This Site Is No Longer Active

Check out RESTITUTIO.org for new blog entries and podcasts. Feel free to browse through our content here, but we are no longer adding new posts.

The Kingdom Redefined, Part 3


Some have downplayed the significance of the Kingdom because it isn’t mentioned by name as much in the rest of the New Testament, outside of the Synoptic Gospels. But it is mentioned in certain significant passages and tied in with other concepts, using other terminology. The epistles are addressed to people who have already accepted the Gospel of the Kingdom, and now see it from the point of view of “heirs” – a word mentioned quite frequently in the epistles. The promise that Abraham and his seed should be “the heir of the world” (not of “heaven”) is referred to in Romans 4:13-14. And Christians are called heirs in Romans 8:17; Galatians 3:29; 4:1,7; Titus 3:7; Hebrews 1:14; James 2:5; I Peter 3:7.

The epistles also speak frequently of our inheritance, our calling, our hope, and the return of Christ to earth. The return of Christ is specifically referred to as his coming (parousia, arrival and personal presence), and also the appearing or revelation of Jesus Christ. In addition, Revelation 11:15 presents a vision of the future, when it proclaims those words made famous in Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus, “The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever.” The literal reign of Christ on earth in the future continued to be the primary meaning of the Kingdom of God throughout the New Testament. It only lost that meaning later, as we have seen.

From the Reformation until the 19th century, the Kingdom of God was considered to be a figurative term, referring either to the Church, or the reign of God in the heart. The Hebrew concept of Messiah reigning over a literal kingdom on earth was hardly spoken of, and preparation for life in heaven after death had long since replaced the hope of the return of Christ. In the 19th century, the Adventist movement in the United States revived the idea that Christ would literally return to earth to reign. People like William Miller unfortunately brought ridicule to the notion by attempting to set a date for the return of Christ. When it did not happen on the supposed date, many fell away. Nevertheless there were many others who still held to the belief that Christ would return to reign on earth, though they refrained from trying to set a date.

The first modern writers to bring attention to the idea in scholarly theological writings were Albert Schweitzer and Johannes Weiss. In particular, Weiss “challenged virtually every conclusion of the liberals in their quest for the historical Jesus,” in the words of Dennis C. Duling. In his article, The Kingdom of God in the Teaching of Jesus (Word & World, 2/2, Luther Seminary, 1982), Duling summarizes Weiss’s view:

As a New Testament scholar, Weiss accepted a modified Two Source Theory, but he argued that the few synoptic sayings of Jesus about the Kingdom as present – those held most dear by the liberal interpreters – could be best understood in line with the more prevalent apocalyptic eschatological sayings. Thus, the Kingdom “in the midst of you” (Luke 17:21, for Renan and Harnack, “within you”) was an expression of “prophetic enthusiasm”; being “in the Kingdom” (Matthew 11:11) was Jesus’ hypothetical way of speaking about the reversal of rank in the future Kingdom; “entering the Kingdom” (Matt 21:31) merely meant that the tax collectors and prostitutes had a head start over the leaders of the people; and the only real possibility for thinking of the Kingdom as already present, “the Kingdom of God has come upon [ephthasen] you [plural]” (Matt 12:28; Luke 11:20), was said in the context of the exorcist’s eschatological battle with Satan; that is, it was an apocalyptic saying. Indeed, Weiss argued that ephthasen should be interpreted like engiken (“has drawn near” or “is at hand”) in Luke 10:9 (“The Kingdom of God has come near to you”), and Luke 10:9 (cf. Matt 10:7) is one of a group of sayings most like Jesus’ most typical utterance, “Repent; for the Kingdom of God is at hand” (the original form of Mark 1:15; cf. Luke 10:11). Thus, Weiss argued, the role of Jesus in establishing the Kingdom was merely preparatory, and the precise time of its future coming was unknown. He opposed any attempt to establish the Kingdom, especially by revolutionary “men of violence” who “take it by force” (Matt 11:12). Weiss stressed that Jesus in no way left behind a Kingdom with a group of disciples; rather, he prayed for its coming to earth in the future (Matt 6:10) when he would again drink the fruit of the vine (Luke 22:18). Likewise, Weiss argued that in Jesus’ view judgment would not conclude the progressively developing Kingdom, but precede the apocalyptic one, typified by cosmic catastrophes (Mark 13:24-25). Moreover, Jesus believed that he would judge as the exalted Son of man. Salvation, then, is future, unworldly, spiritual; it includes the joys of a messianic banquet, and glory. Ethics are not ethics of the Kingdom, but the ethics of preparation, said Weiss, and righteousness is the condition for entrance.

One variation that should be mentioned is the description of the Kingdom of God as “already, but not yet.” This view says that the Kingdom of God is both present and future. This is true in a sense, but can be misleading. The Kingdom is only present now in anticipation and preparation, as we have seen. It is sometimes said that the Kingdom has arrived in a partial form that is hidden from the world at large, but when Christ returns it will be “fully consummated.” The Bible describes the return of Christ as the beginning of the restoration of the world, however, not a “consummation.”

To a large extent, the “already/not yet” scenario is based on the idea that some Scriptures refer to the Kingdom as having come, while most speak of its coming in the future. We saw in the article In Anticipation that the few verses which speak of the Kingdom being present are in the sense of a preparation during this preliminary stage, during which the terms of the New Covenant are offered and individuals experience a foretaste. It is therefore misleading to speak of the Kingdom having arrived in a partial form, when in fact it is the message and power of the Kingdom, the preparation for the Kingdom, that has begun now, while the Kingdom itself must still be hoped for and looked forward to.

Some find it hard to accept that Jesus referred to the Kingdom as “at hand” and that in Revelation he said he was coming “quickly” (Revelation 22:12,20) when it has now been nearly 2000 years. But several times the Prophets declared that the Day of the LORD was “at hand” (Isaiah 13:6; Joel 1:15; 2:1; Zephaniah 1:7) and that was hundreds of years before Christ’s first coming, let alone what time has passed since. So when John says in Revelation that the time for those things to take place is “at hand” (Revelation 1:3; 22:10), or when Peter says that “the end of all things is at hand” (I Peter 4:7), it does not necessarily follow that it must have been fulfilled within a few years of their writing.

Words like “quickly” and “at hand” are relative terms. No matter how much time has passed, we are still closer than we were. (“Now is our salvation nearer than when we believed” – Romans 13:11). God’s timing is not ours. He is infinitely patient. “One day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.”

II Peter 3:
8 But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.
9 The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us–ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.

God is waiting patiently before He pours out His final judgment, so that as many people as possible have a chance to accept His offer of the New Covenant and inherit a place in the coming Kingdom.

One Response to “The Kingdom Redefined, Part 3”

  1. on 25 Dec 2009 at 11:33 pmDoubting Thomas

    Mark C.
    I too like to believe that God is patiently waiting before he pours out His final judgment, so that as many people as possible have a chance to accept His offer.

    Unfortunately I get depressed when I see Christianity in the decline and the atheist getting louder and louder. Europe at one time was the cradle of Christianity but from what I understand because of the continual decline Christians are now a minority in many if not most of the countries of Europe. North America seems to be heading in that same general direction.

    And I don’t believe it can all be explained away by immigration…


Leave a Reply