This is the first of a series of six Bible studies. Although you may get the gist of the answer by looking at the comments we include, the study will be more meaningful if you look up the Scriptures and take time to think about it, rather than reading through in a hurry.
Comment: Some ancient manuscripts of Mark 1:14-15 say that Jesus preached the kingdom of God; others say that he preached the gospel of God. It is not necessary here to discuss which manuscripts are better, but we will discuss the verse that is familiar to many of us – Jesus preached, “The time has come… The kingdom of God has come near.”
Jesus was announcing the kingdom – not just the king – as being near. He was talking about nearness in terms of time, not geography. “The time has come” for God’s kingdom to be established.
Likewise, when the disciples preached that the kingdom was near, they were not talking about the king, and they were not talking about a nearby territory. They were announcing that God’s kingdom would soon arrive. This was good news!
The Gospel of...
Scripture describes the gospel in numerous ways. Here's how the word is most often used:
2. Was Jesus a king? John 18:37. Was he like the kings of this world? Were his disciples supposed to act the way rulers of this world act? Matthew 20:25-28. May we assume that God’s kingdom is like the kingdoms of this world?
Comment: When we are studying something as important as the central message of Jesus Christ, it is not safe to make assumptions. God’s thoughts are not like our thoughts, and his ways are not like ours. We need to look to Scripture to see what Jesus revealed about the kingdom.
The Jews had various assumptions about what the Messiah would do, but Jesus did not act the way they wanted him to. Their assumptions about the king were wrong, and their assumptions about the kingdom were wrong, too.
Just as their ancestors had wanted a king like the nations around them (1 Samuel 8:5), the first-century Jews also wanted a kingdom much like the kingdoms of this world – with a military leader who enforced laws in a particular territory. The Jews wanted the Messiah to bring a kingdom like that, but Jesus brought something different. Let’s study a few more verses to learn about the kingdom Jesus preached.
3. Did Jesus say that the kingdom had already come upon the first-century Jews? Matthew 12:28. Were people already entering the kingdom of God? Luke 16:16; Matthew 21:31. How were they entering? Matthew 21:31-32. Is it possible to enter something that does not exist?
Comment: When Jesus preached the kingdom of God, he told people to believe the message and repent (Mark 1:15). He criticized those who did not believe and repent, but praised the people who did believe and repent, and said that they were entering the kingdom.
Jesus was talking about a spiritual move, not a geographic move. People enter God’s kingdom by accepting his rule, not by moving to a new territory. They enter God’s kingdom by repentance and faith – they accept his rule in their lives. They accept Jesus as their King, and he reigns over them. They become his subjects, doing his will. Paul said that Christians have already entered the kingdom (Colossians 1:13).
Jesus, the King, has already been crowned with power and authority over all things (Matthew 28:18). He is already King. However, he does not force others to do his will, the way the kings of this world do. Rather, he reigns over those who willingly accept him as their Lord and King.
Comment: Jesus spoke of the kingdom as both a present-tense reality and a future glory. It exists now as a spiritual realm – in the world, but not part of the world – and it will later expand with power and glory when Jesus returns. The kingdom will then come in great power. God’s power is already here, but it is veiled – present but usually not visible.
The kingdom is both present and future, already in existence but not yet visible in its fullness. The “already/not yet” nature of God’s kingdom is similar to other spiritual realities:
- We are already saved, but the completion of our salvation is yet future (Ephesians 2:5; 1 Peter 1:5).
- We have already been given eternal life, but its fullness will be given after we die (John 3:35; Mark 10:30).
- We will be like Christ, yet Christ is already being formed in us (Philippians 3:21; 2 Corinthians 3:18).
- We will live with God forever, but he already lives within us (1 Thessalonians 4:17; 1 John 4:13).
The Bible speaks of these spiritual truths not only as future gifts, but also as blessings we already enjoy in part.
In a similar way, Jesus spoke of the kingdom both as something that exists right now and something that will exist in a greater way when he returns. When he and his disciples announced that the kingdom was near, they were referring to the spiritual, invisible phase of the kingdom. For those who thought the kingdom would soon appear with power and glory, he told a parable to explain that there would be a delay (Luke 19:11-27) – but the parable also explains that some of the work of the kingdom must be done even before the kingdom appears in its fullness. Now is the time we are to believe, repent, be saved and enter the kingdom.
5. What did Jesus say would be preached throughout the world? Matthew 24:14. What did he commission his disciples to preach? Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:47. Should we conclude that preaching the kingdom is practically synonymous with preaching faith, repentance, forgiveness and making disciples?
Preaching in the book of Acts
What did the disciples preach about? Here are the verses in Acts that use the words for "preach":
Comment: According to Jesus, our goal when preaching is to make disciples, and we do that by preaching repentance and faith, baptizing those who believe and teaching them to obey what Jesus taught. For those who reject Jesus as King, the kingdom is a message of judgment. But for those who accept him, it is wonderfully good news – the good news is that we can enter the kingdom now!
Since the good news of the kingdom is experienced only through faith, repentance and forgiveness, these aspects of salvation must be a prominent part of the gospel message. If people have faith in Jesus Christ and accept him as Lord, they enter his kingdom – even if they have never heard the word “kingdom.” It is their relationship to Jesus Christ that is crucial; the precise terminology is not nearly as important.
When we preach the gospel of the kingdom, what should we say about it? In future studies we will see the way Jesus described the kingdom, what the original apostles preached, and what Paul emphasized as the most important part of the gospel message.
Preaching about what?
What are Jesus' disciples supposed to preach about? The answer can be seen by looking at scriptures that use the Greek words for "preach":
- 2 Tim. 4:2
- Matt. 3:1; 4:17, 23; 9:35; 10:7; 24:14; 26:1
- Mark 1:4, 7, 14; 5:20; 6:12; 13:10; 14:9; 16:15
- Luke 3:3; 4:18-19, 43; 8:1, 39; 9:2; 16:16; 24:47
- Acts 5:42; 8:5, 12, 35; 9:20; 10:36, 42; 11:20; 17:18; 19:13; 20:25; 28:31
- Rom. 10:8, 14
- 1 Cor. 1:23; 2:2; 15:11-12
- 2 Cor. 1:19; 4:5; 11:4
- Gal. 1:16, 23; 2:2
- Eph. 2:17; 3:8
- Phil. 1:15
- Col. 1:22-23
- 1 Thess. 2:9
- 1 Tim. 3:16
The gospel can be described in many ways — a message about the kingdom, about Jesus Christ, forgiveness, reconciliation, salvation or peace. The most common biblical description is the gospel of Jesus Christ.