The Gospel of Grace vs. the Gospel of the Kingdom

Series: Foundations of Grace

Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” Mark 1:14–15

Christians love the gospel. We dedicate our lives to spreading the gospel message to our friends and neighbors and even to every corner of the earth.

But what is the gospel? What is it’s message? Paul tells us very clearly in his letter to the Corinthians.

Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you… that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, 1 Corinthians 15:2–4

When we declare the gospel message, we proclaim Christ’s death, his burial and his resurrection as well as the purpose behind it all: to atone for the sins of the world. Of course, there are all kinds of details to dive deeper into, but this is the foundation of the gospel message.

The Four Gospels

We call the four books that detail the account of Jesus’ life, the Gospels. In the Gospel of Mark, he starts with:

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Mark 1:1

Because these accounts are called the Gospels, it’s easy to confuse all the teachings of Jesus Christ with the gospel message we are to preach to sinners. Yet, the gospel we preach is not the teachings of Jesus, but His death, burial and resurrection as an atonement for sinners.

As we discussed earlier, Jesus taught in accordance with the Law of Moses, He did not teach under the coming new covenant established in His blood.

The Gospel of the Kingdom

But Jesus did preach a gospel message.

As we read through the gospel accounts of His ministry in Israel, we see Jesus proclaiming the gospel.

Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God Mark 1:14

We see that, early on, Jesus began preaching the gospel. It was a gospel referred to as the gospel of the kingdom. But was Jesus proclaiming his death, burial and resurrection as an atoning sacrifice for sinners? Here is what the next verse says:

and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” Mark 1:15

The message of the gospel of the kingdom didn’t have anything to do with Christ’s death. It was a message concerning the kingdom that prophets of old had foretold in the scriptures. They had foretold that a time would come in which God would restore the nation of Israel under the Kingdom of David. Ezekiel is just one of many prophets to foretell of this coming restoration of the Kingdom.

“Then say to them, ’Thus says the Lord GOD: ”Surely I will take the children of Israel from among the nations, wherever they have gone, and will gather them from every side and bring them into their own land; and I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king over them all; they shall no longer be two nations, nor shall they ever be divided into two kingdoms again. They shall not defile themselves anymore with their idols, nor with their detestable things, nor with any of their transgressions; but I will deliver them from all their dwelling places in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them. Then they shall be My people, and I will be their God. "David My servant shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd; they shall also walk in My judgments and observe My statutes, and do them. Ezekiel 37:22–24

The gospel Jesus proclaimed was that this time foretold by Ezekiel and others was about to be fulfilled. The kingdom was just around the corner and the people of Israel needed to prepare themselves for it through repentance toward God, righteous works and trust in Jesus Christ as the Messiah. Not only did they have to trust in Jesus as the Messiah, they needed to believe His words about what was required to gain entrance into this coming kingdom.

Now, the gospel of the kingdom is an amazing message and certainly good news for the people of Israel as it was something the faithful had been waiting and hoping for for centuries. But this good news of the gospel of the kingdom is not the same as the gospel of the grace of God. It’s a totally different message of good news.

While there are many details to discuss about this kingdom gospel that Jesus preached, the big detail that I want to point out is that this kingdom gospel was under the administration of the Law of Moses. In talking about the coming kingdom and the Law of Moses Jesus said:

Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:19–20

Keeping the commandments of Moses was required to enter into this coming Kingdom and your righteousness through keeping the law had to be greater than the hypocritical scribes and Pharisees.

Compare this teaching from the earthly ministry of Christ with what Paul says in Romans:

But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, Romans 3:21

This message of righteousness apart from the law that Paul teaches is also good news, but it is different from the good news of the Kingdom of God. In speaking of the ministry that he received from Jesus Christ Paul says this:

…the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus [is] to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. Acts 20:24

The good news Paul testified to, of righteousness apart from the law, he calls the gospel of the grace of God. During the ministry of Christ, He testified of the gospel of the kingdom in which righteousness could only be attained though keeping the law. Right now, we live and are saved through the gospel of grace paid for by the atoning blood of Christ. Let’s be careful not to mix these two gospels and in doing so dilute the purity of God’s gift of grace.

Footnote: As a quick aside, sometimes you’ll see the phrase Kingdom of Heaven, instead of Kingdom of God, but they mean the same thing and are used interchangeably. Kingdom of Heaven is just a figure of speech using the place where God lives to refer to God himself. In similar manner, here in America, we might speak of the authority of the White House as a figure to mean the authority of the president.

This post is part of a series entitled Foundations of Grace and is best read from beginning to end.
Nathan Rambeck is a full-time husband, father and software engineer; and a part-time Bible teacher, abolitionist and evangelist. He lives in the Dayton, Ohio area with his wife Jamie and 6 children. (Facebook)