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False Antinomy: Jesus’ Kingdom Gospel Versus Paul’s Salvation Gospel
Jesus' victorious Satan-crushing gospel = Paul's cross-and-resurrection salvation gospel.
Dear friends and supporters:
The church exists because of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel is at the heart of our message. We’re not just kingdom people. We’re gospel people. In fact: because we’re kingdom people, we must be gospel people. But we can’t reverse this order. We’re not kingdom people because we’re gospel people; we’re gospel people because we’re kingdom people. (See “The Kingdom Point of View”).
One way to understand this is to think about the alleged tension between Jesus and Paul. Four almost 200 years liberal scholars have tried to pit Jesus against Paul. And not only liberals; some conservatives too.
Consider first the gospel Jesus preached. We read in Mark 1:14–15,
Now after John was put in prison, 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.”
Clearly, for Jesus, the kingdom of God was an urgent, present reality that demanded repentance and belief in the gospel.
In Matthew 4:23–24, we get a more specific picture about what this gospel preaching is:
And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the Kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people. Then His fame went throughout all Syria; and they brought to Him all sick people who were afflicted with various diseases and torments, and those who were demon-possessed, epileptics, and paralytics; and He healed them.
If you’ve read the gospels, particularly the synoptic gospels, you know that between the bookends of the birth narratives at the beginning and the passion narratives at the end, Jesus is mostly doing three things publicly: preaching the gospel of the Kingdom, healing the sick, and exorcising demons. This isn’t incidental to his ministry. This is near the heart of his ministry. If you take the kingdom and the healing and the exorcisms out of the gospels, there’s no gospel left.
Clearly, casting out demons and healing the sick are intimately related to the kingdom of God that Jesus himself embodied.
Now think about the apostle Paul, who is God’s specially selected interpreter of the Lord’s redemptive work.When Paul summarized the gospel for the Corinthians in the first epistle, chapter 15, he seemingly paints a very different picture than we encounter in the gospel accounts. He summarizes the gospel as Christ death, burial, and resurrection. Certainly the gospel is bigger than this, but it’s not smaller. The good news is that Christ died for our sins, rose again for our justification (Romans 4:25), and that all who believe in him will have eternal life (Romans 10:9). This is just the message that Paul and the other apostles preached in the book of Acts.
This sounds very different from the gospel Jesus preached. Of course, he hadn’t yet died and risen, and again and again he did say that he would do that, but the gospel as Jesus preached it is more closely linked to supernatural healing and exorcisms than his death and resurrection.
Does this mean there’s a conflict between Paul and Jesus? The liberals certainly believe so. So do many Christians. In fact some of them, called dispensationalists, believe that Jesus preached a different gospel than Paul. This lands them in quite a quandary, since in Galatians 1 Paul writes that if anybody preaches a gospel different from his, he will be cursed. I’m fairly certain that Paul wasn’t cursing Jesus.
This book champions Reformation truth within the contemporary Western church and culture. What, for example, do (or should) sola Scriptura and sola fide mean today? The historical situation of early 16th century northern European culture isn’t that of early 21st century North American culture. While the fundamental truths of the Reformation are unchanged and unchangeable, how those truths look and must be emphasized is culture-dependent.
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Jesus Taught Paul the Gospel
How, then, could Jesus and Paul be preaching the same gospel? First, we know that they did. The writer of Hebrew says (2:3-4):
[H]ow shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him [that is, the early apostles], God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will? (emphasis added)
So, this gospel to which all these miracles bore witness was the gospel of Peter and Luke and John. But recall that the early apostles agreed with Paul about the gospel. They listened to his message and gave him the right hand of fellowship (Galatians 2:6–9; Acts 15:1–29). In other words, Paul was preaching the same gospel they preached, and the gospel they preached was the same gospel Jesus preached.
What’s the connection then? We get an answer in Jesus’ parable of the strong man whose house was raided. We read in Matthew 12 that Jesus healed a demon-possessed man, and the Pharisees unbelievably said among themselves that Satan had given him this power, and then we read this:
But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to them:
“Every Kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand. If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his Kingdom stand? And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges. But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God surely the Kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house.” (vv. 25–29, emphasis supplied)
Note carefully what Jesus is saying. In casting out demons, he’s demonstrating that the kingdom of God has invaded the world in an intense, concentrated way. Satan is the strong man, who has amassed great worldly wealth, but Jesus is stronger, and has plundered his goods, and bound the strongman. In the words of the old spiritual, “Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down.”
Jesus himself embodies the kingdom of God. Jesus is the Kingdom of God in the world. Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8), and his miracles were proof of that. Demonic possession and these illnesses are usually satanic works, and Jesus came to destroy them, and he will eventually destroy them all.
The Jesusian-Pauline gospel
This is what Jesus started doing, and Paul’s summary of the gospel tells us how he was able to do that. Christ died for our sins to bear the penalty, and rose again in great victory over the power of sin. The kingdom comes in its fullest measure that it can in a fallen world, before eternity, because of Christ’s victorious death and resurrection and present reign.
This is, the gospel of the kingdom in both Jesus and Paul is the same gospel from different perspectives. In fact, you can’t have Paul‘s summary of the kingdom as Christ’s death and resurrection if you don’t have Jesus’ kingdom incursion into history destroying the works of the devil. Here’s the key: Jesus comes destroying the works of the devil, and Paul describes specifically how he is able to do that. This is the single, undifferentiated “Jesusian-Pauline” gospel.
Therefore, the gospel of the kingdom is the good news of God’s extensive, redemptive sovereignty in the earth exercised in his Son. N. T. Wright puts it this way:
[The gospel] is not … a system of how people get saved. The announcement of the gospel results in people getting saved…. But ‘the gospel’ itself, strictly speaking, is the narrative proclamation of King Jesus…. When the herald makes a royal proclamation, he says ‘Nero (or whoever) has become emperor. He does not say, ‘If you would like to have an experience of living under an emperor, you might care to try Nero.’ The proclamation is an authoritative summons to obedience ….The gospel is indeed the announcement of a royal victory.
This means that the gospel redeems sinners, but can never be limited to individual soteriology (salvation doctrine). (See “Recovering Regal Soteriology”).
The gospel of Jesus Christ was constantly on the lips of the first Christians. The gospel is the good news, centrally that Jesus Christ died and rose again. But why did he die and rise again? So that he could ascend into the heavens and take the throne with his Father and expand his Father’s kingdom here on earth. If you’ve read Acts chapter 2, you’ll find that this is what Peter quite explicitly says. Jesus is presently ruling from heaven, and he poured out the Holy Spirit in Jerusalem so that the gospel would spread over the earth.
This gospel is specifically called the gospel of the kingdom (Mt. 24:14). Paul preached it to the end of his life:
Then Paul dwelt two whole years in his own rented house, and received all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him. (Acts 28:30–31, emphasis supplied)
In fact, we could simply say that the gospel is the message of the kingdom. God advances his reign chiefly by the successful preaching of the gospel. By the way, this is why we need to get the gospel right. If we get the gospel wrong, God’s kingdom will be impaired. And if we don’t see God’s kingdom consistently expanding, it’s probably because we’re preaching a diluted or defective gospel.
Creating radical distinctions between the teachings of Jesus and Paul, between Old Testament and New Testament, law and gospel, grace and obedience, spirit and matter, and “already” and “not yet” guts the unified biblical message: one God, one plan, one kingdom, one church, one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one gospel, one law, one hope.
What God has joined together, let not man put asunder.
Tonight starts the “Kingdom Culture Far As The Curse Is Found” conference in McAllen, Texas at Church of the King (Dr. Ron Smith, Pastor). Gary DeMar of American Vision will join me in speaking. I hope to see many of you. More information is here.
When Sharon and I get home, we’ll be planning our next trip to Vancouver, BC, where our older son Richard will be ordained to the diaconate (in preparation for full ministerial ordination) in early March.
In April we’ll be headed again to central Minnesota for the Common Slaves Conference led by the bold, godly pastor Eric Anderson. Dates and topics announced soon.
The Runner Academy of the Ezra Institute will be held in early June in Golden, BC, and I’ll say more about this later.
CCL couldn’t keep up the accelerating pace without you friends. Thank you deeply for your prayer and money.
For the one Jesusian-Pauline gospel,
First, the Kingdom
Below are Brian Mattson’s lecture “The Christian Kingdomview” and mine “First the Kingdom.” The conference was God-saturated and exceeded all expectations. Thank you for praying. Plans are underway for another mid-winter conference in 2023. If you’re benefitted by these talks, please share them.
Here are some conference photos:
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Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., “Geerhardus Vos and the Intepretation of Paul,” Jerusalem and Athens, E. R. Geehan, ed. (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1971), 232–234.
N. T. Wright, What St. Paul Really Said (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 45, 47, emphasis supplied.