THE MAIN FOCUS OF THE GOSPEL IS THE KINGDOM – NOT THE CROSS

It may surprise many people to discover that the cross is not the “full or complete gospel,” but it is the doorway into the gospel preached by Jesus and His early disciples, “the gospel of the Kingdom.”  The cross is how we gain entry into the kingdom, but it is not the destination point.  Also the cross is our example for us to follow.  Jesus said,

If any man will come after Me [or follow Me], let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.  For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for My sake shall find it.  (Matthew 16:24-25; Mark 8:34-35; Luke 9:23-24]

In fact, in Luke 14:27, Jesus comes right out and says, “And whosoever does not bear his cross, and come after Me, cannot be My disciple.”  Even though there are many reasons why Jesus died on the cross, we still have a cross that we are also to bear in our daily lives.  Jesus will not bear our cross for us, as some ministers would like people to think, but it is a cross we are to bear as we follow His example of how we are to live.

THE CROSS – NOT THE MAIN FOCUS OF JESUS’ MINISTRY?

But Jesus did not start talking about His own death, or the need for us to bear a cross for over three years of His ministry.  During the majority of His earthly ministry, the focus was not on the cross at all, but on “the kingdom of heaven” or “the kingdom of God.”  Think about this: The disciples had been sent out two-by-two for at least two, maybe three years, preaching the very gospel that Jesus preached, and yet when Jesus does start talking about His death, the disciples are in shock!  In fact, Peter even rebukes the Lord for suggesting such an idea (Matthew 16:23-24).  Obviously, then, the cross was not the main focus of what Jesus and His early disciples had been preaching.  Up to that point, it had not been part of His gospel.

The gospel that He preached focused on the Kingdom – not the cross.  The gospel is God’s invitation for us to become an active part of His Kingdom.  Many people may hear the phrase “the kingdom of heaven,” and they think it refers to heaven, but it doesn’t.  It means the same thing, in fact, as “the kingdom of God.” God’s Kingdom is something we see throughout the Bible, from beginning to end.  It did not begin in the New Testament.  In fact, Paul writes that Abraham was the first to hear the gospel of the kingdom (Galatians 3:8).  Obviously, then, if Abraham was the first to hear its message, it did not begin in the New Testament, but with Abraham himself.

You see, God did not intend to create a religion through the crucifixion and resurrection, but to fulfill a promise that He had made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and to open the way into His Kingdom for all people, Jew and non-Jew alike.  Consequently, when we focus solely on the cross, and not on the Kingdom, we miss the point and purpose for the cross.

A BRIEF OF THIS SERIES

In this three-part series, we have been examining a belief that Christianity has traditionally had about what happened at the cross.  There are many who teach that when Jesus died on the cross, He actually nailed the law of God to the cross.  However, if you remember in the first part of this study, we examined Colossians 2:12-23 to examine if the text truly states that Jesus “nailed the Law of God to the cross.”

However, what we discovered was that Jesus DID NOT nail God’s Law to the cross, but our sins and the penalty of our sins.  Therefore, Colossians 2 does not, in fact, state what many Christians, pastors, ministers, evangelists, and even missionaries say that it means.  But what about Ephesians 2:15?  Does this verse prove that Jesus nailed the law of God to the cross?  But before answering this question, we need to give some background information.

THE IMPORTANCE OF A WHOLE BIBLE PERSPECTIVE

To understand this verse in context, we must understand the gospel of the Kingdom proclaimed by Jesus and His disciples, including the Apostle Paul.  Most Christians do not understand that to properly understand the New Testament, including the gospel, we must understand it within the context of the Old Testament.  This is why the Old Testament was given first and why it is so important, because it sets up the foundation, framework, and context in which the New Testament is to be understood.  The problem is that much of Christianity tries to understand the New Testament, including the gospel, apart from the Old Testament, which only results in misinterpretation, misunderstanding and error.

THERE’S MORE TO THE OLD TESTAMENT THAN THE FALL

When it comes to salvation and the gospel message, there’s more to it in the Old Testament than just the creation and fall of man; however, when you hear the gospel being presented by Christians, you wouldn’t think so.  This issue, though, is not new to Christianity; in fact, it goes back to almost its very beginnings.

Now what I found interesting in my research is that in the oldest Christian creeds, the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed, there’s not even the mention of the fall of man. But in the sermons of Paul in the New Testament (Romans 5, for example) and later, the early Church Fathers, it is highlighted on, but not in these creeds.  Instead, they begin with a statement that paraphrases Genesis 1:1, and then goes right into the New Testament, as if the Old Testament has no importance whatsoever in regard to what our core beliefs should be.  The following is a comparison of the beginning of these two creeds.

THE APOSTLES CREED

THE NICENE CREED

 I believe in God, the Father Almighty,Creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come to judge the living and the dead.

 

We believe in one God,The Father, the Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth,Of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,…
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried.  On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

As we can see, it moves from God being the Creator right into Christ and the New Testament.  Now in “The Nicene Creed,” there is one other line that references the Old Testament, and that deals with the Holy Spirit (further down than what’s shown).  In this creed, in its description of Him, it states, “He has spoken through the prophets.”  Other than this, again, this is the extent of what it has to say about the Old Testament Scriptures.  Both creeds in their entirety can be seen on Christianity Today’s website, Christian Bible Studies, in the article “The Nicene and Apostles’ Creed: A close look at these two creeds define what Christians believe” by JoHannah Reardon (30 July 2008).  And even now, among mainstream Christianity, the Old Testament plays little relevance to salvation and the gospel message.

CHRISTIANITY PREACHING “A PARTIAL GOSPEL”?

By preaching a message based almost solely on the New Testament, except for Genesis
1-3, Christianity has ended up preaching a partial gospel, rather than the full gospel. Now, there are many ministries which call themselves “full gospel,” but their beliefs are still based primarily on the New Testament and, therefore, they are not really full gospel.  To put it simply, a gospel that’s not based on the WHOLE BIBLE is NOT full gospel.

WHAT IS “THE KINGDOM OF GOD/HEAVEN”?

As I mentioned earlier, the main focus of Jesus’ ministry was “the gospel of the kingdom.” In fact, this was the heartbeat and pulse of all that Jesus died and taught.  For example, in the beginning of His ministry, Mark summarizes Jesus’ message as –

The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.  (Mark 1:15)

A parallel to this verse is seen in Matthew 4:17, it reads,

From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

Notice that Mark uses the phrase “the kingdom of God,” but Matthew uses “the kingdom of heaven.”  They are just two ways of saying the same exact thing.  Also notice that in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus calls this message about the kingdom of God “THE GOSPEL.” And when you research these two phrases, you will discover that researchers will say that the phrases “kingdom of heaven” and “kingdom of God” are not found in the Old Testament, and that the Pharisees are the ones who began using them.   However, this statement that they are not found in the Old Testament implies that these phrases represent a different concept than what we find in the Old Testament Scriptures, which is not true.

The first reference to God’s Kingdom can be found at the end of the song of Moses in Exodus 15, “And the LORD shall reign forever and ever” (Exodus 15:18).  But later, when the last judge and first prophet Samuel was old, the people asked for a human king to reign over them.  This upset Samuel, but he prayed to the LORD for the people, who then told Samuel,

Hearken to the voice of the people in all that they say unto you: for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them.  (I Samuel 8:6-7)

Samuel then anointed Saul as king, but then when Saul kept being disobedient to the LORD, He told Samuel to anoint David.  And throughout the Psalms, many of them written by David, the kingship of God is proclaimed.  For example,

Hearken unto the voice of my cry, my KING and my God: for unto You will I pray.  (Psalm 5:2; Emphasis Mine)

The LORD is KING forever and ever: the heathen are perished out of His land.  (Psalm 10:16; Emphasis Mine)

Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the KING of glory shall come in.  Who is this KING of glory?  The LORD strong and mighty, the LORD mighty in battle.  Lift up your heads, O ye gates; even lift them up, ye everlasting doors; and the KING of glory shall come in.  Who is this KING of glory? The LORD of hosts, He is the KING of glory.  Selah.  (Psalm 24:7-10; Emphasis Mine)

But it was near the time of David’s death, that he announced to the people that God had chosen Solomon to be the next king over Israel.

Yet, the LORD, the God of Israel, chose me from all the house of my father to be king over Israel forever.  For He has chosen Judah to be a leader; and in the house of Judah, my father’s house, and among the sons of my father He took pleasure in me to make me king over all Israel.  And of all my sons (for the LORD has given me many sons), He has chosen my son Solomon to sit on the throne of THE KINGDOM OF THE LORD over Israel.  (I Chronicles 28:4-5; Emphasis Mine)

The phrase translated into English as “THE KINGDOM OF THE LORD” is the Hebrew malkhut YHVH.  After the Babylonian exile, evasive synonyms were created for the covenantal name of God (YHVH), so instead of using His covenantal name, they would use these words instead, such as “heaven,” “the power,” “the name,” or “God.”  So “the KIngdom of YHVH” became “the kingdom of heaven” or “the kingdom of God.”

So is Israel “the kingdom”?  Israel is part of the Kingdom, but it is not the Kingdom itself. Notice what David said:  “He has chosen my son Solomon to sit on the throne of the Kingdom of the LORD OVER ISRAEL.”  If God’s Kingdom were Israel, those last two words would not be needed.  Therefore, God’s Kingdom involves more than the nation of Israel. It actually involves BOTH the created physical universe, which includes the earth, the nations, and the people and nation of Israel, AND the invisible universe, or what is commonly called “the spiritual realm.”  So this brings us then to the next question, “What else do we need to know about the Kingdom?”

ONE KINGDOM BECOMES TWO

After Solomon dies, his son Rehoboam takes the throne.  However, when the people ask that the heavy tax load be lightened, Rehoboam refuses, which results in a split in the kingdom, forming “the kingdom of Israel” (the northern kingdom) and “the kingdom of Judah” (the southern kingdom).   These two kingdoms end up continuing to rebel against God and worshiping idols.  After centuries of warning them to repent, God “divorces” the northern kingdom (Jeremiah 3:8), and He uses the Assyrians to remove them from the promised land, a picture of removing them from His Kingdom.  However, God did not divorce the Southern Kingdom of Judah.  He did have them taken into captivity for 70 years, but He did not give them a “certificate of divorce” as He did with the northern kingdom.

GOD’S PROMISE TO RESTORE THE TWO KINGDOMS INTO ONE

Throughout the writings of the Hebrew prophets, God promises after divorcing the northern Kingdom (the kingdom of Israel; also called “Ephraim”) to restore them back again into one kingdom with the southern kingdom of Judah.  We see, for example, in Ezekiel 37:19-22,

Thus says the LORD God; Behold, I will take THE STICK OF JOSEPH, which is in the hand of Ephraim, and the tribes of Israel his fellows, and will put them with him, even with THE STICK OF JUDAH, and make them ONE STICK, and they shall be ONE in mine hand.  And the sticks whereon you write shall be in your hand before their eyes.  And say unto them, Thus says the LORD God; Behold, I will take the CHILDREN OF ISRAEL [the NORTHERN KINGDOM] from among the heathen, whither they be gone, and will gather them on every side, and bring them into their own land: And I will make them ONE NATION in the land upon the mountains of Israel; and ONE KING shall be king to them all: and they shall be no more TWO NATIONS, neither shall they be divided into TWO KINGDOMS any more at all:

God’s promise is that one day, He would restore the NORTHERN KINGDOM back together again with the SOUTHERN KINGDOM, and He would make them ONE KINGDOM, ONE NATION, again under ONE KING [Messiah].  And not only do we find this promise of restoration in Ezekiel, but also in Hosea, as well as many of the prophets.

In the book of Hosea, God has Hosea give Gomer’s three children names that prophecy regarding God’s divorce of the northern kingdom of Israel.  Her first child, a son, he names Jezreel, for God says,

for yet a little while, and I will avenge the blood of Jezreel upon the house of Jehu, and will cause to cease the kingdom of the house of Israel [the northern kingdom] (Hosea 1:4)

And then, Gomer’s second child, a daughter, God said to name Lo-ruhamah, because –

for I will no more have mercy upon the house of Israel [the northern kingdom]; but I will utterly take them away.  But I will have mercy upon the house of Judah [the southern kingdom], and will save them by the LORD their God, and will not save them by bow, nor by sword, nor by battle, by horses, nor by horsemen.  (Hosea 1:6-7)

And then, Gomer’s third and final child, God told Hosea to name Lo-ammi because God’s message to the northern kingdom of Israel was –  “for you are not My people, and I will not be your God.”  (Hosea 1:9)

And yet in spite of this, Hosea prophecies to the northern kingdom of Israel,

Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured nor numbered; and it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, “Ye are not My people, there it shall be said unto them, Ye are the sons of the living God.  Then shall the CHILDREN OF JUDAH [the southern kingdom] and the CHILDREN OF ISRAEL [the northern kingdom] be gathered together, and appoint themselves ONE HEAD, and they shall come up out of the land: for great shall be the day of Jezreel.  (Hosea 1:10-11)

And later on, He prophecies,

For the CHILDREN OF ISRAEL [the northern kingdom] shall abide many days without a king, and without a prince, and without a sacrifice, and without an image, and without an ephod, and without teraphim:  Afterward shall the CHILDREN OF ISRAEL [the northern kingdom] return, and seek the LORD their God, and David their King; and shall fear the LORD and His goodness in the latter [or last] days.  (Hosea 3:4-5)

What is the promise?  That God is going to restore the two kingdoms back together again into one nation under one king, Messiah.  This is “the gospel (good news) of the kingdom” proclaimed by Jesus and His early disciples, that the time had arrived for this process of restoration to begin.  So what were the Jews to do?  “Repent and believe the good news.”

if we look at the context in which the atonement of Messiah [Christ], Isaiah 52:13-53:12, and even the promise of the New Covenant [or Testament] is given, Jeremiah 31:31-34, we will find that BOTH of them are given in the same context as the promise of the restoration of Israel.

The Promised Restoration of Israel
(Jeremiah 30:1 – 31:30)
The Promised Restoration of Israel
(Isaiah 48:12 – 52:12)
The Promise of the New Covenant
(Jeremiah 3!:31-34)
The Promise of the Atonement through Messiah (Isaiah 52:13-53:12)
The Promised Restoration of Israel
(Jeremiah 31:35–33:26)
The Promised Restoration of Israel
(Isaiah 54:1 – 55:13)

This is also why the disciples asked the Lord prior to His ascension, “Lord, will You at this time restore again the kingdom of Israel?” (Acts 1:6)  They understood the Kingdom concept, the connections, but what they didn’t understand was that bringing the northern and southern kingdoms back together into one kingdom would not occur all at once, but over a long period of time.  The northern kingdom had been scattered throughout all the nations of the world, and at this point, they had been scattered and sifted among the nations for at least 700 years.  Finding them would not be easy, so in asking the question, the concept was right, but the timing was off.   Therefore, to understand the Atonement or the New Covenant apart from the restoration of Israel is to remove it from its immediate context; and thereby, opening the door to misinterpretation, misunderstanding and error.

MISSING PIECES OF THE GOSPEL MESSAGE?

The cross was not about just “the forgiveness of sins,” so when people died, they could go to heaven.  There’s a lot more to it than that.  Jesus death on the cross accomplished many things:

  • His death on the cross paid the price for our sins, and the penalty of our sins; thereby, providing forgiveness of sins, and freeing and liberating us from the power and control of sin in our lives, and therefore, allowing us to to receive the Holy Spirit and live sanctified, holy lives before Him.
  • His death on the cross fulfilled the promise that God made to Abraham in Genesis 15, thereby moving the foundation and entry point of the Abrahamic covenant from a promise made in a vision to a concrete historical event: the death, burial and resurrection of Messiah [Christ].
  • His death on the cross secured the land of Israel for the Jewish people, and the people returning from the northern tribes forever.  It is no longer based on a promise, but on the death, burial and resurrection of Messiah [Christ].
  • His death on the cross provided the means through which God could keep His promises to the northern and southern kingdom to bring them back together again into one nation, one kingdom, under one King, Messiah.

Salvation is BOTH INDIVIDUAL AND NATIONAL.  However, the message that traditional Christianity teaches is only INDIVIDUAL, they have dropped the message of the SALVATION OF NATIONAL ISRAEL or they see this as something that will happen AFTER “the Church Age.”  But what Christians call “the Church Age” is really God reaching into Israel and the nations, and drawing to Himself and to His Kingdom, THREE GROUPS of people:

  • Those from the Southern Kingdom of Judah (the Jewish people);
  • Those from the Northern Kingdom of Israel;
  • Those from the other nations of the world (the non-Jewish believers).

And it is these three groups that God is bringing together to formulate ONE NEW KINGDOM, the KINGDOM OF YHVH, or what Jesus calls in the New Testament, “the Kingdom of God” or “the Kingdom of heaven,” or what Paul calls “The Good Olive Tree” (Romans 11:24) or “the One New Man” (Ephesians 2:15).

God has not forgotten His promise to His people Israel.  He has been busy trying to bring them back to Himself through the centuries, in spite of the fighting, division, and persecution of Christianity towards Judaism and the Jewish people.  Nor has Christians been the only ones to persecute the Jewish people, the Muslims have also had their hand in this as well.

So as you can see, without a thorough understanding of the Old Testament, then we really do not properly understand the New Testament, the gospel itself,, or what God is trying to ultimately accomplish since the Old Testament gives us the foundation, framework and context for understanding what we read in the New Testament.

 

 

And as we will see, in the last part of this three -part series, the restoration of Israel is also the backdrop for properly understanding Ephesians 2.

 

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