|This is He whom Seers in old time
Chanted of with one accord;
Whom the voices of the Prophets
Promised in their faithful word.|
We have seen that, in the providence of God, John the Baptist was sent to proclaim to the world that |The Kingdom of Heaven| was at hand, and to point out the King. And as soon as the Herald had raised the expectation of men by the proclamation of the coming Kingdom, our Lord began His public ministry, the great object of which was the founding of His Kingdom for the salvation of the world. And, as S. Matthew tells us, He |went about all Galilee teaching in their synagogues and preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom| (S. Matt. iv.23); or, as S. Mark relates, |After that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom of God, and saying, The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent ye, and believe the Gospel| (S. Mark i.14, 15).
Thus the King took up and continued the message of His Herald, only adding to John the Baptist's preaching of repentance the call to believe the Gospel -- to have faith in the good tidings which He came to tell of the Kingdom of Heaven and of God. And from this time to the end of His ministry we find that the Gospel of the Kingdom was the continual subject of His teaching. Thus S. Luke records that He declared once to a multitude which would detain Him, |I must preach the Kingdom of God to other cities also; for therefore am I sent| (S. Luke iv.43). And, a few chapters after, we read, |It came to pass afterward that He went throughout every city and village, preaching and showing the glad tidings of the Kingdom of God| (S. Luke viii.1). And then, after a while, |He called His twelve disciples together, and gave them power and authority over all devils, and to cure diseases. And He sent them to preach the Kingdom of God| (S. Luke ix.1, 2). And having thus spent the years of His public ministry in publishing the good news of the Kingdom, He declared towards the end of it, as He was foretelling to His disciples the signs of His future coming to judgment, |And this Gospel of the Kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come| (S. Matt. xxiv.14).
And what is the Gospel of the Kingdom?
To form the answer we must look to the general teaching which runs through the Bible. As soon as Adam fell from his high estate as God's child, the Deliverer was promised, |who should bruise the serpent's head| (Gen. iii.15). Ages passed with only a dim hope of a coming Saviour; until at length God gave to Abraham the distinct promise that the Deliverer should arise from his posterity; saying, |In thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed| (Gen. xxii.18). Again ages passed; and David was raised up from amongst the descendants of Abraham, and of the predicted tribe of Judah, and to him the promise was made, |Thine house and thy kingdom shall be established for ever before thee; thy throne shall be established for ever| (2 Sam. vii.16). We know that princes of the family of David succeeded one another on the throne for 450 years, until the Jews were carried into captivity; but we learn from the Psalms that it had been revealed to David himself that this promise was not to be fulfilled in any such earthly and temporal manner. And his faith and hopes are expressed continually in glowing words, describing a Kingdom of Messiah, which should be universal and without end, a Kingdom of righteousness and peace.
Thus in Psalm ii. the nations of the world are represented in rebellion against God and the Messiah. |Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against His Anointed| (Ps. ii.1, 2), i.e. Messiah -- Christ. And then the decree of the universal sovereignty of Messiah is proclaimed: |I will declare the decree: the Lord hath said unto me, Thou art My Son; this day have I begotten Thee. Ask of me, and I shall give Thee the heathen for Thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for Thy possession| (Ps. ii.7, 8). Then in Psalm xxii, after the mysterious sufferings of Messiah have been set forth, His Kingdom is again proclaimed as universal: |All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the Lord; and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before Thee| (Ps. xxii.27). And, to pass over other passages, in Psalm lxxii. Messiah's everlasting reign of righteousness and peace is described in glowing words: |They shall fear Thee as long as the sun and moon endure, throughout all generations. In His days shall the righteous flourish; and abundance of peace so long as the moon endureth. All kings shall fall down before Him; all nations shall serve Him. His Name shall endure for ever; and men shall be blessed in Him; all nations shall call Him blessed| (Ps. lxxii.5, 7, 11, 17).
Many years passed; and then Isaiah proclaimed in prophecy, |Behold a King shall reign in righteousness| (Isai. xxxii.1); and in many a glowing passage described the peace and glory of His Kingdom. And Jeremiah yet more clearly announced, |Behold the days come, saith the Lord, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth. In His days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely; and this is His name whereby He shall be called, The Lord our Righteousness| (Jer. xxiii.5, 6). And Daniel was directed to explain the king's dream, as a vision of earthly empires, which should be overpowered |by the Stone cut out without hands;| for |the God of Heaven shall 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| (Dan. ii.44, 45). And Zechariah sang, |Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee| (Zech. ix.9).
Many years were yet to pass before the fulfilment of these promises should be commenced, through the setting up of the everlasting sovereignty of Messiah. But at last the fulness of time was come; and the Angel Gabriel appeared to the Virgin Mary at Nazareth, and after addressing her as the favoured mother of Messiah, declared of her Son, |He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His father David; and He shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of His Kingdom there shall be no end| (S. Luke i.32, 33).
This then was the Gospel -- the Gospel of the Kingdom -- the Gospel of God. The good news was published abroad that the long-promised King of the seed of David was come. Messiah's Kingdom was to be set up; and all men were invited to enter in and be saved.
The King Himself went forth to preach the good news, and to describe His Kingdom and the character of His subjects. But by what means could He persuade the people that He was their King? We often wonder that the Jews were so slow to believe in Him; but perhaps we do not realise their difficulties. There was one great obstacle which stopped all but a very few from accepting Him. And it was this. |The Kingdom of Heaven| which He preached as the Kingdom of Messiah was altogether different from anything which they had expected, because it was a spiritual Kingdom. No doubt the words of the Psalmist and of the Prophets ought to have led them to expect the Son of God as King. And, if they had nurtured any real love of God in their hearts, they would have been ready to become His subjects. But it was not so. They expected a conqueror to free them from the yoke of their enemies. And the enemies which He came to conquer were spiritual -- the great enemy of the whole human race -- not the earthly foes of the one race of Israel. They expected the glory and pomp which are the outward signs of the authority to rule; and they could not understand the position which He claimed to hold who had come in such humility that He said, |The Son of Man hath not where to lay His head| (S. Matt. viii.20). |Tell us,| they said, |by what authority doest thou these things?| (S. Luke xx.2). And, therefore, we need not seek far to find the reason of the small success which followed the preaching of the Gospel of the Kingdom. Only a spiritual power can move men in spiritual things, and a man must first give himself up to the guidance of the Holy Spirit before He can take in spiritual truths. If men resist the teaching of God, no evidence will move them. |If they hear not Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead| (S. Luke xvi.31). |The Kingdom of Heaven| could not be set up until the Holy Ghost was given, because the Jews were not prepared to accept Messiah as the King of a spiritual Kingdom; and only the Holy Ghost could move the hearts of men to desire spiritual blessings, and to hope for spiritual rewards.
So our Blessed Lord preached the Gospel of the Kingdom to unwilling hearts; and was compelled to |upbraid the cities wherein most of His mighty works were done, because they repented not| (S. Matt. xi.20). Only the few received Him -- the few who were |babes| in spirit -- whilst |the wise and prudent| (S. Matt. xi.25) rejected Him.
There were two kinds of evidence to which He continually appealed in His arguments with the Jewish rulers in proof of His claims upon their hearts. The first was the direct testimony of John the Baptist: |Ye sent unto John and he bare witness unto the truth| (S. John v.33). For |when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou? he confessed, I am not the Christ| (S. John i.19, 20). |The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God| (S. John i.29). And he declared that he knew Him in consequence of the visible descent of the Holy Ghost upon Him at His baptism; and (said he), |I saw and bare record that this is the Son of God| (S. John i.34). The other evidence was |greater witness than that of John,| namely, the miracles which He wrought, for (said He) |the works which the Father hath given Me to finish bear witness of Me that the Father hath sent Me| (S. John v.36); and |though ye believe not Me, believe the works| (S. John x.38). Other kinds of evidence were also employed; such as the direct testimony of the Father in the voice from Heaven, and in the immediate answers to prayer in the working of His miracles -- |The Father Himself which hath sent Me, hath borne witness of Me| (S. John v.37) -- and also, the statements of Holy Scripture, describing His person and His work so clearly that He could say to the Jews, |Search the Scriptures; for they are they which testify of Me| (S. John v.39). But we know the result. All the evidences were in vain. The Jews in general refused to believe in Him as their King. The ruling classes not only rejected Him, but they also hindered others from acknowledging Him. So that He cried out against them, |Ye shut up the Kingdom of Heaven against men; for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in| (S. Matt. xxiii.13).
And there were but very few exceptions. The Apostles and the small band of disciples professed their faith in Him. |Whom do men say that I am?| He asked them once; |and they said, Some say John the Baptist; some Elias; and others, Jeremias or one of the Prophets.| None accepted Him as Messiah, their King. |But whom say ye that I am?| He went on to ask; |and Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God| (S. Matt. xvi.13-16). So also Nathanael, the |Israelite indeed,| boldly proclaimed his belief: |Rabbi, Thou art the Son of God; Thou art the King of Israel| (S. John i.49). And there was one bright flash of enthusiasm which carried all along exultingly to welcome Him on His last visit to the Holy City; when the crowds spread branches of the palm-trees, and cried, |Hosanna to the Son of David: blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord| (S. Matt. xxi.9). |Blessed be the King that cometh in the name of the Lord: peace in Heaven, and glory in the highest| (S. Luke xix.38).
But it was within a few days after His triumphal entry into Jerusalem that the rulers of the Jews took the Lord Jesus, and having condemned Him in their own council for blasphemy, for professing Himself to be Messiah -- |the Christ| -- |the Son of God| (S. Luke xxii.67-71), they charged Him before the Roman governor with treason, for saying |that He Himself is Christ a King| (S. Luke xxiii.2). And this accusation, it may well be noticed, was not a different charge from the former. All that they did was to put cleverly before the earthly governor the earthly side of the spiritual crime, for which they had themselves condemned Him. If He was Messiah, He was their King. They condemned Him for professing to be Messiah; a charge on which no civil tribunal could give judgment. But professing to be Messiah, He professed to be King; and this they represented as an offence against the state, and to be punished accordingly. And the result was, that by the Providence of God He was not stoned to death, as was His first martyr Stephen, on the charge of blasphemy; but He was handed over to the civil power to be crucified for treason, as claiming to be King. And it came to pass, that after their persistent rejection of Him, the Jewish rulers were compelled to see Him acknowledged upon the cross as their King, in the words of the superscription containing the charge on which He was condemned. His cross became His throne, with His title above it, |Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews| (S. John xix.19). Fit throne for Him who was |obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow| (Phil. ii.6-10). And all the efforts of the Jews to alter it were in vain. Pilate at length was firm: |What I have written, I have written| (S. John xix.22).
Thus seemed to end the Kingdom which our Lord and His disciples had been inviting men to join. They could preach no more the Gospel of the Kingdom, for the King was put to a shameful death. |The chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to be condemned to death, and have crucified Him. But we trusted that it had been He which should have redeemed Israel| (S. Luke xxiv.20, 21). So spake even the disciples in their despair. They had |trusted,| as they supposed, in vain.
Verily God's ways are not as man's ways.
It may be noticed here, that the expression |preaching the Gospel| is used in these passages of Holy Scripture in a very wide sense. It is not limited to the preaching of the great doctrine of the Atonement, but it refers to the general purpose for which Christ came; which was, to gather all the world into His Kingdom of grace and salvation. See Bishop How's Commentary on the Gospels, under S. Luke viii.1. (Publ. by S. P. C. K.)
See this very skilfully drawn out in a little devotional Commentary on |Five Psalms of the Kingdom,| by Rev. G. F. Saxby. Published by J. T. Hayes, London.
See below, notes on pp.50 and 83.