Why Discuss It?
Some who seek Christ are deterred by Christianity’s history. Throughout the ages, Christendom has committed terrible atrocities. Those atrocities continue to present day in one form or another. For example, as of 2009, in Indonesia, some groups beneath the umbrella of Christendom were reported to have been killing those they felt to be heretics and infidels. Furthermore, a good source reports to me that the same is now ongoing in the Middle East. Misunderstandings of the Kingdom of Heaven answer most of the “why’s” that accompany atrocities committed by Christianity.
Scriptural, Historical and Theological Basis of the Kingdom:
When on earth, The Lord Jesus attested to his being King of a (then present) spiritual kingdom, when He stood before Pilate. I call it a spiritual kingdom, because Christ said that it was not of this world, not because it was less than something legitimate or actual or even Jewish in orientation. “Are you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate. He answered,
My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world” [and] “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice. (ESV John 18:36, 37)
Yes, The Lord Jesus is King and offered Himself as such to the Jews. Yet, even Christ’s disciples did not initially understand that the Christ needed to suffer, so that the Scriptures might be fulfilled, and so that a provision of redemption for Jew and Gentile alike might be secured. After His resurrection, the Lord taught them for 40 days, mainly about the Kingdom. Since the first part of the kingdom’s development was over, He said,
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (ESV Matt. 28:19, 20)
By that time, they were able to rightly ask about the second part of the Kingdom. “Will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” [They knew that the Jews were the chosen nation and could expect a coming physical kingdom.] Christ did not rebuke them, as if they were wrong about their concept of a coming, physical kingdom. However, the timing of the second part of the kingdom was not for them to know. Their mission was clear (Acts 1).
Sadly, also in a misunderstanding of the nature of the Kingdom’s 2 part nature and the King’s 2 part role, the Kingdom of Heaven has been twisted over the ages. Atrocities have been done and earthly dominions have been established in the name of the King and the Kingdom (ex. Peter cutting off the soldier’s ear, Constantine, Crusades, Holy Roman Empire, historical Christian States like Geneva Switzerland, the desired Utopia, the Vatican, Absolute Monarchy, 30 years war, etc.) Also, interestingly, at times in recent history (early 1900’s A.D.) some have held to a view that Christians will “bring in the kingdom,” due to morality and Judeo-Christian principles being the governing influence in the world. Admittedly, this sounds a bit islamic to our current day. As history proved by the first and second great wars, humanity will not be bettered so easily.
There is a case from history, which reveals a repeated misunderstanding of the 1st development of the 2 part Kingdom (and that we are not in the 2nd part). This misunderstanding of Scripture, the Kingdom and the according misapplication of the Scriptures have led only to wars. A historical case for Christian violence can be traced all the way back to Peter’s cutting off the soldier’s ear and Christ’s consequent rebuke. Yet, this is all due to bad interpretation by mankind, and God is not to blame.
Not only have there been wars as a result of misunderstanding the Kingdom, but did you realize that Amsterdam and the debauchery that is there can be traced to the Reformation period, when those reformers like Calvin believed the church should set up Christian city/states (in an effort to establish the covenant community of God on earth — stemming from reformed catholic doctrines: covenant and replacement theology). As a result, all deviants were exiled out of Geneva and sent to … you guessed it…. Amsterdam. Christ did anything but that when on earth. And, there is something about the fact that when “the church” labels and casts away people (with no hope of grace), they go headlong into hopeless debauchery. ..as if the kingdom is shut up against them. This is the dark side of abusing the responsibility of the Keys of the Kingdom. Again, mankind, and his bad interpretation is to blame here.
Application to Present Day:
In 21st Century Christianity, there is an overemphasis on the “covenant community,” which misguides the 21st Century church from the staying upon the simplicity in Christ. For introductory discussions of two systems of biblical interpretation and their ramifications on one’s view of the Kingdom, please see these articles: Covenant Theology and Dispensationalism, The Error of Replacement Theology and Kingdom Now Theology. May I also say that I do not and cannot adhere to any sense of Dominion Theology, or Christian Reconstructionism Theology.
Ladd affirms what I too hold — that there is truth to an inaugurated eschatology which leads one to say “Already but not yet;” but being given the ministry of reconciliation, we must not confuse the 1st and 2nd stages of the Kingdom. Furthermore, we ought to be very careful on whom we pass judgment as “unfit” for the kingdom. That Judgmentalism was the pharisee’s problem and also got James and John a stern rebuke from The Lord, when they’d rather see judgment fall on a city than a people given time and grace for repentance. (Luke 9:55; Romans 10:6-8)
A Quote Set from Ladd:
—”Jesus condemned the scribes and the Pharisees because they had taken away the key of knowledge, refusing either to enter into the Kingdom of God themselves or to permit others to enter (Lk. 11:52). The same thought appears in the first Gospel. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you shut the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in” (Mt. 23:13). In biblical idiom, knowledge is more than intellectual perception. It is “a spiritual possession resting on revelation.” The authority entrusted to Peter is grounded upon revelation, that is, spiritual knowledge, which he shared with the twelve. The keys of the Kingdom are therefore “the spiritual insight which will enable Peter to lead others in through the door of revelation through which he has passed himself.” The authority to bind and loose involves the admission or exclusion of people from the realm of the Kingdom of God. Christ will build his ekklēsia upon Peter [the first among those] who share the divine revelation of Jesus’ messiahship. To them also is committed by virtue of this same revelation the means of permitting people to enter the realm of the blessings of the Kingdom or of excluding them from such participation (cf. Acts 10)…..”
—”This cannot be understood as the exercise of an arbitrary authority; it is the inevitable issue of witnessing to the Kingdom of God. It is furthermore an authority exercised not by Peter but by all the disciples—the church.”
—”As a matter of fact, the disciples had already exercised this authority of binding and loosing when they visited the cities of Israel, proclaiming the Kingdom of God. Wherever they and their message were accepted, peace rested upon that house; but wherever they and their message were rejected, the judgment of God was sealed to that house (Mt. 10:14, 15). They were indeed instruments of the Kingdom in effecting the forgiveness of sins; and by virtue of that very fact, they were also custodians of the Kingdom. Their ministry had the actual result either of opening the door of the Kingdom to men and women or of shutting it….
—To receive them is to receive the Lord who sent them. While this is no official function, in a very real way the disciples of Jesus—his church—are custodians of the Kingdom. Through the proclamation of the gospel of the Kingdom in the world will be decided who will enter into the eschatological Kingdom and who will be excluded.”
(Ladd, The Church: The Custodian of The Kingdom, brackets mine)
Gladly, the return of the King and the establishment of the Jews is still awaited; and as every prophecy was literally fulfilled, despite not being fully understood, so will be the Revelation of the Christ for the final part of his duo-partite rule as King of all the earth. In the meanwhile, Christians must understand that their power is a spiritual one never meant to cross over into taking on institutional or governmental forms. Scripture and history proves negative upon this. However, one must not conclude that his Christian influence will have no impact on the lives around him. We are all given our circles of influence on individual souls…and bear a responsibility to be good citizens of our varying nations/governments.
The Kingdom will one day have its governmental form, but that is not now. For the present, Christians must focus on their appointed ministry of reconciliation, remembering that ALL are worthy to receive mercy and grace. Unlike the Pharisees of Christ’s day, we must not shut up the kingdom of heaven against men or burden them with unnecessary and wearying loads, which offend from the Christ who came not to condemn the world, but that, the world through him might be saved. A good steward of the kingdom will grant the opportunity for access to the kingdom by using the first key of spreading the good news of the kingdom fervently and indiscriminately… and by the second custodial key of praying that God’s Kingdom come (both eschatologically and via Outpourings of the Spirit) and God’s will might be done on earth as it is in heaven (as opposed to the collective will of the fallen world and its fallen prince). Unlike Peter, we must not resort to violence when seeking to defend our Lord or advance His cause. Ours is to bid all who will come to a great feast, so that the hungry might be filled, the thirsty might be satisfied, the blind receive their sight, that the lame walk & run, the mute sing, the deaf hear, that the weary might be rested, the bruised and broken might be healed, and that the captive set free.
[References are taken from George Ladd’s “A Theology of the New Testament”]
by Lamb & Lion Ministries:
- Postmillennial Problems: Will the Church Convert the World?
- The Evil of Replacement Theology: The Historical Abuse of the Jews by the Church
- The Error of Replacement Theology: Has the Church Replaced Israel
George Eldon Ladd by Scott McKnight
Nuns Blast Catholic Church’s Doctrine of Discovery – Huffington Post
The Kingdom of God by Morgan and Peterson
The Bible term most misused by Christians today: An interview with Scot McKnight
– See more at: http://jonathanmerritt.religionnews.com/2014/10/15/christians-misunderstand-kingdom-scot-mcknight/#sthash.2hb41O1t.dpuf