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April 7, 2007

Thy Kingdom Come

Longtime readers of the Greet Machine know that periodically I go off on some unexpected tangents. While stadium news and commentary is my bread and butter, like anyone I get sick of writing and reading about just a singular topic, especially a topic as aggravating as stadiums in Minnesota. One thing I like to think and write about is religion, specifically Christianity, which I think is particularly appropriate on Easter weekend.

Usually I write about Christianity in the context of popular culture and news. I have written about Intelligent Design, and the infamous Christian right. I've also written about Christianity in the context of the music of U2, namely the songs I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For, The First Time, and Until the End of the World. So, there is somewhat of a precedent here.

Today I'd like to take a look at a couple of themes in the Gospels. In fact, one could argue that these themes are very central to the entire message of Jesus. These themes come from two books about Jesus that I've read this year: Jesus : uncovering the life, teachings, and relevance of a religious revolutionary by Marcus Borg and The real Jesus : the misguided quest for the historical Jesus and the truth of the traditional Gospels by Luke Timothy Johnson. Interestingly enough, the two authors are somewhat at odds with each other. Marcus Borg is a key member of the infamous Jesus Seminar, and Luke Timothy Johnson's book is a direct attack on their findings. I must admit, I found Johnson's book a more compelling and accurate account on the life of Jesus and the historical importance of it.

Having said that, I still really enjoyed Borg's book. It was hard to put down. While his view that many of the miracles of Jesus are nothing more than intentionally constructed metaphors is troubling (including the resurrection), his description of what he argues as the central theme of the Gospels is both fascinating and thought provoking. In fact, the theme that he focuses on the most is so prevalent that it is easy to overlook. Of course, as the title of this post would suggest, I am talking about the concept of the "Kingdom of God."

The phrase "Kingdom of God" is mentioned in the New Testament over 100 times. Of the importance of the concept, New Testament scholar John P. Meier writes:

The central aspect of the teaching of Jesus was that concerning the Kingdom of God. On this there can be no doubt and today no scholar does, in fact, doubt it. Jesus appeared as one who proclaimed the Kingdom; all else in his message and ministry serves a function in relation to that proclamation and derives its meaning from it. A Marginal Jew (Volume 2) : Mentor, Message, and Miracles

Jesus himself most famously mentioned the Kingdom of God in the prayer he gave to his disciples that we commonly know as the Lord's Prayer. The Lord's Prayer is mentioned in both Mark and Luke in a form that looks something like this (depending on your translation):

"Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on Earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, as we also have forgiven those who sin against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil."

Note, of course, the line "your kingdom come, your will be done, on Earth as it is in heaven." There is little doubt that the phrase "Kingdom of God" has numerous meanings. The Kingdom of God as spoken by Jesus throughout the Gospels suggests something that can be entered and appreciated immediately, while at the same time being a kingdom of the future, one to strive towards and look forward to. The second meaning is probably dominant today, that the Kingdom of God is primarily an eschatological, or an "end times" type of concept, or that it primarily speaks about heaven. However, in the Lord's Prayer, the Kingdom of God would seem to to be specifically about God's potential kingdom on Earth. In fact, a closer examination of the beginning of the prayer suggests we could further simplify this line as saying "your kingdom come on Earth."

What does the Kingdom of God on Earth look like then? First I think it is important to understand what the term "kingdom" would mean to a person living in Galilee, Judea, or anywhere in ancient Israel. Some scholars have suggested that the rulers of Israel in the time of Jesus, the Roman Empire, never actually referred to themselves as an empire. They referred to themselves as a kingdom. So, when Jesus talked about the Kingdom of God, his contemporaries would immediately understand it as a direct contrast to the other kingdoms of the day, namely the kingdom of Rome. For Jesus, the Kingdom of God promised something very different than what people had grown used to under Roman rule.

So, according to Borg, the Kingdom of God would be simple to understand for a person hearing Jesus' message. It is what life would be like on earth if God were king, and Caeser wasn't. What then would the world look like with God as king? Again, according to Borg, unlike life under the Romans (or really any domination system where authority and resources are in the hands of the few) there would be justice: political, social, and economic. In fact, looking at the Lord's Prayer again maybe we can further understand the next line in the prayer in the context of the Kingdom of God vs. the kingdom of Rome: "Give us this day our daily bread." In God's Kingdom, everyone's basic needs are met. Everyone has something to eat.

Again, while there are other, possibly deeper, meanings to the phrase "Kingdom of God," Jesus clearly asks us to pray that the Kingdom of God comes on Earth. As Biblical scholar John Dominic Crossan famously states, "Heaven's in great shape. Earth is where the problems are."

How then will the Kingdom of God come to Earth? Who will help bring the Kingdom of God to Earth? Enter The Real Jesus by Luke Timothy Johnson. After a scathing attack on the Jesus Seminar, Johnson gives a wonderful summary of the general theme of the Gospels when taken on the whole. While it is intended to be a a succinct commentary on the folly of searching for the historical Jesus at the expense of dismantling the Gospels line by line, it also nicely paints a picture of what it truly means to be a disciple of Jesus:

The four canonical Gospels are remarkably consistent on one essential aspect of the identity and mission of Jesus. Their fundamental focus is not on Jesus' wondrous deeds nor on his wise words. Their shared focus is on the character of his life and death. They all reveal the same pattern of radical obedience to God and selfless love toward other people. All four Gospels also agree that discipleship is to follow the same messianic pattern. They do not emphasize the performance of certain deeds or the learning of certain doctrines. They insist on living according to the same pattern of life and death shown by Jesus.

What kind of life did Jesus live? Jesus was a wonder worker, healing the sick and feeding the multitudes. Jesus was a servant, famously washing the feet of his disciples. Jesus also suffered greatly. All four Gospels end with the climax of the Passion, the ultimate sacrifice for mankind. Jesus lived a life of total self sacrifice. Mark 10:45 states, "For the Son of Man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for the many." If we are to follow him we must take up our own cross and give up our lives (Mark 8:35-37) and be like children and servants of all (Mark 10:43). Essentially, we need to follow what Jesus would call the greatest commandment, love the Lord God with all your heart, and love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:28-31).

In other words, we have been called to bring the Kingdom of God to Earth. We have been called to be disciples of Christ and as such we are called to live by his example. Jesus obviously cared greatly for the Kingdom of God which is a radical change from the kingdoms of today. We then are expected to somehow bring it to Earth. I believe that God has planted in all of our hearts a desire, he has planted in all of our hearts a calling, some kind of passion, to bring about the Kingdom of God on Earth. For me that passion is most certainly feeding the hungry. For you it might be something different.

This is my interpretation anyway. I won't presume that I am a Biblical scholar, or an expert on the subject in the least. I do believe, however, that the Kingdom of God has profound implications, not just for our eternal life, but our life here on Earth. How would Jesus have Christians respond to his words concerning the Kingdom today? Much in the same way as he would during his time on Earth, I believe he would have us follow his example of self-sacrifice and love for all of humanity.

Happy Easter everyone! He is risen!

Posted by snackeru at April 7, 2007 11:29 PM


I popped in to check on stadium news before heading to Easter service. A very relevant topic Shane. As my family and I ate some banana pancakes for breakfast this morning, a sense of peace and contentment settled over me. I have a wonderful family. I have a great job. I have great friends.

When I was in my late 20's, the two things that kept me from re-committing my life to Christ and getting involved with the Lutheran church, was time and money. I felt I was always pressed for free-time, and I was always broke.

When I got married and my wife became pregnant, we first joined our local church in order to have a place to baptize our child. A few years later an amazing thing happened. We joined a new church after moving to Alexandria. Even though time and money were tight for us at that time, we began to become more involved with our church. We joined committees, participated in the service, and began helping out with the youth. We also committed to giving significantly more to the church financially. Surprisingly, the more time and money we have committed to the Kingdom of God, the more time we seem to have to enjoy life, and the more financially stable we have become.

I am no where near being labeled a biblical scholar. However, my interpretation is this: Christ has welcomed us all join the Kingdom of God. Yet, he does want us to be active participants in the Kingdom here on Earth. What is great is we reap great rewards as we do this. Whether it is spiritually, socially, physically, or financially, our lives are enriched here on Earth as well as the promise of invitation to the Kingdom in Heaven.

He has risen indeed!!

Posted by: zooomx at April 8, 2007 8:32 AM

Well done. Have a happy and blessed Easter.

Posted by: Jeff A at April 8, 2007 12:32 PM

To all the folks that celebrate it, Happy Easter.

Posted by: kevin in az at April 8, 2007 3:27 PM

Anyone else here feel the Lord's return is imminent? I know throughout time there have been many predictions as to the date of the rapture, and none has come true yet. However, back in the early 90's I asked my pastor when he thought Christ would return, and he said he'd be very surprised if it didn't happen before 2007. I wish I could remember the details of what he told me, but a Biblical passage makes reference to an event that was to happen (I don't know what this event was). Jesus says that when this event occurs, a generation will not pass before he returns. This prophesied event came true in 1967. Biblically, a generation is considered to be 40 years. 40 years from 1967 is 2007! We might never get to enjoy that new stadium!!

Posted by: John at April 8, 2007 8:03 PM

who had #22 before brad radke?

Posted by: victor at April 8, 2007 8:09 PM

The answer to one of the most off-topic questions ever asked (not that there is anything wrong with that!) is Carlos Pulido in 1994.

Shane, which of the Gospels do you find yourself most closely drawn to? While I personally am a Luke guy, I'm curious to hear other experiences/interpretations for people's own personal journeys.

Posted by: Will Young at April 8, 2007 11:21 PM

Will, thanks for answering that off the wall question! To answer your question, as is evidenced by this post, my favorite book is Mark, with Luke coming in a close second. Mark is the oldest gospel and tradition has it that it was written by a disciple of Peter between 60-70 AD. It is a no nonsense, cut-to-the-chase piece of history that for some reason I gravitate to more than the others. Maybe I like that it is the oldest and that all the others were based on it?

I also like its mysteries, such as the Messianic Secret. I don't know, when I read it I really feel like I am reading what happened. Its quirks and cadence smack of historical accuracy. I'm not saying Luke's account doesn't. I just like Mark.

Good question!

Posted by: Shane at April 9, 2007 9:11 AM

Happy Easter to everyone from me as well.

He is risen indeed.


Posted by: Derek at April 9, 2007 1:51 PM

I seem to recall reading a Martin Luther King Jr. speech in which he suggested our role in brining "City of God" to earth. I can't seem to find the speech, but I did notice this in his autobiography:

"Not until I entered Crozer Theological Seminary in 1948, however, did I begin a serious intellectual quest for a method to eliminate social evil. Although my major interest was in the fields of theology and philosophy, I spent a great deal of time reading the works of the great social philosophers. I came early to Walter Rauschenbusch's Christianity and the Social Crisis, which left an indelible imprint on my thinking by giving me a theological basis for the social concern which had already grown up in me as a result of my early experiences. Of course there were points at which I differed with Rauschenbusch. I felt that he had fallen victim to the nineteenth century "cult of inevitable progress" which led him to a superficial optimism concerning man's nature. Moreover, he came perilously close to identifying the Kingdom of God with a particular social and economic system–a tendency which should never befall the Church. But in spite of these shortcomings Rauschenbusch had done a great service for the Christian Church by insisting that the gospel deals with the whole man, not only his soul but his body; not only his spiritual well-being but his material well-being. It has been my conviction ever since reading Rauschenbusch that any religion which professes to be concerned about the souls of men and is not concerned about the social and economic conditions that scar the soul, is a spiritually moribund religion only waiting for the day to be buried. It well has been said: "A religion that ends with the individual, ends."http://www.forusa.org/nonviolence/30king.html

Personally, I'm atheist (though not anti-theist ;)). And I'm still inspired by this passage. I'm also ever heartened to hear Christians (evangelical or otherwise) reject the cookie-cutter world view produced by those on the far Christian Right.

Posted by: someguy at April 17, 2007 4:11 PM

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