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).
…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.
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.
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.
[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.]