The Gospel of The Kingdom
Over the years that I have been involved in this ministry, I have progressed from one emphasis to another. Several themes have been impressed on my mind and first among them was the truth about the Godhead; the truth that God is not a Trinity, but that He is one Person who has a son, and that the Holy Spirit is the very life of God the Father, and of his son Jesus Christ. This is something that made a really great change in my life and in my understanding of the Bible. For many years that was the main thing I focused on.
About 14 years ago, I came to a better understanding of righteousness by faith and I started focusing on that. Since that time until today this has been at the center of my biblical studies and of my presentations. About nine years ago as a result of understanding righteousness by faith, I began to have a better understanding of spiritual gifts and began to look more closely at the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
As I was thinking about all of this recently, I asked myself the question, “what should be the emphasis?” Because I realize that if we do not have a clearly defined purpose, then after a while the things that we teach tend to become watered-down and muted. It is necessary that there should be a clear understanding of what really is the central thing that God wants to be presented to the world. This is what has led me to refocus on the issue of the gospel of the kingdom. I realize that this is the single topic under which everything else falls, the Godhead, righteousness by faith, the baptism of the Holy Spirit and whatever else is important in the Christian experience. It all comes under the heading of the gospel of the kingdom. Of course this is what the Bible teaches.
The Central Theme
In Matthew 24 when Jesus was speaking to his disciples about the signs of the end, he said in verse 14,
And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come. (Matt 24:14)
Here we see that Jesus declares that the final message to be preached in the world is, the gospel of the kingdom. In fact when we look at other statements which Jesus makes about this gospel of the kingdom, we see that it is not just the main message that is to be preached, but that it is the only message to be preached. Jesus says the end will come when “this gospel of the kingdom,” is preached to all nations as a witness. It is interesting that every Christian group in the world today claims to be preaching the gospel, however not many of them emphasize the preaching of the gospel of the kingdom. Part of the reason is that many of them don’t understand what the kingdom is and what the relationship is between the kingdom, and the gospel of the kingdom.
When we go to Revelation 14, the chapter in which we find the three Angels’ messages, we find a message concerning the preaching of the gospel, in verse 6.
And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, (Rev 14:6)
In this prophecy that was given to John in the book of Revelation, we find the same truth expressed; the final message to be preached to the world is the everlasting gospel, which Jesus declared to be the gospel of the kingdom. It is not something which emerges at the end of time, but it is something that is everlasting, it is what Jesus preached when he was here, and it is what should be preached, and should continue to be preached right through to the end of time. It is evident that when we understand the gospel of the kingdom properly, then many of the false teachings that are floating around automatically fall into their proper place. They are easily seen for the deceptions, and the distractions that they really are.
The first person who proclaimed the gospel of the kingdom was John the Baptist. In Matthew 3:1,2 we read,
In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. (Matt 3:1-2)
John began preaching six months before Jesus was baptized and began his ministry. The focus of his message was, the gospel of the kingdom. Notice that John’s emphasis was that this kingdom was “at hand.” In other words the kingdom was imminent, it was something about to be set up. This is the reason why his message had such great power, this is the reason why people came out in droves to listen to what he had to say and to be baptized by him in the Jordan. The people had the understanding that the kingdom of God was to be set up on earth and so the message of John electrified them, they were filled with great excitement and anticipation of what was about to happen!
From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. (Matt 4:17)
Jesus himself preached the same message as John the Baptist. While he did many mighty miracles and taught a great deal about righteousness and holy living, the great emphasis of his ministry was, the gospel of the kingdom. When we look at Matthew 5:7-10, we see that this is also the message which the disciples carried. Jesus sent them out to preach the same message as he and John the Baptist were preaching.
These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give. (Matt 10:5-8)
This was also the message of the apostles:
But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. (Acts 8:12)
This emphasis is all over the New Testament. The underlying theme to everything that they taught and did, was, the gospel of the kingdom, and Jesus says that this is the message which is to be preached in all the world until the end of time.
The meaning of the Message
The full significance and importance of this cannot be appreciated until we dig a little deeper and find out what is this gospel of the kingdom of God. The word “gospel,” as we know, means, “good news.” When Jesus began to preach that the kingdom of heaven was at hand, (meaning in close proximity), the people understood him to mean that Israel was about to be restored to prominence. They thought that God was about to exalt their nation to be the greatest nation on earth and that all the promises of the books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and many other prophets were about to be fulfilled. For them this was good news, the fulfillment of all the dreams and expectations of Israel. This is why the message of John the Baptist, the disciples, and Jesus himself stirred up the nation of Israel so much, it awakened the hopes and dreams of an entire nation.
What exactly was this message of the kingdom? Jesus’ teachings were full of this theme. Most of his parables began with, “the kingdom of heaven is like unto …”, But there is no single place where he clearly outlines in a simple way the exact meaning of the gospel of the kingdom. Of course when we talk about the kingdom, the prophecy of Daniel chapter 2 comes readily to mind. There we find that God tells us of a kingdom which is to destroy all the kingdoms of this world and which will itself become a great mountain and fill the whole earth.
And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever. (Dan 2:44)
This is the physical setting up of the kingdom which we don’t expect to see until Jesus returns. Revelation 11:15 also points to the same event when it says,
And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever. (Rev 11:15)
So we know there is going to be a physical setting up of the physical kingdom. But Jesus and his apostles taught, from that time two thousand years ago, that the kingdom was at hand, was about to be established, so what did they really mean? What were they referring to? In Luke chapter 17 we find the Pharisees coming to Jesus with the very same question, they wanted to know when the kingdom of God would be set up:
And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you. (Luke 17:20-21)
Since they were expecting a physical kingdom, the Pharisees did not recognize the kingdom of Jesus. But Jesus said, “the kingdom which I have been preaching about, the one which is “at hand, about to be set up, does not come with observation, you can’t see it with your eyes, it’s not something that is visible but it is something that is established in the hearts of men.”
What exactly was Jesus talking about? It was something that was not yet here because he, as well as John and also the disciples preached saying, “it is at hand, meaning it was near, but had not yet arrived.” This expectation that it was very near is what created such excitement among the people, they knew that the kingdom of God was about to be established. Let us examine a few other verses which make this absolutely clear:
The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it. (Luke 16:16)
Here Jesus tells us that the kingdom of God was not something which existed before the time of John. John was the first person who preached the kingdom was about to be set up. But what was there before the kingdom of God was set up? Jesus said, it was “the law and the prophets.” So the law and the prophets was one system through which God worked with his people, it was one system by which God related to those who were called his people. Every Israelite was under the system of the law and the prophets, meaning that this system was what governed and controlled their lives. This is perfectly in harmony with the truth of the two covenants, there is the old covenant and there is the new covenant; there was the age of the law and the prophets and now Jesus had come to replace that system with the kingdom of God. Let’s look at another even more striking verse in Matthew chapter 11.
Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. (Matt 11:11)
This is one of those verses that I did not understand for a long time, because it did not make sense from the perspective of how I used to understand the kingdom. Jesus said that the greatest of the prophets up until that time was John the Baptist. He was greater than all who ever lived before him including all the heroes of the Old Testament. But then he said that the least in the kingdom was greater than John and of course, greater than all who had ever lived on the earth up to that point in time! This includes people such as Moses, Elijah, Enoch and all the other outstanding Bible characters from the Old Testament. How could this be? If we say that John was greater than all of them then this is understandable because John actually baptized Jesus. But who are these people of whom Jesus is speaking when he refers to, “the least in the kingdom of heaven?” Who are these people who are greater than John and greater than all who lived before John?
When the kingdom of glory is finally set up in the new earth, John will be there, Moses will be there, Elijah will be there and so will all the other faith-heroes of the Old Testament, but is Jesus saying that the least in that physical kingdom will be greater than they? Who are these to whom he refers as that, “least in the kingdom?”
This verse did not make sense to me until I came to understand that the kingdom of heaven was not something that was set up before the time of John, but was something established by Jesus. So none of God’s people before the time of John experienced this kingdom, and in fact, even John himself did not experience it! But all of God’s people since the time of Jesus have experienced this kingdom, and the least of these people who have experienced this kingdom is greater than the greatest of those who never did! The least in the kingdom of heaven is greater then the greatest of the old covenant people of God and what makes the difference is experiencing of the kingdom. Those who experience it are greater in privilege and experience than those who never did. This is what the verse is saying.
A New Experience
Now Jesus came and established this kingdom. He explained the nature of this kingdom when he said, “the kingdom of God is within you.” Jesus had come to bring a different experience to his people, which had never been available before. Many people do not realize this, but it is very clear when we examine the teachings of the New Testament; Jesus Christ brought a change in the history of humanity, a change in the way God was dealing with his people, he brought something that had never been available before and this something was called, “the kingdom of God.” When we look at a few other verses, it becomes clear what Jesus was referring to when he spoke about the kingdom of God. Let us look at his words in John chapter 7:
In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.) (John 7:37-39)
This is another of those passages in the Bible which on the surface is not easy to understand. We are told here the Holy Spirit had not yet been given; Jesus was promising an experience to his disciples which they did not yet possess and this was the experience of receiving the Holy Spirit. Now let us remember that at the time when Jesus made this statement, he had already given his disciples the power to heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, and cast out devils. The Holy Spirit was already working mightily through the disciples and yet we are told that the Holy Spirit had not yet been given! In other words, although the power of the Holy Spirit was working mightily through these disciples, it was not the same as the experience they would have when the Holy Spirit was given! At that time they would have rivers of living water flowing from their bellies, but they did not yet have this experience in spite of the fact that the Holy Spirit was already working mightily through them.
So it is clear that when Jesus spoke about the coming of the Holy Spirit, he was not speaking only of the power of the spirit working in people, the power which was working in his disciples and which had been working in the great prophets of former times. No, when he spoke of this river of living water flowing from the belly of his people, he was talking about something, much greater. Something that would make the least of those who experienced it, greater than all who had ever lived before!
Of course, the question will be asked, “what can be greater than the power of the Holy Spirit?” To answer this question, let us look at something that Jesus said in John chapter 10:
The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. (John 10:10)
Why would Jesus come to give his people life if they already had life before he came? Jesus came to give life by introducing an experience with the Holy Spirit which was brand-new, something which had never existed before in the history of the earth, something which had not been experienced by the great men of former ages. During the time of the law and the prophets the presence of the Holy Spirit among God’s people was not the same as it was after Jesus came. In John 14:19, in speaking of the coming of the comforter, Jesus said,
Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more; but ye see me: because I live, ye shall live also. At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you. (John 14:19,20)
Let us take careful note of what Jesus said here: at the time when he was speaking these words, according to Jesus, the disciples did not yet have life! As far as the life which he had come to give was concerned, they did not yet possess it! There is a sense in which they were not alive, there is a sense in which none of God’s people had yet obtained life and this included all who ever lived before Jesus came! When Jesus said, “I am come that they may have life,” he is speaking of bringing life to the human race, something that the human race did not yet possess. Now he referred to the time when he would return as a comforter and he said of that time, “because I live you shall live also.” He explained what he was speaking about in verse 17.
Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. (John 14:17)
Never Before Available
Earlier we saw that Jesus said that the kingdom of God is “within you.” (Luke 17:21). Now he talks about the coming of the holy spirit (Comforter) which was not yet given, and he says, “at that day, this comforter who is now with you, shall be in you.” In other words, the coming of the Comforter was the coming of the kingdom of God inside of his people. At the moment the kingdom was with them, or among them in the person of Jesus, but on that day when he came to live within, that is where the kingdom would be.
During Old Testament time there were people who received and experienced the inspiration and power of the holy spirit, but it is very important to understand that the power of the holy spirit is not the same as the saving life of Jesus Christ, it is not the same as the Comforter which came at Pentecost. Remember the statement, “the holy ghost was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” In fact, this comforter did not even exist before Jesus came as a man! What I mean is, it was necessary that a divine person should become a human being, to pass through the human experience, to conquer sin as a human being, to conquer Satan and to even conquer death! Until this happened no human being could have salvation, because the salvation of humanity was not a reality until Jesus had passed through all these things.
In Hebrews 5:7-9, we read:
Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared; Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him; (Heb 5:7-9)
Can we see what is being said in these verses? Jesus was made perfect by the things which he suffered and yet, Jesus was morally perfect from the day he was born. This word “perfect” in this context, does not refer to moral perfection, but to being perfect as our Savior – being perfectly qualified to give us salvation. “Being made perfect,” he became the author of our salvation. Before passing through that perfecting experience, Jesus was not qualified to save anyone, he was not perfect, or qualified to be our Savior. So in terms of actually possessing salvation, nobody had it before Jesus was perfected through the things which he suffered. This is why we see the word, “NOW,” used in Revelation 12:10 when the coming of salvation is described. After his resurrection Jesus was taken up to heaven, to the throne of God, and according to the book of Revelation (and other places), at that time, Satan was permanently thrown out of heaven.
And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night. (Rev 12:10)
Upon his return to heaven he was glorified with the power and glory of the Father (John 17:5) as the Father gave him the holy spirit in unlimited measure. The spirit of the Father was united with the spirit of Christ in such a way that both the Father and the Son come to us as one spirit, or through the conduit of the same one spirit (Eph 2:18). Jesus explained it in this way:
And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me. (John 17:22-23)
So the presence of the holy spirit is the presence of BOTH the Father and the Son. Truly, it is the Father and the Son dwelling within those who receive the holy spirit. This is what constitutes the practical experience of salvation, it is the almighty power of God, plus the victorious life of Jesus Christ, imparted to the believer to make him into a new creation, inheriting Jesus’ life of victory over sin and Satan. In order to understand the full implications of what Jesus did, we must realize that the spirit of God by itself, cannot save humanity. The life of God alone cannot accomplish man’s salvation, there is an essential component that must be added and this is a life which has faced and defeated, the great elements of sin which dominate humanity. These are, sin’s power (fallen human nature), sin’s consequence (death) and sin’s author (Satan). God did not experience these things and therefore, the spirit of God cannot save by itself. It must be accompanied by the life (the spirit) of Christ who himself did experience these things and now possesses these qualities to impart to us, thereby delivering us from the dominion of sin. God’s spirit can give us power, but not life. It is the life of Christ, shared with us which gives us life, therefore, both these things are combined together, and come to us as the Comforter.
But somebody will say that God can do anything he chooses in any way he chooses and that it is wrong to say that God could not save man without Jesus Christ. Some will object by saying that we are limiting God. It is true that none of us can say what God can, or cannot do, but what we do know is that God works in the best possible way and by the best possible method. In light of the issues involved in the conflict with Satan, in light of his wisdom and justice, in light of the dilemma of the human race, God designed a perfect plan to save humanity, and this plan involved the life, death and resurrection of his Son. It was not an arbitrary or optional plan, it was the perfect plan to fulfill all the necessary requirements to accomplish that salvation. There are laws and principles which God works by, laws of fair play and justice and God works within the framework of those laws in accomplishing the salvation of mankind. From this perspective, no other method could have worked and therefore, from this perspective, only the life of Christ can save men. This is what the plan involved and there is no alternative method. Without the saving life of Christ, there was no salvation provided and so, nobody could have experienced salvation, could have received life, before Jesus passed through the incarnation and provided this life of victory for us. Therefore the apostle Paul tells us,
And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. (1Cor 15:17)
Moses, Enoch and Elijah
Now this life of Jesus Christ is not just the kingdom of God in terms of our salvation, but it is also the kingdom of God in terms of strength and power. Revelation 12:10 says that salvation and strength came “NOW,” that is, at the point when Jesus went back to heaven and cast Satan out. There was no salvation before that. Still, we have the record that people like Enoch and Elijah were taken out of the world and not permitted to come under the power of death, how could this be if they had not received salvation? We have two things clearly taught by the Bible, one is that salvation only came with the arrival of Jesus Christ; the other is the reality that the Bible says there were some people before Christ who were taken away without seeing death. How do we reconcile these two facts?
What we have to conclude is that people such as Enoch and Elijah were given long life, not eternal life. They were given an extended existence, not permitted to die, but we should understand that long life is not the same as eternal life. Eternal life is a quality of existence, not an extension of existence. If Christ had failed in accomplishing our salvation, these men would have had to die because they were living, as it were, on borrowed time, in a temporary existence. Paul refers to the experience of Moses, Enoch and Elijah in Hebrews 11, and says,
And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect. (Heb 11:39-40)
Moses, Enoch and Elijah had to wait on the perfecting experience. They were not made perfect before the rest of us. It was the offering of Jesus Christ which made that perfecting experience become a reality for them.
For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified. (Heb 10:14)
The Power of the Kingdom
Jesus brought us salvation, but he brought us more. Along with salvation he brought us the power of the kingdom. Jesus promised that his people would receive power, he said that certain miraculous signs would follow those who believe. They would heal the sick, cast out devils, cleanse lepers and raise the dead. These miraculous abilities are the legitimate gifts given to those who are a part of his kingdom. It is Christ himself who lives in his people and the power of Jesus is not limited. He is just as mighty and just as present to do these mighty works as when he walked here in the flesh two thousand years ago. We have lived in darkness, we have struggled because we have had a problem in experiencing and exercising faith, but the more we understand these truths and feed on them, the more our faith will continue to grow.
In the very near future everything that the apostles did in terms of mighty, miracles will be repeated by those who are truly God’s people, but this will not be because God chooses to do something new. When the kingdom of God came two thousand years ago, salvation came to God’s people, but not salvation only, strength and power also came. This is the truth, but today we struggle against the darkness and impotence of two thousand years and it is difficult for us to step into that kind of faith. Yet I believe God is taking us there and it is just a matter of time, as we continue to walk in the light that he shines on our pathway. He is educating us, opening up our understanding, and this is a prelude to what is about to happen.
This truth about the kingdom is intrinsically tied in with some of the great truths which we have come to understand: the truth about God, the truth about the baptism of the holy spirit, the truth of righteousness by faith. All these things are inextricably linked to each other and Jesus gave it to us in one package when he said, “this gospel of the kingdom.” This is what is to be preached in all the world and really, there is no other message, everything else is just a distraction. Let us be sure that we are involved in the message that will triumph.
(Source: David Clayton from Restoration Ministry)