Editor’s note: This series comes from a sermon given at a recent conference on discipleship for Chinese house church leaders. This sermon has been translated and edited from its original version.
Yang Mingdao is the collective pseudonym for Chinese staff within China Partnership.
Discipleship from the perspective of the eschatological kingdom carefully analyzes the historical trajectory and worldview of disciples, within the context of the kingdom and eschatology. How should we understand this age? By looking at creation, fall, and redemption, we understand that we are in the final stage of redemptive history. The eschatological kingdom worldview does not only ask questions such as, “Who is God?” or “Who rules the world?” It also asks, “At which stage in God’s redemptive plan did the kingdom arrive? Who am I? How can humanity be saved? What went wrong?” At the center of these questions is the question of when: “What time is it now? Where are we in God’s redemptive plan?”
In his book Eschatological Discipleship, Trevin Wax says there are three important elements in eschatology. The first is individual. Individual people have fallen and their whole person must be restored. Secondly, God’s relationship with his people must be restored. Lastly, the whole universe must be restored. In the context of Christianity, these three elements are understood as they relate to the creation of individuals and of humanity.
Would You Pray With Us Today?
All nations were created from one man. God only created one man directly, and then he created Eve. They multiplied, but the fall stopped humanity from becoming complete and whole. Humanity is not made whole until the Book of Revelation. You cannot be a disciple all by yourself. If one person is missing, the whole is incomplete. Jesus says the last day will not arrive until the gospel has been preached throughout the whole world. Only when all the elect people have been gathered together will they be fully remade.
But this is not all. The universe will also be restored. Eschatological discipleship is spiritual formation in the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of heaven is an eschatological phenomenon. It seeks to instill wisdom within the contemporary context, so disciples of Christ can stand firm while competing against various ideologies, behaviors and emotions. The kingdom calls them to obey Christ and carry their crosses in order to manifest their Christian faith and testify that the Bible is true.
When I was a pastor, people often told me, “What you preach is not practical!” I later understood why they thought this. For them, the kingdom of heaven was nebulous. Cars and houses are very important to people. If you talk about these things, they will think it is practical. They only see this side of reality; they do not see that another reality has already come. We must testify that God’s revelations in the Bible about the past, the present, and the future are all true.
Last week I led a Bible study with many everyday Christians. They were shocked by the connection between the kingdom and the gospel. They said, “We talk about becoming a Christian by repenting and believing, and about the presence of the Holy Spirit, but we don’t say anything about the kingdom. Why?” I answered, “The kingdom is the background of the gospel. The method we use to share the gospel only gives us individual steps to take, but the whole background of the gospel involves the death and resurrection of Jesus, his perfect life, and the kingdom he inaugurates through his ascension and rule in heaven. He sends us the Holy Spirit, which is a very important sign of the end times. We now anticipate his second coming, when he will fully establish a new heavens and a new earth.”
Richard Lints of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary says the gospel of the kingdom is “to declare the good news about the king or lord of this kingdom, especially the things concerning Jesus Christ. It declares that the king of the kingdom has come, and not only that the king has come, but that he is truly sovereign. Through his death and resurrection, Jesus’s sovereignty has been validated.”
The good news proclaims what has already happened in the past, and its implications for our life today. The good news is that Jesus has already come and has conquered death in a remarkable way through his own death. But on another level, there are things that have not yet happened. The gospel has eternal significance, which we see in the future kingdom coming to earth.
Luke 4:43 says, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God.” The word “good news” was only translated once here, but actually appears twice. The word “preach” already contains the meaning of “good news” – evangelion. Jesus is saying, “preach the good news with the good news.” In the New Testament, preaching the good news of the kingdom of heaven is mentioned more than fifty times. The high frequency indicates this was very important to Jesus and, later, to the apostles. They paid much attention to it and spent much time talking about it.
When we talk about evangelism, we usually talk about the steps for sharing the gospel. But we might neglect the gospel itself. We want to emphasize Christ and what he has done. The reason we are able to follow Jesus is because the kingdom of heaven has come. Thereafter, we are citizens of it.
Once I was invited me to speak at a church in Beijing. I spoke about the kingdom in the Old Testament, and the inauguration of the kingdom in the New Testament. I told them that the kingdom is the true focus, and salvation is only a byproduct and inevitable result of the kingdom. Afterwards, a brother said, “Pastor, you have completely overthrown my previous understanding.” I thought it was a good thing, but he did not show up the next day. He believed the most important thing was personal salvation. I asked him, “In the entire Bible, who is the main character? God!” Personal salvation is highlighted, because we have lost his blessing and left him. Now he has saved us and restored his rule within us, covering us with his grace. Evangelism brings with it the message of victory. Christ has already won the victory; that’s why we preach the gospel. We could translate Luke 4:43 like this: “We must preach the good news that God’s kingdom has already triumphed.”
All four Gospels were written after the ascension of Jesus. It was not as though Jesus’s friends recorded his acts at the time he was performing them and then later compared notes. After the descent of the Holy Spirit, they started to understand Jesus’s death and resurrection, and the authority and glory and meaning of the kingdom that these acts brought with them. It was then that they devoted their whole lives to this gospel. Proclaiming and experiencing this victory of the kingdom is extremely important. God’s kingdom is closely tied to the gospel.
The Old Testament talks about the kingdom many times. Is. 52:7 is a good example of an Old Testament passage that proclaims the gospel. This passage is also cited in Romans. Paul says, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach good news!” Anyone who preaches the gospel and leads people to Jesus will be told, “How beautiful are your feet because you preach the good news!” But this is not the good news itself; we are just messengers. The good news is spoken in Is. 40:9. Isaiah says, “Good news has come! Good news has come! Behold your God!” He anticipates the coming of the kingdom of God.
In Isaiah’s time, proclaiming the good news meant declaring that God reigns. The gospel would be fulfilled after the Israelites returned from captivity and came under the rule of one king. In the Old Testament, in the Middle East, and throughout the Middle Ages, if a nation won a battle, people would not say, “Obama is amazing” or “Xi Jinping is amazing,” or “Trump is amazing.” They would say the god of Xi Jinping or the god of Obama was amazing. It was all about which gods they served.
Victory was a sign of God’s blessing and grace in bringing them back to himself. The peace and salvation mentioned here are talked about later in the New Testament when it talks about proclaiming peace and preaching the gospel. Ephesians two tells us the dividing wall of hostility has been broken down. Ephesians one tells us this is the good news that brings us salvation. All of this is related to the Old Testament.
Sometimes our vocabulary has been influenced by later interpreters of the New Testament, and we do not read the Old and New testaments together as one whole. Our vocabulary influences our understanding. If we look at the gospel in Isaiah, we see it is about when Jesus comes as king of the kingdom of heaven. The gospel is that our God reigns as king. God reigns! His people are blessed! His enemies will be defeated! We are in the end times and this is a time of “already but not yet.”
How does heavenly citizenship empower us to follow Jesus?