Misunderstanding the message of the gospel of the kingdom
The Bible is full of the kingdom of God; it is a theme that runs through it from cover to cover.
The proclamation of the gospel of the kingdom was central to Jesus’ mission: ‘the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news’ (Mk 1:45). It was exactly the same message that John the Baptist proclaimed (Matt 3:2), and the same one Jesus entrusted to his disciples (Matt 10:7; Mk 16:16).
Unfortunately, many have misunderstood the relevance of the kingdom - it is seen as something far off and other-worldly. Jesus appears to support this idea; when confronted by Pilate at his trial, he says, ‘My kingdom is not of this world’ (In 18:36). Taken out of context this saying does imply an other-worldly kingdom, but read in context its meaning becomes apparent. Jesus declares that the kingdom does not reflect fallen worldly values: his disciples will not take part in violent rebellion. The kingdom’s authority is derived from heaven and does not come from the fallen power structures of the world.
The message of the kingdom was, and is, a radical message. John Howard Yoder remarks that ‘Jesus’ concept of the kingdom was borrowed extensively from the prophetic understanding of the Jubilee year’. Six themes characterised Jubilee (Lev 25), and we can see these same themes in Jesus’ kingdom message:
(i) celebration-it was a time for jubilation;
(ii) faith in God’s provision-they were totally dependent
upon him to provide for their every need;
(iii) the remission of debts;
(iv) the liberation of slaves;
(v) the redistribution of property; and
Jesus’ first public sermon in Luke’s Gospel is sometimes called the ‘Nazareth Manifesto’ (Lk 4:18-21). Howard Snyder suggests that it was preached in a year of Jubilee (AD26-27). In it Jesus announced the arrival of the kingdom - in fact he declared himself to be the manifestation of the kingdom, by declaring ‘Today, this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing’. Jesus also took up the Jubilee themes and made them part of his message. In Jesus the Jubilee age had dawned; he brought celebration, faith, remission of debts (Lk 11 :4; Matt 18:23), liberation (GaI5:1), the redistribution of property (Lk 12:32-34; Mk 10:21; Lk 19:8-10) and rest (Lk 12:22-31; Heb 4:9). It was the proclamation of a new order and it was not limited to humanity. The Jubilee and sabbath year legislation showed God’s concern not only for humanity but also for the non~human creation; it included rest for the animals and the land (Lev 25:5,6). In the same way Jesus commanded the disciples, and hence us, to take the gospel to all of creation (Mk 16:15). The word creation [Gk: ktsis] is used both of the act and product of creation, and this also, therefore, includes all the created orders. Jesus may have had in mind the Old Testament prophets when he gave this command to his disciples. Ezekiel prophesied to the mountains (Ezek 6:1ff; 36:lff), to the land (Ezek 7:1ff) and even to dry inanimate bones (Ezek 37:4). The book of Isaiah even speaks of trees clapping their hands, and the mountains and hills bursting into song in response to the word of their creator (Is 55:12). We fail in our duty of proclaiming the kingdom if we restrict it to humanity. When God created the earth, he created it as one of order. It is the Christian’s task in proclaiming the kingdom to ensure every aspect of crea tion is obedient to that creational order; if it is not, we are to call it to repentance.
The kingdom is one of justice, peace and joy (Rom 14:17). The animals, the earth, the institutions and structures of society need to have that message proclaimed to them, whether by words or works or wonders (Rom 15:19) so that they too can experience the rule and order of God that is the kingdom, and then one day come into the same liberty that the children of God can now enjoy.