By Rob Lampard
Before saying anything else, I should reiterate that the English word ‘gospel’ simply means ‘good news’. For our purposes, these two terms are interchangeable.
So far I’ve written two papers in this series. The first, The Gospel of the Kingdom, focused on the answer we find in the books of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The second, Eternal Life, did the same for the book of John. This might leave the reader with the impression that John and his fellow apostles each thought Jesus proclaimed a different gospel. This paper is written to show that this is not so, how the two different emphases fit together, and how they harmonise to provide us with a full answer to our question.
In the previous papers, I’ve quoted in full various Bible verses. I’m not going to spell them out again here, though I may refer to some of them again. Please see the previous two documents (or a website such as https://www.biblegateway.com/) for the text of those verses.
And before I get into the detail, a note to say that I’ve kept the answer to two sides of A4. If anyone thinks what I present is a bit lightweight, that’s the reason.
The story so far
In The Gospel of the Kingdom, we saw that:
- From start to end of his ministry, Jesus proclaimed the good news of the Kingdom of God.
- That term is used in a way which suggests that it was one with which his hearers were familiar, even if they didn’t understand its full implications.
- Jesus gave content to the term ‘the Kingdom of God’ in piecemeal fashion, and in verbal picture form far more than by direct teaching.
- The Kingdom is good news because its coming would bring an age of healing and resurrection, of security and prosperity, of glory and rejoicing (Matthew 11:4-5, cf Isaiah 35).
- The Kingdom is in a sense a present gift (Luke 12:32). But it is also something which awaits full consummation (Matthew 11:40-43) and is therefore the future inheritance of the righteous (Matthew 25:34).
And in Eternal Life, we saw that:
- John’s purpose was that we might believe Jesus is the Messiah and that by believing we might have life in his name (20:31).
- The word ‘life’ in John can have at least three separate meanings:
- Human existence in the present age (11:53).
- Eternal life in the age to come (4:14).
- Eternal life as a present blessing (5:24).
- ‘Eternal life’ means a life lived in personal relationship with God, wherein we seek him, know him, and are filled with joy in his presence (Psalm 27:4, John 17:3, Psalm 16:11).
So how do these emphases fit together?
This Age and the Age to come
The Bible as a whole presents a contrast between ‘this age’ and ‘the age to come’. The idea, which can be seen in Old Testament passages such as Amos 9:13-15 and Isaiah 65:17-25, comes into sharp focus in Jesus’s teaching, eg:
“… either in this age or the age to come.” (Matthew 12:32)
“… in this present age … in the age to come.” (Mark 10:30)
Within this framework can be found a number of connections which help us fit together all the foregoing material. Jesus’s conversation with the man called ‘the rich young ruler’ (Mark 10:17-30) is helpful here because it makes clear links between some key terms.
As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (v17)
First, the English phrase ‘eternal life’ is literally in the original Greek ‘the life of the age’. In context therefore, the man is asking how he can inherit the life of the age to come. Jesus first gives the man a prosaic answer based on some of the Ten Commandments (v19), which the man finds entirely unsatisfactory, as Jesus knew he would. To paraphrase, he says: “Look, I’ve been doing all that since childhood – but I find I’m still unsatisfied and still uneasy about my future destiny.” So second, Jesus calls him to give up worldly security and throw his lot in entirely with him and his ministry (v21). This the man felt unable to do (v22). Jesus’s immediate reaction was:
“How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” (v23)
What we easily fail to notice here is that Jesus casually equates ‘inheriting eternal life’ with ‘entering the Kingdom of God’. Seamlessly, his disciples go on to make another connection for us, asking:
“Who then can be saved?” (v26)
Finally, Jesus completes the loop by saying that those who have given up worldly things to follow him will indeed inherit, “in the age to come, eternal life.” (v30)
Putting all this together, we see that eternal life is the life of the age to come, inheriting which is the same thing as entering the Kingdom of God and being saved.
Now in the first paper of this series, we looked at Jesus’s answer to the messengers from John the Baptist. Therein Jesus states that in his ministry, the Kingdom of God has already, in part, invaded the present age (Matthew 11:4-5, referencing Isaiah 35). If this is so, it would be no surprise to find the life of the age to come also manifesting itself in this present age. In the book of John this is indeed what we find. Jesus’s teaching – and demonstration – is therefore that the Kingdom of God and eternal life, which are both concepts which properly and in fullness belong to the age to come, have in his person and ministry both invaded the present age, that they can both be accessed here and now.
So how might we access these things? That’s where we’re going next.
 This concept is in turn based upon the saying of Daniel 12:2: ‘Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.’
 See the first paper in this series: The Gospel of the Kingdom, p 2.