Week of December 3, 2017
The Point: Following Jesus is a life-changing adventure, and you’re invited.
The Kingdom of God: Mark 1:14-20.
 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God,  and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”  Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen.  And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.”  And immediately they left their nets and followed him.  And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets.  And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him. [ESV]
“Main Idea. Mark identifies Jesus’ central message as the nearness of the kingdom of God and the need to respond with repentance and faith in the good news of God’s message of salvation. At the beginning of His kingdom ministry, Jesus calls two pairs of fishermen brothers to follow Him in discipleship and to learn to fish for people, which means to call others to obedience to God and His kingdom purposes.
Structure. This passage is comprised of a summary statement of the beginning of Jesus’ kingdom ministry and message [14-15], followed by two call narratives [16-18 and 19-20]. The three pieces follow a similar pattern, with a statement of setting [14,16,19], an authoritative statement or command by Jesus , and a response [18,20] or intended response by the hearers: repent and believe . This lays the foundation for the central theme of the first part of Mark’s gospel: the authority of Jesus as announcer and inaugurator of the kingdom of God.  Mark’s purpose in this introductory summary is threefold: (1) to provide a transition from the ministry of John to that of Jesus, (2) to establish Galilee as the setting for Jesus’ early ministry, and (3) to summarize the content of Jesus’ preaching: the need to repent and believe in the good news of the kingdom of God. Mark refers in passing to John’s arrest; later he will use a narrative flashback to describe John’s imprisonment and execution [6:14-29]. Although the Fourth Gospel describes a period of overlap between the ministries of Jesus and John [John 3:22-4:2], the Synoptics move John off the scene before Jesus’ public ministry begins. Their purpose is theological rather than chronological – to emphasize the transition from the old age of promise to the new age of fulfillment. John is the last and greatest of the Old Testament prophets [Matt. 11:9-11; Luke 7:26-28]. John is also a transitional figure, with one foot in each age. As the forerunner and herald of the Messiah, he passes the prophetic baton across the ages to Jesus. John announces the need to repent in light of the soon coming of eschatological judgment. Jesus will proclaim its arrival through His own words and deeds. The gospel of God is the message about God’s kingdom.  The time here is the eschatological time of salvation [Gal. 4:4]. The two phrases, the time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand are parallel and coreferential, with both referring to this new age of salvation. The kingdom is shorthand for God’s eschatological salvation, which is even now breaking into human history through Jesus’ words and actions. The verb translated is at hand could mean “has arrived,” “has drawn near,” or “is near,” and is probably intentionally ambiguous. This is because for Mark and his readers, the kingdom is directly related to Jesus Himself. The king is present so the kingdom is near. It has drawn near spatially in Jesus’ person and temporally in the actions of God to achieve eschatological salvation. The appropriate response to this kingdom announcement is to repent and believe in the gospel. Repentance means turning away from sin, and faith means acknowledging dependence on God. These are two sides of the same coin: repudiating a life focused on self and reorienting toward God and His purpose for the world.  Mark’s description of Jesus’ kingdom message is now individualized in His call of disciples, two pairs of fishermen brothers. Three of the four – Peter, James, and John – will become core disciples, sometimes called the “inner circle”. Peter is the most prominent of the Twelve. He is always named first in lists of the disciples and distinguishes himself by folly as well as insight [8:32-33; 9:5-6; 14:29-31,66-72]. According to the Fourth Gospel, Andrew was first a disciple of John the Baptist, and it was he who introduced his brother to Jesus [John 1:40-42]. The Sea of Galilee is actually a large kidney-shaped inland lake, fourteen miles long and six miles wide and located 682 feet below sea level. The brothers were casting a net, probably a round throw net, about fifteen feet across with weights on the edges. The net would sink to the bottom, trapping fish, which could then be gathered.  Follow me is a call to discipleship, a relationship of learning from a master teacher. Discipleship was common among the rabbis of the first century, although Jesus’ manner of calling was unusual. Normally a student would seek out a particular rabbi and ask to follow him. Jesus instead approaches disciples and calls them. Mark’s account emphasizes Jesus’ authority, which demands an immediate response. The image of fishing for people is found in the Old Testament, though always in the context of impending judgment [Jer. 16:16; Ezek. 29:4-5; 38:4; Amos 4:2; Hab. 1:14-17]. Jesus reverses this image to one of salvation. To fish for people is to rescue them from sin and death by calling them into God’s kingdom.  While Mark’s characteristic immediately often serves as a transitional word without temporal significance, here it certainly means “at once.” The disciples drop what they are doing and follow Him. If Mark is aware of any previous encounters between Jesus and the disciples [cf. John 1:35-42], he shows no interest in them. For him the important point is the authority of Jesus’ words and the immediate response of the disciples. The kingdom of God is an urgent call and demands an absolute response.  The same scene is now repeated with two more fishermen brothers, James and John. They are getting the nets ready for more fishing. James was probably the older and firstborn son and so is named first and in relationship to his father. John is then named in relationship to James. This James is different from the lesser-known disciple, James the son of Alphaeus [3:18], as well as from James, the half-brother of Jesus [Mark 6:3; Acts 1:14], who became a key leader in the Jerusalem church [Acts 12:17; 15:13; 21:18; Gal. 2:9]. This James will eventually be arrested and executed by Herod Agrippa [Acts 12:1-2], the first of the Twelve to suffer martyrdom. He and his brother John are nicknamed “sons of thunder” by Jesus [3:17], perhaps because of their volatile personalities [9:38]. Later church tradition identifies John as the author of the Fourth Gospel, the Johannine Letters and the book of Revelation.  Again, both the call and the response are immediate. The presence of hired servants suggests that Zebedee was a man of some wealth. Mark’s purpose in naming these additional workers may be to show that James and John showed concern for their father’s welfare and did not leave him without help. More likely, he is simply stating the fact that they were present, since Jesus never shies away from the radical commitment or sacrifice necessary for the kingdom of God [3:33-34; 8:34; 10:29-30].
In Depth: The Kingdom of God in Jesus’ Preaching. There is nearly universal agreement that the kingdom of God was central to Jesus’ message [cf. 4:11,26,30; 9:1,47; 10:14-15,23-25; 12:34; 14:25; 15:42]. But what does this phrase mean? Though the exact expression does not appear in the Old Testament, the concept of God’s kingship and dominion is abundantly clear. Psalm 47:7 reads, For God is the King of all the earth; sing praises with a psalm! Psalm 103:19 similarly says, The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all [cf. Ex. 15:18; Pss. 29:10; 97:1; 99:1; Isa. 43:15]. The greatest emphasis is on the dynamic reign of God rather than a static realm, though the latter idea is not absent: the Lord of hosts reigns on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, and his glory will be before his elders [Isa. 24:23]. Though God reigns supreme over the cosmos, not everyone presently acknowledges His authority, and so sin and rebellion characterize the present age. The kingdom of God is therefore both a present reality and a future hope. The latter affirms that one day God will destroy the last opposition and will be acknowledged by all as king. Jesus’ teaching in Mark includes both present and future dimensions of the kingdom. The parable of the growing seed speaks of the gradual growth of the kingdom until the day of harvest [4:26-29]. The parable of the mustard seed similarly describes something tiny growing into something great [4:30-32]. In 10:15, Jesus says that whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it. Receiving the kingdom in the present as a child is a prerequisite to entering it in the future. The kingdom will one day come with power for the disciples to see [9:1]. At the Last Supper Jesus says He will not drink wine again until He does so in the future kingdom of God [14:25]. The future coming of the kingdom is similarly implied in Jesus’ teaching concerning the Son of Man who will come with great power and glory … and he will … gather his elect from the four winds [13:26-27; cf. 8:38; 13:33-34; 14:62]. In light of this data, the kingdom of God in Mark must be seen as both a present reality and a future hope. It is “already” and “not yet.” People enter the kingdom by repenting and submitting to the kingdom. Yet Jesus did not simply call people to submit to God’s sovereign reign. He called them to submit in light of the dawn of eschatological salvation. This is implicit in Jesus’ assertion that the time is fulfilled. Everything is changing. The age of promise is giving way to the age of fulfillment and the age of fulfillment is inextricably linked to the kingdom of God, the submission of all things to the sovereign reign of God. Jesus clearly saw the kingdom as both a present reality and a future hope.
Theology in Application. The Kingdom and God’s Redemptive Purpose. Jesus’ fundamental message, the kingdom of God is at hand , has profound implications for the biblical story and for human history. The Bible confirms that God reigns supreme. He is sovereign Lord of the universe. Everything exists because of Him and for His glory. Human beings represent the pinnacle of His creation and reflect His image. Yet the biblical story is also one of tragedy and alienation. Adam and Eve, tested by the Adversary, rejected God’s sovereignty and defied His commands. Human nature entered a fallen state and judgment followed. God’s good creation was placed under a curse. Evil, sin, suffering, disease, decay, poverty, and death became the constants of human existence. The message of the kingdom, however, is that human history is not an endless cycle of sin, suffering, and death. Redemptive history is not circular but linear, with a beginning, middle, and end. God started it and He will end it, because He is the sovereign Lord of the universe. And the end, the eschaton, is in fact a new beginning, the restoration of creation as it was intended to be. Jesus’ announcement that the kingdom of God is at hand means the endgame has begun. God’s plan of redemption and restoration is entering its most important and decisive phase.
The Presence of the Kingdom. The kingdom is present not because God’s authority is universally acknowledged, but because a right relationship with God is now available through God’s agent of redemption. Jesus’ message is an invitation to repent and believe in the kingdom, to submit to God’s authority, and so to “enter” the kingdom. It is an invitation to reorient a life focused on self to a life focused on God. The kingdom is still future because Jesus is launching the plan that will bring about the final restoration of all things. His exorcisms reveal that the power of the Adversary is being neutralized; His healings demonstrate that fallen humanity is being restored [Isa. 35:5,6]; His offer of forgiveness confirms that the power of sin is being broken; and His nature miracles show His divine authority to restore a fallen creation. All these are postcards from the kingdom, telling people that its power is really present and that its consummation is coming. Ultimately, Jesus’ death on the cross will serve as a ransom for sins [Mark 10:45], breaking the endless cycle of sin and death and restoring humanity to eternal fellowship with God.
Jesus’ Kingdom Authority and the Cost of Discipleship. Having announced the kingdom of God, Jesus sets out to establish a community of followers who will submit to God’s reign. Two themes come through in the call narrative of the first four disciples. The first is the authority of Jesus, a theme that runs throughout the opening part of Mark’s gospel. Using a harmonistic approach to the Gospels, one might conclude that Jesus has had previous encounters with these men [John 1:40-42]. But this plays no part in Mark’s story. For Mark, this is not a measured response to follow Jesus after seeing His miracles or weighing the cost. Rather, Jesus speaks and people obey. It is His overwhelming presence and authority that demand a response. Throughout this gospel, Jesus’ words carry divine authority. When He speaks, demons are put to flight, diseases are healed, storm waves are calmed, and experts in debate are rendered speechless. Jesus speaks and acts with the authority of God. The second theme is the willingness of the disciples to leave everything to follow Jesus. Discipleship has a cost. In the closest Old Testament parallel to this narrative, the call of Elisha by Elijah, Elisha asks and is (apparently) given permission to go back and say good-bye to his parents [1 Kings 19:19-21]. In Mark’s narrative, James and John simply leave their father in the boat to follow Jesus immediately. This would have been shocking – even blasphemous – in a first-century context where honoring parents was among the greatest of values. Yet, as we will see throughout Mark’s gospel, the demands of the kingdom are radical. They involve not only leaving wealth [10:21-24] and family [3:33-35; 10:29], but also denying yourself, taking up your cross (in death), and following Him [8:34]. This passage has profound implications for believers today. What does it mean – especially for those who possess wealth, position, and power – to leave everything and follow Jesus? This is the call of discipleship today, just as it was in Jesus’ day.” [Strauss, pp. 77-86].
Questions for Discussion:
- The kingdom of God is a central theme in Jesus’ preaching. Notice how His parables are kingdom-orientated [Mark 4:11-12] and how discipleship is understood in terms of it [Mark 10:15-25]. The kingdom, the sphere in which God’s reign is expressed, has a present aspect (it is ‘near’) but in another sense awaits its consummation. How can we define the kingdom of God? How do we enter it? How do we live in the kingdom now while waiting for its consummation in the future? What is the relationship between the gospel and the kingdom of God? How can you incorporate this relationship into your witness to the gospel?
- Strauss writes that this passage has profound implications for believers today. What does it mean – especially for those who possess wealth, position, and power – to leave everything and follow Jesus? How do you seek to follow Jesus daily where you live?
The Gospel According to Mark, James Edwards, Eerdmans.
Mark, Robert Stein, ECNT, Baker.
Mark, Mark Strauss, Zondervan.