Friday, July 15, 2005

The Gospel in the Letters (1)

I'll come back to write more about the Gospel in the Gospels and in Acts, but first I want to look at how the "gospel of the kingdom" in the Gospels and Acts was presented in the Letters.

From the list in the previous message you'll see that acts ended with Paul preaching the gospel of the kingdom. In Acts 20:24 we read that "the task the Lord Jesus has given me" was "testifying to the gospel of God's grace". Was there any difference between the "gospel of the kingdom" and the "gospel of grace"?

It's interesting that the word "kingdom" rarely occurs in Paul's letters - 16 times - while the word "grace" occurs 100 times. In fact, most of the references to the kingdom are in Jesus' teachings, and most of the references to grace are in Paul's letters. Were Jesus and Paul preaching different gospels?

Several of Paul's references to the kingdom were in the "now" sense rather than the "not yet". He was speaking of present realities when he said the following:

- "the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Rom 14:17)

- "For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power." (1 Cor 4:20)

- "For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves" (Col 1:13)

-" ... my fellow workers for the kingdom of God" (Col 4:11)

Several references are in the "not yet" sense - the final consummation:

- "the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Cor 6:9; also 6:10; 15:50; Gal 5:21; Eph 5:5. These 5 references to "not inheriting' the kingdom deserve a study of their own).

- "Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power." (1 Cor 15:24)

- "In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge ..." (2 Tim 4:1)

- "The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom." (2 Tim 4:18)

There are a couple of references which could be either "now" or "not yet" (or both?):

- "... giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you [ Some manuscripts us] to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light" (Col 1:12 - although the following verse would almost certainly force a "now" meaning here).

- "... encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory." (1 Thess 2:12)

- "All this is evidence that God's judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering." (2 Thess 1:5).

Like Jesus, Paul saw the kingdom in two primary stages - one now, another not yet.

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