Step into the study, pour yourself a cup of coffee, get comfortable and let’s enjoy the Gospel of Mark.
Our passage this week is Mark 1:14-15. “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” (RSV) Because this is the first statement Jesus makes in the Gospel, it will set the tone and direction for the entire book. Mark summarizes Jesus’ entire mission and message in these two statements.
I am always struck by the fact that one rarely hears a sermon from this text in most churches! Yet it is the message of Jesus. There is a tension in much of Christianity between the message about Jesus and the message of Jesus. Some liberals have charged that Christianity itself is a vast misunderstanding of this very point; that we should not be asking anyone to believe in Jesus, but to do what Jesus says. While I believe the basic charge is wrong, I do believe many Christians excuse themselves from dealing with the message Jesus preached because they think believing in Jesus is sufficient. Mark would not understand such a distortion. For him, there is no separation between the message of Jesus and the person of the savior. For the person who accepts the Bible as authoritative, this is why we need both John and the Synoptics. In their quite different approaches to Jesus, they present the whole picture, which will not allow any separation between belief in Jesus and following the message of the Kingdom.
Mark gives us no time frame between the temptation of Jesus and the imprisonment of John the Baptist. I tend to think these events are not as purely sequential as the Gospels present them and that some considerable time may have possibly elapsed. We are left with the clear statement that it was the end of John’s ministry that signaled the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. How are these events related? Mark gives no explanation, but in another Gospel John had stated that Jesus would become greater and he would become less. (John 3:27-36) The event of John’s imprisonment provided the moment for Jesus to publicly step onto the stage set by the Baptist’s preaching. John’s Gospel says that the first disciples were already followers of John the Baptist.
It is always interesting to think how God uses the departure of significant people to launch us into the next chapter of our lives. How many of us have found that it was the loss of a parent, the end of a marriage or the departure of our children that became the occasion of significant change in our lives? Mentors and teachers are important, but there is a time when we must step up on our own and become what we were destined to be. It is not healthy to live half your life feeling that you have yet to grow up! Jesus had stayed with his family, business and community for all his life, but now was the time to fulfill his purpose and destiny as Messiah. We should also note from this that timing is important in God’s plan for our life. Not every time is God’s time for decisions or actions. We should look for God’s leadership and not simply do as we please.
Jesus returns to Galilee (John was baptizing in the south of Israel.) Mark tells us immediately that Jesus was a preacher. I can think of no word that inspires more immediate reaction than that one! But we shouldn’t think of Jesus as a church parson, but as a proclaimer, a prophetic preacher in the tradition of John, though he will have a distinctive style and method. The delivery of God’s message by way of preaching is a fundamental Biblical concept. While we can and should use all available media to get the gospel before the world, it is preaching that God has chosen as his method of choice. The preacher is alone, vulnerable and required to be honest and transparent. While it is possible for preachers to be actors and hypocrites, Biblical preaching is a person experiencing God proclaiming that same reality. Though television has greatly affected our ability to listen to one person speaking, God’s wisdom is still appropriate: the medium of preaching will be blessed by God in the communication of the Gospel.
Jesus is preaching the Good News of the Kingdom of God. Mark has told us that his entire book will be a “good news” about Jesus the Son of God. Here we can see that the message about Jesus and the message of Jesus are the same in the mind of the inspired author. The Kingdom of God is a concept so large and detailed that I will not even attempt to write extensively on it. I would recommend John Bright’s The Kingdom of God as a fine basic treatment of this overall Biblical theme. Our question must be two fold: first, what did Jesus mean as he spoke of the Kingdom? and second, what did his audience understand by this?
Jesus meant the reign of God. God is a ruling King. He is sovereign over all he has created. The book of Revelation shows that heavenly worship continually repeats this theme as do the Psalms and Isaiah. God rules now. Yet this world is in a state of rebellion against the reign of God. Human beings have rebelled. Satan poses as a pretend ruler. The rulers and kings of the earth pretend their are the ultimate power. Psalm 2 says God laughs at such a pretense. But God is doing more than laughing- He is establishing His Kingdom on the earth. The entire Bible is the story of the prediction, rehearsal, arrival and consummation of the Kingdom of God. In this story, Jesus is the one who actually brings the Kingdom of God in himself. His words announce and proclaim the Kingdom. His miracles show the power of the Kingdom over the kingdoms of sin and oppression. His death and resurrection bring the fullness of the Kingdom into the world and his ascension proclaims God’s victory. Christians now are simply awaiting the revealing of this Kingdom as Jesus destroys all his enemies. This is the Kingdom Jesus is preaching- the rule and reign of God in those who will acknowledge his Lordship.
Those who heard Jesus preach, however, were more inclined to a political view of the Kingdom. They looked for another David or Solomon to overthrow the Romans and establish Israel as God’s Kingdom on earth. This longing for a military and political Kingdom was the realpolitik of Jesus’ day and he encountered it again and again. Jesus entire ministry reinterprets the idea of the Kingdom, yet most will miss his message, preferring, as do people today, to believe that God’s Kingdom must be a version over the ideal political state- complete with all the benefits they want!
We live in a time when there continues to be a strong attraction to the idea that the Kingdom of God is a manifestation of an earthly political Kingdom, Whether it is liberationists in Central America overthrowing governments with a clergyman in tow, or left-leaning liberal politicians seeking to translate their interpretation of scripture into government programs or right-leaning political activists trying to save America by electing a Christian president—-we are still dealing with a fundamental mistake about what Jesus proclaims. The Kingdom of God is not an earthly Kingdom in any sense of the word. No church, no state and no movement equals the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom is a reality in the hearts of people and is manifested through the actions of the righteous. Only when Christ returns will we be able to point at an earthly reality and know it is the Kingdom. In the meantime, Jesus will teach us how to recognize the Kingdom, enter the Kingdom and sow the Kingdom in this world.
Not every group of Christians is equally committed to the reality of the Kingdom. I believe we must confess that the Kingdom of God is the absolute and fundamental reality of Christianity as it is lived out. Jesus wants his followers to organize their entire experience around this concept. We should take this very seriously and seek to find a fellowship of believers that does as well. Let me suggest just some of the ideas that flow out of the priority of the Kingdom message.
The Kingdom of heaven is here now. Christ, not any man is King. We are subjects in the Kingdom. The law of the King is our rule for every situation. Our families live in the Kingdom. Our finances come from the generosity of the King. Our resources are dedicated to Kingdom purposes. Our Kingdom is in conflict with other Kingdoms, yet is victorious. The expansion of the Kingdom requires sacrifice. In the Kingdom, values are often upside down, because the King is transforming all things. The power of the Kingdom in manifested now in miraculous signs and wonders. In the last days, only our response to the Kingdom and our obedience to it will matter. Our constant prayer should be “Thy Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.” These are just a few suggestions of how much the Kingdom should organize our entire Christian experience. Any Christian or church that ignores such a dominant theme surely cannot understand Jesus or his significance.
Having said that I would make two specific warnings. First of all, beware of any group that overly emphasizes the Kingdom now. The Kingdom in its outward reality is not yet here. Triumphal ism is a distortion of Christianity and Jesus isn’t asking us to “pretend its so” when its not. We live in present reality and future hope. People still get ill and ie. Tragedy and evil are still realities. These things have not yet been wiped out of history. Secondly, beware of those interpretations of the Kingdom that say the Kingdom is entirely future and the New Testament statements about it are not to be applied today. The Kingdom has arrived in Jesus and, in expanding seed form, is real now. We are to pray for the sick and be supernatural in orientation. I am not contradicting myself, just suggesting that we live in the “already and the not-yet” form of the Kingdom. (The best writer on this: George Eldon Ladd.)
As Jesus returned to Galilee, he was probably a most unimpressive figure. Yet we know he is the King himself, calling men and women to a decisive repentance and a full fledged faith in order to enter the Kingdom. In our next study we will examine Jesus’ Kingdom announcement in detail, but in the meantime, let us remember that we will one day stand before this one who was so unimpressive and bow before him as King of the Universe. Let us live in expectation of that day right now.
1. When was the last time you heard a sermon on the Kingdom of God? Why is this message heard so seldom in some churches?
2. How would you respond to someone who said “To be a Christian is simply to believe in Jesus”? How would you respond to someone who said “To be a Christian is to do what Jesus did”?
3. Why didn’t Jesus begin his ministry while John was still active?
4. Can you think of a time God used a significant change in your life to move you closer to His will for you?
5. Why didn’t Jesus begin his ministry earlier? Why is God’s timing so important in living our lives?
6. Is preaching still an effective way to communicate? What kind of preacher helps you to learn?
7. What is the Kingdom of God? What is not the Kingdom?
8. Read the Lord’s Prayer (Matt 5:9-13) How does this reflect the Kingdom of God and its importance?
9. Can people still relate to the idea of a King or has modern politics made this an obscure idea?
10. How do people try to bring a political Kingdom of God today?
11. Michael said that the Kingdom of God is the basic idea Jesus used to organize his teachings. Is it the basic idea you use to organize your life? What should/would change the most if it was/is?
12. In what ways do we try to escape the Kingdom message?
13. What is the error of saying the Kingdom is totally here now? What is the error of saying it is totally in the future? What is the balance?
Recommended Resource: Jesus the Messiah by Robert Stein. Lives of Jesus used to be common. Today they are rare. This excellent book does a fine job of combining current scholarship with an acceptance of the truthfulness of scripture. (1997, IVP)