Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Kingdom Has Arrived! (Mt 4:12-17)

Matt 4:12-17 When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he returned to Galilee. Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali—to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah: "Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, along the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned."  From that time on Jesus began to preach, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near." 

Jesus started his ministry in Galilee--the "Galilee of the Gentiles". Galilee was at the cross roads of international trades, and so there were many Gentile traders staying or passing by Galilee. Jesus' appearance and preaching brought the light of the Gospel to "those living in darkness.. in the land of the shadow of death." But the Good News (Gospel) came with Jesus Christ - the light has come and darkness and death would soon be dispelled.

Jesus came preaching his startling message that brought hope to a dying people: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near." But what did Jesus mean when He said the "kingdom of heaven is near." When I was a young Christian, I was taught that Jesus was referring to his Second Coming. In fact, the cross references were found in the following Gospel passages:

Matt 10:23 "I tell you the truth, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes."
Matt 16:28 "I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom." 
Mark 9:1 And he said to them, "I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power." 
Luke 9:27 "I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God."

But if the coming of the Kingdom is equivalent to the Second Coming of Christ, then Jesus' prophecy failed because after more than 2,000 years, He has not returned -- and all his hearers surely had since died. So, did Jesus make a mistake - or was it us who have made the mistake? Well for many years, I tried not to go near these passages, especially Matthew 10:23 & 16:28. It seems like the reference to the "Son of Man" surely must be pointing to the Second Coming and I didn't  want to be found "twisting" Scripture to explain why Jesus was mistaken--if we interpret this as a reference to His Second Coming. I remember  I was once asked to clarify Matthew 10:23 and tried to bluff my way through, but the questioner looked confused but remained unconvinced!

Yet if we read these passages carefully, we realize that Jesus assumed that these  people who would witness the coming of the "Son of Man" and the "Kingdom of God" would die after they saw these momentous events: for "they will not taste death before" they saw the coming the Kingdom. So, Jesus could not have been referring to His Second Coming because the Second Coming will spell the end of this age (and the end of death!): "There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away" (Rev 21:4). So, whatever Jesus meant in the Gospel passages quoted above about the "Son of Man" and the "Kingdom of God" coming within the lifetime of his hearers, He could not have meant the Second Coming, for that will mark the beginning of a new order of things where death is no more and those who witness that climactic event would never taste death ever!

So what then is Jesus talking about? I believe that He was referring to His Resurrection (Jesus returning from the dead in his glorified body) and the subsequent coming of the Spirit to usher in the Kingdom of God in power on the Day of Pentecost. Clearly, Jesus associates the coming of the Kingdom of God with the coming of the Holy Spirit: "if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you" (Matt 12:28). These two events (Resurrection & Pentecost) took place within the lifetime of the hearers and 40 days after Jesus's resurrection, the Holy Spirit came in power.

Hallelujah, the coming of Kingdom of God is no more "near" but "here"! That is why Paul could refer to the Kingdom of God in the present tense in Romans 14:17, "For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit." The Gospel of the Kingdom is not for the dead but for the living! Salvation is not life after death, but life before and beyond death!

Lord, we thank You that Your Gospel is for the living, not the dead. You have taught us to pray, "Your Kingdom come!" And we have seen Your kingdom come in glory in our churches and workplaces whenever and wherever we welcome Your Spirit into our midst. Amen.

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