The Inauguration of the Kingdom of Heaven


Hi, my name is Lalo Ramkissoon. I am a Seminary student at Taylor Seminary here in Edmonton. I’m in my final year of the MDiv (Masters of Divinity) program. I am presently doing an internship with Calvary Baptist Church under the supervision of Rusty, and I must say that I am enjoying my time working with Rusty. My wife Joan and I are originally from Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean, we lived and worked in Fort McMurray for 22 years. I retired from Syncrude and we moved to Edmonton two years ago. While living in Fort McMurray we attended and served at the NorthLife Fellowship Baptist Church (a sister church to Calvary).

Many of you may be seeing me for the first time so I want to meet you when the pandemic restrictions are over and we can have in-person church once more.

 

For over a year, you have been going through the Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Matthew. The reason for the title “The Gospel of Jesus Christ” is because in the Ancient Near Eastern cultural when a new king was about to assume power there would be the proclamation of good news (euangelion Gk). The term would also be used when a king would return from a successful war with his army and proclaim his Gospel, the “good news” of the king’s success. Therefore, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the good news of the Kingdom of Heaven being present with us.

Our text today is taken from Matthew 26:17-30. It gives an account of the inauguration of Kingdom of heaven. I will read it from the NIV.

On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Where do you want us to make preparations for you to eat the Passover?”

He replied, “Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, ‘The Teacher says: My appointed time is near. I am going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house.’ ” So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them and prepared the Passover.

When evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve. And while they were eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.”

They were very sad and began to say to him one after the other, “Surely you don’t mean me, Lord?”

Jesus replied, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.”

Then Judas, the one who would betray him, said, “Surely you don’t mean me, Rabbi?”

Jesus answered, “You have said so.”

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”

Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s Kingdom.”

When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

 

I would like to put the references to the Festival of Unleavened Bread and the Passover in context so that we can get a good understanding of the last supper that Jesus had with his disciples in Jerusalem. The last supper preceded Jesus’s death on the Cross.

The Festival of Unleavened Bread was a seven-day festival for Jews that was instituted by God while they were slaves in Egypt (Exodus 12). In preparation for the exodus of the Jews out of Egypt, God told Moses and Aron to instruct the Jews to remove all yeast from their homes and eat only unleavened bread for seven days. God was about to deliver them from the oppression of Pharaoh. They were supposed to be ready to leave Egypt at any moment, therefore, they could not be delayed because they were waiting for bread to rise; they had to have unleavened bread with them on their Journey out of Egypt.

On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, each family was to slaughter a Passover lamb and sprinkle the blood of the animal on the doorpost of their houses. On the night of the Passover, God moved over the land of Egypt and killed the first born of every Egyptian family and livestock except the houses which had the blood sprinkled on their door post. That very night Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aron and instructed them to take the Jews and leave Egypt because he became afraid of the terror of the God of Moses and the Jews. God told Moses and Aron that the Jews were to commemorate the Festival of Unleavened Bread and the Passover once every year as a remembrance of God’s deliverance from slavery and it was to be used as a time of teaching the younger generations how God delivered their ancestors from 400 years of slavery and brought them into the promise land.

 

In our text in Matthew 26, Jesus was in Jerusalem with his disciples. They made the long journey from Galilee to Jerusalem to celebrate the Festival of Unleavened Bread and the Passover. Jesus worked many miracles and taught many lessons using parables during his travels from Galilee to Jerusalem. The long journey Jesus made with his disciples culminated in what we call today as the “Holy Week” or the week of the “Passion of Christ.” Jesus entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey on Palm Sunday as his followers and others present in Jerusalem celebrated his arrival. For the past few weeks, you went through many teachings of Jesus Christ during his journey to Jerusalem.

Last week Ingrid taught on worship and she emphasized that true worship comes from the response to knowing the truth of God which overflows in extravagance. Ingrid recapped the account of the woman who anointed Jesus’ head with an alabaster jar of expensive perfume while he was reclining with his disciples in Bethany at the house of Simon the Leper. This act of worship occurred during the Festival of Unleavened Bread. Bethany, Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olive were in walking distance of each other (approximately a 2 mile radius). During the “Holy Week” Jesus and his disciples would spend time in Jerusalem, teaching about the Kingdom of Heaven in the temple courtyard and then return to the Mount of Olives where he spent the nights with his disciples.

 

On the night before the Passover Jesus was having supper with his disciples and while they were eating he took bread and when he had given thanks for it, he broke it and gave it to his disciples saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” This was the last supper Jesus had with his disciples before his death on the cross the following day.

The story of the Last Supper must be seen in the context of Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom of God because this was so central to his ministry. We must interpret the Last Supper in a way that fits in with Jesus’ proclamation that ‘the Kingdom of God has come near’ (Matthew 4:17/Mark 1:15). What did he mean by this proclamation? He meant that the day of God’s salvation—which the Old Testament promised and which the Jews of the first century were longing for—had dawned.

First-century Palestine was, of course, an occupied country: the Roman imperialists had been in control of the country for almost a hundred years and, although the Romans were relatively benign rulers, the high taxation that their subjects had to pay was a great burden on a poor country; it was, in any case, extremely aggravating to have to live under a culturally and religiously alien superpower. Jesus’ announcement of God’s new day—the day of God’s rule—was good news for all of God’s creation.

Jesus explained that God’s marvelous Old Testament promises to his people were being fulfilled in his ministry (Luke 4:18-21: ‘Today this Scripture has been fulfilled’; cf. Matthew 13:16-17), and he demonstrated the truth of his claim in action (Matthew 11:2-6): he healed the sick, he welcomed sinners back to God, he broke through the social barriers of his day (for example, between Jew and Samaritan), he changed selfish people like Zacchaeus into generous people. He was visibly overcoming that ‘strong man’ Satan and restoring the ‘rule’ (or Kingdom) of God (Matthew 12:22–32, especially 12:28). He did not bring the Kingdom all at once (to the disappointment of his disciples), but he saw himself as starting the process, like a sower sowing his seed that would produce the harvest (see the parables of Matthew 13). [2]

 

Although the first Lord’s Supper was probably a whole Passover meal, the Synoptic Gospels focus their description on the two actions of Jesus in taking the bread and the wine and giving them to the disciples. This was what was distinctive about this Passover, and these actions together with Jesus’ words explaining his actions must be central in our interpretation of the Last Supper. The words vary slightly in the different gospels, but not in any way that complicates the fact that Jesus became the Passover lamb.

We are now able to schematically sum up the point about the Last Supper being set against the context of the Passover:

The Passover

 

The Lord’s Supper

 

Instituted by God through Moses for the Israelites to be celebrated once per year during the old age of the law and the prophets.

 

Inaugurated by Jesus as a declaration of the arrival of the Kingdom of God among us.

 

Was the great festival meal of the Israelites to celebrate God’s deliverance from Egypt.

 

Is to be the new celebratory meal of God’s people in the New Testament.

 

They remembered the Passover sacrifice, the exodus from Egypt, and the new beginning of a covenant people To remember the sacrificial life and death of Jesus, bringing freedom from sin, and the new covenant of the Holy Spirit.

 

But what exactly is the connection between the cross and the Kingdom of Heaven? We have already suggested that in a real sense the cross makes the Kingdom which Jesus preached possible. Just as the Passover made possible the exodus and ultimately the inhabitation of the Promised Land, so too the cross makes possible the New Covenant and the Kingdom of Heaven. The first Passover dealt with Pharaoh, the second brings release from Satan and sin.

During Jesus’ ministry, one of the things that offended people about Jesus was his mixing with sinners, his offering of the Kingdom and of forgiveness to sinners. People rightly asked, who he thought he was to proclaim forgiveness. How could he do so? The answer lay in something else his contemporaries found hard to comprehend—namely, the cross. Jesus could preach forgiveness to sinners because he was the one to take their judgment on himself.[3]

 

Wayne Grudem said, “The Kingdom of God is primarily the dynamic reign or kingly rule of God and, derivatively, the sphere in which the rule is experienced. In biblical idiom, the Kingdom is not identified with its subjects. They are the people of God’s rule who enter it, live under it, and are governed by it. The church is the community of the Kingdom but never the Kingdom itself. Jesus’ disciples belong to the Kingdom as the Kingdom belongs to them; but they are not the Kingdom. The Kingdom is the rule of God; the church is a society of people”[4]

The early church celebrated the last supper every day of the week and in other first century churches in Asia minor they celebrated it every day of the week or once per week. In postmodern churches in the west, we generally celebrate the Last Supper once per month. The apostle Paul, in his letter to the Corinthian Christians, addressed the problem of disrespect among believers as they commemorated the Last Supper (1 Corinthians 11:17-34). Paul reminded the Corinthian Christian that the communion service is a time of celebrating with the community of faith. It is a time to teach the younger generation that Jesus inaugurated the Kingdom of Heaven at Last Supper and his Kingdom is an everlasting Kingdom. The Communion service is a time of remembrance and celebration; looking back at the Cross and a look forward to the Return of Jesus Christ. When I take part in the communion, I have a sense of celebration for my salvation. I look at it as a time to encourage my Christian brothers and sisters that the Kingdom of Heaven is with us and one day Jesus is going to bring the Kingdom of Heaven in its entirety at his second coming.

 

In conclusion, I would like to remind you that Jesus inaugurated the Kingdom of Heaven at the Last Supper with his disciples.  Let us renew our hope and expectation of Jesus’ return for his bride, the church. Today the invitation is yours to accept the rule of God each time we celebrate the communion. Just like the Israelites need to be ready to leave Egypt after the first Passover, so to we should live under the rule of God as we await the imminent return of Jesus.

[2] David Wenham, “How Jesus Understood the Last Supper: A Parable in Action,” Themelios 20, no. 2 (1995): 12.

[3] David Wenham, “How Jesus Understood the Last Supper: A Parable in Action,” Themelios 20, no. 2 (1995): 12–14.

[4] Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England : Grand Rapids, Mich: Inter-Varsity Press ; Zondervan Pub. House, 1994), 863.


1 Comment on ‘The Inauguration of the Kingdom of Heaven’

  1. […] begin the story Jesus and His disciples are gathered for their very last meal together. As we heard from Lalo last week, Jesus gives them the bread and the wine and asks them to remember Him in this way. […]

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