What is the Good News of the Kingdom?
News is heralded, announced by demonstrations through various means and mediums by an approved messenger. The final and eternal completion of the Good News of the Kingdom of God is very straight forward. One day, heaven and earth will be joined together as one realm, (God gives us the covenant of marriage to demonstrate this reality), where God and mankind dwell together in perfect unity. Heaven and earth will also dwell together in perfect unity. Death, sorrow, pain, and mourning will dwell together with unrepentant mankind and every host of demons in a lake of burning sulfur for all of eternity. Meanwhile, repentant mankind and the hosts of heaven will dwell together in perfect peace for all of eternity in new creation. While the Gospel may not be received as good news to those who refuse it, the Gospel is most certainly good news for all who will freely receive it.
To preach the Gospel of the Kingdom means we share the good news of the spiritual kingdom (the indwelling of Jesus now in the life of the believer), as well as the natural Kingdom in which Jesus will physically reign over the earth for 1,000 years to prepare us for the new heaven and earth. This is the clearest expression of apostolic preaching, which is (as I am writing this), the most under-emphasized preaching gift represented in the body of Christ in the west. I will write about this more near the end of my letter. Preaching, however, is just one aspect of the discipleship we are to bring to the nations.
To make disciples means to bring baptism to every nation (every ethnic group), and teach them to observe every one of Jesus’ commands. A disciple of Jesus is simply someone devoted to observing His commands. Our obedience to God reveals that we love Him and that we are His disciples. How do we observe His commands in a manner of love, which stands in contrast to legalism and religious box checking? We meditate (study & think about frequently) upon the words, actions, and responses of Jesus as recorded in the gospels. Then we ask the Holy Spirit to sanctify us (prayer). Finally, we have faith in believing God is faithful to fulfill the work started in us. Understanding our part, which is beholding Jesus and making Him our chief meditation, allows God to do His part, which is renewing and conforming us into His image.
What are the characteristics of the Kingdom of God?
The Kingdom of God currently resides physically in the heavenly realm (The heavenly realm has physical and spiritual attributes just as the earthly realm does). It is the New Jerusalem, which is also called Zion, the mountain of the Lord, and other titles which the prophets and apostles struggled to describe due to its vastness and otherworldly qualities.
We know from Ezekiel and Revelation, this city is 1380 cubic miles. *For perspective, the height alone is 273 times taller than Mt. Everest, and just one of the city’s four walls is roughly the distance of the American west coast from southern California to Northern Washington state.
Within the city is the throne of God, where Jesus is seated in His physical resurrected human body at the right hand of the throne. The garden of Eden also dwells within this city. The holy city has a civil and priestly government with laws and a justice system, a social and familial culture, even government recognized holidays (Zech 14). The government system is led in perfect unity by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. A unique human aspect of the government contributes in a few different ways. First of all, Jesus is the only person in all of creation who is fully God and fully man (representing the first fruits of mankind ruling and reigning in heavenly places). Not only is Jesus a man, but He is a Jewish man. There is an eternal human, and Jewish element represented at the throne of God, by which the heir to David’s throne also sits at the right hand of the Father as an authoritative representative of humanity.
In the next section I will address a few spiritual aspects of the Kingdom, but humanity is also represented (legally and priestly) before the throne of God via the Bride of Christ, that is the Church, which is the spiritual body of Christ. The Bride of Christ is the matured and unified body of the Jews and Gentiles who follow Jesus and share with Him in the fellowship of His life, death, and resurrection. This body of Christ, which is the Church, is in this present age betrothed to Jesus. By the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit we are actively becoming the Bride, and will fully enter into the full stature of this covenant when Jesus returns.
The Kingdom of God resides spiritually within the believer by the gift of the Holy Spirit, who approves us as messengers of the Good News by virtue of Jesus’ work of grace, our faith, and our repentance. These virtues, grace, faith, and repentance are all the gift of God, and it is our responsibility to determine if we will receive them. Once we receive these gifts, of which I have much more to write, it has been bestowed upon us to proclaim God’s gospel and to make disciples. The high calling of this present age is to be in an ever growing state of preparation. Discipleship prepares us to walk in Jesus’ authority. While we are capable of walking in a high place of spiritual authority in the present age, we are primarily preparing for the greater authority which will come to us in the age to come.
What Aspects of the Kingdom of God are Attainable Today?
I have introduced the idea of preaching and disciple-making, but there is much more to look forward to today regarding the Kingdom of God. Similar to what I’ve already stated, the end goal of disciple-making is to prepare the Church of Christ to become the Bride of Christ. Jesus and Paul utilize the covenant of marriage extensively to describe both our spiritual relationship and covenant/legal position before God. We are not merely called to be good soldiers or workers, though there is a proper context to “soldier up” and do what is necessary. Neither are we called to do the works of the Kingdom to solely please God (though He is certainly pleased by it). The high calling to which we are called is to do the works of the Kingdom in deep fellowship with God, so that we are joined to His thoughts, emotions, intentions, and authority. We need not wait until the next age to possess deep spiritual intimacy with Jesus.
Another aspect of the Kingdom of God active today is the “kingdom culture” of unity within the Church body. While the end goal of disciple making for the individual is to be prepared to become the bride of Christ, there is a collective reality which is of at least equal importance. The truth of the matter is that no one person can obtain the fullness of God separate from the Church as a whole. In other words, I don’t get to possess “every spiritual blessing in Christ” unless I am committed to the work of peacemaking and unity with the whole Church.
In Ephesians, Paul describes the mystery of Christ, noting we are heirs together in the promise of Christ.
The two people groups noted in Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians are Jew and Gentile. Jews are ethnic Jews, those who are the descendants of Abraham and Jews by birth. Gentiles are the nations, highlighted in New Testament times primarily as Samaritans, Greeks, and Arabs. However, the Gospel of the kingdom takes us to all of the Gentile nations (ethnic groups/races) throughout the earth. Nevertheless, it still stands that there are two groups, Jew and Gentile. Jesus comes from the first of these two groups, the Jews. Yet He is not only a Jew. He is the promised Jewish Messiah, the Priest-King from the Tribe of Judah and the order of Melchizedek.
When He returns to earth as the Jewish Priest-King, He will establish the throne of David in earthly Jerusalem where Israel and the Jewish people will become the praise of the earth. This is a prophecy that is yet to be fulfilled. As Gentiles, we have been grafted into (made acceptable co-heirs by the blood of Christ) the great storyline and blessing of this Jewish prophecy.
While Jews cannot inherit this prophetic destiny without receiving Jesus, the believing Gentiles will never see its fulfillment come to pass until we come into faith and unity with the Jews in Christ alone. Moreover, the fullness of the Gentiles’ unity must also come in before we can inherit this promise.
What does the fullness of unity look like?
Unity in Christ is not best expressed through agreement of doctrinal stances or expressions of church life or structure. Unity comes by way of honoring one another without flattery. Do we honor those of another generation, whether older or younger? Do we honor those of a different social or economic status? Do we honor those of a different race or ethnic background? I tell you with great certainty, until the Church truly honors one another, not in spite of, but because of our differences, we will most certainly not see the salvation of Israel or the return of Jesus. A culture of honor strengthens the heart of the Kingdom of God among those who long for it. While there are very important doctrines of the faith which must be addressed and commonality found, this alone is not where true unity comes.
Moreover, we are not called to bring the unbelieving world into agreement with this unity, as they cannot be brought in until they receive Jesus. We are called to bring the Church into agreement. The mystery of Christ reveals He will most certainly accomplish this task among us. He will bring the many factions of the Church together and establish us as one body and partakers of the fullness of God!
How do we cooperate with the Holy Spirit in bringing about Christian unity?
We have been given the gifts mentioned in Ephesians chapter four. These are the apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher. These gifts are living and active in the Church to prepare the saints for works of ministry until we are brought into mature unity. It is essential that we correctly understand how each of these gifts operate and what they each do to prepare the Church for good works and for the bond of unity. Note that the end goal of these gifts is maturity and a full stature of unity in the Church under one head, namely Jesus. Both the gifts and the works they produce in others should yield these results. Only here we will find the manner of good works which Jesus declares will shine like a city on a hill.
Another means of cooperation with the Holy Spirit is through the family unit. The family unit is one of God’s primary vessels He uses to display the power and victory of God’s elect over the kingdom of darkness. When the family unit walks in spiritual unity we display the power of Christ laying it’s axe at the root of the curse. The first generation of sons after the fall of man, Cain and Abel, manifested the fruit of the curse as brother rose up against brother, introducing the world to murder.
Here is the importance for parents to discipline and nurture their children, for children to honor their parents, and for the hearts of the generations to turn towards one another. The breakdown of the family unit is manifested in all forms of hatred and disunity throughout every sphere of society. As the family unit comes into peace and unity together under the headship of Jesus, we enter into the indisputable evidence of Christ’s redemptive work.
As honor thrives within the spiritual gifts, and honor thrives within the family, true unity will be cultivated. We need not wait until the age to come to possess deep spiritual intimacy with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
The last thing I will write about unity in this space is that if Jesus prayed it (John 17), Paul taught it (Ephesians 2-5), and John prophesied it (Revelation 10), we can most assuredly believe it is attainable in this present age.
Another attainable aspect of the kingdom of God today are the ministries of prayer and worship. Prayer and worship will never cease, but rather they will become an even greater part of the age to come. Even so, this is the most accessible demonstration of the Kingdom we can all access in greater measure today. It is how we best relate spiritually to God, and it is how we sit with Christ in heavenly places, laying siege to the powers of spiritual darkness.
One act of praising God will go exceedingly farther in overcoming works of Satan than a hundred rebukes. It is in the place of prayer and worship that the Church (the assembled Christians) do Church (legislate heaven’s decrees on earth). Let me say it a bit differently. Prayer and worship is the governmental assembly of God’s people on earth, where we lay hold of what’s true in heaven and manifest it on earthly soil. Look at the Lord’s prayer. This is how Jesus taught us to pray. One day, in the right generation, a praying and worshiping Church will touch the courtroom of heaven. Then the one found worthy, Jesus Christ, will take the scroll and open the seals of Revelation, hastening the judgement of Anti-Christ and the return of Jesus to the earth. We can most certainly attain this aspect of the kingdom in our present age.
One final attainable aspect of the Kingdom of God today I would like to highlight (though I could highlight more) is justice for the oppressed. The prophetic command to “do justly” is a common thread throughout Scripture. The widow, the orphan, the poor, the sick, and many other marginalized people need the work of justice. From the midwives who defied Pharaoh, to the chosen seven in Acts who resolved racial strife while serving food to widows, the Old and New Testament alike are full of examples of believers performing works of justice.
While I do not believe we will come remotely close to fixing every system of injustice before Jesus returns, that does not stop us from affecting justice for those within our reach. We can even restrain systemic wickedness for a time. However, injustices will remain as systemic and political strongholds until Jesus destroys the demonic system at its root, which He will accomplish personally in establishing His own earthly government.
In light of all of these things, we have grace to not grow weary in doing good works, whether by spiritual and prayerful means, or by practical means of advocacy and physical labors. Scripture commands us to work so that we have more to give others, to care for the orphan and widow in their distress, to feed and clothe others, and to defend the weak and oppressed.
How many must suffer due to starvation, human trafficking, abortion, systemic racism, lack of medicine, and the many other forms of oppression before we hear the voice of heaven for these precious ones? Works of justice are not only attainable, but commanded in this present age.
The goal of acceptable religion is not for us to prove our worth to God (He’s already shown us our worth by hanging on a cross). The goal of acceptable religion is to give others a tangible reason to believe God is good.
How do we Prepare Ourselves and Others for the Kingdom of the Age to Come?
Continuing with another look at Ephesians chapter four, Paul describes the administration, or dispensing, of God’s grace. As Jesus ascended into heaven, it says He took captivity captive and gave gifts to mankind.
For those of us who are in Christ, we have entered into such a freedom, where even the snare of captivity itself has been removed from our midst. This is beautiful, because we can have full assurance that no power in heaven or earth can hinder the gift of God in our lives. This is terrifying however, because we are held accountable to God for using His gifts to love Him and bring Him glory. Because every manner of bondage has been removed, we have no excuse for disobedience to the irrevocable gift and calling of Christ. For this reason we work out our salvation with fear and trembling.
Now that our hindrances have been removed, and that the gift of grace has been given freely, let us explore these gifts as Paul describes them.
The gift of grace is manifested to the Church as apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, and teacher. Each of these gifts is living and active today, and each necessary up until the point of Jesus’ return. Unfortunately, in many places in the body of Christ, we have come to the conclusion that some of these gifts have ceased in operation. Another error is that we have made these gifts primarily a vocational ministry. Not that vocational ministry itself is an error. However, the life of the early church did not express two discernible classes of Christian, clergy and lay person, that we see today. Yes, there were clear leaders (even some specifically set aside for the ministry of teaching), but the predominant expression of church life was one of a priesthood of all believers. Paul especially set a precedent for a culture of honor, celebrating the myriad of spiritual gifts present in the Church.
If you’re struggling to follow, think about it like this: The idea of a pastor shepherding a flock of sheep (congregants) will almost always result in spiritual immaturity and a church body that will struggle to accomplish even personal piety. Instead, we need pastors and in fact all ministers, to view themselves as those who are training the entire body to do the real work of ministry, doing so with the mindset that they are the “least of all” as Paul might put it. On the other hand, when we are being trained (in fact all of us are in training), we should hold the one who is doing the work of discipleship with honor and high esteem as one who has gone before us doing the real works of ministry. I hope the distinction is evident.
The purpose of these gifts operating in the life of the believer are to prepare the whole church for the usage of the fullness of these gifts to accomplish works of ministry. They reveal the multifaceted nature of Christianity as it pertains to the emphasis of the aspect of the kingdom (and aspect of Jesus’ personality and ministry) each gift represents.
What are, and how do we recognize these gifts of grace?
These gifts begin first and foremost with the grace of the apostle. Jesus is the high apostle of our faith. Apostle simply means sent one. In Jesus’ day the word carried a lot of connotations we aren’t naturally aware of today. An apostle was an ambassador (or naval convoy) sent from Caesar himself. He was typically sent with an entourage, bringing gifts that represent the power and wealth of Rome to areas previously untouched by the Empire. The apostle would give these gifts to civil leaders and present to them the foundational premise of what it means to be absorbed into the Roman Empire. The apostle would freely bring gifts, but if Rome’s gifts were not received the apostle would declare the promise of Rome’s sword.
A secondary distinction about the apostle, was that it builds upon the rabbinical Jewish premise of the saliah (a commissioned agent, one with the same legal authority as the one who has sent). In light of this, the apostle extends the scope of the Jewish saliah to the Gentile nations, overseas, and into far off places to announce the coming King and His Kingdom.
When the early church used the term apostle of Jesus Christ, it was evident to those in the Roman Empire what the word represented.
The apostle was someone sent and approved by Jesus to lay the foundations of the Kingdom of God in places unreached with the Gospel. Apostles “bring the kingdom” with them, allowing others to, figuratively speaking, taste and see that the Lord is good.
Some apostles today have been given the same call as the early apostles, to bring this kingdom to every unreached tribe and tongue (of which there are still many today).
Some apostles will help lay the foundation in already reached populations who have not received a proper foundation. We see this evidenced in the book of Acts.
However, all apostles equip the Church to be “sent ones” who can clearly articulate the spiritual, heavenly, and earthly foundations of the Gospel of the Kingdom to anyone who might be unaware. In that sense, we’re all called to this grace of apostleship.
In fact, wherever the Church cannot communicate the Gospel of the Kingdom with clarity, it is very likely the apostolic Foundation has not been properly laid. In the western church, (I can only speak from my own experiences and not those of others), I believe resetting this foundation is the primary work needed in the Church today. This begins with the call of apostolic leaders committed to relearning the gift of apostolic preaching. In Acts 2, we see the apostolic preaching required in our day. Interestingly, a return of apostolic preaching might actually lead to an overall fewer number of sermons actually being preached, but that might be a subject for a different day. Here’s the short version: Preaching is not the main work of discipleship. An apostolic sermon will give us much to unpack. The main work of discipleship should take place around table fellowship, bible studies, the break room, and our devotional times. We appear to need many sermons because we’re feeding people spiritual baby food, and not the meat of the word.
What is an example of Apostolic preaching?
While this is a minor point in the greater message of the Kingdom, I always want to take an opportunity to encourage us in the gifts, so that we may better cooperate with the Holy Spirit in our efforts of practical discipleship.
I have already explained the basis of apostolic preaching, which is to proclaim and divide rightly the nature of the Kingdom that is now (mostly spiritual), and the Kingdom which is to come (both spiritual and earthly).
In New Testament times, apostolic preaching often preceded other forms of discipleship. It provides a foundation of understanding upon which the unbelieving people group can receive faith. For example, in Peter’s sermon in Acts 2, he preached an apostolic sermon until people were cut to the heart and asked how they might be saved. Peter responded with the great evangelical statement, “Repent and be baptized…”. Afterward, he concluded with the apostolic exhortation and about three thousand were saved.
Though there was an expression of the prophetic and evangelical in Peter’s sermon, it primarily connected the spiritual kingdom principle of Joel 2, to the earthly kingdom principle of Psalm 110, to provide a context for the Jews of his day to comprehend the gravity of the crucified and resurrected Messiah.
By nature, apostolic preaching is often followed by signs and wonders. A close examination of the life of Jesus highlights this point, however I would encourage us to allow the message of the preaching to take precedence over the sign of the preaching. When approved, both the preaching and the sign should exhort us into greater faith.
Following the apostle is the grace of the prophet. The chief goal of the prophetic ministry is to proclaim the testimony of Jesus and to equip the Church in hearing His voice today.
The testimony of Jesus proclaims the specific story/work/personal ministry of Jesus, and the manner in which He relates intimately to the Gospel He preached. This means that while prophecy does deal with what He will do [future tense], it has just as much to do with what He has done, is doing, and will always do [prophetic perfect tense]. Equally significant, the prophetic ministry communicates Jesus’ own emotions, attributes, and character in the midst of His works.
A diligent reading of the prophets of the Old Testament allows us to gaze upon the message of every true prophet today. The prophetic grace helps us understand the specifics of the Lord’s burden, zeal, and passion for our generation today.
The Holy Spirit speaks to believers through prophecy today as well, but He does so in agreement with what He has spoken to the prophets and apostles of old. The “new” word of the Lord will never conflict with what is written and recorded in the canon of Scripture. In a sense, every manifestation of the prophetic ministry should lead us back to the place where we diligently do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.
The prophetic burden consists of the future works of Jesus, His call to justice (past, present, and future), as well as the callings and spiritual assignments given to specific believers.
The prophetic ministry equips the whole body to hear the Lord for themselves, so that we may all walk as those who fellowship with the Holy Spirit. We then hear directly from the Lord what He believes about us regarding our partnership with Him in His character and ministry for our life and for the generation in which we live. In this sense, the prophetic grace is available to every disciple of Jesus.
The grace upon the evangelist calls us into decision and allegiance to the commands of Jesus. The evangelist shows us how to live out our lives at the throne of God’s grace while calling others to the altar of His mercies. A basic understanding of the definition of evangelist reveals that they are those who “eulogize good tidings”. The prophetic Scriptures describe the evangelist as one who comes on the mountains with glad tidings, radiating so much goodness that even their wander worn feet emit the beauty of God.
The evangelist cannot stop talking about the beauty of Jesus and the wonders of His mercy and grace. In maturity they call us to the place of holiness and sanctification while holding the line on the perplexing wonder of His mercy seat.
In the ministry of the evangelist we see both the goodness and severity of God. They equip the Church in the simple understanding that God’s beauty, mercy, judgment, and wrath need not be conflicting arguments or doctrines.
As we behold and receive their message of faith, the Church is emboldened to witness to the goodness of God in their own lives. In this sense, we are all called to the grace of the evangelist.
The grace of the pastor (shepherd) is discernment and wise counsel. I believe we’ve put too much weight and emphasis on this gift in much of modern Christianity. Too much authority and responsibility has been given to those who take up the mantle pastor, and it has created a bottleneck of discipleship within the body.
First of all, it is the leadership of the shepherd who guides us to “streams of living water” and to the “pasture” where we feed. The shepherd provides a place of comfort where we can feast on the good things of the Lord in the midst of our enemies. There is a protective and discerning quality about the grace of the pastor. They teach us how to tune out the voice of our enemy while fixing our gaze upon Jesus.
Notice when a shepherd feeds his sheep he doesn’t actually feed his sheep. The pastor isn’t supposed to hand feed us the truths of God’s word. They are supposed to lead us to the safe place where we can feed ourselves. When we reduce the pastoral ministry to basic Christian encouragement and education, we convolute the grace of the apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, and teacher into one dysfunctional ministry. This is not fair to pastors and it is not fair to the body.
Now, before we go rebuking pastors or calling them out for stepping beyond their spiritual authority, let me remind you that we created and perpetuated this system by not becoming diligent students of the Word or faithful intercessors in our own right. In other words, we brought this on ourselves (historically and today), and while some pastors have abused spiritual authority, most deserve high honor because they were willing to sacrifice beyond their grace on our behalf.
The pastor should be a ministry of multitude. Every father and mother should be spiritually equipped to shepherd their families in paths of righteousness. Among every few of us in the body should be a pastor who intercedes over the spiritual well-being of their closest brothers and sisters. In fact, while it may not be our primary gifting, we should all embrace the grace of the pastor at some point in our lives to safeguard the spiritual health of others. The pastoral grace does well when it shows us how to be our brother’s keeper.
The grace of the teacher is unique, and to me it is terrifying. Scripture declares teachers shall incur a stricter judgment. I for one would take the beatings of the apostle over the throne judgement of a teacher any day. I frequently ask for the judgment of God in my life so that I may have something to bring before the throne of grace today. Let’s get this sorted out now!, if you know what I mean.
The teaching grace is responsible for admonishing biblical instruction to the body. This is a work done on a foundational level by the apostolic grace, but the teacher wrestles with beliefs and doctrines on a much deeper level. Then they are entrusted with communicating truth to the body in a manner that makes the complex simple and attainable for even the newest and youngest followers of Jesus. In essence, teachers give us the keys to deeper layers of understanding God’s truths.
Whereas the pastor is a ministry of multitude, I believe teacher is a ministry of few. Many claim to be teachers, but who can make mysteries simple and convey the manifold wisdom of God to a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic Church? When Paul mentions that we have many teachers, but few fathers, I believe he was calling many who have embraced the teaching grace to “come out of it” and truly embrace the intimacy of the pastoral grace.
With this in mind, I do believe we can all enter into the teaching grace in proportion to our gift, in that we make the grace of our own gift easily accessible to others.
I believe we need all of the gifts living and active in the Church so that we can truly embrace and complete the Great Commission to make disciples among all nations, and to effectively establish the principles of the Gospel of the Kingdom in the hearts and minds of the global body of Christ.
In conclusion, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon us, because the Lord has anointed us to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent us to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives, And the opening of the prison to those who are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, And the day of vengeance of our God.” –The Prophet Isaiah, chapter 61.
Each of us is required to embrace the work of ministry and of the priesthood according to the grace bestowed upon us, and to the calling which we were called in Christ. For this gospel of the Kingdom must be preached to every race, and then the end will come. We don’t get to have Jesus until we embrace the whole thing and walk it out by God’s grace.
To Him who is able to do exceedingly and abundantly more than we could ask or imagine, to Him be glory in the Church.