the kingdom.: luke 15
So much has been said about Luke 15, especially the final parable of the prodigal son, that it seems almost wasted effort to say anything at all. But, I’m not writing my own commentary here, instead I’m recording some of the things that were important to us as a community.
Luke went out of his way to frame these stories in the context of Jesus’ life, and we ought to as well. Pharisees and other religious leaders were complaining that Jesus hung about with the wrong crowd all the time, and He’s telling this story to answer their protests. In all three stories something is lost, something is found, and a party is thrown, and, in Jewish story telling fashion, it’s in the third section that things come to a head. But how do these stories answer their question?
A brief pause for some thoughts on heaven
You may have heard the Bible teaches that followers of Jesus are destined for heaven. This is true, but it might not mean what you think it means. The scriptures promise the Kingdom of God, the same message Jesus preached, which is built on the hope that one day heaven will come to earth. Now, if this sounds like a new idea to you, it shouldn’t, even if you haven’t been lucky enough to hear it from me for the past 2 years. No, it’s there all through, from God’s promise to Abraham that all the nations of the world will be blessed, to Zechariah’s insistence that one day the glory and holiness of the Lord will radiate out into the whole earth. We even see it in the Revelation of John, in which saints do not depart for heaven, but in the end, the Holy City descends, and the world is put right. What does the Kingdom look like now? You know the answer; it’s in the Lord’s prayer: Your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. The Kingdom is what happens when heaven and earth overlap. Heaven is not some far off distant place, over yonder, that we retire to after we die. It’s a lot more like the control room for earth.
N. T. Wright does a great job of summarizing this in a short article for Christianity Today.
Most Christians today, reading a passage like this, assume that it means that heaven is where you go to receive this salvation—or even that salvation consists in “going to heaven when you die.” The way we now understand that language in the Western world is totally different from what Jesus and his hearers meant and understood.
For a start, heaven is actually a reverent way of speaking about God, so that “riches in heaven” simply means “riches in God’s presence.” But then, by derivation from this primary meaning, heaven is the place where God’s purposes for the future are stored up. It isn’t where they are meant to stay so that one would need to go to heaven to enjoy them. It is where they are kept safe against the day when they will become a reality on earth. God’s future inheritance, the incorruptible new world and the new bodies that are to inhabit that world, are already kept safe, waiting for us, so that they can be brought to birth in the new heavens and new earth. From Heaven Is Not Our Home | Christianity Today
Back to the parable
With that in mind, let’s look at what Jesus keeps saying: there is rejoicing in heaven over the lost who are found. Why does He eat with sinners? Because there’s a party going on upstairs, and Jesus is announcing the Kingdom; He’s where heaven and earth meet, so He’s partying it up here and now in just the same way, for just the same reasons. Those who refuse to celebrate place themselves outside of the Kingdom party, even if they’re the the old faithful brother who thought they were owed a spot (and indeed, the Father goes out to bring them in as well, if they will come).
Choose your own adventure
This brings us to the ending Luke intended: the choose your own adventure of the gospels. What does the older brother do? We’re never told. Which begs the question: what will you do? Will heaven and earth overlap in your life?