Key To The Understanding Of The Scriptures
by H.P. MANSFIELD
(4) The Fundamental Message Of The Bible
The Basic Theme.
Although the Bible is a library of sixty-six books, it has a basic theme that unites them as one, and provides the key that will unlock the deeper secrets of this wonderful Book.
In Scripture it is termed " the Gospel," a word that literally means good news. (The Revised Version substitutes the words "Good Tidings" in the margin wherever the word "Gospel" appears.) It is styled " the Gospel of God" because it is a good message emanating from Him. It announces a good time coming, when "all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord" (Num. 14:21).
The Gospel was associated by Christ with the establishment of a Kingdom in a time appointed of God. His mission was to preach "the gospel (good tidings) of the Kingdom of God" (Mark 1: 14). He called on all men to "believe these good tidings," and announced himself as the King of the Kingdom they proclaimed (John 18:37). So much did he preach about this Kingdom that the people became impatient, and sought to " take Him by force and make him King." But he would not permit it, "and because they thought that the kingdom of God was immediately to appear, He spake a parable to them" (Luke 19:11). He gave them to understand that before the kingdom could be established, he must first take a journey into a far country to receive his full authority, and then to return; when he would bestow upon his servants power over the cities of the world (Luke 19:11-26). According to this arrangement, Jesus was crucified, rose from the dead (Acts 2:23-24), and took his departure, when he ascended to the right hand of the Majesty in the heavens (Acts 1:9-11), where he is now. He has not yet received the kingdom, glory and dominion, or he would have already returned. In the time appointed (now near at hand) he will return, to establish upon the earth his kingdom, and to rule as King over all mankind (Acts 3:20-21; Zech. 14:9).
The Gospel As Taught By The Apostles.
The Apostles were sent forth to preach the same "good tidings" unto mankind. "Go ye into the world, and preach the gospel," they were told, "he that believeth and is baptised shall be saved" (Mark 16:16). They were to be very careful only to preach the "good tidings" which had been divinely revealed to them. Paul used very strong language on this point. He declared: "Though we, or an angel from heaven preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed" (Gal. 1:8).
If an apostle was not exempt from the curse of God if he preached a perverted gospel, what are we to say of those who, under the cloak of religion, preach fables in the name of Christ, such as the immortality of the soul, heaven going at death, and similar theories? The curse of God has rested on Christendom because it has perverted His teaching. Its history is one of discord, trouble and bloodshed; true peace it knows not.
Some believe that the Gospel comprehends only the work of reconciliation between God and man effected by the sacrificial death and resurrection of Christ Jesus. But the term was associated by Christ himself, with the establishment of a Kingdom in a time appointed of God, and this is confirmed by his instructions to the disciples. During his lifetime upon the earth, he sent them forth to preach the Gospel (Luke 9:6), instructing them, however, that they were not to tell men of his coming decease until after his resurrection (Luke 9:20-22). Thus the Gospel preached by the disciples at that time did not include matters concerning the sacrificial mission of the Lord.
The Gospel, therefore, is prophetic of the purpose of God in the earth. It was styled by the Apostles, "the good tidings of Christ" (Rom. 15:19), the "good tidings of God" (Rom. 1:1), and the "good tidings of peace" (Eph. 6:15). Paul taught that the Gospel had its roots in the Old Testament, and in its simplest form could be expressed in seven words. He wrote: "God ... preached the Gospel (good tidings) unto Abraham, saying: "In thee shall all nations be blessed" (Gal. 3:8). (Later in the chapter (v. 16), he showed that the promise to Abraham involved the Lord Jesus who is represented as the "seed of Abraham" and through whom the blessing would come.)
These seven words epitomise the purpose of God. (In the Bible, the numeral 7 is frequently associated with the idea of perfection and completeness.) They centre attention on earth and not heaven as the arena where His purpose will be manifested. They teach that He intends to intervene in world affairs and establish a Kingdom under the rulership of Christ which will bring blessings of peace and righteousness to men everywhere. In the same chapter (vv. 26- 28), the Apostle shows also that God is calling men to Him by the power of the Gospel, that they may be the associates of Christ in the day of His glory, when He shall reign from Jerusalem (Jeremiah 3:17) over the whole world (Daniel 2:44).
The establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth with Christ as King, comprised the "good things" of both Old and New Testaments.
This is shown by the following quotations:
"The Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all nations" (Isa. 61:11).
"He (Christ) shall judge among many people, and rebuke strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares ... nation shall not lift up a sword against nation neither shall they learn war any more" (Micah 4:3).
"The God of heaven shall set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed" (Daniel 2:44).
"I will set my glory among the nations, and all the nations shall see my judgment that I have executed" (Ezekiel 39:21).
"In his days (the days of Christ) shall the righteous flourish and abundance of peace so long as the moon endureth" (Psalm 72:7).
"The Lord shall be king over all the earth" (Zechariah 14:9).
"The desire of all nations shall come" (Haggai 2:7).
"The Lord will be the hope of his people, and the strength of the children of Israel" (Joel 3.16).
"The knowledge of the glory of the Lord shall cover the earth as the waters do the sea" (Habbakuk 2:14).
"The law shall go forth out of Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem" (Isaiah 2:2-4).
"In that day Jerusalem shall be called the throne of the Lord" (Jeremiah 3:17).
Hundreds of similar references could be quoted from different parts of the Bible, for all its sixty-six books proclaim the same grand message. Christ, the Apostles, and the Prophets were all united in one great hope. They looked forward to coming changes in human affairs when the evils of man's rule will be replaced by the wise administration of a theocracy ruled over by the Lord Jesus and his resurrected and immortalised followers, This will bring about such an alteration in human relationships, as to cause men to become a mutual blessing instead of a mutual curse as at the present.
The meek will then inherit the earth as Christ promised (Matthew 5:5), peace will universally prevail (Psalm 72:7), and the good tidings of the Gospel will find their fulfilment in the conditions that will then be established. The prophet taught:
"He (Christ) shall not fail, nor be discouraged, till he have set judgment in the earth, and the isles shall wait for his law" (Isaiah 42:4).
How The Gospel Message Was Perverted.
Following the death of the Apostles, the teaching of the Gospel was gradually perverted by churches that fell into apostasy. Paul had predicted that this would be the case. He wrote:
"The time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables" (2 Timothy 4:3-4).
It is not difficult to trace this decline in history, and to see that the divided state of Christendom today is an heritage from such.
Gibbon in The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire (Chapter 15) traced this decline. He declared that originally the Christians believed in the millenial reign of Christ on earth. Belief in this thousand years' reign of Christ "was carefully inculcated by a succession of fathers from Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, who conversed with the immediate disciples of the apostles, down to Lactantius, who was preceptor to the son of Constantine."
In short, Gibbon clearly states, that evidence shows that the early believers looked forward to the physical and visible return of Christ to set up on earth the Kingdom of God.
These early believers, he declared: "Intimately connected the millenium with the second coming of Christ." They taught that "Christ, with the triumphant band of saints and the elect who had escaped death, or who had been miraculously revived, would reign upon earth."
This doctrine is clearly taught in Scripture, as the quotations we have advanced above show.
But, today, it is not taught by the churches.
They have inherited the results of a drift from this original Apostolic teaching.
"But when the edifice of the church was almost completed, the temporary support was laid aside. The doctrine of Christ's reign upon earth was at first treated as a profound allegory, was considered by degrees as a doubtful and useless opinion, and was at length rejected as the absurd invention of heresy and fanaticism."
How significant is this statement of the historians, in view of the prediction of the Bible itself. It predicts:
"There shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, saying, 'Where is the promise of his coming?'" (2 Peter 3:4).
This is the attitude adopted by many so-called Christians today, who thus fail to appreciate the key to the understanding of the Bible, and failing to understand the book, lose interest in its glorious, life-giving message.
Unfortunately, in so doing, they follow their religious leaders, to whom the words of Christ can surely apply:
"Woe unto you! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men" (Matthew 23:13).
They do this by distorting the teaching of the Bible, and closing men's minds against its teaching.
QUESTIONS TO STUDY No. 4
The fundamental message of the Bible is the Gospel, which signifies "good news" or "glad tidings".
The Gospel announces a time of blessing for all nations (Galatians 3:8).
It concerns the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth (Mark 1:14; Luke 4:43; Luke 8:1; Daniel 2:44).
Christ will be its King (Luke 1:32-33), reigning from Jerusalem (Jeremiah 3:17). The scope of his reign will be world-wide (Zechariah 14:9). He will be assisted by his resurrected and immortalised followers who shall reign with him "on the earth" (Revelation 5:9-10).
See Outline of Bible History (Charts)