Part 2 of series:
What Was the Message of Jesus?
In my last post I began a multi-part series that seeks to answer the question: What was the message of Jesus? I mentioned that many people would answer this question by saying something about love, because we rightly associate Jesus’ teaching with love. But, as it turns out, love is not the core of his message, though it is close and essential to that core. What Jesus actually proclaimed, first and foremost, was not that we should love, but something else.
We find a succinct summary of this “something else” in the first description of Jesus’ ministry in the Gospel of Mark:
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news'” (Mark 1:14-15).
Here is Mark’s summary of the core of Jesus’ message. It is, in a nutshell: The kingdom of God has come near.
The phrase “kingdom of God” appears 53 times in the New Testament Gospels, almost always on the lips of Jesus. The synonymous phrase, “kingdom of heaven,” appears 32 times in the Gospel of Matthew. Throughout the accounts of Jesus’ ministry, he is always talking about the kingdom of God. Many of his parables explain something about this kingdom: it is like mustard seed, a treasure, a merchant looking for pearls, and a king who gave a banquet (Matt 13:44-47; 22:2). Jesus even defines his purpose in light of the kingdom: “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose” (Luke 4:43).
Given the centrality of the kingdom of God to the preaching, and, as we’ll see, the actions of Jesus, it’s strange that many Christians are relatively unfamiliar with what this phrase means. But if we want to understand the message of Jesus, not to mention his whole ministry, including his death and resurrection, then we must grapple with what he says about the kingdom of God. Gordon Fee, one of the wisest of evangelical New Testament scholars, once said in a lecture on Jesus: “You cannot know anything about Jesus, anything, if you miss the kingdom of God . . . . You are zero on Jesus if you don’t understand this term. I’m sorry to say it that strongly, but this is the great failure of evangelical Christianity. We have had Jesus without the kingdom of God, and therefore have literally done Jesus in.”*
If you’ve read this far, I’m assuming that you don’t want to be zero on Jesus, and that you don’t want to do him in, either. Neither do I. So we must work together to figure out what Jesus meant when he said “the kingdom of God has come near.” For this was, indeed, the core of his message.
I plan to structure the rest of this blog series around basic questions having to do with the kingdom of God in the ministry of Jesus. These questions will include:
· What is the kingdom of God?
· How did Jesus proclaim the message of the kingdom?
· Where is the kingdom of God?
· When is the kingdom of God coming?
· What will life in the kingdom of God be like?
· Who will bring the kingdom of God?
· How is the kingdom of God coming?
Answering these questions could very well fill a big, fat book. But my intent is to offer relatively bite-sized answers. Later in this series, I’ll recommend some books, both fat and thin, that will provide further exposition of the meaning of the kingdom of God in the preaching of Jesus.
In my next post I’ll take on the question: What is the kingdom of God?
*Gordon Fee, “Jesus: Early Ministry/Kingdom of God,” lecture delivered at Regent College. Tape Series 2235E, Pt. 1. Copyright © Regent College, Vancouver, B.C., Canada.