The Gospel of the Kingdom
To say gospel is to say good news. To say news is to say events, occurrences that actually happen in space and time. To announce a gospel is to announce joyful events.
Before Jesus began His earthly ministry, John the Immerser began to announce an event that was about to occur. The Kingdom, he said, was imminent. This announcement was certainly good news (gospel) for some, though it was very bad news for others. By grasping how the announcement of the Kingdom was both good news and bad news, we can understand how it was related to the gospel that Paul defined in 1 Corinthians 15.
In his announcement, John the Immerser included both the good news and the bad news. The good news was that the one whom he was announcing would baptize people in the Holy Spirit. This statement was an allusion to the New Covenant language of Ezekiel, which took the form of a promise that God would put His Spirit in His people when He took away their heart of stone and gave them a heart of flesh (Ezek. 36-37). Ezekiel explicitly tied this prophecy to the time when Israel would be in the land, the Davidic throne would be restored over the entire nation, and God would make an everlasting covenant of peace with His people. Israel would no longer be under the dominion of the nations. The blessings of that time would include peace, prosperity, and progeny. John’s announcement that Messiah would baptize His people in the Holy Spirit stands as a synecdoche for all the blessings of the promised Kingdom. His hearers could expect that those blessings were imminent. That was good news. It was gospel.
Along with the good news, however, came bad news. Not only would the coming Messiah baptize in the Holy Spirit, He would also baptize in fire. This “fire baptism” was explained in fuller detail: Messiah was about to burn up the “chaff” with unquenchable fire. Clearly the baptism in fire is a figure of perdition, and the subjects are not far from view. John spoke these words immediately after warning the Pharisees and Sadducees of approaching wrath. In vivid imagery he declared that the axe was already laid against the root of the tree and that barren trees were about to be cast into the fire. In other words, if the announcement of the Kingdom was good news for some, it was very bad news for others.
The reason for this good news / bad news dilemma is found in the fundamental paradox of the Kingdom. Many in Israel yearned for the promised blessings of the Kingdom, and especially freedom from Roman domination. What they overlooked, however, was that the primary characteristic of the Kingdom was to be justice. There could be no Kingdom without justice, and there could be no justice without judgment. Many in Israel yearned for the judgment of their gentile oppressors, but they had not stopped to consider what judgment might mean for them. A truly righteous Messiah—one who would condemn all injustice—would have to condemn the unjust of Israel as well. John made it clear that this condemnation would include the Pharisees and Sadducees. In fact, the core of his message was a call to repent.
Without justice, there could be no Kingdom and, without judgment, no justice. Messiah would have to inaugurate His reign with sweeping judgments, and those judgments were sure to catch Israel as well as the nations. The paradox of the Kingdom was that, in order to establish His realm, the King would be forced to immolate every one of His own subjects. An empty Kingdom would be a pathetic Kingdom indeed.
The solution to this paradox was the New Covenant. In the New Covenant, God promised to work a change within His people Israel. He would circumcise their hearts (Deut. 30:6), write His law on their hearts (Jer. 31:33), and give them new hearts, taking away their hearts of stone and giving them hearts of flesh (Ezek. 36:26). God promised to remake Israel so that they would reflect the justice of the Kingdom.
That still left the problem of their past injustices, which a righteous judge could not possibly overlook. Isaiah dealt with this problem in his description of the suffering servant. That description occurs in a section of Isaiah’s prophecy that discusses the redemption of Jerusalem and the deliverance of Israel. Isaiah made it clear that the Messiah will not merely be a ruler, but a sin-bearer (Isa. 53:4-12). The price of Israel’s redemption would be the brutalization of the Messiah; He would be marred beyond human recognition (52:14), despised and rejected (53:3), wounded and bruised (53:5), oppressed and afflicted (53:7), and ultimately killed (53:8-9).
Clearly, the suffering of the Messiah for sin would not be restricted to Israel. In His substitutionary work, Messiah would sprinkle many nations (52:15). This inclusion of gentiles accords with the teaching of Amos that a remnant of the gentiles will be called by the name of the Lord (Amos 9:11-12). For Messiah to bear the sins of gentiles and to include them in His Kingdom is a logical necessity: how could Israel enjoy prominence over the gentile nations if no gentile nations will be present?
In sum, the announcement of the Kingdom is good news and bad news. Those for whom it is bad news, however, have hope, for God has promised that the King will deal with their sins. It is no accident that Messiah was first introduced as the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.
The good news of the Kingdom is good news only for those whose sins have been forgiven. In other words, the announcement of the Kingdom can be good news only in view of the substitutionary sufferings of the King. That is why John the Immerser began his proclamation with a call to repent. Without repentance and salvation, no one can enter the Kingdom. The gospel of the Kingdom leads directly to the gospel that “Christ died for our sins” and that He arose from the dead. The gospel of the Kingdom leads inextricably to the gospel of personal salvation.
Conversely, the gospel of personal salvation also leads to the gospel of the Kingdom. All those who receive the gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection receive the forgiveness of sins, and thereby become qualified for participation in the eventual Kingdom. More than that, their citizenship is actually transferred to the future Kingdom (Col. 1:13), so that they now live as aliens and wanderers upon the earth. Their final vindication, and therefore their ultimate hope, is in the Kingdom for which they yearn. The Kingdom has a claim upon all believing people in the here and now.
So are these one gospel or two? If they are two, then the two must be recognized as closely related and complementary. They should never be set in opposition to each other. If they are one, then it needs to be remembered that the Kingdom announcement cannot be made today in the same sense that John made it. We are authorized to announce salvation in Jesus’ name, but we cannot say that the Kingdom is imminent (though we can say that it is coming). Nevertheless, those who receive the salvation that we announce are instantly transformed to become citizens of Messiah’s Kingdom.
Look on Him Whom They Pierced, and Mourn.
Isaac Watts (1674-1748)
Infinite grief! amazing woe!
Behold my bleeding Lord:
Hell and the Jews conspired his death,
And used the Roman sword.
O, the sharp pangs of smarting pain
My dear Redeemer bore,
When knotty whips and ragged thorns
His sacred body tore!
But knotty whips and ragged thorns
In vain do I accuse;
In vain I blame the Roman bands,
And the more spiteful Jews.
‘Twere you, my sins, my cruel sins,
His chief tormentors were;
Each of my crimes became a nail,
And unbelief the spear.
‘Twere you that pulled the vengeance down
Upon his guiltless head:
Break, break, my heart! O burst, mine eyes,
And let my sorrows bleed.
Strike, mighty Grace, my flinty soul,
Till melting waters flow,
And deep repentance drown mine eyes
In undissembled woe.
|This essay is by Dr. Kevin T. Bauder, president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN). Not every professor, student, or alumnus of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses.|