Nine Things You Didn't Know About Christianity, and Some Are True!: Part III

This post represents the third in a series of responses to an article entitled Biblical authority reveals little-known facts about Jesus which is available through the online edition of the Wilmington Star. The first can be found here and the second can be found here. The article features nine little-known facts about Jesus as revealed by John Dominic Crossan, one of the founding members and best known stars of the Jesus Seminar. As will be seen, several of the "facts" when taken at face-value are, in fact, true about Jesus or Christianity. However, many of Dr. Crossan’s quotes following the facts show that Dr. Crossan doesn’t quite have a firm grasp on why they are true.

Fact 5. The kingdom of God is about the here and now. Once again, I find myself nodding in agreement with what Crossan says because, taken at face value, it is certainly true that the kingdom of God is about the "here and now" provided it is understood that it is not exclusively about the here and now.

In one sense, the here and now is exactly what Christianity is about. A large percentage of Jesus' teachings were about what we need to be doing in the here and now. Jesus taught us to love our neighbor as ourselves, love our enemies, do good to those that harm you, be merciful, and a thousand other things -- all of which involve our behavior in the here and now.

However, just because some of the teachings focus on the here and now doesn't mean that Jesus was uninterested in teaching about things to come or our future salvation. As my fellow-blogger, Jason, said in a comment to part II of this series,

As BK points out, the butt-kicking of the unrighteous, so to speak, is still on the way, but there are -- I think I can safely say this -- more important things to be doing first. {s} Based on how Jesus delivers His injunctions of punishment and vengeance, I understand one of those important things to be getting it through the heads of His followers that they had better start including themselves in the list of butts needing some kicking, and in fact had better prioritize on that and not be so concerned with seeing Those Guys Over There getting righteously stomped.
I find myself nodding in agreement once again as I re-read this. Jesus certainly taught about the times to come (look at the Olivet Discourse of Matthew 24 and the seven woes of Matthew 23 as prime examples of Jesus prophesies about times to come. But it is not just "those other people" who Jesus was describing as unfit for the kingdom. Most of his parables demonstrated how our vision of what is righteous is not necessarily righteous in the eyes of God, and that we are all in for condemnation if we are not made right with God. His death -- and his death alone -- is what makes it possible for us to become right with God. Thus, to a certain extent everything that Jesus taught had elements of both the here and now and the future tied up together.

The same is true of the use of the phrase "Kingdom of God" in the New Testament. Jesus uses the phrase "Kingdom of God" both in the sense of the here and now and in the sense of the future. Consider, for example, the teaching of Luke 16:14-16:

14. Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, were listening to all these things and were scoffing at Him. 15. And He said to them, "You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God. 16. The Law and the Prophets {were proclaimed} until John; since that time the gospel of the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it.

Notice that Jesus is saying that prior to the coming of John the Baptist (JtB) the only way for men to seek to be justified before God was by following the Old Testament law. But verse 16 then notes that a change occurred with the coming of JtB -- from that point forward the good news of the "kingdom of God" has been preached. This strongly suggests that the ministry of JtB was the onset of the Kingdom of God, and therefore, from the start of the preaching of JtB was the coming of the Kingdom of God which, at the time of Jesus' teaching, was part of the "here and now".

However, simply because the Kingdom of God arrived with the teaching of JtB and the arrival of Jesus (hence, involving the "here and now") doesn't mean it doesn't have a forward-looking element. Consider Jesus' words during the Last Supper as recorded in Mark 14:25 when he was sharing the wine with His disciples. He said,

Truly I say to you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.

That rather much sounds as if the Kingdom of God isn't yet present. Is Jesus hopelessly confused? I rather doubt it. Instead, I think that these verses demonstrate that the Kingdom of God has a two-fold nature: it is both about the here and now and about the future.

The Kingdom of God came to Earth when the King arrived. He brought with Him the reprisal from the sins that was so evidently revealed through the Old Testament Law. He summarized the Old Testament Law using language very similar to that already stated in the Old Testament by saying that we fulfill the Law by loving the Lord God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and loving our neighbors as ourselves. The Old Testament makes it clear that love is obedience to God. We cannot be uncaring about obedience to God unless we do not love God. Thus, when we love our neighbors, when we care for the poor and the needy and the hungry, when we demonstrate love to the lost, when we tell others the Gospel which is the story of the coming of the Kingdom of God, we are participating in the Kingdom of God here and now.

But the Kingdom of God is also future. It is an age that is coming and will not be here fully until Christ comes again. This can be seen because of Jesus' use of the phrase Kingdom of God combined with his use of the phrase "Son of Man." All four of the Gospels reflect that Jesus referenced Himself as the "Son of Man." What significance did that phrase have when Jesus used it? Based on Old Testament usage, it had one of two possible meanings: it either meant "human being" (as it used in virtually every chapter of Ezekiel) or it meant "God" (as used in Daniel 7:13). Which of the two definitions did Jesus intend? Did he simply mean that he was "just human" like the rest of us thereby using the term in the sense it is used in Ezekiel? No, Jesus clearly intended it's use to reflect the usage of Daniel 7:13. Consider first what Daniel 7:13-14 says. Here, Daniel is having an eschatalogical vision, and he records the following:

13. "I kept looking in the night visions, And behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, And He came up to the Ancient of Days And was presented before Him. 14. "And to Him was given dominion, Glory and a kingdom, That all the peoples, nations and {men of every} language Might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion Which will not pass away; And His kingdom is one Which will not be destroyed."

Now, consider the use of the phrase "Son of Man" that is recorded from the trial of Jesus in, for example, Matthew 26:64:

Jesus *said to him, "You have said it {yourself;} nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming on the clouds of heaven."

Could it be any clearer? Jesus is obviously referencing Daniel 7:13 and making his claim to be the "one like a Son of Man" who was given dominion, glory and . . . get ready . . . a kingdom. It is this kingdom that is coming in the end times (as prophesied in Daniel) that is the future Kingdom of God that Jesus also referenced when teaching about the Kingdom of God.

Paul confirms this understanding. In his First Letter to the Corinthians, Paul uses the phrase "Kingdom of God" in chapter 15, verse 50 when he says:

Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.

The question that follows is whether Paul is using the phrase in a manner that is looking forward to end times and a second coming, or is Paul referencing (as Crossan holds that Jesus taught) only a coming Kingdom of God on Earth? Here is where Greg Koukl's advice to never read a Bible verse -- always read a passage -- comes in very handy. 1 Corinthians 15:50 continues in verses 51-53 and makes it abundantly clear that the time of the coming Kingdom of God that cannot be inherited by flesh and blood is the time of the Second Coming.

51. Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, 52. in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality.

Thus, Paul echoes the understanding of Jesus that there is an End Times aspect to the coming Kingdom of God. When Jesus teaches about aspects of the Kingdom of God that involve the here and now there is an unseverable connection between how we act in this world and the existence that we will have in the next that serves as the backdrop for His teachings. To that extent, it is absolutely wrong to say that the Kingdom of God is about the "here and now" if one means that it is only about the here and now.

But, of course, Crossan contends that there is no ramifications beyond this present day and age. His comment to this supposed fact makes it abundantly clear.

The kingdom of God - the message of Jesus - is not about the next world but about this world, not about heaven but earth, not about the interior life but about the world. The danger would be if you focused just privately on bettering yourself and not on the world.

So, how is it that this renowned Bible expositor can be so wrong? The reading of the verses in context is so patently evident when the context is read that I think someone has to bury their heads in the sand not to see it. I am not sure I can give an answer to this since I cannot know Crossan's inner-motivations. However, I think that a possible answer to this question can be found in Jesus' words in Mark 4:11-12:

11. And He was saying to them, "To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God, but those who are outside get everything in parables, 12. so that while seeing, they may see and not perceive, and while hearing, they may hear and not understand, otherwise they might return and be forgiven."

Since the Jesus Seminar is, in my opinion, out to destroy Christianity while pretending to be Christian (but not truly being Christian in any real, recognizable sense of the word, they are "outside"), it is quite possible that the Spirit has chosen to blind them to the obvious truth so that they will pay for their crimes. I don't know what other reason exists for people like Crossan to be so wrong.

More next time.


Jason Pratt said…
I think it's interesting that the radical revisionists tend to go completely one way or completely the other, when it comes to evaluating whether Jesus was an apocalyptic / eschatonic preacher: either he (they would decap {g} ) was non-apocalyptic and concerned with setting up a movement of some kind here and now (JDC with his 'communal meals and free healing' theory of Christian origins, as if this _was all_ that they were about; or Schweitzer back in the No-Quest days of the early 20th c. to take another more classical de-eschatological example); or else he focused almost entirely on the coming kingdom, not unlike the stereotypical cardboard wearing street preacher proclaiming THE END IS NIGH (JDC's forebear Rudolph Bultmann hammered this strongly).

Amusingly, the conservatives are routinely the ones who come forth with the moderate and inclusive solution: both/and. {s} I wonder if the attempt at dichotomizing this is a result of trying to de-emphasize the level of authority Jesus was claiming: over the future (but not now), or over the present (but not later).

It probably has even more to do with figuring that much of the canonical narrative must have been invented for sake of current polemical reasons; so they make guesses as to which element would be most important to 'invent' for the times of authorship and then by deductive elmination figure the remainder must have been what Jesus _really_ taught. Or, put another way, no one so clearly on the ball as Jesus was would _really_ try to make _both_ kinds of maximum authority--that would be absurdly egotistical!

For those of us who recognize and accept the extent of the authority claims, though, it's hardly surprising that the authority would be both/and--and maximally so! {s}


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