Yesterday I noted that the kingdom of God is "the big idea" of the Bible, especially in the Gospels. I referred to Matthew’s Gospel in that January 9 blog. Today I want to refer to Mark. The center of the Gospel of Mark is clearly the cross. In the early chapters we see the disciples trying to grasp who Jesus is and then how they would confess him as Messiah. Then comes the turning point: "He [Jesus] then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again" (Mark 8:31).
Up until this point Mark’s crisp, pointed narrative reveals Jesus as a popular teacher and miracle worker. But he had come to be a Messiah who would die. On three different occasions he warned them of his impending death but it seems none of them grasped this point in their excitement. (In fact, almost a third of Mark’s action oriented gospel is devoted to the sufferings and death of Jesus.) John R. Stott rightly says "the essence of Jesus’s teaching is found in his statement that ‘the Son of Man must suffer’." But why? And where does this sense of suffering come from in the mind and mission of Jesus? It is rooted in Scripture, the same Scripture that he had been reading and pondering since childhood. "The Son of Man must suffer," Jesus says. The phrase "Son of Man" is commonly understood as a Hebraism for a human person. The point of reference is agreed to be Daniel 7 where in a vision we see "one like a son of man" who comes on the clouds and approaches the Ancient of Days (God). In the Daniel 7 picture this one is given all authority so that all people will serve him, and his kingdom will never be destroyed (cf. Daniel 7:13,14).
John R. Stott, in Through the Bible, Through the Year (2006), a wonderful biblical and liturgical guide that I am using this year, suggests that Jesus adopted the title "Son of Man" in Mark’s Gospel but "changed [the] role." In Daniel all nations are to serve this one who comes but according to Jesus he came to serve, not to be served. What Jesus does here is fuse two great Old Testament images: (1) Isaiah’s servant who suffers, and; (2) Daniel’s Son of Man who reigns as the sovereign with all authority over the nations.
Jesus, says Mark, came to bear our sins and then to enter his glory so that he could reign over us. Both of these statements are profoundly true and both must be taught if we are to get the kingdom emphasis right once again. Modern evangelicals have tended to miss the later emphasis while some liberals have tended to assume the former without a proper emphasis upon the meaning and historical significance of Christ’s sufferings, death and bodily resurrection. If we get the kingdom right we will get both of these strands right. If we get the kingdom right we will also get the Bible right. And if we get the Bible right we will solve a lot of problems related to how Christians life day-to-day and how they actually serve Christ.
Our gospel is about "Christ crucified" but it is also a gospel about the reign of Christ. Matthew 28:18-20 says that he has "all authority in heaven and on earth" thus he tells us "to (literally) disciple the nations." To disciple whole nations is a much bigger project and a far greater task than winning a person here and there and planting a new church now and then. It begins with individuals for sure, but it can never end there. We must teach whole people groups how to live under this one who is both Son of Man and Son of God. We must capture ideas and make them submissive to Christ. We must show people how this gospel of the kingdom impacts business, art, film, music, literature, science and everyday life. His Lordship is much more than my believing (privately) that he is Lord of my life. This is why early Christians could not say "Caesar is Lord" and remain devout followers of Jesus. The seditious nature of their confession was quite obvious to their Roman peers. I wonder if ours is quite so obvious to our Western peers.