The Kingdom of God is at Hand
Posted by foryourfaith on August 8, 2011
“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel.” With these words the Gospel of Mark records Jesus’ first proclamation. Indeed, it can be said that the major theme of Jesus’ teaching was the kingdom of God. Yet Israel acknowledged God to be Creator and Lord over the entire cosmos: what, then, did Jesus mean by “the kingdom of God is at hand?”
As a devout Jew, Jesus believed passionately in the ultimate sovereignty of God’s rule. But he saw and proclaimed that sovereignty less in cosmic terms than by showing God’s love of people of every degree and station. His actions and teachings in the Gospels indicated that he tried to create around him a community that could experience and share God’s intimate love. That heart of his message is evident through his preaching to the outcasts of his society: God’s kingship is a loving rule which, embracing the lowly and despised, frees them to respond with love and joy. In this community of love he saw and celebrated the coming of God’s kingdom. According to Luke 10:18, he said: “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” Thus, he believed, the forces of evil were being overcome and a new age was beginning.
Jesus mysteriously spoke of the kingdom as near, “at hand.” What did he mean? When would the kingdom actually come? Did he think the end of the world was imminent? Did he expect the catastrophic demise of the physical world and its history?
Numerous passages in the Gospels indicate that Jesus believed that God’s kingdom was at that very time becoming a reality through his work. For example, when Jesus said, “If it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Luke 11:20), he was assessed by the forces of evil, the power of God’s rule had already become present.
John the Baptist, on the other hand, had proclaimed that God’s rule was coming in the near future, and many of Jesus’ words point to the future in a similar way. But whereas John’s message amplified the threat of God’s judgment, Jesus led his followers to hopeful expectation. When Jesus taught his disciples to pray to the Father, one of the few petitions he included as “Thy kingdom come.” The image is important. The kingdom was not thought of as something toward which the disciples were to strive and struggle. Rather, God’s kingdom was coming, moving, pressing into the present; indeed, as Jesus asserted, “the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”
Jesus could also speak of the kingdom of God in ways that reached into the future beyond this world and its history. Matthew reported his saying that “many will come from the east and west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But often Jesus identified the kingdom less by the time of its coming than by the kinds of people to whom it belonged. Jesus welcomed the children because, as he said, “To such belongs the kingdom of God.” He therefore urged his disciples to “receive the kingdom of God like a child.” This divine kingdom that was present and also future, that embodied the majestic sovereignty of God, that belonged to children, that created a community of inclusive love, was the reality that Jesus celebrated.
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