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Sermon text: Mark 1:14–15

Now after John was put in prison, 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.”

[Introduction: not transcribed]

I. The Gospel of the Kingdom

Mark 1:14 says, “Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God.” Some ancient manuscripts read that Jesus was preaching “the gospel of God,” whereas others say “the gospel of the kingdom of God.” Without getting into the technicalities, I think the reading represented in the New King James Version is the best attested among the manuscript tradition. It is reflected in the Byzantine textform, the Majority Text, and the Textus Receptus.[i] So that’s the reading I’ll go with.

So Jesus begins His ministry “preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God.” What is the message of this gospel that Jesus proclaimed with His very own lips? I can scarcely think of a question more important than this. When God became flesh and dwelt among us and preached a public announcement, what exactly did He preach? What was His message? And why describe the gospel as entailing the kingdom of God? That’s not really how we as modern Reformed evangelicals conceptualize the gospel message, in terms of a kingdom coming, so what are we missing here? We think of the gospel mostly in terms of the message about God, man, sin, Christ, atonement, grace, forgiveness, and eternal life. But why did Jesus come preaching the gospel “of the kingdom” and what is its relationship to the message we so commonly teach? To unpack this, let’s consider first the meaning of the word “gospel,” and then we’ll consider its meaning in relationship to its modifying phrase, “of the kingdom of God.”

“Gospel” (τὸ εὐαγγέλιον in Greek) simply means, “good news.” In the time prior to the coming of Jesus, “gospel” was used to describe an announcement of good news related to political advancements that would benefit people, such as the birth and reign of a new emperor or a military victory.[ii] It’s not uniquely a Christian word, but the New Testament (NT) borrows it from common usage and infuses with new meaning and significance. But in its grammatical form in the NT, it took on a striking meaning.

As James Edwards writes, “In the Greco-Roman world the word always appears in the plural, meaning one good tiding among others; but in the NT euangelion appears only in the singular: the good news of God in Jesus Christ, beside which there is no other.”[iii] The word therefore became theologically supercharged to refer to the unique message of Jesus Christ, the one and only everlasting gospel apart from which no one can be saved. The gospel is not one message of salvation among others, but the message that constitutes the only hope for a dying world.

The word is used in at least three distinct yet related ways in the NT. In chronological order:

  1. First is the message of Jesus Himself; the saving message He proclaimed during the days of His flesh. We see that in our text.
  2. Second, it came to refer to the message about Jesus Christ, especially His death and resurrection (1 Cor. 15:3–4).
  3. Third, it came to be the title ascribed by the church to the four canonical books that describe the life of Christ.

Obviously, all three uses are related. They centralize, summarize, and epitomize in Jesus Christ the Son of God. Hence to preach Christ is the to preach the gospel. For instance, when Philip “went down to the city of Samaria” to preach the gospel, Acts 8:5 says he “preached Christ to them.”

The essence of the gospel is not a message about what we must do. Repentance and faith are a part of the message of the gospel, but the gospel itself in its core essence is not what we must do, but rather it’s what Christ has done. It’s the good news of Jesus Christ, about Jesus Christ, to the praise and glory of the Triune God through Jesus Christ. The gospel is not about us, it’s about Him. Christ is the heart of the gospel (1 Cor. 15:3–4), the foundation of the gospel (1 Cor. 3:11), the message of the gospel (Col. 1:28), the Author of the gospel (Heb. 5:9; 12:2), and the goal of the gospel (Col. 1:16; Eph. 1:9–10).

This fact stands as a rebuke to any church that preaches anything more than they preach Jesus Christ. We need to be reminded of this because it’s so easy for us to get distracted. The main message of the church is not about conservative values. The main message is not about social justice or morality or world peace or how to prevent tyranny in society. Our core message is not about expressive individualism or racial equality or stewardship of natural resources. Our message is not primarily societal or political, it’s redemptive. And the redemptive truth of the gospel is the only foundation upon which we can construct a right view of these things and engage in a God-glorifying approach to them. In the gospel is found the only power that can transform the human heart and making lasting, eternal change for good.

And to be clear, the gospel has not only individual implications, but societal and political and cosmic implications as well, but the effects of the gospel in its transformative and preserving influences should never supplant our focus on the core truth and reality of the gospel itself. Let us learn from the example of the Lord Jesus. He had infinite wisdom to address every single issue that was happening in the world, but He came, Mark 1:14 says, “preaching the gospel.” He came with a message that was redemptive and transformative and of eternal significance.

But what are we to make of how the Scripture describes the gospel, as being “the gospel of the kingdom of God”? Obviously, there is a close relationship to the gospel and the kingdom—so close, that the content of the gospel itself is summarized as being a message about God’s kingdom. What does this mean?

Before we get to that, I think we have to clarify what it does not mean, because there is a popular view that pervades among some believers that can be damaging. Dispensationalism is a theological system held by many sincere and devout Christians today. Some (not all) dispensationalists hold to quite radical views about “the gospel of the kingdom.” They assert that there is more than one gospel taught in the Bible; in fact, there are at least two gospels. They say that “the gospel of the kingdom” was promised to the nation of Israel alone. According to them, Jesus offered to reign as Israel’s King but was rejected. Because of that, the time of the Gentiles has come about wherein God offers to humanity “the gospel of grace,” preached by the Apostle Paul. They say that the redemptive death of Christ was not a part of “the gospel of the kingdom,” and that this “gospel” message included works and human performance. In contrast, “the gospel of grace” offers salvation based on Christ’s death by grace through faith alone. So they hold that Jesus preached a different gospel than the one Paul preached, and that each gospel presents a distinct path to salvation.[iv]

But this view doesn’t hold water.

  • First, Paul said there is only one gospel, and further declared in Galatians 1:8 that “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed.” Now, if Jesus preached a different gospel than Paul, than the conclusion that we’d have to come to is that Paul was cursing Jesus Himself. That’s untenable.
  • Second, Paul’s message was indeed “the kingdom of God.” Acts 28:31 says that for two whole years in Rome Paul was “preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him” (see also Acts 14:22; 19:8; 20:25).
  • Third, Jesus Himself preached salvation through His own redemptive death. In Mark 10:45, He said, “the Son of Man [came] … to give His life a ransom for many.” And in Luke 18:9–14, He preached salvation by free grace through faith alone in the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. Jesus and Paul preached the same essential message. There’s one gospel, and that’s the gospel of the kingdom. It can be traced back all the way to Genesis 3:15, and it encompasses the one saving message taught in both the Old and New Testaments.

So what exactly is “the gospel of the kingdom of God” referring to? In short, it’s the good news of God’s redemptive reign. The Puritans would distinguish three aspects of God’s kingdom. First, God’s reign of power. Psalm 47:7–8: “For God is the King of all the earth…. God reigns over the nations; God sits on His holy throne.” God reigns over everything in His sovereignty and meticulous providence over all the affairs of men. This aspect of His reign is universal and absolute and transcends even the rebellion of creatures.

Second, God’s reign of grace is His mediatorial reign through Christ; it’s the redemptive sphere of God’s domain. This is what Jesus refers to when he told the chief priests, “Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you” (Matt. 21:31). The kingdom could be entered into as a present reality as a person comes under the saving sphere of God’s grace.

Finally, there is the kingdom of glory, which will be established when Christ returns to consolidate His reign to its fullest. This is what we pray for in the Lord’s Prayer when we say, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10). That aspect of the kingdom is still future.

What Jesus announces in Mark 1:14–15 is not the kingdom of power, which has always been since the beginning of creation and was not disturbed in the least by man’s fall into rebellion. He is rather referring to the kingdom in its redemptive modality, the kingdom in association with the gospel and its salvific influence, the kingdom as God’s reign of grace through His appointed Messiah-King as the eternal Benefactor of His people. As George Ladd defines it, the kingdom is “the redemptive reign of God dynamically active to establish his rule among men.”[v] God establishes His reign by graciously intervening in human history to overthrow sin, to crush the devil, and to bring His people under the saving lordship of Christ.

This is what God’s people were looking forward to ever since the fall of Adam and Eve, that God would intervene into the course of this world and exercise His reign, dethrone Satan, subdue sin, defeat death, and rescue His people. They looked forward to…

II. The Promise of the Kingdom

In Mark 1:15, Jesus was preaching, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand.” “The time is fulfilled.” What time? He’s not just saying, “the time has now come” in the sense of some appointed time predetermined by God now coming to pass. The sense includes that but it also goes beyond it. The word He uses is “fulfilled” (πληρόω), the same word Jesus uses in Matthew 5:17 when He said He came “to fulfill” the Law and the Prophets.

This is the time spoken of by Paul when he said in Galatians 4:4, “But when the fullness [πλήρωμα] of the time had come, God sent forth His Son….” And in Ephesians 1:9–10, he wrote that God made known to us “the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, that in the dispensation of the fullness [πλήρωμα] of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth—in Him.” In other words, in the fullness of time, God sent forth His sent to establish and consolidate His reign and His kingdom.

This is the time described in 1 Peter 1:10–12:

“Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things which angels desire to look into.”

The “time” Jesus announces that had arrived was the time that the prophets were looking forward to, when the redemption that they had been promised would be brought to its fruition. Their longing and yearning for this moment had arrived. The decisive moment of world history coming to pass. The apogee of God’s plan had arrived. The climax of world history was here. It’s no coincidence that since the coming of Christ, human history is calculated relative to His coming. “B.C.” stands for “before Christ,” and “A.D.” doesn’t mean “after death,” but rather it’s short for the Latin phrase, anno Domini, which means “in the year of our Lord”—that is, in the year of our Lord’s reign as Messiah-King. Every time we refer to some year A.D., we are confessing the truth that Jesus is announcing in Mark 1:15, that the time had come and the kingdom was established!

But what did the Prophets predict about this time of fulfillment? Well, the first prophet to write about the kingdom of God was Moses. And the kingdom actually starts in the Garden of Eden. When God created man as His image, His will was for man to exercise kingly dominion over the world in subjection to God. As long as man perfectly submitted to God and was ruling over the world, heaven and earth were united in one harmonious kingdom with God reigning over all in perfect order. But when Satan usurped dominion by subverting man, he became “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31). So Jesus came to deal with sin and dethrone the devil. He came announcing the establishment of His kingdom, to cast down Satan. So He says in John 12:31, “Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out.” And He says in Luke 10:18, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” The time had come for Him to dethrone Satan and to establish His redemptive and mediatorial reign, to reclaim the cosmos, to subdue and subjugate evil and subject it to God’s rule.

Isaiah spoke of the coming reign of God and even calls it “glad tidings of good,” or gospel. Listen to Isaiah 52:7–9:

“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who proclaims peace, who brings glad tidings of good things, who proclaims salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’ Your watchmen shall lift up their voices, with their voices they shall sing together; for they shall see eye to eye when the LORD brings back Zion. Break forth into joy, sing together, you waste places of Jerusalem! For the LORD has comforted His people, He has redeemed Jerusalem.”

The time Isaiah had foretold had come.

The author to the Hebrews, after surveying the exploits of the heroes of faith, said, “And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect [be completed or brought to their intended end] apart from us” (Heb. 11:39–40). That’s why Luke 10:23–24 says that Jesus “turned to His disciples and said privately, ‘Blessed are the eyes which see the things you see; for I tell you that many prophets and kings have desired to see what you see, and have not seen it, and to hear what you hear, and have not heard it.’” The time for the promise to be fulfilled had come. The kingdom that was promised was now being introduced as a present reality.

III. The Coming of the Kingdom

Mark 1:15 goes on to say, “and saying, “the kingdom of God is at hand.” But what does He mean that the kingdom “is at hand”? The Holman Christian Bible and the NIV say, “the kingdom of God has come near.” So which one is it? Is Jesus referring to the kingdom being “at hand” or is He saying that it “has come near.” Is He speaking of closeness or proximity in relation to time or in relation to its reality or spatial sphere? This might seem like a minor point, but it has an important bearing on our understanding of the nature of God’s kingdom, because it factors in to whether we consider the kingdom of God to be a present reality or a future one.

The Greek word for “is at hand” or “has come near” can be translated either way. In support of the translation “is at hand,” we note the preceding phrase, “the time is fulfilled.” That’s talking about proximity in relation to time. But in support of “has come near” is the fact that the Greek verb is in the perfect tense [ἤγγικεν], and that is most naturally understood as a present reality already introduced. And it’s not impossible for each phrase to have a distinct meaning. And further in support of “has come near” is the fact that in other places in the Gospel of Mark, Mark uses this same verb “with the clear connotation of motion that leads to spatial nearness, not temporal nearness” (e.g., 11:1; 14:42).[vi] The actual Greek construction and Mark’s usage favor rendering it as “the kingdom has come near.”

Further, many Jews around that time had announced that the kingdom was about to come. If that were all that Jesus was saying, He wouldn’t be saying anything different from what many others were.[vii] But His message is unique in announcing the in-breaking of the kingdom into history at this point in the fullness of time. With the coming of the Son of God comes the fullest revelation of the gospel and the manifestation of God’s kingly, redemptive reign.

George Eldon Ladd said it well when he defined the kingdom. I quoted this partially before but listen to the fuller explanation. He said the kingdom of God is

“the redemptive reign of God dynamically active to establish his rule among men, and that this Kingdom, which will appear as an apocalyptic act at the end of the age, has already come into human history in the person and mission of Jesus to overcome evil, to deliver men from its power, and to bring them into the blessings of God’s reign. The Kingdom of God involves two great moments: fulfillment within history, and consummation at the end of history.”[viii]

The kingdom of God has come into this world as a heavenly intrusion, a supernatural in-breaking, a supernatural sphere of divine reality that transcends this present evil age. The kingdom has come partially but not yet fully. The grace, power, and reality of the kingdom is present in “mystery” form in a way that the eye cannot see but that the soul can experience by faith. Mark 4 describes the kingdom coming with three different parables each of which depicts its coming and influence like seed that is sown—small and inconspicuous, but that grows and bears fruit as the gospel extends its influence throughout the world.

Jesus Himself describes the kingdom as both a present and future reality. In Luke 17, it says “Now when He was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, ‘The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you [ἐντὸς ὑμῶν ἐστιν; ‘among you’ or ‘in your midst’].’” Mark 14:25 describes the kingdom as yet future when the Lord says in the Last Supper, “Assuredly, I say to you, I will no longer drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” The kingdom was initially established in its spiritual modality in Christ’s first coming and will be established in its complete modality in His Second Coming.

But why did the kingdom of God come when Jesus came? Because Jesus is the King! He is “the Man from heaven” who came to manifest heavenly reality on earth. The kingdom manifests in His Person, in His teachings, in His actions, in His miracles. Every time He healed the sick or rose a person from the dead, that was the reality of the coming kingdom breaking into and intruding into this world as a present reality. That’s why in Luke 11:20, He says, “But if I cast out demons with the finger of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you.” His supplanting of the infernal powers was the proof that He was manifesting God’s redemptive reign on behalf of His people.

The Lord Jesus formally established His kingdom through His death and resurrection. By His death, He judged this present evil world. He condemned it and the satanic powers that have usurped it to eternal death, even as He redeemed His people from it. And by His resurrection, He ensured a new world that will rise from its ashes, a world in which sorrow, sickness, death, and despair would be no more. He ascended into heaven to be seated at God’s right hand, on the throne of cosmic and total authority over the created realm. And now He exercises His power during this present age to make His people know the reality and bliss and hope and salvation of the age to come. As the Apostle Paul put it in Ephesians 1:19–23, He makes known

“the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come. And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.”

But how can we enter His kingdom? How can we experience the glory and bliss of it? There’s only one way, and that’s what Jesus is getting at in the double imperative of Mark 1:15.

IV. The Call of the Kingdom

“Repent and believe the gospel.” “Repent and believe the gospel.” You can’t enter the kingdom by working your way into it. It’s not a matter of whether your good works outweigh your bad works. It’s not a matter of saying the right thing, of simply having the right theology, of adhering to some pet doctrine or reciting some particular shibboleth. It’s not a matter of whether you homeschool or not, of whether you’re a pre-, post-, or amillennialist, or whether you belong to this denomination or that. You have to repent and believe the gospel. Jesus said in John 18:36, “My kingdom is not of this world.” It’s a spiritual kingdom that must be received in a spiritual way; it must be received by faith and repentance.

But there’s a lot of confusion about what faith and repentance are. So, what is repentance? The word used in the Greek [μετανοέω] means “to change one’s mind,” or “to feel remorse…[and] be converted.”[ix] A lot of people have made the mistake of thinking that repentance means only to change your mind. They change their mind about what they think about God and Christ and the gospel; they go from rejecting the truth to assenting to the truth, but their lives remain unchanged, and there’s no impact on how they live, what they do, how they govern their families, how they spend their money, how they are involved in the church, how they behave in the workplace, how they interact with society. Repentance that leaves you unchanged is not true repentance.

In the Scriptures, one’s “mind” is not just their intellect. It’s the core of their being. “Mind” and “heart” are often used interchangeably.[x] To change your mind in genuine repentance means to change your heart, your thoughts, your motives, your affections, your goals, and your actions. It includes sorrow for sin, a genuine turning from it in abhorrence of it, and the resolve to walk in submission to the commandments of God in reliance on His grace. Repentance is the response of God’s work of grace in our hearts. Its motives include not only fear of God’s judgment for breaking His law but love and gratitude for His goodness and mercy toward us in Christ. As Romans 2:4 says, “the goodness of God leads you to repentance.”

Faith likewise is more than assent or approbation. It’s more than confessing the right formula, or simply saying that Jesus is your Lord and Savior. To believe is to understand the gospel, assent to the gospel, and trust in the gospel. To believe is to repudiate any claim to personal merit for salvation, and to confide your entire hope for eternal life on Christ alone. Repentance and faith are inseparable, because in the genuine exercise of each, the reality of the other is seminally present in it.

In Mark 1:15, the verbs “repent” and “believe” are both present active indicatives in the Greek. In this context, this means that they are ongoing, not momentaneous, one-time acts. So dear brothers and sisters, that means Jesus is speaking to us and not just to the unconverted. Repentance and faith must be continuous, ongoing, repeated, daily, and lifelong. If you’ve repented in the past, but you’re not recognizing ongoing sin and repenting of it as a pattern of life, then your past repentance is spurious (it’s not genuine). Genuine repentance is an abiding mindset, a persevering resolve, and a permanent heart-mentality.

We need the gospel every day. Daily, we should be aware of our indwelling sin and be battling against it and renouncing it and turning from it—especially sins like spiritual pride, reliance on self, carnal complacency, self-seeking, self-righteousness, and lovelessness. These things are so ingrained in our flesh that nothing short of glorification and bodily resurrection will ever eradicate them. But thanks be to God that His kingdom which has come in part will come in full. Our present repentance will one day soon give way to permanent bliss in sinlessness. Our present groaning will be replaced by the purest praise. And our present faith will soon be turned into sight. Don’t give up. Keep repenting, keep believing, and God will be faithful to keep what you have committed to Him until that Day (2 Tim. 1:12).

———————

References:

[i] Eberhard Nestle and Erwin Nestle, Nestle-Aland: NTG Apparatus Criticus, ed. Barbara Aland et al., 28. revidierte Auflage. (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2012), 103. It has been argued that “of the kingdom” is “obviously” an interpolation added by scribes to conform 1:14 to 1:15, but simply stating it is “obvious” commits the logical fallacy of begging the question. It could very well be the case that early scribes passed over these words in the act of copying, resulting in their omission. Omissions of this kind were not uncommon. At the end of the day, we have to assess the available evidence rather than relying on speculative theories, and the actual evidence, in my opinion, leans in favor of “the gospel of the kingdom of God.”

[ii] R. C. Sproul, ed., The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust, 2015), 1733.

[iii] James R. Edwards, The Gospel according to Mark, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 24.

[iv] “Things to Come,” A Journal of Biblical Literature. No. 37., July, 1897., Vol. IV., No. 1., pp. 9–10. For more modern examples, see https://graceambassadors.com/midacts/the-gospel-of-the-kingdom-vs-the-gospel-of-the-grace-of-god; https://gracethrufaith.com/end-times-prophecy/the-gospel-of-the-kingdom-vs-the-gospel-of-grace-conclusion/.

[v] George Eldon Ladd, The Presence of the Future: The Eschatology of Biblical Realism (2nd ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), 218.

[vi] David E. Garland, A Theology of Mark’s Gospel: Good News About Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, Biblical Theology of the New Testament, ed. Andreas J. Kostenberger (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015), 339–40.

[vii] Garland, A Theology of Mark’s Gospel, 340. Garland cites Kümmel, Promise and Fulfillment, 153 in support of this.

[viii] Ladd, The Presence of the Future, 218; quoted in Garland, A Theology of Mark’s Gospel, 336–37.

[ix] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 640.

[x] E.g., 1 Sam. 2:35; Pss. 26:2; 73:21; Isa. 26:3; Jer. 11:20; Matt. 22:37; Mark 12:30.