Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Gospel of the Kingdom in Mark

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. (Mark 1:1)

There are four Gospels in the New Testament, but only one gospel. The books that are commonly called “Gospels” (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) are each about the one gospel. That is why they have traditionally been called “The Gospel According to [Matthew, Mark, Luke, John].” These books do not merely contain snippets of the gospel, but everything in them is about the gospel.

Matthew began his telling of the gospel with, “The book of the generations of Jesus Christ, the Son of Abraham, the Son of David” (Matthew 1:1), marking Jesus’ connection to the promise God made to Abraham to bless the whole world, and the promise to King David about the messianic descendent who would reign on his throne forever.

Mark begins his telling of the gospel very directly, as is his style throughout, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Then he moves quickly through the identification of John the Baptist and what his role was, the baptism of Jesus by John, and the temptation in the wilderness. Then on to the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry:
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.” (Mark 1:14-15)
The gospel Jesus preached was about the kingdom of God. The content was the announcement that the time was fulfilled and the kingdom of God was now at hand. In verse 1, we see “the gospel of Jesus Christ,” and in verses 14-15, “the gospel of the kingdom of God.” These are not two different gospels. Rather, the gospel is the announcement of the good news that the kingdom of God has come and that Jesus the Messiah is the King. The response that is called for is to repent and believe that good news. Repentance is a change of mind that brings a change of direction. In this case, repentance is turning toward the kingdom of God and its King.

As we saw in Matthew, so we find in Mark: Jesus preaching and teaching about the kingdom of God in numerous parables and sayings (Mark 4:11, 26, 30; 9:1, 47). In Mark 10:14-15, for example, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.” His message was not just that the kingdom of God was at hand but that one must “receive” it, that is, to take hold of it, as if by hand (Greek, dechomai). We must take hold of it as a little child, in full dependence and trust.

A few verses later, Jesus encountered a rich, young ruler who came seeking “eternal life.” Jesus told him, “Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me” (v. 21). But it turned out that the young man valued his possessions more than the kingdom of God, so he went away.

Seeing this, Jesus said to the disciples, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!” (v. 23), and “Children, how hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (vv. 24-25).

The disciples were astonished and asked each other, “Who then can be saved?” (v. 26). Jesus answered, “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible” (v. 27).

Then Peter said, “See, we have left all and followed You” (v. 28). It sounds like a statement but he was really asking a question, looking for some assurance: Is there a place for me in the kingdom of God?
So Jesus answered and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time — houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions — and in the age to come, eternal life. (Mark 10:29-30)
Notice that throughout this dialogue, the theme has been the kingdom of God. So when Jesus speaks of “My sake and the gospel’s,” it is about the good news of the kingdom, of which Jesus Himself is King. Eternal life, which is what the rich, young ruler came seeking, is also about the kingdom. The kingdom of God has to do both with the time that is now (“now in this time) and also with “the age to come.” Indeed, it is the life of “the age to come” breaking into this present time.

In Mark 11, we read about the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. Many people came and spread out their clothes and palm branches on the road before Him and shouted, “Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (v. 10). This is the same kingdom Jesus gospeled about in Mark 1:14-15, because He is the one who fulfills the covenant promise God made to David.

To the scribe who responded well to Jesus’ word about the Great Commandment (see Mark 12:29-31), He answered, “You are not far from the kingdom of God” (v. 34).

In Mark’s account of the Olivet Discourse (Mark 13:1-37), Jesus said “And the gospel must first be preached to all the nations” (Mark 13:10). There is no other gospel that has been presented in Mark except the gospel of the kingdom. It is not just for Israel but also for the nations of the world.

In Mark 15, Pilate asked Jesus if He was the King of the Jews. Jesus answered that this was so. In this chapter, He is referred to as King of the Jews five times (Mark 15:2, 9, 12, 18,26), the final time being a reference to the inscription over Jesus’ head as He hung on the cross.

When Jesus’ body was taken down from the cross and being prepared for burial, we read of Joseph or Arimathea, and another reference to the kingdom:
Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent council member, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, coming and taking courage, went in to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. (Mark 15:43)
After the resurrection but before He ascended to heaven, Jesus gave the disciples the Great Commission:
And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” So then, after the Lord had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs. Amen. (Mark 16:15-20)
As Jesus ascended to His throne at the right hand of the Father, the place of ruling and reigning, what gospel would He send the disciples out to preach to the nations except the one He Himself came preaching — the gospel of the kingdom of God.