What is the essential message of Jesus? I think people would have a number of differing opinions.
Some may say that the central message of Jesus is about our reconciliation of our relationship with God (especially through the individualistic view of substitutionary atonement). While this is a message about Jesus, I'm not sure it is Jesus' message. Whether or not you believe reconciliation with God through the cross was one of the missions (or the only mission) of Jesus, I'm not sure you could rightly say it was Jesus' message - from our records, Jesus didn't talk about it much, if at all.
Others may say that Jesus' message was one of law. According to one gospel account, Jesus claimed not to abolish the law but to fulfill it. He talked a lot about how people spent their money, and had much to say about fulfilling the law not just to the letter but with the right heart. But was this Jesus' central message? He definitely talked about it. We may be on the right track.
Still others may say that Jesus' central message was the afterlife. He talked about the rich man and Lazarus, he talked about people being thrown "outside," finding themselves in Gehenna or Hades. In (almost?) every case, though, these discussions were directed at religious leaders oppressing people. So while this is a part of the message, it can't be the main point because his audience was broader than the religious elites.
So, here's my opinion; see what you think. Jesus' message, his central theme around everything else he taught and talked about revolves, is "the kingdom of God" (or "the kingdom of heaven" to Matthew). Check out the references:
Kingdom of God
Kingdom of Heaven
So, yeah, Jesus talks a lot about the kingdom of God (or, at the very least, we can say that the authors of the gospel accounts thought the kingdom of God was pretty dang central to Jesus' message).
What I'd love to do is sit down with a handful of people and talk about Jesus' message regarding the kingdom of God, because there doesn't seem to be an easy checklist of what Jesus was trying to say. What's readily apparent is that the kingdom of God is quite different from other kingdoms. I'd like to (maybe in a future post) work through these references to the kingdom of God and figure out Jesus' themes for the kingdom of God. I think that only when we figure out Jesus' central message (and start actually doing it) can we then call ourselves followers of Jesus.
What do you think? What was Jesus' central message?
What is the kingdom of God?
Does institutional Christianity (or any other form of Christianity) discuss the kingdom of God as frequently as Jesus? If not, why not?
Check out Creating a New Corporate Practice Part 1, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, and Part 6.