The Story of God’s Kingdom 2

What is the Essence of Jesus’ Message?
The kingdom of God.
The Kingdom of God

How would you summarize the message of Jesus? Take a minute right now and challenge yourself to state it out loud in a single sentence. The specifics of his teachings matter too, of course, but we definitely want to grasp the essence of his message. Doing so will help us follow him more faithfully. So how would you say it?

I usually hear it summed up in terms of love or grace, or sometimes peace. Actually, though, his message is summed up in some different ways in different parts of Scripture, and support could be found for all three of these.

It seems to me, however, that we should place a special premium on the ways Jesus’ message is summed up in the Gospels, since telling us about Jesus is the primary purpose of those books. Sure enough, Mark gives us an actual summary of Jesus’ message near the beginning of his Gospel. It’s not one you hear very often in popular Christianity, but it is inspired by God, and it is powerful and important. It deserves a careful hearing:

“Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel 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 passage is recognized as the theme statement for Jesus’ ministry, and it is extremely helpful to grasping what Jesus was all about. Each phrase is significant.

“Proclaiming the gospel of God.” Jesus did a lot of teaching, but this line emphasizes that he was also making an announcement or proclamation. It was news, and it was favorable. It was good news.

“The time is fulfilled.” This refers back to all those Old Testament prophecies that told of better days to come, mentioned in the previous post. A part of the good news he announced was that God’s set time for bringing those ancient prophecies to fruition had come.

“The kingdom of God is at hand.” This is the specific content of Jesus’ announcement. Jesus described the new age of better times that God had promised as a “kingdom,” which was one of the ways the Old Testament prophecies described it (Daniel 2:44-45). By the first-century, “kingdom” was a very common way for the Jews to describe the work they were looking for God to do.

Biblical scholars and Greek lexicons concur that the word “kingdom” refers primarily to the sovereignty, kingship, and reign of a king (compare Luke 19:11-12 with v. 14). This meaning is also discernible in the parallel phrases, “Your kingdom come, your will be done.” When God’s kingdom comes, his will is done because he is the King. A secondary sense of the word kingdom is the realm in which God’s kingship operates. The realm of God’s kingship is not a territory, however, but is the people who have submitted to him as King.

That the kingdom is “of God” indicates he is the author and the one who would bring it to pass (remember Isaiah 9:7). Matthew (only) sometimes writes kingdom “of heaven” instead of kingdom “of God,” but there is no difference in meaning. Apparently Matthew did this because the Jews, to whom he was writing, tended to avoid referring to God directly.

The last part of the phrase, the kingdom of God is “at hand,” indicates that God’s reign was about to begin. God’s anointed representative, Jesus, had arrived and was setting out to establish God’s kingdom. Later Jesus would say that the kingdom had come, that it was going to come with power, and also that people would enter it at the end of the age. These different ways of describing the kingdom indicate it was to come in stages. But at the beginning of his ministry, the kingdom was at hand or close.

“Repent and believe the gospel.” The appropriate response to God establishing his kingship is to repent. To repent is to change one’s heart, disposition, attitude, and mindset. Real repentance is not a declaration or claim. It is a sincere inward change that produces change in one’s actions as well (Matthew 21:28-32; Acts 26:20). Jesus is crystal clear that repentance is a necessary response to the truth of God’s kingship. He calls us to stop defying God, ignoring him, making empty promises, offering him token or legalistic acts of devotion, or twisting his words to fit our own will. Instead, we must change our outlook and give him absolute fealty and devotion as our King.

Jesus also calls us to “believe in the gospel.” We must resist the tendency to define gospel in this passage as Paul would describe it in his writings thirty-plus years later. Instead, Jesus is calling us to believe the joyful message he was proclaiming, namely, that God was about to establish his kingdom among us. According to the prophecies, God’s kingdom would be good news because God would bring deliverance, mercy, forgiveness, justice, righteousness, joy, and peace and would pour out his Spirit on all. Jesus will show us additional reasons why God’s kingdom is good news.

When we go around the circle at small group or a devotional and ask each person to summarize the message of Jesus, we will get a variety of answers. Mark sent in his answer in advance. His inspired summary of the essence of Jesus’ message is that the time had come for God to bring about better days by ruling people as their king and that we are to repent and believe it. That God is doing this is tremendously good news, but it also makes a significant demand on us. Perhaps that’s why we don’t hear this summary very often. Yet it is stately clearly in Scripture and we need to hear and heed it.

There is good reason for believing Jesus’ announcement of the news about the coming of God’s kingdom is true, and we’ll turn to that next.  But for this week perhaps we could take some time to ponder, What does it mean for me to follow Christ this week based on this summation of Jesus’ message?

Published by Marvin Bryant

After serving as a minister for churches for forty years, Marvin founded the Empowering Subjects to equip subjects of the King to change the world like Jesus did.

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