Many years ago now, Herbert Armstrong wrote a booklet entitled What is the True Gospel? In this booklet, he called out mainstream Christians for preaching a gospel about Christ and ignoring his actual message about the Kingdom of God. Armstrong wrote: "The Gospel of Jesus Christ is NOT man's gospel ABOUT THE PERSON of Christ. It is CHRIST'S Gospel - the Gospel Jesus PREACHED - the Gospel God SENT by Him, and therefore it is also called, in Scripture, the Gospel of God. The Gospel of God is God's GOSPEL - His Message - His Good News which He sent by Jesus." He went on to say: "We hear a great deal today of the gospel of MEN about the PERSON of Jesus Christ - confining the message solely to the things ABOUT Jesus. As a result, millions believe on Christ, who do not BELIEVE CHRIST! But Jesus' Gospel IS HIS MESSAGE!" (For those interested in reading the entire booklet, you may do so here: Herbert W Armstrong Searchable Library - What is the True Gospel?
Unfortunately, however, Mr. Armstrong's insistence that the message and the messenger were distinctly different subjects does not hold up under closer scrutiny of the scriptures related to this topic. Indeed, when we examine those scriptures, we are left with the distinct impression that it is impossible to separate the two!
In the Gospel of Matthew, we read: "In those days John the Baptist came to the Judean wilderness and began preaching. His message was, 'Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.'" (Matthew 3:1-2) Interestingly, when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, we are informed that "From then on Jesus began to preach, 'Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.'" (Matthew 4:17) Likewise, we read in the first chapter of the Gospel According to Mark: "Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel." (verses 14-15) Why was the kingdom of Heaven/God near/at hand? Is it possible that this had anything to do with Christ's presence? And why was repentance an essential component of the message if it was all about a kingdom?
What did Isaiah prophesy about the Messiah? In that book, we read: "For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this." (Isaiah 9:6-7) So, according to Isaiah, the Messiah was to be the KING of the kingdom!
This was further reinforced by what Gabriel told Mary about the son which she was destined to give birth to. In the book of Luke, we read: "Don’t be afraid, Mary...for you have found favor with God! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!” (Luke 1:30-33, NLT) This was clearly to be Christ's kingdom.
Perhaps that is why, when he was accused by the Pharisees of casting out demons by the power of Satan, Jesus is reported to have told them: "But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you." (see Matthew 12:28 and Luke 11:20)) Perhaps that is why, when Christ sent his disciples out to preach his message, he instructed them to "heal the sick that are therein, and say unto them, The kingdom of God is come nigh unto you." (Luke 10:9) He also told them to tell any city which rejected their (his) message: "Even the very dust of your city, which cleaveth on us, we do wipe off against you: notwithstanding be ye sure of this, that the kingdom of God is come nigh unto you." (Luke 10:11) In other words, the kingdom of God had "come nigh unto" them just because the king of that kingdom had sent his disciples to preach his message to them! Perhaps that is why, in that same gospel, we read: "Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.” (Luke 17:20-21, NIV) That same passage in the New Living Translation reads "For the Kingdom of God is already among you." In other words, THE KING IS INTIMATELY ASSOCIATED WITH HIS KINGDOM!
Hence, any distinction between the king and his kingdom is artificial and misleading. In other words, the king is an integral part of the message about the kingdom!
In the same booklet mentioned above, Herbert Armstrong also wrote: "Four things are necessary to constitute a KINGDOM: 1) The TERRITORY, with its specific location and definite boundary lines, with 2) a KING or Supreme Ruler or governing agent, ruling over 3) SUBJECTS or citizens within that territorial jurisdiction, with 4) LAWS and form of GOVERNMENT. If we leave out anyone of these vital requisites, we do not have, and cannot BELIEVE, the true GOSPEL for this time."
Armstrong was certainly not the first person to make this mistake - that is, imagining the kingdom in human terms (as a physical kingdom of this world). Some of Christ's own followers thought that he was going to literally and immediately revive David's kingdom. In fact, in the book of Luke, we read that he had to tell them a parable "because they thought that the kingdom of God should immediately appear." (Luke 19:11) And, just before Christ ascended into heaven, they asked him "wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?" (Acts 1:6)
Indeed, this misconception about Christ's kingdom was not confined to his followers. When Jesus was on trial for his life before the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate, we are informed that Pilate asked him if he was really claiming to be the king of the Jews (see John 18:33). In response, John informs us that Christ replied: “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36, NLT) Apparently, Pilate still didn't understand, because he repeated his question about Christ being a king (verse 37). We are told that Christ responded: “You say I am a king. Actually, I was born and came into the world to testify to the truth. All who love the truth recognize that what I say is true.” (verse 37) And, even in the English translations which have Christ responding in the affirmative to Pilate's question, the sense that a significant part of Christ's mission was to bring truth into the world is clear. Hence, these scriptures clearly dispel the notion that the Kingdom of God is a kingdom in the traditional human sense!
Like Christ's First Century followers and Pilate, Herbert Armstrong couldn't understand the notion of a spiritual kingdom dependent on "TRUTH" with Christ at its helm. He also couldn't comprehend a limitless kingdom - one without borders. He couldn't understand a kingdom where the subjects of the kingdom would be spiritually reborn and eventually become co-priests and co-kings with THE king. And, finally, he couldn't understand the concept of a kingdom which was inextricably tied to salvation through Jesus Christ and was based on grace. In short, Herbert Armstrong's notions about what constitutes a kingdom were very human and limited and could not begin to encompass what the Kingdom of God actually was, is and will be in the future - a kingdom that is NOT defined in human terms!
Hence, the notion that the gospel was merely a message about government and a physical kingdom is just plain wrong. Scripture makes clear that gospel message included the messenger, salvation through him, grace, truth and so much more. In fact, by defining the gospel in such narrow terms, we can clearly see that Mr. Armstrong fundamentally misunderstood that message. Moreover, as a consequence of his lack of understanding, we can see that the booklet referenced in this post misrepresented both the scope and nature of the gospel (good news).