Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary

9 Jul 2019

What Is the Gospel of the Kingdom?


When John the Baptist, firstly, and then Jesus began announcing that the kingdom of heaven was “at hand” (Matt 3:2; 4:17, 23) they were announcing that the anticipated Israelite kingdom of OT prophecy was being immediately offered to Israel, and that their predominantly Jewish hearers should repent and prepare for its arrival (so the explanation of Mark 1:15). The apostles participated in this offer as well, with something of a recklessness begotten of imminency, taking no thought for food, money, or even a change of clothes (Matt 10:5ff; Luke 10:4). Their message is described in Luke as the Gospel of the Kingdom (Luke 16:16; cf. Matt 9:35; Luke 4:43; 8:1).

After Christ’s religious opponents blasphemed against him by attributing his royal prerogatives to Satan (Matt 12), Christ began to divulge mysteries about the kingdom to his disciples (Matt 13), most startling that the kingdom would be taken away from the present generation and given to another (Matt 21:43) and that Christ would go away for an extended period before returning to establish his rule (Luke 19:11ff). During the window between Christ’s departure and return, the Apostles would persist as agents of Christ, but their approach would change. Rather than the recklessness of their earlier mission, the disciples would now pack food, extra clothing, and other resources—even weapons (Luke 22:36). They anticipated a long, grueling mission, one to which no end could be had until their message—still labeled the Gospel of the Kingdom—had been “preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations” (Matt 24:14). The beginnings of this mission are the topic of the book of Acts, where we again find the Gospel of the Kingdom as a persistent label for the Apostolic message (Acts 8:12; cf. also 19:8; 20:25; 28:23, 31).

Because the same language is used of (1) Christ’s message, (2) the Apostles’ message, and (3) the eschatological message that will persist until “the end,” we may reasonably assume that harmony may be found between all three references. Five basic options emerge:

1.  The Gospel of the Kingdom is the announcement that the King has arrived (in the person of Christ), that the Kingdom has been inaugurated in the present age, and that there is a promise of full and spectacular realization of that Kingdom in the future. This is the understanding held by a current majority within the evangelical community, including (with variations, of course) those of postmillennial, historic premillennial, and even progressive dispensational persuasion.

2.  The Gospel of the Kingdom is the announcement that the Spiritual Kingdom of God has dawned in the new covenant community of God and will continue to advance, despite incredible odds, until Christ returns. This understanding boasts majority status in Church History, and has robust representation today among amillennialists and, again with some variation, among certain subsets of progressive covenantalism.

3.  Others suggest that the Gospel of the Kingdom is simply code for the Christian Gospel, and should not be overscrutinized for its contributions to kingdom theology.

Of these three, the last option alone can weather to the whole Bible’s teaching on the Kingdom. Still, the use of the phrase Gospel of the Kingdom seems to suggest that something more is in view than the bare Gospel. Within the traditional dispensational community, then, two additional possibilities emerge.

4.  One persistent minority position is that the Gospel of the Kingdom refers iteratively to three immediate offers of the prophetic (Israelite) kingdom—first in the Gospels, again in the book of Acts (a “re-offer,” so McClain, Greatness of the Kingdom, 403–6), and a third time in the eschaton (Matt 24:14), at which time Christ’s scepter will finally go out from earthly Zion and swiftly subsume the whole earth.

Easily the greatest difficulty with this understanding is the interior offer, which occurs during the church age and seems quite out of place in the flow of the narrative. While I have some sympathy for McClain’s arguments for an immediate offer (e.g., that the miracles of Acts 3 resemble closely Christ’s “signs of the age to come” [Heb 6:5] and that the promised “periods of refreshing” [Acts 3:19] sound like the OT kingdom promises), I am not convinced of it for the following reasons:

    • The re-offer view doesn’t seem to fit the pattern of extended preparation (Matt 13ff, Luke 22:36, etc.) for a mission that Christ expects to occur over an extended period of time and with extensive planning.
    • Similarly, the re-offer view offers little time for the establishment and maturation of the church into a flourishing organism, as predicted in Matthew 16, 18, 28, etc.
    • The terms of acceptance of this re-offer, further, are unclear. By all accounts, Peter’s message in Acts 3 was staggeringly successful: 5,000 men (plus their families) responded favorably (Acts 4:4). One wonders how high this number needed to go to trigger the arrival of the Kingdom.
    • The re-offer view doesn’t match, further, Christ’s answer to the disciples’ question in Matthew 24:3 about the timing of the destruction of the temple and the return of Christ to commence his reign, which he answers by detailing a long series of persecutions and apostasies (24:4–13), during which the “the gospel of the Kingdom will be preached in the whole world” (14). Only after this happens will the Great Tribulation commence, effecting broad repentance in Israel (vv. 15–51) and setting the stage for the establishment of the Kingdom (all of chap. 25).
    • Finally, the re-offer view doesn’t match Christ’s responses to the disciples’ misguided expectations that the Kingdom might be realized immediately after the Resurrection (Luke 19 and Acts 1). Instead, the persistent message is that the kingdom offer had been irreparably withdrawn from that whole generation of Israelites (Matt 21:43) and granted to another.

This leaves us with what I think is the best understanding of the Gospel of the Kingdom, viz.,

5.  The Gospel of the Kingdom encompasses the whole, unfolding good news about Christ’s Kingdom. For the church age, specifically, it is the message that opportunity for entry into Christ’s Kingdom has opened not only for the lost house of Israel, but also for the many nations once excluded from the promises. There is no suggestion here of changes to the content of the Gospel or the means of its realization; still, there are contours to the message that make it increasingly “good news” as revelation progresses.

7 Responses

  1. Todd Nye

    Mark – I always appreciate your thoughtful writings, but can’t help feeling like the pre-suppositions of early, historic dispensationalism is something from which you just can’t shake free. Interestingly, your suggestion for defining the gospel of the kingdom under option number five was surprising. Based on what you had said in the earlier part of the article, I expected you to connect with McLains view. One of the mistakes often made, and I think a glaring mistake, is suggesting that the Jews and Jesus’ apostles would have understood Jesus’ teaching on the coming kingdom to be a theocratic kingdom based on the prophecies of the Old Testament. There are two massive problems with this : 1) The old testament prophecies equally, if not more, foretell the coming of Christ’s kingdom in its first manifestation – suffering followed by glory. (theocratic). 2) Jesus constantly, throughout the Gospels, corrected and rebuked the apostles false presuppositions about a kingdom based on theocratic expectations, rather than redemptive. One of the things that I would respectfully ask men to consider, when trying to get a hold of the gospel of the kingdom (admittedly a huge subject where very good men have disagreed) is to take note of the thematic points on which the forerunner who prepared the way for the Messiah preached. I have looked at all the elements of John Baptist’s predatory preaching and they ALL focus on personal redemption. To me, this seems a strange way to prepare for a 1st advent ministry that had no intention whatsoever of offering a political kingdom. Again, I know men who have great academic credentials have proposed things like the PP of the Kingdom theory, the interregnum, and the “mystery kingdom” (The language they use to explain away that the parables of the kingdom deal virtually exclusively with gospel themes clearly taking place in the present church age), but these appear to me as a sad and indefensible read of the four gospels. I will never forget reading a comment by a godly man of integrity within the fundamentalist heritage who said , “you can’t get the gospel out of the sermon on the mount.” WOW, not able to see the gospel in the gospels.

  2. Todd Nye

    Mark – I left a response via my cell phone. I hope it came through or this follow up (made from my laptop) will be meaningless. I need to make a clarification to something said in my first response. Your leading sentence said–

    “When John the Baptist, firstly, and then Jesus began announcing that the kingdom of heaven was “at hand” (Matt 3:2; 4:17, 23) they were announcing that the anticipated Israelite kingdom of OT prophecy was being immediately offered to Israel, and that their predominantly Jewish hearers should repent and prepare for its arrival (so the explanation of Mark 1:15).”

    This proposition is made with the presumption that it is true (John and Jesus announcing the Israelite Kingdom of OT prophecy was being offered immediately and for which they needed to prepare by repentance). You seem to make this comment as if assumed that such a presupposition in not even debatable. This is the very presumption which I believe to be totally indefensible. What I meant to say in a part of my initial response is that “the interpretation of the Jews and Jesus’s disciples, in understanding His teachings on the kingdom to offer a political or theocratic kingdom immediately, is totally mistaken. That is why I said Jesus spent so much of his time rebuking and correcting this misunderstanding. He did so on the basis that a massive part of OT prophecies concerning coming Messiah focus on His suffering in the first advent rather than His reigning in the second coming. This was the point Jesus made so emphatic to the two disciples on the road to Damascus and other places. I agree that His reign will be a literal reign in the millennial Kingdom and that it constitutes an aspect of the “Gospel of the Kingdom”. However, I believe the aspect of His Kingdom offered during the first advent (legitimately for sure) was the nature of the Kingdom as it finds expression in this era under the redeeming gospel.

  3. Todd Nye

    One more comment, Mark (sorry to ramble). The kingdom is not defined by Jews or disciples whose expectations for Jewish triumphalism blinded their eyes from the OT prophecies that foretold the spiritual aspect of Messiah’s kingdom. This is exactly why Jesus accused them of inexcusable blindness and foolishness in not believing what the prophets had so clearly foretold — s spiritual kingdom in which Christ would rule the heart through the redeeming work of the gospel. Jesus is the one who gets to define His kingdom– not unbelieving Jews, biased disciples, or die hard dispensationalists who latched on to a popular system for synthesizing all Scripture, but who did so (IMO) on an exegetical bases that is very problematic.

  4. Mark A. Snoeberger

    Hi Todd, good to hear from you. Sorry I am late in responding. You’re right that I haven’t shaken off my dispensational credentials–I’m not trying too. 🙂

    I appreciate your concerns and am not unaware of them. With the notable exception of the “re-offer” theory, I’m pretty squarely where Alva J. McClain is. While the OT does stress the spiritual (redemptive) nature of the Kingdom, this is hardly its totality. It has political, economic, geological, social, agricultural, industrial (etc.) components that cannot, it seems to me, be divorced from the spiritual. Yes, there had to be wholesale repentance in order for the nation to realize the kingdom (so, e.g., Matt 3:2; 4:17, 23; 21:43), but it doesn’t follow from this, I would argue, that Christ’s mission in the Gospels was merely to offer the spiritual aspects of the kingdom. Indeed, his first advent seems to be fairly bristling with pointers to his royal authority in every sphere of life.

    While Christ does correct (1) his hearers’ false understanding that these general benefits could come apart from spiritual renewal and, later, (2) his disciples’ persistent hope that the kingdom might still dawn despite the withdrawal of the kingdom offer (Matt 21:43; Luke 19; Acts 1; etc.), I don’t find in this a rebuke of their conception of the kingdom’s scope, but of their understanding of the circumstances and timing of the kingdom.

    Hope this helps to clarify.

    1. Todd Nye

      Thanks for the response Mark — hope all is well! Does Detroit still primarily teach the classical dispensational hermeneutic (McClain) or are there professors or pastoral staff that hold more to a progressive dispensationalism?

      1. Mark A, Snoeberger

        The faculty of DBTS and pastoral staff at ICBC are not in absolute agreement on every detail of our dispensationalism. We spar amicably about details in the Sermon of the Mount, the kingdom parables, the status of the new covenant, the precise function of the Law, the relative incidence of typology in Scripture, the gospel of the kingdom, and so forth. Also, there’s a fairly robust appreciation here for the old GTS dispensationalism, which took something of a different trajectory than the DTS expression and resists a bit Blaising’s taxonomy of “classical,” “revised,” and “progressive” dispensationalism. In the main, though (and so far as I know without personally interviewing everyone), we’re all clustered in and about the “revised” taxon.