Some who have been reading this series have told me they were eager to see how I was going to describe the advent of the kingdom of God on earth. And I was eager to see that too! I was game. I boldly set fingers to keyboard, but then I realized there were a few more things that you and I should talk about first. As Jesus tells us in the Gospels, if we hope to bring the kingdom of God on earth we must first get rid of all fear-based religious ideas, and we probably will need to escape every religions-based notion altogether. For certain, we will need to replace that judgmental and cranky human-made God with the perfectly loving Spirit that Jesus reveals to us in the Gospels. If you haven’t read those three previous blog posts, please do that before you read this one so we can explore some further truths together!
As I have sought a deeper understanding of the Lord’s Gospel message, I have developed a habit of checking the work of various Biblical scholars; so this week I looked at how Christian scholars have interpreted the Lord’s Gospel words about the kingdom of God. To be frank, what I have seen confounds me. Surely someone in two thousand years must have considered the Lord’s Gospel words to be important in and of themselves? Yet every interpretation of the Lord’s teachings I can find that talks about His bringing the kingdom of God on earth has been built on and mixed with Christian religious ideas. No one ever seems to have tried to hear those words as the earliest followers of Jesus heard His words. No one has sought to understand what was in the Lord’s mind as He was speaking them.
The only way what all these Christian scholars are doing could make any sense would be if God and Jesus had planned out the details of modern Christianity even before Jesus came to earth. But that would be inconsistent with a lot of what the Lord says in the Gospels! And if He came to start a new religion, why did He never through four whole Gospels come out and plainly tell us that? Instead, He spoke against religions! And there was no recognizable Christian religion for hundreds of years after His death. Furthermore, we never can forget the fact that the multitudes who are not actually dead now tell us in the strongest terms that every Christian dogma is plain nonsense. They insist that the death of Jesus on the cross has never made an afterlife difference for a single human being. (That fact is so well established by now that perhaps it is time for us to engrave those words on a coffin-lid and finally inter the old Roman Emperors’ human-made and sadly fear-based Christianity?)
So indeed it may be, dear wonderful friends, that you and I are breaking new ground. Amazingly, we are among the first people in two thousand years of history to seek to sit at the feet of the Lord and hear His Gospel words without a beliefs-based overlay.
How did Jesus Himself believe that the kingdom of God on earth would look? As Jesus was just beginning to teach, “He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read. And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book and found the place where it was written, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.’ And He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He said to them, ‘Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing’” (LK 4:15-21).
This Gospel passage is astounding! Here Jesus lays out right at its start what He sees as His public mission, and to do it He uses words that had been written eight hundred years before. Words that clearly He had chosen to read before He ever entered that synagogue. Nowhere does He talk about our sinfulness, or mention that He was planning to sacrifice Himself in order to redeem us. No, we can have no doubt that He was focused from the start of His ministry on bringing the kingdom of God on earth!
So, what can you and I tease out of these words that we hear this unknown young man speak as we sit in that synagogue long ago? He is quoting scripture, so we realize He might not have meant every one of those words, although I suspect that He did mean them all. Let’s look more closely at what His words might have meant to Him as He was saying them:
So Jesus began His work by proclaiming that His mission was to transform humankind. He intended to create a world in which all these wonderful outcomes would unfold together! This is the result that Jesus expected His teachings to produce: this is how He foresaw the kingdom of God developing as it overspread the earth. He told us we should pray for it, and in that same prayer He revealed that the kingdom of God would be God’s will done perfectly on earth. He said that we are to pray, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (MT 6:10). And again He said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven will enter” (MT 7:21). He thereby further emphasized the fact that it is only our obeying God’s will that can bring the kingdom of God on earth. And what is God’s will that we are to obey? He lays it out repeatedly, through all four Gospels! This may be the best example:
“But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (MT 5:39-48).
It is clear from what He says in the Gospels that Jesus expects the almost immediate advent of the kingdom of God on earth. “Now after John (the Baptist) had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; change your mind and believe in the gospel’” (MK 1:14-15). Of course, theologians dispute the fact that Jesus meant that literally. They try to retro-engineer Christianity back into the Gospels, even though the formal religion began long centuries after Jesus died. And there can be no doubt that Jesus Himself intended to begin the process of bringing the kingdom of God on earth right now. He said, “The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John; since that time the gospel of the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it” (LK 16:16). He said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; change your mind and believe in the gospel” (MK 1:15). He even said, “But I say to you truthfully, there are some of those standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God” (LK 9:27).
Jesus came to us directly from the Godhead with the mission of bringing the kingdom of God on earth in the decades after His death, and He gave to His mission everything He had! So why did it all go so wrong? We’ll talk about that next week.