Authors: Todd Hudson
Tags: #Religion, #Christian Life, #Spiritual Growth, #book, #ebook
Perhaps some might think that it was the message of the Cross. Jesus called Himself the good Shepherd who came to lay down His life for His sheep. Well, it doesn’t take a Bible scholar to know that the Cross was central to the mission of Jesus; but again, it was not the first message and it was not the most consistent message He taught, although it was definitely connected to His primary message.
So if it wasn’t salvation, love, or the Cross, what was Jesus’ primary message? When the time came for Jesus to begin His ministry, He went to the Jordan River to be baptized by John. He was the Messiah, which literally means in Hebrew “the anointed one.” In the Old Testament when kings were set aside to lead the nation, they were anointed with oil as a symbol of being appointed by God for the position. Before Jesus began His public ministry, before He taught anything or performed any miracles, He received His own anointing at the time of His baptism by John.
One day Jesus came to the Jordan River where John was baptizing and He asked John to baptize Him. It must have been an interesting scene to watch. John, knowing who Jesus was, said, “I can’t do that. I’m not worthy to even lace your sandals let alone baptize you” (John 1:27). Jesus said, “I need you to baptize me to fulfill all righteousness” (Matt. 3:15). I kind of picture this back and forth tug of war taking place until John finally relented and said, “OK! I will do it!” Then imagine the shocked look that must have appeared on his face and the faces of the crowd when He baptized Jesus and the heavens opened up, the Spirit of God descended on Jesus in bodily form like a dove, and the audible voice of God called out identifying Jesus saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (v. 17,
). That would surely shake up a crowd.
In John 1:33 John states, “I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit’” (
). The one upon whom the Spirit descends and remains is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit. I picture John out there looking for this One upon whom the Spirit descends and remains. He dunks one—nothing happens. I guess he’s not the one. Then another—nothing. Then finally he baptizes Jesus and the Spirit descends and remains on Him and he knows He is the One.
Prior to Jesus, all throughout the Old Testament, there are people upon whom the Holy Spirit descended, but it was always for a specific assignment and was simply a temporary filling. The difference with this filling that Jesus received is that Holy Spirit descended upon Him and
remained upon Him
. And this filling of the Holy Spirit was the anointing that marked the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.
Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness and spent forty days and nights fasting as He prepared Himself to begin His ministry and facing temptation from the enemy to give it all up and take the easy way out (Luke 4:1–11).
When the time of temptation in the wilderness ended with the devil leaving Jesus for a more opportune time, Jesus, anointed by the power of the Holy Spirit, emerged from the wilderness to begin His ministry (vv. 13–14). This first portion of His ministry is often referred to as the Galilean portion of His ministry. As He began His public ministry with preaching and teaching, He began with a proclamation. Out of all of the important subjects Jesus could have chosen to address as He began His ministry, He chose this particular message. And this message He began proclaiming at the beginning of His ministry from that day forward became the most consistent message He taught. In fact, this message would become the overriding theme of everything He taught and everything He did.
What was this central thesis statement of Jesus’ ministry that He began His ministry with and proclaimed for than anything else? Mark records the proclamation this way:
After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, 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!”
So what was the first message Jesus proclaimed? What did He call the message of good news, the gospel message He came to proclaim and is calling us to repent and believe? It was the message of the kingdom. He proclaimed that the kingdom of God is near and that we are to repent and believe this message because this is the gospel message—a message of very good news!
Matthew records that same message with an additional important detail: “From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matt. 4:17). From that time on, Jesus preached the same message. That first message became His most consistent message. It was the message of the kingdom; that the kingdom of God was near, at hand, and had arrived on the scene.
In Luke’s account he tells us that one of the first things Jesus did after this proclamation was to return to His hometown of Nazareth and go to the Sabbath service at the synagogue. There He made the claim to be the Messiah, the Anointed One, who had come to usher in the kingdom:
He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
In reading this passage from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah (61:1), Jesus was announcing the coming of the kingdom; and in case anyone missed the indirect implication, Jesus made it abundantly clear when He said, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” What an amazing statement! Try to imagine yourself in this scene for a moment. You are just going to church for another ordinary Sabbath service and all of a sudden this guy whom you’ve known all your life, whom you’ve seen grow up as a young man living in your community and working in His dad’s carpenter shop, stands up and reads this Messianic prophecy and says, “I’m the guy who is fulfilling this today in your midst. The time is now. The kingdom is at hand.”
The phrase “kingdom of God” appears fifty-three times in the Gospels, almost always from the lips of Jesus. The synonymous phrase, “kingdom of heaven,” appears another thirty-two times, primarily in the Gospel of Matthew. This was the first message Jesus proclaimed as He began His ministry, and there was nothing else Jesus talked about more than the message of the kingdom. He declared this to be the gospel. This is the message of good news Jesus came to bring. The kingdom of God has arrived on the scene.
I have to be honest. Even though I had read the New Testament many times, I had somehow missed that this was the primary message Jesus taught. In my first twenty years of ministry, I never preached a message on the kingdom. That is a lot of talking without ever focusing on what Jesus talked about more than anything else. But it wasn’t just me. In the conservative evangelical circle I had come out of, I had never heard another pastor do a series of messages on the kingdom. I had never heard another pastor talk about the significance that the good news that Jesus came proclaiming was that the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven is near and that He preached that message of the kingdom more consistently than any other message.
Then, as I began my personal journey to understand why the Christian life I was experiencing was not more like what I saw in the Bible, I began to look at the New Testament more closely. And as I studied back through the teaching of the kingdom in the New Testament, I was absolutely astounded at just how central the message of the kingdom was to the life and ministry of Jesus. As I began to pay attention to this, what I found is that the teaching of the kingdom is all over the pages of the New Testament, most of the time from the mouth of Jesus.
Let me give you an overview of what I mean. We see this subject of the kingdom come up even before Jesus came on the scene. In fact, the very same proclamation that Jesus made as He began His ministry first came from the lips of John the Baptist, the prophet sent from God to prepare the way for the coming of Jesus “In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matt. 3:1–2). When John arrived on the scene and began to preach, His message was the same message Jesus proclaimed as He started His ministry—repent for the kingdom of heaven is near. Don’t miss the significance of this. John was sent by God to announce the coming of Jesus, the Messiah, and the words He used to announce His coming kingdom were, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”
The Sermon on the Mount recorded in Matthew 5–7 was one of Jesus’ most famous sermons. Have you ever noticed how predominant the message of the kingdom was in this sermon? Jesus starts His message with that famous section we call the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3). A little later, in that same sermon, Jesus said, “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven” (v. 20).
It was in this same sermon that Jesus taught His followers how to pray: “This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (6:9).
Again in that same sermon, Jesus talked about how the kingdom of heaven is to be the primary priority of our lives: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these other things will be given to you as well” (v. 33). Over and over again Jesus’ message was clear and it was consistent. It was the message of the kingdom.
When Jesus taught, He often told parables—stories to help illustrate a truth. We often refer to parables as earthly stories with a heavenly meaning. The real meaning of the word
is “to come alongside of.” Jesus would throw a story along side of a truth to communicate a message. Many of these stories started with the phrase, “The kingdom of heaven is like . . . ” The stories were most consistently told to help us to understand the kingdom.
After Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, before He ascended back to the Father in heaven, He appeared to the disciples and actually spent forty days instructing them, pouring into their lives. We miss this sometimes. We get this idea somehow that Jesus rose from the dead, appeared immediately to handful of people, and then quickly ascended back to heaven; but that wasn’t the case. Now if someone rises from the dead to teach you about something, it’s probably worth paying attention to, wouldn’t you agree? What did He spend these important last days instructing His disciples about? “After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3).
Not only did Jesus primarily speak about the message of the kingdom, when He sent His twelve apostles out on their first missionary journey, He gave them these instructions: “When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick” (Luke 9:1–2). Out of all the messages Jesus could have instructed His disciples to preach, what message did He instruct them to communicate? It was the message of the good news of the kingdom.
A little later Jesus sent not just the twelve apostles but also seventy-two followers on a missionary journey, and He gave them all some very clear instructions about what message to preach: “When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you. Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you’” (Luke 10:8–9).
Even after Jesus’ earthly ministry was completed and the apostles continued His work on earth without His physical presence, yet empowered by His Spirit, we read in the Book of Acts that they preached the message of the kingdom. For instance, Luke, summing up the life and ministry of the apostle Paul, wrote this about him, “He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance!” (Acts 28:31).
The message of the kingdom was the primary message Jesus preached and was the most consistent message Jesus preached. He charged His apostles to make it their primary message, and they did. I believe the assignment has not changed. We, too, are called to primarily preach the gospel of the kingdom. Much of the church has mixed this up and simply preached a gospel of salvation, that through faith in Jesus you can go to heaven when you die. That’s true, but it is an incomplete message. We are not to simply preach the gospel of salvation, but the gospel of the kingdom.