Jesus didn’t proclaim the gospel of forgiveness and heaven, he proclaimed the gospel of the Kingdom of God. His gospel of the Kingdom of God differs radically from the gospel of go-to-heaven-when-you-die.
Why not take a few minutes and check out these passages:
- John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus by preaching the Kingdom (Matthew 3: 1-2).
- The very first message Jesus shared was the Kingdom of God (Mark 1: 14-15).
- Jesus said the reason he came to Earth was to preach the Kingdom of God (Luke 4:43).
- He said the new birth was the way to enter the Kingdom of God (John 3: 5).
- The book of Acts opens and closes with the Kingdom of God (Acts 1: 3 & 28: 31).
- The Kingdom of God was Paul’s message from Corinth to Ephesus to Rome.
- The book of Hebrews describes a kingdom that can never be shaken (12:28).
- Peter and James depict the Kingdom of God as the calling of all believers.
If the words “Kingdom of God” seem awkward when they appear after the word “gospel” perhaps it’s because we have shortened the gospel to mean exclusively redemption from sin and going to heaven. The rediscovery of the gospel of the Kingdom, along with Jesus’ commission to “make disciples and teach them to obey” stand as the greatest need in the North American church today. Discipleship under the Masters’ hand and maturity in Christ depend on the gospel of the Kingdom of God.
We have confused Heaven with the Kingdom. Heaven is a great place. I’ll get there someday because Jesus paid the price, but in the meantime Heaven is breaking into the here and now. I believe we have become preoccupied with an arrow pointing to Heaven when we should be looking for how God is bringing the Kingdom to Earth. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus taught us to pray, “Let your Kingdom come, let your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” (Matthew 6: 10, emphasis added) Jesus said plainly that God’s Kingdom should be our highest priority: “Seek first the Kingdom of God.” (Matthew 6:33) Do we really think he meant that we should place going to heaven after we die as our highest earthy priority?
Consider his actions and words at the very end of his earthly ministry. Jesus chose to remind his friends about the message he had announced from the very beginning: the gospel of the Kingdom of God. He spent the 40 days after his resurrection teaching about the Kingdom of God (Acts 1:3) In the few days remaining with his friends, the Kingdom of God was still his passion.
The Kingdom of God is the true context for discipleship. No serious student of Jesus ignores his teaching or demonstration of the Kingdom. Yes: demonstration. Jesus explained his actions in terms of the Kingdom of God. Healing, deliverance, and feeding the masses were all signs of the Kingdom of God. The world longed for the rule and reign of God to come to Earth, they received their answer in the actions and teaching of Jesus. In his absence, Jesus expects us to demonstrate and explain God’s Kingdom today. To be about the Kingdom is to be about the Father’s business.
Perhaps one reason the church struggles in the area of spiritual formation is that we are not making disciples of the Kingdom. In our enthusiasm over God’s forgiveness and mercy, we have overlooked his purposes and plans. Everyone who trusts in God can expect to go to heaven, but Jesus is after more than eternal reward. He wants us to join him in the family business.