The second half of the Gospel of Mark is dominated by Jesus’ focus on the cross. He begins predicting his passion, death and resurrection in chapters 8, 9 and 10, and arrives in Jerusalem in chapter 11.
On the way to Jerusalem, starting with the first prediction in chapter 8, Jesus begins a focus on discipleship in the light of the cross. The teachings and material in the early part of Mark part II seems to indicate that the calling of the disciples to the proclamation of the Kingdom was now recalibrated to the equipping of the disciples to relate everything to the cross.
Matthew and Luke have far more teaching material, but the vast majority of this material can be categorized as either “Kingdom” oriented or “discipleship” oriented. What is unmistakable in all three of the synoptic Gospels is the immense amount of time and effort Jesus put into connecting Kingdom, discipleship and cross/resurrection. There is simply no way that an honest examination of the Gospels can make the material on Kingdom and discipleship to be secondary to the focus on the cross.
The inclusion of this material in Mark establishes the historicity of the material. The increased amount of the material in Matthew and Luke tells us about the importance of this material in early Christianity.
Once we have realized this fact, we can ask one of the fundamental questions: How do we relate Kingdom, discipleship and cross together in one integrated view of Jesus and the Gospel?
Let me suggest some possible answers:
1. The Kingdom of God is the great theme of scripture, but the nature of that Kingdom is much different than any other Kingdom.
2. In order for the Kingdom of God to established in history, God provides a King who is also priest, prophet, sacrifice, temple, teacher and a fulfillment of all the other Biblical themes that are part of the Kingdom in history.
3. One of the ways we recognize Jesus is that he speaks of the Kingdom, but also, in himself, provides the defeat of sin and resurrection to new life that are necessary for those who would be part of the Kingdom. Yet he never ceases to be King.
4. Jesus is the presence of the Kingdom, and his ministry of healing, teaching and exorcisms prefigures the complete defeat of sin and evil. In the cross and resurrection that victory becomes total.
5. The response of any person to God’s Kingdom proclamation is a) faith and b) discipleship, i.e. to believe in/trust the God of the Kingdom and to live out the reality of the Kingdom.
6. The tension between faith and imperfect obedience is dealt with by the cross, where the Kingdom becomes a Kingdom of fulfilled law and amazing grace.
7. The invitation to the Kingdom is a personal response to Jesus’ offer of himself as Lord, savior, substitute and teacher. One believes and enters the Kingdom; one believes and follows/obeys the King.
8. The cross makes it possible for the Kingdom of God to be constituted of sinful persons but to be a Kingdom of perfect righteousness.
9. The mark of the Kingdom is its Christ-centeredness. This defines the Kingdom in terms of our personal relationship to God. In history, that Christ centeredness becomes Kingdom living, evangelism, missions, compassionate ministry, love of neighbor, etc.
10. The old and new covenants are harmonized when the Kingdom of the old covenant is personified in Jesus and â€œsignaledâ€ in the church. Jesus now brings the Kingdom and disciples are living “Kingdom” lives now, in advance.
My contention is that a simple reading of the synoptics will clearly show that Jesus gives none of his followers a pass from the entire course of discipleship, that he is calling us to live as signs of the Kingdom of God in history and his cross forever settles the nature of our relationship with God in the Kingdom: constant, overflowing grace.