Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD alone. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)

At its simplest definition, the Kingdom of God is where people exist in community with God and things are exactly as God would have them. Describing it, though, is much more difficult – at least in Greek/Western abstract terminology – which is why many churches have opted to focus on the person of Christ and his sacrifice (the heart of the gospel – which is incredibly important) to the neglect of teaching and living the message of Christ – the Kingdom of God. It is this neglect, as well, which has led, I believe, to the church’s neglect of the message of the Holy Spirit. As Dan Eleden of the Cerulean Sanctum has noted, “we’ve reduced the Holy Spirit to some index cards with a few memorized Scriptures on them.”

In Part I, we examined the terms ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ and ‘Kingdom of God’, with the determination that they are, indeed, synonymous. We also noted that the gospel of Jesus the Messiah and the Kingdom of God were two distinct, but intertwined messages taught with equal fervor by his disciples.

In this article, we will lay some of the groundwork for further studies in the Kingdom, by examining – in a Greek/Western way – some ways in which this central message of Jesus is similar to and different from common fundamental and evangelical Christian theologies.  (If you are somewhat ADHD, like me, you might want to skip to the section called ‘A Prime Example’ and then come back and read the rest…)

Lines and Circles, Systems and Cycles

In the past, we’ve compared, at a high level, the differences between Hebraic/Eastern thought (the paradigm of the writers of the Bible) and Greek/Western thought (the paradigm of the Americas and Europe). Because the Kingdom, as taught by Jesus, is of the Hebraic/Eastern paradigm, we’ve got a little bit of unpacking to do, just for general understanding.

In Greek thought, theologies tend to be built on logical progressions in which everything must “fit” into a “system” that explains how God works and how salvation works. However, because most of the Bible (with the exception of Paul’s dual Eastern/Western role in some of his letters) is written completely from a Hebraic paradigm, this logical progression is not explicitly spelled out. Thus, Western theologians have created extra-Biblical explanations, ’systems’ based on both interrelated and unrelated scriptures with their own underlying assumptions and explanations as the ‘glue’ tying it all together. Some of the systems are well-defined (5-point Calvinism, for example), and others less-so (for example, Ken Ham’s systematic explanation of how Jesus sacrifice means nothing without a literal 6, 24-hour day Creation).

The Kingdom of God, though, as seen in the Hebrew Scriptures and fulfilled in the gospel of Jesus, is not systematic and logical in progression, but cyclical and narrative crowned by a triumphal breaking of the cycle.  In this narrative cycle, God first acts miraculously and then asks to be loved through obedience.  Next, those he has saved make Him their King, but then fall away, for which they suffer the just consequences.  Adam, Noah, Moses, Israel, Judah.  All are saved, all claim the Kingdom, all fail, and the cycle continues.  The story of Jesus, then, is the breaking of the cycle, in which He saves by suffering the consequences, and gives his subjects the keys with which to understand how to live in the Kingdom.

A Jewish parable relayed by Brad Young in Paul, the Jewish Theologian:

To what may the matter be compared?  To one who came to a province.  He said to the people, “May I reign over you?”  They said to him, “You have done nothing good for us that we should accept your reign!”  What did He do?  He built them a wall.  He brought them water.  He fought battles for them.  Then he said to them, “May I reign over you?”  They responded “Yes! Yes!”  Thus it was with the Omnipresent.  He redeemed Israel from Egypt.  He parted the sea for them.  He brought them manna.  He provided them with a well.  He sent them quail.  He fought the battle of Amalek for them.  He said to them, “May I reign over you?”  They replied “Yes! Yes!”  Rabbi said, “This shows the grace of Israel.  When they stood before Mount Sinai to receive the Torah, tthey all determined in their hearts to accept the Kingdom of heaven with joy.”

The Kingdom, conceptually, is also ‘circular’ rather than ‘linear’.  That is, rather than having a foundation in which theological concepts are laid out in a logical progression, with each new spiritual concept laying the groundwork for the rest, the Kingdom is laid out in an organic form in which ’spiritual’ and ’secular’ are not distinguished one from the other (because for something to be ’spiritual’ implies that something else is independent of God), and all conceptual underpinnings of the Kingdom support the others. At the center of this circle is Torah, which was given by God to support His kingdom (See Young’s Paul the Jewish Theologian for much more discussion on this topic.)

For instance, the progression from chaos to order is first seen in Genesis 1, where God takes the void (tohu a vohu) and creates from it on days 1 – 3.  Then in days 4-6, in parallel fashion, the creation brings forth a new – better – creation.  Then, after this better creation is complete, God gives more creative duties to Adam – who was made in His image.  This progression to order from creation, in cycle, is seen narratively throughout scripture.

It is this circularity that prevents an easy, logically progressive ‘definition’ of the Kingdom, and, in the writing of this series, has made the decision(s) of where to go next much more difficult, because of this interrelatedness.  Thus I, as a Greek/Western thinker, have decided to go for the definitional underpinnings first – which is, at the moment, a very dry approach, indeed, and leaves me chomping at the bit to get to more directly applicable material

Individuals And Communities, Journeys and Destinations

In Hebraic thought, the theology of the Kingdom is rooted in community first and individuals second, whereas Hellenistic Greek thought is based upon the importance of the individual.  Thus, in scripture, we consistently see that “you are the temple”, where you is plural and temple is singular.  Each of us is not a temple of the Holy Spirit – collectively, ALL believers are the temple of the Holy Spirit.

In Greek thought, our theology tends to be ‘focused on the end in mind’ (a term popularized by Stephen Covey, a Mormon writer, in the Seven Habits of Effective People), and focused on the individual first and community, second.  As such, it tends to be about the ‘engame’, or ‘winning souls’ – a viral progression which is rooted in the past and looks to the future, often with secondary regard for the present.

A Prime Example 

This difference can be seen in the concept of ’salvation’.

In the Hebraic teaching of the Kingdom, God saved, God saves and God will save.  First, he saved His people before they knew Him (Exodus 6:7, Romans 5:8).  Next, He saves his people and blesses them for the purpose of blessing the rest of the world (Genesis 12:12, Matthew 5:13-16; Romans 15).  Then, at the end of it all, he brings the church as his bride into his Father’s house in matrimony (John 14:2, Revelation 19-22).  The people of God already have a taste of ‘eternal life’, because the bride of Christ has existed, unbroken, since it was brought out of Egypt by the Father.

Salvation is about the journey, not the destination.

In this light, for the individual who seeks to be part of the Kingdom, ’salvation’ already happened in the person of Yeshua (whose name means God’s salvation), they experience ’salvation’ today through becoming a disciple living in obedience and taking God’s blessings and passing them on to all people - not heaping them upon themselves - and they trust that in the end they will experience ’salvation’ in eternal life with God through His Son, Yeshua.  The focus of a person’s life is to live as a disciple and to spread the blessings of God so that His kingdom will increase to His glory.  The final reward is an afterthought, because it is completely out of our hands and cannot be earned.

In Western systematic theologies, the focus tends to be on the destination (Heaven), and thus, the focus tends to be on converts, not disciples (and thus numbers of ‘members’).  It is highly focused on understanding and dissecting the past through ‘correct’ orthodoxy, far beyond what is required for final salvation, often to the detriment of a focus on present action required.  In many dead and dying churches, Christianity has become a mental exercise that is independent of daily life and is often viewed as little more than a glorified ‘fire insurance policy,’ as a friend of mine has commented, or, in growing churches, it has become a numbers game.

Because of this drift into systematic theology, the religion Jesus practiced and his criticisms of his contemporaries has been incorrectly viewed as ‘works-righteousness’.  Because Jesus understood the present nature of salvation and the Kingdom, it is the fruit we bear in the present – through obedience to his word and the passing on of blessings to those who most need it (the widow, the fatherless and the stranger) – that demonstrates our present salvation.  The future salvation is independent of what we do – we cannot ‘earn’ it.  However, how we live demonstrates our faith – whether or not we really have faith in Him for our salvation.

In the next article on the Kingdom of God, we will examine shavuot and its centrailty to our Christian walk.  Most likely (but plans may change), I will try to time this for post-Easter, to prepare for the 2007 shavuot celebration.




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