September 21, 2020

The Jesus Disconnect (3): Kingdom, Discipleship and Cross


The second half of the Gospel of Mark is dominated by Jesus’ focus on the cross. He begins predicting his passion, death and resurrection in chapters 8, 9 and 10, and arrives in Jerusalem in chapter 11.

On the way to Jerusalem, starting with the first prediction in chapter 8, Jesus begins a focus on discipleship in the light of the cross. The teachings and material in the early part of Mark part II seems to indicate that the calling of the disciples to the proclamation of the Kingdom was now recalibrated to the equipping of the disciples to relate everything to the cross.

Matthew and Luke have far more teaching material, but the vast majority of this material can be categorized as either “Kingdom” oriented or “discipleship” oriented. What is unmistakable in all three of the synoptic Gospels is the immense amount of time and effort Jesus put into connecting Kingdom, discipleship and cross/resurrection. There is simply no way that an honest examination of the Gospels can make the material on Kingdom and discipleship to be secondary to the focus on the cross.

The inclusion of this material in Mark establishes the historicity of the material. The increased amount of the material in Matthew and Luke tells us about the importance of this material in early Christianity.

Once we have realized this fact, we can ask one of the fundamental questions: How do we relate Kingdom, discipleship and cross together in one integrated view of Jesus and the Gospel?

Let me suggest some possible answers:

1. The Kingdom of God is the great theme of scripture, but the nature of that Kingdom is much different than any other Kingdom.

2. In order for the Kingdom of God to established in history, God provides a King who is also priest, prophet, sacrifice, temple, teacher and a fulfillment of all the other Biblical themes that are part of the Kingdom in history.

3. One of the ways we recognize Jesus is that he speaks of the Kingdom, but also, in himself, provides the defeat of sin and resurrection to new life that are necessary for those who would be part of the Kingdom. Yet he never ceases to be King.

4. Jesus is the presence of the Kingdom, and his ministry of healing, teaching and exorcisms prefigures the complete defeat of sin and evil. In the cross and resurrection that victory becomes total.

5. The response of any person to God’s Kingdom proclamation is a) faith and b) discipleship, i.e. to believe in/trust the God of the Kingdom and to live out the reality of the Kingdom.

6. The tension between faith and imperfect obedience is dealt with by the cross, where the Kingdom becomes a Kingdom of fulfilled law and amazing grace.

7. The invitation to the Kingdom is a personal response to Jesus’ offer of himself as Lord, savior, substitute and teacher. One believes and enters the Kingdom; one believes and follows/obeys the King.

8. The cross makes it possible for the Kingdom of God to be constituted of sinful persons but to be a Kingdom of perfect righteousness.

9. The mark of the Kingdom is its Christ-centeredness. This defines the Kingdom in terms of our personal relationship to God. In history, that Christ centeredness becomes Kingdom living, evangelism, missions, compassionate ministry, love of neighbor, etc.

10. The old and new covenants are harmonized when the Kingdom of the old covenant is personified in Jesus and “signaled” in the church. Jesus now brings the Kingdom and disciples are living “Kingdom” lives now, in advance.

My contention is that a simple reading of the synoptics will clearly show that Jesus gives none of his followers a pass from the entire course of discipleship, that he is calling us to live as signs of the Kingdom of God in history and his cross forever settles the nature of our relationship with God in the Kingdom: constant, overflowing grace.


  1. Wow, thanks for helping me along on this journey. I’ve had a lot of similar but disjointed thoughts, but this is helping some of those thoughts come together. I’ve understood the gospel as presented by evangelicals – which is founded in scripture (mostly in Romans). Yet I’ve been discovering that Jesus came preaching a slightly different gospel. It seems wrong to place the gospel according to Jesus as secondary to the gospel according to Paul. The two gospels must work together, so how do they relate?

    You’ve made some great connections here – I’ll have to hang on to this article as I slowly process this further.

    Thanks iMonk!
    God bless!

  2. sue kephart says

    I agree with this. So! I think most Christians know this. They live good lives. Don’t kill people, help the person who’s car is stuck in the snow. Come to church on a regular basis. Give to charity, make a good pot luck (very important in my tradition).Usher once a month and so on.

    What do you want them to do?

  3. Well, the things you mentioned are fairly common moral actions you’d find among most humans, Christian or not.

    I’d like to see them living lives dedicated to communicating the Gospel, building Christian community, evangelizing, planting churches, crossing cultural barriers, living DISTINCTIVELY Chrisian morality, saturated in scripture and pointing to the God of the Gospel in every way possible.

    But what I want them to do is secondary.

    I’d just like to no longer hear that whatever Jesus said to his disciples or about the Kingdom has no relevance to us. I’m tired of the cynicism and cultural surrender we’ve embraced. I’m tired of hearing about Jesus from people who apparently wouldn’t want to have him over for dinner.

  4. sue kephart says

    I agree. But how do we get them to do it? What motivates them as the Apostles were motivated? [Mod edit] Head knowledge is important. But I believe we must then move from the head to the heart. That is where the discipleship comes in.

    My call if you want to call it that is to the people in the pews. This is why I am interested in your blog. Others are called to reach out to the “unchurched”. We all have different gifts.

    Also, unity of the Church. I don’t believe we need to be in one big institution. But we need to come together in good ways. To share and learn from each other. Different traditions have different strengths. We need to be open to it. Fear not. Have an open mind. No one has all the answers.
    Just think what I could do if I had gone to seminary!!!( that’s a joke) So I’ll end on a up note.

    Peace and Love,

  5. Sue,

    your words remind me of the story of the rich young man who came to Jesus.

    What do I still lack?”
    “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

    Jesus does not want us to be nice people. He wants us to be saints. This is very important, because otherwise our faith will falter once we meet Hindus or Muslims or atheists or whoever who are nice, caring people.

    Of course, someone striving for sancticity should also cultivate all the natural virtues. But the most important thing for us is:

    “Take up your cross and follow Me.”

    To do whatever God asks us to do, even if it involves great and small hardships, suffering, resentment, conflict with family etc. But it may also involve smallness, hiddenness, seeming insignificance while we, with our human minds, would like to do something “big” and seemingly “important”.

    I think it’s very fitting that St Therese of Lisieux of all people – a French girl who hardly ever left her home region, lived as a cloistered nun and died at age 24 – has been declared patron of the missions. I think it underlines that a soul so completely surrendered to God as hers was can have as great an impact on the world (even in “hiding”) as many active missionaries.

    It’s just always about giving our will over to God, doing what He wants us to do and going where He is leading us. Or in iMonk’s terms: Being a Disciple who takes up the Cross in order to get closer and closer to the Kingdom….

  6. >Or in iMonk’s terms: Being a Disciple who takes up the Cross in order to get closer and closer to the Kingdom….

    Sorry to be a Protestant, but I think we’re in the Kingdom by faith, through grace, by Christ 🙂

    But I appreciate the comment.



  7. Sorry, my post was a reaction to your first post, Sue…

    I think the only thing that can motivate people to take up their crosses and follow Jesus is – being madly in love with Him. A new conversion. The work of the Holy Spirit… Nothing else will do.

    God bless,

  8. Petra,
    You are SO right!
    God bless.

  9. “But how do we get them to do it?”

    We don’t. That would be God’s area. We do what we are called to do. We follow our God given passions.

    I agree with Petra.

  10. Imonk,

    I learn so much from these posts you write! Thank you so much for educating an inexperienced Christian such as myself! But I have a few questions…

    Are you under the belief that the Kingdom of God is a present reality or something to occur within the future? Additionally, is the Kingdom of God mainly inward spirituality, or does it have a physical component also? I guess what I’m really asking is, what exactly is the Kingdom of God? Present reality or future hope?

  11. Sue, you ask, “How can we get them to do it?” I think iMonk’s response, “…building Christian community…” is central. If we are satisfied with church being focused on a service that happens on Sundays and is for the most part useless, programs for any possible ministry “niche,” meetings, events, “socials” where people only hang out with their cliques, etc., then few will ever take up the challenge of the cross. We need churches to open their eyes, build true community that is Christian (great book by the way), and hold those who claim to be disciples to walk the walk. We need people to be drawn to the church because of our love for one another and not just because we get to escape the flames of hell! Our salvation is actually good for something before we die. We can impact our churches, communities, and world with transformation because his kingdom is present with us and not yet here. Matthew 16:27 says that Christ will return and repay us all for what we have done. I don’t recall Jesus ever teaching us to attend “church” or even participate in it. Church, in very general terms, has become a distraction from the cross for many. As someone who is called to the “people in the pews”, I think a beautiful pace to start would be to get them out of the pews. Start with introducing them to the people in the pew next-door and their struggles, problems, doubts, etc in life. Then when we finally come to love one another, we might actually have something to offer the people in our communities. Then we could start getting to know our next-door neighbors and their struggles, problems, and doubts. Love, community, and relationship are all greatly lacking in our congregations. If we lived the love of Christ amongst ourselves, maybe it would be easier to deny ourselves and pick up that heavy, splintery cross and follow.

  12. Waybe B. says

    It could conceivably be a present reality, but “visible” only to the saints.

  13. Josh, you are spot on I think. IMonk’s 10 points lean too heavily towards the individualistic view of the Kingdom. I don’t mean to be picky IM – I can see the influence of community thinking in those 10 points but they seem to boil it down a little too much towards individualism for me.

    The Gospel is about joining the new Kingdom that God has already established and continues to grow until the final resurrection when it will be complete. That means that salvation is just the first bit that you need to be part of the community that is working to grow God’s Kingdom here. The rest of the community work lies ahead of us. It’s not about good works, it’s about growing a Kingdom.

    Josh’s contrast with a Sunday service and real community hit’s the nail on the head. We need to understand salvation in much broader terms than just our relationship with God – that is just the beginning; the restoration of us so that we can continue the restoration of the Kingdom.

  14. Should there be [Mod edit] clarification of statement in comment 1 that Jesus came preaching a different gospel (from what is in Romans, etc.?)

  15. Phil M:

    I’ve written dozens of posts on community, including some on the page right now.

    It’s a matter of balance, but today has been the most imbalanced discussion I can remember on here. Say discipleship and someone yells justification. Say sanctification and someone says I’m preaching salvation by works.

    Very frustrating. The gospel addresses individuals and creates community. I have to address the Gospel to hundreds of lost people in my ministry. I invite them to Christ and into the community around him. It’s both/and and I don’t accept that I haven’t made that clear.

    What is an “individualistic” kingdom anyway?



  16. Frank: It’s the same Gospel, but there are significant differences in the articulation depending on where you want to draw the texts. If the brother thinks the Gospels are different, then he should read the first paragraph of Romans very closely. If someone things the articulations of Paul and the synoptics are identical on this, they are, in my view, overlooking some fairly obvious differents in vocabulary, logic, audience, use of the OT, etc.



  17. ProdigalSarah says

    Luke 17: 21 “…the kingdom of God is within you.” (or among you)

  18. IM: You are right, and I didn’t mean to be critical. I’m reading NT Wright’s “Surprised By Hope” at the same time as following Scott McKight’s series on Kingdom Gospel. The combination is having a very positive (IMO) effect on my view of the Gospel.

    So I guess I read into your post my own shift in thinking away from the individualistic view of the Gospel that I was taught, towards the Kingdom Gospel of community. Apologies.

  19. Great series of posts.

    The lack of balance in the lives of far too many Christians (myself included) has been a source of great frustration for me. Just a quick read through the comments on several of your posts over the last couple of weeks, shows just how out of balance American Christians are.

    Everything is an extreme either/or. And I’ve discovered that appeals for more grace, more balance, in the ways people live out their faith and engage one another, are usually met with a barrage of stones from both sides.

    It’s amazing, the lengths to which people will go, to argue that the Bible doesn’t really mean what it says, Jesus didn’t really say what he said, this or that passage is no longer relevant. It’s very disheartening.

    I know others who are wrestling with the same sense of frustration. So, hopefully, there is a hunger for what you’ve called a Jesus-Shaped Christianity among enough people to make a difference.

    God bless.

  20. Actually, I should have said, Jesus-Shaped Spirituality

    Sorry about that.

  21. Hope I’m not too late for a question:
    “There is simply no way that an honest examination of the Gospels can make the material on Kingdom and discipleship to be secondary to the focus on the cross.” I agree with you (in my limited knowledge). But I was wondering if this means that

    a. the cross is secondary
    b. they are equal, or
    c. it doesn’t matter what percentage each “side” should have

    Just wondering.

    Ricky – I can easily fall into the “extreme either/or” trap, too. (this question is probably an example of it!)

  22. The cross/rez is primary. That’s clearly why Jesus did the “Messianic Secret” business, i.e. doing miracles but telling people to not say anything. He even does this in Mark 8 when Peter correctly identifies him. The cross/rez is the center of the Gospel, but the focus of the Christian is on Jesus as mediator entirely, i.e. as a whole, not in parts.

    The coming of the Spirit produces the articulation of the Gospel in Acts: A crucified and Risen king who has brought a new Kingdom into history.

  23. Thanks for the answer, I think I see what you’re saying is that though the cross/rez is primary and “proves” who Jesus is, that we as believers need to look at ALL of him (obviously we won’t be able to know ALL of him during this life, of course) instead of looking at pieces of him. Thanks again and BTW, I love reading about the Kingdom aspects of Jesus to balance out those “God is my friend” songs that are jumbled in my head.