The Gospel vs. the gospel of the kingdom

By David A. Liapis

Thoughts on Matthew 4:23-25

This passage basically sets the stage for the Sermon on the Mount. At this point people are coming from all over Palestine to include Judea, Decapolis, Perea (based on the words “beyond the Jordan,” and even possibly Syria to be healed and to hear Jesus teach. This is remarkable considering the distance from Jerusalem to where Jesus was teaching and healing was more than 70 miles, which was no small distance to travel in those times. It’s also notable that Jesus’ fame “spread throughout all Syria,” a Gentile region. The sense here is that Jesus is a novel person with unusual power and a different message – a message He termed “the gospel of the kingdom.” But what is the gospel of the kingdom?

It would not be wholly accurate to think of the gospel of the kingdom as exactly synonymous with the Gospel message as we are most familiar with it, namely the suffering and death of Jesus on the cross in the place of sinners and His subsequent burial, resurrection and ascension – since those events had not yet taken place. Jesus’ message, and the one He told the disciples to proclaim (Matthew 10:7) was that the kingdom of heaven was at hand, and, later, to believe in Jesus as the Messiah (a part of the message that became more and more explicit as Jesus’ ministry continued). At this point He is setting the stage for His impending death on the cross, which He will allude to numerous times over the next three years. Jesus left no doubt as to who He was (and is) – the Son of God – and what He came to do – lay down His life as the ultimate and final sacrifice to atone for sin (revealing Himself as the suffering servant of Isaiah 53). We have to remember that we think of the Gospel in the context of a (mostly) completed story, while the gospel of the kingdom was a message proclaimed in the midst of that story. In spite of that, the messages are basically the same: The kingdom of heaven has come close and Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God who takes away the sin of the world, believe in Him.

The Sermon on the Mount is often described as a blueprint for kingdom living and a directive for citizens of the kingdom of heaven. Also of note is that this is the first use of the word “gospel” in the New Testament. This word, which means “good tidings” is derived from the same root that the angels’ “good tidings of great joy” in Luke. Thus, Jesus was proclaiming the good tidings of the kingdom that was “at hand.”

Some of the evidences of this manifestation of the kingdom of heaven included the healings, miracles and casting out of demons described in this passage. What’s interesting is that although Jesus used “signs and wonders” at the outset of His ministry as proofs that the kingdom had come, He later rebukes the people for their desire for more signs and their disbelief in what they had already seen. Their request for more signs was the evidence of their unbelief. Jesus had done and said enough to convince those who would believe.

The sad thing is, we often reveal our unbelief as well when we fail to trust God’s promises and obey His word … in spite of all we have already seen Him do. We want just one more sign, one more answered prayer, one more “testing of the fleece” to make sure. Our unbelief shows our lack of trust in the goodness of our Father. Jesus rebukes this way of thinking a few verses later in Matthew 6:30 (spoiler alert). He attributes this type of thinking to a lack of faith and provides a very simple remedy that, in practice, is often very difficult to do: seek first the kingdom – the kingdom of which Jesus proclaimed the good news. However, when we do, we will find the peace that surpasses understanding as we trust in the one who upholds the entire universe by the word of His power and works all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.

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