-Wir sein pettler. Hoc est verum.--"We are beggars. This is true."--Martin Luther-

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Saturday, November 29, 2008

The New Testament and the Kingdom of God

It is undeniably true that the kingdom of God was a central element to the ministry of Jesus. The centrality of this message begins with the preaching of John the Baptist, "Repent! For the kingdom of Heaven has drawn near" (Matt. 3:2). It is then adopted by Christ himself, "But Jesus hearing that John was delivered up, He withdrew into Galilee. And having left Nazareth, having come He lived at Capernaum, beside the sea in the districts of Zebulun and Naphtali... From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, Repent! For the kingdom of Heaven has drawn near" (Matt. 4:12-17; Cf. Mark 1:14). Jesus takes over the proclamation from John (Cf. John 3:26-30).

The most striking characteristic of the treatment of the kingdom of God in the New Testament is its inseparable connection with proclamation, with the Word of God. John, Jesus, and the Apostles proclaim (κηρυσσειν) the kingdom of God (Cf. Matt. 4:23; Matt. 9:35; Matt. 10:7; Mark 1:14; Luke 4:43; Luke 8:1; Luke 9:2; Acts 1:3; Acts 8:12; Acts 19:8; Acts 20:25; Acts 28:23; Acts 28:31). In the New Testament, to preach the kingdom of God is to preach the gospel (Cf. Matt. 4:23; Matt. 9:35; Matt. 24:14; Mark 1:14-15; Luke 4:43; Luke 8:1; Acts 8:12). It is: "τὸ εὐαγγέλιον τῆς βασιλείας τοῦ Θεοῦ," the gospel of the kingdom of God. It could be argued that the reason for this is that the preaching of the kingdom of God in the New Testament was always seen as an eschatological message, but I think this is a little short sighted. In Luke, Jesus makes it clear that, unlike the eschatological coming of the kingdom in glory (Matt. 25:31), the kingdom he is talking about "does not come with observation" (Luke 17:20), indeed, that it was already "in [their] midst" (Luke 17:21). Because it does not come with observation, it must be a very different type of kingdom than most around Jesus were expecting (Luke 19:11).

The parable in Luke 19 (11-27) is very revealing of how Jesus saw his reign of the kingdom of God. His reign does not begin at his second coming (v. 15) but is subsequent to his death, resurrection, and ascension, that is, at his conquering of sin death and the Devil (v. 12). So when Jesus says, "The time has been fulfilled," and that, "the kingdom of God draws near" (Mark 1:15), it should not be assumed that Christ is talking about the end of the age. Rather, the fulfilment of time is a reflection of the incarnation of the Messiah (Cf. Gal. 4:4).

So the question is, in what way is the kingdom of God in our midst? How is it manifested? Jesus certainly upset the plans of all those around him who believed he would establish a temporal/worldly reign. Jesus tells Pilate in John chapter 18: "My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would have fought that I might not be delivered up to the Jews. But now My kingdom is not from here" (v. 36). It should not be assumed that Jesus is here telling us that his kingdom is not "in" (ἐν) this world, rather he tells us that it is not "of the this world" (ἐκ τοῦ κόσμου). This is an imporatant distinction that needs to be made; God's kingdom is not of this world in the same way as his Apostles were not of this world, though, like God's kingdom, they were in this world. The Apostles were in the world, "ἐν τῳ κόσμῳ" (John 17:11), though they were not of this world, "ἐκ τοῦ κόσμου" (John 17:14); in the same way, the kingdom of God may be in this world, ἐν τῳ κόσμῳ, but it is not of this world, ἐκ τοῦ κόσμου. While it might be a little harder to determine the character of what it means for the kingdom to not be of the world, we do see in John 18:36 what it would mean for a kingdom to be of this world. Jesus tells us that a kingdom of this world is a kingdom that excercizes its reign through external force, that is, through the law. It is in the next verse (v. 37) that we hear how Christ exercizes his reign: "For this purpose [to become King] I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, that I might witness to the Truth. Everyone being of the Truth hears My voice." Jesus makes it clear that it is either a matter of being "ἐκ τοῦ κόσμου," of the world, or of being "ἐκ τῆς ἀληθείας," of the Truth. Those who are ruled by Christ are those who "hear his voice."

We have here a perfect depiction of the temporal reign of the two kingdoms, those who are ruled through the law and external institutions and motivation, and those who are ruled by the Word of God. What we have seen here in John 18 has a direct parallel in the 17th chapter in Jesus' high priestly prayer. Reading what we have seen in chapter 18, keeping in mind what Jesus prays in the previous chapter we have a clear depiction of a purely temporal understanding of the two kingdoms. In chapter 17 we see many parallels: Jesus makes it clear that he is praying for those who "have kept Your Word" (v. 6); Jesus gave them "[God's] Word, and the world hated them because they are not of the world, as [Jesus was not] of the world" (v. 14); Jesus does "not pray that [God] take them out of the world" (v. 15), but rather, Jesus "sent them into the world" (v. 18); Jesus asks the Father to "sanctify them in the Truth," and makes it clear that, "[the Father's] Word is Truth" (v. 17). Combining what we have seen from both chapter 17 and 18 we can say that the kingdom of God is not found in transcending the world but in being in the world, though not being of the world, but rather in being of the truth, which Jesus tells us is God's Word. Those who are ruled by this Word, that is, the gospel, are those who hear Jesus' voice, that is, those who keep his Word, not out of fear of punishment or desire for reward, that is, through the law, but out of love for God. Through this Word we are sanctified and bear fruit to God.

We can see that when the New Testament talks of the Kingdom of God, it is not saying this as to make a distinction between the kingdom and the world, but to make a distinction between who we are "of," whether we are "of the world" or "of the truth." That is, it is a question of who our lord is, whether worldly lusts or the Logos. This seems to bear out with a broader understanding of the 1st Century usage of this terminology. Joachim Jeremias writes:

"One thing is certain: the word malkuta [Aramaic] did not have for the oriental the significance that the word "kingdom" does for the westerner. Only in quite isolated instances in the Old Testament does malkut denote a realm in the spatial sense, a territory; almost always it stands for the government, the authority, the power of a king. But this does not mean that malkut is understood in an abstract way; it is always in process of being achieved. Thus the reign of God is neither a spatial nor a static concept; it is a dynamic concept. It denotes the reign of God in action, in the first place as opposed to earthly monarchy, but then in contrast to all rule in heaven and on earth [see for example 1 Cor. 15:24]." (New Testament Theology, vol. 1, trans. John Bowden (London: SCM Press, 1971), 98.)

Mark D. Roberts likewise writes:

"The Aramaic word we translate as "kingdom" referred...to the authority of the king. Thus malku could be translated as "kingly authority, rule, or reign," and should be in the case of Jesus' usage. He's not saying that the place where God rules is coming near, but that God's royal authority is about to dawn, and is in fact dawning in Jesus' own ministry. Moreover, the Aramaic term we translate as "heaven," literally a plural form meaning "heavens," was often used as a circumlocution for God, much as my grandmother used to say "Good heavens!" rather than "Good God!"

"So when Jesus said "the malkuta dishmaya has come near," he didn't mean that the kingdom of the "the place we go when we die" has come near, but rather that God's kingly authority was at hand. Jesus proclaimed the reign of God and demonstrated its presence through doing mighty deeds, such as healings and exorcisms."

From this we are able to see that to proclaim the kingdom of God is not to talk about the kingdom, but to bring about the kingdom of God. It is through the Word of the gospel that God's kingdom is manifested. This is the reason that the kingdom "does not come with observation" (Luke 17:20), and why the kingdom is not like the kingdoms of the world which are manifested through external force and works, that is, this is because God's kingdom comes through simple words coming out of human mouths that enter our ears and pierce our hearts. The kingdom of God is not manifested in works but in faith in God's Word. But we should not be led by this to believe that God's kingdom remains merely a "word-event" (Ebeling), rather, as we see in John 17, God's Word enters hearts and sanctifies in the world. One of my favorite depictions of this is in the parable of the sower, where the "Word of the kingdom," τον λόγον τῆς βασιλείας (Matt. 13:19), which is the seed, is sown in peoples' hearts. Of the seed that is sown in the good soil we read: "Those in the good ground, these are the ones who in a right and good heart, hearing the Word, they hold it and bear fruit in patience" (Luke 8:15). The kingdom of God is not in works or force but in the seed, the Word of God, coming into our hearts and when, through God's grace, hearing this Word and holding it fast, the seed grows and sprouts forth in good works. In this one verse we hear the entirety of God's gospel and the Christian's life--God's Word, faith, love, fruits-- all organically connected through the working of God's Word, that is, the λόγον τῆς βασιλείας.

We see from this that works are not the kingdom of God, but are reflections of the kingdom of God, that is, they are fruits of the kingdom of God; we produce "the fruits of it [the kingdom]," τους καρπους αὐτῆς (Matt. 21:43). The fruits of the kingdom of God are no more the kingdom of God itself than the fruit of the Spirit are the Spirit himself, rather, the fruits express that God's kingdom is powerfully at work in the lives of believers. The exception to this is when external works are inextricably connected in witness' minds with the message of the gospel. Notable examples of this would be mission work where acts of love are connected in peoples' minds with the Word of love; In the case of the Martyrs where people witnessed the hope that the Martyrs held in the Word of God, even in the face of death; and most notably, when the Centurian at Christ's crucifixion, awed by what he saw of Christ's obedience, could declare "Truly this man was the Son of God!" (Mark 15:39). These are all examples of Jesus' famous phrase: "By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35).

We see from all this that a spatial understanding of two kingdoms is a foreign concept to the New Testament. This is not to say that Luther's spatial construction was wrong, on the contrary, it was very correct and biblically so. It is just that the New Testament does not use "kindom language" to denote a strong separation between our horizontal life and our vertical life. We do see some parallels, though, that Luther no doubt intended to emphasize. We see from the kingdom language that the kingdom of God comes to us, not we to it; we do not, by means of the kingdom of God try and escape this world, but rather, the kingdom comes to us in our daily life and feeds and empowers us, and we, clinging to this Word, go out into the world and serve our neighbor to the glory of God. The lack of a spatial character concerning the kingdom of God in fact helps us to affirm the worldly order; we see from John that, while Jesus wanted to make sure we were not of the world, but of the truth, he still sends us into the world, to engage it. This essential aspect to the kingdom of God, which Luther was so concerned about, is not neccisarily protected by over emphasizing a distinction between the vertical and the horizontal, but more correctly in relfecting the character of the Incarnation of Christ, where Christ came into the world in complete obedience to the Father and established and affirmed peace, justice, offices, and institutions. Jesus prays that the Apostles' role in the world would be a reflection of what his role (minus the Atonement, of course) was in the world. "They are not of the world, even as (καθως) I am not of the world" (John 17:16). "As You have sent (ἀπέστειλας) Me into the world," Jesus prays, "I also have sent (ἀπέστειλα) them into the world" (John 17:18). "For the Words which You gave to Me, I have given to them" (John 17:8). "I sanctify Myself for them, that they also may be sanctified in Truth" (John 17:19). "I have given them the glory which You have given Me, that they may be one, as We are One: I in them, and You in Me, that they may be perfected in one; and that the world may know that You sent Me and loved them, even as You loved Me" (John 17:22-23). We see here not a strict separation of vertical and horizontal, but rather a Christological depiction of God's reign through the Word of the gospel, where our obeidence to the Logos in the world is a reflection of Christ's own obedience to the Father in the world.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

it is imperative to realize that we are either members of the kongdom oo GOD OR THE kingdom of the world the devil and our own flesh and that a spiritual war is being waged at this time . we can not avoid the conflict. By doing those things which Jesus instructed us to do ,we make the kingdom of God a better example for those on the other side. Tghrough Jesus it could be opossible that we cann avoid the calamities found in the book of revelation as the world moves closer to a return to eden. with the help of the HOLY SPIRIT and JESUS this can be achieved