I’m working through Luke’s gospel and focusing on Jesus’ thoughts regarding the kingdom of God. It’s fascinating to read through this “hermeneutical lens” because it’s hard not to separate the proclamation of the kingdom of God from some form of signs and wonders, specifically healing. It would seem that in Luke’s mind, Jesus’ demonstration of the kingdom of God was wrapped up in physical healing (e.g., Luke 4:40-41), deliverance from demons (e.g. Luke 8:26-39), and raising the dead (Luke 8:49-56). We could also add Jesus’ sovereignty over the storm of Luke 8:22-25 as well.
When Jesus began his public ministry he did so “in the power of the Spirit” (Luke 4:14) and began to proclaim a central message: “the good news of the kingdom of God” (Luke 4:43). The message of the kingdom of God is all over Luke’s gospel! It seems to be a controlling motif and primary focus for what Luke sees at the heart of Jesus’ ministry.
Consider the implications of Jesus’ partial reading of Isaiah 61:1-2 in Luke 4:18-19, which reads,
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Commentators understand Jesus’ reading of Isaiah 61 in many helpful ways. Marshall writes that here in Luke 4, “ultimately, the concepts of the eschatological prophet and the Messiah merge” (The Gospel of Luke, p.183) and Stein writes that “Jesus claimed here that God’s kingdom had come” (Luke, p.157). Make no mistake, the kingdom of God is about salvation, and that salvation spans into every crevice of our universe, ultimately culminating in the New Heavens and the New Earth. But it started in the lives of people during Jesus’ life and those lives were radically impacted by the power of the kingdom of God. It wasn’t just “getting saved” in the “raise your hand for fire insurance” type of way. It was radical and transforming. People’s lives experienced a “foretaste of glory divine,” to use the popular hymnal. Storms were calmed, demonic oppression was destroyed, the sick were healed, and the dead were raised. People truly “tasted… the powers of the age to come” when the kingdom of God broke into this world through the ministry of Jesus.
I can’t help but see an honest reading of the gospels as indicating that healing and deliverance should both be a part of gospel proclamation. It would seem that when we remove or place on the back-burner the demonstration of God’s kingdom from our evangelistic methodology or ministry, we’re forcing our own experiences (or lack of experience) onto the text and not allowing Scripture to shape and form our thinking and our practice.
And I don’t think this is bad hermeneutics either (nor do many others who are far more competent scholars, i.e., Grant Osborne). Some of my Evangelical friends will bring up the difference in biblical genres to lower the emphasis for these demonstrations of kingdom power and presence and tell us to focus on the epistles. Despite the fact that I would take issue with some of the ways the gospels are read and applied, I’m also okay with turning to the epistles. For instance, consider the following:
“Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain–if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith–” (Gal 3:2-5, emphasis mine)
“Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.” (James 5:14-15)
Even the epistles tend to give us a snap shot of what Paul and James considered more “normative” than some want to admit. Plus, we’re told in the past part of Acts that while Paul was in prison, “he lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance” (Acts 28:30). Paul never stopped preaching the kingdom of God and I think it would behoove us to consider what preaching and proclaiming and demonstrating the kingdom of God actually was… and I believe still is.
So what does proclaiming the kingdom of God look like?
Orthodox Christians have always held to the hope that the kingdom of God would be consummated one day too. One day in the future, Jesus will return and set up the kingdom of God on earth in its fullness. Until that time, we live in the tension of an “already/not yet” world. This is the framework that undergirds my theological convictions. How can I be both essentially a “Calvinist” and a “Charismatic” who seeks to avoid the extremes of both theological positions? The nature of the kingdom of God. I pray for the sick the same way that Jesus did with obviously not near the results. Why? Because we live in the tension of the “already/not yet.” Sometimes people have experienced healing. Sometimes people have experienced freedom from demonic oppression. These are in-breakings of God’s kingdom, and I hope and pray I see more… not for my glory, but for God’s glory and the confirmation of the good news about Jesus Christ, my supreme treasure.
George Eldon Ladd once wrote that,
“… we attempted to establish exegetically on the basis of Matthew 12:28 that Jesus taught that the Kingdom of God in a real sense was present in the fulfillment of the prophetic home, while the age of consummation remained future. The presence of the Kingdom of God was seen as God’s dynamic reign invading the present age without transforming it into the age to come.” (Ladd, The Presence of the Future, p.149)
Along with Matt. 12:28, I’d also submit the entirety of Luke’s gospel (and Acts) as confirmation that the very real presence of the kingdom of God was inaugurated in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. May the Lord’s kingdom reign be more dynamically experienced in our lives…