In the stories, Jesus’ (and the apostles’) gospel was about was a kingdom. Consider the following passages.
After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news [euangelion – gospel]!” (Mark 1:14-15)
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Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news [euangelion] of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. (Matthew 4:23)
As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give. (Matthew 10:7-8)
But he said, “I must proclaim the good news [euangelion] of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.” (Luke 4:43)
Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ (Luke 10:9)
So they set out and went from village to village, proclaiming the good news [euangelion] and healing people everywhere. (Luke 9:6)
But when they believed Philip as he proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. (Acts 8:12)
Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God. (Acts 19:8)
Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again. (Acts 20:25)
They arranged to meet Paul on a certain day, and came in even larger numbers to the place where he was staying. He witnessed to them from morning till evening, explaining about the kingdom of God, and from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets he tried to persuade them about Jesus. (Acts 28.23)
For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance. (Acts 28:30-31)
Today the language of kingdom is problematic. Many no longer believe a kingdom is the best way to organize human society, and many subscribe to some form of democracy, not a kingdom. Secondly, a kingdom is deeply patriarchal and not the best language for the egalitarian world Jesus envisioned in his teachings.
Today we can and should call it something else. Many do. One of my favorite alternatives is Kelly Brown Douglas’ language of “God’s just future already breaking into the present.” I’ve written at length on various life-giving ways we can envision Jesus’ kingdom in chapter 5 of my book Finding Jesus. Whatever we call it, Jesus’ kingdom preaching was about a world that is compassionate, safe, just home for all, especially prioritizing those our status quo is marginalizing and making vulnerable to harm.
Too often, when people speak of the gospel today, they’re aren’t referring to Jesus’ vision for a world where no one is harmed in the here and now. If they do, they receive the pushback of being “too political.” I find this sad. As Jesus followers we should not see people being harmed as a tool to be exploited by a political party, but as people who are objects of Divine value and worth, people who are being harmed, and people who we are called to care for. It’s fine to be passionate about heaven and God’s love, but not at the expense of Jesus’ kingdom. If we are choosing the unmentioned themes over the centerpiece of the Jesus stories, we have to ask ourselves why we are avoiding the central tenet of Jesus’ teachings in favor of a future or individual, privatized, and inward focus that leaves us unconcerned about social injustices and leaves our unjust systems unchallenged and unchanged.
Jesus’ kingdom calls each of us to participate in choosing and creating a different iteration of our present world, a world that is a safe, compassionate, just home for all.
Herb’s new book, Finding Jesus: A story of a fundamentalist preacher who unexpectedly discovered the social, political, and economic teachings of the Gospels, is now available at Renewed Heart Ministries.