Summary: What was the essence of the Gospel of the Kingdom? Jesus came preaching a gospel which cut across the norms of the day. He still proclaims a gospel that is radical, unconventional and controversial.
The Gospel of the Kingdom
And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people
Ben Hur, Gladiators – epic Hollywood blockbusters depicting the glory and grandeur of the Roman Empire. But not only the glory and the grandeur – also the excesses and evil that resided under this government.
The Roman Empire, captured in the classic 6 Volume historical tome by Gibbons, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, is synonymous with might, power and cruelty. Described in biblical prophecy as the kingdom represented by legs of iron in the image of Daniel 2 and by iron teeth in the beast of Daniel 7.
And certainly, the Roman Empire lived up to this reputation. Sweeping across England, Europe, Asia Minor and the Middle East, it consolidated its territory, eliminating all opposition with a ruthlessness that was unparalleled in any nation before it – surpassing the might, glory and cruelty of the Babylonian, Persian and Grecian empire that had preceded it.
And into one of the remote provinces of this empire, ruled by corrupt governors and ambitious collaborators, comes a rabble-rousing, hairy, camel-skin-wearing, fearless preacher declaring – “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” (Mt 3:1).
And to the gates of the courts of the king and the governor, his message resounded. Up to the temple where his message shook the colossal pillars. Down to the humblest mud-plastered, flat-roofed dwellings in the rural towns where hard-pressed subjects of the Roman government – taxed into poverty by corrupt tax-collectors who doubled their burdens by fleecing the citizens of Israel through the taking of a generous portion for themselves; becoming rich, opulent and despised – all the way to these pitiful peasants, his message was heard:
“Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!”: an alternate kingdom that would, in their minds, overthrow the Roman Empire – to be replaced by the Kingdom of God.
The Roman oppressors were used to periodic uprisings – zealots and freedom fighters that were determined to throw off the yolk of Roman oppression. But with every uprising, the Roman soldiers would respond ruthlessly, ensuring that the threat was quickly, violently and effectively quelled. Blood would flow and the crosses outside Jerusalem would be raised to display the trophies of war –serving as a stark reminder of the fate of those who stood up to the Roman occupying forces as they suffered an excruciating and lingering death.
But this was a different rebellion: the Roman and Jewish spies warily observed as its leader proclaimed the imminent setting up of a new kingdom: “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!”
Its leader was standing waist-deep in the waters of the Jordan river, inviting the citizens to come to be baptized; its leader was denouncing the sins of the religious leaders, calling them a “Brood of vipers . . .!” Mt 2:7; its leader was equally fearless in denouncing the excesses and corruption of the court of King Herod; its leader was proclaiming that he was but the forerunner of Someone whose sandals he was not worthy to carry – a revolutionary leader proclaiming the coming of a greater Leader; One who would be even more revolutionary than him; One who would usher in this new Kingdom – the kingdom of heaven.
And one day, John the Baptist – the rabble-rousing, bearded preacher; the voice crying in the wilderness – sees the Leader coming in his direction; the One whom the Jews had been waiting for; the One whom the prophets had written about; the One whom they, for centuries, had sat around campfires talking about in hushed tones; the Messiah that they had been praying for; the One who would deliver them from the Roman yolk of oppression; the One who would re-establish the throne of David that would exceed the glory days of Solomon; the One who would usher in a reign of peace and prosperity. The One whom they called The Christ; the One whom the angels declared would be called Jesus, “for He will save His people from their sins.”
And so John calls out in words that resounded over the hills of Judea; that echoed through the halls of the palace of Herod; that rumbled through the temple in Jerusalem; that chillingly reached the ears of the governor and was passed on to Caesar; words that shook the very foundations of the gates of hades and caused Satan and his minions to tremble; “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” John 1:29
And thus began the ushering in of a new Kingdom – the Kingdom of God. The ushering in of a new regime lead by a fearless freedom fighter. And as with other freedom fighters, he was not afraid to stand up to the leaders of the day – radical, unconventional, controversial.