The kingdom of God is not a “unique” theme in the teaching of Jesus, though it is, quite likely, the major theme in both his life and teaching. The idea of the kingdom runs from Genesis to Revelation. What is “unique” in Jesus is that the kingdom is “fulfilled” in God’s timing in him and thus brought to fruition in history in a unique way. Mark 1:14-15 says, “Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand.’” What should be noted here is that John the Baptist and Jesus both preached the same message–the good news of the kingdom of God. But in Jesus “the kingdom was no longer merely close by. Time was up. This intensified the kingdom message” (Heaven on Earth, 14).
Alan Streett is right when he says:
We might compare John’s and Jesus’ messages of the kingdom to an announcement of a pregnancy. A woman desires a child but seems unable to get pregnant. One day, she receives words that her life is about to change–she is expecting! This news brings great joy and expectation. Still, she must wait nine months for the baby’s arrival. In the meantime, she prepares herself in anticipation of the blessed event.
Then one day, she suddenly feels a twinge of pain. Labor begins–the time is at hand. As everyone waits with baited breath, the hour arrives and the baby is born–the time is fulfilled. A new day has dawned for everyone. The married couple become parents, and their parents become grandparents.
In like manner, the Old Testament prophets spoke of the arrival of the kingdom. Israel was pregnant with expectation. As the countdown begins, the years and months turn into weeks and days. Measured expectation is transformed into anxious anticipation. With the onset of labor, John the Baptist declares, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” His message foreshadows Jesus’ announcement–”The time is fulfilled.” The kingdom is birthed in the person and ministry of Jesus (Heaven on Earth, 14).
In Luke’s Gospel Jesus makes this announcement in a synagogue in Capernaum, near his hometown of Nazareth. He reads from Isaiah 61 and then says that this day the prophet’s promise is “fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). Streett notes that not only is the Old Testament prophecy fulfilled in a specific person (Jesus), but it has a specific time–today, not tomorrow or in centuries or even a millennium. We even have a specific “geographic indicator of the kingdom’s start–”in your hearing” (Heaven on Earth, 15).
Simply put, the kingdom of God arrived when Jesus launched his public ministry.
He is the King and when he reveals himself the kingdom was no longer a future reality but a present one. The late missional theologian Lesslie Newbigin was right when he concluded, “It [the kingdom] now had a name and a face–the name and face of the man from Nazareth” (The Open Secret, 44). God was initiating his great work of salvation on earth once and for all in the final word from heaven, the word who was his Son Jesus.
The signs and wonders of Jesus all point to the arrival of the kingdom. The preaching of Jesus was consistently about the kingdom. Jesus told his disciples to not worry about life’s pressing, daily needs but rather to “seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you. . . for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:22-32).
What Jesus did for the next three years was live kingdom life in the fulness of the Holy Spirit and preach the kingdom gospel, the reign of God among those who humbly enter it by faith. He used parables, beatitudes, object lessons and miracles to reveal the nature and presence of the kingdom. Jesus sent his disciples out on itinerant missions telling them to “preach the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:2) and Luke tells us that they followed his instructions perfectly. “So they departed and went through the towns, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere” (Luke 9:6). Luke clearly equates preaching the kingdom with the essence of the gospel. A simple, but incredibly profound, conclusion is warranted–preaching the kingdom and preaching the gospel are the same thing!
Jesus commissioned his disciples to preach the gospel to all nations and thus to make disciples of the nations (Matthew 28:18-20). This oft quoted, and easily misunderstood, Great Commission text clearly says that Jesus has authority over Caesar and all other rulers. Caesar is not lord, Jesus is! Authority has been given to Jesus Christ and he rules over all on behalf of the Father. In the light of this reality he commissioned his disciples to go to the nations and to announce to them that Caesar, and all other lords, are now under Christ’s authority thus they must “switch” their allegiance through repentance and faith in Christ. This entire missionary effort was treasonous. This explains why the early church was persecuted by Roman emperors and why the gospel had such great power amidst amazing political and social upheaval. It also explains, at least to my mind, why our “private” preaching of a personal gospel of internal forgiveness (alone) is so weak and powerless in our time.
Alan Streett rightly concludes, “Without a doubt, the good news of the kingdom is the central theme of all first-century evangelistic preaching” (Heaven on Earth, 19). If we consider how much time these early Christians spent teaching and preaching the kingdom why do we hear so little about the kingdom from our modern preachers and evangelists? “Where is the gospel of the kingdom being preached today” (Heaven on Earth, 20)? Indeed, where? “If Jesus and the apostles walked on the earth today, would they even recognize the gospel message heralded from most pulpits” (Heaven on Earth, 20)? I think the answer is obvious. This answer reveals just how far we have fallen from actually preaching the good news. The problem is pretty clear–most Christians see no problem at all.
Tomorrow: What are the benefits and blessings of the kingdom and how do we tap into these resources to live and teach the good news today? As I unpack what Professor Alan Streett writes in his wonderful book, Heaven on Earth, I hope that you will hunger for his kingdom and his righteousness in a whole new way. Meanwhile, get a copy of the book and dig in. You will be glad you did.