When Jesus Christ came to live on earth as a human, He brought with Him a message called "the gospel." What was this message Jesus preached?
Many have been taught that the "gospel," the "good news," is the story of Christ's life, birth, earthly activities, death and resurrection. Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 are often used to support this definition of the gospel of Christ:
"... I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand...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 ..."
Is this the full definition of the gospel message Christ preached?
As we shall see, Christ's gospel message includes much more than simply the story that His life and death lead to our salvation. It includes not only what salvation really is and how God intends to save the human race from its present dilemma, but it reveals our glorious destiny in the Kingdom of God.
The gospel of the Kingdom
Let's first look at the message Christ Himself proclaimed while on earth. Mark records for us, in Mark 1:14-15, what Jesus preached during His ministry: "... Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.'"
Mark says this gospel is the news of the Kingdom of God, and this is the gospel we are commanded to believe in.
As mentioned above, the word "gospel" literally means "good news." Jesus brought as His gospel the "good news of the Kingdom of God."
Matthew also records for us the subject matter of Jesus Christ's preaching. In Matthew 4:17 he writes, after Jesus' temptation by the devil: "From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.' " Matthew's term for the content of Jesus Christ's preaching is "the kingdom of heaven," another term for the same message. Jesus began preaching the message of God's kingdom from the very beginning of His ministry.
Luke also confirms that Jesus preached the Kingdom of God, noting that Christ said, "Because for this purpose I have been sent" (Luke 4:43).
Luke's account continues in Luke 8:1: "...He went through every city and village, preaching and bringing the glad tidings [the gospel, or good news] of the kingdom of God..." Later Jesus sent the 12 disciples to preach this same gospel of the Kingdom (Luke 9:2). After that, He sent 70 others, instructing them to speak also of the Kingdom of God (Luke 10:9-11).
After His death and resurrection, but before He ascended to His Father, He "presented Himself alive" to the apostles, again "speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God" (Acts 1:3).
Paul describes his own preaching in Ephesus as relating to "the kingdom of God" (Acts 19:8). He discussed that Kingdom in most of his letters to individual churches. He referred to himself and his companions as "fellow workers for the kingdom of God" (Colossians 4:11). When Paul met the Jews in Rome, he preached to them about the Kingdom of God and Jesus (Acts 28:31).
It is noteworthy that Paul used the Old Testament scriptures—"the Law of Moses and the Prophets"—to preach the Kingdom of God and Jesus Christ (Acts 28:23). The Bible has a consistent message from the beginning of the Old Testament to end of the New Testament concerning the Kingdom of God. The Bible is also clear why Jesus Christ brought this message of the Kingdom of God.
A literal kingdom
What is the Kingdom of God? Is it the Church? Is it something that resides in the hearts of Christians? Let's begin in Daniel 2.
It becomes apparent, when we read Daniel 2:28-44, that the Kingdom of God is a literal kingdom that has not yet been established on earth. In this passage we see that Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, had a dream in which he saw an image of a huge man. This image consisted of a head of gold, breast and arms of silver, belly and thighs of brass, legs of iron and feet a mixture of iron and clay.
Daniel, a prophet of God in Nebuchadnezzar's court, interpreted the king's dream for him. Through God's inspiration, Daniel revealed that the four parts of this image were actually four successive world empires. By God's inspiration Daniel identified the first of the kingdoms, the head of gold, as the Babylonian Empire (Daniel 2:38).
The next two kingdoms are identified in Daniel 8:20-21, which records a later vision that foretold the second and third empires. These two kingdoms are named as "the kings of Media and Persia" and "the kingdom of Greece." History has confirmed that the Babylonian Empire was succeeded by the Medo-Persian Empire and the Grecian Empire of Alexander the Great.
In chapter 7 these four kingdoms are pictured again, this time as four beasts. The vision in this chapter characterizes the empires as wild animals, predicting that their method of rule and domination would be cruel and oppressive. The fourth kingdom featured in chapter 7 is described as especially cruel.
We know from history that Alexander's Grecian kingdom was succeeded by the Roman Empire, the latter depicted here as challenging the very authority of God and persecuting His saints (Daniel 7:25). This entity is shown in vision as having 10 horns (verse 7), which are 10 extensions or resurrections of the fourth great empire to arise.
These resurrections of this fourth kingdom continue through history to our day, and the final resurrection is depicted as existing at Jesus Christ's return (verses 8-14).
It is in the days of this fourth kingdom that God will replace these earthly kingdoms with His kingdom, according to Daniel's prophecies. "And in the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever" (Daniel 2:44).
We see that the fourth kingdom continues to rule until Christ returns to establish His kingdom here on earth.
God's kingdom-foretold repeatedly in Daniel—is the same kingdom Jesus Christ spoke about. There can be no mistake about the nature of the Kingdom of God. The four kingdoms described in Daniel 2, 7 and 8 ruled over people and lands. They were to be world empires with dominion and power to rule, warring against and conquering other nations. They had kings, governments and laws. They were literal kingdoms, whose ruins are visible to this day.
So, too, will the Kingdom of God be a literal sovereignty ruling over the whole earth. "...The God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever," said Daniel of this kingdom (Daniel 2:44).
This kingdom was the subject of Jesus' gospel. Jesus will return to the earth and establish the Kingdom. He will be the King of the Kingdom of God. "Then the seventh angel sounded: And there were loud voices in heaven, saying, 'The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!' " (Revelation 11:15).
Entering the Kingdom
When Jesus came preaching the Kingdom of God, He said it was "at hand" and commanded people to repent and believe the good news about it (Mark 1:14-15).
His kingdom is something we must enter (Mark 10:23, Mark 10:25). Jesus warned of obstacles that can prevent our entrance into the Kingdom (Matthew 5:20; Matthew 19:23-25; Mark 9:47; Luke 18:17; John 3:5).
Jesus was at that time inviting people to repent so they could enter the Kingdom of God (Mark 1:15). His parables described what the Kingdom is, when it would come and how a person could enter it, and He clarified the requirements for and obstacles to entering it.
When does a person enter the Kingdom of God? Upon conversion, Christians become children of God and heirs of the kingdom (Romans 8:16-17). But they will not inherit the kingdom until the kingdom comes. Paul explains: "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, 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" (1 Corinthians 15:50-52).
Many people stop reading after the first four verses of this chapter, thinking they describe the entirety of the gospel Paul preached. But, by continuing to read the chapter, we see clearly that there is much more to the story. Paul goes on to explain more about the resurrection from the dead and entrance into the Kingdom of God. We "inherit," or enter, that kingdom "at the last trumpet" (verse 52), the great blast that signals Christ's return to rule the earth forever (Revelation 11:15).
Salvation through Jesus' life, death and resurrection is indeed a part of the gospel message, but it is not exclusively (as many assume) the gospel message. Jesus Christ died, was buried and was resurrected (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) for a reason: so we could have everlasting life in the Kingdom of God (John 3:3, John 3:5, John 3:16).
We can accept Jesus' command to repent and believe this gospel message. We can turn to God for forgiveness and reconciliation through Jesus Christ and begin to live by the laws of the Kingdom of God as taught by Jesus Christ. Those who refuse to live by God's holy laws will be refused entrance into the Kingdom of God and eternal life (1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Galatians 5:19-21; Ephesians 5:5).
Entering the Kingdom of God is synonymous with salvation. Thus, without understanding what the Kingdom of God is, we don't understand what salvation is.
Humans not in the Kingdom
This resurrection from the dead is to take place when Jesus Christ returns at the last trump and the kingdoms of this world become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ. Those who are resurrected from mortality to immortality will have entered His kingdom. The people who remain in the nations of the earth who are not resurrected will not yet be in the Kingdom of God because they are still mortal (human); they will be ruled by the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God's rule of the earth will consist of the reign of Christ and those who have been given eternal life (Revelation 20:4-6).
Jesus Christ is setting up His kingdom on this earth with His resurrected saints so that all may have eternal life in the Kingdom of God. God's desire is that everyone has the opportunity to escape death and inherit the Kingdom of God, each in one's own time (1 Corinthians 15:20-26).
The message Jesus brought is called, appropriately, the good news of the Kingdom of God. It really is good news, the most wonderful news imaginable for mankind. Jesus Christ is asking you to believe that good news and "seek first the kingdom of God" (Matthew 6:33).