Donald Hagner, in his NDBT article, states that "The main theme of the Synoptic Gospels is found in Jesus’ announcement that the long-awaited promise concerning the kingdom of God is coming to fulfillment in and through his own ministry and mission (emphasis mine)." I agree. Once can hardly read the Synoptics without encountering and re-encountering the phrase, basilea tou theou, "kingdom of God." We only need look to John the Baptizer's announcement, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel" (Mk 1:15). This phrase occurs another 13 times in Mark and 32x in Luke. Mathew's "kingdom of heaven" term occurs 32x. Most are agreed that Matthew's phrase reflects a Jewish preference for substituting "heaven" for "God." Having been introduced by John, the usages in the Synoptics are carried on by Jesus and can be broken down into a couple of categories: (1) Deeds that manifest the kingdom and (2) Words that tell of the kingdom.
Words of Jesus
Beginning with Mark 1:15, the use of "...fulfilled..." (peplhrwtai - perf. passive) suggests the bringing to completion of a period of time (BDAG, 5981.2). From this point forward, Jesus is bringing to completion something that has already begun. As we follow the trajectory of the Synoptics we learn that Jesus message is the "good news of the kingdom" which he preaches (Matt 4:23; 9:35//Luke 4:43). Matthew is also quick to add that his preaching ministry is accompanied by healing . Some of the main elements of this teaching include:
- the kingdom is taught in parables and isn't easily grasped (Mark 4:11//Luke 8:10//Matt 13:11)
- there will be partakers in the kingdom - the poor, the meek, the merciful and so on (Matt 5:1 ff.)
- there will be those persecuted for the kingdom (5:10)
- some will be teachers in the kingdom (5:19)
- some will be eunuchs or make themselves eunuchs (Matt 19:12)
- the rich will have difficulty entering the kingdom (Matt 19:23)
- some will be the least and the greatest in the kingdom (5:19)
- a member of the kingdom is greater that John the Baptist (Luke 7:28)
- ...and the greatest is like a little child (Matt 18:1ff.)
- one enters the kingdom by a righteousness that exceeds the Pharisees' (5:20)
- tax collectors and prostitutes enter the kingdom before Pharisees because of their belief (21:31)
- one can pray that the kingdom come (6:10)
- the patriarchs and prophets will be in the kingdom, along with others from all over, reclining at table (Luke 13:28ff.)
- the kingdom is like...a seed that grows and is harvested (Mark 4:26ff.)
- the kingdom is like...a grain of mustard seed that grows into a tree that shades birds' nests (4:31ff.)
- the kingdom is like...a farmer's field of wheat and weeds which when harvested, the first are gathered and the second burned (Matt 13:24)
- the kingdom is like...a king who settled accounts with his debtors and showed mercy (18:23ff.)
- the kingdom is like...a householder who pays the first and last the same wage (20:1ff.)
- the kingdom is like...a king who held a wedding feast for his son and due to the indifference and cruel misdeeds of those invited, canceled their invitations and invited just anyone, and among those, only the ones with wedding garments are found worthy (Matt 22:1ff.)
- the kingdom is like...ten virgins, five of whom were unprepared with their lamps to meet the bridegroom and were locked out of the wedding feast (Matt 25:1)
- the message of the kingdom is spread and announced by the disciples (Matt 10:7//Luke 9:2)
- contemporaries of Jesus will be witnesses to the kingdom of God (Mark 9:1//Luke 9:27)
- the kingdom should be sought as a source of blessing (Matt 6:33)
The exhortation at the beginning of the Synoptics, especially in Luke and Matthew, is to seek the kingdom of God. And it's not something entirely new, because as the authors state, it is coming to it's fulfillment in Jesus. As the story progresses we learn that the kingdom of God is a wonderful thing indeed.
It is a place of blessing where there is justice, forgiveness, mercy, truth and righteousness. And it is equally a place where those who value and practice those virtues suffer. And we can't also ignore that, perhaps in a most difficult parable, the kingdom will involve people who will be judged. It will be big and encompassing of all people, regardless of ethnicity. Amazingly, the righteousness that the kingdom demands is the same righteousness that the King Jesus provides, for those who believe in him.
The Kingdom is also somehow an activity. It's like a field or a farmer or a seed or king or virgins who do things.
And so that's why it's incongruent for those who claim to be followers of the King not to be those who truly believe in the King. It's as odd for someone to be invited into the kingdom and fail to really get on board with the program as it is for a wedding guest to show up at a wedding without a garment. Thinking canonically, we have here the notion that conversion must be a reality for anyone to really be part of the kingdom of God. One can't sort of just show up and expect to be "in."
We also have the basis of the theme of suffering, articulated by the apostles, that Jesus models. For Jesus will enter into the kingdom only through the suffering of the cross, and the apostles will drink such a cup as well.
Up next: The Kingdom of God Part 3: The Purpose of the Parables