The Kingdom of God in Mark

Jesus begins his ministry by announcing the “good news” that the Kingdom of God is near.[1]  Therefore, if we are to benefit from this good news, we need to understand what Jesus means by the phrase “The Kingdom of God.”

Firstly, The Kingdom of God is the fulfilment of God’s promises to Israel.  We see this as Mark opens with the prophecy of Isaiah calling on Israel to prepare for her coming King. [2]  This prophecy is fulfilled in John, the precursor to the coming Messiah who baptises in the Jordan.  The return from exile is to be completed as the nation is united under the true king. [3]  Baptism in the Jordan provides rich echoes of the original Exodus from exile in Egypt and entry into God’s Promised Land. [4]

We see it again in the activities of Jesus.  He appoints twelve disciples, echoing the twelve tribes of Israel.[5] He feeds multitudes in the desert, evoking God’s provision of quail and manna to the people in the wilderness.[6]  His control over nature as he calms a storm will remind readers of God’s control over the red sea.[7]

However, this does not mean that the Kingdom is about God restoring Israel as a political entity with geographical borders.  The Kingdom may be “entered” but it is also received.[8]  Whilst a King may receive his Kingdom as an inheritance, it is not normal for a geographical entity to be received by his subjects in this way.  This suggests that the idea has more to do with receiving God’s rule with all its benefits.  This leads us into the second aspect of our definition.[9]

Secondly, The Kingdom of God is about the restoration of God’s creation purposes.  God is the rightful King, not just of Israel but of the whole world.  The miracles we have mentioned echo Israel’s experience of God’s salvation but they also remind us that God has control over creation.[10]

Central to the Fall was the punishment of death and banishment from the tree of life.[11]  When God re-establishes his reign over his creation, then the problem of death must be dealt with.  It is not surprising then that when the rich young man comes to Jesus seeking to inherit eternal life[12] that Jesus then talks about rich people entering the Kingdom of God,[13] or that Jesus talks about entering the Kingdom and avoiding hell.[14]  The Kingdom and eternal life are seen as closely related if not equivalent in Jesus’ mind.[15]

The Kingdom of God then brings the restoration of God’s creation purposes with a restored humanity and the curse of death removed.  By implication, the Kingdom of God will have implications, not just for the Jews but for people of all nations.  This is reinforced by Mark’s focus on a Gentile readership.[16]  His message is “God’s Kingdom has come and it’s for you too.”

Thirdly, The Kingdom of God is the reign of God through Jesus Christ.  The exact phrase “Kingdom of God” is used fifteen times in Mark’s gospel.  In all but one case, it is Jesus himself who uses the phrase.  In that exception it is the narrator rather than another character that uses it.  Boring argues that Mark does this deliberately to ensure that we firmly associate the Kingdom with Jesus in our minds.[17]

Mark sets Jesus up as the true King in opposition to all other claimants.  Note how the Feeding of the Five Thousand and calming of the storm are juxtaposed with the execution of John the Baptist.[18]  The true King who provides for his people is set against the false King who acts unjustly against an innocent victim.[19]  As Jesus casts out demons, he is seen to engage the enemies of God’s people in battle,[20] not the physical enemy of the Roman occupation but the greater enemy: the forces of Satan.[21]  If there is a Kingdom of God, then there is also a kingdom that belongs to Satan, but Jesus has arrived to “plunder” it.[22]

Lest there be any doubt, Jesus asks his disciples who he is and they respond that he is the Christ or the Messiah.[23] He was the Lord’s anointed one,[24] the heir of David, the true King. This idea that Jesus is the heir of David is on the lips of his followers and those seeking help from him as he passes through Jericho[25] and enters Jerusalem.[26]

If Jesus is the true King, then the establishment of his Kingdom is dependent upon his activity.  Some scholars see this as realised in his ministry so that he did not simply announce that it was near but that it had arrived.[27]  However, a number of clues suggest that the inauguration of the Kingdom depended on future events.  For example, Jesus tells his disciples that some of them will see the Kingdom come in power before their death, [28] the crowd on Palm Sunday celebrate “the coming kingdom of our father David”[29] and at the Last Supper, Jesus tells his disciples that he will not drink the cup again until he drinks it in the Kingdom of God.[30]   There is an expectation of a further activity before the Kingdom is inaugurated.  So whilst in one sense it is true that wherever Jesus is, there God’s kingdom is; its establishment is dependent upon key eschatological events, such as his crucifixion, resurrection and ascension, so that Mark ties in Jesus’ unveiling as the Christ with his prediction of death and resurrection.[31] 

What then is the meaning of the Kingdom of God in Mark?  Obviously a study of one gospel alone leaves a number of questions still outstanding and to gain a full understanding of what The Kingdom of God means and all its implications, we must look at its wider context in the other gospels and the rest of the New Testament.  However, we can say that in Mark, the Kingdom of God means God’s reign over his creation, through Jesus Christ fulfilling God’s promises to his people Israel and bringing benefits to all nations.

[1] Mark 1: 15.

[2] Mark 1:2-3.

[3] NT Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1996), 126.

[4] NT Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, 160. additionally the connection between the River Jordan and return from Exile was identified by Matthew Sleeman, Introduction to Jesus and the Gospels, Lecture 1, Jan 29th  2007, see also,William Lane, The Gospel of Mark,  (NICNT, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1974), 50.

[5] Mark 3:14.

[6] Mark  6:30-44 and Mark 8: 1-10.

[7] Mark 4:35-41.

[8] Mark 10:15.

[9] John Drane, Introducing the New Testament, (Rev. Oxford: Lion Publishing Plc.1999), 113.  Drane also refers to Luke 17:20-21 which says “The Kingdom of God is within you.”

[10] NT Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, 193.

[11] Genesis 3.

[12] Mark 10:17.

[13] Mark 10:23.

[14] Mark 9:47.

[15] See EP Sanders The Historical Figure of Jesus, (London: Penguin Books, 1995), 171-172.

[16] William Lane, The Gospel of Mark, 25.

[17] Eugine M Boring, “The Kingdom of God in Mark,” in The Kigdom of God in 20th Century Application, (Ed.Wendell Willis. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers 1987), 138.

[18] Mark 6:14-29 and then 30-43.

[19] This point was made by Matthew Sleeman, Lecture, Introduction to the New Testament (Mark), 26th February 2007.

[20] Mark 5:1-20.

[21] NT Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God,  195-196.

[22] Mark 3: 22-27.

[23]  Mark 8:29.

[24] L.W. Hurtado, “Christ,” in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels  (Edited by Joel B. Green, Scott McKnight and I Howard Marshall, Leicester: Inter Varsity Press, 1992), 106-107.

[25] Mark 10:47.

[26] Mark 11:10.

[27] See C H Dodd, The Parables of the Kingdom, (London: Nisbet, 1936), 44-51.

[28] Mark 9:1. Contra Dodd who renders the  phrase “There are some of those standing here who will not taste death until they see that the Kingdom of God has come with power.” CH Dodd, The Parables of the Kingdom, 53. This is based on his understanding that Mark 1:15 is saying that the Kingdom has already arrived (see above).   This interpretation seems problematic in the light of the fact that Simon has already identified that Jesus is the Messiah.    

[29] Mark 11:10.

[30] Mark 14:25.

[31] Mark 8:27-38.

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