Jesus lived at a unique juncture in history. It was a time when God related to his chosen people based upon the old covenant, yet Jesus was about to inaugurate a new covenant relationship from God available to all people.
For centuries God’s rule and kingship had been announced over his chosen people, Israel. Yet Jesus was born king of the Jews. He would die as king of the Jews. With his upcoming resurrection he would ascend to sit on God’s right hand, crowned as Messiah and Lord possessing all authority in heaven and on earth.
Living within this juncture of service and inauguration, Jesus proclaimed that the kingdom, the future hope of the Old Testament prophets, was at hand. He taught how people would respond to this coming kingdom, as well as what kingdom ethics, economics, values, attitudes, and behaviors look like.
On various occasions Jesus portrayed this new manifestation of God’s rule which was near as existing within or breaking into a competitive landscape occupied by oppositional forces. Within such confrontations God’s power proved it could overcome the enemy as well as attract those outside of the kingdom to God’s rule (Matthew 12:22-29; Luke 16:16).
In these instances, Jesus did not portray what a future life would be like after the judgment when all opposing forces will have been vanquished and the kingdom’s reign will be absolute. Rather, such teachings refer to the here and now, as people decide how they will respond to the kingdom and whom they will serve. Some who stumble upon the kingdom recognize its value and respond appropriately.
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field (Matthew 13:44).
In the parable about a Sower, Jesus characterized the various ways that people respond to the message about the kingdom and whether it produces the desired result (Matthew 13:19; Luke 8:10-15).
Matthew 20:1-16 captures the reality of the ongoing presence of the kingdom in our world today when it describes people entering into serving God at different stages of their lives. Jesus’ primary point with this parable emphasized God’s gracious generosity toward his subjects, especially toward those arriving at their eleventh hour.
When he faced resistance from Israel’s religious figures, Jesus foretold that the kingdom would be taken away from them and given to another people who would produce its fruits (Matthew 21:43). Although he does not specifically name the church nor the addition of Gentile Christians, this seems to be what he had in mind. We find a similar teaching about “other sheep” being under the rule of one shepherd (John 10:16).
The kingdom was arriving and it would grow. “The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone is urged to enter it” (Luke 16:16). Furthermore, echoing Daniel, who had foretold God would establish his kingdom during the days of the Roman empire causing it to grow and fill the earth (Daniel 2:34,35,44,45), Jesus taught:
To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? It is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, until it was all leavened.” (Luke 13:20,21).
What we call the “Sermon on the Mount,” may properly be described as how to live in the kingdom. Living as a disciple involves knowing how to live as someone within the kingdom of God’s beloved Son (Colossians 1:13).
Not surprisingly then, the Gospels of Matthew and Luke weave together chunks of material regarding matters of God’s kingdom with living as a disciple. For example, Jesus’ teachings about conditions of discipleship (Luke 14:25-35) fall on the heels of his teaching about the kingdom banquet (Luke 14:1-24), which in turn precede teachings on rejoicing at finding the lost (Luke 15:1-32) and kingdom economics (Luke 16:1-31).
Similarly in the Gospel of Matthew, when Jesus taught Peter about forgiveness, his starting point involved informing Peter that the kingdom involves God’s unfathomable grace in forgiving sins which should cause its citizens to graciously forgive others (Matthew 18:23-27; See also Colossians 1:13-14 which ties forgiveness with being in the kingdom). Likewise Matthew 19:3-20:28 reveals Jesus re-educating the disciples regarding the revolutionary values of the kingdom and how they impact marriage, children, wealth, etc.
During his lifetime Jesus taught about God’s coming kingdom that was at hand. With his death, Jesus was exalted to reign and will continue to reign until the end of time when he hands the kingdom over to the Father. It is because God places those who respond to the gospel into the Son’s kingdom that John could write he was in the kingdom (Revelation 1:6,9).
The kingdom is now. Yet we must not overlook what Jesus’ taught about the kingdom at the end.
The previous article in this series was: Thy Kingdom Come – The Synoptic Gospels’ Perspective
Next in series: Kingdom Future