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A Tale Of Two Kingdoms


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In the New Testament, there are two very different worldviews about the kingdom of God that seem to clash with each other in how we approach faith and our actions in life. In one worldview which is present in the synpotic gospels, you have Jesus teaching that the kingdom of God is something which is either near or already among us. Whether this is brought about by supernatural means or social activist means is up for debate, but it's clear that in the synoptic gospels that the kingdom of God is something that God will bring down to Earth. In the synpotic gospels, salvation comes not from having a correct set of beliefs but through a "works-based salvation", to borrow Protestant theological terms, where the primary concern of Jesus is giving to the poor and fighting social injustice towards minorities by the majority elite. In the gospel of John and the epistles of Paul, the kingdom of God is removed from here into a spiritual heavenly realm. This is summed up by Jesus' words in the gospel of John where he says his kingdom is not of this world. While good works is still expected from Christians, the primary method to obtaining salvation is from having faith. In the gospel of John's case, it's having faith in the divinity of Jesus while in the epistles of Paul, it's from having faith in the resurrection of Jesus.

 

Having been raised by a church that emphasized the supernatural spiritual kingdom of God over the physical one, I can see strengths and weaknesses in both world views. In the first worldview, I can see it inspiring Christians to fight against social injustice and encouraging less of an emphasis on dogmatism and having "correct" beliefs. On the other hand, I can see it overly-politcizing the gospel message and alienating conservative Chrisitans through a liberalization of the bible by over-emphasizing left-wing politics over personal spiritual relationships. With the latter worldview, I think it can be helpful by encouraging less focus on obtaining material wealth by focusing on the afterlife instead of this life and it can be a source of comfort and inspiration for Christians who are facing pain and suffering in this life. Then again, it can also encourage Christians to be apathetic to the concerns of this life, especially in regard to fixing environmental issues and it can lead to an anthropocentrict spirituality. Which idea of the kingdom of God appeals to you and what do you see as the strengths and weaknesses of the two worldviews?

Edited by Neon Genesis
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Neon,

 

Personally i try not to limit myself to two world views on the kingdom such as you detail in your post. I believe the Kingdom is IN the world but not OF the world. To me, it is a spiritual kingdom but has physical manifestations because to me, all the things that are seen are made of those things that cannot be seen (Spirit). So in my view there is no two world views. Each person may weigh (so to speak) in one direction or the other as you outline but to me it can't be so simply defined as two world views on the kingdom. I believe it is simply too complex an issue to divide in two and select one and understand properly because i see them as ONE. But this is just my own opinion and it is true in my subjective experience

 

Joseph

 

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Which idea of the kingdom of God appeals to you and what do you see as the strengths and weaknesses of the two worldviews?

 

Bart Ehrman thinks that Jesus, when he spoke about the kingdom of God, had an apocalyptic worldview and anticipated the imminent end of the word, as it existed in his time. This would have entailed the righteous being rewarded and the wicked punished.

 

I don't think I can choose either of the alternatives that you propose. I personally cannot envision some elysian world here in which there is no suffering, no injustice and the like. At the same time, I have no idea as to whether there is an after-life with eternal bliss or not. So, I guess the most that I could realistically hope for would be a world that is more just, more peaceful and has less suffering. And, that is something we can certainly work toward.

 

George

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Like my breath I alternate, breathing in, bathing in the light then exhaling and being active and an activist in the world. I need the peace of Divinity and the energy and outlet to fight for a cause. The activity of being an activist has taught me about my personality and the need to go inside. I think it is between breaths where the breath is momentarily suspended that awareness and unity is experienced.

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I interpret Jesus' words about His Kingdom not being of this world as metaphorical prose. It is not in contradiction with the "Thy Kingdom Come... on Earth," language of the Lord's Prayer in the Synoptic Gospels. Remember that Jesus uses the word "world" in a metaphorical sense, to describe the way people typically behave towards one another, i.e. in a selfish manner. The world places power against power. The Kingdom of God combats power with weakness. Thus, Jesus would not fight and take up arms. He shows us a better way, which is not of this world.

 

Slavoj Žižek says it perfectly:

Christianity is anti-wisdom: wisdom tells us that our efforts are in vain, that everything ends in chaos, while Christianity madly insists on the impossible. Love, especially the Christian one, is definitely not wise. This is why Paul said: "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise".... We should take the term "wisdom" literally here: it is wisdom (in the sense of "realistic" acceptance of the way things are) that Paul is challenging, not knowledge as such. With regard to the social order, this means that the authentic Christian tradition rejects the wisdom that the hierarchic order is our fate, that all attempts to mess with it and create another egalitarian order have to end up in destructive horror."

Edited by John Ryan
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Not to deny the other two, I think there is a third kingdom, a mystical kingdom, which we access by becoming like Jesus. These passages and others speak to this mystical kingdom - all from John. Soma mentioned breathing in and breathing out. I think the social justice churches miss this part of the message. There are two 'great commands' love god and love your neighbor; the vertical and horizontal elements of the cross. The vertical relationship with ultimate reality is a necessary support for the outreach of the horizontal - acting as if one were Jesus.

 

6:53 Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life,

 

4: 13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

 

8:12 When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

 

Dutch

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I think there are some important things to remember in answering the question:

 

First of all, many of the Jesus' words as reported in the gospels were "put back in" so to speak - the gospels were written decades after the first Easter. I think the gospels writers, particularly the synoptic gospel writers, were hoping for and maybe anticipating a "new kind of Kingdom", the Kingdom of God as opposed to the kingdom of the Caesars, a kingdom of social justice perhaps. The other thing, I think the kingdom refers to both a governing system that was just and a metaphorical kingdom. In the book "Jesus Before Christianity" Albert Nolan, a South African priest (I think) does a beautiful job describing both "kingdoms, as does Borg in "Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time"

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I remember when I was a teenager reading a book by Harold Hill called, “How To Live Like A King’s Kid.” The gist of the book was that God was the king who ruled the universe and that we are all children of royalty and, therefore, entitled to live lives of privileged status in abundant luxury. I suppose this book may have been part of the burgeoning “Name It And Claim It” movement in Christianity.

 

Being an American, I am somewhat jaded about “king” and “kingdom” language. After all, our ancestors fought and died to get out from under the rule of kings and queens who believed in keeping the rich rich and the poor poor. We proud Americans are ruled by a system of government called democracy where the people rule, through elected representatives, in order to keep the rich rich and the poor poor. :ph34r: We are products of the Enlightenment and, for the most part, reject the Pauline and biblical notions that kings rule by divine right. Of course, back in Bible days, governments and religions were intertwined. The gods lived “up there” in heaven, but had “anointed” and appointed kings for establishing and enforcing their rules and wills here on earth. So state and religion were often one and the same. The king was also “the son of God.”

 

Personally, I find much evidence in the scriptures for interpreting Jesus as an apocalyptic prophet who expected God’s kingdom to come to earth, although I also think he rejected the monarchal view that he was to sit on the throne of David and rule with a rod of iron. What I see in his teachings is not so much, “Sit back and wait and God will show up and fix everything” but, rather, “The kingdom is coming now, so join in with God’s program for redeeming the earth.” When he died and the kingdom didn’t show up as an overwhelming physical manifestation, I think the church, incorporating Greek and Gnostic views, “rotated” the kingdom 90 degrees so that it was no longer about heaven coming to earth, but about people going to heaven. In Jesus’ teachings, I see either a “downward” or a “with us” view of God. But in the teachings of the Church, I see the “upward” move of man interpreted as either “going to heaven” in order to “be with God” when we die or as the deification on man here and now through some kind of Gnosis.

 

I suppose we can each go to the scriptures as a whole and find verses there that substantiate our chosen view of the kingdom of God as either some sort of monarchial determinism of a Calvinistic bent, or as a place we go to when we die, or as a way of us becoming the gods of our own lives, or even, as the disciples desired, the reestablishment of the nation of Israel as the central ruling power on earth (they were sorely disappointed, were they not?). But, for me, I guess the view of the kingdom that most speaks to me can be found in Mary’s Magnificat from Luke 1 and in Jesus’ “Inaugural Speech” from Luke chapter 4, where God’s kingdom is spoken of, not a status or a place of personal privilege, but as an equalizing “reversal of power” than brings healing and wholeness to our world. In this view, we don’t all become Kardashians, nor do we seek to rule over others. We don’t sit back and wait for the world to end or for God to fix everything. We don’t think that we are gods or that the only way for us to be with God is to leave our evil bodies and this evil world behind for heaven. Rather, we do what Jesus did in living out compassion for one another, calling out the evils powers for who they are in keeping humanity enslaved, and form communities where everyone is valued as a unique creation of God. It is, to me, the great reversal that leads to the great equalization which leads to the redemption of ourselves and our world, not where we all become gods, but where we all become truly human, something our savior demonstrated for us.

 

Regards,

BillMc

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Wayseeker wrote: I remember when I was a teenager reading a book by Harold Hill called, “How To Live Like A King’s Kid.” The gist of the book was that God was the king who ruled the universe and that we are all children of royalty and, therefore, entitled to live lives of privileged status in abundant luxury. I suppose this book may have been part of the burgeoning “Name It And Claim It” movement in Christianity.

 

 

 

I hadn't thought of the "King's Kid" fad in years, though its certainly not unusual to still encounter Christians with that attitude, whether they call themselves by that or not...it has seemed to me most 'in your face' among some charismatic communities. But it isn't quite as you put it that "we are ALL children of royalty and therefore entitled..etc etc, but rather just those that have accepted and have been accepted into their certain "right" kind of religious beliefs/community. It effectively served, by that, as reason and justification for setting themselves above and better and more right to priveledge over all others, demanding special service and treatment, even put forth in an in-you-face way to justify the most rude, offensive,and boorish attitudes and behaviors toward and around others, even in public places. That is still evident in many of those, think such as Pat Robertson, other 'celebrity' tv evangelists.

Overall, its an attitude of a spoiled, bratty child of some influential rich family that is marked by petty temper tantrums and demands to get their own way...adults acting like that can be outrageously absurd and offensive...such as I remember reading and hearing from among some of that ilk such things as that if if you felt you weren't getting the attention you felt you deserved at some place of business, just go to rattling off in tongues, and it was a guarantee they hop right to taking care of you just to get some peace!

Its been a long time since I had occasion to try to go out to a resturaunt on a Sunday afternoon, but back when I sometimes would, it was almost impossible to get a table at most of the local restuarants, not because they were actually all filled, but because so many clickly little groups of them from local churches had what I called their "point runners" that raced ahead to local resturants to start pushing tables together and seating themselves spaced out around them, effectively staking claim for "others is our party that are coming.." and very often, not even enough showed up to completely fill those tables, but if anyone not of their group came in and asked if they could sit at some empty tables,they were rudely and abruptly told they were taken. Some local restuarant tried to stop the practice, but those people had no qualms about making scenes over it, and loudly threatening to boycot the place! Which many really wished they really would have,lol! But our small town really had/has very few even half decent restaurants. One restaurant actually dealt with it be choosing to install tables bolted in place since they were needing to redecorate and get new ones anyway, and posted prominent notices, "no holding extra tables", for that very reason! And yes, that bunch did boycot them, much to the delight of others hoping to find a place to eat after church services let out!

 

Talk about some bad actors giving all Christians a bad name!

 

Jenell

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On this matter of "kingdoms" I'm along the line as some others have expressed here, I don't think even as use of kingdom of God is used, it could be so easily sorted into two or more distinct kinds or interpretation of 'kingdom', whether Earthly, worldly, spiritual realms of the here and now or in the here after. It gets even murkier when you try to sort out where it is "kingdom of God" or "kingdom of heaven", are they the same thing, different things?

 

Pretty clearly a good bit in the N.T. suggest there was belief that there was to be a literal 'end of the world" sometime soon, even within their life times, and it seems to me that was also much inter-worked with the persisting belief that this "Jesus". in some soon to come "Earthly return" as a connquering messiag to establish and rule from Israel, over the entire literal world. That WAS the "messiah" as Jews had been waiting for centuries, unable to accept they really were a conquered people and an occupied country, and that God really wasn't going to send in an earthly 'king' to raise them back to power as a mighty nation.

 

But also much to suggest a spiritual kingdom instead...Christianity seems to have adopted both ideas, working onnthe spiritual kindom now, building a churchand spreading the word, gathering converts, while waiting for Jesus' return in somedistant future, to establish CHRISTIANS to rule over the Earth. Amazing how Christians interpreted the future arrival (or re-arrival) of their messiah in terms of conquering the whole world and setting THEM up as rulers over it.

 

But also as someone else mentioned, the whole use of this terminology, "kingdom" and "king" all represents a model of the world as they knew it then, and all references to themin scripture mist rightfully be interpreted from that worldview, as to just what they might have meant to the people then. And our worldview today, or model for governing, is no longer at consistent or compatable with that form of governing and worldly power over and between nations and peoples.

 

Jenell

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Being an American, I am somewhat jaded about “king” and “kingdom” language. After all, our ancestors fought and died to get out from under the rule of kings and queens who believed in keeping the rich rich and the poor poor. We proud Americans are ruled by a system of government called democracy where the people rule, through elected representatives, in order to keep the rich rich and the poor poor. :ph34r: We are products of the Enlightenment and, for the most part, reject the Pauline and biblical notions that kings rule by divine right. Of course, back in Bible days, governments and religions were intertwined. The gods lived “up there” in heaven, but had “anointed” and appointed kings for establishing and enforcing their rules and wills here on earth. So state and religion were often one and the same. The king was also “the son of God.”

 

 

I know some liberal Christians use the phrase "the realm of God" instead of kingdom of God but I feel like that's politically correctizing the gospel too much. The language may seem outdated to us today but we have to remember that Jesus was a product of his time and culture just as we are a product of our culture. Back in Jesus' day, just about all governments were a form of monarchy so Jesus had to use the language of his day to teach his message in a way the people would understand easily. But I think Jesus is clearly subverting their popular understandings of what a kingdom was about. He freqeuently taught the apostles that in his kingdom, to be first you have to be last and he taught parables of inviting slaves to royale parties and frequently reversed the stereotyped roles people were expected to have in his parables.
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