Enter the Kingdom
The king comes to his capital city
There is no repressing the joy and excitement of this day. The king has come at last! The one who will rule Jerusalem in the name of God is almost in sight of the city. His followers are with him, exultant that the time has come – God’s time, Jesus’ time, the time for Jerusalem. Now the angel’s greeting is returned. Peace invoked on earth by the messenger of God is answered by the disciples’ cry: Peace in heaven! The child declared Son of David and heir to David’s kingdom approaches David’s city. The very earth is so alive with the breaking kingdom that, if the disciples do not give it voice, the stones will shout it out. The coming of God’s kingdom cannot be kept quiet.
and spends his time teaching in the Temple,
The Son of God teaches in the temple. He is showing an authority very different from what we expect in a king, and it’s important we understand the implications. On the one hand, the triumphal procession and acclamation of the King and the exercise of royal authority in the cleansing of the temple; on the other the discussion and the teaching, his continuing in the Temple as he had begun in Galilee and speaking to the people there as he had spoken to his followers and disciples on the journey to Jerusalem.
What it does not mean is what we have often thought it means: that the “royal” demonstrations are symbolic only, pointing to kingly power in another world, about which it is Jesus’ business now, as it will later be his disciples’, to teach the people. The royal claim is real, relating to political and civic authority in Israel. That it issues immediately in the humble task of teaching means the rejection of power as the way to rule society, and is, as we shall see, the declaration of a radical revolution.
where he confronts the power opposed to him: the ruling body of Israel.
Jesus confronted not theological opponents, to argue over interpretations of religious doctrine, but those whose wealth, status, and control over the law made them the rulers of society. He had been in trouble with them from the beginning, with his teaching in Galilee, but because they were the leaders of his people, he had had to make that journey to Jerusalem where the height of the hierarchy exercised its power. His business was with the nation of Israel in its entirety, for the Messiah would not come to represent only a sectional interest. The fire would not be lit until Jesus confronted his people where they are a whole people, a nation, a society under God – in Jerusalem.
It is in this conflict that the kingdom comes.
“This generation will not pass away before everything comes about.”
Jesus’ declaration that it would begin in his generation leaves us no option. We can claim to believe in him only if we see that what happened in his generation is the beginning of the kingdom. It is no longer a vision for the future only, waiting above the skies for us to be brought there, or postponed until the end of the world, waiting for Jesus to reappear. The kingdom of God is among us, more real than anything else in history, more real than history itself, since it is the faithfulness of God engaged. It is even now taking us in hand and we are to recognise its imperatives in the events of our time.
This is the new covenant of God’s self-giving,
In every account of the covenant, God is active, awesomely so as the leading party in a solemn act of bonding. He speaks himself or his appointed leaders speak to the people for him in an act that will shape the relationship between God and his people. So we have to ask, when Jesus announces the new covenant, Where is God in this? (As we will have to ask, when it comes to Jesus’ death, Where is God in this?) For Jesus says simply, and without further reference, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is shed for you.” Has God withdrawn, no longer engaged but leaving everything in the hands of his representative, leaving him to take over the relationship? Or has God come closer, come bodily among us, so that when Jesus speaks, God is speaking, and when Jesus gives himself, God is giving Godself?
The Messiah comes into his kingdom
Whatever else is happening, Jesus goes to his death as a prophet and a ruler.
In Mark’s account, we are struck by Jesus’ helplessness, in Luke’s by his authority. They are not two rival accounts, but each in its own way explores the mystery of ultimate authority revealed in ultimate helplessness, for that is the mystery of Jesus’ death. Mark wants us to know that Jesus is the Messiah, but that every trace of power and triumph as we are used to looking for them in our rulers, is gone, that these are not the authority of God. Luke wants us to see that in his humiliation and death Jesus is coming into his kingdom and already exercising the authority of his rule. It is the same conviction viewed from different angles.
and death itself cannot hold him,
The glory of the Messiah will not be the static object of adoring contemplation but his own active engagement with the world he now rules. The risen Kyrios draws our faith not towards a transcendent reality, but towards the world he has risen to rule, to discover there the faithfulness of God in spite of all that opposes it. The risen Messiah draws us to faith so that we ourselves may now engage as his disciples in the transformation of his world.
The question is whether we believe it. Do we believe that the Messiah has entered into his role, or do we, afraid that we might be believing in a doubtful Messiah, limit ourselves to something merely religious, a salvation religion and a triumph of Christ safely located away in the heavens or at the distant end of time?
for in him and under his rule God is creating the world’s new history.
The rule of God is neither a myth nor a doctrine but an event in the history and politics of this world – the event that redeems and saves them all. The ultimate rule of God has begun at last and Jesus has entered upon his kingdom. The Sanhedrin has been faced and has done what the Sanhedrin can do; Herod has been faced and has done the little that Herod can do; and Rome has been faced and has done what Rome, as the strongest power, has to do; and between them, Jesus is dead. And so they pass into history, and out of history, and are done with; while Jesus, risen to life, the Son of Man revealed at last, rules as the Son of God, and all space and time are subject to him.