PROCLAIMING THE GOSPEL Matthew 17.3

Matthew 17:22,23

22 When they came together in Galilee, he said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. 23 They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life.” And the disciples were filled with grief.

ALL THE PIECES OF STAND-ALONE INFORMATION

  1. Jesus and his disciples were together somewhere in Galilee.
  2. Jesus took the opportunity to make a special announcement.
  3. He referred to himself by the phrase, “Son of Man.”
  4. He said that he was going to be delivered into the hands of some men.
  5. Those men were going to kill him.
  6. On the third day, he was going to be raised to life.
  7. At this news, the disciples were filled with grief.

THE MESSAGE OF THE STORY

There is something very deliberate about this announcement. They were all together, and he took the opportunity to say something important for the second time.[1] It is very specific. It is in language that is easy to understand, and he has said it before. Jesus is the Messiah, the promised and long awaited King. He is the one upon whom the hopes of Israelite freedom depend. Here they were living under the oppression of harsh Roman rule, taxed beyond their ability to survive and hounded by a corrupted puppet governor and a self-serving religious institution. A few people were becoming rich at the expense of most who were poor and helpless.

It must have been quite strange for the disciples to follow Jesus around and see him avoid most of the issues that would have given them a hope relevant to their political and social circumstances. He didn’t rally and army. He didn’t use his popularity to gather supporters. He continued to do things that raised the ire of the religious authorities. He gave himself constantly to helping all the nobodies of that world. To be clear, the hope they anticipated was based on political emancipation, social prosperity, freedom and fairness for all Jews. You only have to look at the prophetic passages that speak about the restoration of Israel’s glory. They were going to be the head and not the tail. They were going to inherit the wealth of the nations. The Gentiles were coming to serve them.

But none of this was coming together as they went around doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil. No revolution was in the pipeline. They knew for certain that Jesus was the Messiah, but he was not yet acting like the Messiah they expected. Not only so, but he was now talking about being betrayed into the hands of unnamed men and being killed by them. I doubt that they could even hear the bit about being raised from death. They just heard their Messianic dreams being smashed. Even after the event, they were still capable of asking him whether he was then going to “restore the kingdom TO Israel” (Acts 1). They were apparently willing to accept his period of do-gooding as some form of tokenism. They expected the real kingdom advance to come with a sweep of his magic wand. Drive the Romans out, establish freedom and justice for all and then let the Jewish nation become the dominant nation in the world.

I am coming more and more to the point where I can only see Jesus ruling as he did throughout his ministry and as he climaxed through his death and resurrection. I see the establishment of the kingdom shaped by his ministry as the only kind of kingdom for the future. I am of the view that Jesus WAS the fulfilment of all the restoration prophecies. I don’t happen to agree with those who see the physical city of Jerusalem as the focal point of eschatology. I don’t see more glory in some end time political world dominion in the way we think about it from a human perspective. I think Calvary will always represent the nature of Jesus victory. It will always be the victory of suffering love offering both personal and collective freedom. I don’t think Jesus is every going to be other than the Lamb of God who was slain from the foundation of the world.

The significance of Jesus’ announcement of his approaching mistreatment, death and resurrection highlights the clash between the traditional way the religious community had interpreted the prophetic revelation about the Messiah and the message that was intended by God – i.e. the one defined by Jesus. They couldn’t get it, no matter how plainly he spoke about it or how many times he said it. There is a profound warning here for all of us. Our preconceived ideas can steal our capacity to embrace simple revelation. Here is an example of Jesus repeating something he has said before in the most straightforward language and the only response they are capable of is silent grief. Part of the reason for me writing down each piece of stand-alone information at the beginning of each segment is to avoid just that. If the disciples had heard all the pieces of information, they would have realised that Jesus was informing them of the greatest victory in human history. They didn’t listen to the last part of the story only because his first statements were so shocking. The Messiah being handed over to mere men? No way! The Messiah being killed? Not possible!

What we are witnessing here is an example of the way God prophetically prepares his people for every part of the journey. That’s why we need to cultivate and value the prophetic gift and then expect God to prepare us. My experience would confirm that every time there was to be a difficult patch in my journey, God has had things to say that have helped me keep it in perspective or prepare the way. On those occasions where it has happened I was (we were) more equipped to respond to what was going on than getting into a panic and becoming emotionally or spiritually debilitated. There are other times where we have experience shell-shock at what was happening because we didn’t know what was going on. On some occasions, we then became aware of things that God had said in hindsight, but we had not listened clearly enough to be prepared. The disciples experienced the same thing on this occasion.

One of the features of the relationship between Jesus and his disciples is the way he offers some revelation and then waits for a response. Jesus opens a curtain and exposes the future. It only opens a short way, and they are given a small amount of information. On other occasions where the information provided by Jesus raised more questions than answers, the disciples asked their questions, and Jesus always gave them a more detailed answer.[2] On this occasion, they just became sad and said nothing. This is a bad deal for a follower of Jesus. The Christian journey is not characterised by sitting around with our mouths expecting to be spoon fed. It is a relationship with a Person who has promised to be with us always. That means now. It is a relationship that needs personal initiative, mutual responsibility and deliberate engagement. If we don’t know, then we need to ask. If we ask, we must anticipate a response. The Bible gives us more than enough reason. Instead of asking, the disciples just became sad and said nothing. This error contributed to the later scenario where they watched in fear as this very prophetic word happened before their eyes. They all fled. Peter and John went a bit further, and then Peter faltered. Only John got to watch what happened at his crucifixion, and it was left to the women Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, to follow him to the tomb. The failure of the disciples to be prepared is a characteristic warning for all of us when we allow our presumptions to deafen us to what Jesus was saying. As a result, down through the centuries, we have likewise tried to domesticate Jesus to make him comply with our philosophical, cultural and personal preferences rather than seeing him and hearing him and being shaped by what we see and hear.

As far as I am aware, Jesus was modelling and proclaiming a new kind of Kingdom as he travelled around Galilee and then up and down to Jerusalem and Judea. Another way of saying the same thing is to say that he was showing what kind of kingdom it was and how his kingdom advance was accomplished. We have already heard him say, “…the kingdom of God has been advancing from the time of John the Baptist until now..” [3]  I just hope we can grasp the kingdom advance principles vested in this prophetic announcement. There is no better example of its radical nature. In a world where dominion has to do with overpowering other people, this kingdom comes through its leader being overpowered by others. Just look at the text: “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men.” Delivered into? Who ever heard of a kingdom gaining ground by being taken captive? Only the kingdom of God. For those of us who have been drawn by what is often known as dominion theology[4] “delivered into” represents something of a contradiction. In many ways, those whose Christian objectives include gaining a dominating influence over what are known as the “seven mountains” of society[5] don’t find much in the way of precedent from the ministry of Jesus. Many of these views are based on a premise known as ‘theonomy’ The presumption is that the Bible, e.g. the ten commandments, ought to provide the basic framework for all the laws governing society. It is an assumption that all nations should be reconstructed to reflect the theocracy of Israel – God ruling over and through his people.

People are attracted to these views because it is true that God’s righteousness is best for everyone and the more his righteousness is adopted, the better off that society will be. It presumes the universality of the law of Moses and the divine calling of civil government. The issue is to do with the process. Jesus knew nothing of the means and methods invoked by the practitioners of dominion theology. The announcement that Jesus made to his disciples on this occasion is similarly devoid of any such idea. The fact remains that his announcement is full of the principles which did and do advance the kingdom of God. We need to listen to what Jesus specifically said about this topic: “My kingdom is not like those of this world……If my kingdom were like those of this world, my supporters would have fought to stop me from being handed over to the Jews. So then, my kingdom does not come about in the same way as the kingdoms you see here.”[6]

The kingdom rule that Jesus lived, proclaimed, modelled and implemented was simply that. It gave tangible expression to the ruling power of God. Consider the fact that Jesus had faced opposition and even death threats before the days before the crucifixion. Herod tried to kill him. The people of Nazareth tried to kill him. The storm tried to drown him. The religious authorities had previously wanted to arrest him. None of these attempts was successful. Joseph and Mary were warned to flee to Egypt through a prophetic revelation. By the power of God, Jesus walked through the people at Nazareth who were going to push him off a cliff. He told the storm to stop. The religious leaders were kept from their intentions because they feared his popularity. He offered himself to the temple soldiers in the garden. All of these were kingdom of God expressions. He was falsely tried, falsely condemned and cruelly crucified. By three o’clock in the afternoon, his life stopped because the kingdom battle had been won. That was also a manifestation of the kingdom of God. On the third day, he was raised from death. That also was a manifestation of the kingdom of God. It wasn’t the kind of kingdom we are familiar with, and it wasn’t a strategic plan that we would have anticipated. But it was consistent with the kingdom rule of God, consistent with his loving nature and redemptive purpose.

There are plenty of good people who expound the idea that the second coming of Jesus will reveal a different kind of kingdom to the one he made known during his first coming. They see the idea of Jesus coming as a baby, entering Jerusalem on a donkey and suffering the death of a criminal as experiences of cloaked glory. They assume that it will be different at the end of the age when he comes again. They think he will look much more like victorious earthly rulers: his white horse and avenging angelic host fit much more into that kind of thinking. At that time, the enemies will not press a crown of thorns into his brow and lash him with a whip. Instead, they will run for the rocks and caves before his righteous advent. He will sit on his throne. Phew, at last!! That definitely sounds better. And we will sit with him as he deals with his enemies. The unrighteous will be exposed. Their arrogance will be turned to dread. That’s more like it. Sounds like a Marvel Comic strip story – which, by the way, tell stories that assume only this world’s kingdom.

I am not convinced that Jesus will come again orbed in the trappings we are used to seeing in the kings of this world’s kingdoms. His glory will not look like a prize fighter flattening his opponent. I don’t see any considered Biblical reason to think that the glory at the end will be more spectacular than the glory of a criminal’s death. It would take more time and space to exegete this matter than is presently available, but I am convinced that the nature of God’s kingdom expressed by Jesus – all of it – is precisely the way God’s kingdom works at any time. I think the enemies that are described in the Book of Revelation are the same all-time enemies referred to by Jesus and most of the New Testament writers are the only enemies. Spiritual beings totally committed to indiscriminate destruction of everything that is good. The people created in the image of God are never enemies in kingdom of God terms. The kingdom of God is not wrestling against flesh and blood. I don’t think Jesus is going to come back to bring “truth, justice and the American way.”[7] like Superman. I am likewise not convinced that the throne in heaven is designed to be any more than a simple metaphor for God’s loving power. His throne is not like the pompous thrones of human kingdoms. Besides, there will always be a Lamb there, and we will always know that He is a Lamb who was killed. The cross will forever be a central feature of this kingdom’s throne. The end of the age will be a triumph, but it will not be a display of triumphalism. It will highlight the joy that comes when all wickedness is finally gone: in us, between us and out from us. It won’t involve any joy for the loss of sons and daughters who have chosen to remain away from home. The kingdom that came through Jesus will manifest the same features as the consummation of the kingdom at the end of the age. That’s why we need to mark well statements like this and activity like this. When Jesus describes what is going to happen to him as the powers of darkness gather, he is describing the only kingdom that comes from heaven: then, now and in the future.

IF THIS WAS HAPPENING IN MY LIFE, WHAT WOULD IT LOOK LIKE?

  1. I would not equate God’s blessing on my life with the raft of values that describe the kingdom of this world: personal preference, comfort, safety and worldly wealth. I would also not presume that suffering, hardship and opposition were other than normal. The kingdom of God is still advancing, and there are spiritual powers who are still using injustice, oppression and wickedness to try and stop it.
  2. I would not be seeking the satisfactions that are on offer from this world’s pleasures. I am not suggesting that there should be no earthly pleasures at all. The absence of those things is no more a sign of anything than their presence. They are tools of the trade. God wants us to enjoy his kingdom. It is a matter of righteousness, peace and joy through the Holy Spirit. But I would be looking for that. I would be seeking to understand the ways of the kingdom.
  3. I would not fear for my own life, nor for the lives of the people I have a special connection with. I would trust that the God who will keep me safe can be trusted. If I get shoved toward a cliff, and it’s not the time for me to go, I can expect my Father to exercise his rule and allow me to walk peacefully away through an angry mob. If my family don’t get me, I can look forward God to provide ways for me to love and serve them regardless of their lack of understanding. If there are people who dislike what I am saying and doing because they are opposed to Jesus, I can assume that they will remain unsatisfied. I will keep going for the goal regardless of their intimidation or threat. And when the moment comes for me to serve God through my death, like Paul I want to “be like him in his death.” [8]
  4. When God says something that seems unthinkable to me, I want to listen carefully and embrace what he actually says. I want to allow what he has said to mould my mind, my expectations and my priorities. If I don’t understand what he says I want to keep seeking him and asking him till I do understand. If my presumptions are stopping me from hearing and understanding, I want to be able to set them aside so that I trust Him rather than my presumptions.

HOW WAS THE GOSPEL PROCLAIMED?

  1. Jesus spoke prophetically about what was going to happen to him. It had been declared by prophets in the Scriptures so what he was doing was bringing further testimony from heaven. As such it was the revelation that gave his disciples a look at the inside story of the gospel: “Jesus died according to the Scriptures and rose again according to the Scriptures.”[9]
  2. As with all gospel presentations, there is a challenge and a decision to be made. Sadly, on this occasion, the disciples didn’t ‘put their hand up and go forward to the altar rail.’ They remained committed to their traditionally sourced assumptions. Their ignorance and resistance were represented in their sadness. All they could do was be sad that Jesus had said something they didn’t understand and weren’t prepared to ask questions about. So, they remained in dangerous unbelief. All those options are associated with every expression of the gospel.

[1]         See Matthew 16 for the initial announcement.

[2]         e.g. the discussion in John 14

[3]         see Matthew 11

[4]         Dominion Theology or Christian Reconstructionism is a view championed by Christian theologians such as R.J. Rushdoony during the 1960’s and 70’s. Links further back would include practitioners such as Abraham Kuijper, Prime Minister of the Netherlands from 1901-1905. Others whose works seek to promote this view are Cornelius Van Til and Gary North.

[5]         (Religion, Family, Education, Government, Arts/Entertainment, Media and Business)

[6]         see John 18:36

[7]         Quote from the opening narrative of “Adventures of Superman,” TV Series from 1951-58 “Yes, it’s Superman… strange visitor from another planet, who came to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men! Superman… who can change the course of mighty rivers, bend steel in his bare hands, and who, disguised as Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, fights a never-ending battle for truth, justice, and the American way!”

[8]         see Philippians 3.

[9]         see First Corinthians 15

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About Brian

Passionate follower of Jesus. Member of a family that keeps on growing because I keep on meeting up with more great people from every nation and background who I belong to because of Jesus. Husband of an amazing woman, father of four forgiving kids and eight almost perfect grandkids. And loving it.