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Saturday, February 2, 2019

How Far is the Kingdom of God?

In the 12th chapter of the gospel of Mark we find Christ answering a scribe who had come to him to test him, and perhaps catch him in his words. The scribe asks Christ concerning the greatest commandment, and an exchange ensues. But it is what Christ says at the end of this exchange that I want to focus on here. When the scribe affirms the two great commandments, love of God and neighbor, Christ says to him:

“You are not far from the kingdom of God.”[1]

That is an interesting choice of words. Particularly in relation to the Kingdom of God and its nature. What does he mean “you are not far from the Kingdom of God”? It seems certain here that a relation of space, nearness, is implied. This is important in regard to how this relates to so called time-texts and hyper-Preterism. Generally, it has been implied by Preterists that phrases concerning the nearness of the Kingdom of God/heaven indicate a nearness with regard to time.  This is important to their scheme because, from their perspective, the fall of Jerusalem will mark the time when the Kingdom happens. It is important for them, then, to maintain that the nearness of the Kingdom is a reference to a closeness in time.

Some of the major proof texts for hyper-preterists are those associated with the preaching of the Kingdom of God, and that say the Kingdom is “at hand”[2].  This is typically taken to mean that the Kingdom is close to the audience with regard to time. They would essentially see this as asserting “the Kingdom is about to happen.” The question then is, does this approach hold up? If the Kingdom is near in proximity rather than temporarily, then this would cause a major shift in what hyper-preterists can demand in terms of timing from such passages.

In Luke 11 and Mat 12 we have the account related of Christ casting out a demon from a blind and mute man. To this the Pharisees retort “he casts out demons by the prince of demons.” Christ answers to them this:

If I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.[3]

This is important to our query, because it demands that we ask several logical questions. If the phrase “the Kingdom of heaven is at hand” means close in time, but yet future, then how can Christ here claim that it has come “upon them”? What Christ must be saying is that His own presence, healing the sick and casting our demons, is the Kingdom manifested in their midst. This makes no sense as a temporal statement, it only makes sense in terms of proximity. Those who are witnessing the works of Christ have encountered the Kingdom in the person of Christ. In fact, this must be the meaning of another important passage:

Now when He was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is in your midst.” [4]
What is Christ saying here? The Kingdom does not come with observation. It is not a place to go and look at. You can’t say the Kingdom is in Jerusalem, or the mountain in Samaria. But what? The Kingdom is in your midst. What else can He be saying other than that He is the very Kingdom in the midst of them? The Kingdom of God has come to them. The day of salvation has arrived. When this is considered, it does a good deal of damage to the hyper-preterist paradigm. What is the foundation then of suggesting that the Kingdom arrives at the fall of Jerusalem? Before the claim has been made by hyper-preterists that these sort of passages indicated a nearness in time, thus the claim of an imminent return of Christ. We should have begun to see, however, that these passages are not evening addressing the return of Christ. They are addressing the THEN presence of Christ. The Kingdom had arrived and was being manifested in their midst. The lame were healed, the blind made to see, salvation proclaimed right in their very midst.

It seems clear when we read the gospel narratives that the disciples were not anticipating the fall of Jerusalem. They were, in fact, shocked that Christ predicted this in the Olivet. It seems more probable that their idea was that at some point Christ would march into Jerusalem, call fire down on the evil rulers like the prophet Elijah, and then take His seat on the throne leading Jerusalem to its destiny to rule the nations. They do not think that Christ is telling them that Jerusalem is about to be destroyed. They think he is telling them that they are about to rule with Him in an earthly kingdom. This seems vindicated by their arguing over who would sit on the throne beside him, or on wanting to call fire down upon those who rejected him. What I am saying here is that the phrase “the Kingdom of heaven is at hand” does not mean to the audience “the Kingdom is about to happen”, it means the Kingdom has arrived.

When we consider the teaching of Christ on the Kingdom, we see more substantiation that He is describing something that is near and accessible to those he speaks to. Not rather something that will happen in the near future. For instance he says:
But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.[5]

How could they seek first the Kingdom, if the Kingdom would not come to them for another 40yrs? It is clear that the Kingdom of God is something present with them, and something they could seek in that very moment. Along with these passages we have several where Christ speaks of entering into the Kingdom of God:

And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.[6]
Whether of them twain did the will of his father? They say unto him, The first. Jesus saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.[7]
But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.[8]

When we read this last passage and consider it, it is impossible to relate this to the holocaust of a million Jews in 70AD. Further, Christ says that these children are of the Kingdom. How are they of the Kingdom if the Kingdom is an imminent, but not yet, reality?
What we see then is that the Kingdom is something that becomes present/near when Christ comes into the world. It is something that can be entered into, and something that can be sought by the pure in heart. The Kingdom is something that comes by revelation to those who are looking for it. Christ speaks of the mysteries of the Kingdom of God[9] as something known by those who are in it, and not known by those who are outside of it.

Now finally, I want to look at the concept of the Kingdom “drawing near”. Beginning with Christ’s assertion that His ability to work miracles meant that the Kingdom had come upon them, we see that the nearness of the Kingdom comes with tangible/physical signs. When the Kingdom is at hand, the sick are healed and repentance is preached; for instance. We read:

And heal the sick that are therein, and say unto them, The kingdom of God is come nigh unto you.[10]

What we see here, then, is that when the Kingdom is near, its power is manifested in the earth. This is important, because is helps to set the context for an important statement about the Kingdom. Christ says:

So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand.[11]

What is the typical hyper-preterist approach here? They would claim that this means that when “Jerusalem is surrounded by armies” that the Kingdom of God happens. But what have we seen in scripture? We see that when the power of the Kingdom manifests in the earth, it is said that the Kingdom has “drawn near”. The Kingom does not happen when Jerusalem falls, Jerusalem falls because the Kingdom is already near. In Philippians Paul writes:

Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand.[12]

What is the typical hyper-preterist interpretation? They would assert that Paul is saying the Lord is about to return from heaven, and that the Kingdom is about to happen. But what have we saw in scripture? We saw that the presence of the Lord indicates the manifestation of His Kingdom. This passage would not mean that the Lord is about to come, but rather it means that the Lord is present now. In the Eastern Orthodox tradition we proclaim “Christ is in our midst! He is and ever shall be!” Paul is admonishing them to live in moderation, like those who are always in the presence of Christ and fully aware of the reality of His Kingdom. For we must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.[13]

We began this short essay by asking “how far is the Kingdom”? We could answer very concisely with scripture “the Kingdom is at hand”! It is present – close – in our midst. What are the implications of this for hyper-Preterism?
1.) It removes the force they demand from time-texts. When Christ says that some would not taste death until they “see the Son of man coming in His Kingdom”, we may now read this in terms of nearness and presence, and not in terms of temporality.  
2.) It upsets their time table in regard to the realization of the Kingdom. If the Kingdom is near/upon them/at hand during the earthly ministry of Christ, then it does not come in 70AD at the fall of Jerusalem.

For those who have been following along with the development of these ideas, you may be asking how the ascension plays into what I present here. I will answer this briefly here, and revisit later. The ascension and glorification of Christ becomes the focal point of the manifestation of the Kingdom by Christ in His earthly ministry. The miracles that Christ works, manifesting the Kingdom, bare witness to His place in the heavens and His destiny as the fulfillment of Daniel’s Son of Man in the clouds of heaven. Christ is the rightful heir of David who is inaugurated in the vision of Daniel 7 and then gives the Kingdom to His holy ones/saints. The essential point here is that the Kingdom is not a thing, but a person. Christ is the Kingdom, and in His obedience He secures the throne forever. Further, the Church – the body of Christ – is the Kingdom as well; precisely because of its covenant union with Christ. Wherever the Church is, Christ is in her midst. And wherever Christ is, the Kingdom has drawn nigh.

[1] Mark 12:34
[2] Mat 3:2; Mat 4:17; Mat 10:7; Mar 1:15
[3] Matt 12:24; Luke 11:20
[4] Luke 17:20,21
[5] Mat 6:33
[6] Matt 19:24
[7] Matt 21:31
[8] Mar 10:14
[9] Luke 8:10
[10] Luke 10:9
[11] Luke 21:31
[12] Phl 4:5
[13] 2 Cor 5:10

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