Chapter 1, Part 4
The Kingdom is the Theme in the Preaching of
John the Baptist and Christ
We all know that the Reformation came about because the Roman Catholic Church at that time had departed from the Scriptures. It held firm to the church traditions in all things and did not use the Scriptures as the standard for faith and living. The Roman Catholic traditions did not originate from the Scriptures but is a synthesis of many other religions. As other religions require 'regeneration by the individual's own effort', the Catholic Church also proposed that doing good works is the condition for salvation. Other religions have idols, so the Catholic Church also worships the so-called statues of 'saints'. Other religions require seers and priests to be the mediator between man and god, so the Catholic priests also became mediators. Other religions teach that good works are needed for going to Nirvana or to enter Paradise, so the Catholic Church also taught that believing in Jesus and going to mass are for the purpose of going to heaven. The Catholic Church even cheated the gullible by proclaiming; "Once the coin rings in the coffer, the soul in purgatory is immediately set free!"
After the Reformation, the new religion indeed abandoned many practices accumulated in the old church; unfortunately, many customs and thinking which are not scriptural were carried into the new religion and practiced as if nothing had changed. For example, the purpose of believing in Jesus is to go to heaven. While this unscriptural gospel jargon is well known to all, the Scriptures never say so! Can you tell me which Scripture verse tells us that the purpose of believing in Jesus is to go to heaven? This does not mean that there is no heaven! Certainly heaven exists or else the angels would have to hang around in the sky! To believe in Jesus allows one to go home but one should not believe in Jesus for the purpose of going home! We all know that in whatever we do, the first step is most important. Just like the saying goes: "A good start is halfway there". If the first step is headed in the wrong direction, then one will end up in the wrong destination.
The Chinese churches have always proclaimed hot and heavy this message that "To believe in Jesus is for the sake of going to heaven". How can such a message not make believers selfish by nature? Since the first step is to benefit 'self' (to get to heaven by believing in Jesus), certainly everything else will be entirely self-centered! How can they no longer live for themselves but for the Lord who died and rose from the dead? Some might say, "Did not the Bible say that by believing in Jesus, one shall have eternal life? Is not eternal life heaven?" One does not know whether to laugh or cry at this kind of Bible misinterpretation. 'Eternal life' here is clearly 'life that is forever' and it is talking about God's life. All life on earth is temporal and only God's life is eternal. Also the Scriptures explain that this eternal life can be obtainable instantly! The moment a person believes in Jesus, he receives eternal life at that moment. You don't have to wait until the coffin lid is nailed shut. It is sad but true that this kind of misinterpretation has done serious damage to many people. May the Lord have mercy upon us! What then is the purpose of believing in Jesus? Let us see how God reveals to us through John the Baptist and Christ.
A. "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at Hand!"
The New Testament opens with the proclamation of the Kingdom message because Jesus Christ is what God promised to Abraham. He is that descendant from whom "I will make nations of you and kings shall come forth from you". Jesus Christ is also about whom He promised to David: "I will establish the throne of His Kingdom forever". In other words, Christ was born because of the Kingdom. It is just as the angel announced to Mary, "He will reign over the household of Jacob forever and His kingdom will have no end"! So the Kingdom is not only His burden when He began his preaching ministry, but also that of His precursor John the Baptist who also preached, "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!" (Matt. 3:1)
The Greek word for 'at hand' can refer to a closeness in time as in the word 'approached' in "the harvest time approached" (Matt. 21:34). It can also refer to closeness in space as in 'approached' in "when they had approached Jerusalem" (Matt. 21:1). These words 'at hand' and 'approached' is the same Greek verb. So 'the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand' points out that the time of the coming of the Kingdom is near. Moreover, it also points out that the location of the Kingdom is very close. It is so close that it is right in front of our eyes. Those who are willing can all enter into the Kingdom at any time and the only condition is repentance. This is why Christ and His precursor use the same theme: "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!”
'Repent' is not 'regret'. Regret is a kind of self correction and blaming when a person discovers that he should not have done something after the fact. This is like David after he cut off the edge of Saul's robe and his conscience bothered him (1 Sam. 24:5). Repent is also not 'remorse' which is an encounter with failure leading to a loss of self-confidence like when Judas felt remorse and "he went away and hanged himself" (Matt. 27:5). 'Repent' is an inner change that is accomplished by God just as the Scriptures say: "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you ..." (Ezek. 36:26). So true repentance is not man's doing nor something that man can do after critical analysis. It is a master piece by God and initiates an internal change within man. It appeared that John the Baptist did not have the faintest idea about how this procedure can come about. All he understood was that to enter into the Kingdom, there must be repentance - an internal change. But he did not know how this change would occur. So, all he could do was to tell the crowd certain modifications of behavior (Refer to Luke 3:11-14). However, these behavioral modifications cannot result in any internal changes. Therefore, his mission was: "Telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus". In brief, the Kingdom message preached by John required Jesus to augment it in order to be complete (Refer to Acts 19:4-5).
B. "The Kingdom of God is at Hand, Repent and Believe in the Gospel!"
The Scriptures tell us that Jesus came to Galilee to preach the gospel of God. Besides saying "The Kingdom of God is at hand, repent", Jesus also added, "believe in the gospel!" The latter was not in John's message. (Mark 1:15) This is because Jesus knows that a genuine modification in behavior must first have a change of heart. To have a change of heart, one cannot effect it by one's own efforts. It requires external assistance - belief in the gospel. The reason is that "the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes" (Rom. 1:16). This great power is accomplished by the death and resurrection of Christ (1 Cor. 15:1-4). He suffered death, resurrected, ascended into heaven, and was exalted as the Prince and Savior in order to grant mankind a 'repentant heart' and the 'grace of forgiveness' (Refer to Acts 5:30, 31). So the gospel is that which the almighty One has accomplished for us in every respect so that we can have life through believing in Him. What then is 'believe'? 'Believe' is neither merely getting baptized and joining a church nor it is participating in church activities. But it is a genuine attitude in receiving an honored guest - respectfully inviting Jesus to come into one's heart to live. Only when He is received to live inside one's heart is then one counted as truly believing in the gospel and fulfills the requirement for entering into the Kingdom that is to come.
After the Savior proclaimed the message of the Kingdom, He continued to spread the truth of the Kingdom. He also asked the twelve disciples to preach that "the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand". Even when the seventy disciples were sent out by Him in pairs, He also told them to preach that "the Kingdom of God has come near to you." (Luke 10:9). One night, a Jewish official, Nicodemus came to visit Him and He used the opportunity to tell him the requirement to enter into the Kingdom. On another occasion, the aunt of Jesus brought her two sons and asked if He would allow them to be Kingdom personnel. Jesus used this occasion to teach them the importance of training to be Kingdom personnel. When He was talking to the disciples alone on the Mount of Olives, He clearly told them that the end will come after the gospel of the Kingdom is proclaimed to the whole world. When the thief on the cross asked Him if he could enter the Kingdom, He did not grant his request. Instead He promised him that he shall be barely saved (paradise). Even after His resurrection and before His ascension, in those forty days, every time when He appeared to the disciples, He spoke of the "things concerning the Kingdom" (Acts 1:3). The importance of the Kingdom is obvious!
The word 'Kingdom' was used in the New Testament 162 times. Approximately 75 per cent came from the Savior's mouth. So we can see that it is constantly on our Lord's mind! Unfortunately, the church in the last days has completely forgotten about the Kingdom. Consequently, when the church tries to rally, it has no power. The service of the believers has no purpose. However, 'it is never too late'. May the Chinese churches see the truth of the Kingdom quickly and recognize clearly that being born again is only the means for salvation, whereas the end of salvation is to accomplish God's desire for the creation of mankind. May we not only be called but also be chosen. May we not only have eternal life but also receive training. Then we can fulfill our heavenly Father's expectation of us and the Kingdom will soon descend!