Intention of Jesus

Here is a small paper I finished this last week. Its been one of the most helpful assignments to date. It forced me to connect Jesus’ death with his kingdom, and the church. The assignment was to write a two page paper which answered this question "What did Jesus intend to accomplish in his first century earthly ministry?"

There are three overlapping themes which are central to the characteristic sketch of Jesus we receive in the gospels: the Kingdom, the cross, and the disciples. These three themes are understood to confront and invite the reader to participate in his kingdom as a cross-bearing disciple. Jesus came to inaugurate his kingdom by means of his ministry, cross and resurrection and thereby form a church to both benefit from and champion his kingdom throughout the world. All that follows is just the relationship of the details to this overarching purpose.

Jesus came to inaugurate the kingdom of God as Davidic Messiah – The kingdom he inaugurates is unlike all the others on earth (Jn. 18:36). It is a kingdom of repentance, restoration, and righteousness, and only those who have been born of the Spirit can see it (Jn. 3:3). Despite the public revelation at his baptism1 he nonetheless rejects the Satanic temptation to seize power over all the nations (Mt 4:8ff.; Lk. 4:4ff.) His kingdom is not to be established by power grabbing, but humble, inconspicuous submission to his Father’s will (Jn. 5:43; 7:28). He was sent for the express purpose of “[preaching] the kingdom of God” (Lk. 4:43). Indeed because “the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mt. 4:17; Mk. 1:15), repentance is imperative. While he preaches, he also cures, cleanses, and casts out demons (Mt. 4:23-25; Mk. 1:21-34; Lk. 4:31-41). In doing so he demonstrates his kingly authority which is used for the restoration of God’s world. He also forgives sin with full divine authority (Mt. 9:2-8; Mk. 2:5-11; Lk. 2:20-24), because he is God himself. Jesus is Immanuel; the Son of Man (Dn. 7:13) himself has come to begin his reign. He also is the long-awaited Davidic king (Mt. 1:1-17; Lk. 4:23-38; cf. Mt. 20:30; Mk. 10:47; Lk 18:39). Thus when Jesus approaches Jerusalem the people express their expectant excitement, “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” (Mk. 11:10; cf Mt. 21:9; Lk. 19:37). He embraces the title “son of David” and yet flips it; he is not only king, he is God himself, the savior (Mt. 22:45; Mk. 12:37; Lk. 20:44).Yet his kingdom is not what the 1st century Palestinians expected it to be (Jn. 6:15); a relief from their centuries of political bondage and oppression. He insists that the kingdom of God, that heavenly eternal kingdom in Daniel, is like a mustard seed (Mt. 13:31-32; Mk. 2:30-32; Lk. 13:18-19) before the day when it grows and provides shade for all the birds of the air (Dn. 4:12). It is like leaven, silently spreading, pervading the whole loaf (Mt. 13:33; Lk. 13:21); it quietly supplants the satanic powers despite their machinations. This kingdom is the fulfillment of the righteousness of God on earth (Mt. 6:10; Lk. 11:2) and so has some aspects which are already taking place and some which are awaiting the final eschatological day (Mt.16:68; 24:4ff; Mk. 13; Lk. 21:5-36; Jn. 11:25-28; 18:36).

Jesus came to suffer, die, rise again and thereby bring judgment – The cross forms the central moment in Jesus’ ministry in tandem with his resurrection as vindicating all his claims of authority (Mt. 16:21; 17:12; 26:54; Mk. 8:31; 9:12, 31-32; 10:33-34; Lk. 9:22; 13:33; 17:25; 22:37; 24:7, 26, 44; Jn. 3:14). His death is what John the Baptist presents as mission, to separate the wheat from the chaff which “he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Mt. 3:12; Lk. 3:17; cf. Mk. 1:9). Jesus did not come into the world to condemn it (Jn. 3:17), but to bring to light all of the evil that is in the hearts of men. Jesus himself says “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind” (Jn. 9:39; cf. 3:19). Those who claim favor from God, and loyalty to God are shown to be loyal to themselves as they are confronted with Jesus’ cross, and the cost of discipleship. The kingdom authority Jesus claims is universal and so is universally threatening to those who have something to lose. His execution on the cross demonstrates the malicious abuse of power by the Sanhedrin (Mt. 26:29ff.; Mk. 14:55ff.; Lk. 22:66ff.; Jn. 18:19ff.), and the acquiescing power of Pilate (Mt. 27:24; Mk. 15:15; Lk. 23:24; Jn. 18:38; 19:1); it is the hour of “the power of darkness” (Lk. 22:53). His birth excited genocide from Herod for in order to snuff out this new king, (Mt. 2:16; cf. similar reaction to John Mk. 6:18; Lk. 3:19).2 His death is the judgment of this world and its ruler (Jn. 12:31). Most importantly, his death is judgment on sin; an atoning work (Mk 10:45). It seals the new covenant (Mt. 26:28; Mk. 14:24; Lk. 22:20). His blood is the means which the Father has given for people to be members of that kingdom. This is true in terms of participation in the eternal life of the kingdom (Jn. 6:53-56), and being ransomed from the reign of death and sin (Mt. 20:28; Mk. 10:45; Lk. 22:37; Jn. 3:15). Indeed, it is the one who believes “that Jesus is the Christ, the son of God” (Jn. 20:31), who receives the eternal life of the kingdom and will drink wine in the kingdom of God (Mt. 26:29; Mk. 14:25; cf. Lk 22:30). For all those who are well acquainted with their need for forgiveness (Mt. 18:23ff.), their need to be saved not only from the power of others, but also of their own sin, this kingdom is good news, peace and good will from God (Lk. 2:10-14).

Jesus came to disciple and form the ἐκκλησια – This is the point of the parable of the sower (Mt. 13:1ff; Mk. 4:1ff; Lk. 8:4ff). Those who have good soil are few, but they receive the light that has come into the darkness (Jn. 1:10-11; 8:12). The reader is unable to hear this testimony about Jesus without being confronted with their own decision to believe or reject the word of Jesus (Jn. 5:39-40), the seed of the kingdom (Mt. 13:19; Mk. 4:14; Lk. 8:11). The parable makes clear that the line between those who are members of the kingdom of God and those who will be cast out does not follow the boundaries of socioeconomic classes (Joseph of Arimathea was righteous and waiting for the kingdom of God Mt. 27:57; Mk.15:43; Lk. 23:50-51; Jn. 19:38-39), or the distinction between the powerful and the powerless (Mt. 26:51ff.; Mk. 14:47; Lk. 22:49ff.; Jn. 18:10ff.) It is the soil of the heart, whether it is able to receive the light of Jesus, which determines entrance to the kingdom. This ability to receive the word is no small feat. It is so difficult that it Jesus says that you must lose your life to accept it (Mt. 10:38-39; 16:24-25; Mk. 8:34-35; Lk. 9:23-24; Jn. 12:24-26). To believe that Jesus the King was killed because of our sin, was resurrected, exalted as judge, and that you would have done the same thing that those in power did; this requires the death of all pride and self-sufficiency. Indeed, Peter’s denial of Jesus is a window into his own heart, his own ultimate loyalty to himself (Mt. 26:75; Mk. 14:72; Lk 22:61-62; Jn. 18:27). The other disciples fled (Mt.26:31, 56; Mk. 14:50; Lk 22:31-32; Jn. 16:32) when they saw what following Jesus would mean: being persecuted for righteousness’ sake (Mt. 5:10; cf. Lk. 6:22). Yet, Peter is restored (Jn 21:15). Members of this kingdom recognize that they have been forgiven much, and so they love much (Lk. 7:47).

Yet, no disciple is greater than his master (Mt. 10:24; Lk. 6:40; Jn. 13:16; 15:20). Indeed, it is only because Jesus has prepared the way that his disciples who abide in him are able to bear their crosses and thus obey their Lord’s command (Jn. 15:4-11). As the disciple is baptized into Jesus, and drinks from his cup (Mt. 20:23; esp. Mk. 10:39), so the disciple receives his life (Jn. 6:53-56) and his commission. Not only are the twelve sent out on a mission to Israel (Mt. 10:1ff; Mk. 3:13-15; Lk. 9:1ff.) but are also given a global commission (Mt. 28:18-20; Jn. 17:18; Acts 1:4-8). They are appointed a kingdom (Mt. 24:34; Lk. 12:32; esp. 22:29); they are the ambassadors of Jesus’ global kingdom sent out into the world.

1After publicly embodying and legitimating the repentant spirit present in John’s baptism (Mt. 3:15), he is also publicly confirmed as the Son of God in whom the Father is well pleased (Mt. 3:17; Mk. 1:11; Lk. 3:21).

2Indeed, Jesus lambastes the Jews because of their unbelief (Mt 10:15; 11:22, 24; Lk. 10:14; 11:31-32), which would lead them to demand his death (Mt. 27:22,25; Mk. 15:14; Lk. 23:21, 23; Jn. 19:6).

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