Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Kingdom Of God: When It Shall Come And How (Part 3)

Part 1 in this series is available here. Part 2 is available here.

TWH: Jesus definitely indicated that his disciples did not know when the kingdom of God would come. He warns them to be ready in Matt. 24:42, explaining that they did not know which day the Lord was coming. Verse 42 identifies what they do not know, but verse 43 picks up with what they can be sure of:
"But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into."
Did Jesus know when the end would come though? In Matt. 24:36//Mark 13:32, Jesus indicated that no one knows the day or hour of the second coming of the Messiah except one:
"But of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels of//in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." 
We find in Acts 1:6-7 that even after his crucifixion and resurrection the disciples were not permitted to know the exact time when the fulfillment of God's promises regarding the kingdom would take place:
"And so when they had come together, they were asking him, saying, 'Lord, is it at this time that you are restoring the kingdom to Israel?' He said to them, 'It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by his own authority.'"
But did Jesus know after the crucifixion and resurrection? It is interesting that Jesus only tells the disciples that it is not for them to know. He does not indicate that the Son is no longer privy to this information, whereas in Matthew and Mark he states that no created being (angels, specifically the obedient ones [not fallen], and humans) nor even the Son of Man knows the time. In Jesus' teachings in the Gospels, he makes known to them some events that will precede the coming of the kingdom (more will be explained by the apostle Paul, for example, in his letters to the Thessalonians) and urges them to prepare spiritually for that time. It is possible that this information about the specific time was kept from Jesus during his earthly ministry and only during this time. It's also possible that this is something that, among the members of the Godhead, only the Father knows. After all, Jesus declares in John 17 that he gave to them the words (or teaching) that the Father had given him to share (John 17:8). And we have to ask the question about the nature of God in relationship to their being something that one member of the Godhead knows and the other does not. If it is a temporary lack of knowledge, then we could explain that in light of what Paul describes in Phil. 2:6-11. Of course, that could be the subject of a whole long post of its own, and one probably outside the realm that I could probably safely navigate. At least we raised the question. Feel free to post a comment if you want to explore that a little bit. (By the way, your comments are always appreciated on Across the Atlantic. Feel free to chime in. We want you to participate in the blog.)

Antonio mentioned that Jesus knew the kingdom of God was very near to arriving based on Mark 1:15, which reads: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is near." One question we might have to ask is, "How does know that the kingdom of God is near, if in fact he has no fixed point by which to make such a measured assessment of its temporal proximity?" In other words, you can't say it's near unless you know when it's going to come, right? Antonio went on to say, "Though he did not know the exact time, he knew it was coming and would arrive shortly." I suppose some might think that this is just an example of Jesus' anticipation for the coming kingdom. Jesus, I imagine some might think, was part of a religious group whose ideology taught and longed for the coming kingdom.  And Jesus' teaching in Mark wasn't actually based in any sort of factual knowledge about the specifics of the arrival of the kingdom; he just knew that the kingdom was promised and it seemed like it was already a long time coming so it must be right around the corner. So I actually think there's another way to understand what's going on, especially in the first half of the Gospel of Matthew, which constitutes around two-thirds of the ministry of Jesus. And I'll just summarize it as best I can in a short paragraph:
Jesus understands at the beginning of his ministry that the nation of Israel is experiencing the curses of God (see Deuteronomy 28) because of their lack of obedience to the Mosaic Covenant. He knows that before the kingdom can come––that is, before he can be installed as Israel's king, the rightful heir of the Davidic promises, and seated on David's throne in Jerusalem––the nation of Israel has to repent of their sins. This is why both John's and Jesus' message begins with the command to "repent for the kingdom of heaven is near/at hand" (Matt. 3:2; 4:17). Just about all of the first two years of Jesus' ministry is focused on (1) demonstrating that he is the Messiah, (2) training and mentoring the apostles, while teaching a larger group of people who were interested in his message, and (3) calling the people to repentance, which was no doubt a prerequisite for the kingdom being installed (see Jeremiah 31, e.g., v. 18 and its references to grief, Ephraim's longing for God to rescue him, and repentance connected to God's willingness to demonstrate his mercy). Something takes place in Matthew 12 that changes the way Jesus is going to teach the people and paves the way for him to begin teaching the people about what he calls the "secrets of the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 13:11). What happened? The people that should have repented ended up attributing Jesus' works not to the Holy Spirit, but to the ruler of the demons. Things changed at that moment and Jesus shifts into fifth gear as he begins the last stretch heading to the cross, where he would serve as the substitutionary sacrifice for the sins of the world. 
One thing is very clear after Matthew 13: The coming of the kingdom doesn't look as near as it did at the early points in Jesus' ministry. The coming of the kingdom is imminent; in other words, it could still happen at any moment, whenever it has been fixed by God the Father. But it's no longer described as "near." During the early points in Jesus' ministry, he made an offer to the people––if they would choose to repent of their sins and believe in him, then everything described in Jeremiah 31, for example, would be accomplished and the kingdom could come. Of course, Jesus knew how hard the hearts of some of the people were and he understood that ultimately they would not accept him or his message. After all, it had already been revealed through the prophet that a divine work was necessary in order for this repentance to sweep across the entire people. But to them he still offered himself as the legitimate Davidic heir and the promised one of Israel. Their rejection was as foreknown as each step that Jesus would take as he made his ascent to Golgotha. And ultimately it was this rejection in Matthew 12 that would continue throughout the remaining months of his ministry that would be used to bring about the necessary sacrifice of God's Son for the sins of the world.

Luke 17:20-21 occurs after the rejection mentioned in Matthew 12 though. And yet there Jesus tells the Pharisees that the kingdom of God is in their midst. If you ask me, this is a reference back to what he had began his ministry preaching with an ever so noticeable twist. Before it had been near (ἤγγικεν). At the point when Jesus responds to the Pharisees, it is described as being "among" (ἐντός) them. It is no longer near for them, though it has not disappeared from their midst either. Jesus continues being about the Father's mission, teaching the people, preparing them for period before the end during which the wheat and the tares will coexist. He remains the rightful heir to the Davidic throne, but his kingdom will come at a point sometime in the future. Yet there he is, still standing in front of them and ministering among the people. When Jesus says the kingdom is in their midst, he means the kingdom is as close as the king, the one they have rejected.

When we understand it this way, there really isn't any conflict between what Jesus says in Matthew and Mark with what is found in Luke regarding the coming of the kingdom of God.

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