(Pulling the Future into the Present and Previewing the Future in the Present)
The Kingdom of God has been one of the dominant topics of New Testament study in this century. The reason is obvious. Many scholars, both conservative and critical, regard the kingdom of God as “the central theme” of Jesus’ public proclamation.1 In fact, a plethora of monographs has poured forth since Johannes Weiss and Albert Schweitzer made the case that Jesus’ teaching was profoundly Jewish, drenched in intense eschatological hope.2 This new view contended against nineteenth century views, which moralized the kingdom and made it palatable to modern taste by arguing it was merely an expression of ethical sensitivity raised up in the hearts of men. In contrast, Weiss and Schweitzer argued that Jesus’ claim for the kingdom anticipated God’s stark intervention in the very near future that would reshape the creation. The view became known as “consistent,” “thorough-going” or “imminent” eschatology.
For Weiss, the kingdom was purely religious, not ethical; purely future, not present in any way. The Kingdom would be God’s final miracle with Jesus functioning in his current ministry as Messias designatus.3 For Weiss, Jesus believed that he would one day become the Son of Man. At first, Jesus believed that this would occur during his lifetime, and later in his ministry, he anticipated it to come shortly after His death.4 It is a heritage that Jesus believed he possessed, though he had not yet entered into it.
For Schweitzer, Jesus expected the end to come at first in his ministry. As he sent out the twelve in mission (Matthew 10:23), he believed that before they finished their tour of the cities of Israel, the Son of Man would come and bring the kingdom. Its appearance would mean the end of the present age, and he would be transformed into the Son of Man. When the disciples returned from their mission without this taking place, Jesus’ hopes of the end changed. It would take suffering, his own suffering, for the Kingdom to come.5 His death would bring the Kingdom.
Though very different than Schweitzer, the oldest dispensationalists also stressed the Jewish roots of kingdom hope and placed its ultimate expression, as originally expressed through the hope of Israel’s scriptures, strictly in the future, what they referred to as the “kingdom of heaven.” Whatever relationship Jesus’ work in the present had to the kingdom, it was part of a previously unrevealed “mystery” that made its current expression something distinct from what had been promised to Israel and distinct from what was to come one day in fulfillment. This distinction between what would happen for Israel one day and what happens to the church today was a major element in the traditional dispensational distinction between Israel and the church in the plan of God. However, in the middle of this century, that clear distinction was somewhat blurred, though how it worked precisely was never agreed to or clearly set forth as four separate views were espoused.6 Unlike Schweitzer, these dispensationalists, saw no “error” or “change” in Jesus’ understanding, but like him they regarded the promise of the future to be so rooted in Jewish hope and so grand in its scale that nothing Jesus did currently could be seen as the fulfillment of that great promise of old. For both classical and revised dispensationalists, the mystery introduced into the kingdom program, conceived in various ways in this century, represented an “intercalation” in the kingdom program of God, distinct from the hope given to Israel. So throughout this century, the idea that kingdom hope was richly Jewish and pointed strongly, if not exclusively, to the future has been prominent in New Testament theology, whether conservative or not.7 As we shall see, this emphasis on the future form of the kingdom is well grounded in biblical hope.
Other views also have emerged in this century. Two approaches were like the nineteenth century “romanticized” efforts to redefine the kingdom in ways moderns could embrace. So efforts were made to demyhtologize Jesus’ image of the apocalyptic Kingdom into either an existential claim for a crisis decision (Bultmann) or to turn kingdom language into a mere metaphorical symbol of hope and transformation (Wilder and the later Perrin).8 Both of these attempts, representing more liberal readings of Scripture, tried to redeem the kingdom concept by redefining it. However, two other approaches seriously sought to engage the biblical text and assess the model Weiss and Schweitzer introduced. These two other main views of the kingdom in this century have reacted to the “strictly future” model of the kingdom in two very diverse ways. One view, associated with C. H. Dodd, opted for a reading that the Kingdom hope was totally realized in Jesus’ ministry.9 This became known as “realized” eschatology. The other, rooted in the work of Werner Kümmel, R. H. Fuller, and Joachim Jeremias, argued that the view of the kingdom had both present and future elements.10 This became known as the “already/not yet” view of the kingdom or “eschatology in the process of realization.” In fact, Jeremias in his conclusion to his volume on the parables closes this way, “In attempting to recover the original significance of the parables, one thing above all becomes evident: it is that all the parables of Jesus compel his hearers to come to a decision about his person and mission. For they all are full of ‘the secret of the Kingdom of God’ (Mark 4.11), that is to say, the recognition of ‘an eschatology in the process of realization.’ The hour of fulfillment is come, that is the urgent note that sounds through them all.”11 This view was made famous in evangelical circles by George Ladd.12 It is probably the most prominent view currently in New Testament circles at large, both conservative and critical. It is known as “inaugurated” eschatology.13 The kingdom was inaugurated or was dawning in Jesus’ words and deeds, but its consummation was yet future. As we shall see, there are also good reasons why this view is held.
I lay out this “map” of views at the start, because the issue of what the kingdom is, when it begins, and how it proceeds have been the key questions in this century. But treating the theology of the kingdom involves far more than these questions, as we hope to show and survey. In fact, I hope to consider a series of issues tied to the kingdom. They include: (1) Linguistics and the Kingdom in Jewish Expectation: A Static or Tensive Symbol; (2) Kingdom as Apocalyptic (Imminence; Remaking of This World Into The Age to Come or Renewing This World in This History or Both); (3) Kingdom: Present, Future, or Both?; (4) Defining the Kingdom: “Dynamic”–God’s Powerful Presence in Rule (God in Strength) or “Realm” (Church, Israel, World, or “Eschatological”) or All the Above; (5) The Kingdom and Ethics; (6) Beyond the Term Kingdom (Messiah, Spirit, Son of Man, Salvation, Gospel, Overcoming Satan and Sin); (7) Kingdom outside the Gospels (Why Is The Term Less Prevalent?); and (8) So What?: The Kingdom and Today. So not only is the kingdom theme an important New Testament concept generating a rich history of discussion, it is also one of the most complex topics in Scripture.
When Jesus used the expression “kingdom of God,” how much of its meaning can we assume he and his audience shared? This becomes an important question because the expression itself, surprisingly, is totally absent in the Hebrew Scriptures.14 Here is a case where the study of an idea has to move past a study of the set phrase to get anywhere. The idea, however, is more frequent.15 Yahweh is King (1 Sam 12:12; Ps. 24:10; Is. 33:22; Zeph. 3:15; Zech. 14:16-17). He rules over Israel (Exod. 15:18; Num. 23:21; Deut. 33:5; Is. 43:15). He rules over the earth or the creation (2 Kings 19:15; Is. 6:5; Jer. 46:18; Ps. 29:10; 47:2; 93; 96:10; 145:11, 13). He possesses a royal throne (Ps. 9:4; 45:6; 47:8; Is. 6:1; 66:1; Ezek 1:26). His reign is ongoing (Ps. 10:16; 146:10; Is. 24:23). Rule or kingship is His (Ps. 22:28). It is primarily God’s special relationship to Israel that is in view here as the Son of David is said to sit on Yahweh’s throne (1 Chron 17:14; 28:5; 29:23; 2 Chron 9:8; 13:8). When Israel was overrun by the nations, a longing existed that one day God would reestablish his rule on behalf of his people and show his comprehensive sovereignty to all humanity. After all, God had committed himself to David concerning a dynasty of duration (2 Sam. 7:13). It is here that the hope of a future kingdom of God, made not with hands, came to be contrasted with the kingdoms of men in Daniel 2 and 7. It is in the context of such expectation that Jesus used the term “kingdom of God.” What was hoped for was something that had existed in the past, but only as a mere glimpse of what had been promised–a rule to come involving total peace for God’s people. In sum, Kingdom hope by the time of the Babylonian captivity is driven forward by the vision of the fullness of God’s rule showing up one day. It was to this hope that Jesus preached.
Such a hope had been nurtured in some circles of second temple Judaism.16 The kingdom became linked (sometimes) to the messianic hope, but (always) to judgment of the nations, and vindication of the saints. Some Jewish documents, content with the current arrangement, do not reflect any such hope. The concept is expressed with some variety, but central to its expression is that God will assert his comprehensive rule (1 Enoch 9:4-5; 12:3; 25; 27:3; 81:3). God’s powerful presence will involve the removal of Satan’s influence (Assumption of Moses 7–10). He will destroy his enemies and free his people. These enemies are described in both earthly terms, like the Romans in Psalms of Solomon 17–18 and 2 Baruch 36-40, and in spiritual terms, where Belial stands among the evil forces who will be defeated (1QS 3–4). Often the coming of the kingdom was seen as preceded by a period of intense upheaval and tribulation (Sib. Or. 3:796-808; 2 Bar. 70:2-8; 4 Ezra 6:24; 9:1-12; 13:29-31; 1QM 12:9; 19:1-2). The cry of the prayer of 2 Macc. 1:24-29 summarizes well the hope of deliverance. The call was for God to deliver and vindicate his people. The text of Psalms of Solomon 17–18 gives the most detailed expression of messianic hope in all the texts, though the idea of kingdom in this period of Judaism did not always entail a messianic hope.17 In fact, sometimes the Messiah is seen in very earthly terms as in the Psalms of Solomon, while in other texts, he clearly possesses a more transcendent power (1 Enoch 37–71) or has a seeming mix of the two (4 Ezra 7:28-29; 12:32-34; 13:26). Thus, associated with the consistent idea of God’s coming comprehensive and vindicating rule for his people is a complex and varying array of sub-themes tied to the kingdom’s coming. In Judaism, there was no unified view of the kingdom beyond the hope of God’s powerful coming and vindication. It is important to appreciate that it is into this somewhat confused backdrop that Jesus preached this hope.
This complex background raises the question could Jesus use the phrase and really be understood? More importantly, in presenting his understanding of the idea represented in the kingdom could he assume an understanding of the term by his audience? Given the paucity of Old Testament use of the phrase and the variety of details attached to the hope within Judaism, Jesus needed to explain his usage in order to be clear. It is this complexity that raises the issue of whether Jesus’ use of the term was “static” (steno) or “tensive.” 18 Norman Perrin posed two options. Did Jesus use the term one way all the time with a fixed referent (steno)? Or was his use of the term something that he used with symbolic force but that could not be contained in one referent alone (tensive)? We opt for a third possibility, did Jesus’ use operate within a fixed parameter, which he filled with a variety of detail because of the richness of the base concept he was defining and detailing (tensive yet with a steno-like base)?19 How one approaches Jesus’ terminology will impact how one reads it.
Four factors favor this third option. First, the number of and variety within the gospel kingdom sayings placed alongside the paucity of older references in the Hebrew Scriptures suggests that Jesus is developing the concept along additional lines from what the Old Testament taught. However, Jesus’ respect for that revelation means that he is not altering the concept, but developing and complementing it. We hope to show the variety within his teaching that validates this point. Second, the very consistency of the fundamental image within Judaism means that a basic understanding of kingdom did exist on which Jesus could build. It is God’s kingdom and rule that is presented as the hope. The sheer number of texts that discuss judgment and vindication under this theme both in Scripture and in later Judaism show that Jesus works with a given understanding at its base. Reflection taking place within Second Temple Judaism represented attempts to put the hope of Scripture together in terms of the details. Jesus both accepts and rejects elements of these reflections. Third, this idea that Jesus works with a rarely used Old Testament term and yet develops it using larger categories of scriptural teaching has precedent elsewhere in his own use. Jesus does the same type of thing with the Son of Man concept. That description of a human invested with eschatological authority appears in Daniel 7 (note the conceptual overlap with the kingdom theme–Dan. 7 is a key kingdom text). Jesus takes this one image and uses it as a collection point for his christology. In the same way, Jesus takes the kingdom concept and uses it as a collection point for both soteriology and eschatology.20 Fourth, the very confusion of detail within Judaism of Jesus’ time demanded that he take this type of approach to the concept. Here was a phrase that basically did not exist in the Old Testament. However, by Jesus’ time, multiple concepts swirled around it, even though its basic meaning was well established. The phrase clearly sought to summarize a major strand of Jewish hope, yet it needed defining. Its absence in the Old Testament gave Jesus room to make it a helpful synthesizing concept. Its familiarity and importance within Judaism, because of the hope it encapsulated, made it a key term to nail down. The very diversity in its contemporary usage required that Jesus explain and develop the term. Thus, as we turn to Jesus’ use, we can expect that on the one hand he was referring to a hope his audience understood in its most basic terms, but something that also needed more detail and development.
Here is the major thesis of this essay. Jesus’ use of the term kingdom is tensive with a stable base. In each of the categories we shall examine it will be shown that Jesus’ use is complex and must be examined one text at a time. Choices of either-or in his usage inevitably err in narrowing the depth of Jesus’ usage. To make the kingdom a static technical term for every use is to miss the variety of nuances he uses within the stable base meaning he gives.
As a synthetic term for scriptural hope, two issues are tied to the question of the Kingdom and apocalyptic hope.21 First, is the question of imminence. Did Jesus expect the end in his lifetime as Weiss and Schweitzer argued? Those who argue for imminence either say that Jesus was wrong (Schweitzer, Weiss) or that the temple’s destruction in AD 70 is what Jesus meant all along as an event of decisive, eschatological vindication (Wright, McKnight). The second problem associated with the kingdom is whether the term looks to a remade “new age” or to a continuation emerging within this history. We tackle these questions in reverse order. We need to start here, because understanding the scope of Jesus’ claim and how it works sets the stage for understanding how the gospels see the Kingdom.
The problem concerning a remade new age or an eschaton within this history has sometimes been highlighted by pointing out the difference in Old Testament hope between prophetic-eschatological expectation and apocalyptic-eschatological hope.22 Prophetic hope is defined in terms of God’s work within history, usually tied to God’s raising up a delivering regal figure for Israel. Apocalyptic hope is defined as God’s powerful work manifesting itself in an “in-breaking” from outside into normal history. Apocalyptic hope entails cosmic change, the presence of a transcendent like figure, and the backdrop of an almost dualistic conflict with the cosmic forces of evil.23 In sum, the Messiah represents prophetic-eschatological hope, while the “one like the Son of Man” is more apocalyptic.
The interesting feature in Jesus’ kingdom teaching is that both strands are present, though it appears that the more eschatological features dominate. The more apocalyptic features include the imagery of the Son of Man coming on the clouds, drawn directly from Dan. 7:13 (Mark 13:26 par.), along with the cosmic disturbances associated with his coming (Mark 13:24-25 par.).24 Here is divine judgment crashing the earthly party down below, an in-breaking of God’s authority. This imagery is significant, for it is this return that brings judgment and allows the vindicated righteous to “inherit the Kingdom” (Matt. 25:34). Here Kingdom and returning Son of Man are linked. Here are standard Jewish apocalyptic themes of the Kingdom. The image of a gathering up for a comprehensive judgment and of a bridegroom coming who shuts some out also have these overtones (Matt. 25:1-13, 31-46). Other imagery having a catastrophic, apocalyptic feel include the comparisons of the judgment with the Flood (Luke 17:26-27; Matthew 24:37-39) and Sodom and Gomorrah (Luke 17:28-29). The Son of Man’s sudden coming is compared to lightening, revealing the “shock” of the coming (Luke 17:24; Matthew 24:27).
Other images of the Kingdom in the future are harder to classify. The reversal of suffering or oppression, as reflected in the promises of the Beatitudes, could fit either emphasis, as do their hopes of reward (Matt. 5:3-10). The image of the rejoicing and fellowship at the banquet table also could belong in either scheme (Matt. 8:11-12; Lk. 14:15-24; 22:16-18). One text seems to indicate that Israel is still very much in view in the plan, as the Twelve will judge the twelve tribes of Israel (Luke 22:30). In addition, the selection of the Twelve has been seen by many New Testament scholars as an indication that what Jesus was working for was a restoration of the nation, preparing them for the era of “regeneration” (Matt. 19:28).25
On the other hand, some teaching appears to shy away from the more overt apocalyptic themes of Judaism. Jesus specifically denies that signs accompany the time of the Kingdom’s appearing (Luke 17:20-21), though he does indicate that that general signs exist in the age that should keep one watching. Such signs indicate that God is at work (Luke 12:54-56; Mark 13:1-38; esp. vv. 28-31). Jesus explicitly refuses to name an exact time for his return, precluding us from excessive calendrical calculating (Mark 13:32 par.).
Other texts are decidedly more eschatological and lack apocalyptic features. The parables of the Sower, Mustard Seed, Leaven, and Husbandmen appear to place Kingdom preaching and presence as having invaded this history with no “apocalyptic” feel at all, operating more like a covert CIA operation, so unnoticed that it is hardly appreciated as the presence of the Kingdom program at all. Nevertheless one day what has been started will reach a point of covering the whole. These parables, explicitly presented as revealing a “mystery,” show how Jesus’ Kingdom teaching spans more than a single catastrophic event or a given moment. It is here that Jesus makes his distinctive contribution, by foreseeing a long-running program that was declared and initiated in his teaching and work, but that will one day culminate in a comprehensive judgment. It is to this goal that the Kingdom is always headed. Thus the emphasis in the Kingdom teaching of the gospels is always aimed toward this fully restorative future. In this sense, Jesus’ teaching is at one with the traditional Jewish hope. The emphasis explains why the disciples after spending years with Jesus listening to him teach about the Kingdom could ask after his resurrection if now was the time he was restoring the Kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6). Nothing in what Jesus had taught them had dissuaded them from this aspect of the hope. And in equally characteristic style, Jesus replied not with a time or a date nor a correction, but with an emphasis on our current call in light of that certain future.
It is the juxtaposition of these various strands that show how eclectic and synthetic, even creative, Jesus’ Kingdom teaching is. Jesus did preach a hope Jews could recognize, but he also preached a whole lot more. He embraced strands of Jewish apocalyptic hope, but did not merely parrot these themes. The sense of these texts as a whole is that Jesus works both within this history and yet will reshape it one day. But how soon, O Lord?
It is here that three texts have dominated the discussion about how imminent the kingdom was in Jesus’ view. Those who wish to credit Jesus with a view of imminence within a generation or so of his coming point to these texts as decisive. On the other hand, one text within the Olivet Discourse warns us not to make a judgment before all the sayings are considered. The three “imminent” texts are: Matthew 10:23, which notes that before the disciples finish going through all the cities of Jerusalem, the Son of Man will come; Mark 9:1, which explains that before some of the disciples die, they will see “the Kingdom of God come in power;”26 and Mark 13:30=Matt. 24:34, which argues that “this generation” will not pass away until “all these things” take place.
Mark 9:1 is often explained by appealing to the Transfiguration as the event alluded to, a moment when the inner circle saw a sneak preview of Jesus’ Kingdom glory. Though some complain that Jesus would hardly refer to an event six days or so hence against a time frame of the disciples’ death, the fact is only “some” did see this glimpse of glory. That event, and the gospels’ juxtaposition of Transfiguration with the saying, seem to commend this reading.
The case for imminence surrounding Matthew 10:23 may be a case of an overly literal reading. The expression “finish going through all the cities of Israel” may mean nothing more than “completing your mission to Israel.” In other words, they are to continue pursuing the nation until the Son of Man returns. When he does come, they will still be engaged in that calling. As we shall see in a moment, this will fit with something Jesus says at Olivet.
Mark 13:30=Matt. 24:34 is the most difficult saying. The initial impression many gain from the text is that all these Olivet events are predicted to happen by the end of “this generation,” so the Son of Man’s return is predicted within the disciples’ lifetime. However, as Don Carson has pointed out, to have the remark about this generation and “all these things” include the event of the return would be contradictory to earlier imagery about the coming being obvious like lightening, as well as not fitting the precursor “budding leaf” imagery of the Marcan context.27 In other words, the remarks about the Son of Man’s appearing, given the seemingly obvious cosmic signs that accompany it, mark that event as excluded in the “leaf” remark of the parable which is pointing to that which indicates the approach of the end, not its conclusion. This would mean that “all these things” refer to those events described before we get to the cosmic signs. Those events will happen within a generation, and that was just as it was, given the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 as a sign of the end.
One text in the same context as the Mark 13:30 generation text also points to the fact that Jesus did not teach the Kingdom would come within the generation of the disciples. It is Mark 13:10=Matthew 24:14. Here Jesus notes that before the end comes, the “gospel of the Kingdom” (Matt.) will be preached in all the world. Thus, a mission that would take some time seems to be in view in this remark.
So we argue that Jesus did draw on the apocalyptic-eschatological imagery of Judaism for his general portrait of the Kingdom, but he also added new imagery to that portrait. Jesus’ teaching stressed where the Kingdom was headed in the future. It would be a time when God would vindicate his people through the Son of Man and judge the nations. But other texts hint that this is merely the end of the story. Jesus refused to predict the time of the end. Neither did he preach imminence in such a way as to declare it would come within the generation of the disciples. Signs in their lifetime did and would indicate its approach, but the times and seasons for its coming were known only to the Father.
So Jesus’ teaching had roots in Judaism, but what was fresh about his teaching? This brings us to the topic of when the Kingdom comes.
When it comes to the use of the term “Kingdom,” Caragounis has numbered its use with “of God,” “of the Heavens,”28 and by itself.29 Kingdom of God appears five times in Matthew, fourteen times in Mark, thirty-two times in Luke and twice in John. Kingdom by itself occurs thirteen times in Matthew, seven times in Luke and three times in John, while being absent in Mark. When one puts all the uses together, Kingdom appears fifty times in Matthew, fourteen times in Mark, thirty-nine times in Luke, and five times in John.
C. H. Dodd notwithstanding, the bulk of the uses look to the future consummation of the Kingdom, to the final judgment, the coming of the Son of Man, to being seated at the banquet table in an era of joy and fellowship, to a period when the Kingdom is received or inherited or prepared.30 The kingdom Jesus preached was a goal of God’s promise and hope that brought deliverance and vindication through the working of God’s power. But key to the groundwork for that golden age was the work of one in whom and through whom God was working and would work. It is in this context that the issue of the presence of the Kingdom since the time of Jesus’ ministry must be raised. The Kingdom as future is clear in Jesus’ teaching, but is there any sense in which it can be said to have begun? If it has begun, then what does that mean for understanding the Kingdom in the New Testament and in its potential presence today?
On one point all are agreed. Jesus’ message was about the Kingdom. He preached the arrival of the messianic age and its activity of deliverance, contrasting the greatness of the Kingdom era with the era of the Baptist, which seemingly had now passed (Luke 4:16-30; Luke 7:22-23, 28 par; 16:16; Matt. 11:12-14).
Some texts highlight the Kingdom’s approach or proximity (Mark 1:15; Luke 10:9, 11).31 The parable of the Sower makes it clear that it is the Word about the Kingdom that is presently sowed (Matt. 13:19). The word is compared to seed. The image extends in other parables to include the image of a Mustard Seed planted. At the start, it is a tiny seed, but ends up as a tree where birds can rest. This cannot be a reference to the apocalyptic Kingdom of the end, for that Kingdom is decidedly great and comprehensive from its appearing with the Son of Man. Nor can it be the theocratic Kingdom as seen in Old Testament declarations of God’s rule, for that cosmic, total rule also has been comprehensive from its inception. What is in view here is the launching of the eschatological Kingdom, which surprisingly is “breaking-in” in miniscule form. So this parable is our first clue that a “mystery” of the Kingdom involves its seemingly insignificant start in the present with the “planting” Jesus’ word about it brings. The parable of the Leaven makes the same point in distinct imagery.
Equally suggestive about the significance of Jesus’ present activity for the presence of the Kingdom are the images of Jesus as a bridegroom (Mark 2:18-22 par.), a shepherd (Matt 9:36 par; 10:6; Luke 12:32, see Ezek 34), and as a harvester sending messengers out to reap the harvest (Matt. 9:37-38; Luke 10:1-2), all eschatological images. All of this suggests that if the Kingdom has not come, it is very, very close. It is so close that what the disciples are experiencing is what prophets and kings longed to experience, a clear allusion to the arrival of hoped for promise (Luke 10:23-24 par.). The offer of forgiveness Jesus declares as present is one of the great hoped for blessings of the new era (Jer. 31:31-33; Mark 2:5; Luke 7:36-50; 19:1-10).
At the center of all of this activity was Jesus. That Jesus could interpret Torah and even explain its scope, so that religious practice could change pointed to the arrival of a new era (Matthew 5:21-48; Mark 7:1-23). Now it is true that not all the texts I have cited mention the Kingdom, but most do. The others are describing the delivering and teaching activity of the one through whom the promise comes. In Judaism, the Kingdom was about the age to come or the messianic era. Remember that in the Hebrew Scriptures the term Kingdom of God does not appear, though it is a topic of many other related themes. So the work of the Messiah would seemingly qualify as Kingdom work, especially given teaching in the parables that the Kingdom is being planted in Jesus’ teaching. The fact that this teaching is “new” or “mystery” does not alter the fact that it is Kingdom teaching connected to the original promise of the Kingdom. That the Kingdom is not delayed because of Israel’s rejection is shown in the parable of the Great Banquet (Luke 14:15-24). Here the refusal to come to the celebration when it is announced does not lead to the postponing of the banquet, but to the inviting of others to fill it. Though banquet imagery is normally looking to the future in Jesus’ teaching, in this case it is his preaching and the invitation to experience blessing starting now that is in view. These texts show that at the heart of the Kingdom is the mediating of promised blessing and deliverance, an exercise of divine power and authority through a given Chosen, Anointed one, who also acts with unique authority.
In the talk about the presence of the Kingdom, however, it is two texts that stand out the most in the discussion. They are Matt. 12:28=Luke 11:20 and Luke 17:21. It is in these texts that two key elements of the kingdom surface, one already made obvious by our survey, the other focusing on a key element that makes deliverance possible.
In Luke 17:20-21, Jesus declares that one need not go on a search for signs to find the Kingdom. This reinforces a point he has already raised in his teaching in the rebuke about being able to read the weather but not the signs of the times (Luke 12:54-56 par.). It also parallels the warning about the sign of his preaching being the only sign this wicked generation must respond to (Luke 11:29-32 par.). The Kingdom does not come, in this phase, with such heavenly portents. Rather it is “in your midst.” With all due respect to the NIV, the rendering is surely not “within you.”32 Though linguistically ejntov" can have such a meaning and most often does, Jesus is not speaking of some potential within each person’s heart to establish the Kingdom. This reading sounds like the romantic notions of nineteenth century scholars on the Kingdom. This personalized reading is highly unlikely because Jesus’ audience is made up of Pharisees. Such heart potential for them does not exist without a powerful work of God and the effect of his transforming presence. Rather, the point is that the Kingdom, in a sense, is right in front of their face in Jesus. It is “in their midst” or “in their reach” in that the hunt for that which represents the Kingdom’s presence and authority stands before them.33 That Jesus is speaking of the present and not the future becomes clear when the present tense of v. 21 is contrasted to the future perspective of vv. 22-37. Such a reading highlights how Jesus is placed at the hub of Kingdom activity and fits with all the themes pointing in this direction just noted above.
The second text is a famous passage where Jesus is defending himself against the charge that he casts out demons by the power of Beelzebul. He replies. “If I cast out demons by the Spirit of God (Matt.)/finger of God (Lk), then the Kingdom of God approaches or has come upon (e[fqasen) upon you.” Is Jesus noting that the Kingdom has come close to overtaking them or that it has come? The key here is the aorist form of the verb fqavnw. It appears in the gospels only in this passage. In 1 Thess. 4:15 it means “to anticipate.” However, in all its other aorist uses it has the meaning of “has arrived” or “has reached” (Rom. 9:31; 2 Cor. 10:14; 1 Thess. 2:16; Phil. 3:16). It is not synonymous to the earlier declaration that the Kingdom of God has drawn near, using h[ggiken.34 It is a stronger saying than that the Kingdom is near. Contextually a real exercise of divine power is being defended as visibly present. The image is reinforced immediately in both contexts by the parable of a man overcoming a strong man and plundering his possessions. Jesus is describing what is taking place, not what has approached. The point is that the miracles are a picture of God’s authority and rule working through Jesus to defeat Satan. In other words, the Jewish claim that Jesus does miracles by Satanic authority could not be more incorrect.
This saying is significant for a series of reasons. First, it shows that the Kingdom is about divine deliverance through Jesus in the releasing of authority and power that overcomes the presence and influence of Satan. It is an “invasion” of a realm this evil one seemingly controls. Jesus is able to exercise such authority now. Jesus’ ministry means Satan’s defeat and the arriving of the Kingdom. Though the Kingdom means ultimately a much more comprehensive exercise of power, as the future Kingdom sayings show, it is operative now in the work of deliverance Jesus’ miracles portray. A second point is also important. The miracles themselves are not the point, but what they portray is. A study of Jesus’ ministry shows how he worked hard to deflect excessive attention being drawn to the miracles. The miracles were “signs,” as the Johannine perspective argues. They painted in audio-visual terms the presence of Jesus’ authority and victory over Satan. Such power had to be exercised and established if deliverance were to take place. So here lies the third point. This passage shows the injection of an apocalyptic type theme again into Jesus’ Kingdom teaching. The Kingdom manifests itself as part of a cosmic battle, expressed in dualistic terms, in which God through Jesus is defeating Satan, who himself is doing all he can to keep humanity opposed to God. With the coming of Jesus and the Kingdom inaugurated, eschatology has entered into the present. Future hope dawns as present reality, but with much more reality to come.
The importance of this text can be highlighted by making an observation about its form as a miracle story-pronouncement account. Unlike most miracle accounts which spend most of their time on the details of the miracle and little time on the reaction, this account gives one verse to the healing and then spends all its time on the reaction, which itself is a commentary on the significance of Jesus’ miracles as a unit. What emerges is that the Kingdom is ultimately about God’s work to redeem humanity according to his promise. The Kingdom is God’s ultimate response to the grip Satan has on that needy humanity. The Kingdom’s coming in Jesus’ ministry is the inaugurating of that reversal and a manifesting of delivering power. The miracles are not the point, but serve as evidence for and an illustration of a far more comprehensive deliverance that one day will extend across the entire creation. That is in part why the preaching of the Kingdom was also called “good news.” Jesus’ ministry preached and presented a Kingdom hope. That hope had made an appearance through Jesus in the exercise of divine power that served as a kind of cosmic email and invitation to share in what God was doing through this chosen one.
So the Kingdom teaching of Jesus involved declarations about both his present ministry and the future tied to it. A Kingdom long viewed as strictly future and greatly anticipated was being pulled into the present and made initially available in an exercise of redemptive power that showed that the struggle was not merely with flesh and blood, but with principalities and powers. His Kingdom, again to use the language of John’s gospel, was not of this world, though it was breaking into that world. Though it would come in comprehensive power one day, it was invading now in Jesus. Humanity could experience that victory over Satan, both now and in the age to come.
All of this explains a remark that John the Baptist made about “the stronger one to come.” Though the remark does not invoke Kingdom imagery directly; it does invoke messianic imagery and is a part of a ministry where he was preparing people for the coming of the Lord and the Kingdom’s approach. How would one know that Messiah had come (and thus that this Kingdom promise was arriving)? Luke 3:15-17 answers the question. John explains that he was not the Christ, but that the Christ’s coming would be marked out by a baptism different from his own, one not with water but with Spirit and fire. So the new era would be marked by a dispensing of the Spirit, a dispersal of enablement and a mark of incorporation into the redeemed community of God. The Kingdom is ultimately future, but its formation began with the powerful preaching and work of Jesus drawing citizens to the new rule he was in the process of establishing.
The remaining issues I shall cover more quickly as the basic foundation is now laid to address them. The texts already covered on the presence of the Kingdom make it clear that the Kingdom can be defined in terms of the dynamic or active presence of God’s power and authority. God’s rule is expressed in terms of the exercise of his authority. Thus, Jesus’ miracles evidence the in-breaking of God’s authority, the presence of his power. Jesus’ presence means the Kingdom’s presence. We would also suggest that the mediation of the Spirit through Jesus is evidence of the presence of this rule, as the giving of the Spirit is a key, messianic work. This idea is not explicit in the gospel material, but it will show up in Acts and the epistles. Most New Testament scholars accept this “dynamic” element as central to Jesus’ teaching.35
More discussed is the issue of realm.36 This problem is exceedingly complex, for once again Jesus’ use shows a variety of contexts. First, several texts indicate that Israel or activity associated with Israel are an element in Kingdom teaching. I already have noted the choosing of the Twelve (Matt. 10:2-4 par.), and Jesus’ remark about the disciples sitting on the twelve thrones over Israel (Matt. 22:28-30 par.). Other texts indicate that the disciples, after hearing all of Jesus’ teaching, still expected a role for the nation of Israel. Acts 1:6 has the disciples ask if Jesus would now be restoring the Kingdom to Israel. Jesus, though he does not directly answer the question of when, does not reject the premise of the question. In fact, two chapters later in Acts 3:21, Peter makes the point that the “times of refreshing” that Jesus will bring on his return, a Kingdom theme, are already described in the Scripture.37 Thus, the eschatological dimensions of the Kingdom hope emerging from the Old Testament seem affirmed in this Spirit inspired speech. One final text is associated with the celebratory banquet imagery. When Jesus refuses the wine at the last supper and notes that he will not partake of the Passover again until he does so in the context of fulfillment in the Kingdom (Luke 22:16-18), he suggests a day when the celebration will commemorate the completion of promise with a celebration rooted in Old Testament expression. Whatever additional elements there are to the Kingdom realm, and there are additional elements as we shall see, they do not preclude an element involving the old Israelite expression of hope.
Other texts suggest the language of gathering to a specific place. Luke 13:28-29 look to people coming from “east and west” to sit at the table with the patriarchs. My only point here is that this is standard Jewish imagery.38 Matthew 8:12 is the parallel. It suggests that the surprising inclusion of Gentiles is in view, but not the entire exclusion of Israel. After all, the disciples represented a remnant of the nation.
Another key set of texts are Matthew 11:12 and Luke 16:16. Many treat these as parallels and point to the Matthean conflict imagery of men seeking to take the Kingdom by violence as key to both texts.39 My own suspicion is that Luke does not parallel Matthew’s conflict imagery here, but points to the persuasion of preaching in his version of the image. However this exegetical debate does not alter the key point for us here, namely, that the kingdom is a “thing” contended over (or preached about), even in the present. The image is of a realm introduced into the world and as an object of contention (and discussion) within it.
Another unusual use is in Luke 23:42-43. Here the thief on the cross asks to be remembered when Jesus comes into his Kingdom. The request, understood in normal Jewish terms, looks to the future. Jesus’ reply brings the future into the present yet again. For he tells the thief that this very day he will be with Jesus in paradise. Though the reply does not use the term Kingdom, the idea of paradise is a part of that hope in Judaism. There is a sense where Jesus reveals a current, cosmic claim and dimension to the Kingdom where it comes to the issue of death. This appears to be another fresh dimension to Jesus’ teaching.
Finally stand the host of texts looking to the judgment of the end, where the Son of Man carries out the eschatological assessment of humanity. I highlight one dimension of one text, the Matthean version of the Wheat and Darnel (Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43). Here Jesus notes the field is “the world.” In that world, good seed has been sown, but the evil one has also sown what has come up as “weeds.” Jesus will not sort them out until the “end of the age.” Now my point here is that the Kingdom, though present in the activity and presence of those sown by Son of Man (Jesus!), makes a claim on all humanity for which each one is one day accountable in the judgment at the end. Thus, there is an aspect of the realm of the Kingdom which extends beyond the believing people of God and makes a claim on all humanity in the world, even from the present “sowing” (i.e., preaching) of the Kingdom.40
Thus, the Kingdom in terms of realm operates at several levels at once, depending on the context. The realm in terms of its comprehensive presence looks to the future and the comprehensive establishment of peace and fellowship, after a purging judgment. This realm appears to includes hopes of old from Israel, and yet it also looks to far more, a comprehensive exercise of authority over the whole of creation, including the blessing of many from outside of Israel.
However, there is also a sense in which we can talk about a realm in the present. First, an operative, but invisible, realm is at work in the community Jesus is forming, as the power and presence of God is at work among those “sown by the Son of Man.” I call it an “invisible” realm because, as the rest of the New Testament indicates, it is a power of God working in the midst of Jesus’ absence and in anticipation of his visible return and rule. It is the community that recognizes and responds to Jesus as Lord, Son of Man, Christ. It is the place where he is Head. Second, there is a “claimed, potential” realm, in that the Kingdom makes a claim on the entirety of humanity in anticipation of its eventual scope.41 That claim is the foundation for the judgment to come. It is a basis for taking the gospel into the world. It justifies the preaching of the gospel of the authoritative Jesus to every tribe and nation. In my own view, it establishes an accountability for every person before the one true God and his chosen One, so that there is only one way to God. In both the invisible presence of God’s authority in the reformed community and the claimed, potential presence of divine authority in the challenge to all to respond to God, the future is pulled into the present by the preaching, presence and challenge of the Son of Man. Responding to him brings one into this new realm, though in other contexts one can speak of entering or inheriting this Kingdom later, when it is ultimately fully realized. The exceptional text with the thief on the cross shows that ultimately what is at stake is eternal presence and fellowship with God in unending and renewed life. This final text represents another foretaste of the ultimate, comprehensive victory to come that will be the Kingdom “fully and coercively” present, the hope that the majority of Kingdom texts in the gospels affirm.
Thus, the Kingdom is about the powerful, even transforming presence of God’s rule through Christ. That rule is expressed today in the community of those whom he “planted,” what became the church. But the Kingdom is bigger than the church. Its presence now is but a precursor to a more substantial presence in the future. Jesus will redeem and judge what is being claimed now, when the authority of the Son of Man will judge humanity and bless those who sit with him at the table. Then the Kingdom will fully show itself with traits the Scripture of Israel had long promised along with features of rule Jesus himself revealed. The Kingdom “invisible”, “claiming and potential”, and “fully and coercively” present in the future summarize the way the issue of realm is treated in Kingdom texts. In other worlds, Kingdom texts treat Israel, the church, the world and the cosmos as a whole, depending on which passage we are considering. Here the “tensive” character of the term Kingdom becomes obvious. The later New Testament did much to fill in the details of what is outlined here in Jesus’ teaching. For Jesus’ teaching set certain trajectories in Kingdom teaching which the rest of New Testament revelation develops.
In the gospels, one final issue remains, namely the connection between righteousness and the Kingdom, or what has been called the Kingdom and ethics. It is to this topic we now turn.
In the end, the transformation associated with the in-breaking of the Kingdom is not merely an abstract exercise in theology or definition. It is designed to impact life. Thus, the connection between Kingdom and living or Kingdom and ethics needs attention.42 In this era, the Kingdom involves the inaugural “in-breaking” of God’s power, presence and rule among a people he has claimed as his own, forming them into a community that looks forward one day to the total in-breaking of his authority expressed throughout the world. Those who are his have acknowledged their need for God and his provision by faith alone. As a result, they have entered into an enduring relationship to God. That relationship entails a call from God on the life of the disciple. Thus, in a sense all aspects of Jesus’ teaching about discipleship involve teaching about the Kingdom and ethics. In sum, what Jesus presents is the idea that the in-breaking of God’s rule into one’s life demands a total response to that rule. However, by means of God’s grace, the disciple is enabled to move into that demand and grow in one’s experience of it. Relationship to that rule is to be more important than family, possessions, vocation, even life itself. Whether Jesus alludes to the fact that his family is made up of those who do God’s will, mentions that one must hate the family for his sake, teaches that possessions are to be given to the poor, or mentions the need to bear one’s cross, he is pointing out that no demand on a person’s soul is greater than the one made by God in the context of his Kingdom program. It is the greatness of the Kingdom that creates the totality of its call for faithfulness.
To develop this area, I wish to examine four themes: faith/repentance, following at all costs from within, imitation in the context of reconciliation, love and service, and reward. I would wish to argue that any treatment of Kingdom that does move into this area has failed to appreciate a major goal of the Kingdom program as seen in the New Testament.
(1) The theme of faith/repentance is seen in two key elements.43 First, there is the preparation that John the Baptist brought in declaring that the Kingdom draws near. This preparation highlighted a preaching a baptism of repentance, a baptism that included a concrete call for turning expressed in practice toward others (Luke 3:10-14). This idea will be taken up more fully when we get to the theme of imitation, but its groundwork was laid in John’s initial, preparatory declaration as an Elijah-like figure. His work involved a call to reconciliation where people were implored to turn back to God. Included within this turning was a bringing of sons back to their fathers and the disobedient back to the wise (Luke 1:16-17). Reconciliation with God shows itself in reconciliation with others.
The second element is Jesus’ teaching that to enter the Kingdom one must be like a child (Matt. 18:2-4). Here there is a humility and dependence that is invoked. In fact, it is humility that defines “greatness” in the Kingdom.44 In this context, it is clear that it is not the Kingdom in the future that is addressed, because the whole of the chapter is looking at relationships in the newly formed community (see Matt. 18:17). Such faith in God extends to a recognition that even daily needs are in his hands and that he will care for his own (Matt. 6:11, 25-34; Luke 11:3; 12:22-31). Faith ultimately is a humble recognition that one needs God and so moves to trust him, relying on his rule and provision. It is in the context of relying on God’s provision that the gospel moves in a direction we are most familiar with through the Pauline emphasis on the work of the cross in relationship to sin. However, one should not forget that alongside that fundamental provision of God comes an enablement of provision and power through the Spirit that changes one’s identity and allows the disciple to live in a way that honors God and reflect sonship with him. In fact, Paul’s burden in Romans 1–8 is to make this very point about the gospel.
(2) Following at all costs from within raises the issue of how “demanding” Jesus’ call to discipleship was. It was a cost to be fully counted and not enter into lightly or unadvisedly, to steal a phrase from the initiation of another important relationship (Luke 14:25-35). Thus, the call of many disciples notes how they left their nets or tax collection booths to follow him (Mark 1:16-20 par.; Luke 5:28). Jesus expresses it as hating or leaving mother and father for his or the Kingdom’s sake (Luke 18:29; Matt. 10:37; 19:29). It means hating mammon (Matt. 6:6:24; Luke 12:14-21; 16:13). It involves a carrying of the cross, even daily, even at the risk of life (Matt. 10:38-39; Luke 9:23). The assumption in all of this is that the way will not be easy, nor is the road one of powerful triumph. Victory comes through suffering and rejection like that Jesus himself would experience. Jesus sought to reveal the whole program to the multitudes. He desired that they understand what the relationship with God they were entering into involved. God’s rule was not selective; it makes claims on the whole of life. So Jesus defines the members of his family as those who do God’s will (Mark 3:31-35 par.; 10:29-30 par.). Sons and daughters respond to the Father. They “seek his Kingdom” and rest by faith in his care (Luke 12:31), what Matthew’s version calls seeking “first his Kingdom and his righteousness” (Matt. 6:33).
This following also entails a response from within. Mark 7:1-23 shows this clearly when Jesus defines defiling in terms that look at “what is in inside” the person. The list highlights those acts which defile as primarily associated with relational categories. The six antitheses of the Sermon on the Mount press the Law in this inward direction. It is not murder, but anger, nor is it adultery, but lust that violates God’s righteous standard (Matt.5:21-48). This internal feature stands at the heart of Kingdom spirituality.45 This internal feature is central to what goes into spiritual formation. That formation is spiritual because God calls and goes to work on the inner person, on our spirit, through His Spirit. This also is not a mere triumphalism, as Paul makes clear, since we groan for the completion of redemption in the salvation to come (Rom. 8). In the meantime, the call is to be faithful and walk by the Spirit.
(3) The following leads naturally to the theme of imitation. The child is to be like the Father. One dimension of this concept is the theme of reconciliation. We noted reconciliation as a defining quality of a “prepared” people for God. In responding to the Baptist, people were accepting the call of God to be a reflection of him and his holiness. What God would provide through the Messiah, as John noted, would be a grater baptism of the Spirit, one of the great provisions of the new era. That Spirit, by his grace, enables the transformation God’s Kingdom calls for from those who trust God to provide for their spiritual well being and deliverance. Jesus makes the same point in the upper room (John 14–16). So Jesus issues a call to love and serve that is an imitation of God’s own character (Luke 6:27-36). This extends even to loving one’s enemies. Jesus holds up his own life as the example to be imitated (Mark 10:41-45; John 13:1-17). Such a character is revealed in the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:3-13; Luke 6:20-23). In fact, it is character like this which is salt and light in the world, reflecting the call of what the Kingdom citizen is to be (Matt. 5:14-16). So the disciple is to show mercy (Luke 10:29-37). This is why Jesus responded to the Jew who quoted the two great commandments of loving God and loving one’s neighbor as “not far from the Kingdom” (Mark 12:28-34). It is also why the commandment to “love one another” was the sign that would show them to be Jesus’ disciples (John 13:34-35). A major goal of the Kingdom was to produce children in kind, which is why the standard for character is so high and the demand of the Kingdom is so great (Luke 6:36; Matt. 5:48).
(4) The Kingdom is not without its rewards. Primary is vindication in judgment and unending relationship with God as represented in the image of the banquet table. The Father sees the sacrifice and honors it. Such is the promise of Jesus to an uncertain Peter who desperately asks who can be saved in the midst of a discussion about who can be saved if the rich are not able to enter the Kingdom (Luke 18:23-30). Jesus’ reply assures Peter and those he represents. Jesus summarizes the reward that accompanies participation in the Kingdom saying, “I tell you the truth, no one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents, or children for the sake of the Kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life.” The Marcan parallel, which speaks of the gospel and not the Kingdom–showing the inherent relationship between the two–adds the note that what is received in the present age is “homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields–and with them persecutions.” Matthew 25:31-45 shows that the Son of man’s return in his glory brings with him the vindication of those who have reached out to him. The reward noted in the Beatitudes also underscores that though there is suffering and sacrifice now, there will be great reward. Here again an appreciation for what the future brings impacts how we see ourselves in the present and calls us to live in light of what the future will be. The future calls on us in the present to reflect as light what we are becoming and will be. The meek inherit the earth, but they also are to illuminate it. With our security resting in God’s power, presence, and hope, the rule of God can bring us to be what God made us to be and redeemed us to become. This is precisely why one of the more important parables about the Kingdom pictures God’s Word about the Kingdom as a seed that is planted and takes root in good soil and whose goal is to produce fruitfulness (Matt. 13:1-9, 18-23 par.). Viewed from the human perspective, it is the goal of the Kingdom to produce sons and daughters of God who are fruitful for him.46
One other dimension of reward is less clearly developed and is of lesser significance in Jesus’ preaching than the theme of vindication and eternal reception. It is the idea of the future exercise of responsibility for a faithful stewardship. Only a few passages hint at this idea. It is suggested by the note of expanded responsibility in the parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14-30) and the idea of having responsibility over cities in Luke 19:17, 19. The rewarded servants are “set over much” for their faithfulness. The images do appear within the construct of the parable, but they seem to indicate something in relationship to reward for stewardship. The reward for the blessed servant in Luke 12:43-44 looks to go in a similar direction. It may also be indicated in the note whether to entrust more to a steward who is irresponsible in Luke 16:11-12. The sum of this teaching suggests a period when the kingdom will still be at work in the exercise of its rule, themes that may relate to the idea of an intermediate kingdom.
It is time to pull together much of what has been said. So I now review the description of the Kingdom and noting especially what other terms intimately connect to it. This section is important, for it will provide the bridge to the rest of the New Testament teaching on the Kingdom.
One of the difficult things about pointing to a concept being at work in association with a biblical term is being sure that the association is legitimate. In this section, I want to suggest other issues that connect to the Kingdom of God theme. The effect of this is to expand the texts that relate to the Kingdom theme, but the justification for doing so needs attention, as some argue that tying the Kingdom to Messiah or to the present era reads into the text rather than reading from it.
The inclusion of the work of Messiah within the scope of Kingdom teaching is challenged by some who wish to make reign language tied to the Christ exclusively future.47 However, it is Luke that makes the connection by associating the explicit teaching of John the Baptist as he proclaims the nearness of the Kingdom to remarks he makes about recognizing when the Christ comes and on what basis (Luke 3:15-17). To his Jewish audience, this association of messianic work with Kingdom work and presence would be entirely natural. One of the signs of the Kingdom, or the eschaton, would be the superior baptism that would indicate that the Messiah had come. The allusion here for John, given that he speaks as one picking up the prophetic hope, would be the promise of the New Covenant. Here forgiveness and a work of God from within are promised. The imagery reflects the images of purity from Judaism. Only a washed and clean vessel can be a place that God inhabits. So the provision of forgiveness and the washing that is pictured in it cleanses the vessel so God may enter in. It is in this sense John “prepares” the people for the Lord’s coming
It is precisely this promise with this conclusion that Peter preaches in the great sermon at Pentecost (Acts 2:14-41). It is also back to this base event that Peter refers to determine that Gentiles are rightly included in the community by God (Acts 10:34-43; 11:13-18).48 This baptism marks a definitive sign of Messiah’s work and the presence of eschatological hope. In the Spirit is the down payment of the further Kingdom work of God, representing his presence and rule, what Paul simply calls “our inheritance.” (Eph. 1:13-14). It is in this cluster of concepts one can find the concepts not only of Messiah and eschaton, but salvation and even gospel.
Paul’s preaching of the work of the Spirit as a part of New Covenant realization and Hebrews’ emphasis on the forgiveness of sons coming through the promised Messiah fit in here (2 Cor. 3–4; Heb. 1, 8–10). Here is the inaugural era of promise, which Jesus described as Kingdom. Here is why Paul could describe the gospel as that promised to come through the Son of David in Scripture and as “power unto salvation” in Romans 1:16-17 as an introduction to Romans 1–8. That book presents the work through the exalted Son both in terms of forgiveness, sonship, and Spirit enablement as the essence of the gospel, a reversal of the penalty and power of sin. It is what Paul calls elsewhere a rescue “out of the authority of darkness” and a transfer “into the Kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col. 1:13). Here the work of Jesus as the Christ brings pardon, deliverance, and sonship-citizenship, all regal works of messianic authority.
The Kingdom, both in its inception where rescue takes place and at its culmination when victory becomes complete, is part of a great cosmic battle and reversal against sin and Satan. That this kingdom program over which Christ is currently ruling (1 Cor. 15:25; Rev. 1:5-6) is tied to and related to the ultimate realization of the Kingdom in seen in 1 Corinthians 15:26-28, where Paul describes the ultimate giving over of this same Kingdom to the Father at the end. Seen in a larger theological context, this victory represents the reversal of the Fall’s effects and evidence of a cosmic battle introduced in Genesis 3. It is why the imagery of Revelation 21–22 and the new heaven and new earth looks back to the Garden of Eden and to the New Jerusalem. The book of Revelation is about the completion of the Kingdom program. In the return the kingdom of the world has become the Kingdom of “our Lord and His Christ” (Rev. 11:15).
In my view, this return includes setting up an intermediate kingdom before the new heaven and earth, because of the way I read Revelation 20. It is here where the things said about Israel and her future role in a kingdom existing in the midst of the nations and within this history fit within the promise of God from both the Old Testament and the New.
For two reasons, much less of this national role is made in the New Testament. First, it is assumed as a given having already been revealed and treated in detail. Acts 3:19-21 points us back to the Moses and the prophets for the “rest of the story.” Second, the more comprehensive New Testament concern is the eventual total victory Jesus brings to the whole of humanity and the creation. This relativizes to a degree the importance of national Israel’s role in the plan.
Still it makes more hermeneutical sense for the theological unity of Scripture that the New Testament complements what God has committed himself to in promise in the Old. Maintaining a role for national Israel within the kingdom program seems to make the most coherent sense of Paul’s argument in Romans 11, where Israel is not a reference to the church, but is treated in distinction from the current structure through which blessing is preached. Seeing a hope for national Israel (as well as for the nations) with Christ functioning as her Messiah in the future kingdom program and at the same time affirming the fundamental unity of Jew and Gentile in Christ is a comprehensive approach to the difficult unity-diversity question that plagues our eschatological debates. There is soteriological unity (all are one in Christ and share in one unified plan), while there is structural distinction in the different dispensations of God’s administration (period of Israel period of the Church period of the consummated Kingdom moving to the New heaven and earth). This approach to the kingdom plan is better than separating it into totally distinct programs as traditional dispensationalism does. It is also better than merging it, as covenant theology does, so that the promises made to national and ethnic Israel cease to operate for these original recipients of God’s covenental promise of grace. Such a covenental merger conflicts with God’s faithfulness that Paul wishes to defend in Romans 9–11. The apostle maintains hope that one day all Israel will be saved in contrast to her current rejection of Jesus.49 What God has started in bringing Jew and Gentile together he will complete one day for both groups.
So on the other end of the Kingdom calendar is the work of the returning Son of Man to be the vindicating “judge of the living and the dead” (Acts 10:42; Matt. 25:31-46). He is the one who welcomes his own into the “prepared for you Kingdom.” In this Kingdom is found not only fellowship but “eternal life” (25:46). It is to this great vindicating moment that the Kingdom is always aimed, so that the concept is always looking to that bright future that is the Kingdom come in full.
It is this cluster of concepts around the Kingdom on which the epistles draw as they make the point that the era of our rule with Christ has not yet come (1 Cor. 4:8). It is why the author of Hebrews, while noting that all things are not yet submitted to the feet of man as God had promised in Ps. 8:5-7, extols that we do see Jesus through the suffering of his death crowned with glory and honor, looking for the completion of what God has begun (Heb. 2:5-9). It is also why Peter using the language of Psalm 110:1 argues that Jesus, as a result of that exaltation, is already “at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers subject to him (1 Pt. 3:22).” Who is right, the incompleteness of what Jesus has done as Hebrews presents it, or an already extant cosmic subjection as Peter claims? As with the other tensions noted in the discussion of the Kingdom, this is not an either-or, but a both-and. The victory is obtained already, but the full manifestation of that victory awaits and is yet to come.
What Jesus has brought is only a foretaste of what is to come. In that realization is the explanation of why the term Kingdom becomes less prominent in the rest of the New Testament. It is to that question, I now turn.
It has always been a point for discussion that the term Kingdom is not so prevalent in the epistolary materials. For example, the term basileiva appears one hundred and twenty one times in the synoptics, but only five times in John, eight times in Acts, fourteen times in Paul, five times in the general epistles and nine times in Revelation. Some, including myself, have argued in the past that the reason for this involved hesitation about Kingdom language in a Roman context, but this really does not work as an explanation when Jesus is being confessed as Lord or Christ by the church.50 A better solution is found in three observations.
First, Kingdom is present in many other concepts that show up in this material, so that the concept is much more prevalent than mere lexical counting shows. Analogies for this exist. In the Hebrew Scriptures, Kingdom is not that prominent a lexical term, but it is a central concept. Jesus’ use of the Son of Man is also analogous. By the time of the epistles, other christological terms covering the same ground became more common for reasons that still are not clear to us. However, the authority affirmed in the title was still prevalent in the early church, possibly because the alternatives had less ambiguity. So in the epistolary material, themes tied to deliverance operate as equivalents for the current realization of promise. For Paul, this involves themes tied to salvation and Jesus’ lordship. For John, it involves his presentation of eternal life.51 The shift was a natural one. Rather than proclaiming what had begun to come, the early church highlighted who brought it, personalizing the claim and making it more intimate.52
Second, it should also be noted that dividing the epistles from the gospels to make this observation is a somewhat artificial exercise. The gospels are early church documents, presenting the case for Jesus’ salvific claims. Though they treat earlier events in a pre-cross setting, they express theology as it was seen in the earliest communities. If there is a place where Kingdom declaration should be prominent, it is here. The epistles as occasional documents treating internal issues in the community are less likely to make a point of something its readers have already embraced.
Third, where Kingdom does appear explicitly, it fits the future-present emphases already noted above. The Kingdom points to an entity coming in the future when the righteous shall be vindicated and unrighteousness judged by a returning, authoritative Jesus, winner of the cosmic battle so painfully evident in the presence of sin. Yet elements of inauguration show up in this usage. So Paul can speak on the one hand of “inheriting the Kingdom,” looking to its future coming (1 Cor. 6:9-10; 15:50; Gal. 5:21), while also noting that the Kingdom today is not a matter of talk, but of power (1 Cor 4:20). Nor does it consist of eating and drinking, but righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom. 14:17). It is God who “calls you into His Kingdom and glory” (1 Thess. 2:11). His laborers work in the service of God’s Kingdom (Col. 4:11). Acts notes how Philip and Paul preach the Kingdom (Acts 8:12; 28:23, 31). On the other hand, Paul can speak in Acts of “entering the Kingdom” through many trials, a future reference (Acts 14:22; similar is 2 Pt. 1:11). Yet Hebrews speaks of our “receiving” an unshakable Kingdom in a context where we have already come to Mt. Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem (Heb. 12:22-28). We already noted above the citation in Col. 1:13 and 1 Cor. 15:24-28, where rescue brings one into the Kingdom and Jesus’ rule proceeds until its completion. Revelation 1:6 makes the same “already” point as Christ “has made us a Kingdom, priests to His God and Father” (Rev. 1:6). We are part, even now, of a Kingdom program that one day will be manifested for all the world to see. The Kingdom of God is ultimately about God’s rule, power, and presence reasserted in a fallen world. The Kingdom reflects God’s victory over sin on behalf of a needy humanity. We are his trophy case (Eph. 3:7-10). To recast another saying from another context, “All the world is His stage, and we are merely players in it.” Only in this case, what God has formed in the church and what he will do in the ultimate expression of the Kingdom shows the transforming power that comes through Christ. We have a significant, lead role as witnesses of His way and presence. This brings me to the significance of Kingdom for the church, for the hope and essence of the Kingdom lead us into its ethical implications and call.
From what has been said, the Kingdom is both distinct from and intimately associated with the church. The Kingdom is more than the church, but the church is contained within the Kingdom program.53 There is an ongoing progression to the movement of God’s unified Kingdom program as it moves through the dispensations or eras of its administration. The program both propels us toward the realization of full hope and pulls that future into the present as a glimpse of what is to come. So how do we as community fit in to that dialectic between present and future Kingdom?
God has invested in the church. His investment is the indwelling Spirit, mediated through Christ and given in the context of forgiveness and promise, an eschatological down payment on the rest of the hope. The church, then, is the beneficiary of God’s power and presence. Satan and sin stand defeated, as the confident language of Romans 8 declares. Sonship means we are able to walk responsively to the presence of God’s rule, reflecting His character. In the age to come, the returning Son of Man will make all of this authority clear to the entire cosmos. Those who confess Jesus to be their Savior and Lord are recognizing this authority that God has invested in His mediator. If being prepared for the Kingdom community in the time of John the Baptist meant turning to God in the context of reconciliation and being reconciled with others, then the call of the indwelt community is to evidence the presence of such transformed relationships before a needy world. This fundamental exhortation appears in a text like Ephesians 2:11-22.
A major responsibility we have in witnessing to the world is that the quality of our own relationships, especially to one another, should show itself to be decidedly different from the world. Jesus’ “new commandment” to love one another “as I have loved you” is really a Kingdom command. Sacrifice and service stand at the heart of relational dynamics. If the world is to understand community in a context of loving God and relating to others, the place it should be most visible in this cosmos is in how those in His community relate to God, each other, and the world. If we walk by the Spirit and manifest the fruit of the Spirit, then the world should be witness to a sneak preview of the way things will be in the end, an audio-visual incarnation of what God transforming lives means. A glimpse of the future will be pulled into the present to the glory of God. Thus, the quality of our own communities and their integrity should be priorities for the church.54 Then not only will our proclamation point to the Kingdom and its hope to come, it will be painted as a living portrait for all to see. As 1 Peter 1:9-12 so aptly puts it, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were no people but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Beloved, I beseech you as aliens and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh that wage war against your soul. Maintain good conduct among the Gentiles, so that in case they speak against you as wrongdoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”
So the Kingdom has come through the Son invading the world. As Messiah we confess that he rules. The Kingdom’s coming now means the defeat of Satan, the forgiveness of God, and the indwelling enablement of the Spirit. And yet, the Kingdom comes one day through the returning Son of Man to vindicate the saints and render God just and His promises true. Then Satan and evil will be removed. Even so, come Lord Jesus. But in the meantime, give us the strength through your enablement to be light to show what the kingdom is and is like. You have pulled the future into the present. Let us illumine the future in an incarnated way through your present rule in our lives.
1 So Joachim Jeremias, New Testament Theology: The Proclamation of Jesus (New York: Scribner’s, 1971), p. 96. This was a translation of the 1971 German edition, Neutestamentliche Theologie I. Teil: Die Verkündigung Jesu (Gerd Mohn: Gütersloher Verlaghaus).
2 Johannes Weiss, Die Predigt Jesu vom Reiche Gottes (Gttingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, 1892). This edition was translated into English in 1971 under the title, Jesus’ Proclamation of the Kingdom of God. Though this study was short, its impact has lived through the twentieth century. A second German edition was issued in 1900. Albert Schweitzer, Das Messianitts und Leidensgeheimnis, Eine Skizze des Lebens Jesu (Tübingen:, 1901). This was also translated into English in 1956 under the title, The Mystery of the Kingdom of God: The Secret of Jesus’ Messiahship and Passion. Translated by Walter Lowrie (New York:Schoken, 1964) is the version cited in this essay. It also had a second German edition in 1929.
3 See the summary of Weiss and Schweitzer in Gsta Lundstrm, The Kingdom of God in the Teaching of Jesus (Richmond, VA: John Knox Press, 1963), pp. 35-81. This is a translation of the Swedish edition from 1947.
4 Weiss, Jesus’ Proclamation of the Kingdom of God, pp. 129-131 state Weiss’ ten conclusions. Here are some of the highlights of that summary. No. 1 declared that Jesus believed that the messianic time was imminent, but that his vision of Satan’s defeat was so strong that he sometimes declared that the Kingdom had dawned. No. 4 argues that Jesus understood himself as the one who will receive authority when the Kingdom does come. No. 5 argues that Jesus originally expected to see the establishment of the Kingdom, but that he eventually became convinced it would only come after his death. He then expected to return within the lifetime of the generation that rejected him. No. 8 is, “The land of Palestine will arise in a new and glorious splendor, forming the center of the new Kingdom. Alien peoples will no longer rule over it, but will come to acknowledge God as Lord.” No. 9 argues that Jesus and the twelve will rule over the new born people of the twelve tribes, which include even the Gentiles.
5 Schweitzer, The Mystery of the Kingdom of God, pp. 62-63 describes this pivotal point in his typical flourish of style: “For the realisation of the Kingdom there remained but one way still open to him, – namely, conflict with the power which opposed his work. He resolved to carry this conflict into the Capital itself. There fate should decide. Perhaps the victory would fall to him. But, even if it should turn out that in the course of earthly events the fate of death awaited him inevitably, so long as he trod the path which his office prescribed, this very suffering must signify in God’s plan the performance by which his work was to be crowned. It was then God’s will that the moral state appropriate to the Kingdom of God should be inaugurated by the highest moral deed of the Messiah. With this thought he set out for Jerusalem–in order to remain Messiah.” Elsewhere (pp. 114-15) he states Jesus “no longer conceives of it [the final event] as an intervention of God in history; but rather as a final cosmical catastrophe. His [Jesus’] eschatology is the apocalyptic of the book of Daniel, since the Kingdom is to be brought by the Son of Man where he appears upon the clouds of heaven (Mk 8:38; 9:1).”
6 The notes to Matthew 3:2 and 6:33 in The Scofield Study Bible, done in 1909, pp. 996 and 1003 distinguish completely between the Kingdom of heaven and of God, as was common in the oldest expressions of dispensationalism, but is not as common today among either revised or progressive dispensationalists. In fact, the note on Matthew 6:33 in the Oxford NIV Scofield Study Bible, done in 1967 and 1984, p. 979, has been changed to speak only of a distinction “in some instances.” The parables of Matthew 13 for this earliest, classical expression of dispensationalism were about the “mystery” form of the Kingdom, were for this age and dealt with Christian profession, but had connection to the Kingdom promised in the Old Testament, because it was “mystery” (new truth). The “at hand” kingdom was rejected, causing its coming (its “prophetic aspect”) to await the return of the King in glory. Though the 3:2 note does not explain the “mystery” kingdom connection to the prophetic kingdom, that note speaks of a “mysteries” dimension that is fulfilled in the present age with reference to professing (and partially corrupt) Christendom. The Kingdom of heaven is defined as “the rule of the heavens over the earth.” The phrase, says the Old Scofield note to 3:2, comes “from Daniel, where it is defined (Dan 2.34-36, 44; 7.23-27) as the Kingdom which ‘the God of heaven’ will set up after the destruction by ‘the stone cut out without hands’ of the Gentile world system. It is the Kingdom covenanted to David’s seed (2 Sam. 7.7-10, refs.); described in the prophets (Zech. 12:8, note); and confirmed to Jesus the Christ, the Son of Mary, through the angel Gabriel (Lk 1.32,33).” The note to 6:33 in the Oxford NIV Scofield Study Bible, p. 979, sees the rule of the Kingdom of heaven, like the Kingdom of God, realized “in the present age and will also be fulfilled in the future millennial kingdom. It continues forever in the eternal state (cp. Dan. 4:3).” Thus, even in a theological system as futuristic as dispensationalism, there has been a sense of the already-not yet tension about the Kingdom among most of its most recent adherents. Even in dispensationalism’s original form the tension was there, though obscured by the attempt to distinguish kingdom of God in the present from kingdom of heaven of the future. (What gets confusing for modern readers of the tradition is that what they mean by kingdom of God entails what original dispensationalists meant by both kingdom of God and of heaven, though modern readers tend not to read the kingdom of God as having the negative overtones the earliest dispensationalists gave to it.) What Schweitzer and dispensationalists affirm is that the formulation of the Kingdom victorious has deep roots in Old Testament expression and expectation. For a survey of the various ways this “mystery” form of the Kingdom was explained in the mid-twentieth century, see Craig A. Blaising and Darrell L. Bock, Progressive Dispensationalism (Grand Rapids: Victor Books, 1993), pp. 39-46. Blaising notes four distinct approaches to the question among revised dispensationalists. The four approaches are represented in this revised period are: (1) Alva McClain and Stan Toussaint (no mediatorial Kingdom today, but a limited, interim rule; Mc Clain actually interacts with Schweitzer and Weiss and stands closest to a consistent eschatological view), (2) Charles Ryrie (a spiritual Kingdom today [the church] within a mystery from of the Kingdom [which entials Christendom]), (3) John Walvoord (spiritual form of the Kingdom is the church), and (4) Dwight Pentecost (Kingdom today is part of the present theocratic kingdom, a part of God’s ongoing theocratic Kingdom program). Where the first three approaches stress discontinuity with the past and future Kingdoms, the last option is an attempt to articulate a continuity in that program. Dispensationalism has never been as monolithic as its proponents and critics have contended.
7 Fundamentally Schweitzerian views of the Kingdom are still being defended today. See Dale C. Allison, Jesus of Nazareth: Millenarian Prophet (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1998) and Scot McKnight, A New Vision for Israel: The Teachings of Jesus in a National Context (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1999), esp. pp. 70-155. Mc Knight emphasizes apocalyptic imminence with a stress on AD 70 as the point of realization, a view similar to Tom Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996), although Wright’s reading of eschatology appears more exclusively focused on AD 70 than McKnight’s. For my evaluation of Wright’s views, see my essay in Carey C. Newman, ed., Jesus and the Restoration of Israel: A Critical Assessment of N. T. Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1999), pp. 101-25.
8 Norman Perrin, The Kingdom of God in the Teaching of Jesus (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1963), p. 112-19, notes how Bultmann followed Weiss on the historical questions. What Bultmann stressed was the crisis of decision Jesus’ challenge raised. The best place to see Bultmann’s views summarized are his Jesus Christ and Mythology (New York: Scribner’s,1958). For Wilder, see his “Eschatological Imagery and Earthly Circumstance,” New Testament Studies 5 (1959): 229-45. For the later Perrin, “Jesus and the Language of the Kingdom: Symbol and Metaphor in New Testament Interpretation (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1976). Many members of the Jesus Seminar fit into one of these categories.
9 His initial key article was “The Kingdom of God has come,” The Expository Times 48 (1936); 138-42. The view in its developed from appears in his The Parables of the Kingdom (New York: Scribner’s, 1961).
10 Werner Georg Kümmel, Verheissung und Erfüllung (Zürich: Zwingli, 1953). The English translation by Dorothea M. Barton is entitled, Promise and Fulfillment: The Eschatological Message of Jesus. 3rd and completely revised edition. Studies in Biblical Theology 23 (London: SCM Press, 1957). In his concluding chapter, Kümmel says, “In the course of the previous discussion it has already become clear that the very numerous pronouncements of Jesus about the future of the Kingdom of God and the equally indisputable ones about the presence of the eschaton demolish the arguments for those descriptions of Jesus’ message according to which Jesus announced either only eschatological occurrences in the future or only a present time of eschatological fulfillment. It is therefore completely certain that Jesus’ eschatological message cannot be regarded simply as a particular form of Jewish apocalyptic, and also that it does not detach itself completely from the expectations for the future of the contemporary Jewish eschatology by reason of its interpretation concerned only with the present.” R. H. Fuller, The Mission and Achievement of Jesus: An Examination of the Presuppositions of New Testament Theology Studies in Biblical Theology 12 (London, SCM Press, 1954). On p. 48 Fuller says, “The Kingdom of God is not yet present, it is imminent; but the imminent event is already at work, producing signs of its coming. The Kingdom is dawning, but it has not yet arrived.” Jeremias, New Testament Theology closes on his section on the Kingdom (p. 108) saying, “For Jesus’ proclamation of the dawn of salvation is without analogy. With regard to his environment, he is the ‘only Jew known to us from ancient times’, who proclaimed ‘that the new age of salvation had already begun.’” Jeremias is citing the remarks of the Jewish scholar David Flusser here. Earlier on p. 102 he makes the point that kingdom is “always and everywhere understood in eschatological terms; it denotes the time of salvation, the consummation of the world, the restoration of disrupted communion between God and man.” He appeals to Daniel 2:44 and 7:27. Jesus is proclaiming that the eschatological hour is very near. For Jeremias (p. 102), though the stress is on the future and the Kingdom’s nearness, the call of Jesus is really that “’God is coming he is standing at the door, indeed (e[fqasen), he is already there.” One should note a slight difference between Kümmel and Fuller-Jeremias. For Kümmel, Jesus proclaimed an “already-not yet.” Fuller-Jeremias hold that Jesus proclaimed the dawning of a kingdom in signs that showed it was very close but had not yet come.
11 Joachim, Jeremias, The Parables of Jesus. 2nd revised ed. (New York: Scribner’s, 1963), p. 230. This is a translation of Die Gleichnisse Jesu. 6th ed. (Gttingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, 1962).
12 George Eldon Ladd, The Presence of the Future: The Eschatology of Biblical Realism (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1974). This was an update of his earlier Jesus and the Kingdom (New York: Harper & Row, 1964). Ladd’s thesis is stated on p. 149, “The presence of the Kingdom of God was seen as God’s dynamic reign invading the present age without transforming it into the age to come.” For him, it was this in-breaking without a change of age (a “victory over Satan without being consummation) that was the mystery contained in Jesus’ teaching.
13 Other major studies arguing for this view include Rudolf Schnackenburg, God’s Rule and Kingdom (New York: Herder & Herder, 1968), a translation of Gottes Herrschaft und Reich. 4th edition (Freiburg: Herder, 1965), G. R. Beasley-Murray, Jesus and the Kingdom of God (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans,, 1986), John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus. Volume 2: Mentor, Message and Miracles. The Anchor Bible Reference Library (New York: Doubleday, 1994), 2:237-506, as well as many of the essays in Bruce Chilton, ed., The Kingdom of God. Issues in Religion and Theology 5 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984).
14 The expression does occur in Wisdom 10:10
15 Chrys C. Caragounis, “Kingdom of God/Kingdom of Heaven,” Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. Joel Green, Scot McKnight, I Howard Marshall, eds. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1992), p. 417.
16 Michael Lattke, “On the Jewish Background of the Synoptic Concept ‘The Kingdom of God,’” in The Kingdom of God, Bruce Chilton, ed. (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984), pp. 72-91.
17 Jacob Neusner, William Green, and E. Frerichs, eds., Judaisms and Their Messiahs (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987).
18 This linguistic contrast was introduced by the later work of Norman Perrin, Jesus and the Language of the Kingdom (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1976), esp. pp. 16-32, 127-31, 197-99. In discussing this point from Perrin I wish only to highlight the linguistic element of his discussion without embracing his language about “myth” associated with the use of the term “Kingdom of God.”
19 For an incisive critique of Perrin, see John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew, pp. 241-43. He accuses the later Perrin of sounding like a twentieth century Bultmannian versus a first century Jew. Interestingly, the earlier Perrin made a similar statement about such a view in his earlier work! See Norman Perrin, The Kingdom of God in the Teaching of Jesus (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1963), p.86. He states, “A ‘timeless’ Kingdom is as foreign to first-century Judaism as a transcendent order beyond time and space’, and if Jesus held such views he singularly failed to impress them upon his followers.”
20 I suspect the same premise operates with Jesus’ use of the Law, but with the opposite dimension. Here the term is so used in the Old Testament that Jesus’ use in any context must be carefully examined for its point and scope.
21 I leave out of this account a view that argues that Jesus did not teach an apocalyptic or eschatological view of the Kingdom, such as has been made popular in the Jesus Seminar. The most eloquent attempt to make this argument appears in the work of Marcus Borg, Jesus in Contemporary Scholarship (Valley Forge, Trinity Press International, 1994), pp. 74-84. For a critical assessment of this view, Dale C. Allison, Jesus of Nazareth: Millennial Prophet, pp. 96-129.
22 For a summary of this distinction, see Paul D. Hanson, The Dawn of Apocalyptic: The Historical and Sociological Roots of Jewish Apocalyptic Eschatology Revised ed. (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1979), pp. 10-12, and George Ladd, The Presence of the Future, pp. 45-101, esp. pp. 79-83, 93-95. Unlike many of the discussions of this distinction, Ladd correctly sees something less than a clean distinction between these categories, noting how the “apocalyptic” Daniel actually has many “prophetic” features. Ladd thus avoids the implicit tendency in many critics to pit the two approaches against each other. Given the “mix” in Daniel, the mix in Jesus’ own presentation has precedent in the older Scripture.
23 Rather than appealing to a genre distinction, John Collins, The Scepter and the Star: The Messiahs of the Dead Sea Scrolls and other Ancient Literature, The Anchor Bible Reference Library (New York: Doubleday, 1995), pp. 11-14, argues for a distinction in the form of the messianic expectation between regal figure and a heavenly messianic figure. These are two of the four categories he notes exist in Judaism. The others are prophet and priest.
24 I make this point against the view of Werner Kümmel, Promise and Fulfillment, p. 104. He splits the eschatological elements from the apocalyptic ones and argues that only the eschatological elements are authentic. Though Jesus’ Kingdom imagery is primarily eschatological, there is no inherent reason why the key turning point in the program should not be linked to apocalyptic imagery of God’s decisive “in-breaking,” especially if Jesus saw himself in any sense as sent by God.
25 Dale Allison, Jesus of Nazareth: Millennial Prophet, pp. 101-02. He notes the parallesl in Judaism that point in this direction; 1QM 2:1-3; 4QpIsad frag. 1; T. Jud. 25:1-2; T. Benj. 10:7; also Rev. 21:12.
26 Another possible argument for this distinction is that Jesus speaks of this generation not passing away with regard to “these things,” but of “that day” (i.e., a later day) no one knows the time, suggesting a distinction between the two sets of events. Interestingly, the Matthean parallel in 16:28 has “before they see the Son of Man coming in His Kingdom,” again showing a link between Son of Man and kingdom.
27 See Carson, “Matthew,” in The Expositors’ Bible Commentary . Frank C. Gaebelein, ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984), 8:506-5
28 This usage is limited to Matthew and occurs thirty-two times. The rendering in the plural reflects the Greek, which itself reflects the Aramaic circumlocution for God.
29 “The Kingdom of God/Heaven,” In Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, p. 426.
30 J. Jeremias, New Testament Theology, pp. 32-34 cites the variety of phrasing that occurs and notes how unique Jesus’ teaching within Judaism is in showing such variety of expression, Bruce Chilton, Pure Kingdom: Jesus’ Vision of God. Studying the Historical Jesus (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1996), pp. 56-101, lays out a summary of this entire teaching along a series of coordinates of themes: Eschatology, transcendence, judgement, purity, and radiance. The listing shows the scope of major sub-topics the Kingdom theme covers.
31 Texts such as these make it clear that whatever is being raised, it is not the universal Kingdom of God that declared God’s rule in a generic sense or his rule over creation (e.g., Ps. 47, 96). The approach of the Kingdom in Mark 1:15 par. looks to the approach of something that has not been previously in place and that is longed for and anticipated. Thus any attempts to make present Kingdom texts in the New Testament fit into this more generic category fail. It is an eschatological Kingdom that is drawing near.
32 I raise this also against the reading of Caragounis in his “Kingdom of God/Heaven” article in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, p. 423.
33 On the question of whether Greek papyri and other texts ever evidence a meaning of “amongst,” see Kümmel, Promise and Fulfillment, pp. 33-36 esp. n 50. This evidence, texts from Xenophon [An. 1, 10, 3], Herodotus [VII, 100, 3] and Symmachus’ translation of Ps. 87:6, challenge Caragounis’ claim of the absence of such attestation. Kümmel argues that an objection based on the audience being the Pharisees is not persuasive in arguing against “within you,” because we cannot be sure they are the original audience for this saying. We do not share his skepticism about the setting. Such a challenge to his opponents fits in nicely with numerous such challenges pointing to his centrality in God’s work. See also John Meier, A Marginal Jew, pp. 412-23, who defends the authenticity of the saying and discusses its likely Aramaic form.
34 Again, for details, see Kümmel, Promise and Fulfillment, pp. 105-107.
35 A key work arguing this emphasis is Bruce Chilton, God in Strength: Jesus’ Announcement of the Kingdom. Studiem zum Neuen Testament und seiner Umwelt 1 (Freistadt: Plchl, 1979).
36 It is often said by older dispensational writers that George Ladd denied the presence of an idea of realm in Jesus’ teaching because Ladd highlighted the dynamic force. But this characterization is wrong. Ladd simply argued that the dynamic sense was the more prevalent idea in the sayings. See The Presence of the Future, pp. 195-205.
37 It is texts like these that preclude any appeal to a “sociology of knowledge” as a way of saying the prophets were limited in what language they could use to express what later developed in their expression of hope. Not only does this seem to affirm that the Old Testament does not mean what it appeared to mean at the time it was given, but the question could be raised, why limit such a hermeneutical category to the Old Testament? A denial of such an appeal means that Israel is a reference to national Israel in such texts and God’s commitment is affirmed for them in such texts.
38 See Dale Allison, Jesus of Nazareth: Millenarian Prophet, pp. 141-43, though he dismisses the significance of the Matthean context too easily to deny a Gentile dimension to this image.
39 In Matthew 11 I have in mind the second half of the verse where men are contending over the kingdom, part of the battle motif. In the first half of the verse, the reference to biavzetai is disputed. It either refers to the kingdom suffering violence, a reading that matches the latter half of the verse, or to the kingdom advancing. Even if the idea of advance is present, it probably still refers to the in-breaking of the kingdom moving into the world, as opposed to the idea of a continuously ascending advance.
40 In other words, this text is not about some professing Christendom within what became the church, but is about the Word’s work in the world and claim upon it through his preached Word.
41 Note how my reading does not limit the authority here to “Christendom.” The claim is far more comprehensive in scope than this. The weeds in the world are not a reference to professing Christians, but to humanity at large in the world, including those outside of the sown word Jesus brings.
42 This section is indebted to three studies. Norman Perrin, The Kingdom of God in the Teaching of Jesus, pp. 201-06; George Ladd, The Presence of the Future, pp. 278-304, and Scot McKnight, A New Vision for Israel, pp. 156-237.
43 I group these terms together because they work as equally adequate summary terms for the appropriate response to the message. However, they are not exact synonyms. Repentance looks at that response from the angle of where one starts (there is a change of direction), while faith highlights where one ends up (trusting God). Such terms overlap without being exact overlays, much like a Venn diagram in math. Thus they can serve as equivalents for each other, while focusing on distinct aspects of the fundamental response. Baptism and indwelling are similar. Baptism points to washing, while indwelling points to what results from the washing, the entering in of the Spirit. In Old Testament conceptual terms, forgiveness yields cleansing (or washing) so the Spirit may come in and indwell (Ezekiel 36:24-27). God cleanses so he can enter into a clean space. Careful attention to such lexical relationships adds depth to the text’s message.
44 It is probably this note of humility that explains Jesus’ focus on reaching out to those on the “fringe” of society, the poor and the tax collectors. Here are people who more easily understand their need for God as seeming “outsiders.” It is clear that Jesus focused his message toward such people (Luke 4:16-18).
45 For a fine discussion of this theme in light of the Sermon on the Mount, see Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1998).
47 This is especially the case if one defines the presence of the Kingdom and ruling as meaning coercive rule. For this view, see Mark Saucy, The Kingdom of God in the Teaching of Jesus in 20th Century Theology (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1997), pp. 342-47. I shall argue that rule includes things other than coercive rule, such as delivering and providing pardon and establishing grounds for citizenship. Saucy rejects this claim on the grounds of three arguments. (1) The concept of reign is not unknown to the Bible, so one cannot load the terminology with our own ideas as he argues I am doing. But this is not what is being done. The Kingdom terminology does appear with reference to Jesus’ current activity/position in Rev. 1:5-6 and 1 Cor. 15:25. The image of Jesus as Shepherd is a ruling image (Ezek 34; John 10). (2) Christ’s present exalted function is not one of rule but intercession. However, this is not an either/or. Hebrews 1 notes the rule of Jesus and appeals to Ps. 110:1 in setting up the declaration of Jesus as an interceding figure on the basis of a Melchizedekian priesthood, a priesthood that is both regal and priestly. (3) The New Testament associates the reign of Christ with the reign of the saints with him. This is true ultimately, but it begs the question of whether Christ initially rules before he shares that rule with the saints. Thus none of the three arguments is persuasive.
49 This paragraph outlines my view on a major debate in eschatology that has been a part of the evangelical scene for a long time. Joyfully, we may be coming to a time when evangelicals can discuss these differences calmly as is evidenced in the discussion between Craig Blaising (premillennialism), Robert Strimple (amillennialism), and Ken Gentry (postmillennialism) in a Counterpoints volume I edited, Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999). Two points distinguish Progressive Dispensationalism from covenant theology including historical premillennialism, though many erroneously wish to connect the two. They are the hermeneutical point made about the significant, complementary role of the New Testament and the belief in a continuation of hope for national Israel, not just for ethnic Israel. It is the maintenance of a hope for national Israel that makes progressive dispensationalism dispensational. Also dispensational is the desire to read the Old Testament texts about national Israel as not excluding her by whatever is said about promise in the New Testament. Ironically, in light of the debate between covenental theology and dispensationalists, it is in order to defend God’s covenant faithfulness and program that dispensationalism holds out for a future for national Israel. For more on this question, see my “Why I am a Dispensatinalist with a Small ‘d’,” JETS 41 (1998): 383-396.
50 So George Ladd, Theology of the New Testament. Revised ed. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1993 revision of 1974 ed.), p. 450. Though there is some merit in noting that the predominantly Gentile audience in this epistles may be a factor, this cannot be a complete explanation for a movement that confesses Jesus as possessing divine authority.
51 George Caird, New Testament Theology. Larry Hurst, ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994), pp. 131-32, says, “To see the Kingdom of God, to enter it, to be born of the Spirit, and to have eternal life are interchangeable descriptions of the one experience of salvation which is to become available to inquirers like Nicodemus only when Jesus has been ‘lifted up’ ([Jn.] 3:15). Jesus is indeed already King of Israel (1:50; 12:13, 15; cf. 20:31), but not in the only sense his enemies could understand. His sovereignty (18:36) is not derived from military strength and popular acclaim on which political power depends; it is derived from God who has entrusted to His Son the exercise of His own kingly authority.”
52 Leonhard Goppelt, Theology of the New Testament, vol. 2. translated by John Alsup. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1982), pp 17-18. As Donald Guthrie, New Testament Theology (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1981), p. 427, says in discussing Paul’s use of Kingdom that it is “rather assumed than specifically stated.”
53 For another, more dichotomous, dispensational approach also articulating a relationship between Kingdom and church, see Charles Ryrie, Dispensationalism (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995), p. 135. On p. 142, his more traditional dispensational view is contrasted with a progressive view this way, “Though emphasizing the distinctiveness of the church, the dispensationalist also recognizes certain relationships that the church sustains. He does not say there is no kingdom today but insists that it is not the fulfillment of Old Testament kingdom promises nor is it the Davidic kingdom inaugurated (as revisionists [i.e., progressives] say).” Ryrie’s summary fails to note the diversity within the traditional view, as Stan Toussaint argues that the Kingdom is not present in any sense today (see n. 6 above). Ryrie’s summary does show, however, the traditional dispensational view that the Kingdom today is unattached to the promises of old. It is a distinct kingdom program. Progressive dispensationalism rejects this basic premise of dichotomy in the Kingdom promise. The dispensational distinctive between Israel and the church, progressives argue, does not involve the Kingdom program or soteriological categories. Gal. 3:16-29 and the Rom. 11 olive tree prevent making such a distinction, as do the various, already noted texts connecting Kingdom, Messiah and the promise from the Hebrew Scriptures. For progressives, the dispensational distinction between Israel and the church applies at to the structures through which God administers that salvation. Israel is not the church, nor will the Kingdom to come be the church. Israel is not the Kingdom to come, as that Kingdom will entail far more than Israel, though national Israel will have a central role in that Kingdom. This will fulfill all the promises a faithful God made to her in the Old Testament. The church glorified will share in the administration of the Kingdom to come, but the Kingdom itself is also larger than the church. In my view, a value of dispensationalism is highlighting these distinctions between Israel, the church, and the Kingdom to come within God’s plan in such a way that the role for national Israel is not lost. It is in this sense, articulating a future role for national Israel and keeping her existence structurally distinct from the church, that progressive dispensationalism differs from covenant premillennialism.
54 This is an important priority in light of the tensions of trying to reach out to a fallen world. We are called to witness to the world and the quality of that witness is impacted by our own integrity and the strength of our own illustration of our claims to know the way to God. We are to serve and love the world, even as we challenge it with the claims of Christ and the hopes of transformation that are only realized through him, not through some other political structure. But those Kingdom claims are best witnessed to when they are visibly operative within his community rather than imposed on unredeemed unbelievers. This means that our moral and political battles must be undertaken with an appreciation that God calls us to challenge people through inviting them to share in his changing of them, not by the mere passing of laws. The latter without the former risks being an empty, symbolic, even futile, exercise.