). James also spoke of inheriting the Kingdom in his epistle (James 2:5), as did Peter (II Peter 1:10-11).
In the face of all of this evidence, it is clear that the soon-coming Kingdom of God, which will be ruled by Jesus Christ on earth (Zechariah 14:3-5, 9; Matthew 5:5, Revelation 5:10; 20:4-6), was certainly a significant part of what Jesus Christ preached, as well as what Paul wrote about. The gospel is not about Christ or the Kingdom; it is about both. It is the good news that a relationship is available with our Creator, on the basis of a sinless life sacrificed on our behalf, but that is only the beginning. The Kingdom is what we are striving for - living eternally with God, and as He lives - but it is evident that not all will make it into the Kingdom. Men have rejected, and continue to reject, the law of the King, and in doing so they signify that they do not want to be ruled by God (Romans 8:7). The perfect work that Christ did is really just the starting point. It allows for the relationship with God to start, but it also obligates us to respond to God in submission and obedience. God is not going to have someone in His Kingdom who will not be ruled by Him! It is our responsibility to begin living now as we will be living in the Kingdom.
This is why Christ and John the Baptist specifically link repentance with the Kingdom of God. Repentance is a wholehearted turning from the ways and acts which caused our Lord to have to be crucified. The first part of repentance is determining what sin is: "Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law" (I John 3:4, KJV). It is our transgression of the law which caused Christ to have to die for us. Now that our sins have been forgiven, are we free to live in sin (iniquity, lawlessness) again? "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin [shall we continue to transgress the law] that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?" (Romans 6:1-2). Part of our obligation is to determine from God's Word what is the right way to live, the way that is in alignment with God and not enmity against Him (Romans 8:7). God has codified this right way to live in His law; it is up to us to follow through with it!
To focus only on the crucifixion of Christ, to the exclusion of His teachings and examples, as well as the instructions contained in the rest of the Book, is to fail to understand the depth of what God is doing. To leave Christ hanging on the cross, as it were, is to emphasize our forgiveness above what is then required of us.
David C. Grabbe
The apostle Paul opens his epistle to the Galatian Christians with stern criticism. Written in the early AD 50s, this book describes a situation occurring in the church not even twenty years after Christ's death! In less than two decades, Jesus' message had been perverted to something that, to Paul, no longer announced "good tidings."
The specifics of this Galatian perversion are not important in this context, but the principle that we can derive from it is: Any alteration, any shift of focus, from Jesus' original announcement changes the message from one of good to bad news. A change in the gospel changes its goal, which means believers will arrive some place other than the Kingdom of God! How vital it is that we follow the true gospel of God!
The church of God has the same source of Christ's gospel as the rest of the "Christian" world, the Holy Bible. Why, then, is the gospel we preach so different from the Protestant and Catholic gospels? There could be many answers to this question, but every one boils down to one point, mentioned by Jesus in Mark 1:15: We "believe in the gospel" He preached. We believe time is short. We believe that Christ will establish the Kingdom of God soon. We believe that we should repent and do so as a way of life. We believe Christ's message by living it in faith.
Other churches may say they also believe and live in faith. Do they? Jesus says in Matthew 7:16, "You will know them by their fruits." This is the easiest way to spot those who follow a false gospel:
» Do they try to live by every word of God?
» Do they tremble before God's Word?
» Do they keep God's commandments (all of them)?
» Do they repent of and strive to overcome their failings?
» Do they show a steady growth in character?
» Do they focus on the Kingdom of God?
» Do they prioritize their lives with God first?
» Do they focus their teaching on the message He proclaimed?
» Do they exhibit genuine love for the brethren?
Depending on our understanding and viewpoint, it is likely that no one person or group will pass or fail all of these questions. "For we all stumble in many things" (James 3:2). However, if we are to judge righteously in the matter of whom we choose to fellowship with, we ourselves need to have a thorough grasp of the true gospel.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The True Gospel (Part 1)
2 Thessalonians 1:7-10
Notice that II Thessalonians 1:8 says that God will take vengeance on those who do not obey the gospel of Jesus Christ. This idea has a strong tie to the book of Revelation, as the gospel of Jesus Christ is the "good news" that He brought. His good news is not primarily about Himself, but rather it is the message that He brought from His Father about the Kingdom of God being established on earth (Malachi 3:1; Matthew 4:23; 9:35; Mark 1:14-15; Luke 4:43; 8:1; 16:16-17). After the gospel is preached in all the world as a witness to all nations (Matthew 24:14), God will be justified in punishing all of those who reject it. The end of this present world will come when God takes vengeance on those who have heard the gospel message—which, at that point, will be everyone alive on earth—but who refuse to repent and submit to God's rule on earth.
The tie to the book of Revelation is that the unveiling of Jesus Christ, when He removes man from governing the earth and takes that responsibility to Himself, is the fulfillment of the gospel message that He brought. When Christ is revealed, the Kingdom of God will be at hand. Revelation fills in the explosive details of how the governments of this world will come under the rulership of God.
Even though the word gospel means "good news," people typically do not think of the book of Revelation as being encouraging or uplifting. For most professing Christians, the gospel that Jesus preached is not good news. They prefer a gospel that is limited to the forgiveness of their sins. When they hear that God's Kingdom includes repentance and obedience to His laws, they cannot tolerate it (Romans 8:7). For those who will not obey the gospel, the book of Revelation is not good news at all, because it foretells their judgment for idolatry and disobedience.
For true Christians, though, this book iswonderful news! It may not be "good" news in the sense of being pleasant, enjoyable, or attractive. Instead, its news contains a zealous, righteous goodness—an active pursuit of what is good for mankind, a deliberate and forceful bringing to pass of those things that will make life good for everyone. The entire creation will rejoice when the present principalities, powers, and broken governments of men are replaced with a King who will powerfully impose all that is good upon a sin-sick world.
David C. Grabbe
What Is the Book of Revelation?
2 Timothy 1:8-9
This verse begins a section introducing Paul's admonition to hold fast what has been entrusted to our care, which he calls "the testimony of our Lord."
What is a testimony? Most commonly, it is used when a person is called upon to give an account of what he witnessed. This, however, is a narrow usage.
In a broader application, Webster says that it means "firsthand authentication of a fact," which is what one is called upon to do in a court trial, to verify a fact. A trial lawyer may ask, "Did you know this person before such and such a date?" The witness then authenticates whether or not this fact is true. Testimony also means "evidence." The lawyer asks, "What did you see?" And then the witness presents his evidence.
But it can also mean "a solemn declaration, an open acknowledgment." This is closer to what Jesus Christ did. He gave an open acknowledgment, a solemn declaration, of a message that He left with mankind. That was the testimony of our Lord, the message of the Messenger. The church knows it as the gospel of the Kingdom of God.
To turn the last clause of this verse into plain English, God began His purpose before time! Not only is the fulfillment of the gospel yet future, its beginning stretches all the way back before time began as human beings look at it. At some point in the distant past before mankind, God's purpose began moving toward completion.
If the gospel began before time, and if it is the essence of future events, then we can logically conclude that God's purpose is not completed! Completion of the purpose, of the good news, is still future. Whatever lies in the future is the goal toward which the purpose is moving, and that goal is the good news. Of course, there will be wonderful and encouraging accomplishments along the way. We could call them benchmarks. Although alone they are good news, it is the culmination of them that is the good news.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Guard the Truth!
Notice that the "promise remains" of entering His rest. This is the subject under discussion. At the time of the writing of Hebrews, the rest had not been attained. Nor has it been attained since. The rest is still in the future. It remains even for Christians today. Paul warns, "lest any of you seem to have come short of it," indicating that though one has received forgiveness, God's Spirit, and gifts of the Spirit, there is still a possibility of falling away. The chance may not be great, but nonetheless, some may fall short of it.
"For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it" (verse 2). During the time of the Exodus, the people of Israel heard a message of good news from Moses. It consisted of redemption from slavery, the Passover, baptism in the Red Sea, and a journey through the wilderness to the Promised Land. The good news, then, included the occurrences of and the knowledge about all the steps along the way, all of the benchmarks. The purpose for which all those events occurred was the most important part. What good was it to have the death angel pass over their house, for them to receive redemption from slavery, if they never made it to the Promised Land? That is Paul's warning. The steps, though vital in themselves, are not as important as the goal.
This warning applies especially to us today. What Jesus Christ did in His life, in His death, and in His resurrection, is awesome, a wonderful and great gift. It is good news that these things have occurred, but they are not the good news. The good news is the goal, and that has not yet occurred. What Jesus Christ did is exceedingly important to the fulfillment of God's purpose, but it is still possible for us to reject the Son of God even after we have accepted His blood for the forgiveness of our sins, as Hebrews 6, 10, and 12 also show very clearly. So in this analogy, life in, possession of and governance of the Promised Land was the culmination, the good news, the fulfillment—at least physically—of the promises to Abraham.
The message that Jesus Christ brought, the gospel, is about the Kingdom of God, the culmination, the goal, the fulfillment. Certainly it includes the knowledge of and information about those benchmarks along the way, but the Kingdom of God is the goal toward which every Christian is aiming.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Guard the Truth!
These verses show that Jesus was not the first of God's agents mentioned in the Bible to preach the gospel of the Kingdom of God. The Bible does not name him directly, but Moses is most likely the one who preached to the Israelites. Did he preach it as he and Aaron were preparing the Israelites to leave Egypt? There is a gap in God's revelation here because it is not terribly important who did it.
We can go further back and suppose that Abraham probably heard the gospel from God Himself as he was preparing to leave his homeland for Canaan. Hebrews 11:10 informs us that Abraham "waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God." That city is the heavenly Jerusalem that will come down from heaven with the Father when He comes to earth (Revelation 21:1-5). This, too, is an aspect of the gospel of the Kingdom of God.
However, the earliest implication of all appears in Genesis 3:15 within God's pronouncement to Satan of His curse for his involvement in Adam and Eve's sin: "And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel."
Early in the New Testament, Matthew 3:2 quotes John the Baptist preaching the gospel, saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!" However, Jesus certainly gave the most expansive and detailed information regarding the gospel's message. Nobody else even comes close. He also clearly gives the message's title in Mark 1:14-15: "Now after John was put into 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 the gospel.'"
John W. Ritenbaugh
Where Is God's True Church Today?
The angel uses an interesting combination of words, to describe the gospel. The gospel is prophetic. He calls the testimony of Jesus, which is the gospel of the Kingdom of God, the spirit of prophecy.
"Spirit" is used in the sense of character, the nature of a thing. The testimony of Jesus is the nature of prophecy. Another English word is better: essence. Perfume is sometimes called an essence, an invisible, but substantive and beautiful fragrance that is its nature.
Essence means "the nature of," like the word character. It also means "the main part, the heart and core of, the real and ultimate nature of a thing." The testimony of Jesus is the real or ultimate nature of prophecy, meaning that all prophecy points toward the conclusion of the gospel. Everything in God's purpose points in that direction.
When prophecies are given, they speak of things that are yet future and unfulfilled. The testimony of Jesus is the very essence, the heart and core, the nature, of these future events. The gospel, whatever its message, is focused on the future. We then cannot relegate the future aspects of the gospel into a low place of importance without destroying the heart and core of the message that Jesus Christ brought.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Guard the Truth!
"Spirit" indicates the vital principle of, the essential nature of, the heart and core of prophecy. In other words, the testimony of Jesus is the heart and core of prophecy. We should not define prophecy too narrowly, because prophecy means either "inspired speaking" (forth-telling) or "foretelling" (predicting). The testimony of Jesus Christ is the heart and core of inspired speaking and writing, as well as predictive speaking or writing.
Jesus' testimony consisted of two things: first, the example that He set in the way that He lived His life and what He did, as well as, second, the words that He spoke, His message. His message is the gospel - the good news of the Kingdom of God, of God's purpose, of why we were born, of Christ dying for our sins, of God reproducing Himself, of His creating us in His image and how He is doing it - and that news is spirit. It is life.
"The testimony of Jesus is the spirit. . . ." The gospel is the spirit, the heart and core, the essence, of the mind of God as it pertains to man. It contains many facets, but what He said is central to everything else in the Bible. Added to it is God's active participation in the actual creation of each potential God-being, watching over His family, molding and shaping His children into what He wants them to become.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Holy Spirit and the Trinity (Part Five)
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