Eternal life in the Kingdom of God was made possible by Jesus Christ's sacrifice.
"For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes . . ." (Romans 1:16).
We have seen that Jesus Christ preached "the gospel of the Kingdom" and that He sent His disciples out to proclaim His message before His crucifixion. However, after Christ's death and resurrection, another emphasis appeared in the message preached by the apostles, one that had not been possible before Christ's death—Jesus Christ had paid the penalty for human sins! In doing so, He had become the Savior of all who would accept His sacrifice and live the Christian life.
After the Day of Pentecost, the apostles continued to proclaim the Kingdom of God just as they had done when Christ walked the earth, but now they understood and spoke another dimension: Eternal life in that Kingdom was now possible through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ as Savior of humanity and through His continuing role as our High Priest.
Today, some view the biblical terms "gospel of the Kingdom" and "gospel of Christ" as though they were different messages. In reality, however, they are one and the same. The gospel of the Kingdom is the message Jesus Christ brought and proclaimed. The gospel of Christ is also the message Jesus Christ preached, along with the message regarding His life, death and sacrifice on our behalf, which makes possible eternal life in that Kingdom. The Kingdom of God is attained only through Jesus Christ's central role as the personal Savior of all who would enter that Kingdom.
The apostles' enhanced understanding becomes more evident in their epistles and other messages after Jesus Christ's death and resurrection. The people of Christ's day expected a conquering Messiah who would throw off the yoke of the Roman rulers of Judea and establish a new kingdom. Christ's disciples recognized Him as that Messiah and called Him "Christ" (Matthew 16:16), which in Greek means anointed—the same as the Hebrew word "Messiah" (John 1:41; 4:25). The term anointed signified the one who had been chosen to be King of that Messianic Kingdom.
New understanding of the Messiah
Jewish believers of the early Church would have understood the phrase "the gospel of Christ" as a message encompassing far more than just the person of Jesus Christ. Since the word Christ means "Messiah," they understood the apostles' message as "the gospel of the Messiah"—the good news of the King of the coming Kingdom of God. To them, the good news was not just that Christ had died for the sins of humanity, but that the Messiah had come and would return, establishing His Kingdom and fulfilling the many prophecies of His glorious reign.
The concept of a Kingdom established by the Messiah was not new to Jesus Christ's followers. Scripture records that "they thought the kingdom of God would appear immediately" (Luke 19:11). When Christ appeared to them again after His resurrection, the disciples asked, "Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" (Acts 1:6).
What the disciples failed to grasp during Christ's lifetime was that the Messiah, whom they expected would arrive as a conquering king, would first have to die to pay the penalty for the sins of mankind. Even when Jesus Christ revealed this truth to the disciples, they refused to accept it. Not long before His death, "Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day. Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, 'Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!'" (Matthew 16:21, 22). Not only did they not understand this aspect of Christ's mission, but they flatly refused to believe it.It is understandable, then, that the disciples were shocked when their Leader, whom they expected to overthrow the ruling Roman occupational government, was arrested. "Then all the disciples forsook Him and fled" (Matthew 26:56). Confused and devastated by this unexpected turn of events, they scattered as Jesus was tried, condemned and executed as a criminal.
Later, after they received the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4), the disciples came to understand that, as the Scriptures had prophesied, the Messiah would have to die and be resurrected. The apostle Peter, in his first inspired sermon to the Jews gathered at Jerusalem, proclaimed that David, in one of his psalms, "spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay" (Acts 2:31, NIV).
Personal rescuer, or Savior, needed
Peter had to focus the minds of the Jews of his day on Christ's atoning sacrifice and role as a personal rescuer, or Savior, rather than only as a national leader: "God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact . . . Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ" (Acts 2:32, 36, NIV). When those who were convicted asked, "Brothers, what shall we do?" Peter answered, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:37, 38, NIV). Thousands responded to this call to repentance—a changed life—and were baptized.
Peter helped them to see that God's promises regarding the Holy Spirit and salvation (verses 17, 18, 21, 33, 40) were possible only because of the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus, the prophesied Messiah (verses 24, 30-33, 36). Those to whom Peter spoke had not understood the need for the Messiah's sacrifice for their personal sins, nor had they realized that the One they had just condemned to death was in fact the Messiah for whom they all longed. The apostles labored to correct these misunderstandings.
Peter's next public message made clear how Christ's atoning, saving work leads to the coming Kingdom of God: "But those things which God foretold by the mouth of all His prophets, that the Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled. Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that He may send Jesus Christ, who was preached to you before, whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began" (Acts 3:18-21).
This magnificent message, which moved thousands more to believe, illustrates the way the gospel had been preached since the beginning, how it involved Christ as the suffering Messiah and how it was a message of the "restoration of all things"—the wonderful hope of Christ's return as King of a yet future Kingdom.
Where Christ's sacrifice leads
The apostle Paul saw with great clarity the significance of Christ's sacrifice and where it ultimately leads. In his first epistle to the Corinthians, he described the message he taught: "... I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures" (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).
Jesus Christ's sacrificing of His life in our place is certainly good news. His paying the death penalty for us is wonderful news!
But Paul's description of the gospel he preached did not end there. After beginning with Christ's magnificent role in our personal salvation, he continued his explanation of the reason Jesus Christ's resurrection is so important to the salvation of all humanity: "If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable. But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive" (1 Corinthians 15:19-22).
All will be resurrected to life again
Notice that Paul says all will eventually be made alive. He continued by showing that this will occur in stages: "But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ's at His coming. Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power" (1 Corinthians 15:23, 24).
Earlier we read of Christ's rule as King of that coming Kingdom. But notice that His assuming power as King is preceded by the resurrection of "those who are Christ's at His coming"!
Throughout this chapter, Paul explains this wonderful aspect of the gospel message he taught. In verses 50-53 he explained when and how we can enter the Kingdom of God: "Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep [in death], but we shall all be changed—in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality."
This is the awe-inspiring purpose for Jesus Christ's birth, life, death and resurrection—the resurrection of many, many more to eternal life to "inherit the kingdom of God"! (verse 50). Christ's followers are to "inherit," or enter, the Kingdom "at the last trumpet" (verse 52), the great blast that signals Christ's return to rule the earth forever (Matthew 24:30, 31; Revelation 11:15).
We see that immortal life in His kingdom is made possible by Jesus Christ, "who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel" (2 Timothy 1:10).