of Jesus' Teaching about the Kingdom of God from the Synoptic Gospels
Central to the synoptic gospels
is Jesus' proclamation of the Kingdom of God. Jesus' primary mission
to the Jewish people was to offer them the possibility of participation
in final, or eschatological, salvation, which, for the most part, he
expressed by the term "Kingdom of God." (A synonym for the Kingdom
of God is the Kingdom of Heaven, found in the Gospel of Matthew.) Jesus
interpreted his exorcisms and healings as manifestations of the Kingdom
At the end of the prologue (1:1-15), Mark provides a synopsis of Jesus' message, which he intends as an introduction to his presentation of Jesus' Galilean ministry: “The time has been fulfilled and the Kingdom of God has drawn near." The first part of this synopsis of Jesus' message consists of two synthetically parallel, indicative statements. Jesus' proclamation that the "time" (kairos) has been fulfilled probably means that the period of time pre-determined by God before the appearance of the Kingdom of God in Israel’s history has elapsed or come to completion. When the verb "to fulfill or complete" (pleroô) is used of time the meaning can be that a designated period of time has elapsed. (A partial parallel to this interpretation of Mark 1:15 is the “fulfillment” of seventy years of exile, after which Yahweh will punish the Babylonians (Jer 25:12 = LXX 25:12; 29:10 = LXX 36:10). On this interpretation, "time" (kairos) denotes this age in its entirety, which has come to completion. The idea that history is divided in two ages and that this age must run its divinely foreordained course before yielding to the next age, the time of eschatological salvation, is characteristic of second-Temple Judaism.
The second indicative statement summarizing Jesus’ message is that the Kingdom of God has drawn near (êggiken). There has been much debate over whether Jesus teaches that the Kingdom of God has arrived or whether its arrival is near. In resolving this problem, it must be kept in mind that the proposition, "The Kingdom of God has drawn near" stands in synthetic parallelism to "The time (kairos) has been fulfilled." The context in which the verb "to draw near" occurs must be allowed to determine its meaning. On the interpretation of "the time (kairos) has been fulfilled" offered above, it follows that the Kingdom of God has arrived, not simply is near. The parallelism between the two statements suggests the idea of nearness as a result of a recent arrival. The fact that the verb "to draw near" (eggizein) and the Hebrew and Aramaic words that it translates can sometimes have this ambiguous meaning—even though in most cases they mean nearness without arrival—permits this interpretation. The point is that the Kingdom of God has just arrived but is not yet complete. In other words, the coming of the Kingdom of God is progressive, unfolding towards its consummation that lies in the future, so that Jesus’ use of the Aramaic equivalent of the verb “to draw near” rather than some verb that suggests a completed action like “has come” is probably intentional. The purpose is to communicate the incipient nature of the presence of the Kingdom of God. Between the period of its inception and its fulfillment Jesus could speak about the Kingdom as both a present reality and a future one.
The connection between the announcement of the Kingdom of God and the command to repent needs clarification. The reason that Jesus requires that repentance follow believing the “good news” is that implicitly there is available to Jews a new possibility of forgiveness as a result of the fact that the Kingdom of God has drawn near. The unstated assumption is that the Kingdom of God includes the offer of eschatological forgiveness conditional upon repentance. The idea that forgiveness is included among the eschatological benefits promised is consistent with Jewish eschatological expectation.
In Matthew and Luke are found two similar-sounding but somewhat obscure sayings. Whether they are two different versions of the same saying is open to debate, since there are significant differences between them. In spite of the rare word that they share, biazesthai, it is probably better to handle these two sayings as tradition-historically independent of each other. The differences between the two sayings are too great to be explained as redactional, so that it is more credible that Jesus made two similar utterances about John and his relation to the Kingdom of God in Aramaic both of which were translated into Greek using the same verb, biazesthai.
Both sayings divide salvation history into two periods, situating John the Baptist in the transition between these two periods: "For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John" (Matt 11:13) and "The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John; since that time, the good news of the Kingdom of God is being preached" (Luke 16:16a). In Luke's version, Jesus views the Kingdom of God as the climax of what has preceded it salvation-historically, the period of the Law and the prophets. The phrase "since that time" implies that Kingdom of God has already begun to be realized in history. If the phrase “until John” is to be taken as inclusive, then John is included in the period of the Law and the prophets and not in the Kingdom. But it is possible to interpret the phrase as exclusive, in which case John is part of the Kingdom. Similarly, in the Matthean saying, Jesus interprets John as being the culmination of the Law and the prophets, which have foretold the Kingdom of Heaven; the phrase “until John” should be taken as modifying the verb “prophesied.” On this interpretation John is the goal or culmination of the salvation-historical period characterized as the prophets and the Law, but is excluded as belonging to that period. The implication is that the previous salvation-historical period is distinct from that of the Kingdom to which John belongs, so that John represents the beginning of the fulfillment of the eschatological promise. One could also interpret Matt 11:12a as implying that John is included in the period of the Kingdom: "From the days of John the Baptist until now." It is probable that Jesus interprets John as both being included in the Kingdom because of his preparatory role, but not fully so because he was a transitional salvation-historical figure. In other words, stated positively, John functions as the bridge between them.
In Luke 16:16a, Jesus says that, since the time of John the Baptist, the Kingdom of God is being proclaimed, and then adds the clause "And everyone is forcing his way into it" (This assumes that the verb biazesthai is in the deponent middle voice). The question that now arises is whether to force one's way into the Kingdom of God is a positive or a negative act; the deponent middle voice of the verb biazein can be used with either meaning. Jesus holds that the Kingdom of God is a present reality into which a Jew can enter in the present. But in order to enter the Kingdom of God, an extreme effort of will is required, so much so that one could describe this effort of will metaphorically as "forceful" or even "violent." In this case, Jesus uses a negative metaphor but with a paradoxically positive meaning. The subject "everyone" should be interpret as "everyone who wills to enter," so that Jesus is laying down a condition of entrance into the Kingdom of God: unwavering single-mindedness.
In Matt 11:12 Jesus says, "From the days of John the Baptist until now, the Kingdom of Heaven biazetai and biastai lay hold of it." The first exegetical task is to determine the meaning of biazetai. Two questions need to be answered. First, is the verb biazetai in the passive voice or the deponent middle? Second, is the act described by biazetai positively understood, in bonum partem, or negatively, in malem partem? If the deponent middle voice is intended then what is described is a positive act: the kingdom forcefully advances. But if the passive voice is intended, then probably a negative act is intended: the enemies of the kingdom act to destroy or hinder it. Since its association with the saying about John’s place in salvation history leads the hearer to expect some positive statement about the Kingdom of God, probably biazetai should be taken as a deponent middle, so that the meaning is positive. For the Kingdom of Heaven to "act forcefully or violently" means something like "forces its way through" or "forcefully advances." Jesus' point is that the Kingdom of Heaven has begun in human history and has been progressing towards its culmination against all opposition since the appearance of John. On this interpretation, it is God who is the agent acting forcefully on the Kingdom to bring it to realization. The opponents to whom Jesus refers may refer primarily to demonic opponents, in which case the following clause, "And biastai lay hold of it" refers to their activities (as allied with unrighteous human beings). But, more probably, parallel to Luke 16:16a, Jesus compares those who choose to enter the Kingdom of Heaven with violent men who seize what is not their own: the point of comparison is the extreme effort and single-mindedness of will required. (The violent are anything but passive or indolent.) Only those who with all their energy—“violently”—seize the opportunity to enter the kingdom will do so. Again Jesus uses a negative metaphor with a paradoxical positive meaning.
Luke contains a saying in which Jesus describes the nature of the appearance of the Kingdom of God; in it he connects the Kingdom with himself. The Pharisees ask Jesus when the Kingdom of God will come in 17:20a. Jesus’ response in 17:20b-21 is constructed in antithetical parallelism. The negative member of Jesus’ response consists of two coordinating clauses joined by “nor,” which describe how the Kingdom of God does not come: “The Kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or, ‘There it is!’” The first way in which the Kingdom does not come is “with signs to be observed” (meta paratêrêseôs). In the context, the meaning of “signs to be observed” probably describes empirically observable phenomena associated with the inception of eschatological fulfillment. Jesus’ questioners hold the view that the coming of the Kingdom of God will be universally recognizable by its accompanying manifestations, and they want to know when Jesus believes these premonitory manifestations will begin to occur, thereby heralding the Kingdom. (On this interpretation “come” has a future meaning since it is referring to the future Kingdom of God.) The second way in which the Kingdom of God does not come is in such a way that someone could say “Look, here it is!’ or, ‘There it is!” The meaning seems to be the same as “with signs to be observed.” In other words, Jesus is saying that, contrary to their expectation, the Kingdom of God will not come in such a way as to be universally recognized as such. He rejects the presupposition behind the question, namely that the Kingdom of God will come as a publicly-observable event. This is because he does not believe that the Kingdom will not come all at once, as full-blown, so that no one could deny that it has come. Rather, Jesus' conception of the Kingdom of God is that it begins inconspicuously, so that it is possible to deny that it has come at the earliest stages of its historical development.
The positive member of Jesus’ response is the remarkable statement that the Kingdom of God has already come: “For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst (entos humôn).” Jesus’ point is that the Kingdom of God is in the midst of his questioners insofar as he is in their midst, so inseparable is he from the Kingdom. Of course, the Kingdom is in its intial phases and so is still only partially and even ambiguously present. For this reason, the possibility exists of denying that it is present at all, in which case Jesus would be seen as having no salvation-historical significance at all. When it comes to completion, the Kingdom of God will be undeniable, but until then a person will be able to accept or reject Jesus’ claim that the Kingdom of God is already present insofar as he is present.
Jesus teaches that a person must remove all impediments in order to to enter the Kingdom of God (eiselthein eis tên basileian tou theou) (Mark 9:47), which is synonymous with to enter into life (eiselthein eis tên zoên) (Mark 9:43, 45), since it is better to do without any so-called advantage than to miss entering into the Kingdom of God or into life. (The term "Kingdom of God" is synonymous with "life.") This is expressed metaphorically as being willing to cut off one's hands and one's feet and being willing to remove one's eye, if necessary. The analogy between sin and a part of one’s body is that, like the latter, the former may be a cherished part of one’s identity and livelihood, which one may be understandably reluctant to remove since the loss of it would be keenly felt. One's bodily parts represent what is closest and most valuable to a person, which nevertheless must be given up if it impedes entrance into the Kingdom of God or life. The consequence of not being willing to sacrifice anything to enter the Kingdom of God, or life, is punishment in Gehenna (or eternal fire). The entrance of which Jesus speaks is a future entrance, coincidental with final judgment; in fact, one must pass through final judgment in order to enter the Kingdom of God or life. (Matthew omits Mark 9:45, probably because he considered his Markan source to be redundant; in addition, Matthew substitutes "life" for Mark's "Kingdom of God" in the saying about being willing to remove one's eye.)1.2. Jesus Parabolic Teaching about the Kingdom of God
A large part of the content of Jesus' teaching relating to the Kingdom of God that has been preserved is in the form of parables, which are metaphors or similes used as means of describing the nature of the Kingdom of God.
In a parable unique to Mark, Jesus compares the Kingdom of God to the event of a seed that is sown, grows without the help of human beings and culminates in a harvest. The parable consists of three sentences: 4:26-27; 4:28; 4:29. The first sentence contains three sets of verbs in the subjunctive controlled by “as,” and focuses on a man who sows. The focus of the second sentence is on the growth of what was sown, describing the three stages of growth: blade, head and ripe grain; this continues the theme of growth from the end of the first sentence. The third sentence has three verbs, and in it the man who sowed reappears, but this time as the reaper. The idea of the ripe grain connects 4:28 with 4:29. The emphasis of the parable has been placed upon the one who sows the seed, on the growth of the seed and the contrast between the seed sown and the harvest, and on the earth and its incomprehensible power to bring forth grain apart from all human effort or on the harvest. It is advisable, however, to allow for more than one emphasis, so that the parable is interpreted allegorically, as making several, interrelated points using metaphors; this means that the several interpretations of the parable thought to be mutually exclusive are actually compatible. (In fact, it is difficult to keep the various proposed interpretations discrete, since they tend to overlap one another.)
The fact that Jesus compares the Kingdom to a seed growing towards maturity implies that he sees the Kingdom of God as a historical process that has a beginning and an end. In spite of the differences between them, there is an identity and continuity between a seed and a fully grown plant that it becomes. So likewise the Kingdom of God as already present, but inconspicuous, will progress towards its incontrovertible completeness. (Jesus’ interest is the two extreme stages of the Kingdom, rather than the intermediate stages.) Given the unexpected stress on the seed's growth as independent of all assistance from human beings, Jesus is also making the point that the Kingdom is outside of the control of human beings; in the same way that a plant grows without human assistance, "all by itself" (automatê) regardless of what the sower does subsequently (“night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up”), the Kingdom of God ineluctably and necessarily grows until it reaches its completion. The statement that the sower does not know how the seed grows (4:27: “though he does not know how”) likewise contributes to the idea of the Kingdom as outside of the control of human beings. The harvest should be taken to represent final judgment, which is coincidental with the Kingdom of God in its completeness; it will come inevitably, according to God's own timing. Mark 4:29b “He puts in the sickle because the harvest has arrived” is likely an allusion to eschatological judgment in Joel 4:13. It is also possible that Jesus intended the sower and the reaper be identified with himself; in this case Jesus as the "sower" is the mediator of the Kingdom of God, the one through whom God's saving power is introduced into history, but as the "reaper" is also the one through whom final judgment will be executed.
There are two different versions of the Parable of the Mustard Seed, a Markan and non-Markan represented by Luke. (The parable is found also in Gospel of Thomas 20.) The differences between them, however, are negligible with respect to the meaning of the parable. Jesus compares the Kingdom of God to a mustard seed, or, more accurately, to what happens to a mustard seed when it is planted. The mustard plant begins as most inconspicuous, "the smallest of all seeds," but becomes conspicuous, a large plant (to lachanon) (Mark) or tree (to dendron) (Luke). (To call a mustard plant a tree emphasizes its size: it is almost as large as a tree.) In the parable both the contrast between the beginning and culmination of the Kingdom of God and the process of growth from the one to the other are emphasized. Jesus' point is that Kingdom of God is a historical process that has begun inconspicuously in his appearance and work but will grow towards a conspicuous result, which no one will be able to deny. (A tree as metaphorical of a kingdom occurs in Ezek 17:23; 31:16; Dan 4:10-12.) His parable serves as both an encouragement and a warning not to judge prematurely what is being experienced in the present. It is possible that the depiction of the mustard plant as large enough to support birds on its branches is a metaphor of the Kingdom of God as offering protection to those within it.
Jesus tells two thematically-related parables to describe what is required of the one who hears about the Kingdom of Heaven. First, he says that the Kingdom of Heaven is like a valuable treasure buried in a field that must be procured at any cost to the purchaser. (In the ancient world, coins and other non-perishable valuables were often buried underground for safekeeping.) Second, he compares the Kingdom of Heaven to a valuable pearl that is worth more than anything a merchant already possesses and must be procured at any cost to the merchant. The response required of the one who hears about the Kingdom of Heaven is the willingness to to procure entry into it at all costs, since it is valuable beyond all description.
In a saying found only in Matthew, Jesus compares the scribe who receives instruction in the Kingdom of Heaven to a man who brings out of his storehouse both old and new goods. What is in the storehouse may be food, clothing or other goods. The scribe is a man who is knowledgable in the scriptures, having figuratively a “storehouse” of knowledge. He more than anyone knows what God has done in the past and has promised to do in the future. Jesus’ point is that the Kingdom of Heaven, the realization of Israel's eschatological salvation, stands in continuity with previous stages of salvation history, in no way nullifying them, but being anticipated by them. The “old” represents what the scribe knows about the previous stages of salvation history, whereas the “new” is what he has learned about the present fulfilment of the eschatological promises, the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus expects the scribe not to miss the salvation-historical significance of the present time when the Kingdom is beginning to be manifested, but to incorporate it into the “old” of what he already knows. More importantly, he expects a scribe not to reject the instruction about the Kingdom of Heaven as a spurious and be content merely with the “old.”
The parable usually referred to as The Laborers in the Vineyard is unique to Matthew. In it Jesus compares the Kingdom of God to the event of a landowner (oikodespotês) who hires day-laborers at different times of the day to work in his fields and then surprisingly pays them all the same wage at the end of the day. It is divided into two parts with two different settings: 20:1-7; 20:8-15. This parable is an example of a two-part parable with the emphasis on the second half. The first half of the parable tells the story of the hiring of laborers at different times of the day, which is followed by the second half describing the scene at the end of the work day. The first part occurs in the marketplace during the day from the first hour to the eleventh; at different times of the day the owner of a vineyard goes there to hire day workers in order to pick his grape harvest: 20:2 first group hired at dawn; 20:3-5a second group hired at third hour (9:00 a.m.); 20:5b third and fourth groups hired at sixth and ninth hours (12:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m.); 5:6-7 fifth group hired at the eleventh hour (5:00 p.m.). It would seem that he sends the later hirings into the field without any agreement (20:13). The landowner did not have a contract with the workers hired at nine in the morning, but agreed to pay them what he thought was right. Presumably he said the same thing to the men hired even later, including those hired at the eleventh hour (5:00 p.m.). The reason that he goes to the marketplace at different times of the day could indicate his desire to use as few laborer as possible to harvest his grape crop, which would create in the mind of the hearer the idea of his frugality. This makes the ending even more surprising.
The second part of the parable occurs on the estate at the end of the day, the twelfth hour (6:00 p.m.). It is at this point in the parable that the hearer experiences an unexpected departure from ordinary experience. The landowner gives instructions to his foreman to call the workers and pay them their wages (20:8). At this time those who were hired last are paid first (20:9), and then those who were hired first are paid last (20:10). Those who are hired first were paid the agreed upon sum of one denarius, the standard wage for a day's labor (20:11-12). But surprisingly those who were hired last were also paid a denarius. Why the owner did this is not explained, but the hearer would probably surmise that it was because these men had families to feed who would do hungry otherwise. In other words, it was out of his compassion that the landowner did what he did. Those who were hired first began to murmur because they received the same wage as those hired last. Since this was the amount for which they agreed to work, each man would have been content with his denarius and gone home happy, had it not been for the fact that the other workers received the same wage. They bristle at the fact that those who worked for only one hour are treated the same as they are: “You have made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the scorching heat of the day” (20:12). (At some point in the story the landowner enters the scene.) The landowner responds to this protestation by pointing out they those hired first have been treated justly and asks them what right do they have to begrudge him his generosity: "Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go. But I will to give to this last man the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with what is my own? Or do you have an evil eye because I am generous?” (20:13-15). (To have an evil eye is to be the opposite of generous.)
The point of
the second half of the parable is that the Kingdom God is the time when
God wills to show his covenant people an unusual measure of mercy. In
the parable the payment to the last-hired is no payment at all, but
is really a manifestation of mercy. So likewise Jesus seeks to communicate
that out of his goodness God shows unusual mercy to those Jews without
life-long obedience to the Law who repent and believe the good news
about the Kingdom of God. As a result they will have the same salvation-historical
status as those who have always obeyed the Law. What is presupposed
is that this depiction of God would be as unexpected to the hearers
of the parable as that of the landowner who pays a full day’s
wages for one hour’s work, and for this reason could be a stumbling
block to them. Although second-Temple Jews believed that God was merciful,
Jesus’ teaching about God’s unusual offer of Kingdom-mercy
went beyond what they were willing to accept. In fact, the parable may
be directed to Jesus' critics who take exception to his practice of
associating with sinners for the purpose of offering them forgiveness
on the condition of repentance. If so, then according to Jesus, those
who have a record of obedience to the Law, who are represented in the
parable by those who were hired first, should not take offence at the
goodness of God, who unconditionally forgives sinners, as represented
in the parable by those who were hired later in the day. It is not that
they deny that sinners can be forgiven and restored but they do not
think that it is just that they should be treated the same as sinners
who have repented. But according to Jesus, God's unusual mercy leads
to an "unjust" treatment of sinners.
There are two different versions of the tradition of the Beelzebul Controversy: a Markan version and a version available to Matthew and Luke, a non-Markan version. How the non-Markan version available to Matthew differed from that available to Luke is impossible to determine, since it is probable that both Matthew and Luke redacted their respective versions. In order to account for his ability to exorcize, Jesus' detractors accuse him of casting out demons by the power of Beelzebul (Satan), the prince of demons (en Beezeboul tô archonti tôn daimoniôn), a charge that Jesus quite rightly rejects. (In the Lukan version, it is added, "Others, to test him, were demanding of him a sign from heaven" [11:16].) Jesus says that he could not be casting out demons by the power of Beelzebul (Satan) because this would mean that Satan is attacking himself, and so his "kingdom" (basileia) would not remain for long. It should be noted that the accusation and Jesus' response to it presupposes that Beelzebul (Satan) is active in the world of human beings, that he has a "kingdom," a sphere of influence among human beings. Indeed, in the version of this tradition represented by Matt 12:22-29 = Luke 11:14-22, Jesus asks rhetorically, "How will his kingdom stand?" (Luke includes the protasis: "If Satan is divided against himself..."Luke 11:18].)
The non-Markan version of this tradition (Matt 12:22-30 = Luke 11:14-23) has a very important saying that is absent from the Markan. Jesus says, "If I cast out demons by the power of Beelzebul, by whom do your people drive them out?... But if I cast out demons by the spirit (Luke: "finger") of God, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you" (Matt 12:27-28 = Luke 11:19-20). Luke probably did not change "by spirit of God" [en pneumati theou] to "by finger of God" [en daktulô theou] because he has no preference for genitive constructions without the definite article. Rather, it is probable that two versions of this tradition were in circulation, one using the metaphor "finger of God" and the other substituting the vehicle "finger" for the tenor "Spirit" (see Exod 8:19; 31:18; Deut 9:10; Ps 8:3; Dan 5:5). Both phrases mean "the action of God." So, contrary to his critics, Jesus claims to be casting out demons by the power of God. Although he does not deny that others cast out demons, Jesus does affirm that the Kingdom of God has come by means of his exorcist activity: his exorcisms are the result of the appearance of the Kingdom of God. His point is that he is making an assault on the spiritual reign of Satan, and is in the process of establishing the Kingdom of God in its place. The fact that Jesus says that the Kingdom of God has come "upon you" (eph' humas) clearly presupposes that the Kingdom is a present reality for Jesus' contemporaries. In fact, according to second-Temple Jewish thought, the demise of the reign of Satan could only mean the ascendancy of the Kingdom of God.
In the context of Jesus' self-defence against the accusation that he casts out demons by the power of Beelzebul is found a saying about the plundering of the strong man. There are two different versions of the same tradition, quite dissimilar to each other: Mark 3:27 = Matt 12:29; Luke 11:21-22. (Matthew seems to give preference to the Markan version, that is, assuming that he had access to the version represented by Luke.) Both versions, however, make the same point: in order to plunder the house of a strong man one must be stronger than he is; only then can one carry away his goods. Jesus, of course, is speaking metaphorically: the strong man is Satan and his house is his kingdom or sphere of influence. Jesus is claiming that there has come one who is stronger than Satan and is in the process of plundering his kingdom; this is an oblique reference to himself. The kingdom or reign of Satan, in other words, is in the process of being replaced by the Kingdom of God. Proof of this is Jesus' power over demons.
Jesus understands the healings that he performs as being a manifestation of the Kingdom of God. He explains the connection between healing and the Kingdom in response to a question from John the Baptist (Luke 7:18-23 || Matt 11:2-6). Form-critically, Luke 7:18-23 = Matt 11:2-6 is classifiable as an apophthegma, and belongs to a larger collection of narratives in which John the Baptist is featured (Matt 11:2-19 = Luke 7:18-35). It consists of three parts: John’s question, Jesus’ response and a beatitude. In this double tradition, in response to a question from John the Baptist Jesus places his healing activity into an eschatological context .
When in prison, John sends two of his disciples to ask Jesus whether he is "the coming one." The phrase ‘the coming one’ hearkens back to John’s statement in Mark 1:7 = Matt 3:11; Luke 3:15-16a (see John 1:25-27) that one will come after him who will baptize with the spirit of holiness and fire. So John’s disciples use the term "the coming one" in a technical sense to refer to this one whose way John has come to prepare. Although it is not said why he needs to know this, apparently John has some doubts about Jesus’ identity. At one time John identified Jesus as "the coming one" but now he is not so sure because what Jesus is doing—although remarkable—is not what John expects that "the coming one" to do. Perhaps, John expects Jesus already to have done what he predicted the one who will come after him will do: to bring eschatological judgment. It is even possible that John expected Jesus to free him from prison and mediate God’s judgment on Herod Antipas for his mistreatment of him, which is certainly understandable.
to John’s question, Jesus points to his activities and in so doing
connects his healing activity with Old Testament eschatological prophecies:
"Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: the blind
receive sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the
dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor." Jesus
intends to revise John’s expectations by allowing for a longer
period of time between the appearance of "the coming one"
and eschatological judgment. Although it may not be obvious at first,
in Matt 11:2-6; Luke 7:18-23, in response to John’s question,
Jesus quotes a catena of Old Testament passages from Isaiah, indicating
that his healings are a part of the eschatological salvation foretold
by the prophet: 1. blind see (Isa 29:18; 35:5; 42:18; 61:1); 2. lame
walk (Isa 35:6); 3. lepers are cleansed; 4. deaf hear (Isa 35:5; 42:18);
5. dead are raised (Isa 26:19); 6. poor receive good news (Isa 61:1)
(Isa 26:19; 29:18-19; 35:5-6; 42:7, 18; 61:1). Structurally, Jesus’
response to John’s question is six parallel clauses followed by
a beatitude: "Blessed
is the man who does not fall away on account of me."
The only thing not mentioned in these Isaian passages is the fact that
lepers are cleansed, so that the reality of the eschatological blessings
seems to have surpassed their prediction. Jesus’ response clearly
indicates that the eschatological blessings, which include not only
the healing of diseases and infirmities but also the conquering of death,
have begun to be realized. For him the prophetic future is no longer
future but has begun to be realized in the present. In other words,
for Jesus, this is the time of the Kingdom.