It is Lent, the season leading up to Good Friday and Easter. So I am blogging about David Seccombe’s account of the closing months of Jesus’ ministry.
The gospels portray Jesus as giving Peter a special place in the kingdom he expected. He had promised Peter the keys to the kingdom (Matthew 16:19). Seccombe suggests that Jesus thinks of his kingdom in terms of the old monarchy in Judah. The key to the house of David belonging to a royal official mentioned by Isaiah lies behind this notion:
“I will place the key to the house of David on his shoulder. When he opens the door, no one can close it; when he closes the door, no one can open it” (Isaiah 22:22 NET Bible).
Seccombe thinks it was as Jesus approached Jerusalem after finishing his Galilean ministry that the other disciples raised their concern about this. Along with Peter, James and John seem to constitute an inner circle within the twelve. It is James and John who ask about their status in the kingdom–or their mother does according to Matthew’s gospel.
They also want high positions. According to Mark:
Now when the other ten heard this, they became angry with James and John. Jesus called them and said to them, ‘You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those in high positions use their authority over them. But it is not this way among you. Instead whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’ (10:41-45)
Jesus seems to envision what we would call a non-hierarchical form of government. Yet he has designated a key-holder position for Peter. So Jesus is not presenting an academic theory of government. His view of the kingdom goes beyond human politics. It involves “resurrection, universal judgment and the abolition of death” (p. 467). But most of all, it involves the service of giving his life as a ransom. In other words, he sees giving his life not as martyrdom but as redemption.
We see here the evangelical character of Seccombe’s work. He is presenting a view of Jesus life that takes account of modern scholarship. But it is also a believer’s account.
I am not sure Jesus actually anticipated the way his death would be redemptive. Some of this may be the gospel writers reading what post-resurrection preachers like Paul had to say back into the situation of the historical Jesus.
But servanthood must have been a theme of the historical Jesus. In some sense, he must have seen his fate in Jerusalem as benefiting his disciples. And I agree with Seccombe that, although Jesus adopted the political term “kingdom”, he was doing way more than proposing political reform or regime change. He had a mysterious “baptism” that he had to undergo and a “cup” that he had to drink (Mark 10:39).
The disciples were confused. On the one hand Jesus talked about glory. On the other hand he talked about servanthood and self-denial. He may have mentioned bearing a cross. Jesus points out the irony that they were jockeying for position with regard to the glory, but not really prepared for the other side of it.
Seccombe takes seriously the gospel theme that Jesus repeatedly predicted his own death. He sometimes talks as though Jesus understood his redemptive death the way evangelicals do. But sometimes he goes beyond that. He suggests that Jesus saw his death as something that would “generate a kingdom of forgiven people” (p. 473).
Some have seen the mention of “the church” in several sayings of Jesus as a sure sign that we have sayings that the community later put into his mouth. But Seccombe says that the word is just the Greek word that the LLX uses repeatedly for the assembly of Israel. Jesus may well have seen himself as producing a restorative community.