Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Jesus and the Kingdom of God

I am reading through Bryan Stone's work, Evangelism after Christendom.

Stone spends some time discussing the evangelism--proclamation of the good news--of Jesus. Jesus' primary message was about the "kingdom of God"--God's rule or reign over people and the world. It was a message about love, peace and joy. It was a message about social justice and how humanity is to treat one another. It was a message that God was to reign over every aspect of one's life.

Stone says that the evangelism of the apostles shifted from good news of the kingdom of God to the good news of Jesus himself and his salvific work. I actually think that Stone underestimates the prevalence of the message of the kingdom of God in apostolic evangelism, as Luke gives many references to this message.

However, it is clear that the early church did move away from the message of the kingdom of God in subsequent centuries.

Note the Apostles' Creed:
I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.
And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he
descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. AMEN.

There is a huge jump in the creed from Christ' birth to suffering under Pontius Pilate. In fact, all of Jesus' life and ministry is passed over. Furthermore, there are no references to ethical living in the creed. The "doctrine" of the creed concentrates on the ontological nature of God, upon Christ's salvific work, and upon judgment and the afterlife.

Creeds were meant to deal with problems and to guard against heresies. However, quickly the emphasis found in the creed became the sum total of the Christian faith (sound familiar?), and the message of the kingdom of God and ethical living was forgotten.

Stone makes an excellent point that the proclamation of Jesus was not intended to be contrary to the kingdom of God. Rather, the proclamation of Jesus is proclamation of the kingdom of God, for Jesus shows us what it means to live under God's kingdom rule or reign.

Growing up, what did you know about the kingdom (reign or rule) of God? Were you aware that Jesus preached this message, and what did you understand it to mean?


James said...

By the way, I can affirm all of the apostles' creed except the phrase "descended into hell." This is a phrase that is based on a certain understanding of 1 Pet. 3:19, which says that Jesus preached to those spirits in prison after his death. I think that there are better explanations for this passage.