The Gospel of the Kingdom
Have you ever had an experience where there’s been a word that you’ve heard your whole life, you’ve used many times in your life, but you’ve never really thought very much about what it means? And then you have that “a ha” moment where it finally clicks in?
I think I was well into my 20s when I figured out that we call “sandals” “sandals” because they are worn on sand, where it’s hot and so on. And I felt really smart until I told someone else and they said “You’re how old and you haven’t figured that out before?”
I’ve been having this same experience a much larger scale in recent years with this word “kingdom” or, particularly, the phrase “kingdom of God” or “kingdom of heaven.” I grew up going to church and hearing this word or those phrases used probably thousands of times over the years, but never really clued in on what it meant. For me it was just a bit of Christianese that I never paid too much attention to. And in all honesty, I was never asked to pay too much attention to these words.
But that’s been changing in recent years as I’ve been reading the Bible more carefully and reading other good books which have been helping me understand the Bible more accurately.
When you read the Bible carefully, it’s hard to miss the word “kingdom.” It’s used a lot. And not just in the Old Testament to talk about Israel’s kingdom. It shows up aa lot in Matthew, as we’ve seen and will see. Mark, Luke and John all speak often of the kingdom. The early church continued this theme. Acts 8:12 says that “…they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ…”
Acts 14 says that Paul and his team “…returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:21–22).
When Paul went to Ephesus, “he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God” (Acts 19:8). Speaking later to the elders of the church in Ephesus, He said, “I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again” (Acts 20:25).
And finally, Acts 28, the very last chapter in the book, when Paul is in prison in Rome, we read that “When they had appointed a day for him, they came to him at his lodging in greater numbers. From morning till evening he expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets…He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance” (Acts 28:23, 30–31).
And as we look at the rest of the New Testament, we see that most of the books—Romans, 1 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 2 Timothy, Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, Revelation—talk openly and often about the kingdom.
What is the Kingdom?
So what is the kingdom? We can’t ignore it; we need to understand it.
In the language of the New Testament, just like in English, the word “kingdom” is related to the word “king.” A kingdom is where a king reigns or rules. In the beginning, this world was God’s kingdom. He was the king, and you’ll remember that He appointed Adam and Eve to have dominion as His representatives here on earth. They were supposed to be like the Governor General, representing the crown here in this land.
But Adam and Eve followed the serpent and committed treason against the King. And ever since then, this world has been filled with rebellious spirits and rebellious humans who have tried to set up their own power structures in opposition to God’s royal crown.
And so God’s plan of salvation has always been about His kingdom. It’s always been about rescuing His people from these false kingdoms and bringing them back safely under His protection, His saving rule.
When God called Israel out to Mt. Sinai He said, “and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6). God promised David a Son and that He would “…establish the throne of his kingdom forever” (2 Samuel 7:13).
And what we need to hear there is not just “Oh, that’s Israel, and of course they had a king because they were all political and everything.” What we need to hear there is God’s plan of salvation unfolding. God claiming back what was His, God extending His saving rule back over humanity as He brings them back into His kingdom.
And as you know, the Psalms and the Prophets taught God’s people to pin their hopes on the Messiah, which is really just another way of saying God’s king, the One who would rule and extend salvation over the earth. And it was for that king, that Messiah, that Anointed One, that the people were waiting for during those long centuries of silence. Silence that was shattered by John’s proclamation that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” The long-awaited saving reign of God is at the door.
And now, His temptation past, His ministry begun, Jesus proclaims the the same theme, the same message, and begins to make it very clear by His words and actions that He Himself is that Messiah, that king. The Kingdom of God is at hand because the King Himself has arrived.
And that’s what our passage today is about. The arrival of the kingdom as proclaimed by the king.
We all know that the kingdom which Jesus was bringing challenged the expectations of the people Jesus ministered to. And maybe you’re starting to realize that this kingdom challenges some of your expectations as well. So the way we’re going to organize the material in our passage today is by considering what it has to teach us about the kingdom—what it’s like, and who it’s for.
So in our passage this morning we’re going to see that, first, the kingdom is for Jews and Gentiles. Second, the kingdom is for followers of Jesus. Third, the kingdom is already here. And fourth, the kingdom is not yet here.
1. The Kingdom Is for Jews and Gentiles
So let’s dive in and see how, first, the kingdom is for Jews and Gentiles. This truth shines out in the first four verses of our passage today, which speak about Jesus’ relocation to Galilee. Galilee was where He was from, far away from Jerusalem which was the cultural and religious hub of Jewish life.
There were many Jews in Galilee, but also many Gentiles. In Capernaum, for example, there was a Roman garrison and a tax collector’s booth. And Matthew understands that Jesus’ intentional relocation to this Gentile-rich area was a direct fulfillment of this prophecy from Isaiah chapter 9.
In Isaiah’s day, Galilee had been overrun by the Assyrian empire, which is why he calls it “Galilee of the nations” or “Galilee of the Gentiles.” And even in Jesus’ day, the population of Galilee was still significantly mixed between Jews and Gentiles.
But Isaiah foresees that in this dark land a light will dawn. According to Isaiah 9, that light will come in the form of a child who will be born, a son who will be given, and on whose shoulder the government will rest (Isaiah 9:6). “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this” (Isaiah 9:7).
Notice the kingdom language in that passage. And Isaiah writes that all of this good kingdom news is coming to “Galilee of the Gentiles.” And Matthew says, “here it is.” Light dawns on the darkness as the kingdom of God is preached in this land to both Jews and Gentiles.
This is confirmed by verses 23-25. As Jesus goes throughout all Galilee, He does focus on the Jewish people by preaching in their synagogues. But look at verse 24: “So his fame spread throughout all Syria.” Far beyond the borders of Israel. Verse 25: “And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.” The Decapolis and the region “beyond the Jordan” were mostly Gentile regions as well. Just like the magi, Gentiles are travelling long distances to come and follow Jesus.
So what we’re seeing here is something Matthew has been telling us all along, which is that the kingdom of God is for Jews and Gentiles. This would have been challenging to some of the Jewish people of Jesus’ day, who despised the Gentiles and called then dogs and regularly thanked God that they weren’t born a Gentile.
This might be challenging to some contemporary Christians who have been taught that Israel and the church are two totally separate entities with two totally different programs and two totally different futures. Passages like this challenge some of those assumptions by showing us that from the very beginning of Jesus’ mission, the kingdom was for Jews and Gentiles together.
And this passage prepares us for the Great Commission of Matthew 28, where Jesus will use kingdom language to tell his very Jewish apostles that “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:18–19).
So, the kingdom is for all followers of Jesus, Jews and Gentiles.
2. The Kingdom is for Followers of Jesus
The second truth about the kingdom our passage teaches us is that the kingdom is for followers of Jesus. We see this truth shine out in verses 18-22, where Jesus calls His first disciples. Don’t miss the connection here: right after He starts proclaiming that the kingdom of heaven is at hand, He meets these fishermen and says to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19).
Follow me, and I will make you the kind of people who will draw others to follow me. The kingdom is for followers of Jesus.
We should note that, for these men, “following Jesus” wasn’t poetic language. No, verse 20: “Immediately they left their nets and followed him.” And verse 22: “Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.” They walked away from family and income and began to build their lives around the person of Jesus.
That’s what the kingdom does. It does not offer Jesus as a nice addition to an existing life. It beckons people to stop their existing life and go where Jesus is going instead. We see this again in verse 25: “And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.” Those great crowds were likely not following Jesus with the devotion and commitment of Peter and Andrew and James and John. But at least at that point they were actually, actively, following the person of Jesus.
Being a part of the kingdom was a lifestyle decision. Following Jesus meant uprooting yourself from your life and going after Jesus. We’re going to come back to this idea at the end of the message, but remember this: the kingdom is for followers of the king.
3. The Kingdom of God is Already Here
Let’s speak to this third idea now, that the Kingdom of God is already here. And what I’m pointing to there are the reports of healing and deliverance that come in verses 23-24: “And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, those having seizures, and paralytics, and he healed them” (Matthew 4:23–24).
Many people, many Christians, misunderstand the healings of Jesus because they miss the connection between healing and the kingdom. But to the Jews of Jesus’ day, the healings of Jesus were more than just miracles. They were signposts that the king was here and the kingdom had arrived.
That’s because the Old Testament taught that when the Messiah comes to reign as God’s king over the world, he will totally reverse of all of the suffering and pain that have come into the world because of our sin. His kingdom will return this world to Eden.
Think about Isaiah 11. “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit” (Isaiah 11:1). That’s talking about the Messiah, God’s anointed king (see also v. 4; compare with Psalm 2:9).
And what will happen when this righteous king comes to reign over the earth? Verse 6. “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:6–9).
So in other words, when the Messiah comes to reign—when the kingdom of God arrives—He will reverse the curse and bring the world back to a Garden-of-Eden like experience where pain and death are no more.
Isaiah 35:5-6 says that when God comes to save His people, “…the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy…” (Isaiah 35:5–6).
Again, we see there an undoing of the pain and suffering caused by sin. Which implies that God is going to deal with sin itself, which we see in Isaiah 53. God’s perfect servant is going to suffer and die in the place of sinners to make them righteous. And because sin itself is death with, the effects of sin will be reversed and life in God’s kingdom will be whole and perfect again.
So if that’s all in the back of our mind, then when we read in Matthew 4:24 that he was “healing every disease and every affliction among the people,” that means one thing: the kingdom of God had arrived. The Age of the Messiah had begun. The curse of Eden was being reversed as “all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains… those having seizures, and paralytics” were healed by Jesus (v. 24).
After last week I hope you see the significance in the mention of “demons” in verse 24. The Kingdom of Heaven was at war with the kingdom of darkness, and there was no contest between the two. Dark powers who had enjoyed controlling and tormenting people fled before the King of Heaven.
So this is what the healing and deliverance ministry of Jesus was about. It was about the gospel—the good news—that the Kingdom of God was here. The Age of the Messiah had dawned and God had begun to reverse the curse. And ultimately, it was about the good news that God was about to deal with sin, once and for all. The effects of sin were being turned back in anticipation of th