And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, as a testimony to all nations; and then the end will come.
This is the fourth message in a series called "Compassion, Power and the Kingdom of God: Are Signs and Wonders for Today?" We began with an introductory message explaining why there is a kind of urgency about these issues of power and spiritual gifts and prophecy and healing and evangelism and spiritual warfare. Then we posed the question, "What are we up against?" and dealt with the counter-kingdom of Satan and his great but limited authority in the world. Then last week we talked about abortion as one of the works of darkness and the legitimacy of peaceful, non-violent protest as a manifestation of the kingdom of light in the kingdom of darkness.
What Is the "Gospel of the Kingdom"?
Now we begin three weeks on the nature of the kingdom of God, or more specifically, the "gospel of the kingdom." What is the kingdom of God? What is the "gospel of the kingdom"?
The reason this is important is plain from Matthew 24:14. Jesus said that "this gospel of the kingdom" will be preached until all the nations of the world have heard it as a testimony. This means that until all the unreached nations (=peoples, not countries) have a bona fide testimony called "the gospel of the kingdom," it is the duty of every generation of Christians to press on with proclaiming it to the world. That means us, because there are still today thousands of unreached nations (peoples). And if that is our task, we must know what the "gospel of the kingdom" is. So it is tremendously important for us to study this together.
Today I want to try to get at what the kingdom is by looking back at the Old Testament, the teaching of Jesus, and then at the preaching of the early church. Next week we will ask, "Is the Kingdom Present or Future?" And the week after that we will ask, "How Is the Kingdom of God Present Today?" What manifestations of its power should we seek and expect today?
The Good News That the Time Is Fulfilled
First, then, what does Jesus refer to in Matthew 24:14 when he says, "This gospel of the kingdom"? The term "gospel of the kingdom" is used only two other times in the New Testament, namely, in two summary statements of Matthew about the ministry of Jesus, found in Matthew 4:23 and 9:35.
- And he went about all Galilee teaching in their synagogues and preaching THE GOSPEL OF THE KINGDOM and healing every disease and every infirmity among the people. (Matthew 4:23)
- And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and preaching THE GOSPEL OF THE KINGDOM, and healing every disease and every infirmity. (Matthew 9:35)
So for Matthew the term "gospel of the kingdom" is a summary phrase of what Jesus preached as he did his ministry throughout the towns and villages of Palestine.
Mark gives a summary of Jesus' message in words that are not exactly the same but the same in substance. In Mark 1:14–15 he says, "Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe the gospel.'" This gospel is surely the same as "the gospel of the kingdom" in Matthew's gospel. "The kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel"—that is, "Repent and believe the good news that the kingdom of God is at hand; believe that the time is fulfilled." Believe "the gospel of the kingdom."
So "the gospel of the kingdom" in Matthew 24:14, the gospel that will be preached to the nations—that we must take to them—is the gospel that Jesus preached. It's the good news that the time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is at hand.
What time is fulfilled?
Let's go back to the Old Testament for a few moments and think about its expectation for the future. What was the Old Testament hoping for? What does it say about the kingdom of God?
The Old Testament Belief and Future Hope
The Old Testament makes very clear that in one sense God is now the king over all things and his kingdom is established. For example, Psalm 103:19, "The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all." Or Psalm 145:13, "Thy kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and thy dominion endures throughout all generations." God is now the king over all the universe. He reigns by his sovereign power and nothing comes to pass but by his kingly decree.
What might Jesus mean, then, that "the time is fulfilled; the kingdom of God is at hand"? The answer is that the Old Testament hoped for the day when God would not only be the sovereign King in heaven controlling the affairs of sinful men, but would stand forth in glory and save his people from sin and misery, and defeat their enemies, and establish righteousness and peace, and set up a throne on the earth to rule in a more immediate and personal way.
For example, Zechariah 14:9 foretells, "And the Lord WILL BECOME KING over all the earth; on that day the Lord will be one and his name one." In other words, God will one day assert his kingly rule over the earth in a way that he will no longer have any competitors: he will be ONE, the only ONE. Or look at Isaiah 24:23, "Then the moon will be confounded, and the sun ashamed; for the Lord of hosts WILL REIGN on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem and before his elders he will manifest his glory." In other words, the day is coming, Isaiah says, when God will set up his kingdom in such a way that the glory of the Lord will be revealed and no longer hidden.
God Is About to Exert His Rule in a New Way
This is what Jesus meant when, he said, "The time is fulfilled; the kingdom is at hand." God is about to exert his rule or his kingly authority in a new way to save his people and defeat their enemies and reveal his glory in the world.
John the Baptist confirms this when he comes because he starts his ministry with the same words. In Matthew 3:2 he says, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." And all four gospels say that John is the fulfillment of Isaiah 40:3, "A voice cries: 'In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.'" Why? Because he is coming as a glorious king. Verse 5: "The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken" (cf. Matthew 3:4; Mark 1:1–3; Luke 3:4–6; John 1:23). John the Baptist was declaring that the kingdom of God was just around the corner.
So when Jesus says, "The time is fulfilled; the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel," he means that the time has come for God to break into this world as never before, to reveal his glory in a personal way, to comfort his people, and to defeat their enemies (Luke 1:71). This is called "gospel" because it is such good news for all who will repent and trust in God.
There is another place where Jesus makes it very clear that his coming is the fulfillment of this long expected kingdom. In Luke 4:18–19 he goes into the synagogue in Nazareth and reads the prophecy from Isaiah 61:1–2, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord." When he had finished reading, he said, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." In other words, "The time is fulfilled! I am the one being spoken of. My ministry is the arrival of the long-awaited kingdom of healing and salvation and freedom from oppression. God is now revealing himself as king to save and deliver and help like he never has before." And Jesus is that king.
The Very Specific Sense of "Your God Reigns"
Let's take time to look at one other Old Testament text that helps us understand the phrase "gospel of the kingdom," namely, Isaiah 52:7. We take one of our favorite songs from this verse. It looks forward to the time when God would bare his holy arm before the eyes of the nations and all the ends of the earth would see the salvation of our God (Isaiah 52:10). Verse 7 says (listen for the connection between gospel and kingdom): "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good tidings [gospel!], who publishes peace, who bring good tidings [gospel!] of good, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion [now the content of the gospel], 'Your God reigns.'"
The gospel message that John the Baptist came to announce and the gospel that Jesus came to fulfill is the message: "Your God reigns!" Not just in the general sense of reigning as sovereign over all the universe, but in the new specific sense of baring his holy arm and revealing his glory and defeating his enemies and saving his people and establishing peace and righteousness on the earth. "Your God reigns" is virtually the same as saying, "The kingdom of God is at hand." Jesus would have meant the same thing if he had said, "The time is fulfilled; your God reigns. Repent and believe this gospel—the good tidings of salvation and peace."
What the Gospel of the Kingdom Is
So, what is "the gospel of the kingdom"? The gospel of the kingdom is the good news that in Jesus God's kingly power and authority is breaking into the world like never before: he is ruling in a new way to save his people from their sins and deliver them from their enemies and reveal his glory and establish peace and righteousness in the earth.
Now this could be easily misunderstood. And next week we will see that almost everyone did misunderstand it. They did not realize that the victories of the kingdom would be won by suffering and death.
But this week what we want to make clear is that "the gospel of the kingdom" is the gospel prophesied in Isaiah 52:7; and it is the gospel that Jesus preached; and it is the gospel that he told us to preach to all the nations; and it is the gospel preached by the early church.
We've seen the connection between Jesus' message and the Old Testament. Now let's see the connection between Jesus' message and the message of the early church. Did the early church proclaim the gospel of the kingdom?
The Message of the Early Church
There are three important summary statements in the book of Acts that show the preaching of the early church was the preaching of the gospel of the kingdom. In Acts 8:12 it says that Philip was preaching in Samaria and "they believed Philip as he preached GOOD NEWS ABOUT THE KINGDOM OF GOD and the name of Jesus Christ." "Good news about the kingdom of God" is substantially the same as "the gospel of the kingdom."
Acts 19:8 sums up Paul's preaching in Ephesus like this, "And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, arguing and pleading about THE KINGDOM OF GOD." In Acts 20:25 when Paul sums up his own ministry in Ephesus among the elders, he says, "And now, behold, I know that all you among whom I have gone PREACHING THE KINGDOM will see my face no more." His ministry was a ministry of "preaching the kingdom."
Then at the very end of the book (Acts 28:30–31) and the end of Paul's life when he was under arrest in Rome, his preaching is summed up like this: "And he lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, PREACHING THE KINGDOM OF GOD and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ quite openly and unhindered."
In his letters Paul refers to the kingdom of God 14 times. For example in Colossians 4:11 he refers to his partners in ministry as "my fellow workers for THE KINGDOM OF GOD." He refers to his own ministry in 1 Corinthians 4:20 like this, "THE KINGDOM OF GOD does not consist in talk but in power." And in Romans 14:17 he says, "THE KINGDOM GOD is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit."
So here is my conclusion from today. The "gospel of the kingdom" was foretold in the Old Testament, preached by Jesus—brought by Jesus!—preached by the early church, and should be preached by us until all the peoples hear it. This gospel of the kingdom is the good news that, at the coming of Jesus, God moved into this world in an unprecedented way. Since Jesus has come, God is exerting his right to rule in new and powerful ways. He is attacking his enemy the devil in new ways. He has dealt with sin in a new way. He is gathering a people in a new way. He is empowering his representatives in new ways. And in all this he is reigning as king. This is the coming and the advancement of his kingdom.
And this is good news. It is the gospel of the kingdom. Therefore let every one of us turn from every other claim on our allegiance and surrender to the King of kings. Let's repent of all rebellion and treason, accept the terms of his amnesty, and let's put our trust in the King of glory, and sing with all our heart the truth of Isaiah 52:2,
How lovely on the mountains
are the feet of him who brings good news, good news; announcing peace, proclaiming news of happiness:
Our God reigns! Our God reigns!