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August 30, 2011 / Daniel

G.E. Ladd on the Sermon on the Mount 2

Here’s another great quote in Ladd’s NT Theology.   Ladd does a great job of bringing together the two repeated catchwords in the Sermon: righteousness (5:6, 10, 20; 6:1, 33) and kingdom (5:3, 10, 19-20; 6:10, 33; 7:21).

The ethics of Jesus, then, are Kingdom ethics, the ethics of the reign of God. It is impossible to detach them from the total context of Jesus’ message and mission. They are relevant only for those who have experienced the reign of God…The unique element in Jesus’ teaching is that in his person the Kingdom of God has invaded human history, and people are not only placed under the ethical demand of the reign of God, but by virtue of this very experience of God’s reign are also enabled to realize a new measure of righteousness (126).

For Ladd, the kingdom is dynamic.  It’s the rule of God.  The sphere of God’s saving reign.   When God reigns through Jesus over the hearts of men, this is the Kingdom.  This Kingdom finds its climax when Jesus returns in His glory.   Therefore, the Kingdom is an “already but not yet” reality.  Jesus launched the Kingdom at his 1st coming.  He will consummate it at his 2nd coming.

Ladd adds,

[The Sermon on the Mount] portrays the ideal of the person in whose life the reign of God is absolutely realized. This righteousness…can be perfectly experienced only in the eschatological Kingdom of God. It can nevertheless to a real degree be attained in the present age; insofar as the reign of God is actually experienced…Even as the Kingdom has invaded the evil age to bring to people in advance a partial but real experience of the blessings of the eschatological Kingdom, so is the righteousness of the Kingdom attainable, in part if not in perfection, in the present order. Ethics, like the Kingdom itself, stands in the tension between present realization and future eschatological perfection” (127).

So, all of Matthew 5-7 needs to be understood in light of the “already, but not yet” tension in the NT.   The kingdom is “already but not yet.”   Our righteousness is “already but not yet.”

It’s only through the experience of God’s saving reign (grace) that disciples are enabled to do what’s right (law).  If we could separate the Sermon on the Mount from the Good News of the Kingdom (4:17, 23), then the Sermon would bring only condemnation.   Its ethic is brutal.  (However, God’s demand is perfection.  This is true throughout the entire canon). But when we read Matthew 5-7 in the context of Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom, then  Matthew 5-7 becomes a challenge to bring glory to the King who has already rescued you from the dominion of sin and death.   The King has come!   He will save people.  Live for him.   Prepare for his coming reign.

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