Time and time again, when the Scriptures talk about Jesus proclaiming “the gospel,” the actual phrase that is used is that Jesus proclaims the gospel of the kingdom of God. Consider these representative verses from Matthew:
- Matthew 4:23: “And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.”
- Matthew 9:35: “And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction.”
- Matthew 24:14: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”
The subject, then, of Jesus’ proclamation was the kingdom of God. He told parables about the kingdom. He said to the disciples, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom” (Matthew 13:11). He said that in his appearing the kingdom was near (Luke 10:9; 10:11; 21:31) and, in fact, at hand (Matthew 3:2; 4:17; 10:7). In Mark 1:15, he said, tantalizingly, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
And here’s the key realization we need to have:
Though this idea of the kingdom of God is unfamiliar to us, it would have been familiar in large part to those who heard Jesus.
They understood, in other words, the kind of thing he was proclaiming. That is because all of the Old Testament points toward the establishment of just such a kingdom.
Sometimes Christians today will say, “Jesus’ hearers misunderstood what Jesus meant when he talked about the kingdom of God. They thought he meant that he was there to overthrow the Romans militarily and establish a kingdom here on earth. But what Jesus was talking about was a kingdom in which he would reign in people’s hearts.”
Er, no. That’s not correct.
When we think things like that, we misunderstand both Jesus and the people who heard him.
Careful study of the Old Testament shows that it is all about the hope of God’s kingdom coming on earth. All about that. Of course, the only way we’d know that is if we read the Old Testament regularly and carefully. If we read the Old Testament regularly and carefully we’d know that Israel was hoping for more than a messiah who would crush Israel’s enemies militarily. Prophets prophesied that the messiah would usher in God’s reign on a day they referred to as “the day of the Lord.” That phrase, “the day of the Lord,” is used over and over again in the Old Testament prophets. For example:
- Isaiah 13:9: “Behold, the day of the LORD comes, cruel, with wrath and fierce anger, to make the land a desolation and to destroy its sinners from it.”
- Ezekiel 30:3: “For the day is near, the day of the LORD is near;it will be a day of clouds, a time of doom for the nations.”
- Joel 1:15: “Alas for the day! For the day of the LORD is near, and as destruction from the Almighty it comes.”
Doesn’t sound like cheery stuff, this day of the Lord. But what we need to not miss is that it is cosmic. It marks the end of the world as we know it.
But the good news is that it marks the end of the evil age—the age of sin and death and the dominion of evil—but the beginning of the age of the ages, when God himself would personally rule the world and all the peoples in it. And far from being a one dimensional hope like “God will overthrow the Romans and we will be free” or “God will forgive our sins so we can go to heaven when we die,” God’s reign would impact every aspect of every human life. It was an eighteen-dimensional hope, to be precise—and Israel knew that it was a hope not just for their nation, but for all of the nations of the world.
At www.livingintheoverlap.com, Steve Schaefer has a great free downloadable chart of the eighteen dimensions of what the Old Testaments prophesied that the Kingdom of God would mean. Buy Steve’s book. Download his chart. And return next time as we review those eighteen dimensions and discuss how they can and should form the basis of our undertaking the Work of Mercy of proclaiming the gospel.