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This post explores the eschatological framework of the New Testament.
‘Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled. The kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel”’.
‘From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”.
‘Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you. Heal the sick in it and say to them, “The kingdom of God has come near to you”.
1. Biblical scholars don’t agree on much. One thing on which they do agree is that the central message of Jesus was the Kingdom of God.
a. The Synoptic gospel writers describe the gospel in terms of the Kingdom (Mt 4.23; 9.35; Mk 1.14-15; Lk 10.9).
b. The message of Jesus was (Luke 10.9) ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you’.
c. Gordon Fee declares “If you miss the Kingdom of God, you’ve missed Jesus altogether!”
2. Mark’s passage raises some interesting questions that we will examine over the next few mornings:
a. What is the kingdom of God? What is the kingdom of heaven? Is there a difference?
b. What time is fulfilled?
c. What is the good news (gospel) of the kingdom?
B. The meaning of ‘Kingdom’
1. What do you think of when you hear the word ‘kingdom?’ Most of us think of a place or realm ruled over by a King, e.g. The Kingdom of Denmark.
2. The Bible uses two words which are usually translated by the English word ‘kingdom.’ However, neither of these words refer to the place where a king rules. George Ladd comments, “The primary meaning of both the Hebrew word malkuth in the Old Testament and of the Greek word basileia in the New Testament is the rank, authority and sovereignty exercised by a king … First of all, a kingdom is the authority to rule, the sovereignty exercised by the king.”
3. When the Bible speaks of the Kingdom of God, this refers to God’s right to rule, his sovereignty and authority.
a. Psalm 103.19 “The LORD has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all.” God’s kingdom is his universal rule over the earth.
b. Psalm 145.11,13 “They will tell of the glory of your kingdom and speak of your might, so that all men may know of your mighty acts and the glorious splendour of your kingdom. Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures through all generations.”
Luke 19.11-12 “While they were listening to this, he went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once. He said: “A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king (lit. “receive a kingdom”) and then to return.” The nobleman did not go away to get a land to rule over. The land was already there. He needed authority, the right to rule. In fact, this actually happened in 40 B.C. when Herod the Great travelled to Rome to be declared King of Judea.
4. George Ladd concludes that ‘Kingdom of God’ should be understood to mean God’s rule or sovereignty (Ps 145.11,13; 103.19).
a. The Kingdom of God is “God’s redemptive reign – dynamically active – which establishes his rule among humanity.”
b. God delivers his people from slavery and brings them under his generous rule. The kingdom confronts and overthrows the kingdoms that enslave his people.
c. The kingdom comes when God’s generous rule breaks through powerfully into a given situation. When we pray, “Your kingdom come” (Mt 6.10) we mean God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
C. The Gospel of the Kingdom
The synoptic writers tell us that Jesus went around ‘preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness among the people’ (Mt 4.23). So, what is the good news?
1. Put simply, the good news is that the long anticipated kingdom has arrived in the ministry of Jesus and now everyone has access to the benefits of God’s generous rule through simple confidence in Jesus. However, it’s a bit more complicated than this.
2. The context in which Jesus began his ministry was one of Kingdom fervour.
a. God’s people were living under Roman occupation. They felt that in a real sense, they were still in exile – God’s promises have not come true.
b. Into this setting, John the Baptist arrives saying, Repent for the kingdom of God is near … A greater one, the Spirit-baptizer, is in our midst (Mt 3.11-12).
The Two-Age View of History
3. Although the various Jewish sects held differing views about the details, there was wide expectation that the promised deliverer (messiah) would come to Jerusalem to set up God’s Kingdom and rule from David’s throne.
4. With the disappointments and setbacks following the return from exile, many of the prophetic hopes were pushed forward into a new age, which the prophets call the Age to Come in which God would reverse Israel’s fortunes and fulfil his promises.
5. Jewish people generally held this two-age view of history. The present age is evil because it is ruled by Satan. Even Jesus recognised Satan as the god of this age. Evidence abounds that the present age is evil – sin, sickness, demonic oppression and death. And the continuing experience of exile was reinforced by the absence of the prophetic spirit.
6. God’s faithful people yearned for the day of Yahweh, when the promised deliverer would come to Jerusalem, defeat Israel’s enemies (read ‘the Romans’), set up God’s kingdom and rule on David’s throne. In this conflict, this present evil age and all its sufferings would be overturned and replaced by the shalom of God’s generous rule.
D. The Coming of the Kingdom in the Mission of Jesus
Jesus arrives in Galilee, announcing the good news of God and saying, “The time is fulfilled, the Kingdom of God is near, Repent and believe the good news”. Mark 1.14-15
1. The mission of Jesus is two-fold:
a. Proclamation – Jesus announces that God’s kingdom has come near.
b. Demonstration – He heals the sick and drives out demons.
2. We can see this two-fold pattern in each of the synoptic gospels:
a. Mark 1.14-20 Jesus calls men to follow him;
1.21-27 He drives out an evil spirit in the synagogue in Capernaum;
1.28-31 He heals Peter’s mother-in-law;
1.32-34 He heals all the sick and demonised people in Capernaum;
1.39 He travels through Galilee preaching … and driving out demons.
Twofold ministry: proclamation – the Age to Come is near
Demonstration – this is how it looks
b. Matthew 4.17 Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent for the Kingdom of heaven is near’.
4.18-22 Jesus calls men to follow him and to learn his ministry.
4.23 teaching … preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease among the people.
4.24-25 Large crowds comes from everywhere. He heals every kind of sickness.
8.1-4 Jesus heals a man with leprosy;
8.5-13 He heals the centurions servant;
8.14-15 He heals Peter’s mother-in-law’
8.16-17 He drives out spirits and heals all the sick;
8.23-27 He calms the storm;
8.28-34 He heals two demonised men at Gadara;
9.1-7 He heals a paralysed man by pronouncing forgiveness;
9.9-13 He calls Matthew to follow and hosts a party at his house;
9.18-26 He heals a dead girl; a sick woman gets healed by grabbing his hem;
9.27-33 He heals two blind men and a guy who can’t speak.
3. Jesus’ mission involved five major practices which demonstrate the imminence or arrival of the kingdom of God:
a. Announcing good news to the poor;
b. Healing the sick and driving out demons;
c. Raising the dead;
d. Eating and drinking with sinners;
e. Gathering a display community to live out the life of the Kingdom.
Jesus pointed to the presence (or nearness) of the kingdom by overturning the works of the ruler of this age. The reason the son of man appeared was to destroy the devil’s work (1 John 3.8).
4. It is Jesus’ deeds as well as his words that demonstrate the presence of the God’s rule. He answers John the Baptizer’s querie (Are you the one, or did I get it wrong?) in terms of Isaiah 35 and 61: ‘Tell him what you see: the blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up. The poor hear good news’ (Matthew 11.4.6).
5. So, what’s the good news? It is that, in some sense, the kingdom rule of God has come near in Jesus and the benefits of God’s generous rule are now available (in part, at least) to those who follow him.
E. Eschatological Framework – Living between the now and the not yet
The timing of the kingdom sayings is quite complex. There are four sets of time references:
1. the kingdom is future at the end of the age. This is in continuity with the prophets.
2. the kingdom is near (imminent, but not yet here).
3. the kingdom is here.
4. the kingdom has been delayed.
What are we to make of this?
The ministry and mission of Jesus can only be properly understood within the eschatological framework that is used by all of the NT authors. This framework is called ‘inaugurated eschatology’ and has been clearly articulated by George E. Ladd and Gerhardus Vos. It is essential knowledge for effective kingdom ministry and mission.
1. In his Galilean ministry, Jesus announces that the kingdom of God is near. It is near, because the King has come. He demonstrates the nearness of the kingdom by doing the works of the kingdom – healing the sick, driving out demons, defeating death, welcoming sinners. Near is not here. Not yet.
2. The Age to Come, signalled by the preaching of good news to the poor, healing disease and sickness and driving out demons, was inaugurated by the death and resurrection of Jesus and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
3. The tricky bit is that the age to come has broken into this present evil age but did not bring it to a close. The age to come is now at work in the midst of this present evil age for those who bring their lives under the rule of God. This was not understood nor anticipated by the OT prophets, Jesus’ contemporaries (including his own disciples), nor even by John the Baptist.
4. The mystery of the kingdom is that the age to come has arrived in the ministry of Jesus and is now available to everyone who puts their confidence in him. However, the age to come is only visible through the eyes of faith. It is like a seed growing in secret.
5. Paul, the Pharisee, became convinced that the Age to Come had arrived unexpectedly by two key events:
a. Resurrection – a dead guy appeared to him. Therefore, the age to come has dawned.
b. Outpouring of the Spirit – the eschatological Spirit is now given to everyone.
6. The church is the community of the King (Snyder’s title). It is an eschatological community, called to live out the life of the future in this present evil age.
a. The church, as the community of the King is a sign and a foretaste of the Kingdom.
b. The church is also the instrument or agent of God’s kingdom in the world.
7. As subjects of the Kingdom we have access to the benefits of the age to come, however, we do not receive these benefits in their fullness until the Kingdom is consummated at the parousia. We experience the presence of the future (the ‘now’), but not the fullness (the ‘not yet’).
8. Having said this, the emphasis of the NT is not on the ‘not yet’. Jewish people had been living with ‘not yet’ for centuries.
a. The extraordinary message of the early church is the presence of the future.
b. God’s generous rule has broken powerfully into this present evil age and now everyone has access to its benefits through simple confidence in Jesus.
F. Your Kingdom Come
When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, the first petition in his model prayers is, ‘Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven’ (Mt 6.10).
1. This is not ‘Your kingdom come soon’ (NLT), but ‘Your kingdom come here/now’.
2. Kingdom people bring God’s generous rule into situations where the devil is wreaking havoc.
a. When we see a situation that is not ‘as it is in heaven’, we are authorized to pray, ‘Your kingdom come’.
b. We release the blessings of the age to come in the midst of this present evil age.
3. Then, we invite the beneficiaries to bring their lives under God’s generous rule.