The Kingdom of God is a community made up of those gathered together around Jesus, blessed by him and ruled by him. In the fullest sense, Jesus is the king of the Kingdom. He established and formed it, and now protects and guides its members. He is the very life of the Kingdom.
There are many today who believe that Jesus never existed. In fact, in some communist countries, that point of view is actually taught in school. The trouble is, there is more evidence for the existence of Jesus than for Julius Caesar. Even writers of the time make mention of him, including his enemies. The existence of the Christian church and numerous written records by his disciples, Government officials, historians and enemies only goes to prove that Jesus is a fact of history.
The evidence we possess in support of the Biblical record of Jesus is weighty indeed:
i] The New Testament writers want us to understand and believe and so the last thing we can say of their record is that it is fiction.
ii] Their record cannot be lies because they call on their readers to check up on the facts, 1Cor.15:6.
iii] There is the evidence of archeology. Millar Burrows of Yale university said, "On the whole, however, archaeological work has unquestionably strengthened confidence in the reliability of the Scriptural record."
iv] The accuracy of the records is high. We have over 4,000 manuscripts backing up the New Testament, some copies dating only 90 years after the writing of the original. F.F. Bruce notes that we have only ten good manuscripts of Caesar's Gallic War. The "History of Thucydides" (ca 460-400BC) is known to us from eight manuscripts, the earliest belonging to around AD 900. No classical scholar would listen to an argument that the authenticity of Herodotus or Thucydides is in doubt because the earliest manuscripts of their work, which are of any use to us, were written more than 1,300 years after the original.
Most of our information about Jesus comes from the New Testament section of the Bible and especially the gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The gospel writers were not just out to give a blow-by-blow description of the life of Jesus. They all had a point to make and so they selected their material to emphasize certain particular aspects of Jesus' life and teachings. They were just normal men trying to live the Christian life and so naturally they saw Jesus in their own particular way.
This doesn't mean that the gospels are inaccurate. The writers were very careful to give us a true understanding of Jesus. As John says, "These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that believing you may have life in his name", John 20:31. How could we put our trust in Jesus without a factual record of his life and teachings? The gospel writers were individualists, they selected their material, but it is always the same Jesus they write about. They complement and supplement each other so that in the end we have all the information we need to believe in Jesus. Of course, the New Testament record of the life and teachings of Jesus is not just an accurate human record. Christians believe that the New Testament is "God-breathed", 2Tim.3:16 (although note that Paul is here speaking of the Old Testament). We believe that it is inspired. We believe that God has seen to it that His truth is conveyed in these writings. Within all their limitations, God speaks.
When we look at the life of Jesus we see someone quite different. Here is someone who is the very presence of God in the world - God became flesh. There have been many great men in the world, some have tried to point the way to God, but here is someone who is actually God with us. The Old Testament section of the Bible repeatedly speaks of his coming, even giving minute details like where he would be born, Mi.5:2. The New Testament section describes his life as unique. He is truly the very presence of God, displaying to a lost humanity the love of the Creator for his creation.
The main point of the birth stories in Matthew and Luke, is that Jesus has no natural father. His birth was supernatural. He was conceived by the power of God. "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us", John 1:1-14.
The Bible tells us very little about his early childhood. The family had to escape to Egypt after his birth. They returned, after the death of King Herod, and set up home in Nazareth. Jesus worked as a carpenter/builder and probably had to keep his mother, brothers and sisters after the death of Joseph.
Jesus came to understand his unique relationship with God the Father very early in his life, Luke 2:49. He also came to understand what was in store for him - especially his death. It was probably the study of the Old Testament that gave him this understanding. We have to realise that, although Jesus was God, he had set aside his divine powers to take upon himself our humanity, therefore he had to work things out much the same way as we do. He was certainly no dummy when it came to Bible study, Luke 2:46-48. Although his childhood was normal, the Bible tells us that it was without sin. Jesus was no rebel - he was "obedient" to mum and dad and was "in favour with God" his heavenly Father.
In 27AD when Jesus was about 30, he began his public ministry. John the Baptist had told the Jewish people in Palestine that God's promised saviour was on his way, so get ready! He told people to turn from their evil ways and turn to God for the forgiveness of sins. They were to express this turning to God in water baptism.
Although Jesus was sinless, he too turned up to be baptized by John:
It was a symbolic event. He used his baptism to identify with human sin and to mark the beginning of his work of dealing with it.
It was a theological event. He, as the representative righteous Israelite, left the bondage of Egypt and moved through the waters out into the wilderness to be tested. Unlike Israel of old, he did not fail the test. Right at that moment, God the Father declared his support for Jesus and his work, and gave him all the spiritual power he would need for the next three years, Luke 3:21-22.
Immediately after his baptism, Jesus went out into the wilderness to think and pray about his life's work. He was soon tempted to find other ways of saving mankind - the soft options. Yet he knew his heavenly Father's way was the only way - obedience unto death. In this, his first spiritual conflict, he stood the test as God's loyal son and faithful servant.
Not too much is known of his first year of ministry. He tended to work in the south of Palestine (Judea) performing miracles, teaching and gathering to himself a group of disciples.
After the arrest of John the Baptist, he began his work in earnest. He moved to the Galilee region and announced the Good News (the Gospel) - "The Kingdom of God is near." From his followers he selected 12 men to be special disciples - Apostles or Sent Ones. After his death they would carry his words into all the world. He was booted out of his home town, so he made Capernaum his headquarters. He displayed his authority over sickness, disease, death, evil spiritual powers and even nature. He taught with authority. Soon great crowds began to follow him listening to his every word. During this period he taught the Sermon on the Mount. His popularity reached its peak toward the end of his second year of ministry when he miraculously fed the 5000.
Although he was popular with the common people, the religious authorities of the day felt greatly threatened by him. He was soon barred from teaching in the synagogues. The authorities believed that Jesus was a false teacher and performed his miracles by the power of Satan.
After Jesus had fed the 5000 the people tried to make him their earthly king. Jesus refused - "My kingdom is not of this world." The crowds and many of his followers, turned away from him and he was left with only a small group of disciples. He moved north of Galilee and began an intensive training programme with the remaining disciples. On one occasion he asked them "Who do men say that I am?" Peter answered, "You are the Son of the living God." From that time Jesus taught them that he was to suffer and die. He even appeared to three of them in glorified form and once again the Father spoke, "this was his beloved son, hear him", Luke 9:28-36.
On his trips to Galilee, opposition continued to mount. Finally Jesus set off for Jerusalem, his disciples tried to stop him for they feared the worst.
Jesus entered Jerusalem as it had been prophesied in the Old Testament - on "the foal of an ass". He then went to the temple and caused havoc in the market, "My house is a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves." For a week he taught in the city while the authorities planned his death.
On the Thursday evening he met with his disciples and shared communion with them - "do this in remembrance of me" he said. Later that evening he was arrested, beaten and then falsely condemned and crucified. At 3pm on Friday afternoon he called out from the cross, "It is finished."
He was buried in a new tomb. On the Sunday morning four of the women, who had followed Jesus, found the tomb empty. By that evening most of his friends had seen him alive. For forty days he repeatedly appeared to them until, on a hill just outside of Jerusalem, he left them to go to be with the Father, and to begin his heavenly rule. "Fear not", he said, "I will be with you to the ends of the world."
The gospel in its simplest form says, "the Kingdom of God is near". The Kingdom comes and is coming, in the person of Jesus. Often the gospel message has an introductory sentence which states, "the time is fulfilled". A true Israelite would understand what this meant. It was announcing that the time prophesied by the prophets of old was now. The promised Messiah, the promised descendant of David, is here. He is the one who will set up the Kingdom. They could know this was true by the "signs" he performed. The blind would see, the lame would walk, the deaf would hear, the dumb would speak, the dead would be raised and prisoners (those possessed by Satan) freed. Finally this suffering servant would die for his people and rise again to life. Jesus' three years of ministry proclaimed that "the time is fulfilled", thus "the Kingdom of God is at hand."
Consider again the place you give Jesus in your life. How could we ever deny such a saviour?