What did Jesus mean by “kingdom of God,” and what did he have in mind — in real world living — when he packed his vision into this expression?

A good place to start is with Luke 4:16-30. I’ll cite here the pertinent verses.

When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Several observations:

1. This is Jesus’ inaugural sermon in his “hometown” synagogue, and we have every right to think he is setting out his major themes. Why? Because he begins by claiming that this powerful text from Isaiah 61 is about himself. This is bold. However bold, it becomes central for us if we really want to know what Jesus thought his purpose was.

2. Jesus here claims Spirit-empowerment and he claims to be anointed. This latter term is connected to the word “Messiah.”

In light of these two observations, we need to ask what Jesus thought this Spirit-empowerment and anointing were designed to accomplish and, so I must contend, this will lead us to an initial grasp of what Jesus thought the Kingdom of God was.

3. Jesus’ Kingdom mission concerned these four groups — who probably ought not to be distinguished so much as synthesized into a larger category: poor, the captives, the blind, and the oppressed. That is, the marginalized and the neglected. Those who are mistreated, those who are not given justice, those who are abused, those who find no recourse…

4. Jesus’ Kingdom promises: good news, release, sight, and freedom. Again, put together: justice in the sense of reversal. In these terms we see what the OT often means when it speaks of the “forgiveness of sins.”

5. Many today think the last verse, in “the year of the Lord’s favor,” is suggesting that Jesus is inaugurating the Jubilee expectations of Leviticus 25. Perhaps so; I tend to think this is right. Whether or not Jesus has the Jubilee specifically in mind, what he does have in mind is the Kingdom of God as expected in a multitude of texts, including Isa 61 and Leviticus 25. In other words, Jesus is saying what the Lord’s Prayer is saying: “may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Along the same line: many also think that Jesus omitted from Isa and “the day of vengeance.” I’m not so convinced of this, but it is possible, in which case Jesus would be eschewing the expectation of vengeance against the Gentiles. Which would mean, Jesus has an all-inclusive vision of the Kingdom of God. Again, this is possible.

6. Now, tell me, does this sound like the Magnificat or what? Jesus’ vision is the same vision his mother had: a socio-economic revolution in which peace, justice, and love would be rule the hearts and lives of all persons who were willing to walk with Jesus.

7. Let me emphasize something in #6: the Kingdom vision of Jesus is a Christ-centered vision rather than just an ethical vision alone. Jesus’ Kingdom is one that has him at the center, and not simply an abstract sense of justice (I’ve blogged on justice before and I’ll avoid repeating myself). Thus, his vision is not “social justice” the way many use it today, but “God’s idea of what is right” (and he is just about to teach what that means in the Sermon on the Mount).

8. Those who heard Jesus were impressed by his graciousness (Luke 4:22). Is it not inherent to the word grace that it is inclusive, forgiving, restoring — of all sorts, especially the marginalized? The “grace of Jesus” is God’s concern for the marginalized and he thinks it should come into realities now — in the real world.

9. The kind of “sin” Jesus has in mind is systemic as much as it is personal. There is a problem in Israel: it manifests itself in the abuse of power and the abuse of the poor.

10. Jesus was rejected by some of his townsfolk for his vision of the Kingdom of God.

11. If you were asked “what is the gospel of Jesus?”, how would you answer it?

We are not done yet; tomorrow we will look at Luke 6 (Matthew 5–7).

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