Wesley Hill is associate professor of biblical studies at Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pennsylvania. This adapted excerpt is from his new book The Lord’s Prayer: A Guide to Prayer to Our Father (Lexham Press).
When Mark the Evangelist wanted to sum up the way Jesus started His earthly ministry, he used these words:
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news” (1:14–15).
The Greek word that Mark uses to summarize Jesus’ message—basileia—is probably better translated with a word that indicates activity. A word like “rule,” “reign,” or even “kingship” is closer to the original meaning of basileia—which means that when Jesus says “the kingdom of God has come near,” He is proclaiming that God is asserting His rule in the world in and through Jesus’ ministry.
But what kind of rule will it be? Coronations can be terrifying. The enthronement of a new king or leader can make one queasy with dread. If you’ve never had to fear when a new prime minister, president, or monarch comes into power, then you have lived a life of rare privilege. For many people in the world—throughout history and also presently, even in the modern West—the passing of power to a new ruler is a matter of gnawing anxiety.
A scene from the end of The Godfather—one of the most haunting pieces of cinema I’ve ever seen—captures this fear well. The protagonist, Michael Corleone, stands near the baptismal font in an ornate Catholic church for his nephew’s christening. As the camera lingers on his stoic facial expression and elegant suit, the scene cuts to a series of assassinations that Michael has orchestrated, which are happening at the very same time as the service of baptism. It turns out that Michael has arranged to become the kingpin of the New York mob, and he is ascending to his throne by means of a bloodbath. The cost of his rule is the death of anyone who stands in his way. The agonizing, devastating final scene of the film shows him being crowned, as it were, as “Don Corleone”—the new monarch of terror.
This fictional story is haunting enough, but similar stories happen in real life all the time. Dictators trample on human dignity to ascend their thrones. Terrorists seize the reins of power. Evil overlords who care nothing for the poor or the sick take control of governments and kingdoms, and the citizens consequently fear for their lives. Coronations, for much of the world, are occasions of uncertainty, worry, and alarm.
Perhaps that same worry and alarm was stirred up in the hearts of Jesus’ hearers when He preached. His message about God’s reign would have conjured up all the churning emotions that coronations usually conjure up: the trembling uncertainty about how severe the new king’s reign would be, the nagging apprehension that the king might demand of them what they aren’t able to give, the dread of what wars the king might lead them into. This is the way things go with kings in our world. Perhaps Jesus’ hearers would have remembered the words of the prophet Samuel:
These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers. He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers. He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king. (1 Sam 8:11–18)
The world of first-century Judea was sadly familiar with this sort of kingly script. The Jews of Palestine were used to ambitious would-be rulers rising through the ranks by means of betrayal and intrigue and nighttime assassinations. They were familiar with the story of Julius Caesar’s stabbing. They knew the way that plot unfolds.
But God’s now-arriving rule doesn’t follow the usual pattern, according to Jesus.
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Source: Christianity Today