Hello again readers!
Today’s post is the fruit of my course on the Gospels I am currently taking at seminary.
The task: describe what Jesus intended to accomplish during his first-century earthly ministry. We were to draw from all four of the gospels and keep it under two pages.
In sharing this I hope we would come to a deeper joy in the knowledge of what Christ has done, is doing, and will do in the days to come not only for us but for the sake of His great name and the restoration of all things. He is calling us to follow Him and we must respond.
On the question at hand:
To ask what Jesus intended to accomplish in his first-century earthly ministry is no small thing. To give a brief answer to this question is to leave aspects Jesus’ earthly ministry less attended to than they ought be. While there is much that could be said about what Jesus intended to accomplish in his earthly ministry, I believe I can summarize Jesus intent this way: Jesus intended to accomplish an unparallelled in-breaking of the Kingdom of God in redemptive history. God, in the second person of the Trinity, became flesh and initiated the fulfillment of the law and prophecies of the Old Testament concerning the redemption of God’s creation while introducing an explicit personal call to become a disciple and to make disciples of Christ until His return. I’m only able sample some of Christ’s fulfillment of the law and the prophets in the course of this discussion but it is a crucial feature of His earthly ministry. The explicit disciple making aspect of Christ’s earthly ministry stands distinct from all of redemptive history before His incarnation.
After God made all things good, Adam and Eve sinned and brought God’s curse upon all of creation. God then promised in Genesis 3:15 that though the offspring of snake would bruise the heel of men, the offspring of Eve would bruise the head of the liar, Satan, from the Garden of Eden. In Christ’s incarnation, we have this promise realized in the flesh. The offspring of Mary, the God-man Jesus Christ, stoops down from heaven and enters the cursed creation and to decisively defeat the old adversary, Satan. Christ’s death on the cross redeeming His people and making atonement for the sins of the world (Lk. 22:14–23; Mt. 26:26–29; Mk. 14:22–25; also Jn. 1:29, 36) undoes and is undoing the damage done by Satan in the Garden of Eden. Christ’s sinless life, atoning sacrificial death, and confirming resurrection from the dead all serve as a resounding triumph over the power of Satan. The whole of Christ’s ministry, life, death, resurrection, and promise of return must be considered through the lens of the protoevangelion of Gen. 3:15.
Ezekiel 34 is a vivid description of wicked shepherds who stand in judgment for abusing the Lord’s flock and the promise of the Lord acting to rescue His sheep. In Christ, we find this pronunciation of judgment upon wicked shepherds in the figures of the Scribes and Pharisees (“woe to you” in Mt. 23:1-39, Mk. 12:35-40, and Lk. 11:37-54, 20:45-47). Christ then claims the role of the God-shepherd and sets about the work of retrieving His lost sheep from the flock of the Lord (the “good shepherd” of Jn. 10:1-18). In John 15-16 there is a swath of Jesus parables that get at both the issues of the unrighteous shepherding of the religious elite and the persistence of God as the one who seeks His own people. Christ’s acts of service and mercy must be considered through the lens of prophecies given about the Lord and how he will move throughout redemptive history.
Another key element of Jesus’ earthly ministry is the calling of disciples to himself. This element is similar to God’s prior calling of Israel to live as a nation of priests (Ex. 19:6) but in the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ, the calling becomes much more explicit and embodied as to what it looks like to be holy as the LORD is holy (Lev. 11:44). Holiness as embodied by Christ includes love of God that manifests itself in acts of mercy, humble sacrificial service, and proclamation of the Kingdom of God in anticipation of the second coming of Christ. In all four of the Gospels, Christ’s calling of disciples to Himself is featured (Mt. 4:18-22; Mk 1:16-20, 2:14, 8:34-38; Lk 5:1-11; Jn 1:35-50). Then, in three Gospels (Mt. 28:18-20, Mk 16:15-18, Lk 24:46-47), Christ commissions them to go and make disciples also. The Gospel of John features this call indirectly in Christ’s exchange with Peter after His resurrection where he bids Peter to feed and tend his sheep/flock/lambs (Jn 21:15-17). Christ’s earthly ministry was about more than the events of the first century in a vacuum. Rather, Christ initiated a succession of disciples making disciples who would in turn go and love God so that they would do acts of mercy, live humbly through sacrificial service, and proclaim of the Kingdom of God until Christ returns (Jn. 14:3). With this element of Christ’s earthly ministry, the uniqueness of it heightens the significance of it as a development within redemptive history. Christ accomplished the new commissioning of His followers to be seekers as God is a seeker of His people. The nature of what it meant to be one of God’s people was embodied in Christ in a way that was only described in types and shadows before throughout the law and the prophets.
In conclusion, while Jesus spent a great amount of time teaching, preaching, and doing acts of mercy and service, His earthly ministry was about more than those things for just the people of that time and place. Jesus life was about more than being a moral exemplar. Christ intended to set into motion the last days of God’s grand story whereby the Kingdom of God breaks into creation in unprecedented fashion. This initiation is just that, an initiation, because toward the conclusion of His earthly ministry, He commissioned His disciples to make more disciples and to be about the business of the Kingdom of God until His return (Mt 24:42, 44; Mk 13:33, 35, 37; Lk 21:36) which will be the ultimate completion of the work that Christ began and the initiation of dwelling in a place prepared for Christ’s followers by Christ Himself (Jn 14:3). Christ’s earthly ministry only makes sense when placed within the broader sweep of redemptive history as observers take into account what came before His earthly ministry and what is promised to follow.
Soli Deo Gloria.