Previews of the Kingdom
Here’s a hypothesis: The miracles Jesus did were previews of the Kingdom, and/or parables of the Kingdom no less than the spoken parables. Let’s kick this around and see if it holds up.
Here are two occasions when (it seems to me) Jesus plainly states that it’s true.
When Jesus sends out the 70, part of his instruction to them is, “Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’ “ (Luke 10:9-11)
Wherever Jesus rules, the Kingdom is there.
When accused of doing healings by the power of a false god, Jesus declares, “But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” (Matthew 12:28, Luke 11:20)
Wherever Jesus rules, the Kingdom is there. In that sense we live in the Kingdom now—and in a number of places that kind of language is used. But these two passages aren’t the Kingdom in that sense: Jesus says the Kingdom is coming near even where his kingship is not accepted! But where the miraculous healings were happening, Jesus says, the Kingdom is there. At least, a foretaste of what it will be like—sickness and death banished, for a short time, a demonstration of what we’re promised is coming in full, at Jesus’s return.
Let’s dig for some examples.
The transfiguration is most definitely a Kingdom preview – Jesus in glory, Moses and Elijah alive again, all of them surrounded by the cloud of God’s glory and God speaking directly to men. (Matthew 17:1-8, Mark 9:2-8, Luke 9:28-36) We know this experience created an indelible impression on Peter. He wrote about it years later, in 2 Peter 1:16-18, where he plainly states that the transfiguration was a demonstration of the “power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ”.
Here’s another. John the Baptist sends disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” In response, Jesus has them watch him for a while, then says to them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.” (Matthew 11:2-6, Luke 7:18-23)
Obviously one thing Jesus is saying is that the miracles bear witness that yes, he is the one. But I think there’s more—there’s an allusion to Isaiah 35, which is clearly a Kingdom prophecy. Jesus is telling John’s followers that the miracles are a foretaste of the healing of all ills when God’s Kingdom fills the earth. (Extra credit: There’s more along the same lines elsewhere in Isaiah – follow up the cross references!)
This response to John’s disciples is basically the same message Jesus proclaims on another occasion, in his home-town synagogue in Nazareth. There he directly quotes Isaiah 61 and says it is being fulfilled that day—another Kingdom passage, and no one would suggest the fulfillment was complete that day. Certainly not Jesus, because he ends the quote in mid-sentence, and does not go on to the parts that will only be fulfilled when Jesus comes again as the divinely appointed Judge. (Luke 4:16-21, quoting Isaiah 61:1-2)
Our hypothesis seems to be on solid ground. We can easily see that when Jesus raised people from the dead it was a preview of the great resurrection at his coming. What about other specific miracles? This would be a great topic for you and your family or your study group to dig into. What aspect of the Kingdom is being previewed in the healing of the centurion’s servant, or the epileptic boy, or the woman with a hemorrhage? Lepers, lame, blind, hungry—what specific aspect of the Kingdom is foreshadowed in the miracles done by Jesus to help these people?
And then: How ought those previews to affect us? Compare ourselves with the three disciples at the transfiguration, the father of the epileptic boy, the widow whose son is raised at Nain. And so on. Lots to talk about! I hope you enjoy the exploration!