CONCERNING THE COMING OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD
“Inasmuch as God loves us wherever we are, He loves us far too much to leave us how we are. It was for this reason that the doors to the Kingdom were shut after ‘the Fall’ and the reason why they were open again after the resurrection.
Each of the four Gospels clearly state that it was at the beginning of His ministry, immediately following His Baptism and Temptation in the desert, that Jesus made a clear and emphatic statement concerning the coming of the Kingdom of God and its mission. Each of the Gospels then go on to condense the activities of a three year ministry of Christ Jesus in which He gave His disciples precise teachings and examples on how they were to fulfill the mission of the Kingdom after He had ascended to the right hand of the Father.
Mark is the shortest of the four “After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the good message of God: “This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand, metanoeo and believe in the good message” (Mt. 1:14-15). The Marcan account does not take the time to tell us exactly what Old Testament prophecy is being fulfilled here, other than its references to Isaiah’s promise of Salvation at the very beginning of its narrative (Cf. Isa. 40; Mk. 1:2-3). And perhaps that is enough for Mark just to point to Isaiah’s prophecy and say that the old has passed away and the new is here. On the contrary, Mark’s emphasis on the Kingdom’s mission seems to be on the timing of its coming and the need for people to recognize it. This is why they are being called to metanoeo what they thought that the Kingdom would be and, rather, to have faith in what it actually is. Metanoeo is the Greek word for ‘think differently’, ‘change course’, or ‘reconsider’. The Hebrew equivalent used by Jesus was probably ‘shuwb’.
The Gospel of Matthew leads with the same chronology of Mark in telling us that Jesus began proclaiming “Shuwb, for the Kingdom of God is at hand,” after His Desert Temptation and John’s (the Waymaker) arrest. Matthew also draws from Isaiah to make a prophetic point about the mission of the Kingdom of God (Cf. Isa. 8:23), but the similarities between these two Gospels end there. The Matthean account is not concerned about when the Kingdom’s coming was first preached, but rather on where it was first preached: “When He heard that John had been arrested, He withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali, that what had been said through the prophet might be fulfilled: “Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles, the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light, on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death light has arisen” (Mt. 4:12-17). The last portion of Isaiah’s prophecy, concerning the mission statement of the Kingdom of God, reminds us of what we will encounter below in the Gospel of John that the Kingdom is the great light that came into the world to dispel the darkness.
Luke agrees that Jesus began His ministry after the Temptation in the Desert and also that it began in Capernaum, but the similarities with the other Gospels end there. For Luke, the fascinating aspect of the story does not take place in Capernaum, but rather twenty miles southwest, as the crow flies, in Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth. And the Lucan narrative is not concerned about when or where the Kingdom’s coming was first preached as the other Gospels were, but rather on who proclaimed its coming: “He came to Nazareth, where He had grown up, and went according to His custom into the synagogue on the Sabbath day. He stood up to read and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written: “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has appointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” Rolling up the scroll, He handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at Him. He said to them, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” And all spoke highly of Him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from His mouth. They also asked, “Isn’t this the son of Joseph?” He said to them, “Surely you will quote me this proverb, ‘Physician, cure yourself,’ and say, ‘Do here in your native place the things that we heard were done in Capernaum.’” And He said, “Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place”” (Lk. 4:16-24).
Imagine Jesus reading Isaiah’s prophecy in the synagogue of the same town where He grew up; where He played and had childhood friends just like any other kid, and in front of some of the same people who He may have performed some carpentry work for. Now imagine Him emphasizing the word ‘me’ as He read the prophecy and perhaps, pointing to Himself all three times. Being a people who were oppressed, marginalized, and heavily taxed by a foreign government, the local townsfolk were very happy to hear these good tidings from Jesus about a new year of Jubilee, but they were also having a very difficult time believing that little Yeshua, son of Yoseph, grew up to be their long-awaited Messiah.
Yet, the story in Luke is not all about rejection. The Kingdom’s light will always be rejected by the darkness. On the contrary, as great of a mission statement that Jesus proclaimed at Nazareth, it would have been enough just to read the last seven words that He had come to “proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” Again, these were the words that His hometown audience called ‘gracious’. With these words, Jesus had announced a year of Jubilee, which, like a Sabbatical (Sabbath) year (every 49th year), was a sacred year of rest and restoration for the people and the land. During the Jubilee year all and was restored to its original inherited line of ownership, liberty for all of creation was decreed, slaves/prisoners were freed, and sowing, reaping, and harvesting were prohibited (Cf. Lev. 25). This is the type of year that is acceptable to the Lord.
The year of Jubilee was always announced on the Day of Atonement (on the tenth day of the seventh month) by blasting a ram’s horn throughout the land. That this was the Kingdom’s announcement of a new Day of Atonement is evident through Jesus’ (the source of true Atonement) call for all to shuwb. This self-evident truth is further supported by the fact that the trumpet blast came not from a ram’s horn, but by the true sacrificial ram Himself, Christ Jesus, the Lamb of God.
Abraham was given a ram to spare his own son from being sacrificed, and God’s compassion permitted for animal blood to atone for our sins; thereby allowing the penitent to remain in the shadow of His Kingdom. Yet, it was not enough for God that we rest in His shadow. What He desired was for us to be fully reconciled to Him and Him to us, but animal blood was not equipped to accomplish that awesome task. The only way that man would finally be able to enter the Kingdom of God was through the Blood of His own Son shed on the Cross of Calvary, and, for our sake, it was done!
This ultimate expression of God’s love for us is at the heart of Luke’s emphasis on who brought the Kingdom of God. As the due result of God becoming man, in order to gather and reconcile man into the Kingdom of God, man’s relationship with ‘other’ was forever redefined. That is, by virtue of the Creator becoming one of His creatures, no longer could the creatures rightfully think of themselves as being more or less than equal to their fellow creatures. If we had previously defined our relationship with others through the paradigm of master vs. servant, owner vs. possession, or subjector vs. subject, those constructs were forever broken at the advent of the doors of the Kingdom being open, as the direct result of God becoming man and sacrificing His earthly life, so that His creature’s might obtain eternal life.
Outside of Jesus’ dialogue with Pontius Pilate, the only direct reference that the Johannine account makes concerning the Kingdom of God is in regards to how one comes by the way of seeing and entering it. Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus will be addressed at others times throughout this series, but for now I will skip ahead a few verses in chapter three and continue my focus on Jesus’ statements concerning the coming of the Kingdom.
Being that John’s chronology is theological, rather than historical, the timing of Jesus’ dialogue is also of no concern to us here. All of the Synoptic Gospels drew from Isaiah in their own unique way to colorfully describe the mission of the Kingdom, its time of proclamation, its place of first proclamation, and its chief proclaimer. In vv. 16 thru 21 the Gospel of John poetically and perfectly summates all of the Synoptics in saying that when God sent His Son it was truly the time (when) of fulfillment (Mark ), that the great light beyond Galilee (where) is Jesus who came into the world (Mathew), and that He (who) will always be rejected in this world by those who cannot see Him for who He is (Luke ). John then goes on to answer what he believes to be the most important question, and uses an entire book to do so. The great question for John is, ‘Why did Jesus bring us the Kingdom of God?’
At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, we find in each of the four Gospel accounts, that Jesus gave a brief statement concerning the Kingdom’s coming and its mission. He and His disciples were sure to have proclaimed these good tidings everywhere they went during the Lord’s three year ministry. God’s compassion knows no depth! Not only did He allow His Kingdom to come to us, but He announced its coming through His beloved and only begotten Son who had come to us in the flesh. God’s love for us does not stop there. His Kingdom has not only come, but its doors are open to anyone who changes his/her life course and believes. Moreover, the doors of the Kingdom are not open because of anything that we have done. On the contrary, they are open in spite of who we are. Without God’s love, compassion, grace, and the Blood of His Son, the doors would still be shut.”
~ END EXCERPT
As you reflect upon the readings at Mass today, here are some questions for you to consider:
- What does it mean to you to be a citizen of the Kingdom of God?
- How do you live your eternal citizenship out in the Kingdom of God in context of also being a temporal citizen of your city, state, and country?
- How have you cooperated today with your daily prayer that the Kingdom of God come and that His will be done?How have you effected the sharing of God’s Kingdom coming into the life of many?
The law of the LORD is perfect,
refreshing the soul;
The decree of the LORD is trustworthy,
giving wisdom to the simple.
The precepts of the LORD are right,
rejoicing the heart;
The command of the LORD is clear,
enlightening the eye.
The fear of the LORD is pure,
The ordinances of the LORD are true,
all of them just.
Let the words of my mouth and the thought of my heart
find favor before you,
O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.
Scripture texts in this blog are taken from the New American Bible with Revised New Testament and Revised Psalms © 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.