Throughout this series on the message of Jesus I’ve attempted to answer the most common and central questions people have about his message. In this final post I want to review what we have learned by summarizing my answers succinctly.
I have gathered all of the individual posts on this topic into a series I’ve called: What Was the Message of Jesus? You can find the whole series in logical order by clicking on the link. If you want to visit a specific part of the series, you can click on the heading links below.
The core of Jesus’ message was the proclamation of the coming of the kingdom of God: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news” (Mark 1:14-15).
The English phrase “kingdom of God” translates a Greek phrase from the Gospels that refers not so much to the place where God rules as to the presence and power of God’s actual rule. The kingdom or reign of God is here when God is exercising his authority, whether in heaven or on earth.
Jesus proclaimed the kingdom of God in words (basic statements of fact, explanations, parables) and in works (healings, exorcisms, nature miracles, other symbolic gestures). What Jesus said, he did. This not only illustrated the truth of his proclamation, but it also drew the people to him.
Contrary to popular perceptions, the kingdom of God is not primarily in heaven or in our hearts. Rather, the reign of God touches all dimensions of reality. God’s rule impacts actions, thoughts, relationships, families, institutions, and governments, as well as heaven and human hearts.
Jesus proclaimed the kingdom of God as something present in his ministry and also as something that was still to come in greater fullness and glory. Thus, the kingdom is not either present or future, but both present and future. It is the “already and not yet kingdom.” It’s is already here, and not yet fully here. Thus it is rather like an engaged couple, a pregnant mother, or a finished but not quite yet graduated doctoral student.
According to Jesus, the reign of God will not come through a Jewish revolt against Rome. Though he agreed with his Jewish contemporaries who looked forward to the coming of an anointed deliverer, Jesus conceived of the work of the Messiah in radically unexpected terms. Rather than conquering the Romans through force, Jesus, as Messiah or Son of Man, would die on a Roman cross. Through this sacrificial action he would take God’s judgment upon himself, offering his life as a ransom for many. The new exodus, God’s new act of salvation, was taking place in Jesus, and would be culminated in his passion and resurrection.
Throughout his ministry, Jesus consistently upset many of the religious and political leaders of the day. His proclamation of the kingdom through words and works made him a marked man, both because he contradicted many of the core values of his opponents and because he undermined their popular impact. But when Jesus “cleansed” the Temple in Jerusalem, this was the last straw. He became a clear and present danger, not just to the Pharisees in Galilee, but also to the priestly hierarchy in Jerusalem, and even to the Temple, the core institution of Judaism, and therefore to the fragile peace of Judea. Thus, he threatened the social order so essential to Roman domination. The leaders in Jerusalem, both Jewish and Roman, sought to crucify Jesus, both to get him out of their way and to warn others not to follow in his footsteps. (For a more extensive discussion of this topic, see my blog series Why Did Jesus Have to Die?)
Closing Thoughts: How Do We Follow Jesus Who Announced and Inaugurated the Kingdom of God?
If Jesus came to inaugurate the reign of God on earth, if he proclaimed this message in words and works, and if, in the end, this message led him to the cross, then how do we who believe in Jesus follow him today? Let me offer a few brief suggestions. There is much more that could be said, but I’ll save this for another day.
1. We should seek to live each moment in the reality of the kingdom of God. Jesus said, “The kingdom of God has come hear; repent and believe in the good news” (Mark 1:15). This call is still valid today. When we accept God’s rule over our lives, we adopt values and priorities that are radically different than those of the world. Thus we make a U-turn; we repent and live our lives in a brand new direction, pointing toward God’s kingdom.
2. We live in the world as salt and light. Like Jesus, both our words and our works should proclaim the reality of the kingdom. We talk about the good news of what God has done in Christ, inviting others to accept this gospel and live under God’s reign. And we live out this reign each day by loving our enemies, healing the sick, confronting evil, feeding the hungry, forgiving those who wrong us, and living as a active member of the community of Jesus.
3. We take up our cross and follow Jesus each day. We who live in the community of Jesus must seek, not to dominate others, but to serve them. We live, not for our own glory, but for God, to whom belongs the kingdom, and the glory, and the power.
4. We live in the present power and the future hope of the resurrection. Although I have not spoken of the resurrection in this series on the message of Jesus, were it not for the fact that Jesus was raised from the dead on Easter, none of what I’ve said would have any value whatsoever. The message of Jesus would have been long forgotten as wishful thinking by one among many failed messianic pretenders. The resurrection of Jesus persuaded his confused and bereaved disciples that he was who he said he was, and that his paradoxical “program” for the coming of the kingdom had in fact been the right one. We who put our trust in Jesus today have access to same power that raised Jesus from dead – the Holy Spirit who dwells in and among us (Ephesians 1:17-23). Moreover, we believe that Jesus’ resurrection prefigures our own, and that one day we will live with him in the fullness of the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 15). This hope sustains us as we live today in the ambiguity of the “already and not yet” kingdom. Someday the kingdom of God will come in full power; the mustard seed will be fully grown, and the victory of God will be complete. In that day, God will wipe away every tear and his dwelling will be here among us (Revelation 21). Then we will join the heavenly chorus in singing,
The kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ,
and he shall reign forever and ever.