Jesus preached the kingdom of God. However, the early church preached mostly about Jesus. Is there a contradiction in this? Did the early church get things turned around, preaching about the messenger but neglecting his message? Let’s go back to the four Gospels to see whether the early church’s focus on Jesus is compatible with Jesus’ own teaching. Did Jesus actually preach about himself?
1. Near the end of the Sermon on the Mount, how does Jesus describe the people who enter the kingdom of God? Matthew 7:21-23. Is it appropriate to call Jesus Lord? Is it appropriate to do good works in his name? What else is needed? Verse 21. In verse 23, who is acting as Judge? Whose words are we to put into practice? Verse 24.
Comment: Throughout the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke with personal authority. People are blessed or not blessed in relation to him. He indicated that his own words were on the same level as Scripture. He said that people should put Jesus’ words into practice just as seriously as they obey God.
2. Did Jesus claim to be able to forgive sins? Matthew 9:2-6. Did he heal for the purpose of showing this authority?
Comment: I can forgive sins that are committed against me, but I do not have authority to forgive someone of the sins they commit against someone else. But Jesus claims to forgive all sins, even in terms of a person’s relationship to God.
In this passage, Jesus is teaching something about himself. This is one aspect of the message God the Father wanted Jesus to preach: that forgiveness comes through Jesus Christ. This means that entry into the kingdom is through Jesus Christ. The kingdom of God is good news for those who accept Jesus’ authority.
3. If a person does not accept Jesus, how will that affect the person’s relationship with God? Matthew 10:32-33. Is Jesus claiming to be Judge of our eternity? Does Jesus promise eternal rewards? Verse 42. Does he pronounce judgments about the future? Matthew 11:22. Which is worse—the sin of Sodom, or the sin of rejecting Jesus? Verse 24.
4. What did Jesus claim about his own knowledge and authority? Matthew 11:27. Did he claim to be more important than Solomon, more important than Jonah, more important than the temple, more important than the Sabbath? Matthew 12:5-8, 41-42.
Comment: As part of his mission, Jesus claimed an authority and knowledge that was much greater than any other person had. He claimed to be the key to eternal life in the kingdom of God. He was teaching about himself.
5. Did Jesus want his disciples to know who he was? Matthew 16:13-15. Did God the Father want them to know? Verses 16-17. Did Jesus have authority to give the keys to the kingdom of God? Verse 19. Is obedience to Jesus more important than life itself? Verse 25.
Comment: If ordinary people said this, we would consider them either crazy or dangerous cult leaders. But Jesus said it about himself. He was extraordinary.
Jesus preached the kingdom of God, but he also preached about himself as the decisive factor as to whether a person is in the kingdom. For the gospel to be communicated accurately, it is essential that people know about who Jesus is and what he taught.
6. Jesus called himself the Son of Man. Did he also claim that he would have the Father’s glory? Matthew 16:27. Would he also be the Judge, the one who gives eternal rewards? Did he claim to give authority to his disciples? Matthew 18:18; 19:28. If Jesus can give that kind of authority, does it imply that he has even more authority than that—more than heaven and earth?
7. Did Jesus claim that his life was worth more than all other people? Matthew 20:28. Did he take a psalm about God and apply it to himself? Matthew 21:16; Psalm 8:2. Does he claim to have angels, whom he can send throughout the universe? Matthew 24:30-31. Does he claim that his words are infallible, greater than the universe? Verse 35.
Comment: These claims are astonishing in scope. Jesus is teaching that he is as great as God.
8. In a parable, Jesus again claimed to be the Judge, sitting on a throne in heavenly glory. Will he control the eternity of all human beings? Matthew 25:31-32. Will he have authority to give eternal life in the kingdom of God? Verse 34. Will he have the authority to condemn people? Verse 41.
9. Did Jesus claim to institute a new covenant between God and his people? Matthew 26:28. Does this covenant bring forgiveness? Whose blood made it possible?
Comment: Jesus taught that he was the sacrifice that enabled people to live in the kingdom of God, the ransom that could set them free. He claimed to do this by his death, and yet he also claimed that he would live forever. In all these things, Jesus was teaching something about himself.
10. Does Jesus again claim universal authority? Matthew 28:18. Does he put himself on the same level as the Father? Verse 19. Does he put his own commands on the same level as the Father’s? Verse 20. Does he claim to be present with believers throughout the world and throughout the ages?
11. Did Jesus give his disciples power over all things? Luke 10:19. Did he claim authority to give the kingdom of God and to give the highest positions? Luke 22:29. Even on the cross, did he claim authority to judge whether a person would be saved? Luke 23:43. Did he have the authority to send the power of God? Luke 24:49.
12. When Jesus approached Jerusalem, did he equate his own coming with “the time of God’s coming”? Luke 19:41-44. Did he acknowledge being the Son of God? Luke 22:70. Did he claim to be the fulfillment of the Old Testament Scriptures? Luke 24:44. Was this what he taught before his crucifixion, too? Same verse, first part.
Comment: The first-century Jews were looking forward to an earthly kingdom, with land, laws, king and subjects. If Jesus preached this kind of kingdom, most people would have found it normal, and not objectionable. But Jesus caused controversy by the things he taught about himself. This was what caused the Jewish leaders to accuse him of blasphemy and to crucify him. This was an important part of his message.
13. Jesus’ identity is much more explicit in the Gospel of John. What does he claim about himself? John 3:13-16, 35. Did his audience understand that he was claiming to be equal to God? John 5:17-19. Can the Son give eternal life? Verse 21. Is he the Judge of the world? Verse 22. Should Jesus be honored in the same way as the Father—with worship? Verse 23.
14. Did Jesus teach that he had life within himself? John 5:25. Is he the one who gives eternal life? John 6:27. Is he the one who raises the dead? Verse 40. Is eternal life uniquely dependent on Jesus? Verse 51. Is he the key to eternal life? John 11:25-26.
15. Did Jesus teach that he existed before Abraham? John 8:58. That he had glory with God before the world began? John 17:5. That he is able to resurrect himself? John 10:18. That he is equal with God? Verse 30. That he is the perfect representation of what God is? John 14:9-10.
Comment: Jesus did not begin his sermons with, “Let me tell you about how great I am.” Nevertheless, in his preaching and teaching, Jesus often taught about himself. He taught that he had an extraordinary greatness, and our eternal future hinges on whether we accept him for who he is. He is the key to the kingdom. We must believe in him before we can experience his forgiveness and life in his kingdom.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com
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This article was written by Michael Morrison in 1998 and updated in 2014. Copyright Grace Communion International. All rights reserved. If you'd like to learn more about the Bible, check out Grace Communion Seminary. It's accredited, affordable, and all online. www.gcs.edu.
Jesus’ disciples didn’t always understand what Jesus taught. He often chided them for being slow of heart and of little faith. They did not understand Jesus’ role as Savior until after the resurrection. They seem to have misunderstood who he was, despite all the things that he taught. There were some things that he specifically told them to be quiet about until after his resurrection (Mark 9:9).
After Jesus ascended into heaven and the Holy Spirit empowered the apostles, they understood much more about Jesus and his kingdom. They were inspired to see even more clearly that Jesus’ teachings about himself were of supreme importance.
People can have many misunderstandings about the kingdom and still be saved, but in order for them to experience salvation, it is crucial that they accept Jesus as Lord and Savior. He is the most important part of the message. People need to know about Jesus.
Jesus taught about his own death and resurrection, and he taught that forgiveness comes through him. That also formed the focus of the preaching of the early church in the book of Acts. The apostles did not contradict their Master. What we see is continuity and greater clarity, not contradiction. The gospel focuses on who Jesus is and what he did so that we might be saved in God’s kingdom.
When we compare the different sermons in the book of Acts, we see different ways to preach the gospel. When we see the different parables and sayings of Jesus, we also see a variety of ways to preach the gospel of salvation. When we examine the letters of Paul, which we will do in our next study, we will again see some differences, as well as continuity in the most important points.