SERMON: Seeking the Kingdom of God | Mark 8:38–9:1

Seeking the Kingdom of God | Mark 8:38–9:1
Shaun Marksbury | Grace Bible Church
Sunday Morning Service | January 7, 2018

It was right and proper for the disciples to be expecting an earthly kingdom.  What wasn’t right or proper was their resistance to God’s use of suffering to build the kingdom.  They believed that they should have an easy path now that the Messiah has arrived, and they certainly had no room for a crucified Jesus.  However, as Jesus explains in these verses, there is a near and far element to the kingdom, an already and not-yet fulfillment that alters how they follow Him.  So, in these verses, we can also see how we are to seek the King’s business in our lives as kingdom citizens.




I.               Introduction

Sometimes, chapter breaks are helpful.  They’re not part of the inspired text.  They were simply added to the Bible in the Middle Ages to help readers easily navigate Scripture.  Sometimes, though, it’s tough to tell if whether those breaks occur in the best places.  In this case, it seems that this text focuses on aspects of the kingdom and should be read as one unit.

Let’s consider that unit.  If you’ve been tracking what’s been happening in chapter eight, then you know that Jesus has been preparing them to understand that He is the Messiah.  However, when He gets to explaining His mission, He encounters resistance from His disciples.  You might ask why the disciples expected something so different from the kingdom of God. 

First, keep in mind that they were right to be expecting the kingdom.  Without a doubt, the kingdom of God is the theme that unifies Scripture.  It’s mentioned in nearly all of the Old Testament books, and that trend continues through the New Testament.  One systematic theology text notes, “All in all, fifty-seven of the sixty-six canonical books include the kingdom theme (86 percent).”[1] 

The first mention of a kingdom in Scripture is in Genesis 10:9–12, where an earthly kingdom opposes the work of God.  The last mention of the kingdom reign is in Revelation 22:5, where we read, “And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever” (Rv 22:5).  That reminds us of Genesis 1, where light first appears, apart from the sun (vv. 3, 14).  The kingdom is everlasting (Ps 145:11–13), meaning that the rule of God is the overarching narrative of Scripture—and He establishes His King on Zion (Ps 2:6).

The disciples’ problem stems from having too narrow a view of the kingdom of God, leading ancient Israel to miss key aspects of what God wanted to accomplish by focusing on only some of the temporal benefits of the kingdom.  Again, MacArthur and Mayhue’s Biblical Doctrine reads,

All kingdom of God passages can be summarized by recognizing several broad aspects.  First is the universal kingdom, which includes the rule of God that has been, is, and forever will be overall that exists in time and space.  Second is God’s mediatorial kingdom, in which he rules on earth through divinely chosen human representatives.  Third is the spiritual or redemptive aspect of God’s kingdom, which uniquely deals with a person’s salvation and personal relationship with God through Christ.  When Scripture uses the word “kingdom” to refer to God’s kingdom, it could point to any one aspect of the kingdom or several of its parts together.  Careful interpretation in context will determine the particulars for a given biblical text.[2]

The disciples would understand that God is King over creation in Genesis, and He creates Adam and Eve to be citizens of His kingdom.  He establishes the rules of kingdom in what some theologians refer to as a covenant with Adam (I won’t go into the merits or demerits of that today).  Adam was to exercise a mediatorial dominion or “rule” over the earth (Gn 1:26).  However, in Genesis 3, they sin and are expelled from the garden. 

Still, it pleased God to provide them a covering, and He continued to build a people for Himself.  Starting with Abraham, He promises a land for the people who would bless the other nations (Gn 12:2–3).  In the Book of Exodus, He gathers Israel from Egypt as a kingdom (Ex 19:6) and makes His dwelling among them.  In 2 Samuel 7:10–17, the eternal kingdom is promised specifically to the land of Israel, with David’s Son on the throne, and we later read that the Lord reigns in Jerusalem (Isaiah 24:23).  

We’re in error to think that the people of Jesus’ day were wrong for expecting an earthly kingdom!  They were never chastised for it.  Moreover, Jesus Himself taught that the kingdom was at hand (Mk 1:14), and we’ve seen repeatedly that His miracles were intended to prove that He was the promised Messiah ushering in the kingdom (cf. Isa 35).  He said that there would be thrones for both He and His disciples from which to rule (Mt 19:28).  It’s expected, then, that they would eventually ask Him, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Mt 24:3).

II.            First, recognize that the kingdom of God has a future of power (8:38)

“For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

We had talked last time about how much shame factors into our unwillingness to be about kingdom business.  Jesus uses the word “ashamed” to speak of our possible interaction with Him and Scripture because unwillingness to give over our lives to Him stems from shame.  This is a disposition of the heart—and yes, what we feel inside can be sinful.  When we don’t confess and repent of sinful affections, they turn into sinful actions.

In this case, it’s a sin of omission.  A Christian won’t carry his cross publicly (v. 34).  It’s also a sin of commission.  He decides that the fear of man has more personal impact than a fear of God.  So, knowing how the lost world scorns the Bible, a Christian blunts the edge of Scripture, dulling the sword from the Lord’s mouth, or perhaps hides it altogether. 

Now, Jesus acknowledges that this is, indeed, an “adulterous and sinful generation.”  This was true of Israel; the Lord says, “And I will punish her for the feast days of the Baals when she burned offerings to them and adorned herself with her ring and jewelry, and went after her lovers and forgot me, declares the Lord” (Hos 2:13).  We live in an age when people have “exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (Rm 1:25).  But, the state of our sinful world is no justification for being ashamed and denying Him.

However, His own disciples are, in essence, expressing an unwillingness to follow Jesus to the cross.  However, this is the exact path they need to tread.  They need to trust Him as the Christ to lead the way.  It's His kingdom, after all.

They need to be prepared, and so do we.  Jesus must die for the sins of the people (cf. Is 53).  Moreover, when the disciples are brought before the chief priests and kings, they must not reject Him like the Sanhedrin has.  We may be called upon to confess Him and His work before a skeptical and spiteful audience.

This is discouraging if you were expecting the fullness of the kingdom right away.  The disciples are scratching their heads—the Christ is in the form of a servant, He’s still unknown as “the Messiah” to much of Israel, and He’s despised and rejected by the Sanhedrin.  And every time Jesus says something hard-to-accept, many disciples outside the twelve flee.  They may wonder what justification there might be for continuing such a difficult path. 

Well, despite the current state of our Lord, the disciples dare not think that there isn’t a glory to come.  There approaches a day of terror for all those who have opposed the kingdom purposes, when Jesus comes not meek and lowly, but when God’s wrath is mete out by His holy angels.  As Jesus said in Matthew 25:31–32, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.  Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.”

This fact is revealed in a week’s time at the Transfiguration.  For now, it’s vital that the disciples hear this warning.  Those who call themselves disciples today finding themselves ashamed of Christ and His Word will be associated with unbelievers.

Keep the gospel in mind with this.  We are not saved by our ability to follow Christ through the midst of tribulation.  Peter denied Him and was restored.  We also need to keep in mind that there is a power that comes today, a kind of glory now, even though the kingdom is yet unrealized.

III.         The kingdom of God has a present of power (9:1).  

And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.”

There is considerable question as to what event Jesus had in mind here.  Some take this verse to mean that Jesus expected to return in His lifetime.  Since He obviously did not return, this verse becomes a favorite verse for skeptics seeking to prove that the Bible is wrong.

Let’s take a moment to think about that, though.  First, Jesus will specifically say that He doesn’t know the day or the hour of His return (Mk 13:32; Mt 24:36).  How could He say that there would be some alive, then?  It isn’t logical that now He’s operating with such knowledge and later He’s not so sure.

Moreover, the participle translated “after it has come” is a perfect active, meaning that they will witness more than the start of the kingdom; it has already come.  This matches with what Jesus has been preaching since the beginning—“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mk 1:14).

What’s more, the Transfiguration (9:2–8) is a sign of the kingdom.  With the specifics of the transfiguration, we see an image of Christ not only in divinity but also royalty.  He “dons” white garments, which the people of His day associated with royalty.  All three synoptic gospels record this promise, and all three follow it with the Transfiguration.

The fact is that this verse never bothered Christians.  The only conclusion here is that He is not referring to His Second Coming, but to the Transfiguration.  Even so, the previous verse indicates that there is a certain, future, eschatological element to the idea of His Second Coming. 

Someone might counter that, if v. 1 refers to the Transfiguration, then why does Jesus say that “there are some… who will not taste death?”  Certainly, none of the twelve would have died in the intervening six days.  However, Jesus wasn’t implying that anyone would die, but only that some (e.g., Peter, James, and John) would very shortly witness the truth of what He’s been saying.

What’s the point of proving that v. 1 refers to the Transfiguration?  Well, for one, it restores our faith in the chapter divisions of Scripture—v. 1 should be followed by v. 2!  More importantly, though, the disciples of Christ today may wonder when any kingdom power is to be realized.  As Jesus reveals in His transfiguration (9:2–8), the power of the kingdom is already at hand.  God’s universal kingdom is eternal, after all.

So, the Transfiguration, as we will see, proves Christ’s claims to the future aspects of the kingdom.  He definitely proved it later at His resurrection (cf. Rm 1:4).  Because of the resurrection, He gives us the power to live kingdom principles today and ensures our future citizenship (cf. 1 Cor 6:14; Phil 3:10; Eph 1:19–20).

IV.         Final Thoughts

Since the “kingdom of God” has a redemptive purpose, we would do well to pay attention to it.  The purpose that God wants to accomplish today is not social reform but soul reform.  He wants to save people from their sins.  While a born-again Christian may have certain convictions about correcting societal ills, he must also recognize that this is an “adulterous and sinful age” that requires the return of Christ in the glory of the Father with His holy angels.

So, what should we be committed to while we await the consummation of the future kingdom?  We should be about the redemptive work of Christ!  He preached repentance and belief in the gospel because of the nearness of the kingdom (Mk 1:14–15)—so should we.  We must proclaim the “good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 8:12), and not be ashamed of Him or His Word.

The power of the kingdom is already present, converting the soul and empowering the believer.  If we experience suffering in this life for the sake of the kingdom, it’s temporary and surmountable.  Even in death, we have the power to overcome the temptations and persecutions of this life in the present power of Christ (cf. 2 Pt 1:3–4).  We also know that there fast-approaches a day when Christ will establish His visible kingdom, which He will eventually turn over to the Father. 

[1] John MacArthur and Richard Mayhue, Biblical Doctrine (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017), 43.
[2] Ibid., 43–44.
[3] Earl D. Radmacher, Ronald Barclay Allen, and H. Wayne House, Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Commentary (Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers, 1999), 1223.
[4] Ted Cabal et al., The Apologetics Study Bible: Real Questions, Straight Answers, Stronger Faith (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2007), 1483–1485.

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