Tag Archives: Kingdom of God

Review: The Book of Isaiah and God’s Kingdom (NSBT)

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”

And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke.

Isaiah 6.1-5

Unlike Jeremiah and Ezekiel, why does God not show up in a grand display until Isaiah 6? What does this say about Isaiah’s historical setting? Its literary placement? What does it tell us about God’s kingship, his kingdom, and his people?

As the fifth longest book in the OT, and having been written by an Israelite almost 3,000 years ago, it might be redundant to say that Isaiah is a difficult book to read. The way a book is organized is just as important as what a book says, but for most of us—Isaiah is just too long, and it’s difficult to get a grasp on the entire story and on each section.

Layout

Andrew Abernethy, Assistant Professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College, while not refraining from the historical details of Isaiah, focuses on the final literary form to show the reader what the book of Isaiah teaches us today. In doing so, he gives a thematic-theological approach to Isaiah’s varied portraits of God as King in each of the three sections of Isaiah (1–39, 40–55, 56–66), with each of those sections incorporating different aspects of God.

In Chapter 1, he is seen in poetry, narrative, and prose. He is the God who judges (Is 6; 24) and the one who saves (25; 33; 36–37). The book of Isaiah bears a message of judgment and hope from the beginning (1–6) to the end (66). Isaiah 1–12 focuses on how God will judge Israel and Judah through Assyria, while “Isaiah 24–27 looks to an eschatological time when the heavenly king establishes his rule in Zion” (31). In Isaiah 33, God’s reign has implications for his people: they can gaze on the beauty of their Lord and be protected from their enemies. Isaiah 36–37 present a snapshot of the unrivaled King who stands against the mighty Assyrian army. This is the unrivaled king of all ages who is more than able able to stand against all mighty armies.

Chapters 2–3 present God as a saving warring, international, and compassionate King. In Isaiah 40–55 Israel has been led out into the wilderness (40.1), which “symbolizes Zion’s desolation” (57). The “good news” is that God will be the great shepherd King who carries his people close to him in his bosom (40.11).

Chapter 3 covers Isaiah 56–66, represented in by a chiasm. Zion’s glory is the centerpiece of that chiasm (E), and it can only be understood in light of Yahweh’s coming as the warrior king (D/D’) who sees the injustice in Israel and will come to take action. Because of his just and righteous actions, the nations will flock to him and give gifts to him, and he will show compassion on all of his people.

In Chapter 4, Abernethy points us to the “lead agents” in each of the three sections, though he is not certain that these agents (of Yahweh) are understood to be the same individual. “Instead of forcing all of these lead agents into one mould, it is better to allow the uniqueness of each figure to emerge” (120). He examines the Davidic ruler (1–39), the Servant(s) of the Lord (40–55), and God’s messenger (56–66). This does not mean Abernethy doesn’t find these figures fulfilled in Jesus. He says, “The claim here does not undermine the New Testament’s application of all three of Isaiah’s figures to Jesus; instead, it displays the grandeur of Jesus and the surprise of recognizing how one person, Jesus Christ, can take on the role of all three figures, while also being the very God of these agent figures” (169). If Isaiah didn’t express these three figures as being one figure, this helps explain the Second Temple period’s emphasis on the coming Davidic Messiah, their lack of emphasis on a suffering servant, and the Pharisees confusion over Jesus.

Chapter 5 seeks to answer to questions, “Where is God’s kingdom? And, who are the people of God’s kingdom? . . . God’s kingdom is ‘placed,’ if you will, with people in the midst of it” (171). In this reality, God rules the entire cosmos, but he will also rule from Zion. God’s people are a purified, redeemed, obedient, just, national and international community which trusts God.

After each section in each chapter, Abernethy gives a summary and some canonical reflections of the content. The canonical reflections always look forward to Jesus, which is especially helpful when it comes to preaching and teaching through the book of Isaiah. Abernethy draws our eyes from the King who sits above the heavens in Isaiah to Yahweh in the flesh, who preached the kingdom of God, lived the kingdom of God, and was the Davidic king who suffered and died for the people of God. He created the world, commands destinies, and builds his temple brick by brick, person by person. He is the servant king whose glory Isaiah saw (Jn 12.41; Isa 6). 

Recommended?

There is so much more that could be said about these five chapters, and even more to be said about God’s kingship in Isaiah. He is the ruling, judging, warrior, loving, compassionate, caring, shepherd King who is watching out for his people, who will return and care for them, and will dine with them on his great mountain (Is 25.6–8; Rev 21.1–5). Abernethy’s book is recommended for all sorts, especially pastors and teachers. Be warned, this is not light reading. Abernethy’s work is mighty detailed and is best read with your Bible open and a pen in your hand (unless you don’t want to remember pivotal details). Abernethy has written an excellent resource on grasping on of the main themes of Isaiah (if not the main theme), and even provides two preaching outlines in an appendix at the end. You would be well-served in reading this book. Highly recommended.

Lagniappe

  • Author: Andrew T. Abernethy
  • Series: New Studies in Biblical Theology
  • Paperback: 250 pages
  • Publisher: IVP Academic (November 19, 2016)

Buy it from IVP Academic or Amazon!

(Special thanks to IVP Academic for sending me this book to review!)

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Review: Divine Government: God’s Kingship in the Gospel of Mark

Divine Gov't 3

What would “the Kingdom of God” have meant to Mark’s first readers? What did Jesus mean when he said the kingdom would come “with power”? Can we figure out the meaning of those passages which seem to suggest the coming of the “Son of Man” will happen within the lifetime of the first disciples? This book was written to help many Christians avoid the risk of distorting Jesus’ own words on the ‘Kingdom of God” and of trivializing the depth and richness of His teaching.

Richard. T. France was a man who was committed to deep scholarship in the academic world, and yet he saw himself as being called to interpret and apply the New Testament to the life of the church. I’ve found this to be true throughout this book, “Divine Government: God’s Kingship in the Gospel of Mark.” Many (if not all) of France’s books are written in a clear, attractive style, this book not excluded.

Why the Kingdom of God?

France sets out to find out what Jesus mean when He spoke on the “Kingdom of God” in the Gospel according to Mark. How far did Jesus take up this theme that was already current in the world at that time, and how far did He challenge His listeners to “new ways of thinking and of responding to God as king?” (p. 2).

Why Mark?

…Mark begins his book with a prologue designed to appeal to Jewish expectations of the fulfillment of the hopes of Israel, and to point to Jesus of Nazareth as the one in whom that fulfillment is to be focused. At the same time he has alerted his readers that the stage on which the drama is to be played is not merely that of human relationships, even of national politics, but of the cosmic encounter of the Son of God with the kingdom of Satan (p. 21).

France agrees that there is something to be gained from individual Gospel treatments. Matthew uses “kingdom” terminology some fifty times (kingdom of heaven), while Mark gives it a meager fourteen uses (kingdom of God) in his gospel letter. The focus here is on Mark because of the “general agreement that it is he who offers us the earliest…account of the teachings of Jesus” (4).

France wants us to read Mark as Mark (which we should). It’s not wrong to look at Gospel harmony, but what is Mark trying to show us in his story? There’s a plot, flow, unity of text, and dynamics of Mark’s understanding of Jesus and His mission. Though the phrase “kingdom of God” is used infrequently, it is a major clue to the mission of Jesus (it’s encapsulated in the first words that come out of Jesus’ mouth in Mark [1.15]).

5 Chapters of the Kingdom

France exposits and applies Jesus’ use of ‘kingdom’ terminology in Mark in only 5 chapters. A kingdom speaks of a king, and the “kingdom of God” speaks of God ruling. It has drawn near [1.15] and comes with power [9.1] as an active, independent force that grows without human help (though it uses human help) [4.26-29]. People’s response must be to wait for it [15.43] and to welcome it [10.15], but all will respond [4.14-20]. God has drawn near to save through Jesus Christ. It was previously being prayed for by Jews [15.43, Lk 2.25], but it also needs to be fought for [1.25-26].

This government is revolutionary because it is here where the first shall be last, and the last shall be first. Jesus is the true ‘Israel’ and goes against many of the Jewish leader’s teachings. He makes the claims as to what really defiles a person, how marriage should work, and how children are to be perceived. The kingdom is received by the character traits the world sees as “the last.” Children receive any gift they can, whereas the rich man can’t let go of his treasure on earth for the treasure in heaven, eternal life. He prefers his riches over a relationship with God.

In going to Jerusalem in Mark 11, Jesus fulfills Zechariah 9.9 which speaks of the king riding in to Jerusalem on a colt. Jesus could have ridden into Galilee and have been widely accepted, but that would not fulfill Zechariah’s prophecy. Jesus “had not come to lead a Galilean liberation movement, but to restore the kingship of God over his people as a whole. It was to Israel that his mission was directed, and Jerusalem was the centre of the life and worship of Israel” (p. 87-88). And it was Jerusalem that hated Jesus. When Mark speaks of the Jerusalem leaders, they are in confrontation with Jesus. When Jesus is “on the way” to Jerusalem, he is on the way to the cross, to be tortured, crucified, and finally rejected. And He knows it.

Tepid Milk

From p75-82, France gets into his preterist stance. He says that the ‘coming’ terminology in Mark 8.38, 13.26, and 14.62 deal with the enthronement of the son of Man after His ascension, rather than His parousia – second coming.

I can’t go into a massive discussion about it (I don’t know the in-and-outs of it all), but I don’t agree with France’s position. Oh, parts of it make sense, but then other parts do not and he doesn’t have the space to go into deep discussion. He’s clear in what he touches on, but it’s only a touch. It’s not an in-depth grasp for me to wrestle with. I suppose I would have to go to one of his bigger commentaries for that (Matthew; Mark).

Though 8 pages is fairly significant in a book that’s 106 pages long, it was interesting to see how France understood and explained his position. I enjoyed reading about it because his explanation was clear. And though this is the “tepid” (meaning lukewarm) part, I still have to commend France for being a scholar who is able enough to hold my attention even on  another view. Even though I do have to admit that I want to learn about the other views so that I can explain the pros/cons rightly and clearly to other people.

Recommended?

If you’re studying Mark, yes. This is a great book to read to understand Mark’s understanding of Jesus’ kingship. “…[T]he man who proclaimed the arrival of God’s kingship in Mark 1.15 is presented in the story that follows as himself a king…. And his kingship is the kingship of God….The government is upon his shoulder. As God’s Son, he occupies by right his Father’s throne, for he is himself no less than God” (p. 105).

With clarity France brings together parts of Mark to present it as a unified whole. You may not agree with everything France says, but you will come away with a better understanding of Mark after reading this book. You won’t regret it.

Richard Thomas France passed away on February, 10, 2012.

Lagniappe

[Special thanks to Bill at Regent College Publishing for sending me this book for review! I was not obligated to provide a positive review in exchange for this book.]

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