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I’ve already mentioned--more than once--Greg Gilbert’s excellent primer, What Is the Gospel?

I’d also recommend his T4G breakout session on the same topic, which you can download or listen to below:

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I found especially instructive the way in which Greg helps us to see how to keep the cross central as we preach and teach on the the kingdom of God:

The kingdom is an incredibly important theme in the Bible, and it's good that evangelicals are thinking hard about it. But it seems to me that far too often when evangelicals start talking about the kingdom, there's an almost reactionary tendency not to say much about the cross. It's almost like it's a different story, and we can't figure out very well how the cross fits into this story of the kingdom. So we manage to create in our thought and conversation a rift between the cross and the kingdom, with cross over here and kingdom over there and everyone crouching on one side or the other of the chasm, sneering suspiciously at each other.

I don't think the Bible leaves us with such a division, though. Here's why: The only way into the Kingdom is through the Cross. Yes, Jesus came to inaugurate a kingdom which will one day be established with perfect justice and righteousness. But that is good news only because he also came to save a people from the wrath of God so that they could be citizens of that kingdom, and the way he did that was by dying in the place of those people for their sin. Jesus is not just King; He is Suffering King.

Put another way, it is the cross--and the cross alone--which is the gateway to the blessings of the kingdom. That's how you put all this together. You don't get the blessings of the kingdom unless you come into them through the blood of the King. Therefore if you preach a sermon or write a chapter on the good news of the kingdom, but neglect to talk about the cross, you've not preached good news at all. You've just shown people a wonderful thing that they have no right to be a part of because they are sinners. That's why we never see Jesus preaching, "The kingdom of God has come!" No, it's always, "The kingdom of God has come! Therefore repent and believe!" He didn't just preach the coming of the kingdom. He preached the coming of the kingdom and the way people could enter it.

So by all means, preach about the kingdom, talk about Jesus' conquest of evil, write about his coming reign. But don't pretend that all those things are glorious good news all by themselves. They're not. The bare fact that Jesus is going to rule the world with perfect righteousness is not good news to me; it's terrifying news, because I am not righteous! I'm one of the enemies he's coming to crush! The coming kingdom becomes good news only when I'm told that the coming King is also a Savior who forgives sin and makes people righteous--and he does that through his death on the cross. Ignore that, downplay it, shove it out of the center of the gospel, and you make the whole thing not good news at all, but a terrifying message of judgment to rebellious sinners.

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10 thoughts on “Putting Together the Cross and the Kingdom”

  1. Mike Osborne says:

    Good thoughts. Thank you for this blog. I am a silent reader everyday of this blog, and it is used by the Spirit to encourage me as a young church planter. So, thank you.

    Is the fact that the kingdom and the cross seem to be two different stories connected at all to the reality that we are not preaching the resurrection in proper balance to the cross? Adrian Warnock’s book (which you’ve plugged here before) is a wonderful help in this, in my opinion. On the cross Jesus is our sacrificial substitute, our Savior. Through the empty tomb He is our Lord and King, the One who inaugurates the kingdom. When we fail to emphasize the resurrection in proper proportion to the cross we end up with “two stories.” Of course, I’m not arguing for pitting the cross against the resurrection (or the ascension, which is another neglected aspect in our preaching that was a feature in the preaching of the apostles in Acts); I’m suggesting that a healthier, more robust preaching of the resurrection will help us bring the “cross” and the kingdom together.

  2. Nick says:

    I appreciate the way Gilbert speaks of the kingdom and sees that the gospel is both about the cross and the kingdom. However, I don’t think that he does a sufficient job at showing HOW these two concepts relate. While it is true that the cross is the way that one enters the kingdom (i.e. we are forgiven to be delivered from this present evil age) I think that it there is something far more important to be seen, namely, that the cross REDEFINES the kingdom. Israel was waiting for the day when God would reveal his righteousness, his mighty saving power to rescue them from their slavery, meet with them in forgiveness, and establish his new world order where God ruled instead of the pagans. Jesus redefined this because the way to victory was not through a violent overthrow of the Romans (for it would be too light a thing for God to rescue Israel alone) but by being crushed by the Romans (i.e. the cross). The way to victory was the way of the cross, the way of suffering. This redefines the kingdom itself AND deals with the problem of sin that plagued the world and the people of God.

    ….and yes I am an N.T. Wright fanboy!

  3. Mason says:

    “The only way into the Kingdom is through the Cross.”

    I like what he is saying but I’ve never been able to figure out how this relates to verses such as Matt. 13:41 which seems to indicate that the Kingdom (in one sense) includes more than all true Christians. These “stumbling blocks” that are in the Kingdom didn’t make it in through the cross (in the true sense of the word).

    Does anyone have any insight on this? He may address this in the audio, which I haven’t listened to yet. If so, let me know.

  4. Nick says:

    “Therefore if you preach a sermon or write a chapter on the good news of the kingdom, but neglect to talk about the cross, you’ve not preached good news at all.”

    This is a good word, but unfortunately predictable enough that he doesn’t go on to say the reverse, which is the real weakness of much pop level evangelical individualism and escapism (just as the liberal tendency is to the opposite extreme).

  5. Eric says:

    JT-Looks like the link to download the sermon is not working. Thanks for the post

  6. Chris says:

    But, the Bible doesn’t present the information in the way that Gilbert is suggesting here. He is suggesting a kind of homiletics that rips right across the way in which Scripture is written. If a man preaches expositionally — as he should— then he will not sound like Gilbert is suggesting he should.

    Frankly, Gilbert seems good intentioned, but he will bind consciences with this kind of new “how-to” ethic. Following the pattern of the text is better, IMHO.

  7. Matt Beatty says:

    I’m not sure what evangelical world Mr. Gilbert is living in, but the average Southern Baptist or Evangelical that I know has a lot to say about the Cross (albeit, not always the CORRECT thing to say…) and virtually NOTHING to say about the Kingdom of God. Ditto with my tribe – conservative Presbyterians.

    He’s correct to demand that the Cross and Kingdom not be separated, but I hear 10x as many sermons on Eph. 2:1-10 vs. Eph. 1:9-10, which might be the theological center of the book.

  8. I like all the “kingdom” talk going on these days, especially as it relates to Muslim Ministry: we are not spreading “Christianity,” but the gospel of the Kingdom.

    So this was an important post that exposes the error of cross-less kingdom talk.

    Ironically, a kingdom without the Cross is just another “religion.”

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Justin Taylor, PhD

Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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