Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Gospel of the Kingdom in Matthew

The “gospel of the kingdom” is very prominent in the Gospel of Matthew. John the Baptist came preaching about it, saying, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matthew 3:2). He identified himself, in Matthew 3:3, as the forerunner prophesied in Isaiah 40, a passage that speaks of Messiah, God’s Anointed King, in gospel terms: “bring good tidings” (found twice in Isaiah 40:9, the Greek word used in the Septuagint is euaggelizo; see Gospeling in the Old Testament).

Jesus also, after His baptism and the temptation in the wilderness, began His ministry preaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:17). Matthew records, “And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people” (Matthew 4:23). The Sermon on the Mount gives us the substance of that preaching. It is the announcement that the kingdom was at hand and what it means to participate in it.
  • The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-10) are bookended by the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven … Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
  • The passage on the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 5:17-20) is in reference to the kingdom of heaven. “Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (vv. 19-20).
  • In “The Lord’s Prayer,” Jesus teaches us how to pray: “You kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” The kingdom of God is the will of God being done on earth as it is in heaven. “For Yours is the kingdom and the power and glory forever. Amen.”
  • In regard to the daily necessities of life, Jesus says, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).
  • There is a warning about false prophets, with the conclusion, “Not everyone ho says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven but he who does the will of My Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:15-21).
This sermon was not a one-off. Everywhere Jesus went, He preached about the kingdom of God: “Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people” (Matthew 9:35).

When John the Baptist sought reassurance about whether Jesus was the Messiah, God’s Anointed King, Jesus sent back the answer, “Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them” (Matthew 11:4-5). The gospel He preached to the poor was surely the same one He had been preaching all along, the “gospel of the kingdom.”

Then, concerning John, Jesus said, “Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force” (Matthew 11:11-12).

Jesus not only preached the gospel of the kingdom, He demonstrated it as well. He said, “But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matthew 12:28).

The parables Jesus taught were about the kingdom of God. When the disciples asked why He taught the people in parables, Jesus answered, “Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom, but to them it has not been given” (Matthew 13:11). That is why He said to the people, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (v. 9). Those who had ears to hear His parables would understand the mysteries of the kingdom. Jesus explained the parable of the sower with these words: “When anyone hears the word of the kingdom …” (Matthew 13:19). Many of Jesus parables are expressly about the kingdom, using His customary formula, “The kingdom of heaven is like …” (Matthew 13:24, 31, 33, 44, 45, 47).

Jesus concluded the parables in Matthew 13 and said to the disciples, “Therefore every scribe instructed concerning the kingdom of heaven is like a household who brings out of his treasure things new and old” (Matthew 13:52). He instructed His disciples concerning the kingdom of heaven because that is what He was training them to preach and teach.

In Matthew 18, the disciples asked Jesus, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Jesus set a little child before them and answered, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3-4). In Matthew 19:14, Jesus reiterates, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”

In the next chapters are additional parables explicitly about the kingdom, again beginning with introductory words, “The kingdom of heaven is like …” (Matthew 18:23; 20:1; 22:1).

In Matthew 24, which contains what is known as the Olivet Discourse, Jesus addresses the disciple’s questions about the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, the sign of His coming and the end of the age. In His answer, He said, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come” (v. 14). The gospel Jesus preached and taught to the disciples was not just for Israel but for all the nations of the world.

In Matthew 25, after two more parables explicitly about the kingdom of heaven, Jesus spoke of when the Son of Man gathers together the nations for judgment. He will separate them like a shepherd separates sheep from goats, with the sheep on His right and the goats on His left. Jesus, who has throughout the Gospel of Matthew identified Himself as the Son of Man, now refers to Himself as the King: “Then the King will say to those on His right hand …” (v. 34), “And the King will answer and say to them …” (v. 40).

At the end of Matthew, after the cross and the resurrection, but before He ascended to heaven, Jesus came to the disciples and announced: “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18). This is the language of kingdom dominion, with both heaven and earth as His domain. In other words, the kingdom of God was now active on earth, with Jesus as King over all. Then Jesus commissioned His disciples: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).

The word “therefore” connects verses 19-20 to what Jesus said in verse 18. The kingdom of God was now active in the world, and King Jesus was ascending to His throne at the right hand of the Father. Now the disciples were to take the news to all the world, to make disciples of all the nations and teach them everything Jesus taught. Throughout the book of Matthew, everything Jesus did and taught and preached was all about the gospel, and the gospel was all about the kingdom of God.

For more about the kingdom in Matthew’s Gospel, see The Kingdom of Heaven on Earth: Keys to the Kingdom of God in the Gospel of Matthew.

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