The Challenge of the Kingdom (Part 2)

One of the things that has always annoyed me about N. T. Wright’s description of the Kingdom in the Gospels is that he seems to be guarding the idea of the Kingdom on two separate fronts. On the one hand, he frequently denies that Jewish expectations were looking for the “end of space and time,” or the end of the world.  Here has in mind the typical American view of the end times as channeled through the Left Behind series.  Wright usually uses words like “lurid” to describe these apocalyptic fantasies. On the other hand, Wright wants to invest the Kingdom with a fair amount of radicalness in the first century.  This means he must avoid the rather bland descriptions of the Kingdom as doing good and loving your neighbor popular in liberal Christianity.

I think both sides have a cause to be annoyed at Wright’s regular characterization of their positions.  For example, while Left Behind is one representation of Dispensationalist thinking, it is in fact fantasy, a fictional “what if” story and not at all a reasonable presentation of a theology.  To me, judging Dispensationalism by Left Behind is life judging Catholicism by the movie Dogma.  This is a strawman argument at best and an ad hominem argument at worst.  Wright regular points out that the Jews expected a real kingdom in this world, not the end of the world whether (post-apocalyptic or eternal state).  This is exactly what Dispensationalist have always said about Jewish messianic hopes. It disappoints me that wild speculation in bad fiction is used to judge a theological system.  (There are many good reasons to attack dispensational theology, the popularity of the Left Behind series ought not be one of them).

On the second front, Wright is correct that protestant liberal interpretations of the Kingdom are bland and not at all what Jesus would have meant.  Nor would Jesus have been understood if he tried to present a Kingdom which was based on the “Golden Rule” alone.  There are far more political and social issues in the teaching of Jesus which have to be dismissed if he was just telling us to be nice to each other.  What is more, why kill someone who was encouraging us to love one another?  What harm could Jesus have done if that was all he really taught?  No, there is something more in the teaching of Jesus, something which was a challenge to the worldview of the people who heard him teach and watched him “act out” the Kingdom of God.

Wright is certainly correct when he states that Jesus was offering a critique of his contemporaries from within, “his summons was not to abandon Judaism and try something else, but to be the true, returned-from-exile people of the one true God” (52).  Jesus is presenting himself as the voice of Isaiah 40-55 – calling his people out of exile to meet their messiah and to enjoy a renewed relationship with their God.

27 thoughts on “The Challenge of the Kingdom (Part 2)

  1. “He was, in short, announcing the kingdom of God- not the simple revolutionary message of the hard-liners but the doubly revolutionary message of a kingdom that would overturn all other agendas” (53). God would use this kingdom to turn everything upside down, so that Israel might be reunited with God. Jesus brought new perspective on everything especially the law (Luke 6:9). He even talked, ate, touched sinners and those who were unclean. Imagine the shock and horror that must have masked the faces of the Pharisees and teachers of the law as they watched this crazy Jew claim authority over evil spirits, sin, disease, and even death. “What Jesus was to Israel, the church must now be for the world” (53). We are to be revolutionaries who bring the message of his redemptive work to the world. This is our front.

    • I agree with what you are saying Anna. God’s plan for the coming Kingdom was the complete opposite of everybody’s mentality in that day and age. They thought that Christ would bring redemption to the actual kingdom here on earth. We as sinners have a hard time with trying to have our own ideas of life match up with God’s plan. Jesus was obviously the driving force behind changing everything, including the law. Mark 3:3-5 say, “Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.” Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent.
      He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. “To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22). I really like your comment at the end of your post Anna, “We are to be revolutionaries who bring the message of his redemptive work to the world. This is our front.

      • I think you guys are on to something here. It does seem that Jesus kingdom was “completely opposite to the actual kingdom here on earth” – Carry. I wonder how difficult it was for someone during Jesus’ time to have a now perspective, but struggling to remedy the belief that the kingdom was still yet to come. How do you live out something like take up your cross [huge connotations] and follow Christ now? That was central to the kingdom principles/ethics Jesus was proclaiming. Another teaching that I know people were wrestling in their own hearts was the storing up treasures on earth versus heaven. What on earth was Jesus talking about this idea of heaven and earth..and how does kingdom of heaven fit into all of this?

      • You are asking the right questions, but not really answering them. What did Jesus do to “enact” the kingdom of God? In what ways can these principles be used as a model? Some might say they cannot be used as models, since are “kingdom ethics”, but I am not seeing a huge difference between Jesus and Paul on the ethical matters. What do you think the “huge implications” of “taking up your cross” are, Moses?

      • As Moses said, you are onto something. I really liked what Blomberg said in the reading about the kingdom being a reign rather than a realm. I tend to view Christ as an emissary from God inasmuch as I do him our savior. His ministry really did seem to be geared toward the coming Kingdom of God. And through his ministry we see that this kingdom of God is very much a relationship with God and with one another as opposed to being the ground we stand on, with real borders.

        It really was as Blomberg said on page 448, that the word “Dominion” best describes what the Kingdom of God is.

  2. I really like the comment P Long made about Jesus’ teaching. Why kill someone who is just preaching to love one another? Why put someone to death if all they were doing was trying to make the world a better place? You wouldn’t. Which is why we know there was much, much more to the preaching and teaching of Jesus. He preached of the Kingdom of God, and lived it out in all that He did. Many first century Jews believed that this Kingdom of God was going to be their freedom from Roman rule, but they were mistaken. They missed what Jesus was truly preaching to them, and what He was speaking of. Jesus was not abandoning Judaism, or starting up a new religion, but he was fulfilling what the Jews were waiting for; the Messiah. “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them”, (Matthew 5:17).

  3. Anna had a couple excellent things to say in her post. The first being, God would use this kingdom to turn everything upside down, so that Israel might be reunited with God. Jesus was being totally different when it comes to the traditions of the Pharisees. When I was reading though Monday’s reading in Luke 6, it talks about how Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath. According to the Pharisees it is unlawful to pick up grain and eat the kernels on the Sabbath. In verse three, Jesus answered them by telling them an account of David and finished by saying, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath”. The second thing awesome thing Anna posted was the quote from N.T. Wright which said, “What Jesus was to Israel, the church must now be to the world” (53). We really need to be the people in the world who have the courage to do what is right in this world and start living out the redemptive message.

  4. I really enjoyed when N.T. Wright talked about Jesus often telling people to “repent and believe in me.” This is definitely a common phrase for modern Christians, and can be seen throughout the Gospels frequently. While we can’t assume that Jesus and Josephus had the exact same meanings when they used the phrase, Wright says, “we cannot suppose that he [Jesus] meant less.” (44) The main core of this phrase says to give up our own agendas and the trust Him (God). I love how Wright defines what exactly Jesus was asking of his disciples. He says, “He was telling his hearers to give up their agendas and to trust him for his way of being Israel, his way of bringing the kingdom, his kingdom-agenda.” (44) When I read this, I immediately saw the correlation to Christians in a postmodern world. Christ, when asking us to give up our agendas and trust him, is asking us to trust in, and follow, his definition and model of being the kingdom of God on earth. He redeemed the original purpose of Israel with his death, and has given us who believe and follow this same purpose. Matthew 5:16 says, “In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” He asks us to be selfless and trusting, thus being the kingdom of heaven.

  5. I appreciate the aspect of Jesus “critiquing His contemporaries from within”. It’s a genuine description of what Jesus’ ministry did for the contemporary, contextual Jewish community. The idea of separating the Kingdom into two viewpoints is difficult for me, though. The Kingdom was lived out in Jesus’ life, and is to be continued to be lived out in our lives, but the Kingdom will be fully established in the second coming of Christ. Jesus also did tell us to “be nice”, so to speak, but, in a completely non-apathetic way. Merely being nice does not add to the inheritance of Christ, nor does it show any inward, Spiritual change. Anyone can “be good” or be nice, but it takes an outside force to incite legitimate life change. Our lives are to be the Kingdom to the world, but we must first understand what the kingdom is, why we believe it was and is at hand, and how we can be a part of its inheritance. This was a huge part of Jesus’ ministry and is a defining aspect of our Christianity.

  6. I agree with David in saying that, “Christ, when asking us to give up our agendas and trust him, is asking us to trust in, and follow, his definition and model of being the kingdom of God on earth.” Christ wants us to follow him. He said in Luke 9:23, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” This means that every day we are to leave our “agendas” behind and put his agenda in place of ours. In Luke 18:22, in talking to the rich ruler, Jesus said, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” Jesus wants us to not only give up our “agendas,” but give up all that we have. We are to put “me” aside and follow Christ.

    I also liked when P. Long asked, “why kill someone who was encouraging us to love one another? What harm could Jesus have done if that was all he really taught?” There is definitely something more here as to why Christ was crucified. Wright gives a few examples as to what Jesus believed and taught on page 44. He says that, “Jesus was opposed to it [armed revolution] because he saw it as, paradoxically, a way of being deeply disloyal to Israel’s God and to his purpose for Israel to be the light of the world.” Another example Wrigth gives on page 44 is that, “Jesus was offering… an utterly risky way of being Israel, the way of turning the other cheek and going the second mile, the way of losing your life to gain it.” I believe that in the days of Christ, people might have had a hard time understanding what he was saying. It went beyond love God and loving one another. It went as far as treating your enemies with respect and giving up your life, your agenda, to follow Christ. This must have been very difficult to understand back then.

  7. “why kill someone who was encouraging us to love one another?”P. Long. Agree that it is rediculious to kill someone who was trying to make the world a better place. However this same person was challenging the Pharisees view on how the Kingdom of Heaven was going to come about and their roll in it.
    Jesus was presenting a Kingdom that was counter to the way Pharisees saw things. As Wright put it the Pharisees would be considered zealous, and as P. Long puts it, “zealous is something you do with a knife.” So this is the mentality behind killing someone even if they were trying to make the world a better place.

  8. P. Long puts it, “zealous is something you do with a knife.”

    N.T. Wright said that, I just repeat it incessantly.

    • Zealous for the “traditions of the fathers” would certainly include circumcision, as I think the book of Galatians would show quite clearly.

  9. I’m not too sure exactly if there was a question in this post or not, from my understanding it involves Wright’s critique of the apocalyptic literature and his stance on dispensational theology. I really like Wright’s work in t his book because I admire the fact that the Scriptures are related to what was going on during the time of Jewish, a lot of times when I read the scriptures I always have presuppositions of my modern ideas and context of the world I live in. So Wright revolutionizes my thinking on these terms. Wright doesn’t seem like much of a dispensationalist. I’m not sure exactly what his theology is reading his books, but I’d assume its more covenantal. On page 49 Wright mentions, “Who then would be vindicated in the greart coming debacle? Jesus himself and his followers. They were now the true, reconstituted Israel.” What I see here is not a distinction between the church and Israel. However going back to apocalyptic literature Wright mentions a bit on page 51. He mentions about the language in Mark 13 that describes the Son of Man coming on the clouds should “not be taken with wooden literalism.” (another thing that dispensationalism teaches, interpreting literally unless it is clearly figurative language). He suggests that the prediction is not of the “end of the world but o the fall of Jerusalem.” So that is basically my response to the post, just some brainstorming and writing down some of my thoughts from the chapter.

    • “Wright doesn’t seem like much of a dispensationalist.” I think he might be relieved. He is an Anglican, formerly the bishop of Durham, now a research professor and St Andrews. He is occasionally accused for having some dispensationalist like ideas, but that is more or less a coincidence. Unfortunately, his understanding of dispensationalism is at the popular level and he tends to be dismissive. I think I might take issue with “wooden literalism” in your post, no serious dispensationalist who reads Daniel thinks that “with the clouds” means that Jesus is cloud-surfing at the second coming. Clouds are associated with God’s glory in the Hebrew Bible and that is what the metaphor / imagery means in Dan 7.

  10. In general this class has taught me to look at the Gospels through the microscope focused on original time period instead of the lens of the present day, which is out of focus. Many facts have been segued in the understanding of the Jesus by popular culture. Popular books like Left Behind and Left Behind Kids have influenced my views of the future more than they should. When it comes down to it, a closer look the historical Jews view is needed. Wright’s book gives some good insights into this.
    Wrights book also allows me to understand, coming from the current world perspective “What Jesus was to Israel, the church must do for the world” (p.53).

    • JT Nailed it on the head when he said that what Christ did for the Church we must do for the world. As the Church we are the commissioners of they why to the what, in regards to the Kingdom of God. The why of course being to fulfill our role in the relationship we are participating in with God, and the what being the Kingdom of God and it’s role in the why. Thus as the Church I really think that we need to be an emissary of the Kingdom of God, we must perpetuate the relationship and its roles to the world around us, man’s role as steward, and God’s role as sovereign over all creation. Great work JT!

  11. So true! I am tired of hearing the Left Behind critique by N. T. Wright! It is ridiculous because it does not reflect the centrality of dispensationalism. It is an attack on a fictional, fantasy book that so happens to advocate dispensational thought.

    I do see that Wright goes back and forth between these two extremes. He says that we have gone too far with apocalyptic thinking yet we do not think of Jesus in the right way. We do tend think that Jesus was not so radical. Our culture thinks that Jesus was just a “good man” that taught people to “love each other”. However, if this is what Jesus taught then there is no reason for anyone to get angry at him. Jesus was radical in the way he spoke to the Jews and about the kingdom. No, it was not in the way that the Jews thought it would be. They expected an earthly reign on this earth and freedom from the Roman Empire. This is exactly what dispensational thought says. I believe that there is going to be an earthly reign that Jesus will have when he comes back to deal with the nation of Israel but that remains to be in the future.

    • Unfortunately, dispenstationalists have not really given Wright much to work with that is not popular and sketchy. I would rather he read Bock, Blaising, Saucy and (of course) Dale Dewitt, but he is not writing on Dispensationalism so he has not sought out these writers. All we get is a throw-away comment here and there which really is a strawman argument. On the one hand, I am sure he would still disagree with many elements of dispensationalism (eschatology, for example), but he would also find that we agree with him on a great deal of details.

  12. I totally agree with P Long’s statement about protestant liberal interpretations on the Kingdom when he says, “There are far more political and social issues in the teaching of Jesus”. The society to which Jesus came into was looking for a political savior/leader that would bring them back to their rightful place as God’s chosen people. They would have had no reason to have felt that threatened by him if he was not challenging political and social boundaries or at least making people assume that he was or would be.

  13. I personally liked the questions Andrew refered to from P Long when talking about the teachings and preachings of Jesus, “Why kill someone who is just preaching to love one another? Why put someone to death if all they were doing was trying to make the world a better place?” Everyone knows the answer to those questions is that no one would. This obviously means that there is much more to what Jesus was teaching and preaching if they crucified him for teaching love and sharing about how to make the world a better place. I think of all the miracles Jesus performed, people would not see that as a bad thing when someone raises some one up from the dead most would rejoice and praise that person. This is another example to support the thought that there was much more to what Jesus was teaching and preaching.

  14. When reading through the assigned readings for Monday morning, I was astonished when I found out the meaning of the Kingdom of God. There is a distinct different between the kingdom of Heaven and the Kingdom of Earth. Jesus main idea in his teaching was to repent and follow him. Scripture says in mark 1:15 to repent for the Kingdom of God is near. I like how David pointed out that God desires for us as Christians, believer in Christ, to lay fork over our agendas to Christ and let him take over our life. Jesus in the midst of his teaching was presenting a kingdom that was completely different to the way the Pharisees saw things. He came down to earth to do the will of God and die on the cross as a holy sacrifice so that we can give our hearts to God.

  15. I liked the comparison of Dispensationalism being judged by left behind as Catholicism being judged by Dogma… it made me laugh… i’m going to hell… anyway, while i’m still here…

    It seems to me that people judge Christ and his actions according to the culture they are in. Even though we are striving to see Jesus and understand his way in His context, I can’t help but suspect that we have our own notions regardless of how hard we try to be unbiased about it. Even this whole, being to the world what Christ was to Israel idea has the undertones of the American cowboy gunslinger lone star. I don’t know… if this is just me then i’ll just shut up but it’s hard to tell… all the same, I agree that the Church SHOULD be to the world what Jesus was to Israel. If we are to be hands and feet, we need to go and do. If Christ was radical and challenged misguided theology and beliefs, so too should be be out there challenging the misguided beliefs that face our world. If Christ took care of the sick, we too should take care of the sick. If Christ ministered to the lowest of the low, we too should do the same. I feel that we do not truly understand what we say when we say that “the Church should be to the world what Jesus was to Israel.” What would it take for us to get back to that point?

    • This is a good point Jason. American individualism might see the “maverick” in Jesus more than is in the text. He is more connected to his culture than we like to think, teaching within the Second Temple Period Judaism. He is radical, but he is not so counter-cultural that he was a “hippie.” Although the Jesus / Clint Eastwood cowboy is an intriguing image!

  16. Wow. It doesn’t take long looking into first century Judaism to realize that Jesus’ teachings amounted to much more than the usual “moral of the story” approach we learned in Sunday School. I realize that the “lessons” we learned from the parables and bible stories – be kind, have patience – were things the people in that culture probably did fine. Then I read Blomberg/Wright and find out that Jesus’ words and illustrations caused quite a social/political dilemma for those who took these words seriously – I recall one of the two authors referring to it as a “crisis.” There’s no way these teachings were limited to moral lessons… they simply must have involved much more, enough that they stirred views and conceptions that were already seated deep within the people that heard them.

    Taking this kind of magnitude into consideration, it makes it much clearer to see how it takes no less than diligent study to discover how to continue this type of revolution in our current surroundings. Because we obviously aren’t dealing with misconceptions about the coming Messiah, oppression from pagans, or wondering about the whens and wheres of the liberation of our nation. So what is the worldview in West Michigan that needs to be shaken, rethought, and reversed. What way is the Gospel going to cause a “crisis?”

    • “So what is the worldview in West Michigan that needs to be shaken, rethought, and reversed.” Good question – but *how* did Jesus shake up his world? As Wright says in his second chapter, Jesus offered a critique from within Judaism. He did not declare that the Law was wrong and everyone should leave Judaism in favor of something new, he argued within the world of Judaism that people ought to do the Law in spirit and in truth. He does not condemn people for keeping Law, rather, he encourages them to keep it on a deeper level rather than the surface level, the hypocritical traditions which he has no time for at all.

      With that in mind, *how* are you going to poke at things in your culture that need to be challenged? This is more than identifying a wrong that needs to be righted, rather, this is about challenging people who are already on the right track to go deeper in serving their God.

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