The Kingdom of God in Luke (Pt.3)

Part Two

Luke 18 brings the focus back from the eschaton to Jesus’ day.[1]  But there are one or two verses that are pertinent.  After illustrating the importance of persistence in prayer, Jesus adds,

            Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?” – Luke 18:8.

            This reference to His coming is preceded by words about judgment: “I tell you that He will avenge them speedily.” (Lk. 18:8): “Them” being those who pray to God for justice.  Christ’s return will be that swift judgment.  This assures the saints that although they may have to wait until Christ’s appearing, their pleas were heard.  His Kingdom will be just. 

            Eschatological references to the Kingdom continue in Luke 18, first with the warning that one must receive it “like a little child” (paidion) if one is to “enter” it (Lk. 18:16-17), which assumes that entrance is ahead.  This is followed by the story of the Rich [Young] Ruler (Luke does not give his age) who is promised “treasure in heaven” (Lk. 18:22) if he forsakes all and follows Jesus.  There is no doubt that this is future, but is this “treasure in heaven” the same as the Kingdom?  That is to say; is the Kingdom of God a heavenly and not an earthly reality?  In watching the man walk away[2] Jesus tells His disciples how difficult it is for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God (Lk. 18:24-25).  The futurity of the Kingdom is again clear, but what of its location? 

The Location of the Kingdom in Luke

            The answer can be partly constructed from the surrounding verses.  The young man’s question was about inheriting eternal life, which he no doubt equated with the future Kingdom.[3]  Luke had already referred to treasure in heaven in Luke 12:31-33 where it is something that can be stored up.  The evangelist does not say much about the location of the Kingdom, but I think it is possible to gather his allusions together to demonstrate that an earthly location is assumed.

Before this pivotal event the Lord had told His disciples, “I tell you the truth, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the kingdom of God.” (Lk. 9:27).  What Peter, James and John saw was the Lord’s glory in an earthly setting with Moses and Elijah; the latter of whom was predicted to return to earth to herald the Lord’s coming.  Later, Peter himself would seem to understand this event as an adumbration of the Lord’s second advent (2 Pet. 1:16).  It would have made more sense for Jesus to have been lifted up from the earth if the intention was to create an impression of a heavenly kingdom.  Then, in the middle chapters of the Gospel we encounter Jesus employing the phrase “the kingdom of God has come near you” (Lk. 10:9, 11; 11:20[4]; cf. 17:21).  These have a this-worldly setting akin to the “among you” passage in Luke 17:21.[5]    

Luke 13:28-29 are important here:

There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and yourselves thrust out. They will come from the east and the west, from the north and the south, and sit down in the kingdom of God. 

            There would be no reason for anyone to travel from any point of the compass if they could not find the Kingdom of God here on Earth.  Moreover, this earthbound Kingdom is the one connected with the covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Once more, Luke’s emphasis falls upon the future Kingdom. 

The Rewards of the Kingdom and the Prediction of the Passion

            After the departure of the Rich Ruler Peter comments that they have left everything to follow Jesus (Lk. 18:28), to which he receives the reply that whatever sacrifices they have made for His sake, they “shall receive many times more in this present time, and in the age to come eternal life.” (Lk. 18:30).  This is not an easy reply to digest, for what does Jesus mean by rewards “in this present time”?  I believe the answer is to be sought in the idea of storing up treasure which we have just read about in the previous periscope (Lk.18:18-27, esp. v. 22).  The sacrifices in this life are reckoned to our account and magnified “many times… in the age to come” (Lk. 18:30).  These gifts come to the saints in addition to the gift of eternal life.  We shall have to relate eternal life with the Kingdom further on in this book, but it is clear that the differences in rewards points to a layered society in the eschaton.

            What comes straight after the teaching of rewards is Jesus’ prediction of His own approaching sacrifice; a concept that the disciples could not understand (Lk. 18: 34).  As we have seen, this necessity was foreknown by Jesus, and He will express it plainly in the next chapter.  Luke comments that despite Jesus wording the news in the most unambiguous fashion, it “was hidden from them, and they did not know the things which were spoken.” (Lk. 18:34). 

Luke 18 finishes with the author inserting the tale of the healing of the blind man (Lk. 18:35-43).  The one who is blind proclaims the true identity of Jesus as “son of David” to those who see.  Without trying to read into the text, Luke, who is so interested in the Kingdom, might be alluding to this idea through the context of this blind man who connects Jesus’ healings with His messiahship while many who had eyes to see did not see this truth. 

[1] We see the same thing in Luke 20 and 22 after the eschatological teachings of Luke 19 and 21.  Since Christ’s passion has to be recorded this is inevitable, but it does show how much weight Luke placed upon eschatology and the Kingdom of God.

[2] Luke does not record the man leaving.

[3] Craig A. Evans, Luke, 275. 

[4] “the kingdom of God has come upon you.”

[5] If we think of them as such, they do not teach anything other than that the Kingdom was present when Jesus was present.

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