Match the 4 possibilities of the kingdom message and their characteristics (Scholar's Corner: The Kingdom Message).
The first possibility was advanced by Albert Schweitzer in The Quest of the Historical Jesus. Here he rightly insists that Jesus’ message and ministry must be understood in the context of first century Jewish apocalyptic thought. Based on this, Schweitzer proposes that Jesus believed himself to be the Messiah-elect and that he ministered in the expectation that he would see the final, supernatural arrival of the kingdom in his lifetime. Thus, he hoped for its future in-breaking, ending history as we know it. He resolved to bring it about. This explains the enigmatic verse where Jesus sends out the Twelve to preach the kingdom. He promises that they will not have passed through all the cities of Israel before the end comes (Mt 10:23).2 With the urgency of theological dogmatism, Jesus expected to command history and the future itself. He was, however, disappointed. The disciples returned from their mission and all was quiet. This led Jesus to take drastic action. He now goes to Jerusalem to force God’s hand. Assuming that there will be a time of suffering, the so-called messianic birth-pangs, before the kingdom breaks in, Jesus determined to be rejected and by this, pave the way for its coming. He was again deluded. As he threw himself on the wheel of history, he was crushed by it. In his failure, apocalyptic thought itself was destroyed, leaving us with the noble ideal of Jesus and the radical nature of his ethics. It is not hard to conclude from this that our Lord was just another misled Jewish fanatic.
The second possibility is offered by C. H. Dodd, former Professor of New Testament at Cambridge, in his answer to Schweitzer. For Dodd, Jesus was not a misled Jewish fanatic, trying to force in the future kingdom, but the real Messiah of Israel, bringing in the present kingdom. When he announced that the kingdom of God is “at hand,” he meant that it is here now, teaching a “realized eschatology.” For example, many of Jesus’ parables show that the kingdom is here, now working as a “grain of mustard seed.” Rather than being an otherworldly fanatic, Jesus really did usher in the kingdom which is centered in God’s forgiving love for his children. If Schweitzer was right that the ministry of Jesus must be understood in the context of Jewish apocalyptic thought, then Dodd was also right that in Jesus the kingdom is not just a future event but a present reality.
The third possibility is that Jesus proclaimed a kingdom both present and future at the same time. Here we are on dead center. Jesus believed in the establishment of God’s rightful reign in Israel and among the Gentile nations. He believed his mission to be the inauguration of that reign. While God’s kingdom was present in his ministry, however, it was not fully present. There would still be a future fulfillment when Satan, sin and death would be completely destroyed. At the same time, Jesus had come to manifest God’s direct rule over Satan and his subjects here. This means that the future messianic kingdom has dawned; it has broken in upon us. Furthermore, it is God’s plan to spread his kingdom around the world and down through history until its consummation. We can sum up the thought in this way: the kingdom is really here but it is not fully here. Believers, as we have seen, live in a kingdom come and coming. The reason that this truth is so gripping is that it illustrates much of our present experience. It explains both our sense of triumph in Christ and the continuing spiritual battle against Satan and his demons which we fight on many fronts. It explains the reality that we have died with Christ and, at the same time, that the flesh still wars against the spirit. It explains why people are dramatically healed today by the power of God and also continue to get sick and die. It explains why we have strength through weakness and life through death. If we break the tension, we either end up in perfectionism or despair. The good news is that the future kingdom is now at work in the present, in Derek Morphew’s phrase, in kingdom breakthroughs, and that we are enabled to live between the times.
The kingdom in current scholarship. N. T. Wright in How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels (2012) argues that the historic creedal confessions have omitted Jesus’ ministry, bookending the faith with only his birth, death and resurrection: For example, in the Apostles’ Creed we read, “[and I believe] in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried, he descended into Hell, the third day he rose again from the dead, ascended into heaven and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty, from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.” But where is Jesus’ ministry? Where is the kingdom? Wright argues that to read the Gospels rightly we must place them in their Old Testament and First Century Jewish contexts which has everything to do with the kingdom, that is, God becoming king over his people and over his whole earth. Starting with his resurrection, Jesus brings in the New Exodus and the New Creation. Wright believes that Jesus taught and lived “inaugurated eschatology” and saw the conflicts with the state (Roman and Jewish) in the context of spiritual warfare. Using the metaphor of a stereo system, there are four speakers which must be in sync: 1) The Story of Israel 2) The Story of Jesus as the Story of Israel’s God 3) The Launching of God’s Renewed People 4) The Clash of the Kingdoms. Jesus comes to re-establish Theocracy, lost in the Garden of Eden, but he does it in the most radical and unexpected way – through suffering, death and resurrection. He is the final Passover and the New Temple where the presence of God dwells. The kingdom and the cross must stand together.Wright runs a continuing argument with Enlightenment Biblical scholarship and the simplistic gospel of evangelicalism (example: The Four Spiritual Laws). He, however, fails to propose an alternative to this presentation. He also fails to take Jesus’ kingdom ministry of deliverance, healing and raising the dead into his “kingdom come” and “kingdom coming” argument and seems to have no expectation that this is to be the ministry of the church today. His work, however, is Biblical, creative, insightful and hugely significant in its apologetic against negative Biblical scholarship with its dualism (including historical skepticism) which puts faith into the spiritual “upper story” free from time, history, nature and political and economic life in this world.