What Was the Core of Jesus’ Preaching?

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).

Gordon Fee speaking at Laity Lodge

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.

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  • Harry

    Mark, I am looking forward to your series very much. In fact, I have a friend who has done some writing on the “love of God/Jesus,” and has concluded that “love” is central to our Lord’s teaching. But I agree with your conclusion that “the kingdom of God” is central to everything.
    One thing I am wondering with respect to your “interrogative outline” has to do with the question, “How do we enter the kingdom of God.” It seems to me that this is an essential question when it comes to the resurgence of Calvinism vs. the New Perspectives. So for what it’s worth, would you consider addressing the issue of entrance into the Kingdom of God?


  • Anonymous

    Harry, thanks for your comment. I expect to address the question of how Jesus spoke of entering the kingdom. Perhaps I’ll need to add a section (or series) on how we understand this in the light of the cross and resurrection. Thanks for the thought.

    To be sure, love is essential to the teaching of Jesus because love is essential to the kingdom of God, which is the main subject of Jesus’ own message. It isn’t a matter of love vs. the kingdom, but rather understanding how the two are interrelated. But we must deal with the fact that the kingdom was what Jesus talked about the most.

  • Evan


    This sounds like a great series upcoming.

    The interrelationship between “Love” (as Jesus presented it) and the “Kingdom of God” will be interesting to unfold. Indeed, I should think that either way you approach Jesus’ teaching, you will wind up in the same place if you approach it honestly and straightforwardly (something the Jesus Seminar is loathe to do.)

    But certainly when a “Kingdom” is announced, the natural question is, “Then who is the King?” Even answering “God” (this being the Kingdom of GOD and all) will cause some problems given the “divine” nature of Caesar. But when you add in “I and the Father are One,” then you have effectively made the answer “Me,” and the Romans did not cotton to that sort of assertion at ALL.

    Okay, bring on the next episode!


  • Matthew


    I like this very much (and that you tightened the title a bit vis-a-vis last time). Are you going to recommend McLaren’s “The Secret Message of Jesus?”

    Looking forward to the next one…


  • Anonymous

    Matthew: I have not read McLaren’s book. I have a kind of allergy to anything with a title like that. Be that as it may, is the book good?

  • Anonymous

    Yes, indeed, no kingdom without a king!

  • Rob

    I’m working my way through N.T. Wright’s “The Challenge of Jesus” and your series on the core of Jesus’ preaching looks to be complementary. I like what you’ve written so far and will continue to follow the series. Thanks for the quote from Gordon Fee. You both are new to me and I love discovering new teachers! God Bless.

  • Dave

    Mark, I so appreciate this series and also your Daily Devotionals. Thank you for your insights and encouragement as you offer reflections on The Word.

    I think many folks in our churches only think about ‘the Kingdom of God’ or ‘the Kingdom of heaven’ in conjunction with thinking about death (i.e. if we trust Jesus as Savior, we will be in the Kingdom when we die.) I’m eager to hear more.

    Here’s a question I have: Some Bible translations (NRSV for one) use ‘the reign of God’ instead of ‘the Kingdom of God.’ Is that an important difference? What do you think may be the reason ‘reign’ was used?

    Blessings on your walk with Jesus…


  • Anonymous

    Rob: Yes, you’ll find that Wright and I see many things quite similarly. I suppose that shouldn’t be a surprise, since we read the same texts (the Gospels) from a similar perspective (in light of the culture and religion of the time of Jesus).

  • Anonymous

    Dave: Thanks for your comment.

    I’ll get to the translation question in a bit, I think. Basically, “reign” captures the sense of the Greek basileia better than “kingdom.” But “kingdom” is a fixture of Christian tradition, so it gets used often. The important thing is to understand “kingdom” as “reign” or “rule” more than “territory over which a king reigns.”

  • Dave

    Hi Again

    Well, after checking my notes (which I should have done before posting) I discovered it was a seminary prof who used the term ‘reign of God’ – NOT the NRSV that we used as our biblical text. He seldom, if ever, used ‘kingdom of God’ – it was always ‘reign of God.’

    Just to be sure, I did an NRSV word search for the phrase ‘reign of God’ and I came up empty.
    I know I should be asking my seminary prof (but since I’ve got your blog on screen…) is using ‘reign’ instead of ‘kingdom’ the same?

    ‘Reign’ strikes me as a strong word of action, while ‘kingdom’ infers ‘expansive location.’

    Just following my curiosity…

    Grace and peace,

  • Anonymous

    Dave: In my opinion, “reign” is much closer to the meaning of basileia in the preaching of Jesus than “kingdom.” I think translators are limited by tradition here.