Unification News for January 1999
Volume 3 Part 3
Jesus’ work on earth is dominated by a central, all-pervasive theme: the Kingdom of Heaven. "Repent," Jesus says, "for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Mt. 4:17)
In proclaiming this message, Jesus is announcing the fulfillment of a hope which God had long instilled in the Jewish people. At least since the seventh century B.C., the Hebrew people had looked forward to the arrival of the millennium, a golden age of peace and well-being for all. This Kingdom was to be inaugurated by the Messiah.
"For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called ‘Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.’ Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it, and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from this time forth and forevermore."--Is. 9:6-7.
Isaiah’s view is that the Messiah was to govern his people with justice and righteousness. From the throne of David, he was to reign with wisdom, as Wonderful Counselor, with power, as Mighty God, with love, as the Everlasting Father. In his Kingdom, peace would endure. And not only the Messiah’s human followers, but all nature was to dwell in his peace.
Isaiah writes: "The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the lion and fatling together, and a little child shall lead them... They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the water cover the sea."--Is. 11:6-9.
Isaiah further prophesied the glorious days the Israelite people would see in the Kingdom of the Messiah.
"Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you...Lift up your eyes round about, and see; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from afar, and your daughters shall be carried in their arms...Violence shall no more be heard in your land, devastation or destruction within your borders; you shall become a clan and the smallest one a mighty nation; I am the Lord; in its time I will hasten it."--Is. 60
In the Hebrew mind, this is the glory and joy that the Israelites were to share upon the establishment of the Messianic Kingdom. Their blessing would reach throughout the world, and earth would be the Garden of Eden.
"He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation neither shall they learn war anymore."--Is. 2:4
In all these passages we may see the promise of God’s ideal being realized. The world was to be restored and the Messiah was the catalyst.
An urgent message
Anointed by God for the mission of restoration, Jesus was consistently concerned to teach others of the coming Kingdom. His moral and ethical teachings, his exhortations, even his prayers all relate to this topic. His Sermon on the Mount, it has been said, may be likened to the constitution of the Kingdom of God.
The Kingdom is also the subject of many of Jesus’ parables. He compared the Kingdom to sowing good seeds in various soils; to a tiny grain of mustard seed which would grow into a large tree; to leaven hidden in a meal; and to a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found with joy and then bought at the cost of everything he had.
Just as significant as these repeated references to the Kingdom was the apparent immediacy of its advent. There is a definite now quality to Jesus' references. Because the Kingdom’s foundation had to be laid during Jesus’ lifetime, its establishment was imminent and urgent. Therefore Jesus directed his followers to seek his Kingdom and righteousness first, without giving undue thought to what to eat or wear. His disciples were told to announce that the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand.
Some of the passages from Luke vividly illustrate just how urgent matters were. To a man who wanted to go bury his deceased father, Jesus retorted, "Leave the dead to bury the dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the Kingdom of God." (Lk. 9:60) On another occasion he said, "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God." (Lk. 9:62) In teaching his disciples how to pray, Jesus’ first petition to God was "Thy Kingdom come."
Finally, as we have indicated, Jesus made the point that to enter the Kingdom, one had to be spiritually mature. In his words, "You, therefore, must perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect." (Mt. 5:48)
A Kingdom on Earth
An important distinction must be drawn here between the earthly nature of the Kingdom, as conceived by prophetic Judaism and early Christianity, and spiritualized, ethereal version envisioned by the later Christian Church.
In proclaiming the Kingdom of God (or the Kingdom of Heaven which was substituted because of Hebrew restrictions on the use of the word "God") many Christians believe either that Jesus was referring to the fate of his followers after death or their individual spiritual fulfillment. However, this cannot be the case. As God envisioned a Kingdom of Heaven on earth in the beginning, starting with Adam and Eve, He would naturally envision a Kingdom of Heaven on earth in the end. His intent and will are constant.
Most scholars would agree that envisioning a purely spiritual or personal Kingdom entirely misrepresents the intent of Jesus’ message, ministry and mission.
Professor Frederick C. Grant typifies scholarly opinion: "Jesus’ conception of the Kingdom of God is absolutely and unequivocally and exclusively a religious conception: pure and simply religious, but religious in the sound ancient sense, as embracing all of life, society, politics, the labor of men, as well as their inner feelings, attitudes, and aspirations."--The Gospel of the Kingdom.
The early Christian Church, being closer in time to the earthly life of Jesus, knew that Jesus envisioned an earthly Kingdom and eagerly awaited Jesus’ return to complete his work.
Reflecting this fact, the Apostle Paul is on occasion at pains to placate the early Christians who were hoping for a quick return of Jesus.
"Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our assembling to meet him, we beg you, brethren, not to be quickly shaken in mind or excited, either by spirit or by word...to the effect that the day of the Lord has come."--II Thess. 2:1
It was only later that the return of the Lord would be viewed as indefinitely postponed. With this postponement, the concept of the Kingdom was gradually deflected away from earth and toward heaven.
We may say in summary that the kingdom that Jesus attempted to bring was a literal, physical kingdom, a restored world based on God’s original ideal. Jesus was to become the spiritual and ethical archetype, the model individual of the Kingdom. Achieving this himself, he was to show all people the way to individual and collective maturity. Based on the example and the inspiration he furnished, an ideal family, society, nation and world would have come into being. In this way, the long-sought Kingdom would be established.
Clearly, however, the ideal of the Kingdom was not realized. "What happened?" In the next section, the Principle will pursue the answer by first looking at the work of Jesus’ forerunner.
Next Month - Part 4
John the Baptist
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