What Is the “Gospel”? The “Gospel” According to Luke, Part 4

emptytomb2Little children

(Luke 18:15-17)  People were also bringing babies to Jesus to have him touch them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them.

16 But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 17 I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

We learn —

  • Jesus touched children — following a long-standing tradition of rabbis blessing children. (Therefore, baby dedications and similar ceremonies are very Christ-like.)
  • The kingdom must be very concerned about children.
  • We must “receive the kingdom” as a little child runs to Jesus. We aren’t called to be naive but to be open in our devotion, to be humble, etc.

The rich man

(Luke 18:24-27)  Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! 25 Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

26 Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?”

27 Jesus replied, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.”

We learn —

  • Wealth is a barrier to entering the kingdom
  • The rich will be saved only be grace — their riches are of no value to God

Rewards in heaven

(Luke 18:28-30)  Peter said to him, “We have left all we had to follow you!”

29 “I tell you the truth,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God 30 will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life.”

We learn —

  • Jesus may well ask us to leave home, wife, brothers, parents, or children for the sake of the kingdom
  • If so, we’ll be greatly rewarded, including with eternal life

The parable of the minas

(Luke 19:11-27)  While they were listening to this, he went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once. 12 He said: “A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return. 13 So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas. ‘Put this money to work,’ he said, ‘until I come back.’

14 “But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, ‘We don’t want this man to be our king.’

15 “He was made king, however, and returned home. Then he sent for the servants to whom he had given the money, in order to find out what they had gained with it. 16 “The first one came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has earned ten more.’

17 “‘Well done, my good servant!’ his master replied. ‘Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.’

18 “The second came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has earned five more.’

19 “His master answered, ‘You take charge of five cities.’ 20 “Then another servant came and said, ‘Sir, here is your mina; I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth. 21 I was afraid of you, because you are a hard man. You take out what you did not put in and reap what you did not sow.’

22 “His master replied, ‘I will judge you by your own words, you wicked servant! You knew, did you, that I am a hard man, taking out what I did not put in, and reaping what I did not sow? 23 Why then didn’t you put my money on deposit, so that when I came back, I could have collected it with interest?’ 24 “Then he said to those standing by, ‘Take his mina away from him and give it to the one who has ten minas.’

25 “‘Sir,’ they said, ‘he already has ten!’

26 “He replied, ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what he has will be taken away. 27 But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them–bring them here and kill them in front of me.'”

This is a complex parable, in part because of its allusion to the history of the enthronement of Herod Archelaus. When Caesar made him king, he really did have those who opposed him killed. He was a cruel despot, and yet Jesus compares himself to Archelaus. I discuss this is more detail in an earlier post, in which I conclude —

God rewards risk takers. He punishes those too afraid of his wrath to produce any return on his money (ironic in a parable that emphasizes his wrath. That’s the point. Respond correctly [to the] wrath!) Those who simply return what they received are punished.

It’s not entirely clear, but there’s no point in the statement at the end that those who opposed his kingship would be killed unless Jesus is referring to the man who refused to invest. And this parallels the parable of the talents.

If that’s right, then Jesus’ implication is that those who refuse to take risk and invest what God gives are actually opposing the kingship of God! They are saying, in effect, because I’m afraid of you, I’m not willing to serve you. Nothing could be more foolish.

The kingdom, therefore, is about rendering service to the king, including providing him with a return on his “investment.” The king gives generously to his subjects but expects them to respond by investing — even though this entails risk. The worst response is inaction of out fear of making a mistake.

The parable of the fig tree

(Luke 21:27-33)  “At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

29 He told them this parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. 30 When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. 31 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.

32 “I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”

This is another difficult one. As I’ve argued in an earlier post, the reference to the “Son of Man coming in a cloud” is a prophecy of the fall of Jerusalem culminating in AD 70. Verses 32-33 are also clearly a reference to the fact that Jerusalem will fall in a generation (40 years). Therefore, Jesus’ reference to “the kingdom of God is near” in v. 31 must be a reference to the same event.

Others argue that “kingdom of God” is surely a reference to the end of time, and so “generation” refers to the Jewish people, not those alive when Jesus was speaking.

The controversy over when Jesus’ prophecy was fulfilled is all very interesting, but not really essential to understanding “kingdom.” The important thought, I think, is that “kingdom” has an active sense. It can be better translated “rule” or “reign.” The kingdom of God is thus the reign of God, and it exists wherever people submit to Jesus as Lord.

The Fall of Jerusalem was a critical step in the coming of the kingdom. It meant the definitive end of the sacrificial system and the externalities of Judaism. Just as Nebuchadnezzar’s destruction of Jerusalem evidenced God’s judgment of Judah, Rome’s destruction of Jerusalem shows that God remained displeased. In many places, N. T. Wright argues that many passages in the Gospels deal with the upcoming Fall, with the plea being made: either live as Jesus instructs or suffer this horrible calamity. And, indeed, the Jews who accepted Jesus and his teachings were warned, fled, and escaped the destruction.

The topic is too deep and rich to fit in this series on “gospel.” Suffice to say —

  • Rebellion against Rome was contrary to the good news
  • The good news is not about victory through national independence or a change in government
  • God protects his people by God’s own means

The final Passover

(Luke 22:15-18)  And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.”

17 After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. 18 For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”

We learn —

  • The Passover will be fulfilled in the Kingdom
  • The kingdom will come while Jesus is still walking the earth

Now, the Passover was a reminder of God’s rescue of Israel from slavery and looked forward to the coming of the Messiah.

The kingdom conferred

(Luke 22:28-30)  You are those who have stood by me in my trials. 29 And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, 30 so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

The language seems to have a double meaning

  • The apostles would oversee the kingdom
  • The apostles would judge Israel
  • The apostles will have table fellowship with Jesus in the kingdom — likely referring to the great banquet with God at the end of time

Conclusions

We next look at “gospel” and “kingdom” in Acts, as Acts is the second part of Luke. But before we get there, we should pause and consider some conclusions.

  • Salvation by faith in Jesus plainly a part of the gospel of the kingdom. It’s not the entirety of it.
  • The gospel is very much about generosity to and compassion for those in need. Indeed, from Isaiah, to Mary, to the Sermon on the Plain, to Acts we see social justice as a major theme of “gospel” and “kingdom.”
  • Just as Jesus is very concerned with the poor, he has much to say about the rich. The rich must pursue the kingdom above riches.
  • Jesus is quite clear about the cost of the kingdom. It’s not salvation in exchange for baptism; it’s the kingdom in exchange for everthing, even family and possessions.
  • The kingdom is about the reign of God in our hearts.
  • The kingdom is a nation that claims greater loyalty than patriotism. It’s not both-and. We can’t prefer our earthly nation to others, because the kingdom includes all nations.
  • The kingdom is not about gaining control of the government.
  • The kingdom is very much about forming a community that lives by the ethics of the parables and Sermon on the Plain.

Now, I’ve just picked out parables and passages that speak in terms of “kingdom” or “gospel,” but we now know that these are hardly the only passages that give content to these passages. Rather, the “gospel” and “kingdom” passages are just a good place to start.

Ever since the Reformation, we’ve spoken of “gospel” as “salvation by faith” and “kingdom” as “the church.” Neither statement is wrong, but neither is adequate. Indeed, both miss some very important points.

One point that is missed is the important of social justice to the gospel. We’ve entirely missed that, and yet Luke nearly screams the point! (As does Matt 25:18  ff.)

And we’ve missed the corporate nature of the gospel. It is, after all, the gospel of the kingdom. It’s the good news about God’s kingdom — his people, his community. The good news isn’t so much about me going to heaven as all of us being a community that anticipates heaven on earth — and will one get to go to heaven.

You see, one of the central themes of the Sermon on the Plain is: Get along! The lesson is about how to treat each, because we can’t be in community and can’t have the relationships God wants us to have until we stop judging and start doing unto others.

The good news is many things, but one of those things is that we get to be part of a community that lives a radically different lifestyle, that loves each other with other-worldly intensity and that shares its resources with those in need. The kingdom is not the set of all saved people. It’s all saved people in community, living as Jesus lived.

Finally, notice what is not the gospel. There’s not a hint of church organization, order of worship, or how churches cooperate in their giving. Indeed, there’s not even much about baptism. The gospel is not “get baptized so you can go to heaven when you die.” That’s not to deny the significance of baptism. Rather, it’s just to point out that Jesus used “gospel” in a way very different from how we use it — and I rather suspect he is the one who is right.

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One Response

  1. Historians will confirm that Daniel’s prophecies in chapter 11 were fulfilled in incredible detail by Antiochus Epiphanes in the middle of the 2nd century BC. In fact the fulfilment was so precise and detailed that many scoffers claimed Daniel had to have been written after the event… until the Dead Sea Scrolls proved otherwise. Yet Jesus spoke of Daniel’s abomination, as if it referred to events in the future. So there must have been “at least” dual fulfilment of the prophecy.

    If we accept that there can be more than one fulfilment of a prophecy, then there is no difficulty with passages like Luke 21:27-33, for example. The same prophecy can reference the destruction of Jerusalem, and also the end of time.

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