"The Mystery of the Kingdom"
Some notes on concepts from G.E. Ladd
Mark summarized the message of the Kingdom parables by reporting the words of Jesus to his disciples: "To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables; so that they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand; lest they turn again, and be forgiven." (Mk 4:11-12). The mystery of the Kingdom is the coming of the Kingdom into history in advance of its apocalyptic manifestation. It is, in short, "fulfillment without consummation." This is the truth illustrated by the several parables of Mark 4 and Matt 13.
Mystery designates the secret plans, thoughts, and dispensations of God that
are hidden from human reason, as well as from all other comprehensions
below the divine level, and hence must be revealed to those for whom they
were intended. However, the mystery is proclaimed to all even though only
those who believe understand it. All are summoned to faith; but only those who
respond are shown to have spiritual perception and understanding (i.e. only
to those who have been "given the mystery" as Mark 4:11 says.) The
same can be said of Peter in Matthew 16. Jesus asks him, "But who do you
say that I am?" Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son
of the living God." And Jesus said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon
Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father
who is in heaven." Jesus is clearly indicating that one must receive supernatural
illumination to understand the truth that Jesus is the Son of God. Although
the mystery is proclaimed to all, not all are "given" this understanding.
"Flesh and blood" is morally incapable of revealing it.
In the parable of the four Soils Jesus said the Kingdom had indeed come upon
humankind but not for the purpose of shattering evil. It is now attended by
no apocalyptic display of irresistible power. Rather, the Kingdom in its present
working is like a farmer sowing seed. It does not sweep away the wicked (or
none would have hope). I took note in this parable that that only those whose
soil had first been prepared by God would later receive the seed and bear fruit.
The farmer must sow the seed in ground that has been broken up and since good
soil is not its natural state it must be prepared before scattering seed. In
other words, unless God is the one who first makes our heart of stone into a
heart of flesh, we will not receive the gospel message.
Most of the concepts from A Theology of the New Testament by George Eldon Ladd
More of my notes on the mystery of the Kingdom from Ladd's Work...
The Parable of the Tares (Matt 13:24-30, 36-43)
Jesus affirms that in the midst of the present age, while society continues with its intermixture of the good and the bad, before the coming of the Son of Man and the glorious manifestation of the Kingdom of God, the powers of that future age have entered into the world to create "sons of the kingdom," those who enjoy its power and blessings. The kingdom has come but society is not uprooted. This is the mystery of the Kingdom. The Kingdom has come into history but in such a way that society is not disrupted. The children of the kingdom have received God's reign and entered into its blessings. They must continue to live in this age. Intermingled with the wicked in a mixed society. The Kingdom that is present but hidden in the world will yet be manifested in glory.
The Parable of the Leaven (Mt 13:33; Lk 13:20-21)
The parable teaches that one day the Kingdom of God will rule over all the earth, but has now entered into the world in a form that is hardly perceptible. The Kingdom of God is destined to permeate all human society until all the world is transformed by a process of gradual penetration and inner permeation. One day the Kingdom will prevail to such an extent that no rival sovereignty exists. The entire mass of dough becomes leavened. IN the setting of Jesus, the mighty irresistible character of the eschatological Kingdom was understood by all Jews and would mean a complete change in the order of things. The present evil order of the world and of society would be utterly displaced by the Kingdom of God. But Jesus ministry appears to have initiated no such transformation. He preached the presence of the Kingdom but the world went on as before. How then could this be the Kingdom? Jesus reply was that when a bit of leaven is put into a mass of meal, nothing seems to happen. The leaven even seems to be engulfed in the meal. Eventually something does happen and the result is a complete transformation of the dough. The gradualness of the process was unheard of by the Jews at the time but Jesus reiterated it again and again. No one could have guessed that Jesus small band of disciples had anything to do with the future, glorious Kingdom of God. However that which is now present in the world is indeed the Kingdom itself. This is the mystery, the new truth about the Kingdom.
How God is Seeking, Inviting, Fatherly and Judging?
The Seeking God.
The novel element in Jesus proclamation of the Kingdom is paralleled by a new element in His teaching about God, that God is the seeking God. While the God of the prophets were active in history, the God of Judaism had withdrawn from the evil world and was no longer redemptively working in history. Jesus message of the Kingdom that God not only will finally act but that God was now again acting redemptively in history. God had now entered history in a way and to a degree not known by the prophets. The fulfillments of the OT promises were now taking place; the messianic salvation was present and the Kingdom of God had come near. God was visiting his people. In Jesus, God has taken the initiative to seek out the sinner, to bring the lost into the blessing of His reign. He was, in short, the seeking God. This great truth is set out in three parables in Luke 15. He said it was the divine purpose to search out the sheep that had strayed; to seek the coin that had been lost; to welcome the prodigal into the family even though he did not merit forgiveness. In each parable there is the divine initiative: the shepherd searches for sheep; the woman sweeps the house for the coin; the father longs for the prodigal's return. These parables illustrate, not primarily the prodigality of mankind but of the love and grace of God.
The Inviting God.
Jesus pictured the eschatological salvation in terms of a banquet or feast to which many guests were invited. To invite sinners to the Great Banquet was precisely Jesus' mission. He called people to repentance but the summons was also an invitation. Jesus demand for repentance was not merely a summons to men and women to forsake their sins and turn to God; it was rather a call to respond to the divine invitation and was conditioned by this invitation, which was itself nothing less than a gift of God's Kingdom. God is inviting sinners into the messianic blessing and demanding a favorable response to his gracious offer. What they cannot do for themselves, however, He does for them He is the one who brings to people the very blessing he promises.
The Fatherly God
God is seeking and inviting sinners to submit to His reign so that He might be their Father. An inseparable relationship exists between the Fatherhood of God and the Kingdom of God. In the eschatological salvation, the righteous will enter into the Kingdom of the Father. The prayer "Our Father who art in Heaven...They Kingdom Come," shows that Kingship and Fatherhood are closely related. It is a blessing and a relationship that cannot be enjoyed by all people. Fatherhood is a way of describing the covenant relationship between God and Israel. This relationship is not grounded in nature, but was created by the divine initiative. When Israel became faithless God's Fatherhood was limited to the faithful remnant of the righteous within Israel. Furthermore, Jesus never called anyone but his disciples children of God. People become children of God by recognizing his messianic sonship. God seeks people not because he is their Father, but because he would become their Father.
The Judging God
God remains a God of retributive righteousness to those who reject His gracious offer. His concern for the lost does not dissipate the divine holiness into a benign kindliness. God is seeking love, but He is also holy love. This note is repeated in Jesus' proclamation of the Kingdom (Matt 3:12, 25:34-41, 23:13, 33).