Step into the study, pour yourself a cup of coffee, get comfortable and let’s enjoy the Gospel of Mark.
Our passage again this week is Mark 1:14-15. “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” (RSV) We return to this important summary of the overall message of Jesus and we must prepare to grapple with the essence of what Jesus is telling every person who will listen. We cannot pretend to understand Christianity if these words do not have life-anchoring significance for us.
Most modern Christians believe they are living in the last days. They normally base this on some form of speculative Bible prophecy. But the Bible teaches that the “last days” arrived with the coming of Christ. We see this in Peter’s statement that the time is fulfilled. The Old Testament is full of longing for the Kingdom of God to arrive. The Jews believed that”God’s time” would become evident when the “Day of the Lord” suddenly appeared. From the very beginning, however, Jesus said that the time was fulfilled. God’s day was now here.
One of the best examples of this comes from Luke 4:14-21. Jesus reads a passage from Isaiah that describes the time when the Messiah would come to earth. Jesus calmly announces that “today, this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” It is no wonder that Jesus’ hearers were puzzled, for they expected the end-of-time fireworks display. Yet here was this carpenter’s son. They judged him as a blasphemer. Yet this is the very thing Mark tells us was the premise of Jesus’ message. God’s timetable has arrived in him. All that the Old Testament prophets expected and all that the people of God have been longing for is here in Jesus.
Does this mean that all the Old Testament scriptures are fulfilled in Jesus? As we look at the complete picture of the work of Christ, we will see that this is true. All God’s promises are fulfilled in Jesus. (2 Cor 1:20). In his coming and earthly ministry, he fulfilled much Old Testament scripture, including the entire ceremonial law. In his death and resurrection he fulfilled the sacrificial system. He currently reigns as King, fulfilling the civil law and will complete his Kingdom on earth at a future “unveiling” which will fulfill all prophetic scripture. (I will just note as a side that those who say Jesus is not currently reigning as King of this age are overlooking the obvious. He reigns, but his reign is not “unveiled.” Read the book of Revelation!)
When we hear Peter on the Day of Pentecost or Paul in his letters both declaring that the last days have arrived, they are simply following their belief in the original message of Jesus. When we proclaim Christ as Lord, call people to repentance, pray against the evil strongholds of this world or set free the oppressed, we are seeing the “Kingdom Now” as Jesus announced it.
Surely by now some of my dispensationalist friends are smelling a rat! They would point out that Jesus says the Kingdom is “at hand.” Many interpret this to mean Jesus is offering the Kingdom, but that it was rejected when he was condemned and he will bring it as a later date. While I respect this view and honor the godly people who hold it, I believe it is fundamentally wrong. “At hand” is one of several ways Jesus expressed the presence of the Kingdom. Jesus often said the Kingdom of God was “near.” He implied it was present, but invisible to worldly vision. He said that the Kingdom was within his followers. The scholarly consensus is that Jesus taught the Kingdom had arrived in beginning form with his ministry, and was really present, though not in the same way it would be after his death or at his return. Nonetheless, the presence, reality, power and authority of the Kingdom are present with Jesus. The Keys to the Kingdom are given to his church. The authority of the Kingdom belongs to believers. The Law of the Kingdom is in force now. Christ reigns now as King of Kings. We invite persons into the Kingdom that is an absolute reality. I am troubled by the notion that the Kingdom has been postponed. The parables of Jesus teach that the Kingdom is a present and actively growing reality. Though we await a final consummation of the Kingdom, we are not waiting for the Kingdom to arrive.
I have explained the concept of the Kingdom of God in the previous Bible study (Mark Study 6). I will make one application before moving on. All of us who are Christians of different kinds and varieties are subjects of the Kingdom. Jesus rules. We have no right to set up our own little Kingdoms and exclude others from them based on worship style, skin color, non-essential theology, etc. Read the New Testament warning to divisive teachers and false prophets and get a sense of what a practical reality Christ wants it to be that we are all sons and daughters of God and all parts of the body under the same head. The only force that can bring real renewal to our culture is the Kingdom of God. Churches and para-churches are only “outposts” of the Kingdom. Pastors and preachers are “undershepherds” of the Shepherd-King. Beware of those who do not see this reality; those who act is if “theirs” is the Kingdom and the glory.” Let us continually pray for the Kingdom of God to come on earth as it is in heaven.
We now move on to the conditions for entering the Kingdom. The first is repentance. The word metanoia means a reversal of direction. In Christian theology, repentance has two aspects. First, we must abandon our loyalty to whatever holds authority other than God. Second, we must turn and move in the direction of obedience to God. Some misunderstand repentance as a perfect abandonment and an absolute obedience. In our fallen state, such is not possible for us. Therefore, the Bible tells us that repentance is also a continuing work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Christian (actually a gift from God.) The call to repent continues in the life of every person who follows Jesus. We are to be serious and lifelong repenters as the Holy Spirit reveals more and more of those things that hold our hearts more than the love of God.
I am sure that most of my readers are aware that the subject of repentance is enormously neglected today, especially in this era of “seeker-sensitive” worship and preaching. Jesus was a preacher of repentance, much like the Old Testament prophets. To call to repent is to confront with the deadly fact of sin and the absolute necessity of abandoning our loyalty to sin in all its aspects if we are true disciples. The message of repentance is not comfortable. It is only good news to the person who is affected by the convicting power of the Holy Spirit and sees the truth about his/her spiritual condition. (Luke 5:32, 2 Cor 7:9-10) One of the most spiritual destructive mindsets among Christians is that grace is so free and unconditional to sinners that repentance is not necessary. Romans 2:4 says that God’s kindness to undeserving sinners is what should lead us to a desire to repent! The surgical removal of this aspect of the Gospel message is serious! I would go as far as to say that any Gospel that does not clearly proclaim repentance is a false gospel worthy of condemnation.
In Jesus’ most famous parable, The Prodigal son, repentance is a major theme. (Luke 15:11ff) Jesus condemned whole cities for not repenting. (Matthew 11:20) Peter’s first instruction on the day of Pentecost was “Repent!” (Acts 2:38) How did this theme get so lost today? Belief without repentance is not true, saving faith. The requirement of perfect repentance is also a distortion, but frankly some, in seeking to avoiding being heavy handed about requiring repentance, have discarded the requirement entirely.
The second condition for entering the Kingdom is to believe the Good News. John the Baptist had proclaimed repentance and the intention to believe in the one who would follow. Now that the Messiah has arrived, the Good News becomes the announcement of not just what God is doing but who God is doing it all through. First a word about belief. The New Testament uses a word that cannot be reduced to the sort of belief so common today. The modern vocabulary has given belief the connotation of a personal opinion that one adheres to for reasons entirely of your own. We “believe” in politicians, sports teams and UFO’s. New Testament belief has more in common with the sort of belief we associate with life commitment. Marriage is the best example. The persons giving their lives to one another “believe in” the other person with a totality of their being, their future and their possessions. This is the sort of belief expressed by the person who chooses to jump out of a plane with only a parachute between himself and death. Jesus is asking, in short, for a life-altering, life-anchoring bet on the truth of who he is.
Have you ever heard someone say “You mean all I have to do is believe in Jesus in order to go to heaven?” Such a question shows the modern definition of belief as a sort of optional, minimal assent to a proposition that may have nothing whatsoever to do with truth. I want to assure my readers that this is absolutely not what Jesus means. The thief on the cross believed at the last moment, but he believed in Jesus with all that he was, betting his entire life on Jesus veracity. When someone asks what they must do to go to heaven, we should give an honest answer: Admit your sin, repent and surrender all you know of yourself to all you know of Jesus.
We should also mention that the idea of belief as a “point in time” action with continuing effects into the future can be misconstrued. Belief in Jesus that does not continue is not true belief. Perseverance is one of the characteristics of true faith. (Matthew 10:22, 24:13) Faith may be a long and winding journey with many peaks, valleys and seasons of more and less fruitfulness, but genuine faith continues to believe in Jesus and to seek to follow him. The Bible offers no comfort to the person who “once” believed but does so no longer.
The Good News is the message of Jesus and the message about Jesus. It includes the arrival of the Kingdom, but also contains the cross of Christ, his empty tomb, his current reign and his future return. This is not Good News to those who live as God’s enemies, but it is the greatest news to those who are ready to lay down the weapons of rebellion and surrender to the one, true and only King.
1. How would you answer the question “Do you believe we are living in the last days?” How does our perspective on the last days affect our Christianity?
2. What does it mean that the Old Testament is fulfilled in Christ? How should we relate to the Old Testament?
3. How is evangelism affected by the truth that Jesus reigns now? How does this affect the way we live in earthly “kingdoms?”
4. Is the message of Jesus to repent a command or a request?
5. How would you answer someone who said “Repentance just turns people off. We should preach grace.”?
6. If we can’t repent perfectly, why command us to do it at all?
7. How are faith and repentance two sides of the same coin?
8. How do people use the word “believe” today? How is this different from the way Jesus means it?
9. How would you answer a person who says “I’m going to heaven because I believed in Jesus when I was a child.”?
10. How does the marriage commitment illustrate the Biblical idea of “belief”?
11. Are all people saved by faith?
12. Martin Luther said we are saved by faith alone but never by faith that is alone. How does this relate to the relationship between faith and repentance?
13. Michael said that repentance and faith can make our journey a long and winding road. What matters of repentance does the Holy Spirit frequently bring to your mind?
14. Discuss Michael’s definition of faith as giving all I know of myself to all I know of God.
Recommended Resource: The Presence of the Future by George Eldon Ladd. This fine Baptist scholar does the best job of any modern theologian of understanding and communicating how the Kingdom of God fits into our present experience. I think he is becoming a “must-read” theologian. Eerdmans is reprinting many of his works.