What Was Jesus' Gospel?
"I must preach the kingdom of God ... because for this purpose I have been sent" (Luke 4:43). ''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).
Jesus began His ministry with these words announcing the Kingdom of God. The time He had in mind to be "fulfilled" was probably a reference to the prophecy in Daniel 9:24-25, where it is said that the Messiah would come 483 years from the decree to rebuild Jerusalem. The year A.D. 27 was when the 483 years specified in the prophecy would end (see "Prophesied: The Exact Year the Messiah Would Appear," page 21). The year 27 is significant because that is the year Jesus began His ministry. He began preaching the message of the Kingdom of God in Galilee.
As we saw in the last chapter, the people and even Christ's own disciples had many misconceptions about the Messiah and His mission. People still misunderstand today, but in a totally different way. Many fail to realize that the future, world-ruling Kingdom prophesied in so many places in the Old Testament was at the heart of Jesus' message and teaching.
A literal kingdom on earth
Most people don't understand that the Kingdom of God is a literal kingdom, a government both divine and royal ruling over literal people on the earth. This is not merely a symbolic or a spiritual rule, a sentiment that exists only in human hearts. As we will see, it is far more. And Jesus simply continued the prophecies about this Kingdom that had begun to be revealed in the Old Testament.
A prophecy of this coming Kingdom is graphically depicted in Daniel 2. In this prophecy the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, was shown an image that represents the major kingdoms or empires that would dominate the Middle East. The image represents first the kingdom of Babylon, and then three successive kingdoms that would rule until the Kingdom of God would be "set up." This Kingdom of God will put an end to the rule of the previous kingdoms.
Notice the description of this final Kingdom, the Kingdom of God, in verse 44: "And in the days of these [final] kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever."
The image Nebuchadnezzar saw represented the successive kingdoms existing from the time of Daniel to the time when the Kingdom of God is established, when they will be destroyed by the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God "shall never be destroyed" and "shall stand forever."
Just as these are literal kingdoms, each with a ruler, government, laws, subjects and territory, so too is the Kingdom of God. Its Ruler will be Jesus Christ (Revelation 11:15). Its government and laws will be the government and laws of God (Isaiah 2:2-4). Its subjects and territory will be all nations of the earth (Daniel 7:14). The Kingdom of God will rule over the whole earth!
Let's notice several of the more well-known prophecies that picture the same Kingdom of which Jesus spoke.
The famous prophecy of Isaiah 9:6-7 describes His rule: "For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever." This is the world kingdom Jesus spoke of that has not yet come!
The prophecy of Isaiah 2 (partially quoted in the last chapter) will be fulfilled at the time of Jesus' return. Notice verses 3-4:
"Many people shall come and say, 'Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths.' For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and rebuke many people; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore."
The Kingdom of God will eradicate war
When Jesus spoke so often of the Kingdom of God, He was simply continuing the message of the Old Testament prophets. Jesus referred often and unmistakably to His return to earth to establish the Kingdom these prophets had foretold. In His most lengthy prophecy, given in response to His disciples' question, "What will be the sign of Your coming and of the end of the age?" (Matthew 24:3), He described the end of the age of human-led governments and the arrival of His divine reign on earth.
He specifically answered the disciples' question in verse 30: "Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory."
Eight times in this chapter alone He speaks of His coming to earth in a far different way than when He arrived the first time. The first time He proclaimed the good news of the Kingdom of God. The second time He will come as its omnipotent ruling King to establish His Kingdom over the entire earth.
"When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand, 'Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world'" (Matthew 25:31-34).
What kingdom is He talking about? The Kingdom of God of which He so often taught! This Kingdom was in planning and preparation "from the foundation of the world." Jesus, "the Son of Man," will be the King of this Kingdom. This is what Jesus came to announce—this was the heart of His message!
Jesus' parable of the talents
Because of misunderstandings of the Kingdom, Jesus gave a parable in which He made it clear His reign would involve a literal kingdom ruling in the physical realm as well as in the spiritual realm.
"Now as they heard these things, He spoke another parable, because He was near Jerusalem and because they thought the kingdom of God would appear immediately" (Luke 19:11). The people were looking for the establishment of the Kingdom of God with Jerusalem as the center of government over the nations, with the Jews being the prominent people of the Kingdom, as the prophets had foretold.
So Jesus explained it this way: "A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and to return" (verse 12). Jesus, the nobleman of the parable, taught that while He was away (in heaven) for an unspecified length of time, His servants would continue where they were (on earth) doing their Lord's business until He returned, when they would be rewarded (verses 13-27). And what is their reward in this parable? It is having authority over cities—physical cities filled with men, women, boys and girls (verses 17, 19).
The parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30 is similar, giving the same kind of message. The basic scenario is the same: "...The kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them" (verse 14).
The reward for those who increased their talents (a denomination of money here symbolic of spiritual means) is being made "ruler over many things" (verses 21, 23). The Kingdom of God when it is established by Jesus Christ at His return will be a literal government, ruling on earth and functioning not only in the spiritual affairs of man, but in his temporal affairs too.
This is the Kingdom that Jesus announced would be coming. And He began to invite some to "repent, and believe in the gospel"—the good news of His message—because "the kingdom of God is at hand" (Mark 1:15). He was now announcing that Kingdom, and they had the opportunity to prepare to be a part of the Kingdom of God at His return.
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