Christendom is divided into a multitude of warring sects and denominations. It seems that Christians have a hard time agreeing on much of anything. It is also true, sad to say, that down through the ages these denominational differences have sometimes spilled over into outright violence. Critics have pointed to these undeniable facts as evidence that God is unknowable and religion is a farce.
There is a sense, however, in which all of this is beside the point. The real question is, what did Jesus Himself teach and say? And what relevance does His teaching have for us today in the Twenty First century.
One of the earliest summaries we have of Jesus' teaching, based at least in part in the apostle Peter's personal recollection, is found in the Gospel According to Mark. In Mark 1:14,15 we are told that Jesus came to Galilee, a district in northern Palestine, "preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.'" (NKJV).
Jesus' listeners would have understood what He was saying. For centuries Israelite prophets had been predicting a time when a supernatural figure, the "Messiah," or anointed One, would reign over the earth in an era of universal justice and peace. As early as 735 B.C. the prophet Isaiah foretold a time in which nations "shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, Neither shall they learn war anymore" (Isa. 2:4).
Human life, as we experience it now, is filled with pain and sorrow. We know sickness, injury and death. We also know the cruelty and injustice that human beings inflict on each other. This raises a nagging question: is this all there is? Are we doomed to an endless cycle of evil and death?
The problem becomes ever more acute if we view it from the standpoint of monotheism. If the world was created by a single, all-powerful intelligent Being, then why is there evil in the world? How could God allow such a thing to happen? The Bible partly answers this question by tying our physical suffering to our moral condition – we die ultimately because we sin. Death is God's just judgment on a fallen and sinful human race. And sin is a decision that we make; we can blame no one but ourselves for our predicament.
But does that mean that creation is in a permanent state of ruin? Did evil achieve the final victory over good?
The biblical answer is the kingdom of God – the Messianic age in the future. History is headed toward a final showdown in which good finally triumphs over evil and the earth is restored to its original state of peace and righteousness. God is sovereign and His will will ultimately prevail.
But how will this perfect state be brought about? The answer is shattering. The prophets described an apocalyptic event called "the Day of the Lord" – a moment in history in which God Himself will come to judge the world. "The Lord gives voice before His army, For His camp is very great; For strong is the One who executes His word. For the day of the Lord is great and terrible; Who can endure it?" (Joel 2:11).
All of which brings us to our present situation. What does all of this mean for us today? The answer is, we need to repent. Joel goes on to say, "'Now therefore,' says the Lord, 'Turn to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping and with mourning.' So rend your heart, and not your garments; Return to the Lord your God, For He is gracious and merciful, Slow to anger, and of great kindness; And He relents from doing harm" (vv. 12,13). We cannot "enter" or "inherit" the kingdom of God in our present state of sin and degradation. We must repent of our sin and experience an inward moral renovation before we can enter the kingdom.
Jesus announced that "the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand" (lit. "has come near" – Mk. 1:15). The time to repent is now.
It is noteworthy that Jesus did not come preaching toleration and multiculturalism. He did not preach "the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man." What He preached, quite bluntly, was repentance. We must change, or we are doomed.