Quick reads: Jesus.
Christian churches and individuals base their beliefs on the story of Jesus given in the four gospels, but there is a wide range of understanding and interpretations of Jesus’ life.
On this page I will try to summarise the message Jesus taught as we find it in the four gospels.
What is “gospel”?
Mark’s gospel records that Jesus began his public ministry by proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:14-15)
The word translated “good news” (“gospel” in older Bibles) was not a religious word, but referred to the announcement of a new king, which subjects were supposed to see as good news.
So Mark is summing up Jesus’ message as the coming of God’s king, him, and therefore the coming of God’s kingdom on earth through him. It was good news because God’s was beginning to put things right on earth in a new way, and this would benefit everyone.
The four accounts of Jesus’ life are called gospels because they tell the good news of Jesus.
So what is the kingdom of God?
A kingdom is the place where a king rules, so God’s kingdom is where God rules. Some scholars say the phrase is better translated as “rule of God”.
But isn’t God sovereign, and thus already king everywhere? Well yes, God is sovereign, that is, he can do anything he chooses. But he has allowed us the freedom to choose to follow his ways or not. Those who accept his rule over them are therefore in the kingdom. This truth is reflected in the Lord’s Prayer, where Jesus teaches us to pray that God’s kingdom will come and his will be done – on earth, as it already is done in heaven (Matthew 6:10).
Most New Testament experts agree that the kingdom of God was Jesus’ main message. The phrases “Kingdom of God”, and its equivalent “kingdom of heaven” (Matthew’s gospel, in common with Jews of that day, preferred not to use the word “God” out of respect) occur 86 times in the four gospels.
So what did Jesus teach about the kingdom of God?
How the kingdom comes
The Jews of that time were looking for the Messiah to throw off the Roman occupation in a decisive battle, but Jesus taught God’s kingdom was coming gradually and unexpectedly (Mark 4:26-28). Nevertheless, its growth is inexorable (Luke 13:18-21) and God’s rule changes everything.
Accepting God’s rule is a choice for each person (Luke 17:20, 21), and our life choices will often determine whether we stay in God’s kingdom, or drop out (Mark 4:3-8).
Entering the kingdom is our highest priority
It is so important that we should be willing to sacrifice other things for the sake of entering the kingdom (Matthew 13:44-46). Jesus said (Matthew 7:13-14) that his narrow way leads to life, but most people don’t choose it.
How do we enter the kingdom?
Jesus didn’t give us a formula or a set of rules. Instead he offered many hints, and, because it is a matter for each individual, his words suggest that we may enter in different ways.
- Jesus saw himself as a Messiah who must suffer (Mark 8:31), echoing Isaiah 53. He said he would give his life as a ransom, i.e. a payment to buy back a slave (Mark 10:45). In some sense his death was sacrificial (John 1:29, Matthew 26:28) to atone for human sin.
- It requires humble repentance, not self-righteous arrogance (Luke 18:9-14).
- We must be like little children (Mark 10:15), having faith in God and accepting his authority.
- We must be obedient to God’s commands, and not be all talk (Matthew 7:21, 21:30-32). Those who care for the poor and needy receive God’s favour (Matthew 25:31-46).
- It will be harder for the rich (Matthew 10:23, Luke 4:43) and easier for the humble and needy (Matthew 5:3-10).
What does God’s kingdom look like?
Jesus said the kingdom of God would be characterised by people’s lives being put right (Luke 4:16-21, 7:18-22). This would especially include healing (Luke 10:9) and freedom from the power of evil (Luke 11:20).
We may be surprised by who is in God’s kingdom (Matthew 13:47-50) and it is not always possible for us to tell who is submitting to God (Matthew 13:24-30).
But wait, there’s more!
For all the signs of God’s kingdom in Jesus’ life, he said there was more to come. The kingdom would later come on earth in greater power, but would only reach its fulness in the age to come (Luke 13:28-29, 14:15).
Truly good news!
So the “gospel” Jesus taught is truly “good news”. God is putting things right through his king, Jesus, and one day he will complete the job. If we are willing to trust him, we can be part of this movement, or not, the choice is ours. We can receive eternal life.
But accepting this offer will change us. Jesus will expect us to join him in serving others and we will need to seek his forgiveness, at the start, and all along the way, for the times we don’t do that.
Jesus vs Paul?
When we read the Bible, it is obvious that Paul’s emphasis is different to Jesus’. For example, Paul emphasises personal salvation by faith more than Jesus did. There are reasons why this may be so, and no christian should want to neglect Paul, who wrote a substantial portion of the New Testament.
But on this page, I wanted to simply describe as fairly as I could what we could learn about the good news that Jesus actually taught. How we balance Jesus’ teachings and Paul’s slightly different emphasis is another matter.
My feeling is that we have over-emphasised some aspects of Paul’s teachings and almost ignored or explained away some of Jesus’ teachings. I feel the Holy Spirit may be leading his church towards a greater understanding and restoration of some of the under-valued teachings of Jesus. And I think this will make the church more effective in its ministry and more attractive to non-believers (and to believers too!).
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