Your Kingdom Come

I am going to start off controversially: if you believe that entry into Heaven is the Christian hope, you have misread the gospels. More than that, I believe that this belief that Jesus’s primary mission was to win us a free pass through the Pearly Gates is the single most damaging doctrine preventing us from developing a Christ-centred theology. And really, I think the only kind of worthwhile theology for somebody professing to be Christian to pursue is a Christ-centred one. If, on the contrary, you claim to be a “Bible-believing Christian”, elevating it above even Jesus, you place yourself at the mercy of all the typical traps inherent in textual interpretation, not least being a failure to account for the inevitable gulf between what is said and what is understood. This is particularly pertinent when the text in question was constructed in one socio-cultural context, then translated several times, and is now being read and understood within the confines of a completely different cultural and historical paradigm, and language, millenia later.

 

An example of how we have warped the original message so that our doctrine no longer faithfully represents what the original text was intending to convey relates to our interpretation of “the Kingdom of God”. A persistent call to action in Jesus’s teachings was to “repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand”. What this does not mean – was never intended to mean – is the barbaric idea we glibly summarise as “turn or burn” (have you even considered what it says about us and our devotion to Jesus’ teachings about enemy love when we can so coldly consign anyone – even the most loathsome human beings – to eternal torment with that kind of casualness?). That is a doctrine that has evolved out of a misunderstanding of the terms “repent” and “Kingdom of Heaven”. When Jesus teaches his disciples to pray: “Your Kingdom come” (Matthew adds “Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven” to Luke’s account, which is very helpful in unpacking for us what the intended meaning was), he is not saying “haste the day until all the righteous are raptured away”. God’s Kingdom is not some distant utopia to which the faithful will one day return. That is to mistranslate the Hebrew.

 

The Hebrew word Jesus uses for “Kingdom” is Malchut. And Malchut is not a place. It is a way of being in the world. I am going to borrow from Rabbi Shimon Lieberman to explain the concept: “The model we have in mind is of a king who has a picture of good and bad, an ideology of right and wrong, and teaches the society around him those ideas and values. That society is then awakened to what is really right and structures itself and its institutions accordingly. When society has finished this process, it thereby amplifies and proclaims those values that the king had in his heart and mind…This is malchut in the true sense. It is God’s actions and attributes – not as expressed by God, but rather as human beings express them. It is as if God’s actions have struck a resonant chord in us, and we thereby act in a similar manner.” (http://www.aish.com/sp/k/48971776.html)

 

I hope you can see how radically different that is from the Kingdom being a place where God’s presence is so holy and so pure that no sin can be tolerated. The Kingdom, in this sense, is not a place where the sinful are excluded. In fact, the Kingdom of God is not a place at all. The coming of God’s Kingdom that we are instructed to pray for is the evolution by humans of a way of relating that comes ever closer to structuring itself around God’s will. It is not a prayer for the future so much as it is for the here and now. And what does that will entail? Micah 6:8 sums up it up beautifully:

 

He has showed you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

 

When you understand that the hope advocated in the gospels is not access to Heaven, but the adoption of a completely different way of being in this world, centred on self-giving love and radical forgiveness, you will also see that the call to “repent” is not nearly as simple as confessing your sins and “accepting Jesus into your heart”. New wine, as Jesus says, requires new wine skins. This new way of being in the world is completely incompatible with the old way. We cannot simply graft it onto our lives as they are. We need to become, in Paul’s words, new creations. Faith does not allow us to continue as we were, only now we attend church and Bible Study. Faith is not a matter of trying to be good because Jesus died for us. Faith requires that we be born again: that we unlearn our ways of being in the world, in other words, and start afresh. When Jesus says that we cannot inherit the Kingdom of God unless we are born again, he does not mean we cannot get into heaven unless we say the sinner’s prayer (and mean it). He is stating that we cannot participate in bringing about the perfected world of peace and prosperity so long as we remain locked in our mimetically violent ways of being. It is a pragmatic observation, not a threat. The issue is not one of moral purity; true repentance requires that we reject ways of being in the world that allow us to construct groups of people – based on culture, race, age, gender, or sexual orientation – as threatening and problematic. In Christ, as Paul notes in Galatians 3, all those lines we draw in the sand that allow us to justify violence towards others have no place. Thus “repentance” does not mean admitting that you are a miserable sinner and deserve to die, and thank goodness God can’t seem to tell the difference between punishing you and punishing Jesus. It is much more difficult than that. It is the lived expression of enemy love, of forgiveness and peace, and it is utterly at odds with all of our systems of culture, politics and religion. To repent is to shift the way that we live in the world away from the old ways of violence and tit-for-tat justice, to stop projecting those hideous ways of being onto God too, and to commit to a peace-oriented way of life.

 

So I hope you will understand why I find so repulsive this notion of a gospel whose central claim is that it holds the exclusive key to Heaven and which consigns to eternal torment anyone who is unfortunate enough not to find that key. By default, if we see the gospel message as some sort of mystical and exclusive Heavenly access code, we construct others as worthy of slaughter. Just think, for a moment, of what it means to genuinely believe that non-Christians deserve the agony of never-ending suffering. I am sorry, but there is no crime that deserves that. Any God that capricious is not just; that God is psychopathic. That God is human, made in our image. And the spin-off of that is that we who call ourselves followers of that God are given implicit permission to destroy others in the name of God. Can I be really contentious? I think that our belief that the gospel is about gaining entry to an otherworldy Paradise is directly and causally linked to the Crusades, the witch-hunts of Medieval Europe, the Holocaust, Apartheid, racism, sexism, homophobia – all manner of hate crimes and atrocities. That is why I simply have to oppose it, even as I recognise that in doing so I will offend many whom I believe to be decent, sincere, loving human beings. My conscience simply does not permit silence. The doctrine of Heaven as we know it births hatred; as such, it is anti-gospel. But we were made in the image of the God of peace, and so I will continue to pray that God’s Kingdom come, and I will continue to strive to play my part in creating that world, where people relate as God commanded: in love.

 

And I have a long way to go to unpack what that repentance needs to look like for me. When I look at my life I understand why Jesus said that it was difficult for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God (not a place – a way of being). I can see how much I try to meld the old and the new and how dismally that fails in bringing about God’s will on earth as it is in Heaven. But I also see how what is impossible for humans is possible for God: every day I encounter those who insist that we value individuals, that we reject petty bigotry and value diversity; every day our media, our schools, our community leaders speak up against violence and hatred. I hear the gospel preached every day. Sometimes from Christians. God’s Kingdom is, as Jesus said, at hand. And it is a beautiful vision, like a pearl found in a field, a lost coin, a reunited flock. It is growing – slowly, like a mustard seed, to be sure – and I trust that the God who started the work will be faithful to complete it.

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9 thoughts on “Your Kingdom Come

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  1. The prayer at Matthew 6:9-10 is a prayer Jesus taught his followers to pray for: The coming of God’s Kingdom.
    There is an excellent reason why Jesus urged and commanded his followers to pray for the God’s Kingdom to come.

    Once the heavens were cleansed of Satan and his demon angels, there has been peace and tranquility in the heavens. Before then, Satan wreaked havoc in the heavens where Jehovah, Jesus Christ and the loyal angels reside. (Revelation 12:7-12).
    Now that Satan and his demon angels have been kicked out of the heavens, complete peaceful conditions exist there. Now invisible wicked spirit forces, including the Devil are down here on the earth causing much suffering to mankind.

    Just like Jehovah God cleansed the heavens, He will do the same thing for the earth and obedient mankind. The earth will soon be cleansed of all corrupt governments (Daniel 2:44).

    Soon in mankind’s coming history the earth will be transformed into a beautiful, peaceful, pristine, paradise (Psalms 37:10-11, Psalms 37:29, Revelation 21:4-5). Humans at that time will have the sure hope and promise of growing to perfection in every sense of the word, with the real prospect of never dying. No more getting sick or growing old. No more dying or the loss of a loved one to the “enemy death” (1Corinthians 15:26). Also, under the heavenly reign of Jesus Christ, all forms of wickedness will be eliminated permanently. (Isaiah 33:24, Job 33:25, Revelation 21:4-5, Psalms 37:10-11). Even the countless billions who have died will be brought back gradually and systematically over a period of time on an earthwide/global scale, to life by means of a beautiful miracle called “the resurrection”, under the heavenly rule of the 1000 year reign of Christ Jesus (John 11:11-45, Acts 24:15, (Isaiah 26:19).

    What’s interesting and unfortunate is that most people do not realize what they truly are asking for when they pray the words: “Let your Kingdom come.” Think about this: Since God’s Son, Jesus Christ and his loyal angels battled and won against Satan the Devil and his wicked angels and were hurled to the vicinity of the earth, those who are not doing God’s will when His Son Jesus and his mighty loyal angels come to cleanse the earth of all wickedness and wicked mankind who are not doing the will of God; those ones will be destroyed forever, they will lose their life and they will cease to exist. (Jeremiah 25:33).

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    1. I do appreciate the time you took to construct such an elaborate response. I am afraid, though, that we are going to profoundly disagree on what is meant by “Kingdom of God”. I do not believe that Jesus ever meant an otherworldy ‘Heaven’ when he used the term. That would be an interpretation of the term that is wholly inconsistent with the way the term is used in a 1st Century Jewish context. The anthropomorphised “Satan” is also not a concept I think holds any validity, given its absence throughout most early Jewish thought. Although it has gained traction by Jesus’ time, I do not believe that Jesus held to that idea of evil either. While I can concede that it is relatively easy to construct the sort of position you hold by selecting extracts from various Scriptures, I do not believe that if you read those same Scriptures in context, the same conclusion woudl always be reached. I think we also hold a very different hermeneutic: I do not see the Bible as either a cohesive whole (it is a collection of texts by different writers from very different backgrounds, who frequently disagree), or as the infallible Word of God (while I do see God working through the Scriptures, they are nonetheless human textual constructs that frequenly misrepresent God: just because the text claims God said something or acted in some way, I do not believe that this necessarily means that God was involved, only that the writeer thought that God was involved). I think the most reliable way of understanding God is through Jesus, and I do not think that eternal conscious torment or annihilation for failing to please God is something Jesus (and by extension God) would EVER sanction.

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      1. Simply put, I don’t subscribe to Jewish theology, Jewish thought, Jewish philosophy, beliefs or their viewpoint and standards.

        The Jewish historian Josephus, has many excerpts that back up Bible history and chronology. As for anything outside of his writings I won’t consider. After all the ancient Jews are ones who rejected and put Jesus, God’s son, to death on a torture stake. Jesus also said the ancient Jewish religious leaders also made God’s Word “invalid” (Mark 7:13) And the modern day Jews appear to still be looking for their messiah to save them.

        And yes, I always read the before and after scriptures (contexts), and that is why I have come to the scriptural conclusions that you and others have read.

        God’s heavenly based Kingdom/Government of the heavens is a real heavenly based Government with an administrative body. Jesus Christ being the appointed son and king, along with his 144,000 co-rulers, will soon bring an end to all forms of wickedness and suffering (Revelation 21:3-5, Psalms 37:10-11, Psalms 37:29, Psalms 37:37, Isaiah 35:5-6).
        Many have been mislead into thinking that Satan is a figment of one’s imagination. And that just suits Satan fine. He is joyous that people, the masses, think that he does not exist. That way he can do more damage when it comes to ruining peoples lives and when it comes to blocking the masses from having a relationship with the Creator of all things (Revelation 4:11, 2nd Corinthians 4:4).

        Jesus, himself even said that Satan the Devil is “the ruler of the world” (John 12:31, John 14:30, John 16:11, 2nd Corinthians 4:4). The apostle John said that Satan is “misleading the entire inhabited earth”. The apostle Paul knew that Satan is real (Romans 16:20, Hebrews 2:14).

        The Bible and I agree that there is no conciousness or awareness that continues after one dies. There is no such thing as an invisible afterlife. The Bible doesn’t go along with that false teaching (Ecclesiastes 9:5-6 and Ecclesiastes 9:10).

        Explaining scriptural and spiritual things should not be complicated, long and drawn out with a lot of unfamiliar terms and words, thus rendering the reader or listener even more confused or clueless as to what the speaker or writer was trying to convey. Nor does the accurate truth of God’s Word the Bible need human theological viewpoints or so called “learned” experts on the Bible. Reason being: The accurate truth of God’s Word is clear and understandable. Yet, it takes faith and the ability to reason on the scriptures with logical thinking ability to grasp what the scriptures are saying. Also, the truth of God’s Word has the ability to stand on its own. The whole Bible is a beautiful love letter to mankind that shows what Jehovah God’s will and purpose is for obedient mankind and the earth (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14).

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        1. I can respect the passion with which you love Jesusm and I know that your responses are born out of that love. I certainly do not wish to suggest otherwise. So I hope you do not read any condemnation into the comment I am about to make – it is not intended at all. I fond your anger towards Jews curious in that a) Jesus and all of his disciples were Jews. They thought and lived as Jews. Christianity is not a new religion, but a new way of being Jewish, and b) Jesus himself would have forgiven them. I think all of theology needs to be framed through the cross. As Jesus looks out from the cross at the crowds of people who murdered him – both Jews and Gentiles, his only response is forgiveness – “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”. This is entirely consistent with Jesus’s teachings throughout his ministry on loving those who persecute you, on redefining who the neighbour we are required to love is (everybody) (Matthew 5:43-48). If Jesus, in whom the fullness of God dwells, forgave those who killed him and called us to love all people, I cannot see how your stance on Jews is in line with that.

          I do agree that mostly people do not apply their minds or logic to Scriptures. They read them “flat”, so to speak, without giving credence to context or being conscious that they are doing interpretive work and therefore ought to critique their own understandings. And they do this simply because the view that the Bible is God-authored allows people to ignore those things. I do not believe that the gospel writers, not Jesus himself, teach that we need to centre our theology on the Scriptures. As Jesus reminds the religious leaders in John 5:39-40: “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” I don’t see the Bible as God’s love letter to humanity; I believe Jesus fulfils that role.

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        1. Absolutely I do. I believe we grow through discussion and debate. please know that even when I profoundly disagree with anyone, I still recognise in them the same journey I am on, and even when I cannot accept a person’s theology, their “thinking about God”, I still accept them and know that despite the differences in our theologies, the God we are trying to understand and love remains the same.

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  2. Your reply is beautifully and poetically expressed Peter. And I appreciate the gracious dignity you afford those like me who do not agree with you. One thing that we do have in common is our LOVE for God, His Word the Bible, and His dear Son, Jesus Christ. Thank you for having a Christlike, godly disposition. 😃

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