What is the message our Lord preached? Surely the words of God incarnate on any subject are of authoritative note, but the message that was the center and citadel of His earthly mission would be of utmost importance. This has historically been the source of no small amount of confusion. Radical dispensationalists wished to entirely bifurcate the “gospel of the kingdom” from the “gospel of the cross” (it is not wrong, however, to see an element of distinction between these ideas), or worse, to completely differentiate the gospel Jesus preached from that of Paul and the apostles. (Some of these brethren argue the church did not begin until Acts 9, with Paul’s conversion, or even later, with consequent changes and limitations on the message and NT books applicable to us today.) Liberals have often taken Jesus’ proclamation of God’s kingdom and turned it into some bizarre apocalyptic-social-justice amalgam, with one notorious liberal asserting Jesus was so convinced of the impending end of the world that He was devastated and shocked by His crucifixion! Conservative evangelicals with an unfortunate missional bent have also used kingdom proclamation to sanctify social justice measures as the mission of the church (thus conflating and confusing our Lord’s mission with ours, besides foolishly thinking building a soup kitchen is the equivalent of miraculous feeding of thousands), and also tend to deemphasize or dismiss the futurity of the kingdom and the fulfillment of promises to national Israel in her land.
Clearly the kingdom is central to our Lord’s message, but the Enemy has been busy sowing all kinds of false and errant doctrine regarding that message, and for good reason. If we grasped the weight and implications of the kingdom, surely we would be the most sanctified, fruitful, and sacrificial people on earth as we work to extend that reign and await its everlasting consummation. With the goal of properly understanding the Lord’s message and equipping us to live for Him, we will look at Mark 1:14-15 under three points.
A. The Framework of the Message (v. 14a)
It would be easy to assume that our Lord immediately emerged from the wilderness experience preaching and teaching. After all, Mark follows one with the other. But this would be a misunderstanding of how he has laid out the information in his gospel. None of the gospel writers give us an exhaustive portrayal of Jesus’; ministry, so it is helpful to look at the others to fill out the picture. Indeed, what we find is that John is the only gospel to cover our Lord’s first year of ministry in any detail, in John 1:15-4:43. This was the period Jesus spent in Judea, where He called the first disciples to saving faith (later, which we see in Mark 1:16ff, He calls them to fulltime ministry and service), performed His first miracle, cleansed the Temple for the first time, taught Nicodemus about being born again, and ministered to the Samaritan woman. It is while He is leaving Judea for Galilee—where the next 2-and-a-half years of ministry will take place—to escape the designs of the Pharisees, who intend to kill Him, that He intentionally passes through Samaria to share His saving truth with the woman at the well and many of her fellow Samaritans.
This is the phase of His ministry largely focused on individuals. He is under the radar, not as public, and too obscure to be a threat to all but the most perceptive Pharisees. Incidentally, He is ministering right under the nose of apostate Judaism, given that Judea is where Jerusalem is located. It is not until His ministry becomes public, and controversial, that the Pharisees view Him as a threat to bee terminated at all costs. Once He has left Judea for Galilee is where Matthew, Mark, and Luke pick up their narratives.
Note that Mark pinpoints the Galilean aspect of our Lord’s ministry as after John the Baptist, the last and greatest of the OT prophets before the Great Prophet like unto Moses came, has been imprisoned for rebuking Herod for his incestuous relationship with his wife. In the late summer/early fall of A.D. 27, our Lord makes His way into Galilee with one clear, authoritative message. It is to that we now turn.
B. The Focus of the Message (v. 14b)
Recall that Galilee is the region in which our Lord grew up; after all, Nazareth is an obscure little village located right in that area. It is also a place with rich and varied history. Most notably, after the exile of the Northern Kingdom in 722 B.C., the region became flooded with Gentiles, who, when the Jews finally returned, lived alongside them. Many even became Jewish, at least outwardly, though a sizeable number retained their paganism. By Jesus’ day the makeup of the Gentiles had changed somewhat to include lots of Greeks and Romans, with all the accompanying decadence and uniqueness of those cultures. It is to this diverse group of people that our Lord proclaims His message.
And just what is that message? The Greek verb is present-tense. Our Lord proclaimed this constantly, regularly, characteristically, day-in and day-out. Someone has rightly said that “God had only one Son, and He made Him a preacher!” The text tells us He preached the gospel. That is, He preached the glad tidings and happy news of what God had done, was doing, and would do through Him for the blessing of the world. We need not read this phrase as denoting the full exposition of what we now think of as the gospel—Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection for sinners. Rather, this is likely a more general message of the good news of God; salvation offered through the Messiah, not just spiritually but comprehensively. Of course, as God continued to reveal His plan it would be clear the foundation and center of that work would be the Messiah’s substitutionary death for sinners.
The focus of Jesus’ message was the comprehensive, complete salvation on all levels that God offers to all people. What is this salvation? It is to that we now turn.
C. The Force of the Message (v. 15)
Without question, Jesus’ proclamation was forceful. It called for a decisive, honest, whole-hearted response. “And saying” denotes that Jesus did this while He was preaching, indicating that what He was “saying” is to be equated with what He was “preaching.” In other words, the “gospel of God” carries with it the ideas Jesus declares in verse 15.
The heart of our Lord’s message was God’s kingdom. There is no reason to view this message as anything other than the kingdom promised clearly in the OT, for several reasons. First, practically speaking, Jesus was ministering to Jewish people within Israel at this point, so He would naturally be offering them in His person and work the promises made in the OT. Second, we today have been grafted in to the olive tree of ancient blessing (Rom. 11), which makes the OT kingdom our kingdom as well, though we remain distinct from Israel within the one people of God.
While ultimately (and in a sense even today) God’s kingdom will include an earthly realm within space and time, first in the millennial empire and then forever on a renewed earth, it is probably best to understand the word “kingdom” primarily as God’s personal, effectual and decisive reign, actively executing His authoritative will over people. As He dies this with increasing force and comprehensiveness, the reign will manifest all of the wonderful earthly blessings we see in many millennial prophecies in the OT. But the emphasis is more on the activity of God’s personal and sovereign rule than a place.
Why is this reign “at hand”? This does not mean, as traditional dispensationalists wish to make it, that the kingdom was floating just beyond the reach of people as Jesus was then offering it to Israel, but since they rejected Him it has now been entirely postponed and awaits His bodily return to earth. Rather, it means the kingdom was present in the person and work of the King. Later, Jesus will make clear the one kingdom promised in the OT will be established progressively and will exist in a real, initial form prior to His Second Advent (e.g., all of Matthew 13). Recalling that “kingdom” primarily refers to the personal and effectual reign of God over people, it is best to see the kingdom here as His initial rule, through His incarnation as the messianic, Davidic Son, over the people who surrender in faith to Him. These are the people who will be ready when that kingdom comes in fullness with our Lord’s return to earth in the future. Thus the kingdom is both now and not yet.
Note that Jesus says in relation to this that “the time is fulfilled.” What else can this mean but that all the wonderful promises in the OT of God’s plan for world redemption are beginning to be fulfilled? The waiting time is over. The time of fulfillment is here. That fulfillment is progressive and ongoing, but it is real and decisive and here. Because the time is here, the kingdom is at hand (because the promised King has finally come), and this demands a response from all who hear.
In light of the present and future reign of the living God over and on earth, men and women are called to a personal response: “Repent and believe the gospel.” “Repentance” is at heart a radical transformation and shift in foundational worldview that affects all other thinking and behavior. (This “effecting” is what we call “discipleship”—being a student of Jesus to apply that change in worldview to all of life and thought.) It involves a change of mind, affection, and will and includes a turning from sinful behavior and thinking—viewing yourself as a sinner and in need of forgiveness that only God can give. The counterpart of repentance, then, is “believing the gospel”—faith. Here, it is believing the good news of God’s comprehensive salvation in the promised Messiah and that Jesus really is the One authorized by God to save and bless. Later, it becomes clear that faith includes with it a personal confidence in and surrender to Jesus as both Savior and Lord, in His death and resurrection for sinners, and believing that He is God incarnate. These must not be understood as checking of boxes on a list, but as a personal, complete consecration and devotion of one’s heart to a real Person and what He has done and will do out of Spirit-wrought love for and confidence in Him. The believer then grows in this consecration as they better understand Him and His ways, and doubtless will offer themselves afresh to Him many times in humble devotion.
All of this barely scratches the surface of our Lord’s message, nor connects it fully to the implications and applications given in the rest of the NT. But this is the foundation and heart of His message. May God bring many to a full understanding of it, with all its comprehensively transforming implications, before the King Himself appears.