Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:14-15)
Lest we forget our purpose for our Gospel exploration, our objective is to examine the various gospel proclamations by John the Immerser, by Jesus and also by the Apostles in order to see if the Gospel we are proclaiming today is the same Gospel they proclaimed. Otherwise our Gospel is one which would be foreign to Jesus and his disciples. Our goal is to try and recapture the original gospel message of Jesus and his disciples and let that be the Gospel we proclaim.
Thus far, we’ve looked at the problems we have with our current gospel proclamation and then examined the first recorded gospel message in the New Testament, that of John the Immerser. Now we turn our attention to Jesus himself. What was the Gospel he proclaimed? Did he tell people to believe in him so that when they died they could go to heaven? Did he ask them to accept his sacrificial death as atonement for their sins? Did he tell people to ask him into their hearts? Did he teach them the ABC’s of salvation, or recite to them the Roman Road to Salvation or the Four Spiritual Laws? Did he preach justification through faith? Let’s take a look at the Gospels and find out exactly what Gospel he preached.
After John the Immerser had been put in prison by Herod, Jesus came on the scene in the Galilee. The Gospel of Mark records him as saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:14-15). Matthew records him simply saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). Matthew also records, “he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom” (Matthew 4:23). From these passages, we see that Jesus took up John’s cry for repentance, proclaiming the exact same message, one centered on both repentance and the Kingdom. Jesus preached, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
The bulk of Christendom emphasizes the earthly purpose of Jesus as being the cross. His sole purpose of coming to this earth, according to the vast majority of Christian teaching, was do die an atoning death to pay for the sins of the world. But Jesus actually says he was sent for more that just this. He also had another purpose, one that we have all but forgotten. He said,
“I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.” (Luke 4:43)
Jesus, himself, states that one of his primary objectives was to preach his Kingdom message. Yes, he would also accomplish the work of the cross, but according to his own confession, his purpose was also that of preaching the good news — the Gospel — of the Kingdom. As a matter of fact, Jesus expects this specific, kingdom-centered gospel message to be perpetuated by his disciples (including you and me). He says:
And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (Matthew 24:14, emphasis added)
Jesus makes it very clear that his Gospel is THE Gospel which must be proclaimed throughout the world to all nations. It is not a Gospel intended to be unique to him or directed only towards the Jewish people. It was not intended to be distinguished from that of Paul or anyone else. If there is a Gospel being proclaimed which is different from the Gospel message proclaimed by Jesus, then it is not THE Gospel. It is merely a substitute.
Was the good news of Jesus primarily about salvation? Unfortunately, this is what we have made it. However, a Gospel focused entirely on salvation alone is an emasculated gospel, stripped of its effectiveness, limited in its scope and its power; and we are seeing the fruits of such. We have churches filled with people who have accepted the Gospel of Salvation, but never accepted the Gospel of Jesus. Therefore, we have millions of fans of Jesus who have believed in a message concerning the justification of their sins, but how many disciples are there who are rejecting sin and working towards the restoration of the Kingdom? The Gospel Jesus preached was good news which tied repentance to the Kingdom of Heaven and had the power to transform lives. Ours should be the same.
I recently brought up the subject of repentance as it connects to the Gospel in our Sunday School class. I mentioned that we have completely left out repentance as a component of both the Gospel message and that of the salvation experience. After class, a gentlemen approached me and told me he had never really considered this and he really appreciated my addressing it. He said it changed his whole perspective on what it means to follow Christ.
In a noble attempt to capture the original Gospel, Scot McKnight published The King Jesus Gospel in 2011 after wrestling with the inherent problems of our current gospel message. He definitely made strides which are leaps and bounds beyond our current Gospel paradigm, but his conclusions still fall short because he says nothing in regard to the coming redemption of Israel and the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. Although he rightly defines “kingdom” in physical terms, he quickly spiritualizes it in its application.
He does, however, rightly recognize the problems with our current gospel messages which are almost completely disconnected to the Gospel both Jesus and his disciples proclaim, saying:
“When we can find hardly any instances of our favorite theological category in the whole of the four Gospels, we need to be wary of how important our own interpretations and theological favorites are.”
How true. If our Gospel isn’t the same as that of Jesus, it should definitely throw some red flags. The Gospel Jesus preached anticipated the coming of the physical restoration of the Kingdom to Israel. When his disciples asked him about the restoration of the physical Kingdom of Israel, Jesus did not rebuke them for their foolish understanding. His response was, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.”
If Jesus preached a kingdom-centered Gospel and we are not preaching a kingdom-centered Gospel today, how did the Gospel message change? Did the disciples misunderstand the message of Jesus and begin perpetuating a Gospel that differed from that of Jesus? In our next issue we will explore the Gospel of the disciples and compare it to that of Jesus to see if this is where the Gospel message began to change.