“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand [near]; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15)
The Evangelist Mark tells us that Jesus preached, the kingdom of God is at hand [Mk 1:15]. Jesus prefaces this proclamation of the nearness of God’s kingdom with the statement that the time is fulfilled. Jewish believers hearing Him say this would have realized He was referencing the fulfillment of God’s promise to send the Christ, His Son. Saint Paul describes this time of fulfillment: But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons [Gal. 4:4,5]. The time was fulfilled, Christ the King was present; thus the kingdom of God is at hand.
The Christ is the King of the Jews, but even more He is the heavenly King of kings. When Christ the King is present, then all the blessings of His kingdom flow from and through Him. When the King is present, bestowing His wondrous, loving blessings, the kingdom then comes upon the recipients of such blessings. The “synoptic” Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) are replete with references to God’s Kingdom. In the Gospel of John, however, such references are noticeably absent, with the exception of our Lord’s confession before Pontius Pilate. Nonetheless in the Gospel of John the nearness of the Kingdom of God is actually being presented. When in John’s Gospel Jesus describes Himself as the way, the truth, the life, the resurrection, the Good Shepherd, the light of the world, and the like, He is actually describing the proximity of the Kingdom of God, a proximity found only in the King—the Christ, God’s Son. Wherever the King is, there God’s Kingdom is near.
All four Gospels describe the nearness of the Kingdom of God whenever they explain how the King showered people with innumerable miraculous healings, exorcisms, miraculous meals and the like. All four Gospels describe how Jesus bestowed the Holy Spirit, and how the pouring forth of the Spirit would be a culminating kingdom work of the Christ. This Spirit-bestowing Pentecost-event uniquely bespeaks the coming of God’s Kingdom. Luther would thus associate the very bestowal of the Holy Spirit with the coming of God’s Kingdom: God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit [Small Catechism, Lord’s Prayer, 2nd Petition]. God’s Kingdom continues to be near when the King breathes forth His Spirit through His Word and Sacraments, and people are then empowered to repent and believe the gospel.
The Kingdom of God would be uniquely and powerfully near as forgiveness would flow from and through the King. No wonder the words repent and believe in the gospel are directly linked to the proclamation of the nearness of the Kingdom of God: …the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel [Mk 1:15]. God’s people repent and believe because forgiveness flows from the King, a forgiveness later linked to Holy Baptism, Absolution and the Holy Supper—a forgiveness won at the King’s Cross upon which was nailed the informative placard, King of the Jews [Mk 15:26]. This forgiveness flowing from and through the crucified King, is at the heart of the Gospel. Such God-purchased forgiveness received by penitent believers, is the most powerful earthly presence of the Kingdom of God, the very heart of the Gospel. The Kingdom of God—centrally the forgiveness of sins—is truly at hand; by the Spirit’s power repent and believe this Gospel.
Finally, as surely as He is risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity, the Kingdom of God will come in its fullness when His resurrected people realize the King face to face forever. The Kingdom of God is near; even so Come Lord Jesus!