Post Title: Gospel of the Kingdom
Let us begin with a well-known verse. Matthew records the words of Jesus himself in a passage that has come to be called the Sermon on the Mount. "Therefore do not be anxious [...] But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." (Matthew 6:31-33)
First, the Kingdom. That is my subject. I am toying with an alternate title for this teaching—Many Seek the Kingdom, Few Seek It First.
It is always a challenge to think about delivering a timely message at the beginning of the year because it is a natural time of reflection and resolution. I have been going through that process and have resolved that my top priority is the kingdom of God.
This time of year is also the season of Epiphany according to the traditional church calendar. Epiphany was one of the three most important feasts of the church during the fourth, fifth, and sixth centuries, along with Resurrection Sunday and Pentecost.
In the Eastern church, Epiphany celebrated the baptism of Jesus and His manifestation, his revelation as God's Son. But in the Western church, by the fourth century, the emphasis was upon the visit of the Magi to Israel's infant Messiah. An event which, in an anticipatory way, presents the kingship of Jesus as reaching to the Gentiles—to the very ends of the earth—and not exclusively to the Israelites.
Indeed, the Magi, when they came, bore gifts of a royal nature: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. All very rare, all very costly, all suitable for a king. Someone sent me a funny email that said, "What would've happened if the three Magi had been wise women instead of wise men? They would've asked for directions and arrived on time. They would've helped deliver the baby, cleaned the stables, made food, and brought practical gifts. There would've been peace on earth."
Instead, it was three men, at least that is the tradition. The Bible does not say three; that is a tradition perhaps based on the giving of three gifts. The text simply says Magi, which has led to much scholarly speculation upon just who these men were. I won't go into all of that but will share my conviction that they were not Gentiles, rather Jewish sages from the East. From the time of the Babylonian captivity, the majority of the Jewish people resided in Babylon, not in Israel. In actuality, according to Ezra and Nehemiah, only a remnant returned.
I think these are Jewish sages living outside of the Land. They are those who, yes, know the signs in the heavens but also know their Jewish scriptures, which anticipate the arrival of a King Messiah. And so they came bearing royal gifts.
From the very birth of Yeshua, the Hebrew name the angel said should be given him (Luke 1:31, Matt 1:20), he was seen as a royal figure. He is the one upon who was bestowed four throne names through the prophet Isaiah.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
- Isaiah 9:6
Isaiah prophesies that this one who is to come, this son who is to be given, is going to be a royal figure as well.
The titles given to him are more exalted than all others because he is none other than the Mighty God. As such, he offers wonderful counsel. He is the Father's expression of everlasting love, the one who brings wholeness, peace, and salvation. These four royal throne names are given prophetically to this child that the wise men sought out.
According to Jewish tradition, at the age of 30, one comes into the fullness of their spiritual vigor. It is when a priest would begin his ministry of serving in the temple. So at age 30, Jesus went forth proclaiming his message, his good news. The heart of the message was the kingdom of God (the kingdom of heaven) is here, has arrived, is at hand.
He goes throughout Israel to his fellow Israelites, proclaiming and explaining the kingdom of God. It is the priority of his preaching and teaching. "I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose." (Luke 4:43)
As you well know, the word gospel is translated from a Greek word meaning good news, glad tidings, an important and favorable announcement. Here is the new covenant picture. The King comes bearing good news about his kingdom—it is at hand!
Throughout his earthly ministry, the kingdom was always the focus for Jesus.
It is that which he continually taught by way of explanation, illustrated by way of parables, and demonstrated by signs, miracles, and mighty deeds. Explanation, illustration, demonstration; it was always around the gospel of the kingdom.
In the Book of Acts, we read that between Passover and Pentecost, he appeared to his disciples in his resurrected body and continued to teach them. What was the subject of his instruction? "He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God." (Acts 1:3).
Now, very clearly, this subject was vitally important to Jesus. We could say there was no other subject more important to him. It is what the gospel is all about. For Jesus, it is the Gospel of the kingdom of God.
He says far more about the kingdom than he even says about himself. Yet today, and historically in our churches, we say a great deal about Jesus but little or nothing about the kingdom. For him, the model was reversed; he constantly spoke about the kingdom and only indirectly and rarely about himself. That raises an interesting point. In some sense, we can have misplaced priorities when talking about Jesus.
Please do not misunderstand me. Of course, it is right and good that we proclaim and explain Jesus. But do we, like him, prioritize the kingdom?
I suggest that as we begin a new year, one of the most important things is to get before our mind and our hearts clarity and understanding about the kingdom. What exactly is it, and how does it apply to me?
If this subject is of supreme importance to Jesus, then it is at the very heart of the Father. If we are to pray for the kingdom of God to come, for God's will to be done, then it needs to be a priority in our lives. Indeed, it needs to be the utmost priority—first, the kingdom. Don't worry, Jesus says, he will take care of the rest.
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This study is from a professionally produced transcription of the audio recording. It was edited for readability by the team at JC Studies.
Dwight A. Pryor (1945-2011) was a gifted Bible teacher of exceptional clarity and depth who earned the friendship and admiration of both Christian and Jewish scholars—in the United States and Israel—as well as the respect and appreciation of followers of Jesus around the world. His expertise in the language, literature, and culture of Israel during the life and time of Jesus and the early church yield insights that nourish every area of faith and practice.
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