What Did the Apostles Preach?
Chapter 2 of Good News for Bad People
The book of Acts shows a dramatic change in the disciples. No more questions, no more doubts, no more arguing among themselves. They boldly preached with confidence to thousands in the temple, defying the religious leaders, risking their lives because they were so zealous for the message.
What turned the fishermen into faith-filled preachers? Two things: they were convinced that Jesus was alive, and that they were given the same power that Jesus had—the Holy Spirit helped them understand and gave them courage.
The Messiah was alive, and his message was true: The time had come. The kingdom of God had come! Turn to God, and believe the wonderful news! Jesus told them to preach, and so they preached!
But what did they preach?
On the day of Pentecost, strange sounds came from heaven. Strange things appeared near the disciples. Strange words came from their mouths. Jews from all across the empire asked, What is going on? And Peter stood up to explain what was happening: A prophecy of Joel was being fulfilled (Acts 2:1-20).
A prophecy of Jesus was being fulfilled, too. He had predicted that the Holy Spirit would come upon his disciples, and it was happening. The Holy Spirit had filled Peter, and he preached with power.
What did he say? He preached about Jesus. "Listen to what I have to say," he said. "Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know—this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up, having freed him from death" (vs. 22-24).
And Peter continued to preach about Jesus, and concluded his sermon by saying, "Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified" (v. 36). He told the people to repent, so they would be forgiven (v. 38).
Preaching in the book of Acts
disciples preach about? Here are the verses in Acts that use the
In chapter 3, Peter and John speak to another crowd, beginning their sermon by talking about Jesus (v. 13). They explain that the Scriptures predicted the suffering and death of the Messiah (v. 18), and they called for repentance (v. 19). And they ended the sermon by talking about Jesus. This pattern happens throughout the book of Acts (see box).
The disciples did not completely forget about the kingdom of God. It is mentioned a few times, but the overwhelming focus of their messages was Jesus. The most important thing people needed to know about the kingdom is Jesus, specifically that he is the Messiah, the Christ, that he has come, and he has been resurrected to life.
The kingdom in Acts
Evangelism is a major theme of the book of Acts, but the word kingdom is not used in any of the sermons. It is used only eight times in Acts.
Although Jews believed in the kingdom of God and had the Old Testament prophecies about it, Paul argued about the kingdom for three months in the Ephesian synagogue (Acts 19:8). His concept of the kingdom must have been considerably different from what the Ephesian Jews had believed. And no wonder! Paul's message about the kingdom was coupled with a message about Jesus and grace and faith.
The overwhelming focus of their messages was Jesus. The most important thing people needed to know is about Jesus.
That was Jesus' message, too. For 40 days after his resurrection, he taught the disciples about the kingdom (Acts 1:3). What did this include? Luke tells us what he talked about during that time. On the road to Emmaus, "he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures" (Luke 24:27). Later, he summarized his own message: "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled" (verse 44).
This is the kingdom message: a message about the Messiah who suffers, dies, is resurrected, calls for repentance and brings forgiveness.
What was written? Here it is in a nutshell: "The Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem" (verses 46-47). This is the kingdom message: a message about the Messiah who suffers, dies, is resurrected, calls for repentance and brings forgiveness.
Throughout the book of Acts, we see the disciples preaching about Jesus, about his resurrection, about repentance, faith and salvation. Many people accepted the message. Others scoffed, and some became angry. People react in different ways to Jesus.
But wait! How did a message about the kingdom of God get turned into a message about the messenger? Did the disciples get it wrong? Absolutely not! They were inspired to understand what Jesus was really teaching. Jesus had spoken in figurative language; he inspired them to take the next step. They were also inspired to write the books of the New Testament—and the first four are all about Jesus. Jesus is the focus of the Gospels, of Acts, of the Epistles, and of Revelation. He is the focus of the message of the church.
Jesus speaks about himself
Jesus made some rather astonishing claims about himself—so bold that the Jewish leaders hated him for it. They could tolerate talk about the kingdom, but they were really upset when Jesus talked about himself.
He talked as if he were the Judge of the entire world (Matt. 10:32; 7:21-23), as if everyone had to obey him just as they obeyed God (vs. 24-29). He claimed the authority to forgive sins. Of course, anyone can forgive sins that are against themselves, but Jesus claimed to forgive sins that were against God (9:2-6). He claimed to know what the Holy Spirit would do (10:20). He guaranteed eternal rewards (v. 42; 19:29).
Jesus claimed to know how cities would fare in the judgment (12:41-42; 11:20-24), and said it was worse to reject him than to commit the sins of Sodom (v. 24). He claimed to know more about God than anyone else (v. 27), to be more important than the temple of God (12:6) and to have authority over the Sabbath (v. 8).
Yes, Jesus preached about himself, and it made people angry. He made sure that his disciples knew who he was (16:13-17), and he promised them heavenly rewards (v. 19). He said that devotion to himself was more important than life itself (16:25-27). He claimed that he would return with the glory of God (v. 27). He gave enormous authority to his disciples, which means that he himself had even greater authority (18:18). He claims to have all authority, and to have power everywhere (v. 20; 28:18).
He claimed to be the judge and to have the power to appoint his disciples to be judges over all Israel (19:28; 25:31-34). He is the one who can let them enter the kingdom of God (v. 34) or sentence them to hell (v. 41).
Jesus claimed that his life would ransom everyone else (20:28), as if he were worth more than everyone else put together. He claimed that his blood would institute a new covenant between God and humans (26:28). He quoted a psalm about God as if it applied to himself (21:16). He claimed to have the power to send angels throughout the world (24:31). He said his words were infallible and eternal (v. 35).
Good news—or blasphemy?
The Jewish leaders thought that these claims were blasphemous. They understood how astonishingly great Jesus claimed to be. The validity of the message that he preached depended on who he was. If what he said was true, he was God. They could not accept it.
We cannot enter the kingdom of God unless we accept Jesus as the King. We cannot have one without the other.
We find similar teachings in the Gospels of Mark and Luke: Jesus said he was someone incredibly important, the focal point of prophecy, the key to everyone's eternity. We cannot enter the kingdom of God unless we accept Jesus as the King. We cannot have one without the other. The good news about the kingdom is that Jesus himself has arrived. In his actions and in his words, Jesus showed that God accepted people into his kingdom. He forgave them, he welcomed them, he invited them.
It was good news for the poor. It was good news for sinners. Jesus did not come to invite the "good" people—he had come to invite the sinners. They are the ones who know they need help.
Jesus did not come to invite the "good" people — he came to invite the sinners. They are the ones who know they need help.
But people who thought that they could work their way into the kingdom did not like the message. Their concept of religion was totally opposed to the way that Jesus taught. Wasn't religion a way to keep people in line? Wasn't the threat of punishment necessary for a law-abiding society? Jesus was upsetting the way the world worked.
Jesus was a blasphemer, they thought. He was treating the law of Moses far too casually. He must be one of the false prophets that Moses said should be killed (Deut. 13:1-5). They felt justified, no doubt, in arranging for his death. It was better for one man to be killed than to plunge the whole nation into rebellion (John 11:49). That was the choice they thought they had: kill a blasphemer, or risk Roman retaliation. The choice was obvious.
Little did they know that it was all part of God's plan for the kingdom. The Messiah had to die, to give his life as a ransom, to make it possible for people to be forgiven, to make the kingdom good news of salvation instead of bad news of punishment. For the people to be saved, one man did have to die.
What a man this was! The man sent by God to be the Lamb of salvation (John 1:29), so that all who believe in him are given the right to become children of God, born of God (vs. 12-13). We are children of the King—through faith in Jesus Christ.
Jesus is the Savior, the Messiah, the bread of life, the entry-point of salvation, the light of the world, the shepherd of God's people, the resurrection and life, the way and the truth (John 6:35; 8:12; 10:7, 11; 11:25; 14:6). If we believe in him, if we trust our future to him, eternal life is ours—another way of saying that we belong to God's kingdom (John 3:35).
Jesus has the authority to give eternal life, to judge the world, to be honored in the way that God is (John 5:21-24). Jesus had eternal life (v. 26), and will raise others back to life (6:40), and raise himself (10:17). He was just like God (5:17-20; 14:8-10). He claimed eternal existence (8:58; 17:5) and accepted worship (9:38; 20:28).
To preach about the kingdom of God, we have to preach about Jesus, for without him, it would not be good news. The kingdom is good news only if we have hope of getting in.
To enter the kingdom of God, we must trust in Jesus. To understand the kingdom of God, we must understand about Jesus. To preach about the kingdom of God, we have to preach about Jesus, for without him, it would not be good news. The kingdom is good news only if we have hope of getting in, and Jesus gives us more than hope—he gives us confidence, assurance. We know the supreme price has been paid. We know that we are God's children through faith in him—and when we are in the royal family, we can be sure that we are in the kingdom of God.
The kingdom is good only if we are in it, and as part of his good news, Jesus talked about how people get in. That's really the most important thing we need to know about it. God will take care of where it is and when it is and what it will be like. We might like to know those things, but we don't have to know them. What we need to know is how we can be part of it.
We can be sure that the kingdom will be incredibly good—but we also want to be sure that we are in it, and the only way we can be sure is through Jesus. The good news about the kingdom is that Jesus is the way for us to be in it. When Jesus came preaching about the kingdom, the time had arrived. The kingdom was near. Jesus wanted people to believe it, and to enter it.
So he told them how.
Entering the kingdom
"The tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you," Jesus told the priests and elders (Matt. 21:31). How were they going in? By believing Jesus' words about righteousness and repentance (v. 32) and by doing what God wants (vs. 28-31). People enter the kingdom by repenting and believing the gospel.
There will be a future kingdom of great glory, but the question that Jesus brings is, Are we willing to be in the kingdom right now?
We must "receive the kingdom," Jesus said (Luke 18:17). He talked about how hard it was for rich people to "enter the kingdom" (v. 24). The disciples then asked, "Then who can be saved?" (v. 26). Here, we see several phrases used to indicate the same thing: receive the kingdom, enter the kingdom, be saved. These are different ways of talking about the same thing.
Jesus did not preach much about the details of the future kingdom. Rather, he preached about the way citizens of his kingdom can live and think in this age. He told us how our sins are forgiven. He told us to repent and believe the gospel. His disciples preached the same (Luke 9:6; Mark 6:12).
A kingdom yet to come
Jesus announced that the kingdom of God was near, but he also talked about it as something that was in the distant future. He told his disciples to pray that the kingdom would come (Luke 11:2). He gave a parable because some people thought the kingdom would appear right away (Luke 19:11). Jesus looked forward to the kingdom in the future (Matt. 26:29). People "will enter the kingdom" on a future "day" of judgment (Matt. 7:21-23, Luke 13:22-30).
Jesus could speak about the kingdom of God as already existing, or he could speak about it as a future event, depending on which aspect of the kingdom he wished to speak about. The time was at hand, the kingdom had arrived, even though it was not yet the glorious kind of kingdom that the Jews were hoping for. Nevertheless, for those who had faith, for those who repented and believed the good news, the kingdom had arrived.
The kingdom of God is here, Jesus said. It begins right now. Yes, in the future the kingdom will have great glory—God will see to that. There will be fabulous future rewards, but the question that Jesus brings is, Are we willing to be in the kingdom right now? Right now, the kingdom is small (Matt. 13:31-33). Now, the kingdom has both good and bad in it (vs. 24-30). Now, the kingdom is waiting for growth (Mark 4:26-29). Eventually, the kingdom will come in power, but now, it is small. The good news is that we can enter it.
Some Pharisees asked Jesus when the kingdom would come (Luke 17:20). He replied that the kingdom already existed in their midst (v. 21). But they could not yet see it. The kingdom will eventually be seen by everyone, but the King had to suffer and die first (vs. 22-25).
Jesus also told the Pharisees, "If it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you" (Matt. 12:28, Luke 11:20). The kingdom is here, he said, and the proof is in the power. The kingdom of God is demonstrating its authority over Satan's rule—and this proof continues in the church today. Just as the kingdom could be seen in the ministry of Jesus, it is seen in the ministry of his church, too. Jesus predicted that his followers would do even greater works than he did (John 14:12). The kingdom is growing.
The kingdom of God is here, Jesus said. People did not need to wait for a conquering Messiah—God is already ruling, and we turn our hearts toward him now. The kingdom announcement demands a decision. It is a call to action. We do not need to wait—there are things to be done right now.
The good news about the kingdom is not just that it is near—it is that we can be part of it. Nearness is not good news if we miss out! Our sins would disqualify us, but in Jesus our sins are forgiven. We can believe in Jesus and turn toward God. We can be in the kingdom of God forever, and that is wonderfully good news!