As the New Testament opened about 2,000 years ago, the Jewish people were looking for the appearance of the prophesied Messiah—a Hebrew word meaning “anointed” (Matthew 11:3; Luke 3:15). Because of Moses’ teaching that a prophet like himself would arise (Deuteronomy 18:15), some were looking for a religious leader to appear and lead the nation in a great spiritual revival (Luke 1:68-69; 2:25, 30, 38).
Others were anticipating the Messiah coming as the “Son of David” who would liberate the Jews from Roman rule, elevate the renewed Jewish nation in the eyes of the world, and establish His throne in Jerusalem (Matthew 21:9; 22:42). Believing that Jesus was this person, some plotted to “take Him by force to make Him king” (John 6:15).
But when Christ—the Greek term for “anointed”—came to earth in the form of a human named Jesus, the majority of the Jewish religious leaders did not accept Him as the promised Messiah. To them, Jesus was a young upstart who was critical of their handling of authority and who hadn’t shown any potential to liberate the Jewish people or establish a throne.
Jesus’ key points
Jesus began “preaching the gospel [good news] of the kingdom of God,” but it was not what the Jewish patriots were expecting (Mark 1:14). Instead of orchestrating a political movement and restoring Israel to greatness, Jesus’ key talking points were: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” (verse 15).
Of course, there were some who believed what Jesus said. John the Baptist’s call to repent (change their behavior) had been heard by many, preparing the way for Christ’s message. The New Testament and secular history concur that His message did indeed take root. The Church of God was established and strove to fulfill His commission (Matthew 28:19-20).
History shows that Christianity was a force that defied fierce persecution and the sword. Yet within decades following Jesus’ crucifixion, false teachers who claimed to be Christian began dismantling what He had labored to convey and instill in His disciples.
Today within mainstream Christianity important aspects of the Messiah’s message have been laid aside. The errors and omissions are not always quickly recognized, for the revisions are commonly presented to be “mature” Christianity as opposed to “primitive” Christianity.
How sad, preposterous and even arrogant it is to believe that humans needed to improve the message Jesus delivered or that changes needed to be made in order for Christ’s Church to blossom and flourish! Such reasoning is clearly refuted by Jude, the half-brother of Jesus, who heard and accepted Jesus’ teaching as it had been presented.
The faith once delivered
Recognizing the efforts of some to change what Jesus had taught, Jude felt compelled to warn those of the first century and us today to reject these misguided ideas.
“Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ” (Jude 1:3-4, emphasis added).
Jude’s instruction provides historical documentation of the effort of ungodly men to change Christ’s message near the end of the first century. It also explains that we deny “the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ” when we deny the true gospel given by God the Father through His Son (Jude 1:4; John 17:8).
Even though the apostle Paul was commissioned to take Christianity to the gentiles (non-Jews), he taught the same original, authentic gospel of Jesus Christ that the other apostles taught. He instructed the gentiles to be “imitators of the churches of God which are in Judea” (1 Thessalonians 2:14). And Paul, like Jude, recognized the misguided efforts of evil men to “pervert the gospel of Christ” (Galatians 1:7).
To make plain what Jesus really taught and how He expects people to respond to His message, this article begins a series addressing these critically important concepts.
Let’s now focus on the gospel of the Kingdom that Jesus came preaching.
Gospel of Christ vs. the gospel of the Kingdom
When we read of Jesus “preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God” (Mark 1:14), we should note that there was something new and something old about this endeavor. The teaching of a coming Kingdom ruled by God was not new—Old Testament prophets under the inspiration of God had already prophesied this (2 Peter 1:21; Isaiah 9:7; Daniel 2:44; 7:18, 27). What was new was Jesus Christ personally preaching this message as a flesh-and-blood human.
Unfortunately, one of the chief ways the Messiah’s message has been distorted has occurred over how the gospel is defined. Some argue over whether it is the “gospel of Jesus Christ” (Mark 1:1) or “the gospel of the kingdom of God” (verse 14). The simple facts are that Christ was the “Messenger of the covenant” (Malachi 3:1) who spoke the words of God the Father (John 3:34; 14:10; 17:18). Jesus was the One who gave His life as the payment for the sins (Ephesians 1:7) of those who truly repent so they can receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38) and become children of God in His eternal Kingdom (John 1:12; Luke 12:32).
In addition to knowing that Christ is Lord, we must also do the will of the Father.
As our Savior and as the King of the coming Kingdom of God (Revelation 11:15; 19:16), Jesus is central to the message, but the gospel Jesus came preaching is not limited to Himself. Just knowing who Jesus is and what He has done will not bring salvation to anyone. If we “accept Jesus into our hearts” (as many put it) but continue living in opposition to God’s laws, we cannot expect to receive the wonderful benefits—including eternal life—that He offers. In addition to knowing that Christ is Lord, we must also do the will of the Father (Matthew 7:21).
The true gospel includes Jesus Christ, what He has done and what He expects of us—as well as what will occur when He returns to establish the Kingdom of God on earth. The gospel of the Kingdom and the gospel of Christ are the same message. They are not competing gospels!
The gospel of Christ is the gospel of the Kingdom.
How the message of a literal kingdom disappeared
Within mainstream Christianity it has become common to focus on the person of the Messiah and what He did, while excluding explanations of the coming Kingdom of God and what we must do to be part of it.
How did Christ’s instruction regarding a literal kingdom that would be established to rule over the earth disappear from mainstream Christianity? English historian Edward Gibbon, in his famous book The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, provides the answer.
Gibbon noted that as part of the “ancient and popular doctrine of the Millennium,” the early Christians believed that they would be resurrected to spirit life to reign upon the earth with Christ for a thousand years after He returned (Chapter XV: Progress of the Christian Religion Part IV). The author says that this teaching, which had been so helpful to the “progress of the Christian faith,” was gradually laid aside.
“The doctrine of Christ’s reign upon earth was at first treated as a profound allegory, was considered by degrees as a doubtful and useless opinion, and was at length rejected as the absurd invention of heresy and fanaticism” (ibid.).
The next article in this series will address the first key element of the Messiah’s message—“the time is at hand” (Mark 1:15). For further study of this subject, we invite you to download the free booklet The Mystery of the Kingdom. We also recommend our article on the Millennium and the articles in the section “The Kingdom of God.”