By Mike Willis
In recent years, much has been written to criticize the gospel preaching of a previous generation, stating that they preached the church instead of Christ. One brother did a study of restoration sermons to conclude that restoration preaching has always had a fundamental flaw in not preaching the core gospel message — the message of the cross. Bill Love wrote, “From the very first something of the core gospel was missing in our Restoration preaching” (The Core Gospel 152).
Another brother has recently written that when one preaches “the one true church,” “the one that worships right,” “the one that teaches the truth on baptism,” etc. he has fallen into a trap that stresses allegiance to a movement instead of allegiance to Christ. “Such an emphasis involves preaching ourselves. It’s sectarianism,” he wrote (Christianity Magazine 15:1, 17).
A generation has arisen that is unwilling to preach sermons that contrast the Lord’s divinely revealed church with the denominations of men. Some do not want sermons that emphasize such things as the following: (1) One must be a member of the Lord’s church in order to be saved; (2) Water baptism is a condition for salvation; (3) The New Testament reveals a pat- tern for the worship of the church; (4) The New Testament reveals a pattern for church organization; (5) The church that wears an unrevealed name is guilty of sin. Such sermons are offensive to our religious neighbors and, therefore, should not be preached. Without expressing this conviction so boldly as our liberal brethren have done, some among us apparently have reached the same conclusion, if one can judge by what is no longer being preached in meetings and taught in bulletins. (How long has it been since you heard a sermon on the “identifying marks of the church of Christ”?)
Please consider whether or not one moves away from the central message of the gospel when he preaches on the church.
The church is known by various names, including the “kingdom.” The figure of the “kingdom” emphasizes the royal rule of King Jesus. Luke records that Jesus revealed to his Apostles “the things pertaining to the kingdom of God” after his resurrection (Acts 1:3). Indeed, he preached the kingdom both before and after his death. The word “kingdom” occurs 158 times in 150 verses in the KJV. Most of those appearances occur in the Gospels. Matthew used the word kingdom 56 times in 54 verses; Mark used it 21 times in 19 verses; Luke used it 45 times in 43 verses; John 5 times in 3 verses. The Gospels which record the life of Jesus use the word “kingdom” 127 times in 119 verses, more than any other part of the New Testament! One is immediately drawn to this conclusion: one cannot faith- fully preach Christ unless he preaches what Christ revealed about the kingdom! The dichotomy that is created between preaching Christ and his church is a false dichotomy.
Jesus Commanded Men to Preach the Kingdom
The Lord himself went out preaching the kingdom.
And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people (Matt. 4:23).
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 (Matt. 9:35).
And he said unto them, I must preach the kingdom of God to other cities also: for therefore am I sent (Luke 4:43).
Furthermore, he commanded that his Apostles and other disciples do the same.
And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand (Matt. 10:7).
And he sent them to preach the kingdom of God, and to heal the sick (Luke 9:2).
Jesus said unto him, Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God (Luke 9:60).
The man who does not go forth preaching the kingdom does not do what Jesus commanded that men do!
The Meaning of “Kingdom”
The word “kingdom” is used in a variety of ways in the New Testament. It sometimes is used of the kingdoms of men (Matt. 12:25; 24:7; etc.). However, it is used to refer to the kingdom of Christ in two senses:
1. The Church. Thayer says, “Jesus employed the phrase kingdom of God or of heaven to indicate that perfect order of things which he was about to establish, in which all those of every nation who should believe in him were to be gathered together in one society, dedicated and intimately united to God, and made partakers of eternal salvation. This kingdom is spoken of as now begun and actually present, inasmuch as its foundations have already been laid by Christ and its benefits realized among men that believe in him” (97).
This was the kingdom that Jesus spoke about being near “at hand” (Matt. 4:17). He said, “Verily I say unto you, That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power” (Mark 9:1). Jesus promised to give to Peter the “keys” of this kingdom (a figure that compares the kingdom of God to a palace and the keys being used of “the power of admitting into it and excluding from it,” Thayer 97) and then identified this kingdom as the church (Matt. 16:18-19).
And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
This kingdom is a “spiritual kingdom” (in contrast to one in which its citizens establish its goals with military force, John 18:36) which does not come with “observation,” because it is “within you” (Luke 17:20-21).
Jesus promised to drink the fruit of the vine with his disciples in the kingdom. He said, “But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matt. 26:29). We “commune” with the Lord each Lord’s day when we partake of the Lord’s supper in his kingdom, the church.
The kingdom/church was established on the day of Pentecost following the resurrection of Jesus. Those who have been “born again” are citizens in the that kingdom (John 3:3, 5). First century saints were already holding citizen- ship in that kingdom (Col. 1:13-14). It was established in their day.
2. Heaven. The word “kingdom” is also used by the Lord to refer to the blessings of heaven. Thayer continues, “But far more frequently the kingdom of heaven is spoken of as a future blessing, since its consummate establishment is to be looked for on Christ’s solemn return from the skies, the dead being called to life again, the ills and wrongs which burden the present state of things being done away, the powers hostile to God being vanquished” (97). Because the kingdom/church that Christ established is an eternal kingdom (Dan. 2:44), a kingdom that cannot be shaken (Heb. 12:28), a kingdom that will be delivered up to the Father when Jesus comes again (1 Cor. 15:24), heaven itself is called the kingdom of God.
This usage occurs in many passages. When Jesus spoke about the danger of trusting riches, he uses the word in this sense. He said,
Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved? But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible. Then answered Peter and said unto him, Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore? And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, 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. And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life (Matt. 19:23-29).
Notice in this text that the “kingdom of heaven” is equivalent in meaning to being “saved” and inheriting “eternal life.” A similar usage occurs in Matthew 25:34 where inheriting the kingdom is equivalent to participation in the Wedding Feast of the Son (Matt. 25:10), entering the “joys of the Lord” (Matt. 25:21, 23), and “everlasting life” (Matt. 25:46). Entering the kingdom is the opposite of eternal damnation in Mark 9:47 — “And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.”
To preach the “kingdom,” as Jesus commanded, one must preach about both uses of the kingdom. Those who wish to preach about “everlasting life” but not about the church are only preaching half of what the Lord taught about the kingdom. Inasmuch as only those who are citizens of the kingdom on earth (church) will participate in the heavenly kingdom, one most certainly must be preaching what Christ said about his kingdom.
Except Ye Be Converted, You Cannot Enter the Kingdom
Jesus taught that one must converted to enter the kingdom of God. He said,
Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and be- come as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 18:3).
When Nicodemus came to Jesus, the Lord told him how to enter the kingdom.
Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God (John 3:3-5).
The moral qualifications for entrance into the kingdom of God are as follows: (1) One must be poor in spirit. In the Beatitudes, Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3). This spirit is the attitude that realizes that one cannot save himself; without Christ he is eternally lost. This must be followed by other traits. Jesus continued, “Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted” (Matt. 5:4). The blessing to those mourning is to those who mourn over their sins, not merely unhappy people. “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:5). The “meek” are those who “receive with meekness the engrafted word” (James 1:21). Meekness is that yielding disposition that submits its will to the will of God. “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled” (Matt. 5:6). One must earnestly desire righteousness in order to receive it.
(2) One must repent of his sins. When Jesus went forth preaching the good news of the kingdom, it was coupled with the command “repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 4:17; cf. 3:2).
(3) One must be “born of the water and of the Spirit” (John 3:3, 5). This is a reference to water baptism as a condition for membership in the kingdom.
(4) One must “obey” the Lord. Jesus said, “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 7:21).
When one preaches this message, he is sowing the seed of the kingdom into the hearts of men (Matt. 13:3-9, 18-23). Some men’s hearts will be like the wayside ground, some like the stony ground, some like the thorny ground, and some like the good ground. Not all will receive Jesus’ word, but only those who do can be born again.
Those Outside the Kingdom Are Lost
Jesus said as much and we dare not preach any less. Consider his words:
And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west (Gentiles, mw), and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. But the children of the kingdom (the Jews, mw) shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt. 8:11-12; cf. Luke 13:28-29).
The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; and shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear (Matt. 13:41-43).
Outside the kingdom there is “outer darkness,” “weeping and gnashing of teeth,” being cast into a “furnace of fire” where there is “wailing and gnashing of teeth.” The conclusion is obvious: Unless one is a citizen in the Lord’s kingdom, he is eternally lost!
Some Things Jesus Emphasized About Citizenship
1. Those who break the least of his commandments cannot be a citizen in the kingdom. “Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:19-20).
2. One should seek the kingdom of heaven above every- thing else. Jesus said, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matt. 6:33). In his parables of the Treasure in the Field (Matt. 13:44-45) and the Goodly Pearl (Matt. 13:46), Jesus emphasized that one must be willing to give up everything in order to attain the kingdom. Some may even be required to become “eunuchs” for the kingdom of heaven’s sake (Matt. 19:14).
3. One must show a humble disposition. Jesus said that men must be converted and become as a little child, rather than have a competitive disposition that seeks a lordly position over men (Matt. 18:1-4).
4. The “Tares” in the kingdom will be removed at Judgment. In his Parable of the Tares (Matt. 13:25-40), Jesus emphasized that those men who are unfit “members” of his earthly kingdom (the church) will be separated from the “wheat” by his angels on the day of judgment. He compared how the gospel draws different men to a fisherman throwing out his net, saying,
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind: which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away. So shall it be at the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth (Matt. 13:47-50).
Those who put their hands to the plow and then look back are not fit to enter the kingdom of heaven (Luke 9:57).
Men should never tire of preaching the kingdom of God. One cannot faithfully preach Christ without preaching what Christ revealed and preached about his kingdom. Those who are ashamed of what Christ revealed about his kingdom are ashamed of Christ! Jesus said, “Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38). Some brethren appear to be ashamed of what Christ said about his kingdom and, for that reason, are trying to create a less offensive message that will be more readily received by the world. Let us not be ensnared by the false message that we need more “Christ centered preaching” and less “church centered preaching.” It is a false dichotomy.