The Message of Jesus, Part 3
Restored to the Father as His children, the Message of Jesus restores humanity’s destiny as custodians of creation. We’re commissioned to partner with Jesus in His restoration plan for the earth.
Table of Contents
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Where Are We Going?
In this article, we look at God’s Purpose: His purpose for humanity.
In our previous two articles, we covered important ground.
In the first article, God’s Character, we saw that Jesus came to reveal God’s nature. To put a finer point on this, Jesus came to remind a people hopelessly lost and entrenched in religion that God was, in fact, their Father. And their Father longed for a personal, intimate and meaningful relationship with them.
In other words, Jesus came to reveal God’s Fatherhood. This foundational revelation is critical to grasp, as we are only as secure and strong as our revelation of God.
In the second article, Personal Identity, we saw that in restoring us to the Father, Jesus forever addressed our identity problem. We are no longer lost, broken and dysfunctional. Instead, restored to the Father, we are restored as children of God.
In other words, because God is first and foremost a Father, we are first and foremost children.
I am not a mistake, an accident, a fluke or the product of random mutation.
And neither are you.
We are a child of God. Loved by the Father and precious to Him.
Our identity is derived from God’s nature.
Loved unconditionally by our Father, it’s our privilege and pleasure to honour Him with our lives in a spirit of worship and gratitude.
This is the first part of doing God’s will. To learn and follow His ways, to grow up as mature sons and daughters, who represent Him well.
The second part of doing the will of God is partnering with God in His purpose for creation, using our time, talents and treasures to play our part in His plan for humanity.
This is what we look at in this article.
What is the Gospel?
So let’s start with a question that may at first seem unconnected from our topic.
What is the Gospel? What does the good news mean?
We use the word frequently and widely. Yet, when you ask people what they think the word means, you get a wide range of answers—most of which revolve around getting saved and going to heaven.
Yes, getting saved. And going to heaven.
While salvation and heaven are incredible indescribable blessings, they do not constitute the Gospel message.
In fact, when we conflate them with the Gospel, we miss the vital bit in between—the part that the Gospel actually addresses.
That is, God’s purpose for creation. And its gripping central theme: our role as the custodians of the earth.
It’s hard to put this into strong enough words.
By conflating getting saved and going to heaven with the Gospel, we misunderstand God’s purpose for creation, and we fudge our mandate on the earth.
To put it bluntly, we default on our destiny.
Instead of being salt and light, we’ve largely retreated into the four walls of the sanctuary.
Rather than transform society, Christendom has largely majored on the minors and become distracted by a thousand trivial pursuits.
To quote Jesus, we’ve put our “lamp under a basket” (Matthew 5:15) … and blamed the devil for turning out the lights.
Amen … or O me!
According to Jesus
So, again, let’s ask the question. What is the Gospel?
In Mark 1:14, 15, we read,
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.’”
So, according to Jesus, the Gospel is the Kingdom of God.
The good news is the King has come to restore humanity to the Father and to restore His purpose for all creation.
Now, importantly, this was not some new plan.
Rather, it was a re-envisioning of God’s original purpose revealed in creation: a re-commissioning of humanity’s dominion mandate. To put it plainly, Jesus used a colloquial political phrase, one used by the Roman Emperors no less, to contextualise His original purpose for His first century audience.
According to Genesis 1 and 2, God created humanity for two reasons:
- To resemble Him: that is, to reveal His nature as image bearers, His children.
- To represent Him: that is, to steward the created world as custodians on His behalf.
While this purpose was distorted through the Fall and further corrupted by Religion and Empire, the good news is that now, God’s original plan is fulfilled in Jesus, the Model Human and the Promise of a New Humanity.
In Jesus, we are restored to the Father, a relationship that restores both humanity’s identity and destiny.
Yes, our identity: children of God called to resemble Him.
And yes, our destiny: custodians of creation called to represent Him.
God’s original plan is indeed His restored plan.
Let’s say it another way.
King Jesus has come to establish His Kingdom on earth, to align the created world to the harmony of heaven, and to do so through the redeemed, reunited to the Father and recommissioned as custodians of all creation.
Yes, the redeemed. A new humanity.
You and me.
Children of the Father and custodians of the earth.
What an incredible privilege!
Responding to the Gospel
So, how do we respond to this invitation?
Our immediate two-fold response to the Gospel is captured in Jesus’ opening declaration:
The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”
(Mark 1:15, italics added)
Repent and believe.
Now before you nod your head and say, “Check. Got that mastered already!” it’s critical to grasp these words in the context of the Gospel of the Kingdom.
The word “repentance” (Greek: metonoia) literally means a “change of mind”.
To repent is not a once-off event or a prayer we pray; rather, it is a continual change of thinking that results in a change of living—evidenced by “fruits of repentance” (Luke 3:8) that include:
- Godly sorrow for sin (2 Corinthians 7:10)
- Confession of sin (1 John 1:9)
- Forsaking of sin (Psalm 119:58-60)
- Restitution where possible (Luke 19:8)
- Hatred for sin (Ezekiel 6:9-19)
- Turning towards God (1 Thessalonians 1:9)
- A wholehearted desire to please God (Colossians 3:23)
In other words, while repentance certainly includes renouncing personal sin, Jesus was calling His audience to completely overhaul their Empire-framed thinking, to renounce their dependence on Caesar, to defect from the Empire and complicit Religion, and to rethink everything in light of His Kingship.
We are to repent—not just from personal sin—but from the Empire-riddled thinking that shapes our worldview and that defines our attitudes and perspectives. It is a commitment to unlearning the ways of Caesar and re-learning the ways of the King.
Repentance means turning away from every system, not just every sin, that robs our affection for God and our allegiance to Him.
Consider the first New Testament message Jesus did not preach.
In Acts 2, we get the first public message after Jesus’ ascension. It’s a good passage to highlight because it shows us how the disciples interpreted Jesus’ message.
After Peter told a crowd baffled by the happenings on the Day of Pentecost that they had crucified the promised Messiah (Acts 2:14-36), the convicted audience asked, “what shall we do?” (v. 37).
Peter’s first response was, “Repent…” (Acts 2:38). And then he expanded on what he meant:
And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, ‘Be saved from this perverse generation’.”
(Acts 2:40, italics added)
“With many other words” (not a quick repeat-after-me prayer), Peter unpacked precisely what the implications were.
He called them not just to turn from their personal sin but to renounce and defect from the corruption of their day. “Be saved from this perverse generation” literally means, “save yourselves from this crooked generation”, as many translations choose to translate it.
In other words, the emphasis was on repentance and extricating oneself from the affection-stealing, allegiance-robbing systemic thinking of society. It was about taking responsibility and taking action.
There’s no mention of “getting saved” or “going to heaven”. There’s no hint of post-mortem guarantees or threats.
In fact, Peter’s message of Christ exalted in authority and power, along with references to King David (Acts 2:25-35), was loaded with a sense of urgency to establish God’s Kingdom in the here and now.
Peter’s altar call, if you like, was a far cry from the evangelistic appeal we often hear today, which tends to emphasise eternal assurance upon repeating a few words verbatim, the meaning of which the “sinner” probably has little understanding.
In contrast, Jesus invited people on a journey, a journey of repentance and dying to self-interest, a journey of disentangling oneself from the corrupt systems of Empire and Religion. A journey of imitating Him and applying His teachings.
Thus, repentance is a clarion call to an extensive and drastic overhaul of life and being, where we not only abandon our self-centred agendas, but we also reject every system that enriches and feeds our self-seeking appetites. Only by defecting from the corrupt systems of Empire and Religion that pander to our self-interests (and then insidiously enslave us), can we truly entrust ourselves to our Father and His transcendent Kingdom.
The word “believe” (Greek: pistis) means, “to trust in another and another’s word”. It refers to trust in God that produces a conviction of heart and results in action. (The word “believe” is also translated “faith” in our English Bibles.)
By faith, we put our full confidence in God’s character and His words.
Like repentance, faith is active, not passive—and it’s not merely a once-off act or a prayer we pray, but a continual response to God and His ongoing revelation to us.
While repentance turns one away from the Empire and dependence on Caesar, faith plugs one into God and His Kingdom purpose.
We’ve got the faith thing waxed, right?
Yes, we’ve been taught how to trust God, and to ask Him for things, our “daily bread” (Matthew 6:11). But what if, while we’ve perfected our prayers around asking for things, He’s been waiting for us to ask Him for the perspective and power to liberate the planet? To answer a prayer we actually have faith to believe: “Your Kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).
What I mean is this: maybe for all our bluster, our faith has been too small. Too civilised. Too tame, even. What if this generation of believers began to believe, truly believe? Not merely for their needs to be met (which, of course, is a valid starting point) … but believed, with mountain-moving faith, for the restoration of creation and the transformation of society, and then backed up this belief with exploits that actively worked towards making this a reality?
When Jesus spoke of mountain-moving faith (Mark 11:12-14, 21-23), He may well have had Rome in mind, for Rome was famously built on the seven hills. Whether this was the intent or not, Jesus’ followers moved the mountains of opposition of their day, tackling the societal dysfunction and injustice of an Empire that oppressed all under its domain.
Thus, faith means putting our full confidence in God’s character and His words … and wholeheartedly believing in God’s restoration plan, actively participating in its fulfilment.
In simple yet profound terms then, “repent” and “believe” were the starting points in Jesus’ day, and they are the beginning points today. Without first defecting from Empire and Religion, and believing God’s ancient intent for the planet, we’ll continue to settle for same old, same old. Or stop at false finish lines.
False Finish Lines
Jesus proclaimed the Gospel of the Kingdom, not the ‘gospel of salvation’ or the ‘gospel of the church’. This is not about semantics or wordplay; these are important distinctions to avoid stopping at false finish lines.
Gospel of the Kingdom vs. Gospel of Salvation
The Gospel is that the King has come to establish His Kingdom on earth and to do so through the redeemed. The miracle of salvation is the starting point. However, it’s not the end goal.
Jesus revealed that He is both the “Door” (John 10:7) and the “Way” (John 14:6). Both realities must be grasped. We cannot know forgiveness without finding saving grace in Jesus the Door, but we cannot understand our dominion destiny without following Jesus the Way. The early church was called “the Way” (Acts 9:2) because they had found a revolutionary new way to live.
As mentioned earlier, settling for the ’gospel of salvation’ reduces God’s eternal purpose to getting saved and going to heaven. Too many otherwise sincere believers make their bed at the Door waiting for heaven when the point is to follow the Way of the King. Now, here … on this earth.
I remember the day it dawned on me that while I wore, in a sense, the “helmet of salvation”, I had little clue what the “whole armour of God” was (Ephesians 6:11, 17). Like a spiritual streaker, I was doing more harm than good!
The Good News is that the King has come to rule and reign on earth and through us, His Kingdom-ekklesia, to advance His Kingdom in every arena of society. The Gospel is that, in Him, we are restored to our God-given destiny as custodians of this earth. To partner with Jesus is His restoration project for all creation.
God’s original plan is still His eternal plan and is now His fully restored plan (Genesis 1:26-28; Ephesians 3:9-11; Revelation 5:8-10).
And that’s the Gospel of the Kingdom.
Gospel of the Kingdom vs. Gospel of the Church
As a youth pastor, nearly three decades ago, the whole ball game became “The gospel of the church”. I certainly considered myself sincere but, looking back, it became all about the success of “our church” and sadly, too often about getting “bums in the seats and bucks in the basket”.
After encountering the Gospel of the Kingdom, I realised the distinction. In “church world”, the Kingdom of God is simply one of many topics that serve the church’s purpose (or in the worst-case scenario, simply a topic in the sermon schedule every now and again).
When the King, and His Kingdom, is the focus, the church is the organ and means through which God releases His Kingdom purposes. Think about the implications of the Biblical metaphors of church. A family, a body, a building, an army, a bride … are not ends in themselves; they all exist for a purpose above and beyond themselves. Yes, the church is God’s chosen means to usher in the Kingdom, but the King and His Kingdom ought to be our consuming focus and unwavering goal.
However, this is not to be dismissive of the church. There are a growing number of people who, burnt by their experience of church, say things like: “I have a heart for the Kingdom, but I can’t stand church. It’s all about the Kingdom; I don’t need the church”. But that is like saying, “Life is all about breathing, we don’t need lungs. Lungs complicate things. Lungs can pack up; they get old and restrictive; life is all about breathing!”
Just like you cannot breathe without lungs, you cannot grasp the Kingdom without embracing the church. The church is to the Kingdom what lungs are to breathing. Yes, it is all about the Kingdom, but the church is God’s chosen “organ” to advance His Kingdom.
10 Comparison Points
You may find the below comparisons helpful in thinking through the differences between the Gospel of the Church and the Gospel of the Kingdom.
Language: We go to church vs. We are the church
Rather than defining ourselves by a ‘holy’ meeting or a ‘holy’ building we attend on a ‘holy’ day; as a community, we understand that we are “a royal priesthood, a holy nation” (1 Peter 2:9)—as God’s people, we the church, ought to manifest His Kingdom Presence wherever we go.
Prayer: “God, bless what we are doing?” vs. “Father, what are You blessing?”
Rather than asking God to bless the clever plans we have spent hours concocting; as a community, we look to discern what the Father is doing and cooperate with His revealed will. Jesus explained that He only did what He saw the Father doing (John 5:19, 30).
Impact: “How do we get people to come to us?” vs. “How do we go and serve people?”
Rather than defining our impact by how we get people to leave their comfort zone to come to ‘our world’; as a community, we resolve to leave our comfort zone to serve people in ‘their world’; where they are at. Jesus said, “As the Father has sent Me, I also send you” (John 20:21).
Focus: Individual Need vs. Corporate Destiny
Rather than focusing on our personal needs with a ‘me-centred gospel’; as a community, we focus on maturing as a Christ-filled family, confident that as we “seek first His kingdom” Father God is faithful to look after our needs (Matthew 6:33).
Priority: Meetings vs. Relationships
Rather than embarking on a religious ‘schedule of meetings’; as a community, we engage in a communal lifestyle, prizing our relationships—meeting in ways that strengthen these relationships. Jesus came to give “life abundantly” (John 10:10) not meetings redundantly.
Commitment: Performance & Results vs. Process & Journey
Rather than measuring our effectiveness by our perceived ‘performance’ and canned ‘results’; as a community, we value the process we’re on and the people we’re becoming as we journey together—knowing that as we sow and water, it is God who gives the increase (1 Corinthians 3:6).
Mindedness: Temporal, Short-ranged vs. Eternity, Long-ranged
Rather than circumstance and need focused decision-making; as a community, we live with a big picture, purpose-informed perspective, knowing that we are ‘training for reigning’ in “the life that now is and of that which is to come” (1 Timothy 4:8 c. 1 Corinthians 6:2, 3).
Leadership: Tight-fisted & Controlling vs. Open-handed & Equipping
Rather than holding things tightly and micro-managing the church as if we own it; as leaders in a community, we hold things lightly—not loosely—that is, as responsible stewards we selflessly serve and release others knowing the “government rests upon His shoulder” not ours (Isaiah 9:6).
Structure: To Contain & Maintain vs. To Release & Send
Rather than prioritising structure over relationships that restricts and limits people; as a community, we build from relationship to structure instead so that we serve and release one another into our God-given ministry and destiny: “in honour giving preference to one another” (Romans 12:10).
Effectiveness: Appearances – ABCs vs. Wisdom: Faith, Hope & Love
Rather than gauging our effectiveness on skin-deep appearances such as “Attendance, Buildings and Cash Flow”; as a community, we seek “the wisdom from above” (James 3:17) to excel in our “work of faith”, “labour of love” and “patience of hope” (1 Thessalonians 1:2-8).
Where to Now?
Yes, we’ve barely scratched the surface in this short article. The Message of Jesus is indeed a comprehensive vision that encompasses every domain of reality and every sphere of society.
It is not limited to the four walls of the sanctuary. It’s certainly not merely a topic on the church sermon schedule.
This website is an attempt to tackle the many implications of this all-transforming message. And this article is but an introduction. (If it has whet your appetite for more, tackle the comprehensive content included for you in the Notes below.)
So, before we dive into various topics related to it, let’s summarise the Gospel of the Kingdom message one more time.
In Jesus, we are restored to the Father, a love relationship that restores our identity and recommissions us as custodians over all creation.
Thus, the Message of Jesus reveals (1) God’s character, (2) our personal identity, and (3) God’s purpose for humanity.
It’s on this foundation that we, as a new humanity, seek to partner with Jesus in creating a better world.
In the Message of Jesus series, we looked at the three components of Jesus’ Message. We explored His revelation of God’s Father-heart and how this reunion of love restores humanity identity as children of God and humanity’s destiny as custodians of all creation.
Through the rest of this website, we explore the many and varied implications of the Message of Jesus. However, I recommend that you work your way through the Kingdom Perspectives series starting with Generous Orthodoxy and Unbounded Love.
The Message of Jesus governs how we relate to other believers.
We have far more in common with other believers than what we don’t. And what we have in common has far greater substance than what doesn’t.
The Message of Jesus governs how we relate to all people.
Jesus smashed the bounds of family, communal and national love, modelling a boundless love that includes everyone: our neighbour, the stranger and our enemy.