Advancing forcefully or suffering violence? (Matthew 11:12)

Does Matthew 11:12 say God’s kingdom is forcefully advancing, or that it’s subjected to violence?

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Open Matthew 11:12.

Matthew 11:12 is a puzzle for translators. The NIV from 1984 reads like this:

  • From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.

But the same verse from the 2011 NIV reads:

  • From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it.

So which one is right? “Forcefully advancing” would be a good thing. “Subjected to violence” sounds bad. What did Jesus mean? Continue reading “Advancing forcefully or suffering violence? (Matthew 11:12)”

When the king is dishonoured (Matthew 11:7-11)

How does King Jesus respond when publicly dishonoured?

Open Matthew 11:7-11.

I never knew what a fink was, but the Wizard of Id cartoons were clear enough: call the king a fink and you’re strung up in shackles.

Last year, I visited a kingdom, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. I asked the guide what would happen if someone spoke against one of the Hashemite family. Apparently it would not be a good move if you valued your freedom.

You can understand why Jesus avoided direct criticism of Herod. John the Baptist had proclaimed the arrival of an alternative kingdom. John publicly critiqued Herod’s morals, implying he was unfit to rule God’s people. Predictably, Herod arrested John.

Jesus also preached the restoration of God’s kingdom, but he carefully avoided Herod. When Jesus said anything about Herod, his message was coded. In Matthew 11, he expressed the same cryptic message in three ways, adding the hint that they’d need to listen well to get it: “If you have ears, hear” (11:15):

Continue reading “When the king is dishonoured (Matthew 11:7-11)”

Disillusioned with Jesus? (Matthew 11:1-6)

When God doesn’t do what you expect.

Open Matthew 11:1-6.

Matthew 11:2-3 (my translation)
2 In prison, John heard what the Messiah was doing and sent his followers 3 to ask him, “Are you the one to come, or do we wait for another?”

Last year I was in a Masters-level class on the kingdom of God. Dr Tidball asked us, “So why did John the Baptist doubt if Jesus was the Messiah?” How could the greatest of all prophets — the one privileged to announce the arrival of the Messiah — doubt if Jesus was the Messiah? Continue reading “Disillusioned with Jesus? (Matthew 11:1-6)”

The key posts of 2016/2017

Want a summary of what we’ve said on the kingdom of God? Here are the links to the key posts. (Links open in a new window/tab.)

Douglas Adams was right. 42 might be the answer to life, the universe, and everything, but it makes no sense if you don’t know the question.

After decades of following Jesus, I was shocked to realize I didn’t understand Jesus in the way he understood himself and his mission. His identity was son of man. His work was kingdom of God. Son of man, doing kingdom of God stuff? Have you any idea what he meant?

I think the most important question in life is who Jesus was and what he was doing. That’s why I’m devoting my life to this question:

What difference would it make to understand Jesus in the terms he used to describe himself (his identity and mission)?

According to Jesus, seeking the kingdom is top priority (Matthew 6:33). It’s why we launched this blog. Does it inspire you? Continue reading “The key posts of 2016/2017”

The good shepherd (John 10:1-18)

Jesus is the good shepherd? What does that mean?

Open John 9:40 – 10:18.

In our culture, religion is an optional religious experience for those who like that kind of thing. It’s good clean fun, time with friends, decent music, more inspiring than Ted Talks. Australia views church as a recreational activity, a time of being refreshed after the work and political struggles of the week, a bit like binging on Netflix except you have to dress up and go out.

So when we read Jesus talking about the kingdom of God, we can’t make any sense of it. We copy the Psalms and sing, “God reigns,” but we don’t think of ourselves as a kingdom.

Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11), but we don’t understand what that meant to Israel. A shepherd was a ruler, one who led the herd. In Jesus’ day, the Sanhedrin had that responsibility. So if he claimed to be the good shepherd, what was he implying about Israel’s other shepherds? Continue reading “The good shepherd (John 10:1-18)”

God’s kingdom and salvation

How does the kingdom of God relate to the message of salvation?

In my student days, I stood at the edge of the Grand Canyon. It’s embarrassing, but I remember saying, “That’s not a canyon; that’s a huge cliff.” I expected to see another cliff on the other side of the canyon. Eventually, somebody pointed it out: “See over there, 18 miles in the distance, that’s the other side.” I had totally failed to understand the scale of the canyon.

Salvation can be a bit like that. It’s so much more than we take in at first. For 500 years, we’ve stressed that it’s all of grace, nothing of human merit: by grace alone, by faith alone. We know it so well:

Ephesians 2:8–9 (NIV)
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.

How does salvation relate to the kingdom? That’s an important question if we are to understand the gospel Jesus preached, i.e. the good news of the kingdom (Matthew 4:23; 9:35; 24:14; Mark 1:15; Luke 4:43; 8:1; 16:16). Continue reading “God’s kingdom and salvation”

God’s kingdom and Israel today

How does the kingdom of God relate to the nation of Israel today?

Israel did not exist as an independent nation for more than 2,500 years (586 BC – AD 1947). What is the significance of Israel’s rebirth 70 years ago?

For many Jews, it means coming home to the home they never had. Some see it as the fulfilment (or re-fulfilment) of God’s promise to resurrect their nation (Ezekiel 37:14).

Some Christians also see Israel’s return as a significant fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy in our time. Is this so? To answer that question, we need to review the crucial role Israel played in the kingdom of God narrative. Continue reading “God’s kingdom and Israel today”

God’s kingdom and social justice

Social justice isn’t an angry fist; it’s a cross, bearing the injustice away.

Imagine a world without gender conflict, where males and females value each other as persons. Imagine a world where no one no one dies of preventable diseases, where no one starves while others horde wealth. Imagine a world without racism or slavery or war, a world where no leader forces themselves on people. Imagine a world where people shun violence and retribution, calling on God to bring justice instead.

Lofty ideals? It’s our future. This is the world we will know when it runs as our heavenly sovereign intends — as the kingdom of God. The big question is how do we get there?

Continue reading “God’s kingdom and social justice”

Jesus the questioner

Why did Jesus ask so many questions if he already knew the answers?

Ever notice how many questions Jesus asked? What was he saying? And what can I learn from him?

The Gospels recount more than 300 questions on the lips of Jesus. To see what he asked us to consider, paste this into a Bible search in Logos Bible Software:

{Section <Sentence = Interrogative>} INTERSECTS {Speaker <Person Jesus>}

It’s okay to have questions. It gets you thinking. Jesus was a master at that.

Continue reading “Jesus the questioner”

The kingdom and spiritual warfare

How can love survive against evil when evil has the weapons to destroy God’s people? (Spoiler alert)

Spiritual warfare is a kingdom matter. Ever since the coup in Eden’s Garden, earth has been at war with our heavenly sovereign. Unlike the evil emperor in Star Wars, God did not build a death star to destroy the planet and its rebels. Instead he called Abraham away from Babel, to build a family that would bring the world back into his care.

Predictably, Abraham’s family were enslaved by this world’s rulers. With ten “mighty acts” God demonstrated Pharaoh was a fraud. Egypt’s king could not even stop natural invaders like frogs, flies, or gnats. Pharaoh could not protect the families of Egypt, not even his own family, not even Egypt’s heir.

Pharaoh agreed to let God’s people go, but he still had the forces to recapture them. That’s the big question: How can love survive against evil when evil has the weapons to destroy God’s people? Continue reading “The kingdom and spiritual warfare”

God’s kingdom and the millennium

How is the kingdom of God connected to the 1000-year reign in Revelation 20? Does it help to ask who this vision is about, rather than when?

What comes to mind first when you hear the phrase kingdom of God? For some, it’s a future era of global peace with Christ reigning for 1000 years. Continue reading “God’s kingdom and the millennium”