Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Is it Really “Orthodox” to Believe That God Can Die?

Has Christianity Gone Wrong?

A colleague of mine recalled an interesting moment during class discussion at a well-known theological college: “I remember one day in a theology class at Wheaton College the professor said, ‘Mary really is the mother of God, even though we as Protestants have not liked that term very well.’” The students were shocked at his admission, but he went on to explain that in a real sense Trinitarianism has to view Mary as the mother of one who was in essence and in fact a “person” of the “Godhead”!

The proposition “Jesus is God” appears to be the unquestioned watchword of most American churches. Any doubt about that amazing statement is likely to be greeted with suspicion that the questioner may have deviated from a belief absolutely vital for salvation. C.S. Lewis confronted all skeptics with his famous dictum that Jesus was “either mad, bad or God.” We shall see later that he unfortunately omitted from his multiple choice options the New Testament category for Jesus, namely “Messiah, Son of God.” That is who Jesus claimed he was (John 10:36), and insisted that his key executives in the propagation of the Gospel understood him to be (Matt. 16:16-18). In the same passage Matthew records that Jesus founded his church on the solid rock conviction that Jesus was the Son of God. He did not, of course, say “God the Son”!

Why, if Jesus is God, as the historic creeds have long claimed as dogma, would anyone have qualms about Mary being God’s mother? Roman Catholics who share with Protestants belief in the Trinity — that the One God exists as three Persons in one essence — have no such qualms. A Roman Catholic priest declared without flinching that “God one day came to Mary and said, ‘Mary, will you please be My mother?’”

In view of the upcoming season which celebrates the core of traditional Christianity — the Incarnation of the preexisting God the Son, second member of an eternal Triune God, as God-Man — how do you react to the following unpacking of that central doctrine from leading Protestant evangelicals? Charles Swindoll, chancellor of Dallas Theological Seminary, writes, “On December 25th shops shut their doors, families gather together and people all over the world remember the birth of Jesus of Nazareth…Many people assume that Jesus’ existence began like ours, in the womb of his mother. But is that true? Did life begin for him with that first breath of Judean air? Can a day in December truly mark the beginning of the Son of God? Unlike us, Jesus existed before his birth, long before there was air to breathe…long before the world was born” (Jesus: When God Became Man, pp. 1-2).

Swindoll goes on to explain: “John the Baptist came into being at his birth — he had a birthday. Jesus never came into being; at his earthly birth he merely took on human form…Here’s an amazing thought: the baby that Mary held in her arms was holding the universe in place! The little newborn lips that cooed and cried once formed the dynamic words of creation. Those tiny clutching fists once flung stars into space and planets into orbit. That infant flesh so fair once housed the Almighty God…As an ordinary baby, God had come to earth…Do you see the child and the glory of the infant-God? What you are seeing is the Incarnation — God dressed in diapers…See the baby as John describes him ‘in the beginning’ ‘with God.’ Imagine him in the misty precreation past, thinking of you and planning your redemption. Visualize this same Jesus, who wove your body’s intricate patterns, knitting a human garment for himself…Long ago the Son of God dove headfirst into time and floated along with us for about 33 years…Imagine the Creator-God tightly wrapped in swaddling clothes” (pp. 3-8, emphasis added).

Dr. Swindoll then quotes Max Lucado who says of Jesus, “He left his home and entered the womb of a teenage girl…Angels watched as Mary changed God’s diaper. The universe watched with wonder as the Almighty learned to walk. Children played in the street with him” (p. 10).

Dr. Jim Packer is well known for his evangelical writings. In his widely read Knowing God, in a chapter on “God Incarnate,” he says of the doctrine of the Trinity and the Incarnation: “Here are two mysteries for the price of one — the plurality of the persons within the unity of God, and the union of Godhead and manhood in the person of Jesus. It is here, in the thing that happened at the first Christmas, that the profoundest and the most unfathomable depths of the Christian revelation lie. ‘The Word was made flesh’ (John 1:14); God became man; the divine Son became a Jew, the Almighty appeared on earth as a helpless baby, unable to do more than lie and stare and wriggle and make noises, needing to be fed and changed and taught to talk like any other child. And there was no illusion or deception in this: the babyhood of the Son of God was a reality. The more you think about it, the more staggering it gets. Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as is this truth of the incarnation. This is the real stumbling block in Christianity. It is here that the Jews, Muslims, Unitarians, Jehovah’s Witnesses…have come to grief…If he was truly God the Son, it is much more startling that he should die than that he should rise again. ‘’Tis mystery all! The immortal dies,’ wrote [Charles] Wesley [in a famous hymn]…and if the immortal Son of God really did submit to taste death, it is not strange that such a death should have saving significance for a doomed race. Once we grant that Jesus was divine, it becomes unreasonable to find difficulty in any of this; it is all of a piece and hangs together completely. The Incarnation is in itself an unfathomable mystery, but it makes sense of everything else that the New Testament contains” (pp. 46, 47, emphasis added).

With the greatest respect for the sensibilities of our readers, we want to suggest that the above accounts of the pre-history and Incarnation of Jesus, the Son of God are severely mistaken. They are untrue to the Bible. The situation appears to us and many others in the history of Christianity to be akin to the story of the “Emperor’s New Clothes.” The fact that the emperor was naked was noticed by one small boy when the majority were tricked into thinking he was not. The mere fact of rehearsing, year after year, a story of “God being born as a baby” and the immortal God later dying on a cross does not make it true. Far from being a “mystery” it is rather obviously a mystification which results in a crucifixion of the fundamental Protestant principle that God has graciously revealed His purposes to us in Scripture and, in order for His revelation to be successful He has spoken to us in language which conforms to the universally accepted meaning of words and of logic itself. If that principle applies, then God cannot die. He is immortal (I Tim. 6:16).

To speak of Jesus as God and God dying is to dissolve the most basic understanding of the nature of Scripture as revelation to man. Surely we must plant ourselves on the famous maxim about how to read the Bible: “I hold for the most infallible rule in the exposition of the sacred Scripture, that where a literal construction will stand, the furthest from the letter is commonly the worst. There is nothing more dangerous than this licentious and deluding art, which changes the meaning of words, as alchemy changes the substance of metals, making of anything what it pleases, and bringing in the end all truth to nothing” (Richard Hooker, 1554-1600).

In confirmation of the wisdom of this approach to Scripture, we may say that if God has really intended to make His will known to us humans, it must follow that He has conveyed His truth to us in harmony with the well-known rules of language and meaning. As a nineteenth-century theologian wrote: “If God’s words are given to us to understand, it follows that He must have employed language to convey the sense intended in agreement with the laws controlling all language…We are primarily to obtain the sense which the words [of the Bible] obviously embrace, making due allowance for the existence of figures of speech” (Peters, Theocratic Kingdom of Our Lord and Savior, Vol. 1, p. 47).

We must insist that if Christians are to love God with their hearts and minds, they should immediately abandon the impossible notion involved in believing and teaching that “the immortal God died.” The Bible does not expect us to believe sheer contradiction or encourage linguistic confusion. We fully grant that there are huge areas of information about God which we do not and cannot fathom, but we believe equally that what God has revealed to us is given in language which is not self-contradictory. This is the great truth of the so-called grammatical-historical method of getting at the meaning of the Bible. God cannot lie and according to Scripture He cannot die (I Tim. 6:16). This in itself requires that the Savior Jesus be a mortal man. Otherwise the Son of God cannot have died (Paul said the Son did die, Rom. 5:10) and there is no salvation and no death for our sins.

Protestants, however, are pledged to the idea that Jesus is God and that Jesus died. We propose that this is to utter words without meaning and to destroy the fabric of biblical revelation. Moreover, the teaching that the immortal God became a man and died is indeed the great stumbling block of Muslims and Jews — and for good cause. Jews know well that God cannot die, and they know that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and the God of Jesus himself is not Three Persons. Muslims are equally committed to belief that the immortal God is strictly One Person. Islam accepts Jesus as the Messiah, even virginally begotten, but not as the One God.

What Went Wrong?

What then has happened to cause millions of seekers after God to be so hopelessly divided over who God is? The story is a most fascinating drama, an epic struggle between truth and falsehood, often accompanied by murder, banishment and excommunication. The fruits of the centuries-long disputes over who God and Jesus are suggest that something has gone terribly awry. Something happened to disturb the very straightforward creedal statements of Jesus and the Apostles. Some drastic undermining of original Truth resulted in the tedious, complex, hair-splitting, drawn-out arguments over the definition of God and His Son. History attests to an appalling catalogue of disputes, name-calling, and demonizing, amongst men claiming to be followers of Jesus and his teachings. The story of the development of the Trinity is brilliantly documented in When Jesus Became God by Richard Rubenstein. Out of the Flames by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone describes the cruelty of Christian persecution of fellow believers. It documents the tragic judicial murder of the Spanish theologian Michael Servetus by the reformer John Calvin.

The trouble began in the second century, as historians of church history well know. The doctrine of the Trinity, which demands belief that Jesus is fully God and that his personal existence did not begin in the womb of his mother but in eternity, was made dogma at the Councils of Nicea (325 AD), Constantinople (381 AD) and Chalcedon (451 AD). It became the official and only permissible understanding about God and His Son. Dissenters and objectors were removed from the church. In later centuries they were burned at the stake (the last case of burning was in 1612) and executed. Others were labeled heretics and pronounced to be non-Christian. It is an amazing story of bigotry, hatred and murder. There is not a word in the New Testament about killing theological opponents (or enemies of any sort). Paul on one occasion excommunicated a habitual sex offender, but required that he be readmitted to the church on repentance.

Despite these clear facts, church officials, including the celebrated John Calvin, famous for his near-fatalist doctrine that God has predestined some from eternity to eternal torment, ordered the burning, execution, imprisonment or excommunication of hundreds of Bible-loving believers, because they would not and could not believe that God was more than one Person, the Father, or that Jesus, if he were Deity, could die.

Little known to the public is the fact that the early Christians did not believe in the doctrine of the Trinity, which is now claimed to be the only correct view of God, traceable in an unbroken line to the New Testament.

It is a well-documented fact that many of the church’s “major doctrines” were not instituted until well after New Testament apostolic times. Christians in search of a vigorous biblical Christianity will find it refreshing to distinguish between what comes from Scripture and what many have unconsciously “canonized” from church tradition. The words of F.F. Bruce need to be treated as a prophetic testimony to this generation: “Evangelical Protestants can be as much servants of tradition as Roman Catholic or Greek Orthodox Christians; only they do not realize that it is ‘tradition.’ People who adhere to sola scriptura (as they believe) often adhere in fact to a traditional school of interpretation of sola scriptura” (from correspondence, June 13, 1981).

The early church continued persistently in the Apostles’ teaching (Acts 2:42) as well as in fellowship. Christians need freedom to explore all doctrines in the light of Jesus’ and the Apostles’ teaching. At present it is often assumed that early church councils faithfully relayed the Bible’s teachings. Many scholars know that this is not so.

Jewish Roots

To our friends in the various “Jewish Roots” movements we say: What sense is there in clinging to a doctrine of the Trinity which offends Jews and Muslims and which Jesus would not have believed? Mark 12:28ff shows Jesus to be in line with the cardinal tenet of Judaism: God is a single Person, the Father of Jesus. Psalm 110:1 says it clearly. The One God, Yahweh, speaks in an oracle about ADONI, positively not ADONAI! God does not speak to God. He speaks to the Lord Messiah (adoni, “my lord, the King Messiah.”). ADONI is used only of superiors other than God. ADONI never refers to the One God, but always to human beings and occasionally to angels.

In Galatians 3:20 Paul said (according to the Amplified Bible) “God is [only] One Person.” There is no occurrence of the word “God” in the whole Bible which can be proved to mean “God in three Persons.” That is because the Bible writers had never heard of the Trinity and did not believe in it. Those espousing the Jewish roots of Jesus, an excellent way to get back to the Messiah of Israel, should avoid attaching themselves to Gentile distortions of the faith. [5]

The History of Dogma

Did the church councils necessarily grasp biblical truth accurately, when they defined the creeds for posterity? Many evangelicals unwittingly take on board the theology of those councils without examining all things carefully, as Paul admonished. We are convinced that evangelicals ought to be much more troubled than they are about the doctrines of God and Christ which tradition has handed on to them via the “Church Fathers” and the Roman Catholic Church.

We invite you to consider the following information about “orthodox Trinitarianism” and compare it with the Bible. Does the Jesus of the creeds of the church line up with the obviously human figure of the Bible? Many do not think he does.

Two orthodox evangelical Trinitarians wrote: “It is true that in Chalcedonian orthodoxy [the teaching of the council which defined the Person of Christ in 451 AD] God the Son united himself to a personless human nature.”[6]

This statement is an accurate description of the orthodox view of Jesus. It reflects the popular teaching we quoted from Chuck Swindoll earlier — that the Son of God had no beginning but simply entered the womb of Mary, came through her and “assumed impersonal human nature.” Let us unpack this extraordinary teaching a little further. A Trinitarian scholar writes:

“The Council of Chalcedon tells us that Jesus is called ‘man’ in the generic sense, but not ‘a man.’ He has human nature, but is not a human person. The Person in him is the second Person of the Blessed Trinity; Jesus does not have a human personal center. This is how the Council gets around the possible problem of split personality.”[7]

Another Trinitarian scholar was amazed at what he had learned as a student:

“During my theological formation I was well instructed in the traditional account of the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ. I distinctly remember being told that the Word of God, when he assumed human nature, assumed impersonal humanity; that Jesus did not possess a human personality; that God became man in Jesus, but that he did not become a man...Two considerations have persuaded me that this traditional Christology is incredible.”[8]

An orthodox theologian describes the view of Jesus which evangelical accept in the Trinity: “Now the doctrine of the Incarnation is that in Christ the place of a human personality is replaced by the Divine Personality of God the Son, the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity. Christ possesses a complete human nature without a human personality. Uncreated and eternal Divine Personality replaces a created personality in Him.”[9]

An expert on Gnosticism (a pagan philosophy which threatened the early church) points to the problem presented by this extraordinary dehumanizing of Jesus in “orthodox” creeds”:

“Already Harnack was forced to say: ‘Who can maintain that the Church ever overcame the Gnostic doctrine of the two natures or the Valentinian [Gnostic] Docetism’ [the theory that Jesus only appeared to be a human being but really wasn’t —‘man’ but not ‘a man’]. Even the later councils of the Church, which discussed the Christological problems in complicated, nowadays hardly intelligible definitions did not manage to do this; the unity of the Church foundered precisely on this.”[10]

Note that this scholar admits the Church did not overcome Gnosticism in its definition of Jesus.

“Jesus Died” and “Jesus is God”?

God only has immortality (I Tim. 6:16). How, if Jesus is God, can he have died? An immortal Person cannot die. That is a flat contradiction. Does it honor God to speak in such contradictions? How can Jesus, if he is God, not know the time of his Second Coming (Mark 13:32)? God is omniscient. Jesus did not know everything. Therefore Jesus cannot be God, unless language has ceased to have any meaning. God cannot be tempted (James 1:13). But Jesus was tempted. If he was not fully human, his temptation was a charade. Did Jesus give up being God when he did not know when he would return? Did he give up being God when he died? How can God give up being God? That would mean that Jesus was not God when he was on earth.

Trinitarians argue that only God could be the Savior. But if Jesus, as God, could not die, how can he have saved us? Cannot God appoint a sinless man to be the Savior (Acts 17:31; 2:22: “a man approved by God”)?

All these complex questions are solved if Bible readers would observe some simple facts:

Thousands upon thousands of times in the Bible (someone has calculated over 11,000 times), God is described by personal pronouns in the singular (I, me, you, he, him). These pronouns in all languages describe single persons, not three persons. There are thus thousands of verses which tell us that the “only true God” (John 17:3; John 5:44, “the One who alone is God”) is One Person, not three.

There is no place in the New Testament (or Old) where the word “God” can be proved to mean “God-in-Three-Persons.” The word God, therefore, in the Bible never means the Trinitarian God. This would immediately suggest that the Trinitarian God is foreign to the Bible. The word “God” in the New Testament means the Father, except (for certain) in two passages where “God” refers to Jesus in a secondary sense (Heb. 1:8; John 20:28). If Jesus is as much entitled to be called God as his Father, why these extraordinary facts? The word “God” can be used of a man who reflects and represents the true God (see for example Ps. 82:6; Ex. 7:1).

Most Trinitarians rely heavily on one only of the four Gospels — John. They neglect not only the 77% of the Bible which is the Old Testament, but also most of the New Testament. Why did all translations in English (from the Greek) before the King James render John 1:3: “All things were made by IT” (not HIM)? How do you know that Jesus was the eternal Son of God, when no verse of Scripture calls him that? What if the Word or Wisdom was with God (John 1:1) and was fully expressive of God and this Wisdom became embodied in the real human being, Jesus (John 1:14)? Jesus would then be a human being who is the perfect embodiment and expression of the wisdom and creative activity of God (“the Word became flesh,” not “the Son became flesh”).

If so, Luke’s statement would be exactly right. “Because of the supernatural begetting of Jesus in the womb of Mary, Jesus is entitled to be called the Son of God” (see Luke 1:35). Luke describes the supernatural coming-into-being of the Son of God, while Dr. Swindoll says that the Son had no beginning (quoted above). There is not a hint in Matthew, Mark, Luke, Acts or Peter that Jesus preexisted his birth. He is according to Luke 1:35 the Son of God because of his miraculous begetting. Luke 1:35 was abandoned early in church history. A precious clue to the identity of Jesus was ditched. Luke 1:35 confirms the identity of the human Messiah predicted by the Old Testament. There is no indication in the Hebrew Bible that the Messiah was already alive before his birth in Bethlehem. God did not speak through a so-called preexisting Son in Old Testament times (Heb. 1:1-2).

Why does a leading Roman Catholic scholar admit that Luke 1: 35 (above) is an embarrassment to orthodox scholars? “Luke 1:35 has embarrassed many orthodox theologians, since in preexistence [Trinitarian] theology a conception by the Holy Spirit in Mary’s womb does not bring about the existence of God’s Son. Luke is seemingly unaware of such a Christology; conception is causally related to divine Sonship for him”?[11]

“Eternal Begetting”?

The Trinity relies on the idea of the Son having been “eternally begotten.” Does that make the slightest sense? How can someone who has no beginning be begotten? Why are there absolutely no verses which speak of Jesus being begotten by the Father in eternity? Why do all references to the begetting of Jesus refer to his conception and birth: Luke 1:35; Matt. 1:20; Acts 13:33 (describing the beginning of his life, while v. 34 refers to his resurrection)? Without an eternal begetting of the Son, there can be no doctrine of the Trinity.

The famous Methodist expositor Adam Clark felt it necessary to say: “The doctrine of the eternal Sonship of Christ is, in my opinion, antiscriptural and highly dangerous. I have not been able to find any express declaration of it in the Scriptures.”[12]

His complaint was against the incomprehensible language of one of the chief architects of the Trinity, Gregory of Nazianzen, who spoke of the Son as having a “beginningless beginning” (Oration 36).

Church History

Writers of standard encyclopedias tell us this fact about church history:

“Unitarianism [belief in the Father as the ‘only true God’ (John 17:3) and in Jesus as the Son and Messiah] as a theological movement began much earlier in history; indeed it antedated Trinitarianism by many decades. Christianity derived from Judaism, and Judaism was strictly Unitarian. The road which led from Jerusalem to the Council of Nicea was scarcely a straight one. Fourth-century Trinitarianism did not reflect accurately early Christian teaching regarding the nature of God; it was on the contrary a deviation from this teaching.”[13]

How can the Trinity be traced back through the church fathers when the father of Latin Christianity was clearly not a Trinitarian? Tertullian wrote: “God has not always been the Father. For He could not have been the Father previous to the Son. There was a time when the Son did not exist.”[14]

This famous church father doesn’t sound like a Trinitarian. What about earlier church fathers of the second century? They are said by Trinitarians to provide a continuous Trinitarian tradition back to the Bible. But what did they really believe? A professor of church history explains:

“The Christian writers of the second and third centuries considered the Logos as the eternal reason of the Father [note: not the eternal Son], but as having at first no distinct existence from eternity; he [the Son of God] received this only when the Father generated him from within his own being and sent him to create the world and rule over the world. The act of generation then was not considered as an eternal and necessary life-act but as one which had a beginning in time, which meant that the Son was not equal to the Father, but subordinate to Him. Irenaeus, Justin, Hippolytus and Methodius share this view called Subordinationism.”[15]

This view is not that of official Trinitarianism as later established. Without the doctrine of the eternal, coequal Son, there is no orthodox Trinity.

The Creed of Israel, of Jesus and of Original Christianity

It seems to us incredible that Jesus, who recited the great creed of Israel (Mark 12:28ff) and was a Jew, could possibly have believed in the Trinity. There is no Trinity in the Old Testament (as scores of modern scholars admit[16]). Jesus confirms and perpetuates the creed of Israel which described God as One Person, the Father. He then defined himself as the Lord Messiah of Psalm 110:1 to whom the One Lord God spoke in an oracle about the future. The word adoni (my lord) is never a title of Deity (Mark 12:35ff).

No Jew could possibly have expected his Messiah to be God in the Trinitarian sense. In fact Moses had predicted the arrival of the Messiah by saying that God would not speak to the people directly, but through a person “like Moses” who would be raised up from among the people of Israel (Deut. 18:15-18; see Acts 13:33). To say that the Messiah is God Himself contradicts this prophecy, which announces that this person is not God but a human prophet! Both Peter and Stephen teach that it was fulfilled in the human Messiah (Acts 3:22; 7:37), who perfectly reflects the will and the words of his Father and who is the “visible image” of God, but not God Himself. Here is the biblical picture of the Messiah as described by the Hebrew Bible, the Bible of Jesus himself and confirmed by Paul: “To us [Christians] there is One God, the Father and one Lord Jesus Messiah” (see I Cor. 8:4-6).

Clearly, the One God is the Father and in close association is the one Lord Messiah (Luke 2:11). The Christian confession that Jesus approved is the belief that “Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God.” On that truth he promised to found his church (Matt. 16:18). John labels as “the liar” anyone who deviates from the confession that Jesus is the Messiah, or that he is “the Messiah, Son of God” (I John 2:22; John 20:31). He worked against the error that Jesus was something less than human. He advocated belief in the genuinely human Jesus (I John 4:2; II John 9). When churches teach that Jesus is “man” but not “a man,” would they have the approval of the Apostle John?

It is time for the Church to insist, with the Bible, on the creed which describes Jesus as “the man Messiah” (I Tim. 2:5) and stop condemning as heretics those who confirm belief in Jesus as the sinless Messiah and Son of God (Luke 1:35), God’s unique and virgin-born agent, but not actually God Himself.

A return to the creed of Israel and of Jesus, the Jew, will enable Jews today and Muslims to consider more sympathetically salvation through Jesus, the Christ, the “only name given under heaven by which we may be saved” (Acts 4:12).²

What Must I Do to Be Saved?

What must I do to be saved is the critical, foundational question in Christianity today. Yet many Christians are unable to articulate the Gospel[1] and when they do they give different and contradictory answers to this question. They also disagree with Jesus himself! Our nation is bombarded with evangelical tracts. They provide a succinct paragraph on the back page, telling the reader how to be assured of entrance “into heaven” at the moment of death. Focusing primarily on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, these tracts as well as their corresponding internet sites ask you to “accept the free gift of salvation and do nothing more,” as requirements for eternal salvation. After a brief sinners prayer, they usually leave you with no further direction than “Congratulations and welcome to the family of God.”[2]

This is the unfortunate reality of the Lord’s church in the twenty-first century. Would Jesus recognize as authentic these popular messages claiming to be his very gospel message? Would Jesus help print these widely distributed tracts? Would Jesus be leading a “get saved” meeting on a particular night of the week? Did Jesus ever offer “heaven at death” to anyone?

Not only did Jesus and his followers preach a much fuller Gospel message than the one found in most of the churches today, they also demanded more of their new converts. Jesus himself announced his Gospel-mission statement as the model for Christian preaching. He said that he was sent for the very purpose of preaching the Gospel of the “Kingdom of God” (see Luke 4:43). He sent out his disciples to announce this very same message even before they understood anything about his death and resurrection.[3] Years later we see Paul, with a clear understanding of all Jesus had done and was going to do, staying “two full years in his own rented quarters,” and “was welcoming all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ quite openly and unhindered” (Acts 28:30-31). In the light of these clear and consistent definitions of the saving Gospel, it is amazing that the church’s tracts never speak of this “Gospel about the Kingdom of God.”

Unfortunately even when commentators and preachers have begun to see the importance of this Kingdom of God message, they dismiss it by telling us that it has been replaced by a “gospel of grace.” They argue that the Kingdom Gospel was specifically for the Jews of Jesus’ time,[4] and not for us today! The testimony of Scripture loudly proclaims that this could not be so (Acts 20:24-25). The challenge facing modern Bereans is that of recapturing the Gospel words of Christ and making them our source for calling out sinners from this present evil age. After all, the sheep hear the genuine voice of Jesus (John 10:3-4, 16, 27).

Certainly the sacrifice of Jesus the Christ pays for the sin of mankind and grants us access to God and life in the coming age. Without it no one could look for entrance into God’s Kingdom. But this work of Jesus on the cross alone does not constitute the whole gospel message. What is the point of accepting Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross if we do not repent by obeying his Gospel command to believe the Gospel of the Kingdom (Mark 1:14, 15; 4:11, 12)?

God is restoring what He originally intended for the world, a time when all that is wrong with the present evil system will be made right and sin will be destroyed. This is the foundation of the salvation message of the Kingdom, to which all of Scripture testifies and which all of creation eagerly awaits. To obey Jesus, which is essential for salvation (Heb. 5:9), why not obey his first command: “Repent and believe the Gospel of the Kingdom” (see Mark 1:14, 15)?²

by Victor Gluckin

The Simplicity of the Gospel of the Kingdom of God

The purpose of this study is to show that the Good News of the Kingdom of God is essentially simple. It is a message about a coming universal rule on earth and how you can take part in that world government. Jesus saw the announcement of that message as the chief purpose of his mission: “I must preach the glad news of the Kingdom of God to the other towns as well, for that is what I was sent to do” (Luke 4:43).[1]

Contrary to the cherished belief of nearly all churchgoers, the destiny of the Christian believer was never to “go to heaven” at death. In biblical terms his prospect is to be restored to life by resurrection at the time of Christ’s return to the earth, to be granted immortality, and then to rule with Christ on earth. This message is taught by both Old and New Testaments. Because it was well understood by the early church, it did not have to be stated on every page of the New Testament. It was also a potentially dangerous message, since it threatened the existing political order; hence a certain reticence about a coming Messianic government was observed by the New Testament writers. Nevertheless the rule of Christ and his saints is the underlying theme of Jesus’ preaching of the Good News about the Kingdom of God. The clarity of the message has been lost only because the Church defected from her loyalty to the Good News of the Messianic Rule, and replaced the Gospel of the Kingdom of God with ethereal promises of “heaven” when you die.

Much has been made of the Kingdom as already present in the ministry of Christ. No doubt that aspect of the Kingdom finds a place in the teaching of the New Testament. Yet a veil has been drawn over the all-important second act of the drama of the Kingdom: the return of the Messiah in power, to inaugurate a universal government. Attention has traditionally been focused on an indefinite salvation, beyond space and time. Such a promise of “heaven” would have been meaningless to Jesus and his contemporaries. No Hebrew, rooted in the Old Testament, would have entertained such a concept. There is not a shred of evidence that Jesus intended to overthrow the hopes of all the Old Testament. prophets. Indeed, the New Testament names him as the one sent to confirm the promises made to the fathers (Rom. 15:8) — and the fathers expected to inherit the earth (Ps. 37:9, 11, 22).

No wonder then that a leading New Testament scholar states that “Heaven is never in fact used in the Bible for the destination of the dying” (J.A.T. Robinson, In the End God, p. 104). It is therefore important that the inquiring Christian find out what reward is promised to him, so that he may prepare himself appropriately. That reward is intimately bound up with the message of the Kingdom of God, preached by Jesus and later by Paul and the early Church. The message may be presented in language which a child would have no difficulty in grasping; hence the beauty of a Gospel accessible to all at all times. No special theological training is required for understanding the Good News; rather it must be accepted with the mind of a child.

The biblical story of the Kingdom of God and the Christian’s part in that coming Kingdom is outlined below:

The prophets of the Old Testament foresaw a time when God would overthrow all human governments of the present evil age (Gal. 1:4) and replace them with a government led by a Messiah (an anointed king):

“And in the days of these kings [the executives of human government existing at the time of Jesus’ future Coming] the God of heaven shall set up a Kingdom never to be swept away, with a sovereignty that shall never pass to others; it shall break all these kingdoms to bits and make an end of them, but it shall stand forever. The Great God has told the king [Nebuchadnezzar] what is to happen in the future: the dream is certain and its meaning sure” (Dan. 2:44, 45).

“Then in my vision by night I saw a figure in human form coming with the clouds of heaven, coming up to the primeval Being, from whom he received dominion, glory and a Kingdom, that all nations, races, and folk of every tongue should serve him. His dominion is a lasting dominion, never to pass away, and his Kingdom shall never be overthrown. The Kingdom and dominion and the might of all kingdoms under heaven shall be given to the Saints of the Most High, a people whose Kingdom is a lasting Kingdom to be served and obeyed by all dominions” (Dan. 7:13, 14, 27).

When that government assumes power, the nations will lay down their arms and learn the ways of peace:

“In after days it shall be that the Eternal’s hill shall rise towering above every hill and higher than the heights. To it shall all the nations stream and many a folk exclaim ‘Come, let us go to the Eternal’s hill, to the house of Jacob’s God, that He may instruct us in His ways, to walk upon His paths.’ For instruction comes from Zion and from Jerusalem the Eternal’s word. He will decide the disputes of the nations and settle many a people’s case, till swords are beaten into ploughshares, spears into pruning hooks; no nation draws the sword against another; no longer shall men learn to fight. For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Eternal as the ocean-bed is full of water” (Isa. 2:2-4; 11:9).

The Messiah, God’s chosen representative, will become King of the whole earth:

“The Eternal your God arrives with all His Holy angels...On that day He shall set His feet on the Mount of Olives...Then shall the Eternal be King over all the earth. The Eternal on that day shall be the one God, and His worship the one worship” (Zech. 14:4, 5, 9). “His dominion shall be from sea to sea and from the river to the ends of the earth” (Zech. 9:9, AV).

The birth of Jesus of Nazareth is the decisive event in the unfolding of the divine plan. Of Jesus it was said that he was the one destined to rule over the House of Israel forever:

“He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High God. The Lord will make him a King, as his ancestor David was, and he will be King of the descendants of Jacob forever; his Kingdom will never end” (Luke 1:32, 33).

Taking up this same theme, Jesus preached this Good News (Gospel) of the Kingdom of God, and proclaimed that in his ministry that Kingdom had drawn near. The King of the coming Kingdom was present on earth. His message was that people should change their minds (repent), receive forgiveness for their wrongdoing, believe the message of the Kingdom of God, and, in faith, obey the laws of that Kingdom.

“The time has now come; God’s Kingdom is near. Repent and believe the Gospel” (Mark 1:15). “If you want to get into Life, keep the commandments” (Matt. 19:17).

Although the Kingdom was present in its King, Jesus, the establishment of the Kingdom was still in the future. Thus the Church must continue to pray “Thy Kingdom come,” and hope for the Kingdom’s arrival with Christ at his (second) coming (2 Tim. 4:1).

The King’s followers, the disciples, who recognized Jesus as the Messiah, were promised a definite reward in the coming New Age. That reward was to receive immortality and to reign with the Messiah in his Kingdom. With him they were to be the executives of a world government:

“Peter said, ‘We have left our all and followed you. Now what are we to get?’ Jesus said to them, ‘I tell you truly, in the new world, when the Son of Man shall sit on the throne of his glory, you who have followed me shall also sit on twelve thrones to govern the twelve tribes of Israel...It is you who have stood by me through my trials; so, as my father has assigned me royal power, I assign you the right of eating and drinking at my table in my Kingdom and of sitting on thrones to rule the twelve tribes of Israel’” (Matt. 19:28; Luke 22:30).

On one occasion when Jesus was approaching Jerusalem, the people expected the Kingdom to appear immediately. Jesus took this opportunity to explain that he must first depart and later return to establish his Kingdom. In harmony with his promises, Jesus pictured himself as a nobleman who expected to leave the earth for a far country (heaven), there to receive a Kingdom and to return. At his return his servants were to be rewarded with positions of rulership over cities, while those who refused to accept him as King would be destroyed (Luke 19:11-27).

Jesus’ message was accepted by very few of his Jewish compatriots. Though they knew that God had promised one day to send the Messiah, they refused to believe that Jesus was that promised King. Thus the Messiah was put to death by the religious and civil authorities of his day. After he had lain for three days and nights in the grave, God restored him to life, and he was seen alive by his disciples.

“He died...he was buried, he rose on the third day. He was seen by Cephas (Peter), then by the twelve; after that he was seen by James, then by all the Apostles, and finally he was seen by myself (Paul)” (I Cor. 15:3-8).

As we have seen, Jesus had promised to come back to the earth, to inaugurate the worldwide government foreseen by all the Old Testament prophets. Speaking to his disciples just before his crucifixion, he described events leading up to his future Coming, and finished by telling them: “And then shall be seen the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and glory...So when you see all this happen, be sure that the Kingdom of God is at hand” (Luke 21:27, 31).

Jesus had said the same thing to the Jewish authorities: “And what is more you will all see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power and coming in the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:62).

After the Messiah’s death and resurrection the disciples were naturally interested to know when the promised Kingdom would begin:

“After his sufferings he had shown them that he was alive by a number of proofs, revealing himself to them for forty days, and discussing the affairs of the Kingdom of God...Now when they met they asked him, ‘Lord, is this the time you are going to restore the Kingdom to Israel?’ But he told them, ‘It is not for you to know the course and periods of time that the Father has fixed by his own authority’” (Acts 1:3, 6, 7).

The same message about the Kingdom of God was taken up by the Apostles, who announced that at an appointed time the Messiah, who had been resurrected from the dead, would come back to rule the world. He would remain in heaven “till the period of the great Restoration. Ages ago God spoke of this by the lips of His holy prophets” (Acts 3:21).

Paul warned the people of Athens that God “has fixed a day on which He will judge [or rule] the world justly by a man whom He has destined for this. And He has given proof of this to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:31).

In times of severe difficulty, when he was being ill-treated by the authorities, Paul longed for the time when the Christian disciples, now known as the Church, would enter their promised Kingdom with the Messiah: “Would to God that you had ascended the throne, that we might also reign with you!” (1 Cor. 4:8, Weymouth).

For the present the lot of the Christians was to be “treated as the scum of the earth, the very refuse of the world” (I Cor. 4:13). But one day they would be kings, and they should have known this: “Do you not know that the saints [i.e., the Church] are to manage the world? If the world is to come under your jurisdiction, are you incompetent to adjudicate upon trifles?” (1 Cor. 6:2-3; cp. Dan. 7:18, 22, 27).

Shortly before his death, Paul reminded Timothy of a well-known Christian saying, which summarized the hope of the church: “If we endure, then we shall reign with him” (2 Tim. 2:12).

Indeed, the basis of the Christian message was “the coming world of which we speak” (Heb. 2:5).

The last book in the New Testament records a vision given by the Messiah to his servant John, to show in detail what would happen at the time of the Messiah’s return to the earth to establish his Kingdom. The purpose of this book of Revelation is: “To show Christ’s servants what must come to pass very soon...Blessed are they who hear the words of this prophecy and lay to heart what is written in it” (Rev. 1:1, 3).

John reminds his readers that the Messiah “is coming on the clouds, to be seen by every eye, even by those who impaled him, and all the tribes of the earth shall wail because of him” (Rev. 1:7).

Then Christ encourages the churches by reminding them that their suffering will one day come to an end. It is their destiny to rule the nations with Christ:

“And to the victor, the one who obeys my commands to the very end, I will give authority over the nations. And he shall be their shepherd, ruling them with a rod of iron...and his power over them shall be like that which I myself have received from my Father” (Rev. 2:26, 27, Weymouth).

The Christians have been chosen out of all the different nations to reign on earth. The Messiah “has been slain” and by his blood he has purchased for God “men out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation,” and has “formed them into a Kingdom to be priests to our God, and they shall reign on earth” (Rev. 5:10, Moffat, Weymouth).

Such teaching is of course in perfect agreement with Jesus’ promise to the meek that they would inherit the earth (Matt. 5:5), and with the New Covenant established by the death of Jesus, by which he covenanted with the disciples to share his coming Kingship with them: “So I covenant to give you, as my Father has covenanted to give me, a Kingdom” (Luke 22:29).[2]

Later in John’s vision of the future (the book of Revelation), he sees the arrival of the Messiah, the final overthrow of all the human governments, and their replacement by the Kingdom of the Messiah: “The rule of the world has passed to our Lord and his Christ and he shall reign for ever and ever” (Rev. 11:15).

Such an event has never yet occurred. It is only at the Second Coming that Jesus begins to reign worldwide: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory...then he shall sit on the throne of his glory” (Matt. 25:31).

Similarly, John sees a door open in heaven “and a white horse appeared. Its rider was named ‘Faithful and True’ — one who in righteousness executes judgment and wages war...He is clad in a raiment which has been dipped in blood and his name is the WORD OF GOD...From his mouth there comes a sharp sword with which he will smite the nations. And he will himself be their shepherd, ruling them with a scepter of iron...And on his raiment and on his thigh he has a name written: ‘The King of kings and Lord of lords’” (Rev. 19:11-16, Weymouth).

But first an angel descends from heaven. He seizes the Dragon, that old Serpent who is the devil and Satan (the Devil is at present deceiving the whole world, Rev. 12:9; the whole world lies under his power, I John 5:19). Now John’s vision shows that the situation will be totally reversed. The Devil is to be flung into an abyss and be shut up “to prevent him from seducing the nations any longer” (Rev. 20:3). Then, true to the promises of Jesus to his disciples, John sees thrones with people sitting on them and “the power to rule” is given them:

“They came to life and reigned with the Christ for a thousand years...This is the first resurrection [which occurs at Christ’s Second Coming, 1 Cor. 15:23]. Blessed and holy is he who shares in the first resurrection...They shall be priests of God and rule with him during the thousand years” (Rev. 20: 4-6).

In this way the promise of rulership first made by Christ to his disciples (Matt. 19:28; Luke 22:30), and confirmed by Paul (1 Cor. 6:2; 2 Tim. 2:12), finally comes to pass. When the Reign of the Messiah and his followers begins, mankind will enjoy an age of universal peace, which, on his own, he has never been able to achieve.

The justice of the triumph of the saints over their enemies was well expressed by Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, circa 170 AD:

“It is fitting that the Reign of God should be in the hands of Christ and his Saints, for it is just that in the very creation in which the Saints toiled and were afflicted and were tried in every way by suffering, they should receive the reward of their suffering, and that in the very creation in which they were killed for the love of God, they should be revived again; and that in the very creation in which they endured servitude they should also reign. For God is rich in all things, and all things are His. It is fitting therefore that the creation itself, being restored to its primeval condition, should without qualification be under the dominion of the righteous” (Against Heresies, Bk. 5, Chap. 32, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1).

Some 1800 years later a contemporary preacher expresses his surprise that the biblical Christian hope is in general neither preached nor believed by those claiming adherence to the Christian faith:

“We shall dwell in glorified bodies on the glorified earth. This is one of the great Christian doctrines that has been almost entirely forgotten and ignored. Unfortunately the Christian Church — I speak generally — does not believe this, and therefore does not teach it. It has lost its hope, and this explains why it spends most of its time in trying to improve life in this world, in preaching politics...But something remarkable is going to be true of us according to the Apostle Paul in 1 Cor. 6:1-3: ‘Dare any of you having a matter against another, go to law against the unjust and not before the Saints? Do you not know that the Saints shall rule the world?’…This is Christianity. This is the truth by which the New Testament Church lived. It was because of this that they were not afraid of their persecutors…This was the secret of their endurance, their patience and their triumphing over everything that was set against them” (Martin Lloyd-Jones, Commentary on Romans, pp. 72 75, 76, emphasis mine).

In the face of all the evidence, the reader is invited to give serious attention to the Gospel summons of Jesus the Messiah in Mark 1:14, 15: “Repent and believe the Good News about the Kingdom.”

Through the death of Christ the believer may receive forgiveness for his sins. The Christian life is one of preparation for the coming Kingdom of God to be established at the Return of Jesus. The goal of the Christian life is expressed by John in Revelation 3:21 and 2:26: “I will grant him a place with me when I sit on my throne, just as I also won the victory and sat down with my Father in His throne...I will give him authority over the nations and he shall shepherd them with a rod of iron, as vessels of pottery are broken in pieces; just as I also received this authority from my Father” (freely translated from the Greek text).

The following texts should regain the prominence they deserve, as truths central to the Christian Gospel:

“And the Bereans were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the Word [Message] with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so. Therefore many of them believed” (Acts 17:11, 12). “Do you not understand that the saints are going to manage the world?” (1 Cor. 6:2). “One day a King shall reign in justice with princes that rule uprightly” (Isa. 32:1). “When anyone hears the Message about the Kingdom and does not understand it, the Devil comes and snatches away the Message which was sown in his heart, so that he cannot believe and be saved” (Matt. 13:19; Luke 8:12, NASV). “When they believed Philip as he preached the Gospel about the Kingdom of God and the Name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, both men and women” (Acts 8:12, NASV).

“The seed is the Message of the Kingdom...You are born again not from corruptible seed but from incorruptible seed, from the living and enduring word of God, and this is the word which was preached to you as the gospel” (see Luke 8:11, 12; Matt. 13:19; I Pet. 1:23-25).²

When the Real Jesus was Replaced by Another

Socinian Christology

This is technical language to describe the understanding of those who maintain that Jesus, the unique Son of God, began to exist in the womb of his mother. Socinians take their name from the time of the Reformation in the 1500s when much investigation of the biblical view of Jesus was undertaken by scholars and other Bible students, in various parts of the world. The Italian uncle and nephew, Laelius (1525-62) and Faustus Socinus (1539-1604) adopted an anti-Trinitarian view of Jesus. They denied that the Bible presents Jesus as an eternal spirit being arriving on earth from an eternal preexistence as God or a god. Rather they argued that Luke 1:35 and Matthew 1:18, 20, and the whole Old Testament expectation of the Messiah, describe a Jesus, Son of God, who is to arise within the human family and begin his existence from the time of his conception. In the case of Jesus of course, they recognized a unique begetting by the Father who, by miracle, and with a direct parallel to the creation of Adam, and without the intervention of a human father, caused the genesis of the Son of God.

The issue of the so-called “pre-human” existence of Jesus continues to divide Bible students very sharply. The majority view is that the Son of God was “eternally begotten by the Father,” that is, he had no beginning, but was always the Son of God, uncreated, though begotten (the Trinitarian view). For many others this is simply a meaningless concept. One cannot be “begotten” and yet have no beginning of existence. To be “begotten,” as the Bible describes Jesus (I John 5:18, not KJV; John 3:16, etc.), means that one is a created person with a definite beginning to one’s life.

Those students of the Bible who do not accept a “beginningless beginning,” that is “eternal begetting” of the Son of God are not agreed as to the moment in history at which the Son began to exist. Jehovah’s Witnesses are convinced that the Son was begotten sometime before Genesis 1, and that the Son is in fact the same personage as Michael the Archangel. Socinians, on the other hand, believe that Jesus was never an angel (see Heb. ch. 1). As Messiah he is a descendant of Eve and of Abraham and David and must therefore originate in the human biological chain. (The issue of preexistence, whether Jesus did or did not literally pre-date his begetting in the womb of Mary, will be the subject of a debate between myself, Anthony Buzzard, and a Jehovah’s Witness scholar, Greg Stafford. The discussion will be held in Wenatchee, Washington at the Church of God Abrahamic Faith, co-pastured by Kirby Davis (509-663-1025) and Merry Peterson (509-662-3865). The debate will be Sat., Oct. 23 and all are welcome. Free admission.)

Our Socinian view maintains that from the second century churchgoers became confused about the origin of Jesus, whether it was in time at his birth, in eternity, or in pre-history before Genesis.

A person who has preexisted himself is, we think, impossible to describe. If Jesus was Michael transformed into a man, who really was Jesus? Was he 100% Michael and 100% Jesus? Did Michael and Jesus coexist in the same person? If so, who exactly came into existence as the Son of God? If that Son was already alive before his own conception, what or who was conceived and began to exist in his mother’s womb? Did Michael cease to exist as an angel before or after he reduced himself to a human sperm? How can you “be” before you “are”?

Einstein, we think, was right when he declared that the principles of the universe are essentially beautiful and simple. The Bible demonstrates the same simplicity. The question of the origin of the Son of God in the debates of the early Christian centuries is a nightmare of complexity. The whole issue turned into a fierce war of words, heavily dependent on terminology drawn from Greek philosophy. Losing the simplicity of the Socinian position, the competing parties — led by Arius and Athanasius — argued as to whether Jesus was God or a god in heaven before he was metamorphosed (?) from angel or God Himself to human person.

John simply says that the word or mind or plan of God became a human person (John 1:14). The Son in other words did not exist until his genesis in Mary. Note the Greek word in Matthew 1:18 — genesis — suggesting the parallel with the book of Genesis and Adam (son of God, Luke 3:38). And note how translations slightly veil the significance of Matthew 1:20, which reads: “that which is begotten in her is from holy spirit.” The word here does not mean “conceived” (the part of the mother) but “begotten,” in this case the supernatural activity of the Father. That marvelous and miraculous act of God overshadowing Mary brought into existence the Son of God. Jesus alone of all men could say “God is my father,” by which he meant not the sonship shared by all believers when they are “born again” by receiving the “seed” which is the Gospel of the Kingdom (I Pet. 1:23; Luke 8:11), but an unprecedented Sonship originating in his mother’s womb.

How did this unfortunate loss of the simplicity of the creation or procreation of the Son of God occur? Luke had truthfully reported the direct causal link between the supernatural generation of Jesus and his right thus to be the Son of God (Luke 1:35: “for that reason the one begotten will be called the Son of God”).

The “prince of Church historians,” Adolf Harnack, in his massive account of the History of Dogma (4th and final edition, 1909), accurately describes the struggle which began in the second century over who Jesus is and was. It was, he maintains, a struggle between theologians. And it was the struggle, too, “of Stoic Platonism [the philosophies of the first century] for supremacy in the theology of the Church.” It was in fact “the history of the displacement of the historical Jesus by a pre-human, preexisting Jesus — the real Jesus by an imaginary Jesus — in dogmatic theology. More precisely it was the victorious effort to get rid of the difficulties which the earliest speculations about God and Christ had already created. But this was attempted not by a return [i.e., to original truth] but by a further speculative advance, which finally weakened pure monotheism by splitting it [i.e., between God and Jesus], and made Jesus unrecognizable by ‘making him double’” (Vol. 1, Bk. 2, p. 704).

The NT Jesus was replaced by a curious “double-person,” fully God and at the same time fully man. Mortal, yet immortal. Temptable and yet, as God, not temptable. Preexisting and yet coming into existence. Older than himself? While being God, he did not know what God knew. All this left the churches floundering in a morass of unanswerable puzzles and conundrums. Belief in the One God, Jesus’ own creed (Mark 12:28ff), was submerged in complex philosophical terminology. The witness of the NT is a blessed relief from those awful centuries of theological polemics, infightings, excommunications, banishments and murder.²

The Need of the Kingdom

(A prĂ©cis of George Eldon Ladd’s A Theology of the New Testament, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975)

Greg Deuble values, as we do, much of the work done by the late Professor Ladd of Fuller Seminary on Jesus’ favorite doctrine, and the substance of his Gospel, the Kingdom of God. Here he summarizes the gems gathered from Ladd’s well-known textbook.

After being baptized by John the Baptist, Jesus entered on a ministry of proclaiming the Kingdom of God (Mk. 1:14-15; Mt. 4:23). “We cannot understand the message and miracles of Jesus unless they are interpreted in the setting of his view of the world and man, and the need for the coming of the Kingdom.” “Modern scholarship is quite unanimous in the opinion that the Kingdom of God was the central message of Jesus.”

The idea of a new redeemed order was a favorite hope of the OT prophets who looked forward to the Day of the Lord, a divine visitation to purge the world of evil and to establish God’s perfect reign in the earth. There developed a tension between this present evil age and the Age to Come. This background “provides the framework for Jesus’ entire message and ministry as reported by the Synoptic Gospels” (Mt. 12:32; Mk. 10:30). Thus “The Age to Come and the Kingdom of God are sometimes interchangeable terms.”

The attaining of “that age” is a blessing reserved for God’s people and “will be inaugurated by the resurrection from the dead” (Lk. 20:35). Those who attain to that age will be immortal like the angels. “Resurrection life is therefore eternal life — the life of the Age to Come — the life of the Kingdom of God. Not only resurrection marks the transition from this age to the coming age; the parousia [Second Coming] of Christ will mark the close of this age” (Mt. 24:3; 24:30-31).

“In this eschatological dualism, Jesus and Paul shared the same world view that prevailed in Judaism. It is essentially the apocalyptic view of history.” And although some scholars say this hope of the Kingdom of God on earth was not a true Hebrew prophetic hope, Ladd says that “the Old Testament prophetic hope of the coming of the Kingdom always involved a catastrophic inbreaking of God...Everything in the Gospels points to the idea that life in the Kingdom of God in the Age to Come will be life on the earth…(Mt. 19:28)” (emphasis added).

“Therefore, when Jesus proclaimed the coming of the Kingdom of God he did so against the background of Hebrew-Jewish thought, which viewed men living in a situation dominated by sin, evil, and death, from which they needed to be rescued.” “His proclamation of the Kingdom includes the hope, reaching back to the Old Testament prophets, that anticipates a new age in which all the evils of the present age will be purged by the act of God from human and earthly existence.”

The Spirit-World

Bringing in the Kingdom involved Jesus in a titanic struggle against Satan and his hosts of malignant demons (Mt. 4:1; Lk. 4:6). This idea also stems from the OT (Job 1-2; I Chron. 21:1). In Matthew 12:29 Jesus portrays himself as invading “the strong man’s house” — this age — to despoil him.

“The doctrine of Satan and demons has several distinct theological implications. Evil is not imposed upon men directly by God, nor is evil blind chance or capricious fate. Evil has its roots in personality. Yet evil is greater than men. It can be resisted by the human will, although the human will can yield to it. Yet evil is not a disorganized, chaotic conflict of powers, as in animism, but is under the direction of a single will whose purpose it is to frustrate the will of God.”

“This background of Satanic evil provides the cosmic background for the mission of Jesus and his proclamation of the Kingdom of God.” Although science and philosophy may question the personal existence of Satan, “there is really no more difficulty in believing in the existence of a malevolent spirit behind the evils in human history than to believe in the existence of a good spirit — God. Our purpose is primarily to show that the theology of the Kingdom of God is essentially one of conflict and conquest over the kingdom of Satan.”

“In Judaism, the destruction of Satanic powers was expected at the end of the age when the Kingdom of God should come.” The demon in Mk. 1:24 recognizes a supernatural power in Jesus that is capable of crushing Satanic power here and now.

Demon possession manifested itself in various ways. Sometimes it was associated with afflictions of a physical nature (Mt. 9:32; 12:22), with epilepsy (Mt. 17:15, 18) and in only one place with mental illness (Mk. 5:15).

Ladd is quite clear in saying that it is not accurate simply to explain away demon possession and activity by saying it is an ancient interpretation for what we now know to be various forms of insanity. Frequently in the Synoptics demon possession is distinguished from other diseases. Jesus healed both the sick and those possessed by demons (Mk. 1:32). Demon possession is distinguished from epilepsy and paralysis (Mt. 4:24) and from sickness and leprosy (Mt. 10:8).

Demon exorcism was one of Jesus’ most frequent mission acts and “we cannot avoid the conclusion that Jesus’ message of the coming of the Kingdom of God involved a fundamental struggle with and conquest of this spiritual realm of evil.”

Nor is it accurate to say that Jesus appeared to adapt his belief in Satan to fit the ideas of his age. “The exorcism of demons was no mere peripheral activity in Jesus’ ministry but was a manifestation of the essential purpose of the coming of the Kingdom of God into the evil age. We must recognize in the exorcism of demons a consciousness on the part of Jesus of engaging in an actual conflict with the spirit world, a conflict that lay at the heart of his messianic mission...The demonic is absolutely essential in understanding Jesus’ interpretation of the picture of sin and of man’s need for the Kingdom of God. Man is in bondage to a personal power stronger than himself. At the very heart of our Lord’s mission is the need of rescuing men from bondage to the Satanic kingdom and of bringing them into the sphere of God’s Kingdom. Anything less than this involves an essential reinterpretation of some of the basic facts of the gospel.”

Although the history of the church’s belief in demons and witches has been used by superstitious people to bring much evil and suffering, we must adhere still to Jesus’ belief in a personal evil spirit world. “If for a priori rationalistic reasons we reject Jesus’ belief in the existence of a realm of evil spiritual powers, it is difficult to see why Christ’s belief in a personal God may not be eliminated also.”

The Kingdom of God in Judaism

The truly Hebraic, prophetic hope expects the Kingdom to arise out of history and to be ruled by a descendant of David in an earthly setting (Is. 9, 11). “They looked for an apocalyptic inbreaking of God in the person of a heavenly Son of Man with a completely transcendental Kingdom...(Dan. 7).” “It always involves an inbreaking of God into history when God’s redemptive purpose is fully realized. The Kingdom is always an earthly hope...an earth redeemed from the curse of evil.”

This future salvation means two things: deliverance from mortality, and perfected fellowship with God. Such eschatological salvation “includes the whole man.” “The evils of physical weakness, sickness, and death will be swallowed up in the life of the Kingdom of God” (Mt. 25:34, 46). Therefore, “the Kingdom of God stands as a comprehensive term for all that the messianic salvation included.”

The Fatherly God

In Christ, God is seeking men, inviting them to submit themselves to His reign that he might be their Father. In this eschatological salvation, the righteous will enter into the Kingdom of their Father (Mt. 13:43). “It is the Father who has prepared for the blessed this eschatological inheritance of the Kingdom (Mt. 25:34). It is the Father who will bestow upon Jesus’ disciples the gift of the Kingdom (Lk. 12:32). The highest gift of God’s Fatherhood is participation in God’s sovereignty, which is to be exercised over all the world. In that day Jesus will enjoy a renewed fellowship with his disciples in the Father’s Kingdom (Mt. 26:29). Clearly kingship and Fatherhood are closely related concepts (Mt. 6:9-10).” The future blessing of the Kingdom is dependent upon a present relationship. “Those who know God as their Father are those for whom the highest good in life is the Kingdom of God and its righteousness (Mt. 6:32, 33; Lk. 12:30).”

Jesus never applied the category of sonship to any but his disciples. Men became sons of God by recognizing his messianic sonship.

The Mystery of the Kingdom

“Our central thesis is that the Kingdom of God is the redemptive reign of God dynamically active to establish His rule among men, and that this Kingdom, which will appear as an apocalyptic act at the end of the age, has already come into human history in the person and mission of Jesus to overcome evil, to deliver men from its power, and to bring them into the blessings of God’s reign. The Kingdom of God involves two great moments: fulfillment within history, and consummation at the end of history [i.e. the end of the present age and the beginning of a new era of history — ed.]. It is precisely this background which provides the setting for the parables of the Kingdom.”

The mystery of the Kingdom that Jesus alluded to “is the coming of the Kingdom into history in advance of its apocalyptic manifestation.” “The new truth, now given to men by revelation in the person and mission of Jesus, is that the Kingdom that is to come finally in apocalyptic power, as foreseen in Daniel, has in fact entered into the world in advance in a hidden form to work secretly within and among men.”

In Jesus’ person and mission, the Kingdom has come, “but society is not uprooted” as Jewish Messianic belief held. Hence the parables of the sower, the tares, the leaven in the lump, the mustard seed, etc. Concerning the latter, the parable of the mustard seed illustrates the truth that the Kingdom which one day will be a great tree, is already present in the world in a tiny, insignificant form.

Contemporary Jews could not understand how one could talk about the Kingdom apart from such an all-encompassing manifestation of God’s rule. “How could the coming glorious Kingdom have anything to do with the poor little band of Jesus’ disciples? Rejected by the religious leaders, welcomed by the tax collectors and sinners, Jesus looked more like a deluded dreamer than the bearer of the Kingdom of God. Hence, the parable of the leaven...the Kingdom of God, which one day will rule over all the earth, has entered the world in a form that is hardly perceptible. The leaven teaches that one day the eschatological Kingdom will prevail so that no rival sovereignty exists.”

This was the mystery and the stumbling block to the Jews. Jesus’ ministry initiated no such apocalyptic transformation. He preached the presence of the Kingdom of God, but the world went on as before. How then could this be the Kingdom? “The idea of the Kingdom of God conquering the world by a gradual permeation and inner transformation was utterly foreign to Jewish thought.” What gives these parables their point is the fact that the Kingdom had come among men in an unexpected way, in a form that might easily be overlooked and despised. But contrary to every superficial evaluation, discipleship to Jesus means participation in the Kingdom of God. Present in the person and work of Jesus without outward or visible glory was the Kingdom of God itself.

The parable of the drag-net teaches that in Jesus’ ministry the Kingdom has now come into the world without effecting this eschatological separation. Jesus teaches that one day the Kingdom will indeed create the perfect eschatological community. But before this event an unexpected manifestation of God’s Kingdom has occurred.

The Faithful Remnant — The Church

Jesus claimed to be the Messiah. His ministry and teaching “remained within the total context of Israel’s faith and practice.” His church stands in “direct continuity with the Old Testament Israel.” “The true Israel [Gal. 6:16; Phil. 3:3] now finds its specific identity in its relationship to Jesus.”

This explains why “for Christians of the first three centuries, the Kingdom was altogether eschatological [i.e., in the future]. Their Christian presence was a presence of tension.” One of the main tasks of the church is to display in this present evil age the life and fellowship of the Age to Come. The church has a dual character, belonging to two ages. It is the people of the Age to Come, but it still lives in this age, being constituted of sinful mortal men. This means that while the church in this age “will never attain perfection, it must nevertheless display the life of the perfect order, the eschatological Kingdom of God.” The church then is not the Kingdom itself, as some theologians have maintained. The church witnesses to the Kingdom.

“The twelve are destined to be the head of the eschatological Israel...The twelve are destined to be the rulers of the eschatological Israel...(Mt. 19:28). To Peter and Christ’s faithful community the keys of the Kingdom are delivered.” The authority entrusted to Peter is grounded upon revelation, that is, spiritual knowledge, which he shared with the twelve. The keys of the Kingdom are therefore “the spiritual insight which will enable Peter to lead others in through the door of revelation through which he passed himself.”

Today, the church is commissioned by Jesus to be his representatives. The final destiny of men will thus be decided by the way they react to the authentic message of the Kingdom as proclaimed by his agents in this present evil age. [See particularly Mark 4:11, 12, where repentance and forgiveness are conditioned on an intelligent reception of the Kingdom Gospel (Mt. 13:19).] “Through the proclamation of the gospel of the Kingdom in the world will be decided who will enter into the eschatological Kingdom and who will be excluded.”²

by Greg Deuble

A Translation of John’s Gospel from the Greek, Chapter 1

In the beginning there was God’s Grand Design, the declaration of His Intention and Purpose, and that declaration was with God as His project, and it was fully expressive of God Himself. This was with God in the beginning. Everything came into being through it, and without it nothing of what came into being existed. In it there was life and that life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not overwhelm it. There came on the scene of history a man commissioned by God. His name was John. This man came as a witness [a preacher of the Gospel of the Kingdom, Matt. 3:2] so that he might bear witness to the light and that everyone might believe through him. He was not the Light himself, but he witnessed concerning the light. This was the genuine light which enlightens every man coming into the world.

He was in the world and the world came into existence through him, and the world did not recognize him. He came to his own land and his own people did not accept him. As many, however, as did accept him, to these he gave the right to become children of God — namely the ones believing in his Gospel revelation, his religion. These were born not from blood, nor from the desire of the flesh nor from the desire of a male, but from God. And the word became a human being and tabernacled among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of a uniquely begotten Son from a Father, full of grace and truth.

John witnessed concerning him and cried out with these words, “This was the one of whom I said, ‘The one coming after me has now moved ahead of me, because he always was my superior.’” Because from his fullness all of us have received grace followed by grace. Because the law was given by God through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has seen God at any time. A uniquely begotten Son, one who is in the bosom of the Father — he has explained God. And this is the witness of John, when the Jews sent a commission of priests and Levites to him from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” And he confessed and did not deny, “I am not the Christ.” And they asked him, “Who are you? Are you Elijah?” And he said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” And he answered, “No.” And they said to him, “Who are you? So that we can give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord God,’ as Isaiah the prophet spoke.” And the ones sent were from the Pharisees. And they asked him a further question, “Why do you baptize if you are not the Messiah, or Elijah or the prophet who was to come?” John answered them, “I am baptizing in water. Among you there stands one whom you do not recognize — the one coming after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” These things happened in Bethany beyond the Jordan where John was baptizing.

The next day he saw Jesus coming towards him and he said, “This is the lamb of God, the one who removes the sin of the world. This is the one of whom I said, ‘After me there comes a man who has now moved ahead of me, because he was always my superior.’ And I did not recognize him, but so that he might be recognized by Israel for that reason I came baptizing with water.” And John witnessed with these words: “I saw the spirit descending as a dove out of heaven and remaining on him, and I did not recognize him. But the one who sent me to baptize in water spoke to me and said, ‘The one on whom you see the spirit descending and remaining on him, he is the one who baptizes with holy spirit.’ And I saw this, and I have witnessed to the fact that this is the Son of the One God.”

On the next day again John stood with two of his disciples, and seeing Jesus walking by, he said, “This is the Lamb of the One God.” And the two disciples heard him speaking and followed Jesus. Jesus, turning round and seeing them following him, said, “What are you looking for?” They said, “Rabbi (which translated means Teacher), where are you staying?” And he said to them, “Come and see.” And so they went and saw where he was staying and remained with him that whole day. And it was about the tenth hour. This was Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, one of the two who had heard from John and followed him. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which translated means the Christ). He brought him to Jesus, and Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John. You will be called Cephas, which translated means Peter.” The next day Jesus wanted to go to Galilee, and he found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip then found Nathaniel and said to him, “The one about whom Moses wrote in the law and whom the prophets mentioned, we have found, Jesus, the son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathaniel said to him, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Philip said, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathaniel coming towards him and he said of him, “Behold a genuine Israelite in whom there is no guile.” Nathaniel said to him, “How is it that you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.” Nathaniel answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God. You are the King of Israel.” Jesus answered him with these words: “Because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree, you are a believer? You will see greater things than this.” And he said to him, “I tell you on the authority of my Father, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”²

by Anthony Buzzard

Restoring the Gospel Terminology of the Early Church

Most of the confusion and/or apathy existing in churches today is traceable to one cause. The voice of Jesus and his teaching has been muzzled. People have been invited to “get saved” (what that is exactly is often left vague) by “accepting Jesus in your heart.” What has not been made clear is that Jesus must be defined, and secondly that accepting Jesus is impossible unless one is told what his Gospel message is. It is by the words of Jesus that his spirit and mind are conveyed to us. Hence the emphatic warnings in Paul (I Tim. 6:3) that any preacher who does not hold forth the “health-giving words, namely those of the Lord Jesus Christ” is worse than useless. Indeed he is a positive menace (see again I Tim. 6:3). John repeats that same message with equal clarity in II John 7-9 where a Jesus divorced from his teachings is not the real Jesus at all. He is an imagined Jesus, reinvented by our very creative but wicked human hearts. One might say this: The Devil has one major trick: To separate Jesus from his Gospel teachings. See the marvelously insightful warning in Luke 8:12!

A large measure of the present chaos in churches and denominational divisions is a failure to define the building-block concepts of the Bible. We need first to define God correctly as Jesus did. Jesus agreed with the unitarian creed of Israel (Mark 12:28ff with Deut. 6:4). In conversation with an inquiring professional theologian, a scribe, Jesus affirmed that God is one Lord, and that this cardinal tenet of biblical faith is the most important of all truths. “Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God is One Lord.”

We should add that God is positively not three Lords! At present churchgoers have generally given this issue very little thought. They have merely parroted various popular utterances that “Jesus is God,” with almost no investigation how that amazing proposition could possibly be true — especially since Jesus never said anything like that and insisted that his Father was “the only one who is truly God” (John 17:3).

The next major step towards Christian unity will be taken when we all sit down and decide what the saving Gospel is. It really should not be hard to agree that the Gospel is about the Kingdom of God. Jesus spoke daily of the Gospel of the Kingdom of God as did Paul (Acts 19:8; 20:24, 25; 28:23, 31; II Tim. 4:1, etc.). A valuable step towards clearing up confusion over the Kingdom of God would be taken if Christians adopted the Bible’s primary Gospel language. In Acts 8 Luke uses several parallel phrases to describe the evangelistic activity of the Church. They were “preaching the Message as Good News” (literally, “evangelizing the Word,” Acts 8:4). Philip “proclaimed the Christ to them” (Acts 8:5). Samaria thus “received the Message of God” (Acts 8:14). After “they had testified and spoken the Message of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the Gospel to many villages of the Samaritans” (Acts 8:25). At the center of this account, however, Luke provides the most comprehensive description of the content of the saving Message. With a carefully worded formula, he lets us know exactly what “proclaiming the Christ” or “proclaiming the Message” or “preaching the Gospel” mean. It is “preaching the Gospel of [i.e., about — Gr. peri] the Kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 8:12). This is Luke’s fullest summary of the Gospel. He repeats it at two other critically important points in his narrative.[1] It defines his other “shorthand” statements, appearing in his Gospel as well as in Acts, and ought to serve as a rallying point for all proclamations of the Gospel. Quite extraordinarily, these texts receive almost no mention in literature defining the Gospel. If they were taken seriously, current “gospels” would be exposed as lacking a primary biblical element. The all-important fact would emerge that the Apostles were no less insistent upon the Kingdom of God as the center of their Message than Jesus had been. They were following their Master faithfully. But can the same be said of evangelism in the twentieth century? “The Gospel of Christ” is an ambiguous phrase in the 20th century, though not in its New Testament context where it is assumed to be a synonym for the Gospel of the Kingdom. Contemporary evangelism chooses the ambiguous label for the Gospel and dispenses with its clear title as the Message about the Kingdom.

A very misleading idea has become ingrained in much contemporary evangelism. The idea has been widely accepted that the Kingdom of God was not the main emphasis of Paul’s preaching, though it was the leading topic in Jesus’ evangelism. One has only to read Acts 20:25 to learn what Luke constantly tells us about Paul’s Gospel: that it was a “proclamation of the Kingdom of God.” It is puzzling that such an obvious clue to the mind of Paul should have been so neglected. Not only does the centrality of the Kingdom in Paul’s Message appear frequently in Luke’s accounts of Paul’s evangelism, it is found indirectly throughout his own writings. He reminded the Thessalonians that they had received “the Word” (Luke’s synonym for the Gospel of the Kingdom, Luke 4:43; 5:1) and in so doing were expressing their faith in God as they “waited for His Son from heaven whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come” (I Thess. 1:10). (The theme of the return of Christ and the wrath associated with the coming of the future Kingdom are exactly John the Baptist’s and Jesus’ Gospel themes.) Paul then refers to his proclamation as the Gospel of God (I Thess. 2:2, 8, 9), which is precisely the phrase used by Mark to denote Jesus’ preaching of the Gospel about the Kingdom (Mark 1:14, 15). Almost in the same breath Paul exhorts his converts to “walk worthy of the God who is inviting you into His own Kingdom and glory” (1 Thess. 2:12). It is clear that the Gospel of the Kingdom is at the center of Paul’s thought, exactly as Luke reports that the Kingdom was always the heart of Paul’s Gospel (Acts 19:8; 20:25; 28:23, 31). Moreover he goes on to tell the Thessalonians that this “Word,” or “Word of God,” both synonyms for the Gospel of the Kingdom, was “performing its work” in the believers. The concept is exactly that of Jesus who spoke of the essential saving “Message of the Kingdom” taking root in the heart of the believer as the life-giving seed able to produce fruit (Matt. 13:19, 23).

Another evidence of the Gospel of the Kingdom throughout the New Testament is provided by the term “glory” which is closely related to Kingdom. Matthew recalls that the mother of James and John requested for her sons close association with the Messiah in the administration of the coming Kingdom (Matt. 20:20, 21). Mark reports the same event but substitutes the word glory for Kingdom: “Grant that we may sit in your glory, one on the right and the other on the left” (Mark 10:37). Thus when Mark speaks of the Son of Man coming in the glory of his Father (Mark 8:38) there is an immediate reference to the Kingdom of God (Mark 9:1). The whole discussion is closely related to Jesus’ words about losing one’s life for the sake of Jesus and the Gospel (Mark 8:35). When Paul speaks of future glory he always has the Kingdom in mind. In Romans 8 he recognizes that Christians are “heirs with Christ” and goes on to say that “the sufferings of this present time are not to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed for us” (Rom. 8:17, 18).[2] Just as Joseph of Arimathea, a Christian disciple, was waiting for the Kingdom of God, so Paul sees the creation as “waiting for the revealing of the Sons of God,” a Messianic title (Rom. 8:19). He takes up exactly the same theme when he summarizes the faith: “If we suffer with him we shall also be kings [i.e., in the Kingdom] with him” (II Tim. 2:12). “Salvation,” “inheritance of the Kingdom of God,” inheritance of “life” or “life in the coming age,” “ruling with the Messiah as kings” and “glory” are all interchangeable ways of describing the same goal of the Kingdom. Paul may sometimes have chosen politically less explosive words like “glory” and “salvation,” rather than Kingdom. Such “code words” were clear to his readers. Provided Paul’s synonyms for Kingdom are detected, there is every reason to find in his epistles complete confirmation of his claim to have been a preacher of the Kingdom of God, faithfully speaking for the risen Christ whose Message of the Kingdom was continued in the Apostles’ ministries.

Without an understanding of the phrase “Gospel of the Kingdom,” it is hard to see how there can be intelligent response to Jesus’ first command. We are asked to “repent and believe the Good News about the Kingdom of God” (Mark 1:14, 15). That is the essence of faith. All subsequent preaching in the New Testament should be referred to this basic thesis statement about the Gospel of salvation. Cut loose from Jesus’ appeal for belief in the Gospel of the Kingdom, preaching exposes itself to the menace of a distorted and thus “another gospel.” That such a distortion has occurred will not be hard to see. One has only to listen to preachers of “the Gospel” to recognize that whatever else they may preach, there is precious little mention of the Kingdom of God. This can only mean that the principal element of Jesus’ proclamation has been silenced. Such a “muzzling” of the Savior, in the name of the Savior, remains the baffling and disturbing feature of contemporary preaching and of the history of the Church from the earliest centuries.

The Kingdom of God in Relation to the Death and Resurrection of Jesus

The urgent demand by Jesus to “repent and believe the Good News of the Kingdom” (surely an excellent place for Gospel preaching to begin) implies an understanding of the term “Kingdom of God.” While Jesus’ leading phrase remains unclear, the Gospel itself is obscured. Perhaps it is this uncertainty over the meaning of Jesus’ proclamation about the Kingdom that has caused evangelicals to drop all reference to the Kingdom of God in their definition of the Gospel, and to rely on what they think is a full account of the saving Message: the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. It is customary to appeal to Paul’s words in I Corinthians 15:1-11:

“Now I make known to you, brethren, the Gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are being saved, if you hold fast the message which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance [literally “among the first,” NASV margin] what I also received, that Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas and then to the twelve…Whether then it was I or they, so we preached and so you believed.”

An important key to understanding Paul’s fine statement about his own Gospel Message is found in the little phrase “en protois,” “amongst things of primary importance” (verse 3). The point at issue in the Corinthian letter was the resurrection of Jesus which some of the Corinthians were beginning to doubt — “How do some among you say there is no resurrection of the dead?” (verse 12). In response to this particular crisis of belief, Paul reminds his audience that the death and resurrection of Jesus are of absolutely fundamental significance in the Christian Gospel. Without the death of Jesus to gain forgiveness for all of us, and without his return from death to life through resurrection, there can be no hope of salvation in the coming Kingdom. The Gospel of the Kingdom is nullified if in fact Jesus has not been raised from the dead.

It is a mistake, however, to argue from this text that the facts about Jesus’ death and resurrection formed the whole Message of the Gospel. Paul is careful to say that these central facts were preached “amongst things of primary importance.” This, however, was not his entire Gospel. There were other things also, of equal importance in the Gospel, namely the announcement about the Kingdom of God.[3] We recall that Jesus had proclaimed the Kingdom of God as the Gospel long before he spoke of his death and resurrection, a fact which proves that the Kingdom of God is not a synonym for the death and resurrection of Christ (Luke 4:43; cp. Luke 18:31-34). As a leading authority notes:

“Neither Romans 1:1-3 nor I Corinthians 15:1-4 is meant to be a full statement of what Paul understood by the Gospel. We can see this from the fact that the death of Jesus is not mentioned in Romans 1:1ff…The Gospel of Paul is identical with that which Jesus himself preached during his earthly life. Christ himself speaks in the Gospel of Paul. Paul is not referring [in Rom. 16:25] to his Gospel added to the preaching of the risen Lord. He is emphasizing the agreement of his preaching with that of the earthly Jesus. Hence the ‘proclamation of Jesus Christ’ can only mean the message which Jesus Christ proclaimed.”[4]

It is evident that Paul was not in I Corinthians 15 directly addressing the subject of the Kingdom of God as a future event coinciding with the return of Jesus. The Corinthians had already accepted that belief as part of the Gospel of salvation. Thus Paul is able to elaborate on the already understood doctrine of the Kingdom only a few verses later. Having just mentioned the future coming of Jesus (I Cor. 15:23), he speaks of the Kingdom over which Jesus will preside at his coming (I Cor. 15:25-27). That Kingdom, it should be carefully noted, is the Kingdom which “flesh and blood” cannot inherit, for “the perishable cannot inherit the imperishable” (I Cor. 15:50). In order to enter the Kingdom of God, Christians must be summoned from death at the last trumpet and be changed, in the twinkling of an eye, into immortal persons (I Cor. 15:51, 52). These verses confirm, once again, the fact that the Kingdom of God comes into power at the Second Coming. Following Jesus, Paul speaks of entering or inheriting the Kingdom in the future.

The Kingdom has a principal place in the New Testament Gospel Message in addition, of course, to the equally essential preaching of the death and resurrection of the Savior. It is a serious mishandling of the Bible to place I Corinthians 15:1-4 in conflict with the massive evidence for the central importance of the Kingdom of God in the pre- and post- resurrection proclamation.[5] Once again we must emphasize the importance of Acts 8:12 (echoed in Acts 19:8; 28:23, 31) as Luke’s comprehensive summary statement about the Gospel Message: “When they believed Philip as he preached the Good News about the Kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, both men and women” (see also Matt. 13:19; Luke 8:12). “Kingdom of God” “frames” the entire writing of Luke. For him and for the New Testament church it was the term par excellence to denote the restoration of the land under the reign of the Messiah, as well as the urgent present necessity for converts to prepare for the high honor of ruling with the Messiah.

The substitution of the word “heaven” for Kingdom of God is a major contributing factor in a loss of clarity about the Gospel of Jesus. When the language of Jesus is abandoned the damage in terms of the loss of the mind of Jesus is untold. Such a loss, tragically, has been characteristic of the history of the development of the central Christian idea — “the Gospel of the Kingdom and the things concerning Jesus.” Out of deference for Jesus, as God’s Messiah, and in obedience to his original challenge to belief in the Good News of the Kingdom, we must insist on defining the Kingdom according to its biblical setting and restoring it to a central position in all exposition of the Gospel. Can intelligent response to the Gospel mean anything less?

Kingship as the Christian Goal

The nation of Israel had long been convinced of its high destiny in the purposes of God. As part of the covenant between the nation and its God, Israel was to enjoy a position of special privilege: “If you obey My voice and hold fast to My covenant, you of all the nations shall be My very own, for all the earth is Mine. I will count you a kingdom of priests, a consecrated nation. These are the words you are to speak to the sons of Israel” (Exod. 19:5, 6).

Israel as a whole had repeatedly failed to live up to her high calling. Nevertheless, the promise of world supremacy was reserved for a faithful remnant destined to inherit the future Kingdom of God. The invitation to kingship was repeated through the prophet Isaiah:

“Pay attention, come to Me; listen and your soul will live. With you I will make an everlasting covenant out of the favors promised to David. See, I have made of you a witness to the peoples, a leader and a master of the nations. See, you will summon a nation you never knew, those unknown will come hurrying to you, for the sake of Yahweh, your God, of the Holy One of Israel who will glorify you” (Isa. 55:3-5, Jerusalem Bible).

In the New Testament the prospect of royal position in the Kingdom is offered to the New Israel of the Church (Gal. 6:16) gathered from both Jews and Gentiles. Jesus assured the faithful Church: “Those who prove victorious, I will allow to share my throne, just as I was victorious myself and took my place with my Father on His throne…To those who prove victorious, and keep working for me until the end, I will give the authority over the pagans which I myself have been given by my Father, to rule them with an iron scepter and shatter them like earthenware” (Rev. 2:26, 27). This prospect gave rise to the Christian “slogan” found in II Timothy 2:12: “If we suffer with him, we shall also reign as kings with him.”

In Revelation 2:26 Jesus quotes the celebrated Messianic Psalm 2, one of many which describe the glories of the future Kingdom of God. It will be initiated by a decisive intervention by God, sending His Messiah to crush political rebellion and establish a new government in Jerusalem. The fact that appeal is made to this Psalm in the book of Revelation shows that the traditional Messianic hope was taken over into Christianity, with full approval of Jesus himself:

“Why this uproar among the nations? Why this impotent muttering of pagans — kings on earth rising in revolt, princes plotting against Yahweh and His Anointed [Messiah]. ‘Now let us break their fetters! Now let us throw off their yoke!’ The One whose throne is in heaven sits laughing, Yahweh derides them. Then angrily He addresses them, in a rage He strikes them with panic, ‘This is My King installed by Me on Zion, My holy mountain.’ Let me proclaim Yahweh’s decree; He has told Me, ‘You are My son, today I have become your Father. Ask and I will give the nations for your heritage, the ends of the earth for your domain. With an iron scepter you will break them, shatter them like potter’s ware.’ So, now, you kings, learn wisdom, earthly rulers, be warned: Serve Yahweh, fear Him, tremble and kiss His feet, or He will be angry and you will perish, for His anger is very quick to blaze. Happy are all who take shelter in Him” (Psalm 2, Jerusalem Bible).

The promise of “the ends of the earth for your domain” is reflected in Jesus’ own claim to the “authority which I myself have been given by my Father” (Rev. 2:27). The same theme is taken up by the angelic chorus when they sing of the faithful who “shall rule as kings on the earth” (Rev. 5:10) and in the famous millennial passage which foresees the saints ruling with the Messiah for a thousand years (Rev. 20:4-6).²