Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Kingdom Of God: When It Shall Come And How (Part 2)

Part 1 in this series is available here.

AP: Now we can pick up where we left off. We are talking about the kingdom of God and wrestling with some issues found in the Gospels with respect to when it shall it come and how.

Reconciling Mark 13:24–25 and Luke 17:20–21 is difficult:
1. It's possible it could mean that once the kingdom has suddenly come and with great heavenly signs that they don't have to ask "Where is it?" (and the answer would be: "See it here or there") because the kingdom would be presented without any doubt: "The kingdom of God is among you" = "the kingdom of God will already be among you." Notice the difference between the present and future. 
2. Or it could be understood as it is most of the time, namely that the beginning of the kingdom of God is already available to everyone ("among them") even the Pharisees . . . if they repent. 
3. Or it is possible that Luke 17:21 (it's thought that this phrase was directed to the Pharisees with whom Jesus was in a serious dispute! How is the kingdom going to be among them?") is an interpretation of Luke of Jesus' statement that could mean something altogether different. We'll discuss that later. 
Either way it seems like Jesus thought that for one to be able to calculate precisely the coming of the kingdom would somehow mean subtracting from God some of his omnipotence, his independence in the decision to determine the coming of the kingdom: the when and the how. The only thing he knew was that the "time remaining" until the coming of the kingdom was very short: The coming of the Son of Man with the establishment of the kingdom is "at the gates" (Mark 13:29: "Even so, you too, when you see these things happening, recognize that he is near, right at the doors").

There is also another possibility as pointed out by Johannes Weiss and more recently Senén Vidal (Los tres proyectos de Jesús). It is possible that Jesus began to doubt the imminence of the coming kingdom, with the failure of his mission in Galilee. The people were not converted as expected. Then he decided to announce the coming of the kingdom in the capital, Jerusalem, to have a larger audience. When he arrived, he realized that his audacious teaching was going to cost him his life. In other words, he foresaw the possibility of his death. From that point forward Jesus had to interpret this death as an instrument that would accelerate the coming Kingdom. This is very likely, although it is not clear in what sense.

Jesus could interpret his death as purification for the sins of the people who paid no heed to his proclamation; or as an impetratory sacrifice to God that would "soften" his heart towards the people and finally to agree to establish the kingdom. Whichever way, it seems clear that given the absolute confidence of Jesus with God (perhaps only broken in the explicit time of his death, Mark 15:34 "Why have you forsaken me?"), his death could not mean absolute failure of his mission, which only depended on God, but another way to accomplish it. In the view of many interpreters it does not seem like Jesus interpreted this death as a strictly vicarious sacrifice (the doctrine of Paul), ie, as a substitutionary death for others.

In the mind of Jesus it is absolutely certain that there will be a solemn divine judgment before the coming of the kingdom. However, it is unclear whether this judgment will immediately precede the regeneration of the present world or follow it; most likely it refers to the first, as seems to indicate the scene of the last judgment in Matthew 25.

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