Saturday, June 08, 2013

Jesus and the Kingdom

    The Gospel of Mark tells us that at the death of John the Baptist, “Jesus came preaching, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand’” (Mark1:14‒15).  John and Jesus proclaimed the same message—the good news of the kingdom. But Jesus added a new twist by announcing, “The time is fulfilled.” The kingdom was no longer close by only. Time was up. This intensified the kingdom message.

    We might liken the difference between John’s and Jesus’ message of the kingdom to an announcement of a pregnancy. One day a woman receives word that her life is about to change. She is pregnant! This news brings with it great joy and expectation. Although with child, she must wait nine months for the baby’s arrival. In the meantime, she prepares herself in anticipation of the event. Suddenly she feels a twinge of pain. Labor begins; the time is “at hand.” As everyone waits with baited breath, the hour arrives. The baby is born. “The time is fulfilled.” It is the dawning of a new day for everyone. The married couple becomes parents and their parents become grandparents.

In like manner the OT prophets until John the Baptist spoke of the kingdom’s arrival. Israel was pregnant with expectation. As the countdown begins, the years and months turn into weeks and days. Measured expectation is transformed into anxious anticipation. With the onset of labor, John the Baptist declares, “The kingdom of God is at hand.” His message foreshadows Jesus’ announcement that “the time is fulfilled.” The kingdom is birthed in the person and ministry of Jesus.

Luke’s version locates this same announcement within the setting of a synagogue in Capernaum, near Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth. After reading from the scroll of Isaiah, which speaks of the promised kingdom, Jesus concludes by saying, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). This verse offers more clues as to the manner of the kingdom’s arrival.

    Examining this verse, we first notice the words, “This scripture is fulfilled.” Jesus is referring to the inspired words of Isaiah’s prophecy about the kingdom coming to earth.

    Second, we are given the specific time of its fulfillment: “Today.” Not tomorrow or next year or in two millennia!

    Finally, we are given a geographic indicator of the kingdom’s start: “in your hearing.” Right there in the midst of the synagogue crowd.

    When we put the pieces together we see that the kingdom must have arrived with Jesus as he launched his public ministry. The kingdom of God was no longer a future hope only, but a present reality. As missionary strategist Lesslie Newbigin so insightfully remarked, “It now had a name and a face—the name and face of the man from Nazareth.”  The waiting period was over, and God was in a climactic way initiating his work of salvation on earth. 

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