“…Galilee of the Gentiles–the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the shadow of death a light has dawned” (Matthew 4:15d-16).
“…Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 4:17)
“Galilee of the Gentiles”? Is that not part of the land of promise? Indeed. That is the point. It is occupied land. The Assyrians invaded and annexed it in 738 B.C.E. The land was seized by an alien power, by an ungodly nation from an ungodly nation that was supposed to be a light to the nations. Darkness enveloped Galilee, and it was still occupied when Tiberius reigned in Rome and John the Baptist went into the wilderness to preach and practice a “baptism of repentance.”
Now a new light dawns. The people living in the darkness see a bright light coming from the future; the people living in the shadow of death see the light of life. God makes an appearance; he visits his people to reveal to them the future and enter their brokenness in order to redeem it. They see the coming of the kingdom of God in the person of Jesus; they see the future in Jesus. Darkness and death, though present in Galilee, will dissipate through the presence of the King of Israel.
Jesus announces that the kingdom of God is near. Kingdom language is difficult for modern readers since we hear with so much baggage, both cultural and religious. Fundamentally, it is the reign of God. The appearance of the kingdom is the appearance of the reign of God.
When God created, he announced his reign over the earth and invited humans to reign with him. But they chose to reign in their own hearts rather than in God’s story. When God created Israel, he announced that they were a royal nation designed to reign with God in the world. But Israel chose their own king, created their own story, and lived in darkness.
But now God himself comes and announces his reign. Immanuel comes to Galillee. The kingdom of God is near. The reign of God rules in and through the person and ministry of Jesus. God has come. The kingdom of God is here, close by and fully invested in the person and ministry of Immanuel.
“Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people” (Matthew 4:23).
“…people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed, and he healed them” (Matthew 4:24b).
The conjunction of the words and deeds of Jesus in this text should give us pause. Jesus prolaims the good news of the kingdom through teaching in the synagogues and then enacts the good news of the kingdom through a healing ministry.
The phrase “good news of the kingdom” is quite significant. This is the gospel. Is this about the death and resurrection of Jesus which is the common definition of the gospel among many? Is Jesus already talking about that? Not yet. The narrator makes it clear that Jesus does not begin to talk about his death and resurrection until after his transfiguration (Matthew 16:21).
When Jesus is proclaiming the good news of the kingdom in the synagogues of Galilee–providing light in the darkness–he is not talking about his death and resurrection. So, what is the good news? It is the good news of forgiveness, of blessing, of compassion, of healing…it is the good news embodied in the very deeds of Jesus himself. The good news is that the curse is being reversed in the lives of people.
His deeds are themselves a parable of the kingdom; they are a witness to the presence of the reign of God. They are a reversal of the curse. The miracles are not primarily about authentificating his Messianic claim though they do serve that function. The miracles are not primarily about compassion though they convey the love of God.
Rather, the miracles are kingdom events; they announce the reign of God. The miracles are the reversal of the curse. Where once there was death, now there is life. Where once there was blindness, now there is sight. Where once there was pain and mourning, now there is joy. Where once there were tears, now there are smiles. The ministry of Jesus is God breaking into a broken world to reverse the curse.
The good news of the kingdom is that God has visited his people–he has entered his creation–to reverse the curse. The good news of the kingdom is that God intends to redeem, restore and renew his people so that he might once again rest in the goodness of his creation and enjoy his people.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
As we move read through Matthew’s narrative in chapters 4-5, he announces the coming of the light into the darkness, identifies the teaching and deeds of Jesus as the reign of God, and articulates the blessedness of the kingdom come near.
When the kingdom comes near, the humble are blessed because they enjoy the reign of God rather than the arrogant and proud.
When the kingdom comes near, the grieving are blessed because they are comforted rather than the boasting triumphant.
When the kingdom comes near, those with gentle strength are blessed because they will inherit the earth rather than ambitious empire-builders.
The kingdom has come near, but it has not fully arrived. The ministry of Jesus is a witness to the coming full reign of God. Only when there is “no more curse” will the kingdom have fully arrived. But it is here, even now, but it is not fully here, as yet.
Even now the reversed curse can be experienced, but it is not yet fully experienced. Even now the humble can rejoice in the reign of God even though they are still mocked by the arrogant. Even now mourners can be comforted even as they still shed tears. Even now the meek can enjoy their inheritance even though the earth still groans for release from the bondage of human arrogance and empire-builders.
Our blessedness is found in both the present and the future. Even now we are blessed but there is much more awaiting us. We wait for the full reign of God and thus we pray, as Matthew records (6:10), “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is heaven.”
There is hope, but it is not yet seen….except it has been seen in the ministry of Jesus and experienced in our lives in ways. The ministry of Jesus is the proleptic presence of the reign of God, our experience is the authentic experience of that reign, and our hope is that the reign of God will fill the earth so that the will of God will be done on earth just as it is in heaven.
We hope, we rejoice and we wait.