Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

Keys of the Kingdom 19

OK, now stepping up to the plate in the kingdom game is a notoriously disputed text. Here it is in context: 11 I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 12 From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it. 13 For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. 14 And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come. 15 He who has ears, let him hear..
The Lukan version of this is slightly different and here it is: 16 ?The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it. 17 It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law..
1. Unquestionably, the kingdom is present in this text.
2. A timeline makes this clear: “from the days of John Baptist until now, the kingdom has been forcefully advancing.” That means it has been storming its way along since the days of John. But this means John was not really part of the kingdom since Jesus says that those who are “least” in the kingdom are “greater than he.” There is a definite time change, not so much with John — who is the hinge — with Jesus. It is with Jesus that kingdom arrives in some sense. (How? we’ll get to this below.)
3. Kingdom’s arrival means kingdom’s opposition. The forceful men, so I think, are best typified by Herod Antipas who put John to death. These folks are trying to stop the kingdom. This means we have a clear shot at Roman empire and complicity with Jewish leaders.
4. Now Luke’s Gospel adjusts this slightly — and speculating here what the original Q looked like probably will win no converts — but it is clear that Luke’s Gospel presents the advancing of the gospel under the image of evangelizing and preaching the good news.
5. Then Luke changes the response from one of opposition to one of aggressive penetration into that kingdom circle.
6. The kingdom of God here describes the circle around Jesus who are right now responding to his good news (evangelism), following him, growing with him, and adding one person at a time to his circle of followers.

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Dana Ames

posted January 31, 2008 at 1:31 am

This is not my idea; it comes from a book called “Understanding the Difficult Words of Jesus” by Roy Blizzard. Read it many years ago and this part has stayed with me.
Here is Micah 2.12-13:
I will surely gather all of you, O Jacob.
I will gather the survivors of Israel; I will set them together like sheep in a fold, like a flock in its pasture; it will resound with people.
*The one who breaks out* will go up before them;
they will *break through* and pass the gate, going out by it.
Their king will pass on before them, the LORD at their head.
*Heb. paratz = break through, press
Picture it; hold onto the image of the shepherd bursting through the gate, with the sheep following, and the explicit statement that God is gathering them and leading them after exile. Now this:
From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been *breaking through*; even the *Breaker* is *pressing through*.
Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and the *Breaker* is *pressing forth*.
*Gr biazo/biastes = to crowd into, press
(rather than do/suffer violence)
And with the connection to Micah, the implicit sense of Jesus as the shepherd/King, gathering and leading (at the end of exile?), at the very least fully backed up by the LORD himself, with those sheep crowding right along after.
If Blizzard is right, this is an extremely strong Messianic claim by Jesus, and maybe more… (“I’m up to what God’s up to…”) It fits with what Wright says Jesus was about, particularly the true people of God being constituted around Jesus. It supports your points 1&2, and possibly 4&6. I think it makes much better sense of the text.

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posted January 31, 2008 at 8:21 am

So again, I don’t see an either/or future vs. present in most of these texts. Its seems more as though the description of kingdom is always in the sense of imminent future; as though the kingdom is in the process of coming into being. So – the urgency of the gospel message is inherent in this timing. Now, do we still live in this tension, with the now/future ambiguity? Or has the kingdom come – and we simply have deep misconceptions about what the kingdom actually is, having misread the story Jesus tells?

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Scot McKnight

posted January 31, 2008 at 8:26 am

The time issue has bedeviled Jesus studies since Schweitzer. It’s inevitable to bring it up.
In this case, though, “has been advancing” and “entering into it” evidence presence not just impingement of future on the present. The violence against it — in the Matthean version — also indicates presence.
In general, I would say “to the degree it has been inaugurated, to the same degree we participate in it” — now.

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