– Re: The Promised Revival: God's Mission Completed
In Reply To
Commentary for the September 28, 2013 Sabbath School Lesson
“A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. When he had received the drink, Jesus said, ‘It is finished.’ With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” John 19:29-30, NIV
For three and a half years, Jesus and his disciples had been announcing the Kingdom of God.[i] Little wonder then that people began to expect that kingdom to be unveiled at any moment.[ii] Because of the miracles He performed, many shared the expectation that Jesus would be king of that kingdom and even wished to compel Him to make that happen.[iii] But instead of entering the palace and assuming His place on the throne, He was put to an inglorious death on a cross. As life oozed from His wounds, so did hope from the hearts of His followers. Were they wrong to trust this Man? Was he just another want-to-be messiah whose charismatic personality enabled Him to deceive many into following Him?
Occupied by Roman armies, the Jews knew how dangerous life could be for those who followed anyone who proclaimed any rule but that of Rome. Even at Jesus’ trial, the religious leaders were careful to proclaim their loyalty to Rome rather than Jesus.[iv] Perhaps now that Jesus had been dealt with, the Romans would come after His followers with similar intent. Not sure what to do next, they huddled, hidden away in a locked room, fearful of those that might arrest them.[v] Maybe they felt foolish for having proclaimed a kingdom that was not realized. How were they to make sense of the dramatic events of the last few days? What did Jesus mean when He announced on the cross, “It is finished?” Was the kingdom He promised destroyed when He died? Or was He simply announcing the moment of His death? Maybe He was even announcing the destruction of the temple at Jerusalem. After all, the curtain between the holy place and the most holy place had been torn at the moment of His death, but no further destruction had ensued. What should they make of it all? No one seemed to have an answer.
At this moment, the Bible tells us that Jesus appeared to the disciples and encouraged them.[vi] Then strangely, He disappeared for a week. One disciple, Thomas, who was not present to see Him appear, remained skeptical. However, at the end of the week, He reappeared and this time Thomas was present. Overwhelmed with joy, he recommitted himself to Jesus. Nonetheless, Jesus chided him for his lack of faith. Sometime later He also appeared to seven of the disciples and hosted a fish fry on the beach of the Sea of Galilee.[vii] At this meeting he reaffirmed Peter, who had previously denied any relationship with Jesus to the authorities. Peter would never do that again, even though it meant he also would later be crucified.
But what of this Kingdom of God? What happened to it? Christians rarely speak of it, today. Instead they often speak of “going to heaven.” Some believe that they will do this when they die.[viii] Others believe that they will only get there after sleeping in their graves for a while.[ix] Some hope to be alive to see Jesus return and be taken to heaven without seeing death as happened to Elijah.[x] Has our focus changed from the Kingdom of God to heaven? Jesus also spoke of the Kingdom of Heaven. Are the two synonymous?
It seems that the Kingdom of God was already possessed by the Jews for Jesus told them that it would be taken from them and given to those who would produce proper fruit.[xi] One cannot take something from someone who does not have it. Perhaps then there is a progressive aspect to the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Heaven. It could be that originally they were intended to be synonymous and a heavenly Kingdom of God was to be established on the earth but mankind fell far short of that goal. Instead man seems to have been more intent to create a paradise for a very few and a hell on earth for everyone else. When we look at the wealth and resources available on our planet, there appears to be enough for all if shared equally, but a few with the means and the power choose to accumulate many magnitudes more than is needed in order to satisfy a voracious greed, leaving many to go begging.
Greedy desire has been a problem throughout history. Jacob’s greed caused him to steal his brother, Esau’s, birthright and patriarchal blessing.[xii] Later, Jacob’s sons’ greed and jealousy caused them to turn on their brother, Joseph, and sell him into slavery in Egypt.[xiii] By the time of Isaiah, the prophet, greed and oppression had become so endemic that people thought nothing of worshipping God on the one hand and grinding down their fellow man on the other.[xiv] The chosen people had caused the whole idea of a Kingdom of God to become a stench in the nostrils of everyone. Even the heathen were shocked at the actions of the supposedly “godly” nation of Israel.[xv] The Jewish nation even went further. Although no other nation would tolerate such a thing, they turned their back on their God.[xvi] Yet in spite of all of this, the Kingdom of God in the person of Jesus came among them,[xvii] and they rejected Him. But Jesus opened a doorway to heaven on the cross that would never be closed. When the curtain was torn between the holy and most holy rooms of the temple, it augured access directly to God by His people.
No longer would a priestly caste need to intercede for God’s people. Each man and woman would be a priest in their own right after the Order of Melchizedek,[xviii] with Jesus as high priest at the right hand of the Father in heaven. The Aaronic priesthood which could never cleanse the people had become corrupt and even descended to the point of actually murdering the Son sent into this earthly vineyard by His Father.[xix]
The Kingdom of God was taken from those who used it to feed their greed and power and is now given to others who will faithfully care for the vineyard, tending its vines and caring for the sheep that shelter in its shade. We have the ability to make the Kingdom of God like the Kingdom of Heaven if we live in Christ and His character. We need not wait for the Parousia for Jesus to come. In as much as we live out His compassion and grace in our lives, He comes into the lives of each person we meet. His love will flow from our hearts, softening our voices and our eyes to our brothers and sisters.
What the Law could not do because it is external and only brings condemnation, we are able to discover inwardly through the Holy Spirit which is a guide written in our hearts. The Bible says that the Holy Spirit is given to lead us into all truth,[xx] and since Jesus is the Truth, [xxi] The Spirit can only lead us to Jesus, not away from Him. This is why those who have no knowledge of the Law handed down on Mount Sinai can still be saved. The Holy Spirit fills that void.[xxii] The Spirit allows us to share in the promise of Christ’s inheritance,[xxiii] so that Jesus may come one day and take us to share in its reality.
Perhaps when He said, “It is finished,” on the cross, it was simply a sealing of the last will and testament that guaranteed that inheritance. Surely no one can now take it from us without our assent. For every power that might prevail against us was cast down at Calvary. Like Peter on the troubled waters[xxiv] we need only keep our eyes on Christ, and even if we do look away and feel ourselves falling, we need only cry as Peter did, “Lord, save me!” When we do, Jesus will reach out and take our hand to sustain us and take us to the other shore. Even when we forget to cry out to Jesus, as long as we remain in the Spirit, He will save us, for that Spirit cries out to Jesus on our behalf.[xxv]
Like Enoch of old,[xxvi] we must walk with God faithfully and one day we, too, may find ourselves walking right into heaven because heaven has already entered into us. Like an old married couple that grows to think more and more alike, our relationship with God brings us more and more into the beautiful mind of Christ.[xxvii]
[i] Luke 9:2
[ii] Luke 19:11
[iii] John 6:14-15
[iv] John 19:15
[v][v] John 20:19
[vi] John 20:19-20
[vii] John 21
[viii] Luke 16:22
[ix] 1 Thessalonians 4:16
[x] 1 Corinthians 15:51-52
[xi] Matthew 21:33-46
[xii] Genesis 27:35-37
[xiii] Genesis 37:27-28
[xiv] Isaiah 58
[xv] Ezekiel 5:7
[xvi] Jeremiah 2:11
[xvii] Luke 17:20-21
[xviii] Hebrews 7:11-12
[xix] Mark 12:1-8
[xx] John 16:13
[xxi] John 14:6
[xxii] Romans 2:14
[xxiii] Romans 8:14-16
[xxiv] Matthew 14:22-31
[xxv] Romans 8:26
[xxvi] Genesis 5:24
[xxvii] Philippians 2:5
The Promised Revival: God’s Mission Completed