The Gospel Preached by the Lord Jesus
Ian Jackson, Eastbourne, England [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
There are five major discourses of the Lord Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel, each concluding with a statement indicating that He had finished what He had been saying and was now moving on to other service. Clearly, these discourses indicate the subject matter of His preaching, which focuses on matters relating to the kingdom of heaven, the rule of heaven on earth. Elsewhere, He reveals truth regarding the church and the church age, but this is a relatively small part of His ministry: it was reserved to the apostle Paul to ‘fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ’ in his flesh ‘for his body’s sake, which is the church’, Col. 1. 23, as through him the truth of the church was fully revealed, Eph. 3. 3.
The Sermon on the Mount
Chapters 5 to 7
The first recorded preaching of our Saviour closely parallels that of John the Baptist, for He called for repentance in view of the fact that the kingdom of heaven was at hand, Matt. 4. 17. He is emphatically stating that entrance into that kingdom is ethically conditioned and that the behavioural changes being demanded result from true repentance and faith, which bring about a change of heart. This connects with truth regarding the new birth, without which Nicodemus was told he could neither see nor enter the kingdom of God.
There is repeated reference in these chapters to the fact that it is not what a person says but what he does that will prove whether he is genuine. And whilst the sermon is not specifically to do with the church, as is repeatedly made evident, we must recognize that behavioural standards for members of Christ’s body are not any less than for those who are the subjects of the kingdom. In any event, those who form the church have been translated into the kingdom of His Son, Col. 1. 12, and therefore form part of the larger spiritual concept of the kingdom of God. Reality will be seen in being poor in spirit, mourning, meekness, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, being merciful, being pure in heart, peacemaking, persecution, being reviled by those who are not saved and, in it all, rejoicing. Real believers will love their enemies and will bless, though they be cursed, will do good, though hated, and, though despitefully used and persecuted by them, will pray for them. The subjects of His kingdom will secretly give alms, pray and fast, and will have more regard for heavenly treasure than earthly riches, for it is impossible to serve two masters. True subjects will not be as the hypocrites who see the mote in their brother’s eye but do not take account of the beam in their own. Above all, it is by their fruits that those who profess to be subject to Him will be known.
How pertinent and challenging is this ministry to our hearts! A profession to have entered the strait gate cannot be considered genuine if the professor is still walking as those who are on the broad and crowded road: no more will a bad tree bring forth good fruit, or a good tree bring forth evil fruit. A person may easily say, ‘Lord, Lord’ but find himself shut out, for only they who do the will of the Father in heaven enter. A house built on sand will surely be destroyed by the storms.
Our Saviour thus stresses the need for reality. This should be a great challenge to my heart. Do I profess His name but have little or no interest in His word or the place of prayer? Do my words reflect my true heart condition? Do I truly live as one who is on the narrow road that leads to life, disdaining what the broad road offers? Am I a worshipper? Is my heart towards the Lord? Let every reader consider this carefully in God’s presence, for the eternal future of each depends on reality.
The commissioning of the Twelve
This commission was not primarily to preach but it was, nevertheless, an important element to that service to which the Lord sent the Twelve, ‘And as ye go, preach, saying, The Kingdom of heaven is at hand’, v. 7. The commission was marked by conferring on the Twelve power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sicknesses and disease. This was clear evidence that the King was among them. This relates to the ‘powers of the world to come’, Heb. 6. 5, whereby man will be healed of sickness, and the devil cast out.
This was a Jewish commission and is not to be understood in terms of the commission given to the disciples in John chapter 20. It is important to note this in view of charismatic mission theology. The Twelve (cp. 19. 28) were sent neither to Gentiles nor Samaritans but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. It is not until later in the Gospel, 28. 19, that they will be sent by Him to ‘all nations’. In Acts, Luke records the sacred history of the spread of the gospel of the grace of God to Gentiles, but here the gospel of the kingdom is presented to Israel; and it is to be noted that the commission sees Israel in the land in possession of their cities and is, therefore, necessarily suspended when they are no longer in the land. This would follow the rejection of the King, as Daniel predicted, Dan. 9. 26, and the Lord prepares them from the very start for that rejection.
In an earlier article, we saw that the establishment of the kingdom in manifestation has been postponed. For careful readers of Matthew chapter 10 that truth is underlined by the clear division in the chapter. Verses 1 to 15 were fulfilled while our Lord was here, but verses 16 to 42 await a future fulfilment. How else can we explain the apparent failure in the predictions of the second part of the chapter and the clear difference between the language of verse 14 and that of the succeeding verses? This witness to the kingdom of heaven being at hand has been suspended, and will be resumed in Daniel’s seventieth week, the tribulation period. Accordingly, between verses 15 and 16 there is an undefined period, one in which the gospel of the grace of God is being ‘preached to every creature which is under heaven’, Col. 1. 23.
The mysteries of the kingdom of heaven
It is of the greatest significance that at the end of chapter 12 the symbolic act of refusing to see His mother and His brethren declared that His ministerial relationship with those to whom He had come was severed. They had refused Him. At the end of chapter 23, there is a fuller break with the nation, while He actually breaks with them at the cross. Similarly, at the beginning of chapter 13 it is of great significance that Jesus went ‘out of the house’, an action symbolic of His break with the nation.
In chapter 13, we learn that the manifested kingdom on earth is not to be set up imminently and that in the period between the rejection of the king and His coming in power and glory to establish His reign the kingdom will be ‘in mystery’. Indeed, all ‘mystery’ truth belongs to this period of undefined duration, the majority of which is the church age. This was not revealed in Old Testament times; the Old Testament is silent as to the character of the kingdom in this period.
In this chapter, we learn that the kingdom of heaven in mystery is not the church, but rather the sphere where Christ’s authority is outwardly professed. This profession might or might not be real but, where the profession is made, responsibility attaches beyond that which applies to the rest of the world. It is the sphere where the authority of the Lord in heaven is acknowledged on earth.
Space forbids full exposition of this really critical chapter but two of the parables make specific reference to the cross and what was accomplished. In verse 44, ‘the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field’. Israel is the treasure: the field is the world. Jehovah has joy in that treasure. When our Saviour came, that treasure was hid in the world, the tail rather than the head of the nations. And, when He left the world, He left that treasure where He had found it, because of the nation’s rejection of Him. Our Lord’s joy in Israel remains, however, but He is not able to share it with the nation at present. The field is the purchased possession of Ephesians chapter 1 verse 14 and when it is redeemed at His appearing and kingdom He will enjoy His treasure.
In verse 45, however, a merchant man seeking goodly pearls found one pearl of great price and to secure it to himself he sold all that He had. This is so touching. ‘Christ loved the church, and gave himself for it’, Eph. 5. 25. This one pearl taken out of the sea of the multitudes and peoples, see Acts 15. 14, in contrast to the treasure in the earth, links to the one flock, John 10. 16, the one new man, Eph. 2. 15 and the one body, Eph. 4. 4. Thus are Israel and the church distinguished at this present time.
Conditions among the subjects of the kingdom
We note only briefly that those who are the subjects of the kingdom are to be marked by humility, ruthlessness with self, interest in the welfare of others, subjection to the authority of heaven exercised on earth, and infinite forgiveness.
The consummation of the age and the coming of the King
Chapters 24 and 25
Our Saviour clearly teaches that the setting up of the manifested kingdom on earth has not been abandoned. God will again resume dealings with Israel as a nation, gathering His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. Covenants given to Abraham and David will have their fulfilment, in that a king shall reign in the land over the reunited nation. This will be considered in a future article. In the meantime, let us love His appearing, 2 Tim. 4. 9. In that day we shall ‘appear with him in glory’, Col. 3. 4, and shall reign with Him, and this demands the greatest carefulness in the way we now live.