Close to the Kingdom of God
“When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’ And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions” (v. 34).- Mark 12:32–34
Even though Jesus often opposed the Jewish religious authorities of His day—at times quite harshly (Matt. 23)—He did not disagree with or condemn everything they taught. When these authorities were correct, our Savior affirmed them. We see this in today’s passage, wherein Mark concludes his account of Jesus’ exchange with a scribe about the greatest commandment.
The scribe who asked Jesus about the greatest commandment was decidedly less hostile to Him than were the Pharisees and Sadducees who opposed Him in Jerusalem (Mark 12:1–27). This is particularly evident in verses 32–33 of today’s passage, as we see the scribe affirm and commend the answer our Lord gave him. He demonstrates a good knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures in his approval, for he quotes from Deuteronomy 4:35; 6:4; Leviticus 19:18; 1 Samuel 15:22; Isaiah 45:21; and Hosea 6:6, all of which reinforce the truth that the greatest commandments in the Torah are the love of God and the love of neighbor. Note that the scribe’s response receives a commendation from Jesus Himself. One commentator notes that our Lord’s words in Mark 12:34 are an implicit revelation of our Lord’s authority. It is hard to conceive of the ancient rabbis’ offering such a firm estimation of the state of a person’s soul, but Jesus tells the scribe that he is “not far from the kingdom of God.” Clearly, Jesus understood Himself to have the authority to judge people and their citizenship in God’s saving kingdom.
Importantly, Jesus did not tell the man he was in the kingdom of God but that he was not far from it. We do not know what happened to this scribe after his meeting with the Lord, but we do know that at that point he was on the verge of receiving salvation. Elsewhere in Scripture, the gospel is referred to as “the gospel of the kingdom.” The gospel message has reference to a kingdom and its King, namely, the Lord God Almighty. Like earthly kings, the heavenly King has a law to which men and women are accountable, and one cannot enter His kingdom unless he recognizes the authority of His law. Of course, the gospel says more—that all people have broken this law and must trust in Christ alone in order to become citizens of God’s kingdom. But to do that, we must first realize that we are obligated to keep the Lord’s commands. The scribe understood that, so he was not far from understanding the rest of the gospel and entering the kingdom of God.
In our day, many people will not preach the law of God because they believe news of God’s judgment creates a barrier to people’s entering the kingdom. Yet Jesus Himself shows us that we cannot come close to the kingdom of God unless we first know God’s law and what it demands. Let us encourage our pastors and teachers in their endeavor to preach and teach the law of God.
Passages for Further Study
Romans 3:9–31; 7:7–25