by Young Oon Kim
Jesus And God's Kingdom
Jesus' preaching was dominated by his faith in God's coming kingdom. He was primarily an eschatological prophet, proclaiming that the reign of God is at hand (Mk. 1: 14, 15). Almost every modern New Testament scholar recognizes this fact. 34 As Schweitzer declared, the quest for the historical Jesus must end with either consistent eschatology or complete skepticism. If Jesus of Nazareth was not a herald of the imminent messianic age, we do not know anything about him. 35
What does this mean? For some scholars, 36 first, it implies that Jesus himself was not the central focus of his own ministry, He preached not himself but the advent of the kingdom of God. He assumed that his hearers knew about the eschatological. hope and that they awaited its arrival. Thus, to understand Jesus' mission we must recognize that he came in the service of God's expected kingdom.
Secondly, his ministry represents a reaffirmation of the Jewish prophetic tradition. In spite of numerous political and social catastrophes, like the Babylonian exile and Roman domination, pious Jews hoped for some kind of authentic liberation and a messiah who would bring about the realization of their aspirations. Hence, the eschatological hope rested upon two convictions: 1) that God would reassert His sovereignty and 2) that His coming reign would modify the existing social order.
God's kingdom signified the advent of utopia, a total transformation of reality. The coming messiah would judge the world and liberate His people. As Isaiah explains, "the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces" (25:8), creating new heavens and a new earth where there will always be joy and happiness (65:17).
Hence, liberation theology says that God's future reign will create a completely new and lasting social order. When the kingdom arrives, all men will be oriented vertically toward God by becoming His sons. Furthermore, there will be reconciliation and lasting fellowship among human beings. Therefore, the kingdom was expected to transform men's inner spirits and restructure their tangible relationships with one another. These two aspects of the divine rule cannot be separated.
God's imminent kingdom necessitates victory over sin. Jesus' preaching took place in the context of a sinful world. So the good news must be viewed as liberation. Sin is not simply saying no to God but saying no to God's kingdom. Hence, sin must not merely be pardoned but eradicated. Faith refers to victory over sin: the sin of self-centered separation from God and selfish oppression of one's fellowmen.
Jesus' understanding of sin in relation to the kingdom contains two elements. On one hand, men sin because they are so concerned about themselves, their possessions, their status and their security that they refuse to accept the coming kingdom. On the other hand, Jesus denounced the public, social and structural aspects of sin. For him, we break our filial ties with God when we break our fraternal ties with one another. Jesus opposed collective sin as well as personal waywardness. He attacks the Pharisees because they pay no attention to justice; the scribes because they put intolerable burdens on people; the rich because they refuse to share their wealth; the priests because they govern despotically.
Jesus' opposition to structural sin can be seen in the way he associated God's cause with the poor and lowly. He preferred fellowship with the exploited and alienated. To be his disciple (say the liberation theologians) means to fight for love and justice. Love for God and love for neighbor were the same for Jesus. One can only sin against God by sinning against man. One can only love God and be saved by loving and serving man.
How is this related to the eschatological hope? Eschatology implies "crisis." God's coming kingdom does not confirm the status quo. It judges the existing social order and re-creates it in conformity with God's sovereignty. God wants to improve every aspect of human existence. Eschatology points to a better future for all.
Many scholars would dispute the liberationist interpretation of the coming kingdom. It overlooks the apocalyptic nature of Jesus' message. Man does not build the kingdom through political involvement, social criticism and revolutionary action. God's reign will be inaugurated suddenly, like a flash of lightning. The kingdom will arrive as an unexpected gift from God manifested in startling acts of supernatural power. Our role is not to create the kingdom but to be on watch for signs of the End-time and be prepared for its appearance.
What then did the apocalyptic Jew mean by the reign of God? First, the kingdom referred to an outpouring of the Spirit. According to common Jewish opinion, in the time of the patriarchs, all pious men possessed God's spirit. Then because of Israel's sin-the worship of the golden calf-the gift of the Spirit was limited to a select few: God's specially anointed kings, prophets and high priests. Even this disappeared with the death of the last Old Testament prophet. Once the Old Testament writings were completed, God spoke only through "the echo of his voice" (bat qol). However, in the Last Days, the Spirit will return with extraordinary visions, dreams and wondrous signs. In the New Testament, for example, Jesus' exorcisms are treated as evidence that the Spirit has returned.
Secondly, for apocalyptic Judaism, the kingdom referred to the overcoming of the cosmic rule of Satan. Jesus' ministry should be interpreted as a battle with demonic forces enslaving all mankind. Like his contemporaries in the Qumran community, Jesus thought of his work as eschatological. warfare against the invisible powers who have seized control of God's creation.
Thirdly, Jesus considered the rule of God as a present reality as well as a future event. He announced the dawn of the apocalyptic age and looked forward to its full manifestation. Both aspects are found in the earliest strand of tradition. 37 Hence, the apostolic community insisted that Jesus' earthly ministry was only a prelude to the coming consummation of God's reign in power. For first century Christians, the kingdom was "now" and "not yet." In fact, the Gospels and Epistles show how disturbed many were by the unforeseen delay of the Parousia. "Maranatha" (0 Lord, come), they prayed.
Nevertheless, there seem to be at least two novel teachings in Jesus' apocalypticism. On one hand, he opposed a common Jewish view about God's reign. Many of his listeners assumed that God was always the king over Israel and that Satan was only in power among the Gentiles who oppressed the chosen people. At this point, Jesus' message ran counter to the opinion held by his orthodox enemies. 38 Like the Essenes and John the Baptist, Jesus refused to take for granted the automatic election of the Jewish people. Only a holy remnant had remained loyal to the covenant God had made with Abraham. Therefore, Jesus called upon his countrymen to repent, be converted, and ally themselves with the new eschatological people of God. His sole purpose was to gather God's people into a well-defined fellowship which would be prepared for the advent of the messianic age. 39
On the other hand, Jesus differed radically from the disciples of John the Baptist and the Qumran sectarians in his interpretation of the nature of the holy remnant. For them the kingdom was for "the pious " a select group. By contrast, Jesus shocked his contemporaries by his opposition to such exclusiveness. He proclaimed the boundlessness of God's grace. At his table the hated publican, outcast harlot and well-known "sinner" were welcome. Using symbolic language, he commanded his disciples to invite the crippled, lame and blind to the messianic feast. In Jesus' eyes, God loves sinners and is the Father of the small, the poor and the lost. Hence he opens wide the doors, creating an all-embracing community of God's new people. 40
Unification theology teaches that Jesus came to establish the kingdom of heaven on earth. As St. Paul wrote, Jesus was to be the new Adam restoring the lost garden of Eden. For this purpose he chose twelve apostles, symbolizing the original twelve tribes of Israel, and sent out seventy disciples, symbolizing all the nations of the world. Like John the Baptist, Jesus proclaimed that the long-awaited kingdom of heaven was at hand (Matt. 4:17).
Jesus' distinctive teaching method can be seen in his use of parables. These vivid stories reflect with special clarity the character of Jesus' good tidings (the gospel), the eschatological nature of his preaching, and the intensity of his summons to repentance. All the parables describe some aspect of the imminent kingdom of God. Each one challenges Jesus' hearers to come to a decision about the dawning messianic age. 41
Unification thought corrects two popular misconceptions of the eschatological hope. God's reign does not merely refer to a spiritual kingdom in the hearts of the pious. Such a privatized and individualistic notion of the kingdom of God is not what the New Testament means. Neither does Jesus imply that the kingdom of heaven connotes only the abode of the righteous after death. Jesus labored to set up God's realm on earth. Hence the eschatological hope has social, political, economic and natural as well as personal dimensions.
Now what did the kingdom of God denote in first century Judaism? Rabbi Klausner asserts that Jewish messianism consisted of two conceptions: political-national salvation as well as religious redemption. 42 For Jesus' listeners, the Messiah would be both a ruler and redeemer. God would anoint such an individual to free the Jews from foreign oppression and revitalize their religion. At the same time, the Messiah was expected to establish the kingdom of God worldwide, reform society, root out idolatry and put an end to sin. Rabbinic sources describe the Jewish Messiah as a redeemer strong in physical power and mighty in spirit who will bring complete redemption to the Jewish people-and along with this, eternal peace, economic prosperity, political order and ethical perfection to the whole human race.
Another important point should be mentioned. The Messiah is a human being and not a supernatural person. Redemption comes from God and through God alone. The Messiah is only an instrument in God's hands. Although the Anointed One will occupy a central place in the heavenly kingdom on earth, God remains the primary object of loyalty and worship forever. This view is the ordinary messianic concept of Jesus' day.
However, like St. Paul and St. John, the most creative theologians of the New Testament period, Unification theology stresses man's original sin and the satanic domination of our alienated world. While these features are not entirely absent from the rabbinic tradition they are more characteristic of the apocalyptic and sectarian Judaism out of which Christianity sprang.
Once we recognize that Jesus was commissioned by God to bring about His reign on earth during his lifetime, it is easy to understand the urgency behind his ministry. For this reason Jesus insisted that his disciples put first, total commitment to the imminent kingdom. That is why Peter and the others immediately dropped what they had been doing to follow Jesus. It likewise explains Jesus' strange commands, "Let the dead bury the dead" and "Forget about the girl you have just married," because "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for God's kingdom" (Lk. 9:60-62; 14:20).
To enter the kingdom, one must be perfect, Jesus taught. As the Sermon on the Mount reads, "Be perfect even as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matt. 5:48). This passage is often ignored or badly misunderstood. What does it mean to be perfect? In Judaism, perfection refers to fulfillment of one's possibilities and completion of one's basic goal as a child of God. Because mankind is steeped in wickedness, human nature lacks completion. Man's true capabilities have never reached fruition because of the bondage of sin. Thus, the messianic age will enable men to attain spiritual, moral and material well-being. 43 Like Pauline Christianity, Unification theology asserts that man cannot achieve his innate God-given potentialities until he is purged of original sin. The Messiah must be the savior as well as the leader.
What then was the function of the Messiah in God's plan of redemption? Jesus was appointed God's earthly representative in order to subjugate Satan, cleanse men of original sin and free them from the power of evil. Christ's mission involved liberation from sin and raising mankind to the perfection stage. His purpose was to bring about the kingdom of heaven in our world with the help of men filled with divine truth and love. Jesus' goal was to restore the garden of Eden, a place of joy and beauty in which true families of perfected parents would dwell with God in a full relationship of reciprocal love. To use the terminology of Divine Principle, the kingdom of God on earth refers to individuals, couples, families and nations built upon the four position foundation centered in God.
34 Bultmann insists that Jesus doubtless appeared as one commissioned by God to preach the eschatological message of the breaking-in of the kingdom. Hence we may ascribe to him a prophetic consciousness (C. E. Braaten and R. A. Harrisville, eds., The Historical Jesus and the Kerygmatic Christ, 1964, pp. 22-24).
35 The Quest of the Historical Jesus, chap. XIX.
36 See Jon Sobrino, Christology at the Crossroads (1976). Sobrino, is a Spanish born liberationist theologian teaching in El Salvador and a Jesuit.
37 Jeremias, New Testament Theology (1971), pp. 76-108.
38 Ibid., pp. 99-100.
39 Ibid., pp. 171-173.
40 Ibid., p. 177.
41 Jeremias, The Parables of Jesus (1972); C. H. Dodd, Parables of the Kingdom (1961).
42 Cf. J. Klausner, The Messianic Idea in Israel (1955) p.392.
43 Ibid., pp. 524-525.
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