(One of many Bible articles on the "Wielding the Sword of the Spirit" web site at www.matthewmcgee.org)
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Israel's Gospel of the Kingdom

Matthew McGee

It very well may be that the majority of the sermons that are preached and the Sunday school lessons that are taught in churches today are from the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Apparently most Christians have the errant notion that the words Jesus Christ spoke in His earthly ministry are more important than what Jesus Christ said through Moses, Isaiah, or Paul. But whatever their reasoning, the fact remains that the four books that chronicle Jesus Christ's earthly ministry get the majority of the air-time in most local churches. Still, these books are not fully understood for two related reasons.

1. While failing to acknowledge the perspective of those people that were present at the time, preachers usually lift all four books out of their context and anticipate revelation. Most will try to teach a passage in Luke from the context of what God has revealed in this present dispensation of Grace, that is, in light of what God gave to Paul through many "revelations" (2 Corinthians 12:7). This is despite the fact that Paul's epistles are filled with "mysteries" and things "kept secret since the world began" (Romans 16:25, 1 Corinthians 2:7, 15:51, Ephesians 3:9, 6:19, Colossians 1:26, 2 Thessalonians 2:7). Except for Jesus Christ Himself, none of the people in the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John had any clue that there would ever even be a dispensation of Grace. Believers today are Christians indwelt by the Holy Spirit. But the believers then were simply Israelites living under the Old Testament Laws of Moses, waiting for their Messiah to come and set up His Kingdom. This distinction is almost never drawn since most of our sermons teach the "Sermon on the Mount" as though all of those present in Jesus Christ's earthly ministry were just like the believers today.

2. The Old Testament is ignored. Suppose someone handed you a 100 page novel. Would you read only pages 70-95, and expect to understand the full story? On page 70 you might see a character perform a particular action, but you do not know the circumstances, who the character is, or why he is doing what he is doing. Furthermore, pages 71-95 may not explain it either, since the author assumed that the readers would start at page 1. Of course, no one in their right mind would read a novel that way. But that is basically what most Christians do with their Bibles. They ignore the Old Testament and the book of Revelation, about 75% of the Bible, and only read the 25% that is left, at best.

In this article, we will be studying various passages from Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John in the context of their proper background, the Old Testament. By that, I mean that we will not be looking through churchy-colored glasses, trying to filter the story through the yet future mysteries of our dispensation. But rather, we will view our topics in light of what the Old Testament said about them. I hope this will demonstrate a new and better way to study Christ's earthly ministry in its proper context.

First, we will look in the New Testament to see some of the things that John the Baptist, Jesus Christ, and the twelve apostles had to say about the gospel of the kingdom. Then we will study what other scriptures say, primarily what Old Testament prophecy had been saying for hundreds of years prior to Christ earthly ministry.

John the Baptist

Matthew 3:1-3 records the arrival of the forerunner, John the Baptist, as follows, "In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. For this is he that was spoken of the prophet Esaias (Isaiah), saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight." To "repent" simply means to change one's mind, and in the context of this passage, that change of mind refers to turning from sin. Likewise, we see in Luke 3:3, "And he came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins ...."

In John 1:31, John the Baptist stated why he was baptizing with water, "And I knew him (Jesus Christ) not: but that he should be made manifest (not to everybody, but) to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water." So we see that Israel's repentance and baptism would allow the Messiah to be manifested to them. Those that repented as a result of John's preaching, would later believe the words of Jesus Christ and recognize Him as their Messiah. Later in this article we will see how this water baptism also prepared Israel to be a kingdom of priests.

Who was John the Baptist and why were people supposed to listen to him? When the Pharisees asked who he was, John replied, "... I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias (Isaiah)" (John 1:23). When he said this, John the Baptist was referring to Isaiah 40:3 (written in about 712 BC), "The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God." So we see that John's arrival and message were both prophesied more than 700 years earlier.

There are also prophecies in Malachi about John the Baptist being a sign before the coming of the Messiah, "Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the LORD of hosts. But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner's fire, and like fullers' soap: And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the LORD an offering in righteousness" (Malachi 3:1-3).

Malachi also prophesied the return of Elijah. "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse" (Malachi 4:5-6).

But what does Elijah's return have to do with John the Baptist? In Luke 1:17, the angel of the Lord said, "And he (John the Baptist) shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, (Elijah) to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." Israel's readiness to receive the kingdom depended upon their repentance.

Was John the Baptist the Elijah prophesied to come? Jesus Christ said in Matthew 11:9-14 "But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet. For this is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist...from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come."

As a side note, what does the phrase "make his paths straight" mean? To help understand this, look at what the book of Isaiah prophesies about Cyrus, who would be king of the Medo-Persian empire about 200 years later (about 536 BC). "Thus saith the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden, to subdue nations before him; and I will loose the loins of kings, to open before him the two leaved gates; and the gates shall not be shut; I will go before thee, and make the crooked places straight: I will break in pieces the gates of brass, and cut in sunder the bars of iron ..." (Isaiah 45:1-2). When one's path is made straight, it means the opportunity exists for one to accomplish the Lord's predetermined plan. Isaiah makes it clear that Cyrus did not know God, but God used him to help Israel rebuild their temple. John exhorted Israel to repent and be baptized in his attempt to make the Messiah's path straight. But not all Israel would take John's message to heart. Thus, the Lord's path was not made straight, and His kingdom was not set up at that time.

Jesus Christ

A little while later, when Jesus Christ came on the scene, He continued preaching to Israel the message preached by John the Baptist. "From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand ..." (Matthew 4:17). "And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people" (Matthew 9:35).

When teaching His disciples to pray, Jesus Christ confirmed the Old Testament prophecies that the kingdom will one day be on earth. "Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:10).

The Twelve Apostles

Soon afterward, Jesus Christ commissioned the twelve to preach the gospel of the kingdom to Israel. Matthew 10:5-7 says, "These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven in at hand." Notice not only that the message was still the same, and that the disciples were forbidden to preach it to anyone but Israel.

The Apostle Peter

Even after our Lord's ascension into heaven, Peter continued preaching essentially the same message. "Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord; And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began ... Yea, and all the prophets from Samuel and those that follow after, as many as have spoken, have likewise foretold of these days ... Unto you first God, having raised up his Son Jesus, sent him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities" (Acts 3:19-26).

Now what have "all the prophets from Samuel and those that follow" prophesied about? The kingdom! They did not prophesy about the dispensation of grace in this present age. So that is not what Peter was talking about. The message was still repent for forgiveness. The prophesied Messiah was alive, and the offer of the prophesied kingdom was still valid. Peter said that the prophets "foretold of these days", meaning the kingdom was being offered to them right then and there in about 33 AD if they would just receive it. Note that, John the Baptist who preached "Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand", was included in the prophets who "foretold of these days". Therefore, while Peter spoke, the kingdom must still have been "at hand", just like John the Baptist had preached.

Notice the phrase "restitution of all things" in verse 21. What were the apostles wanting to see restored? The kingdom! Just look back two chapters to Acts 1:6 when they asked "... Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?" Here in Acts chapter 3, Peter is telling them that it is still not too late. If they would repent, Jesus Christ would return and set up His kingdom, just like the prophecies said. However, Israel would not repent and except this offer, and God has postponed the kingdom until after the yet future tribulation.

Now let's look a little more closely at what the Old Testament says about some of the elements of the gospel of the kingdom.

The Ancient Call to Repentance

The call to repent did not originate with John the Baptist. It had occurred many times in the Old Testament. "Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, saith the Lord GOD. Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin. Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord GOD: wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye" (Ezekiel 18:30-32). Several other calls to repentance from the Old Testament are listed below.

"Therefore say unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Repent, and turn yourselves from your idols; and turn away your faces from all your abominations" (Ezekiel 14:6). So the message of repentance was nothing new. It had been around for hundreds of years before John the Baptist came along.

"And the Redeemer shall come to Zion, and unto them that turn from transgression in Jacob, saith the LORD" (Isaiah 59:20).

"Even from the days of your fathers ye are gone away from mine ordinances, and have not kept them. Return unto me, and I will return unto you, saith the LORD of hosts ..." (Malachi 3:7). "... Turn ye unto me, saith the LORD of hosts, and I will turn unto you ..." (Zechariah 1:3).

"Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon" (Isaiah 55:7). John's baptism was a baptism of repentance, repentance which God required for a pardon.

The Ancient Message of the Messiah's Kingdom

Not only was John's call to repentance not new, but the message that the kingdom was coming was not new either. "All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the LORD: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee. For the kingdom is the LORD'S: and he is the governor among the nations" (Psalms 22:27-28).

Isaiah prophesied Jesus Christ's birth and eternal kingdom. "For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this" (Isaiah 9:6-7).

In Ezekiel 43:7, Ezekiel is shown "... the place of my throne, and the place of the soles of my feet, where I will dwell in the midst of the children of Israel for ever ...."

Daniel prophesied of the day when Christ's kingdom would be set up. "And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever" (Daniel 2:44). From examining the context, those who have studied the prophecies of the future tribulation may recognize "these kings" as the 10 kings who will rule in the tribulation. But the key point here is that by the time of Jesus Christ's ministry on earth, the message of the Messiah's coming kingdom had already been around for many hundreds of years.

It is "at hand".

The gospel of the kingdom or "good news" of the kingdom was "... Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 4:17). Since, as we have just seen, the call to repentance was not new, and the message of the coming kingdom was not new, then what part of this "good news" is actually new? The new part was that it was "at hand". The time for the coming of the Messiah to set up His kingdom was very, very near. It was only when Israel rejected the ascended Lord Jesus Christ that the kingdom was postponed.

Israel is to be a Kingdom of Priests

In the kingdom, Israel is to function as a nation of priests. "Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation ..." (Exodus 19:5-6). "But ye shall be named the Priests of the LORD: men shall call you the Ministers of our God: ye shall eat the riches of the Gentiles, and in their glory shall ye boast yourselves" (Isaiah 61:6).

It follows then, that since they are to be priests, the cleansing/baptism preached by John the Baptist is appropriate to prepare them for their role in the kingdom. Remember that Aaron and his sons had to be washed with water in order to become priests. "And Aaron and his sons thou shalt bring unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and shalt wash them with water" (Exodus 29:4). See also Leviticus 8:6 and Numbers 8:7. Israel's physical water baptism was symbolic of their role as priests. On the other hand, the baptism of a Christian is a spiritual baptism, by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13), into Christ's death and His body, which is risen from the dead.

Israel to Evangelize the World

As a nation of priests in the kingdom, Israel will evangelize all nations (populated by survivors of the great tribulation). Zechariah 8:20-23 says, "Thus saith the LORD of hosts; It shall yet come to pass, that there shall come people, and the inhabitants of many cities: And the inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, Let us go speedily to pray before the LORD, and to seek the LORD of hosts: I will go also. Yea, many people and strong nations shall come to seek the LORD of hosts in Jerusalem, and to pray before the LORD. Thus saith the LORD of hosts; In those days it shall come to pass, that ten men shall take hold out of all languages of the nations, even shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, We will go with you: for we have heard that God is with you." See also Jeremiah 4:2 and Zechariah 8:13.

Whereas Israel has been hated by all nations, in the kingdom, they will be recognized as a blessing to all nations. Isaiah 60:2-5 says, "For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the LORD shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee. And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising. Lift up thine eyes round about, and see: all they gather themselves together, they come to thee: thy sons shall come from far, and thy daughters shall be nursed at thy side. Then thou shalt see, and flow together, and thine heart shall fear, and be enlarged; because the abundance of the sea shall be converted unto thee, the forces of the Gentiles shall come unto thee."

A New Circumcised Heart

Deuteronomy 30:1-8 says, "And it shall come to pass, when all these things are come upon thee, the blessing and the curse ... and thou shalt call them to mind ... And shalt return unto the LORD thy God, and shalt obey his voice ... with all thine heart, and with all thy soul; That then the LORD thy God will turn thy captivity, and have compassion upon thee, and will return and gather thee from all the nations, whither the LORD thy God hath scattered thee ... And the LORD thy God will bring thee into the land which thy fathers possessed, and thou shalt possess it; and he will do thee good, and multiply thee above thy fathers. And the LORD thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live ... And thou shalt return and obey the voice of the LORD, and do all his commandments which I command thee this day."

From this we see that Israel had to return with all their heart and soul. Then God would circumcise their heart so that they would love Him with all their heart and soul, and be able to do all His commandments. Man cannot circumcise his own heart. God must do this.

God makes it clear, in Jeremiah 24:7, that this will surely happen one day. "And I will give them an heart to know me, that I am the LORD: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God: for they shall return unto me with their whole heart."

Wounds and Healing

People often think that Israel, as God's chosen people, had insight into God's program that Israel did not actually have. So let's take a look at a few passages from Isaiah chapter one that demonstrate this lack of knowledge and its association with sickness and healing. "The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib: but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider. Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the LORD, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward. Why should ye be stricken any more? ye will revolt more and more: the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores: they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment" (Isaiah 1:3-6). God referred to Israel's punishment for not repenting as sickness or wounds. Their backsliding is spoken of as a sickness with which they are "stricken" and in need of healing.

Conversely, when God will cleanse and pardon Israel, it is compared to restoring their health or healing them. Hosea 14:4 says, "I will heal their backsliding ...." Then in Jeremiah 33:6-9, "Behold, I will bring it health and cure, and I will cure them, and will reveal unto them the abundance of peace and truth. And I will cause the captivity of Judah and the captivity of Israel to return, and will build them, as at the first. And I will cleanse them from all their iniquity, whereby they have sinned against me; and I will pardon all their iniquities, whereby they have sinned, and whereby they have transgressed against me. And it shall be to me a name of joy, a praise and an honour before all the nations of the earth ...."

Once the nation of Israel repents and returns to God, their wounds will be healed.

"Yet the LORD hath not given you an heart to perceive, and eyes to see, and ears to hear, unto this day" (Deuteronomy 29:4). "Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed" (Isaiah 6:10). So we can see why Israel would not readily recognize their Messiah. They were blinded. God made "... their ears heavy, and shut their eyes ...."

Notice all of the connections between knowledge and healing in the passages above. First, Isaiah 1:3-6 says, "... Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider ... the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint." Second, Jeremiah 33:6-9 says, "Behold, I will bring it health and cure, and I will cure them, and will reveal unto them the abundance of peace and truth ...." Third, Isaiah 6:10 says, "... understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed." When God restores the kingdom to Israel, He will give them the revelation of truth and Israel will be healed.

"Moreover the light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun shall be sevenfold, as the light of seven days, in the day that the LORD bindeth up the breach of his people, and healeth the stroke of their wound" (Isaiah 30:26).

Washing the Heart

"Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow" (Isaiah 1:16-17).

"O Jerusalem, wash thine heart from wickedness, that thou mayest be saved. How long shall thy vain thoughts lodge within thee?" (Jeremiah 4:14).

Israel cannot literally wash their hearts. They must repent and turn from their evil ways to accomplish the washing.

Rewards for Obedience or Consequences for Rebellion

Whether Israel was forgiven or punished depended on them believing what God said. "Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land: But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it" (Isaiah 1:18-20). If Israel would believe God (that they were sinners) and do what He said (repent and return) they would be rewarded according to Deuteronomy 28:1-14. Back in Moses's day, Israel had to repent for forgiveness of sin just like they had to when John the Baptist preached 1500 years later. However, Israel refused their Messiah, rebelled, and in 70 AD, were devoured by the sword when their rebellion was crushed by the Romans, just as it was prophesied.

This choice may remind one of Matthew 11:13-14 where Christ explains, "For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come."

Israel's Coming Judgment

God will avenge his enemies, purify true Israel, and restore their judges. "Therefore saith the Lord, the LORD of hosts, the mighty One of Israel, Ah, I will ease me of mine adversaries, and avenge me of mine enemies: And I will turn my hand upon thee, and purely purge away thy dross, and take away all thy tin: And I will restore thy judges as at the first, and thy counselors as at the beginning: afterward thou shalt be called, The city of righteousness, the faithful city" (Isaiah 1:24-26).

Who will the judges be? The disciples are told in Matthew 19:28, "... in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel."

Zechariah 13:8-9 sheds more light on the avenging and purifying, showing us that two thirds of Israel will be the recipients of God's vengeance and the remaining one third will be purified. "And it shall come to pass, that in all the land, saith the LORD, two parts therein shall be cut off and die; but the third shall be left therein. And I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried: they shall call on my name, and I will hear them: I will say, It is my people: and they shall say, The LORD is my God." Malachi 3:2-3, which was referenced earlier, says of the Lord's return, "... he is like a refiner's fire, and like fullers' soap: And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the LORD an offering in righteousness." The purifying of Israel as gold or silver is to be done in the fiery furnace which is at Jerusalem (Isaiah 31:9), the furnace of affliction (Isaiah 48:10). See Ezekiel 22:17-22 for details of the furnace.

Summary

In Matthew 5:17, Jesus Christ said, "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil."

Again Jesus Christ speaks in Luke 24:44 "And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me."

So if we want to understand what Jesus Christ was really fulfilling in his ministry on earth, we must not anticipate revelation. That is, we must realize that many of the things we now know from Acts and the Apostle Paul's letters were still mysteries which no one but Christ Himself knew during Christ's earthly ministry. Instead, we must study the law and the prophets and the psalms in the Old Testament, because the Old Testament, not the church age, was the background for Jesus Christ's ministry on earth.

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