The Bible does not define the predicament we are in with legal terminology (that individuals are guilty before a holy God and thus need a penal substitution in order to be saved) in every passage of the Bible; in fact, when we look at the whole of the Bible, the problem can (and often is) defined in more cosmic and relational terms.
Leonard Sweet writes,
“Over a two-thousand year period, but especially in the last two hundred years, we have jerked and tugged the Christian faith out of its original soil, its life-giving source, which is an honest relationship with God through Jesus the Christ. After uprooting the faith, we have entombed it in a declaration of adherence to a set of beliefs. The shift has left us with casual doctrinal assent that exists independent of a changed life. We have made the Cross into a crossword puzzle, spending our time diagramming byzantine theories of atonement. How did the beauty of Jesus’ atoning work get isolated from the wonder of restoring an authentic relationship between God and humanity?” (Out of the Question…Into the Mystery, p. 5)
The four Gospels present us with Jesus proclaiming the “Good News” (the euaggelion, the “gospel”).
“Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.” (Matthew 4:23)
The “Good News,” according to Jesus, was his pronouncement of the Kingdom of God. This is no small matter. Christians must rediscover what Herman Ridderbos said, that the Kingdom of God is “the central theme of the whole New Testament revelation of God.”
What is the Kingdom?
“The term ‘kingdom of God’ or ‘kingdom of Heaven’ signifies God’s sovereign, dynamic, and eschatological rule. The kingdom of God lay at the heart of Jesus’ teaching.” (C. C. Caragounis in Green, McKnight, and Marshall, Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, p. 417)
The Kingdom signifies God’s sovereign rule—God is king over all Creation. It denotes God’s dynamic rule—he is interactive with his Creation. And it means God’s eschatological rule—God’s rule has come to climax in His Son, and Christ has inaugurated the Kingdom and has become King through his death & resurrection, and Christ will consummate the Kingdom when he returns at the Parousia. And I would add that it means God’s saving rule—He is the King who delivers his people from the evil empire of the devil and from the bondage of sin and death. And it means God's perichoresis rule-the Kingdom restores relationships (between God and humanity and the rest of creation) to the way they are meant to be.
“The kingdom is the society in which the Jesus Creed (love God, love others) transforms life…It is important to understand that for Jesus the kingdom is about a society. Jesus did not come merely to enable specific individuals to develop a solo relationship with God, to run about the earth knowing that they, surrounded by a bunch of bunglers, were the only ones to get it right. No, he came to collect individuals into a big heap, set them in the middle of the world, and ask them to live out the Jesus Creed. If they live out that Jesus Creed, they will be personally transformed, and they also will transform the society around them.” (Scot McKnight, The Jesus Creed, p. 127)The Kingdom of God, then, is the society of Christians who love God and love others in order to transform the world.
The gospel I'd like to see Christians sharing is one that says this: God's purpose is to create a society of Christians who follow Christ's Lordship in such a way that they prayerfully seek to bring God's Kingdom rule onto earth as it is in heaven -- infiltrating every aspect of this world, transforming it all into what God wills it to be. This transformation process starts when God, through Christ, transforms individuals into a community that will love God and each other and will seek to transform the world around them. This transformation work is manifested when the community of the Kingdom use their gifts to further Christ's Lordship over all aspects of life on this earth.
When is the Kingdom?
In one of the most amazing verses in the entire Bible, Jesus says,
“The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or, ‘There it is!’ For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst.” (Luke 17:20)
In our midst?! What is Jesus saying? According to Scot McKnight,
“This can only mean one thing: he expects his followers to live in the kingdom in their daily lives—right now.” (McKnight, The Jesus Creed, p. 128)
Jesus, by announcing the Kingdom, is saying that the sovereign rule of God was now coming “on earth as it is in heaven" (Matt 6:10). The long-awaited Kingdom was being inaugurated, and the King was now bringing redemption to his domain, all of Creation.
The rightful King has come, and the usurper, the Evil One, is about to be defeated. The rightful King has come, and the curse of death will be defeated. The rightful King has come to his Creation in order to bring the Shalom that has been promised through the prophets.
Jesus’ ministry -- teaching parables, his healing the sick, eating meals with sinners -- pointed to the fact that he was announcing that the Kingdom of God was coming.
And his death on the cross launched the Kingdom for his followers, defeating their ultimate enemy, Satan.
“Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die. (John 12:31-33)
Jesus understood that his kingly reign would be established through his death and vindicated through his resurrection. He knew that he would “give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt 20:28), and his death would be the means by which people’s sins could be forgiven (Matt 26:28).
Is the Gospel of the Kingdom different from the Gospel that Paul Preached?
The Apostle Paul preached the Kingdom as well (contrary to some who would say that Paul’s gospel was different from Jesus’ gospel). He said, “You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house. I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus…Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again.” (Acts 20:20-21, 25). It should be clear from this context that when Paul preached that people “must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus,” that he was “preaching the kingdom.”
The last verses of Acts records, “For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 28:30-31)
So we shouldn’t be surprised when we read in Paul’s letters triumphal language, “Having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” (Colossians 2:15)
So, is the Kingdom "Good News"?
Absolutely. God's Kingdom means that things are now moving toward the way things are supposed to be. The “good news” or gospel is that through Jesus’ death, he has become King, and as King, he has freed us from the devil and is bringing about Shalom Peace.
As the writer of Hebrews tells us,
“Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” (Heb 2:14-15)
The Kingdom of God is the good news about the redemption of creation. Humanity is atoned for through the death of Jesus Christ (the next post), and the cosmos is being redeemed through the missionary ministry of God's Spirit-filled people (the post after that).
Links to the entire series:
1: Define the Predicament, and You Understand another Facet of the Gospel
2: Predicament #1: The Lack of Shalom
3: Evil Bondage in the Place of Shalom
4: EXODUS and the GOOD NEWS of FREEDOM in Paul
5: EXODUS and the GOOD NEWS of FREEDOM in the GOSPELS
6: Another of Humanity’s Predicaments: Broken Relationships
7: The Prophesied Kingdom of God
8: The Kingdom of God Restoring Israel from Exile
9: The Kingdom of God Healing Broken Relationships
10: The Kingdom of God and the Atonement
11: The Kingdom and the Mission of God’s People
12: What is my view of the Kingdom of God?
technorati: emerging church, spiritual formation