We read about “the gospel of the kingdom” because the good news of Jesus cannot be separated from the kingdom. Often times, the gospel and the kingdom are synonymous, such as in Luke 9 where it says that Jesus sent the apostles out to proclaim the kingdom and God and it then states that they proclaimed the gospel. How the gospel and the kingdom relate is an issue of great debate, but it is clear from the New Testament that they are linked in some inseparable way.
When was the last time you heard about the kingdom of God? What was the last sermon you listened to that spoke about the kingdom of God, in more than passing terms? What was the last Christian book you read that said anything about the kingdom of God that was more than lip service? When was the last time you read a church’s doctrinal statement that said anything about the kingdom of God? It’s as if the theme of God’s kingdom has gone missing from evangelicalism.
The Overarching Theme
The phrase the kingdom of God can seem allusive term because it is multi-faceted. But it is multi-faceted precisely because it is such an important theme in the Bible.
We read about “the gospel of the kingdom” (Matt. 4:23, 9:35, 24:14) because the good news of Jesus cannot be separated from the kingdom. Often times, the gospel and the kingdom are synonymous, such as in Luke 9 where it says that Jesus sent the apostles out to proclaim the kingdom and God and it then states that they proclaimed the gospel. How the gospel and the kingdom relate is an issue of great debate, but it is clear from the New Testament that they are linked in some inseparable way.
In fact, the Bible says that when Philip preached to the Samaritans, he was “preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts. 8:12). Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, ascension, exaltation, enthronement and promised return are all inseparable aspects of the kingdom of God, or steps toward bringing about the fulfillment of His kingdom in stages.
Patrick Schreiner states,
The Bible is most fundamentally a narrative, and the kingdom of God is the thematic framework for that narrative… The story of the Bible is the story of the King and his kingdom (The Kingdom of God and the Glory of the Cross, p. 14, 26).
G. E. Ladd writes,
This theme of the coming of the Kingdom of God was central in His [Jesus’] mission. His teaching was designed to show men how they might enter the Kingdom of God (Matt. 5:20; 7:21). His mighty works were intended to prove that the Kingdom of God had come upon them (Matt. 12: 28). His parables illustrated to His disciples the truth about the Kingdom of God (Matt. 13). (Gospel of the Kingdom: Scriptural Studies in the Kingdom of God, pp. 14-15)
In George Peter’s three-volume work on premillennialism, he writes, “The kingdom deserves the first place in Biblical and the first rank in Systematic theology… In view of its extent, the doctrine exceeds all others in magnitude, enfolding in itself nearly all doctrine.” (1:31, 33)
While I would not place the kingdom of God over and above the person and work of Christ, his point is well taken. In fact, it is echoed by John Bright, who wrote,
The concept of the Kingdom of God involves, in a real sense, the total message of the Bible. Not only does it loom large in the teachings of Jesus; it is to be found, in one form or another, through the length and breadth of the Bible (The Kingdom of God, p. 7; cf. Eternity to Eternity, by Sauer, p. 89)
In his book, The Modern Preacher and the Ancient Text, Sidney Greidanus writes:
The Bible as a whole teaches one, all-encompassing history of the kingdom of God… The hermeneutical implication of the biblical view of history is that every biblical passage must be understood in the context of this grand sweep of kingdom history (chapter 4).
In other words, preachers must show how any passage fits in the wider theme of God’s kingdom. Yet, this rarely happens. One pastor said, “The unifying theme of Scripture is the glory of God through the advancement of His kingdom” (Tony Evans), yet how often does this come across in our churches and in our preaching?
Even evangelism should be flavored with kingdom terms. When Paul arrived in Ephesus “he entered the synagogue and continued speaking out boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God” (Acts 19:8). I can’t tell you when I last heard a preacher say something about the kingdom of God when preaching an evangelistic sermon. Yet, the apostles did this regularly (e.g. Acts 20:25, 28:23, 31).
Old Testament Expectations
Jesus began His ministry, proclaiming, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). All the Jewish hopes and expectations—their hope for the Messiah (or King), hope for the new covenant that had been promised in Jeremiah—all these Old Testament hopes came under the umbrella of the kingdom of God.
So, as we read the Old Testament, where God makes all the promises that create all the expectations and hopes of fulfillment, we need to see the Old Testament as being fundamentally about the kingdom of God because that is what Jesus came on the scene to fulfill. That’s why Jesus said that one of the purposes for which He sent was to proclaim the kingdom of God (Luke 4:43).
In Continuity and Discontinuity, Walter Kaiser tells us that, “According to R. T. France’s count, there are some sixty instances (not including parallels) in the teaching of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels where this phrase [the kingdom of God] points to the heart of his mission.” Jesus entered human history to begin fulfilling the kingdom of God because that is what Old Testament saints continually looked forward to according to God’s promises (Gen. 3:15, 49:10; Num. 24:17; 2 Sam. 7; Ps. 89; Isa. 9; Dan. 7).
It’s no wonder that a recent book is entitled, The Spine of Scripture: God’s Kingdom from Eden to Eternity. Indeed, some people would outline the whole Bible in this way:
- The pattern of the Kingdom (Genesis 1-2)
- The perished Kingdom (Genesis 3-11)
- The promised Kingdom (Genesis 12-50)
- The partial Kingdom (Exodus to 2 Chronicles)
- The prophesied Kingdom (Isaiah to Malachi)
- The present Kingdom (Matthew to John)
- The proclaimed Kingdom (Acts to Jude)
- The perfected Kingdom (Revelation and OT prophecies)
The Preaching of Jesus
Jesus preached on the kingdom of God more than any other topic: The kingdom of heaven now belongs to the poor in the spirit (Matt. 5:3,“theirs is the kingdom,” not just “will be” in the future. Cf. Luke 12:32). Many nations will dine with the patriarchs in the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 8:11). Jesus commanded the apostles to preach the kingdom (Matt. 10:7). Jesus sent the twelve out to proclaim the kingdom of God (Luke 9:2).
The man who wanted to bury his father was told by Jesus to “proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:60). People can become disciples of the kingdom of God (Matt. 13:52). Jesus frequently spoke to the crowds about the kingdom of God (e.g. Luke 9:11, 10:9-11, 11:20, 13:18-21, 13:29, 16:16, 17:21, 18:16-17, 18:24-29, 21:31, 22:16).
Whoever humbles himself like a child is the greatest in the kingdom (Matt. 18:4) and no one can enter the kingdom unless he becomes like a child (Matt. 18:3; Mark 10:15; Luke 18:17). The kingdom of heaven, a synonym for salvation in this context, is compared to a merciful king who forgave his slave billions of dollars in debt (Matt. 18:23f).
Jesus instructed the seventy to proclaim, “The kingdom of God has come near to you” (Luke 10:9). “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for service for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62). Many of Jesus’ parables are about the kingdom of God. Is there any doubt as to what Jesus wanted people to know His ministry was about? (Luke 8:1, 9:11). Jesus constantly preached about the kingdom and saw the kingdom as a grand narrative that everything fit into, yet, we rarely hear preaching like this today!