The Undefined Future Kingdom of Traditional Christianity
In the teaching of Jesus the future is always prominent and the present is meaningful as a preparation for the end of the age when Jesus returns. Any theology which does not operate within this framework has lost its foundation in the Bible.
Scholarship recognizes that Jesus spoke of the Kingdom of God as future and yet as in some sense present. Beyond this it seems reluctant to go. It has not defined what is meant by the future Kingdom. This vagueness about the Kingdom leads automatically to a vagueness about the Gospel — which is the Gospel about the Kingdom — and threatens to obscure the whole Christian message.
The New Testament is not silent, as we have seen, about the future Kingdom. If it only occasionally spells out the details of the future theocracy of the Messiah in which the church is to take part as executives with Christ, this is because it assumes that the doctrine of the Kingdom will be understood from the Old Testament. It never hints that the much greater detail provided by the prophets has been superseded. All that the prophets had revealed about the future Kingdom and the reign of the Messiah awaits fulfillment at the coming of Jesus in glory. The hope for the restoration of Israel (Acts 1:6) is everywhere implied as part of the Christian heritage which Jesus never questioned. This was particularly clear from Jesus’ promise to the Apostles that they will preside over the twelve tribes in the New Age (Matt. 19:28). The idea does not originate in the New Testament. The Psalmist had foreseen a time when regathered Israel would live in peace under the administration of the “thrones of the house of David” (Psalm 122:5). Isaiah had spoken of Jerusalem restored to perfection, her administrators purified “as at the first” (Isa. 1:26), and of an ideal King ruling with his princes (Isa. 32:1). In the New Testament the book of Revelation quite deliberately and specifically gathers together the strands of Messianic prophecy and relates them to the
Second Coming. It is the Christian Apocalypse. How can it be anything else since its author is Jesus Christ? (Rev. 1:1) To speak of the Apocalypse as “Jewish,” as if this means it is not therefore Christian, is fundamentally confusing. Christianity is itself thoroughly Jewish. Jesus is a Jew whose teaching is rooted in the heritage of Israel. In the book of Revelation he confirms much of what had been already recorded in the Gospels. Jesus’ exhortations to the churches in Revelation 2 and 3 show that he subscribed wholeheartedly to the traditional Messianism of the Old Testament. This fact cannot be avoided except by the drastic expedient of denying the authorship of the Revelation to the risen Christ and excising a mass of apocalyptic sayings from the
It is the tragedy of critical scholarship that, in desperation to create a Jesus who conforms to its view of what the Savior should be, it has attempted a presentation of Christianity which simply ignores or eliminates large amounts of the Christian records. It has thus proposed a radical reconstruction of the Old and New Testament doctrine of the Kingdom, and then attributed its own creation to Jesus!
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