Can't seem to get my body clock right after almost three weeks. It's almost 3am here (almost 9pm at home) and I'm up for the day. Next installment on Jesus.
Now and Not Yet
So everyone agrees that Jesus preached the kingdom of God. But when was that kingdom going to come and what was it going to be like? Our answer to this question is no doubt seriously affected by the fact that we know what did not happen at the time. The kingdom was not restored to Israel, as Acts 1:8 so clearly addresses. Jesus did not return from heaven in any literal sense, as we might have expected from Mark 9:1 or 13:30.
The historical context and literary overtones of the message of John the Baptist push us to expect a political restoration of Israel. What happened was a largely unanticipated two part series to be finished next season when Christ returns to earth from heaven. The question of how the kingdom of God has played out over time has generated an immense amount of discussion and speculation throughout history and we will want to take some time to ponder these matters in this chapter.
What is clear is that our hindsight has massively affected later interpretations of Jesus from the beginning of Christianity to the present. Did Jesus preach that the kingdom was coming but was not here yet? Did Jesus preach that the kingdom was already fully present in himself? Or did Jesus preach what has generally become the consensus: that he was inaugurating the kingdom but that it was not yet fully here?
[text box on the three eschatologies]
Given how important Jesus is for our faith, it is perhaps not surprising that interpreters would spend so much time rankling over minute details in the wording of the gospels. What does it mean to say that the kingdom "has come near" (Mark 1:15)? Near is not quite here yet, is it?
But can there be any real doubt that Jesus saw the beginnings of the kingdom in his own ministry? "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches" (Matt. 13:31-32). Surely Jesus meant to say that the kingdom of God was already present there in Galilee, starting out small, beginning to grow, almost imperceptible at first, but destined to tower over the world. 
Perhaps the favorite verse of those who have wanted to stress that the kingdom of God was already present in Jesus' ministry is Luke 17:21: "The kingdom of God is among you" (NRSV). This is probably the best translation of the verse, but no doubt those who emphasize the presentness of the kingdom would rather translate it like the old NIV used to: "the kingdom of God is within you." Some would like to make Jesus' preaching on the kingdom of God purely a matter of the heart and the coming of the Holy Spirit.
But this is not what the disciples were expecting (Acts 1:8) and this is not what the historical context and the preaching texts from Isaiah were expecting. Everything in the context of Jesus' environment pointed toward a literal kingdom on earth with a visible king on the throne of Israel. The questions this situation raises are so significant that we will not wait till the end of the chapter to reflect on them.
For example, these matters raise questions about what Jesus knew and when he knew it. They raise questions about what the New Testament authors knew and when they knew it. These are incredibly serious issues because people have lost their faith over them. Alfred Loisy once said that "Jesus preached the kingdom of God; but what came was the church." This cynical comment captures well our sense that what has come after Jesus is not yet quite what we were expecting.
I myself was once deeply troubled by Mark 13:30: "Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place" (13:30). The context is Jesus and some key disciples looking at the Jerusalem temple and Jesus predicting that it will be destroyed. Tim LaHaye and others aside, the temple they were talking about is not something yet to be rebuilt. It was right in front of them and it was indeed destroyed in AD70.
So what are we to make of the fact that Jesus flows seamlessly into a discussion of his second coming? "In those days," he says, "after that suffering... they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds... this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place" (13:24, 26, 30). N. T. Wright has ingeniously suggested that this is about the Son of Man going in the clouds, abandoning Israel. But is this great scholar here not simply guilty of the same kinds of reinterpretations we might hear in a Sunday School class, when we just do not like what the text seems to be saying...
 The Parable of the Mustard Seed is one of Jesus' sayings that not only appears in the "canonical" gospel of Matthew, but in the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas as well (20).