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Oct

10

2010

The Kingdom of God in Luke

Few would argue that the kingdom of God is the central message of Jesus' teaching ministry during his time here on earth. Interesting that it is indeed on this very topic that there is so much widespread confusion about what he meant!

Personally, I was for some time embarrassed by the fact I didn't understand Jesus' basic message: "Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand!" And so in connection to this, I also struggled for some time in understanding the Gospels (well, at least Matthew, Mark and Luke--I was more okay with John).

Studying through the book of Luke has been very exciting, in particular in this regard. Matthew and Mark place the kingdom as Jesus' essential message from the very beginning, without much explanation. However, Luke does not bring up the kingdom out of the gates. Jesus does not mention the kingdom until the end of chapter 4. I think Luke is helping us understand what Jesus means by the kingdom.

The kingdom is the promised OT kingdom.

Luke 1 is sufficient to establish this point. The first time "kingdom" comes up is Luke 1:33, where Jesus will have the throne of David, he will reign over Israel / Jacob, and whose kingdom will last forever.  The songs Mary and Zechariah (not just thoughts, but prophesy!) also have a strong national / political message about what Jesus would do: saving from enemies, casting down rulers, vindicating the humble, etc.

Luke 1 establishes the identity of the kingdom. It is indeed the promised OT kingdom of the prophets. That's the kingdom Jesus referred to when he said, "The kingdom of God is at hand." So, how was it present?

The kingdom was present in Jesus' person and ministry.

First, two quotes. First by McClain, second by Ladd. These guys are not at all in agreement about everything. Yet, they do both make this point. 

The Kingdom was present in "the personal presence of its King." (Greatness, 272)

"The New Testament locates the Kingdom in Jesus' person and ministry." (Presence of the Future, 156)

Back to Luke 4. Jesus makes a very significant statement in Luke 4:43, "I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose."

He says he came for this very purpose. God the Father sent Christ for this purpose: to preach the kingdom. This was an integral part of his mission. He says, "I must" (dei). This word is commonly used to mark out Jesus' mission, his awareness of a divine plan, fulfilling our salvation.

Here's what hit me this week, the placement of Luke 4 is significant.  Why put it there? Why put such an important mission statement at the end of the chapter? 

Here's what I think the placement does: It forces us to interpret what Jesus means by kingdom by studying Luke 3-4 and all that has happened so far. 

The world "also" in 4:43 means that was what he was doing all day in Capernaum. Even though he didn't mention the word kingdom, but rather describes the salvation that Jesus brought and describes the healing and demon-casting ministry that illustrates the salvation that Jesus brought, all of this can be described as preaching the kingdom.

We should also connect it with his previous "mission statement" in Luke 4:18-19, which describes the salvation that Jesus brought. He came bringing forgiveness, new sight, liberation, God's favor!

I think Luke places it here to describe what he means by kingdom. With the foundation of Luke 1 in place--and with it the identity of the kingdom--we see hints in Luke 4 about how the kingdom is present. Luke doesn't mention the kingdom early (which bothered me at first), so that when we see it first, we have a context to understand it.

The very promised OT kingdom of God was present in the ministry and person of Jesus. 

(Two more verses: Luke 11:20 and Luke 17:21 argue in this direction if you're interested for more.)

How was the kingdom present?

It was present in the salvation and the blessings of the kingdom actually being present in Jesus. The healing of the sick, the casting out of demons, the forgiveness of sins—these very things are the blessings of the kingdom, being experienced and enjoyed in the present. It is the future kingdom “breaking in” to the present.

It doesn’t change the identity of the kingdom. There is indeed a future kingdom. It is indeed an earthly kingdom. Jesus will indeed reign on the earth. And it is that very kingdom in its power and its blessings / salvation that is present in the person of Jesus.

Jesus came bringing the salvation of the future kingdom. He came to tell about that future kingdom, and to prove its reality in his very ministry. The future kingdom in glory will come because he first suffered on the cross. He proved it in his life, by bringing this future fruit and future salvation into the present.

Take a few steps back. Scholars are also in general agreement that the main message of Luke is God's plan of salvation. Luke's main message is how God's plan of salvation worked out in Jesus' life, and how it continued into the church (book of Acts). Luke 19:10 says it well: "The Son of Man came came to seek and to save the lost."

Jesus saying, "I came to preach the kingdom of God" or "The kingdom of God is at hand", is actually not too different than "The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost."

[Update: See sermon: "On a Mission to Preach the Kingdom"]

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Matt Hauck (郝柏昇)

A once enemy now son, forgiven and freed by Jesus' blood, adopted and called by grace for glory.   (more...)

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