The “Gospel” of The Kingdom!

“After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. ‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!’” (Mark 1.14–15, TNIV).Last week, we took a look at how Luke’s version of the Jesus story begins Jesus’ teaching ministry. This week, I’d like to take a look at how Mark, in his version of the Jesus story, denotes the opening of Jesus’ ministry; I pray it produces for you the paradigm shift that it has for me since I first caught a glimpse of it.

Mark, according to church tradition, is really Peter’s testimony of the events of Jesus’ teaching and healing ministry. Much different from Luke’s, Peter was actually one of the characters within the story. Mark (Peter) gives us a much more straight-to-the-point version. It’s what I call the “skinniest” Jesus story we have. Many details of the story are left to the other three gospel authors.

A word about the gospels, too, that I believe would be wise to keep in mind: Remember, once recorded, each of these documents—which we know were written within the 1st century—were given back to Jesus’ community. This was during a time before the sad history of Constantine and abandonment by Christianity of the ethical teachings of Jesus. This is a time when Christians were not a persecuting majority but still very much a persecuted minority. These communities of believers were dying for believing the story that had been told and retold through oral tradition within their communal gatherings. These new written versions better be the same story because following the person in this story would be costing them their lives. (For more on oral traditions and the historical reliability of the canonical gospels, please see the presentation Why Think This Is True at RenewedHeartMinistries.com.)

Now, let’s get into how Mark (Peter) begins the teaching and healing ministry of Jesus.

“After John was put in prison, Jesus went to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. ‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!’” (Mark 1.14–15).

Let’s break this down by looking at four elements found here:

1) The Time has come!

2) The Kingdom has come!

3) Repent!

4) Believe the euangelion!

The Time Has Come:

The long-awaited day had come. But as we discovered last week, the Messiah prophesied by Isaiah would, contrary to popular belief in Jesus’ day, not be simply delivering Israel from Roman oppression (by inviting them to embrace dying on a cross themselves rather than picking up a sword); the Messiah had come to deliver the entire human race from the oppression of their truest enemy, the Accuser (see Ephesians 6.12; Revelation 12.10).

Remember Jesus’ words that we read last week:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor [the good news that a NEW Kingdom has arrived]. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners [they are set free from the Kingdom of Darkness] and recovery of sight for the blind [through Jesus, we will once again be able to see through the Darkness of Lies that have been perpetrated by the Accuser about God and ourselves], to set the oppressed free [Humanity was about to be set free from the “charges”—see Colossians 2.14–15—being brought against them by the Accuser]” (Luke 4.18).

The Time had come for Humanity to be “rescued from the dominion of darkness and brought into the kingdom of the Son” (Colossians 1.13).

At this stage, it would also be well to remember the words of C. S. Lewis:

“I freely admit that real Christianity . . . goes much nearer to Dualism than people think . . . The difference is that Christianity thinks this Dark Power was created by God, and was good when he was created, and went wrong. Christianity agrees with Dualism that this universe is at war. But it does not think this is a war between independent powers. It thinks it is a civil war, a rebellion, and that we are living in a part of the universe occupied by the rebel” (Mere Christianity).

I know the idea of a “devil” has been abused by many, but as a Jesus’ follower, I cannot escape the reality that Jesus taught not just the existence of a God but also the existence of an enemy.

The Kingdom Has Come:

Remember in the Gospel of Luke, once again, the enemy makes a claim that Jesus does not refute:

“And he [the enemy, after showing Jesus all the kingdoms of this world] said to him [Jesus], ‘I will give you ALL THEIR AUTHORITY and splendor; it [this world] has been given to me [according to the Genesis narrative, by humanity], and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours’” (Luke 4.6–7, emphasis mine).

I find great comfort in the fact that after His death and resurrection, we find Jesus saying:

“Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘ALL AUTHORITY in heaven and ON EARTH has been given to ME. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations’” (Matthew 28.18–19, emphasis mine).

Remember the words of the author of Hebrews:

“Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, THE DEVIL [not an angry God, but the devil!]—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (Hebrews 2.14–15, emphasis mine).

Again, Jesus Himself said, looking at the purpose of His own death:

NOW is the time for judgment on this world [I’m placing new evidence on the table, through my death, to be taken into account when considering ‘why’ Humanity has rebelled. And what will be the result?]; NOW the PRINCE OF THIS WORLD will be DRIVEN OUT” (John 12.31, emphasis mine).

John, one of the original followers of Jesus, shares this perspective on the results of Jesus’ death and resurrection:

“Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: ‘Now have come the salvation and the power and THE KINGDOM of our God, and the authority of his Messiah. For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down’” (Revelation 12.10, emphasis mine).

Even Paul, who was a Pharisee, realized that if God was like Jesus, that changed everything:

“Having CANCELED the charge [being brought against us by the Enemy] of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And HAVING DISARMED THE POWERS AND AUTHORITIES, HE MADE A PUBLIC SPECTACLE OF THEM, TRIUMPHING OVER THEM BY THE CROSS” (Colossians 2.14, emphasis mine).

“Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, [one man sold us into slavery] so also one righteous act resulted in ACQUITTAL [declaration of NOT Guilty—Innocent, Righteous, charges have been dropped, “cancelled,” null and void] and life for all” (Romans 5.18, emphasis mine).

Repent!

The word here used for “repentance” is actually a Roman military term, metanoeo. It was shouted out by commanding officers when they desired the marching soldiers to do an about-face. Jesus is saying, virtually, “You were moving in one direction, following the god of this world, under his kingdom, now, freedom has come! You have been set free! I have come to invite you to turn around and begin following me, and be a part of MY radically different kingdom.” A word of clarification: Metanoe is much less about feeling emotional sorrow and much more about changing life direction. An emotional state of sorrow can be the root of someone’s repentance, but I doubt any of the Roman soldiers really felt sorry for the original direction in which they were moving. When the command was given, they simply turned around. Repentance is much more than simply sorrow; it’s about falling in love with the radical teachings of Jesus and the picture of God He came to reveal. This may lead a person to deep sorrow for the direction their life originally has taken, but metanoeo is much more about moving in a radically different life direction than one was moving before they met Jesus. In other words, metanoeois about heart orientation. It’s about more than simply becoming a “believer” in Jesus but actually of follower of Jesus, His picture of God, and the radical Kingdom He has come to establish.

As a friend of mine says (and I’m fond of quoting this): “The Kingdom of God is centered on one thing: manifesting the beauty of God’s Character. It’s a beautiful revolution. It’s not so much about a list of beliefs as it is a way of life. It’s not about conquering the world for Jesus but humbly and lovingly serving the world like Jesus. It’s not about going to church, but about being the church. It’s not about confessing Jesus, but about loving the world like Jesus” (Gregory Boyd, The Myth of the Christian Religion).

Believe the Good News:

The gospel, according to Jesus, was the good news of the arrival of the Kingdom of God that had come to set free the citizens of God’s kingdom (the human race), those who had been deceived and taken captive by God’s enemy’s kingdom! He had come to establish a kingdom that, subversively, would undo the enemy’s hold.

The gospel is not some theological construct from 16th-century theological arguments surrounding the reformation. Disciples were sent out preaching the gospel before the death of Jesus had actually taken place. I do not mean that the death of Jesus has nothing to do with the gospel—for it was the death of Jesus that delivered us from being captives of God’s enemy’s kingdom—but the Gospel itself is the good news that God’s Kingdom has arrived on planet Earth in the person of Jesus Christ, and has come to set us free from him who held us captive (see Luke 11.21–22). For the disciples, that is. For us, the good news is that God’s Kingdom has arrived and we have been set free from him who held us captive. And the call is then made to embrace the freedom of the Kingdom in its arrival and walk in the gift of that freedom, living like citizens of the NEW Kingdom—the Kingdom of Christ. Remember, Jesus didn’t come to start a religion; Jesus came to reestablish His Kingdom here, within territory taken by His enemy, setting us free, and inviting us to be, once again, a part of a radically different Kingdom that does life very differently NOW as well as in the age to come (see Revelation 21–22.)

Pre-Christianity, even the words “gospel” or “good news,” just like metanoeo, were military terms. In the 1st century, whenever there was victory of one kingdom over another, a messenger was sent with the glad tidings that they had been victorious!

“Even after the battle at Mantinea, which Thucydides has described, the one who first announced the victory had no other reward for his glad tidings [euangelion – singular] than a piece of meat sent by the magistrates from the public mess” (Plutarch; Agesilaus, p. 33, 1st century, emphasis mine).

“Accordingly, when [Aristodemus] had come near, he stretched out his hand and cried with a loud voice: ‘Hail, King Antigonus, we have conquered Ptolemy in a sea-fight, and now hold Cyprus, with 12,800 soldiers as prisoners of war.’ To this, Antigonus replied: ‘Hail to thee also, by Heaven! but for torturing us in this way, thou shalt undergo punishment; the reward for thy good tidings [euangelion – plural] thou shalt be some time in getting’” (Plutarch; Demetrius, p. 17, 1st century, emphasis mine).

“Why, as we are told, the Spartans merely sent meat from the public commons to the man who brought glad tidings [euangelion] of the victory in Mantineia which Thucydides describes! And indeed the compilers of histories are, as it were, reporters of great exploits who are gifted with the faculty of felicitous speech, and achieve success in their writing through the beauty and force of their narration; and to them those who first encountered and recorded the events [e?a??????? – euangelion] are indebted for a pleasing retelling of them” (Plutarch; Moralia (Glory of Athens), p. 347, 1st century, emphasis mine).

Jesus and the Apostles lifted this word from their surrounding culture to announce that a new Kingdom had now arrived on the scene. It had taken, head on, the current ruler of this world. Through a radical move—a subversive move, through death and resurrection—this new Kingdom had been victorious, and we were now free! The gospel is the good news that we have been set free from the kingdoms of this world and their rulers; by the coming of a radically different Kingdom—Jesus’ Kingdom—we are now invited to follow Him as our new head of a new Kingdom, which at its core is about other-centered, self-sacrificial love.

What does it look like to embrace the arrival of God’s radically different and subversive Kingdom here on Earth? Not only are we now free from the claims and accusations of the Enemy, but Jesus also spent His entire ministry trying to effect paradigm shifts in three specific areas:

1)Our assumptions about God’s character

(God actually really does look exactly like Jesus; therefore, this changes even our assumptions about what God’s “Kingdom” really looks like.)

2)Our assumptions about ourselves

(God has never looked at you as a transgressor in need of punishment but as victim in need of a Savior. Whoever you are, reading this, God more than loves you; God adores you as His son or daughter. He has never held your sin against you. He has always known, in being deceived about Him, that you have never truly known what you were doing in your rebellion against Him. Regardless of what you have done, you are of inestimable, immeasurable, infinite worth to Him, and the Cross proves it!)

3)Our assumptions about everyone else around us, no matter how different they may be from ourselves

(Everything just said about you, look around wherever you are right now: It’s true of everyone around you too!)

Naturally flowing from each of these, those who were part of this newly arrived Kingdom would live radically different lives. It is with the goal of discovering this radically new way of seeing God, ourselves, and others—as well as discovering this radically different way of doing life—that we will be turning our attention to the teachings of Jesus in the upcoming weeks. Again, the God we see in Jesus changes everything. This new Kingdom is one of radical other-centered, self-sacrificial love . . . for all.

This was Jesus’ Gospel:

“I must preach the good news of the KINGDOM OF GOD to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent” (Luke 4:43, emphasis mine).

“Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of THE KINGDOM and healing every disease and sickness” (Matthew 9:35, emphasis mine).

“Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of THE KINGDOM” (Matthew 4:23, emphasis mine).

This was the same Gospel taught by the 11 apostles as well as the Apostle Paul!

“For two whole years, Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. He proclaimed THE KINGDOM OF GOD and taught about THE LORD JESUS CHRIST—with all boldness and without hindrance!” (Acts 28.30–31, emphasis mine).

These last three statements are simply for you to ponder:

“When we look at passages where Jesus sends the disciples out into the surrounding area to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom, it doesn’t make sense to conclude that they were sharing with the community a message of substitutionary death for their sins. It also doesn’t fit with the text to assume that they offered salvation to those who repeated a carefully worded prayer of faith so that they could go to heaven when they died. Obviously, whatever it was that the disciples went out preaching, it wasn’t anything like this. The Gospel preached by the disciples didn’t have anything to do with the finer points of the doctrine of the atonement, a subject which they exhibited zero understanding about. So, what was it that the disciples went out preaching? We see the answer in Matthew 9:5, Luke 9:6 and Luke 10:9. It was simply the Gospel of the Kingdom. The disciples were sent out to proclaim ‘The Kingdom of God is near you, and then to demonstrate this by casting out demons and healing the sick. This was the very same message that we see Jesus publicly proclaiming over and over again in the Gospels” (Keith Giles, The Power of Weakness, pp. 9–10).

“If the victory over the powers constitutes the work of Christ, then it must also be a message for the church to proclaim” (John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus, p. 147).

“Paul’s statement [Ephesians 3.8–11] is made in connection that with the truth that since Christ a new force has made its entry on the stage of salvation history: the church . . . the very existence of the church, in which Gentiles and Jews, who heretofore walked according to the Stoicheia of the world, live together in Christ’s fellowship, is itself a proclamation, a sign, a token to the Powers that their unbroken dominion has come to an end” (Berkholf, Christ and the Powers, p. 41–42).

HeartGroups Application:

A.Go back and prayerfully reread Mark 2.14–15 and any other passages the Holy Spirit brings to your mind as you contemplate this passage.

B.What is God saying to you in this passage this week?

C.Now go and prepare something for your HeartGroup gathering this coming week that shares this with the others. If you’re artistic, it could be a poem, a song, or a picture. If you’re more left-brained, it could be as simple as just sharing the verses God shared with you as you meditated on the above passage. Be alert and open this week, and watch for where God might bring events into your life to illustrate what He is showing you. Be sure to include these, too, as you prepare to share.

Remember, HeartGroups are like potlucks: No one person does all the “cooking” or sharing. Let’s all bring to the “table” what Jesus is teaching each one of us in our lives this week, and let’s feast together—as a priesthood of all believers—on what God is doing and teaching us in each of our lives!

As always, keep living in love, and loving like Christ (Ephesians 5.2).

Keep following Jesus.

I love you guys,

I’ll see you next week.

Herb