Saturday, October 8, 2011

Nicodemus and the Gospel of the Kingdom

Nicodemus, who was a Pharisee and a member of the Great Sanhedrin (the supreme court of Israel), came to Jesus late one night. “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him,” he said.

Jesus answered him, moving past the question, directly to the heart of what Nicodemus needed to hear. “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). A moment later, he reiterated, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:6).

What was Jesus talking about? The immediate answer most evangelicals would likely give is that He was speaking of being “born again,” a birth of “water and the Spirit.” And that is quite true, as far as it goes. But what was He speaking in regard to? Why is it important that one have this new birth? The answer is found in both statements: The kingdom of God — the rule and reign of God, the will of God being done on earth as it is in heaven. One must be born of water and the Spirit, in order “see” it (to recognize and know and understand it), to enter in and experience it.

Jesus’ ministry was all about the kingdom of God, from the time He began to the time He ascended to heaven. After His baptism, and the Temptation in the wilderness, Jesus came preaching “the gospel of the kingdom of God,” declaring that it was now “at hand” (Mark 1:14-15). Throughout His ministry, He constantly spoke about the kingdom: “Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people” (Matthew 9:35; see also Matthew 4:23 and Luke 8:1). The healings and exorcisms He performed were a demonstration of the presence and power of the kingdom: “But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matthew 12:28). He sent the disciples out to do the same: “As you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons” (Matthew 10:7-8). The message and miracles of Jesus and the disciples were all about the kingdom.

The forty days after the resurrection of Jesus from the dead were a time of revelation about the kingdom. Jesus presented Himself to the disciples, “being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3). Then, before He ascended to heaven, to His throne at the right hand of the Father, He came to the disciples and said, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18). This was a declaration about the kingdom, no longer just a future hope but a present reality. What had been promised so often in the Old Testament was not just “at hand,” but had now begun, with Jesus as King.

Nicodemus, a teacher of Israel, would have known (or should have) what those promises were (we’ll look at some of those in my next post). His next questions were not about the kingdom of God, but about the startling statement Jesus made, that one must be “born again” to enter into it (we’ll look at that in the post after next).

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