The Challenge of the Kingdom

We may therefore safely conclude that Jesus habitually went from village to village, speaking of the kingdom of the God of Israel, a celebrating this kingdom in various ways, not least in sharing meals with all and sundry. These actions and words must therefore be seen not as incidental behaviour, irrelevant to his worldview or mindset, but as part at least of the praxis through which we can bring his worldview into focus N. T. Wright Jesus and the Victory of God (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1996) 150.

In The Challenge of Jesus, N. T. Wright correctly points out that we need to understand the “Kingdom of God” in terms of first century Judaism, not modern conceptions. For Wright, this means properly understanding the election of Israel as well as the eschatology of Israel (35). Israel was chosen by God to bless the whole world (Gen 12:1-3). But after centuries of exile and domination by foreign powers, some in Israel began to wonder how that blessing was going to happen.

King JesusWright suggests three ways at least some of Jewish thinkers understood the problem (37). First, for Jews like the Qumran community withdrawal from society was the best option. Assuming the standard view of the Qumran community, it appears that this group went out in into the wilderness to “prepare the way of the Lord” by living an ultra-pure life in anticipation of the soon arrival of Messiah. Second, the opposite was the case for Jews like Herod. Herod was more or less a Roman, wholeheartedly buying into the Roman worldview. Perhaps I would include Josephus here as well, since he seemed to think that the Roman victory over Jerusalem was “God’s will.” The third view was that of the Zealots, who did not meekly withdraw into the wilderness nor did the compromise. Rather, like Phineas in the Hebrew Bible or Judas Maccabees, they burned zealously for the traditions of the Jews and took up arms against the Romans.

What was common between the Zealots and the Qumran community, according to Wright, was the belief that the exile would come to an end soon. God was about to break into history and establish his kingdom in Jerusalem once and for all. The nations would be converted (or judged) and the whole world would worship at Jerusalem. While this eschatological view appears in slightly different ways among the various Jewish documents of the Second Temple Period, that God would establish his kingdom and end the exile is as much of a “standard” view as anything in this period.

Jesus appears in Galilee announcing the kingdom of God is at hand.” (Mark 1:14-15). The “Kingdom” is so commonplace those of us in the church that it has lost any rhetorical “punch” it once had. “Kingdom” has become an overworked metaphor or a theological fighting point. But we are not the people to whom that announcement was originally addressed. In the synoptic gospels, John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness, using language drawn from the great kingdom passages of the Old Testament, then Jesus preached that the Kingdom was at hand – and that it was actually present! To those Jews living in the first century, under the oppression of Roman rule, especially in Galilee — the Kingdom of God was a radical, even revolutionary idea. It was the hope of many Jews that God would establish the kingdom immediately, and the Messiah would come to end the long exile of his people.

Is Wright’s view of the “kingdom” different than the use of the phrase in popular preaching? What do people mean when they use phrases like “building the kingdom” or “working for the kingdom”? How is this related to what Jesus was teaching? (Or, is it related at all to the teaching of Jesus?)

10 thoughts on “The Challenge of the Kingdom

  1. What Wright says is that the Jews were waiting on the return of Christ to establish a physical kingdom in Jerusalem where everybody will come and worship. If someone were to say ‘building the Kingdom’ now, they would mean raising the number of people that will go to heaven. By way of people being saved through redemption.

    I think that when we talk about the kingdom, we are talking about a couple different things. When we say kingdom, we are referring to a physical place and a place we are existing in currently as Christians. So if we take this and apply it to phrases we use now such as “building the kingdom” or “working for the kingdom”, this is in reference to the growing number of people who are being saved through grace or the ways we are trying to lead people towards becoming a follower in Christ.

    If we look at what Jesus means when He says Kingdom, it means several different things, all depending on the context of what He is talking about. If we look at the parable in Mark chapter 4 about the man who scatters seed. I believe Jesus is talking about the actions someone takes and wether they are doing it for the Lord. If we are doing what the Lord is saying, then He will bless it and ‘crops will grow’. So in this situation, the Kingdom means someone who is following the Lord’s leading.
    If we look at Luke 4 when Jesus was off by himself, the people went to find Him and when they did find him, Jesus said “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent”(Luke 4:43). Jesus is proclaiming the good news that their is a God who has forgiven our sins and has given us a chance for redemption. The only thing we have to do is accept it.

  2. The “Kingdom” had, as you say, a rhetorical punch, because it was eschatological – John and Jesus were announcing that God was about to break through into human history.

    The way it is used today, the phrase “building the Kingdom” appears to be another generic metaphor for the Christian life. If you are living for Christ, you are building the Kingdom.

    Wright also said, “The resurrection completes the inauguration of God’s kingdom. . . . It is the decisive event demonstrating that God’s kingdom really has been launched on earth as it is in heaven.” If that is correct, that might justify “Kingdom building”, but what drives Wright to make this claim? Scripture? Is the present church really God’s Kingdom as it is in heaven?

  3. In some aspects, I think Wright’s view of the “kingdom” is different than the way it is popularly preached. For example, Wright’s view goes back to the perspective of the Jews’ beliefs at that time. His central view is that the kingdom of God will come upon us at a future time, and will make everything new. I agree with the way Wright explains the kingdom of God as “not yet”. There is so much proof in Jesus’ teachings that explain how the kingdom is already here, but to some extent. Since this is Jesus’ central message in all of his ministry, there are many examples that support this view point. For example, Mark 9:47 says, “And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell”. By saying this, Jesus shows that entering the kingdom of God is coming by preaching this in future tense.

    Then at the same time, there is the view of “already” which is central to a lot of Christian views. Jesus explains that the kingdom of God is already with us, but hasn’t completely been revealed. Luke 17:21 says, “nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.” This proves that the kingdom of God is with us now, but hasn’t been fully revealed to us. I strongly believe this position and I can continually see that this idea is being adopted and preached on. I have even heard this idea preached at GLCC, which is a Christian Reform church along with many other churches. Now, I feel that this view of the “kingdom” is becoming one of the most popular view when preaching.

    I think when people talk about “building the kingdom” they are referring to expanding and advancing the kingdom by sharing the good news of Jesus with unbelievers. Jesus sets an example for us in Luke 8:1: “Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God”. I think this is the same principal as “working for the kingdom” in that both are working towards sharing the good news which will expand the kingdom of God.

  4. I once heard a sermon claiming that the prayer in Matthew 6:9-15, “…Thy kingdom come…” is referring to praying that the will of the Lord would be completed here on earth. I think this mindset rings with what you were explaining, Ben, in your fourth paragraph with following the Lord’s leading. Allowing Him to lead you; allowing Him to perform His will through you. I also resonate with several of the comments above, commonly saying that the ‘working for the kingdom’ is another term of winning others over for Christ.
    However, to answer the question to whether or not the kingdom is here or not or come and gone, we look to the words of Jesus. Jesus reveals in Mark 1:15 that the kingdom of God is at hand. But like you explained in your post, Travis, it is not yet wholly revealed. “We must therefore acknowledge both the present and future dimensions in Jesus’ kingdom preaching. The kingdom is both ready and not yet. In the present, people are called to submit to God’s authority and so “enter” his kingdom” (Strauss. 439).

  5. If I was placed in the shoes of Jews, I think it would be very difficult to accept the teachings of Jesus. The Jewish traditions have been in place for many years before Jesus started preaching and teaching. Jesus was not killed for proclaiming the kingdom of God. He was killed for claiming that He was God. His teachings were setting a foundation and example for the people, and He was showing them how they can advance the kingdom of God. Building up the kingdom is for the Church to do by sharing the gospel and showing Christ’s love to those who may not believe. Those who believe are already part of His kingdom in heaven. The Old Testament was waiting for the day that the Lord would come, and Jesus fulfills this promise by being born. He is the king, the savior of His people, and He appeared before His people to let them know that he had arrived. When Jesus returns a second time, He will defeat Satan and all the powers that go against Him. “… Jesus proclaims that God was acting now to reveal His kingdom and defeat Satan.” (Strauss 439). In Matthew 4: 17 says, “From that time, Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” I believe that when Jesus says this, it is an announcement of His, their king’s, arrival. He preaches to them that He is the Savior. He has come to seek and save that which is lost.

  6. In this ” The Challenge of the Kingdom ” they are challenging whether the kingdom is now in the present or in the days to come. N.T. Wright believes that to understand we need to get back to the O.T. and think the ways the Jews thought. Jesus thought that Israel was chosen by God to bless the world, but the Jews didn’t know how it was going to happen since they were still in exile.
    Strauss says Jesus taught both senses of the kingdom of God, he taught in the present as in the Lords Prayer in Matthew, his will be done on earth as in heaven, and in the future state believers would enter one day.
    I agree with one of the other blogs that says ” building the kingdom appears to be a generic metaphor for living the Christian life.

  7. I think people now days talk about the kingdom as the work for God, it is all the Christians in the world, that is what makes up the kingdom. We do good things for the kingdom and help others for the kingdom. I think that working for the kingdom is anything that people are doing that is the “Christian” thing. When people say building the kingdom I think they are most likely talking about bringing other people to Christ and adding people to the kingdom.

    On page 38 of N.T. Wright’s book, he says, “Throughout his brief public career Jesus spoke and acted as if God’s plan of salvation and justice for Israel and the world was being unveiled through his own presence , his own work, his own fate.”

    The Jewish people thought this at the time of Jesus, that is why Jesus’s teaching was related. This had an impact on the Jewish people of what Jesus was saying to them a the time.

  8. Building God’s kingdom, or working for the kingdom, triggers the idea in my mind that the kingdom is being raised through the people that believe in Christ. I believe it is an essential part of why we as students are attending this school. We are to work towards the kingdom of God by basically telling others about Jesus. We are to show others that His goodness is indeed real, and that He is in fact here. Some of us choose to be blind to the fact that God is here, or that He is working in every aspect of our lives. However, I believe when we strive to see God, the “Kingdom” becomes more visible and clear to see. I also believe that we will be able to fully see and comprehend the Kingdom of God when we finally get to Heaven. Matthew 10:7 “As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.”
    So, when Jesus is teaching, isn’t He trying to essentially raise awareness that the kingdom is here and that we should take notice of it? Isn’t He trying to teach us so that when we die we can fully enter the kingdom to be with God forever?

  9. Yeah, it is a good point that we have taken “the Kingdom” and turned it into an overused analogy. I think from the time of Jesus until now it has definitely changed its meaning. I think when we talk today about “working for the Kingdom” or “building the Kingdom,” it simply means we are doing some work that we think will make the Church stronger. It seems like in Jesus’ time the Kingdom was much more important and immediate.

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