Reconsider Jesus – A fresh look at Jesus from the Gospel of Mark
A devotional commentary by Michael Spencer
Compiled and Edited by: Michael Bell
Table of Contents
The Message of the Kingdom
14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
Mark 1:14-15 – NIV
What is the gospel? What is the “good news”? I think it’s telling that the two most prolific evangelism programs in evangelicalism both approach their audience with questions that Jesus never used.
“Do you know that God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life?”
“If you were to die tonight, and God was to ask you, why should I let you into my heaven, what would be your answer?”
Jesus, on the other hand, did not approach his world with a question at all, but with a proclamation of the arrival of the reign of God. Evangelicalism is a religion of decisions and transactions, and although there are decisions to be made, reducing the gospel to a decision to accept “God’s plan for my life” or giving the right answer to the question of how to go to heaven seems to have moved well past what Jesus was doing in his earthly ministry.
You see, when Jesus speaks of the gospel, he is proclaiming the arrival of the Kingdom of God. At the heart of this are two things that are fairly challenging to all of us in the materialistic, prosperous west. The statements recorded here are the first statements that Jesus makes in the Gospel of Mark, and as such it sets the tone and direction for the entire book. You could even say that they summarize Jesus’ entire mission and message.
1. “The time has come – The kingdom of God has come near.”
2. “Repent and believe the good news!”
In this chapter we will look at the first of these two statements: The announcement that a climactic time has arrived, and the present age has come to its fulfillment point.
The good news is about God and what God is doing. It is not about me. It is not about some idea of success or happiness as the world might define it. You have probably noticed that in our culture God is judged by how much he fills out our shopping lists of needs and wants. This is not good news. This good news is an announcement that things are going to be different.
Check out what Jesus has to say in his first sermon, a further proclamation of the good news:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”…. 21 And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Mark 4:18 – ESV
When you read the Gospels, Jesus is including the excluded, healing the hopeless, remaking Israel, reaching out to the pagan, overturning the religious professionals, redefining all the predictable terms, shocking those who know all the answers, and in general, making it unmistakably clear that the Kingdom isn’t just about forgiveness and “heaven,” but about the life we are living, and will live, both in the Kingdom here and now, as well as in the future. As Jesus walked through this world the Kingdom of God was like a big ship cutting through the waves. Every place he goes, the work and the fruit of the Kingdom flow out from him. Blind people see, hungry people are fed, deaf people hear, those with leprosy are cured, outcasts are included, people who are left out are brought in and beloved. The guilty are forgiven, the dead are raised. If you don’t know who Jesus is, you miss it.
If God is here now, and his Kingdom is present now, then your life is going to be deeply transformed. God himself is going to give your life an entirely different definition and direction. Big questions get asked and answered: What is your God like? Who is your neighbor? How does the Kingdom look when you live in it? Will you follow Jesus to the cross? Everything Jesus says and does is dominated by this Kingdom he is announcing, and his actions and words make it very clear what kinds of changes must take place. The disciples are blown away by it all, and that’s our cue to get our helmets on as well.
Most studies of the early chapters of the Synoptic Gospels ignore what Jesus is doing. Instead, they leave the impression that Jesus wandered around Galilee proving that he was the Son of God, so that when he died we would get the whole, “God’s Son died for your sins” thing. Approaching the Gospels this way means missing the purpose of Jesus’ ministry. It’s not the warm-up act for the cross, it’s the Kingdom. It’s what Jesus came to bring, and to give to us. It’s a Kingdom with a crucified and risen Messiah, but it’s always a Kingdom where believing and belonging mean revolution.
Jesus taught the Kingdom arrived in beginning form with his ministry, and was really present, though not in the same way it would be after his death or at his return. Nonetheless, the presence, reality, power and authority of the Kingdom are present with Jesus.45 The keys to the Kingdom are given to his church. The authority of the Kingdom belongs to believers. The law of the Kingdom is in force now. Christ reigns now as King of Kings. We invite persons into the Kingdom that is an absolute reality. I am troubled by the notion taught by some that the Kingdom has been postponed.46 The parables of Jesus teach that the Kingdom is a present and actively growing reality.47 48 Though we await a final consummation of the Kingdom, we are not waiting for the Kingdom to arrive.
When we hear Peter on the Day of Pentecost49 or Paul in his letters50 both declaring that the last days have arrived, they are simply following their belief in the original message of Jesus. When we proclaim Christ as Lord, call people to repentance, pray against the evil strongholds of this world, or set free the oppressed, we are seeing the “Kingdom Now” as Jesus announced it.
So what is this kingdom of which Jesus spoke? And what did his audience understand by this?
Jesus meant the reign of God. God is a ruling King who is sovereign over all he has created. This theme is continually repeated in the Psalms, Isaiah, and the book of Revelation. 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 they 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. The Kingdom continues in human history by his authority and power. The Kingdom of God is the beginning of the new heaven and the new earth where God’s righteousness lives and salvation is experienced. Jesus invited all persons to come into this Kingdom, to live in its new realities and to work for its inevitable triumph.
Christians now are simply awaiting the unveiling 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. The Old Testament is full of longing for the Kingdom of God to arrive, and the Jews believed that ”God’s time” would become evident when the “Day of the Lord” suddenly appeared. They were living in a tremendous sense of expectation where something needed to happen. They hadn’t had independence for 100 years, there was corruption at the top of the political ladder, and there was turmoil up and down the social ladder. When John preached the Kingdom of God is coming, people interpreted it all types of ways. They were looking for fireworks, and 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 reinterpreted the idea of the Kingdom, yet most missed his message, preferring, as do people today, to believe that God’s Kingdom must be a version of 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 through the election of a 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.
In America we decided a long time ago we didn’t want a king. We want to run our own affairs, vote on everything and elect our own leaders. When the Bible says that God is the sovereign king of the universe, Americans would feel a lot better if we elected him to that job and had him do what we wanted.
But look at what Jesus was saying: God is the sovereign ruler of everything. His kingdom encompasses everything you see, everything you don’t see, and everyone of us. Your place in this world is determined by your relationship with the king of everything: You are either a loyal obedient servant of the king of the universe; or you are a rebel at war, determined to be your own authority and run your own life.
You may say that you don’t really need the gospel, and you don’t really need Christ because you are a pretty good person. You may have never killed anyone, or done anything really terrible. But if you get down to the core of those ideas, what is the attitude toward God? Is it an attitude of submission, of worship, of recognition, and of obedience? Or is it an attitude of “I’m sufficient without you, I’ll do as I want, I’ll thank you as I please, I’ll call on you when I need you”?
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. This would include the ideas that:
- The Kingdom of heaven is here now.
- Christ is King, and no one else.
- Jesus’ followers are subjects in the Kingdom.
- The law of the King is their rule for every situation.
- Their families live in the Kingdom.
- Their finances come from the generosity of the King.
- Their resources are dedicated to Kingdom purposes.
- The 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 is manifested now in miraculous signs and wonders.
- In the last days, only our response to the Kingdom and our obedience to it will matter.
- The constant prayer of the Jesus-follower should be Jesus’ prayer, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.”51
These are just a few suggestions of how much the Kingdom should organize the entire Christian experience. Any Christian or church that ignores such a dominant theme surely cannot understand Jesus or his significance. We need to take this very seriously and seek to find followers of Jesus that do as well.
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 completed outward reality is not yet here. Triumphalism is a distortion of Christianity and Jesus isn’t asking us to “pretend it’s so” when it’s not. We live in present reality and future hope. People still get ill and die. Tragedy and evil are still realities. These things have not yet been wiped out of history.
In contrast to this, 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.
Where is heaven in this? Certainly it is not absent, but even more certainly it is not central or prominent. Jesus invites sinners to believe they are forgiven. He invites all persons into a Kingdom of grace and to participate in God’s mission to restore and heal creation. The Kingdom of God will eventually overturn all the fallen, pretentious kingdoms of men. “Heaven” is the reign of God seen from the Godward side, and we pray that it will come on earth as God answers the prayer that his will is done “on earth as it is in heaven.”
Inviting people to reserve a place in heaven is shortchanging the Gospel, and creates the problem of justifying the demands of the Kingdom of God in the interim. In the Great Commission, Jesus calls us to evangelism that invites persons to become disciples, obeying all that he commanded. This is not a second level of “fine print.” It is the Kingdom of Heaven and Jesus the Messiah as they are to be presented to the world.
The most important question for many of us is how to place the cross of Jesus in the context of the entire offer of the Kingdom while keeping the Kingdom message of Jesus in its prominent place.
When Paul says he knows nothing but the cross,52 he is not setting up a tension between cross and Kingdom. He is simply saying there is only one Messiah: the crucified one. As astonishing as it sounded to the ears of Jews, Greeks and Romans, God’s cornerstone of the Kingdom was the stone that was rejected, cursed and nailed to the cross.53
So the resurrection and the ascension of Jesus demonstrate that this crucified Messiah is the victorious, vindicated King. He has brought the Kingdom to us through incarnation, suffering, death and resurrection. He is the “door,”54 the “way, truth and life.”55 He is the one who, having taken all our burdens upon himself, can now invite us into the Kingdom of Heaven, the new creation, and the new Jerusalem.56
As a preacher, I need to preach Jesus, and not as a means to an end, but as the center of all that God offers to us. Christ is the Gospel. Jesus equals salvation in every sense. At any moment we encounter Christ in the Gospel we are experiencing both Kingdom and Cross, reconciliation and invitation to discipleship, acceptance and Great Commission, God’s mission as our purpose and as good news to each one of us.
All Christians of different kinds and varieties are subjects of the Kingdom. Jesus rules. Christians have no right to set up their own little kingdoms and exclude others from them based on worship style, skin color, or non-essential theology. Read the New Testament warning to divisive teachers and false prophets and get a sense of what a practical reality Christ wants the Kingdom to be: He calls us all to become sons and daughters of God under his authority. The only force that can bring real renewal to our culture is the Kingdom of God. Churches and para-churches are only “outposts” of the Kingdom. Pastors and preachers are “under-shepherds” of the Shepherd-King. Beware of those who do not see this reality; those who act as if “theirs is the Kingdom and power and the glory.”57 I will continually pray for the Kingdom of God to come on earth as it is in heaven.58
Understand Jesus Christ in the fullness of the Gospel presentation: mediator, kingdom-bringer, reconciler, teacher, Lord, discipler… and you will have understood all the “good news.”
 Matthew 16:19
 Dispensationalism teaches that the history of God working with his people can be divided into several dispensations or periods of time. They believe that we are currently in the Church or Grace dispensation, and that the Kingdom dispensation is yet to come.
 Mark 4:10-33
 Luke 17:21
 Acts 2
 2 Timothy 3:1 and following.
 Matthew 6:10 – KJV
 1 Corinthians 2:2
 1 Peter 2:7
 John 10:7
 John 14:6
 In Revelation 21:1-4 God is said to ultimately make his dwelling place on earth in the “new Jerusalem.”
 Contrast this with the section of the Lord’s prayer that states that “the kingdom and the power and the glory” belongs to God.
 From the Lord’s prayer – Matthew 6:10
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