Jesus and a Kingdom in Crisis



Did you know no Christians alive today will witness the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, and this world has an expiration date?

If we believe evangelicals, the “Kingdom of God” Jesus spoke repeatedly about, mostly in parables, that would be inaugurated at his Second Coming (‘parousia’) is only for converts after The Rapture, and so was two thousand years in the future when he taught it. Furthermore, after the Millennial kingdom is completed (one thousand years), this earth will be destroyed and a brand new one created. So why bother taking care of this one?

If you believe the Bible…

17”From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”(Matthew 4:17)

Grammatical Note: They verb translated, “has come near,” is written in the Greek perfect tense. The unique force of this tense is to emphasize something that has already occurred in the past but has not yet completed its action. Whatever the event described, its repercussions are “continuing” into the present.

Christian translators have softened the tense because the event described failed to materialize in full. This is an interpretive decision. It should read: “… for the kingdom of heaven is arriving.” The idea is the front end of the kingdom has been initiated by John and Jesus in anticipation for the coming king. They are “preparing” for his arrival by ridding the land of Satan’s influence (exorcisms) and preaching “repentance” to bring righteousness. The imagery is of the visitation of a king (Lk. 19:44). Before he arrives, the venue requires sprucing up and beautifying in a manner worthy of his prestige. Even the road he will travel is repaired to allow for the smoothest ride. Mark captures this imagery in his gospel where John the Baptist cites two prophetic texts. John assumes the role of “preparer” in a spiritual sense.

2“I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way” [Malachi 3:1] —
3“a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord [‘yahweh,’ in original]
make straight paths for him.’ ”[Isaiah 40:3](Mark 1:2,3)

1“I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord [‘adonai’] you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty.”(Malachi 3:1)

Grammatical Note: Mark makes a slight but significant change in the person of the pronoun from “me” to “you” and “your.” By doing so it adds an additional person, in this case Jesus. Originally (Malachi), the speaker is Yahweh sending his messenger, whoever it may be, to prepare His (Yahweh’s) way. Mark emends the text to suggest, Yahweh is sending John to prepare the way for Jesus. Why the change?

After Jesus resurrection and more importantly ascension, he was given divine status. Historically, John the Baptist probably did appeal to these texts to validate his ministry as prophet of the Last Days. Furthermore, John likely believed “The Lord” in view was Yahweh’s Messianic representative ruling on His behalf. Jesus was thought to be uniquely qualified for this position as Messiah and Lord.

36“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”(Acts 2:36)

One of the fundamental problems evangelicals face when reading the gospels is their faith prevents them from accepting the obvious, not matter how compelling the evidence.

The gospel were written decades after the events they describe. Their content reflects post Easter thinking. They were tasked with reconciling the life of the earthly Jesus with the heavenly Christ, specifically the manner and nature of the kingdom of God. Though it had only been roughly forty years since Jesus’ death and the resurrection story, the pivotal issue was, “Where, or better when, is the kingdom of God?”

Many of Jesus Jewish followers hopes were extinguished when he failed to arrive shortly after Pentecost, since he had only recently been declared Messiah. I imagine most of these original “messianic” Israelites, recorded in Acts, resorted to their previous lives within Judaism. In fact, there was little difference if any between those Jews who recognized Jesus as messiah and those who didn’t. At this stage in history, Judean Christianity was closely knit with religious Judaism.

Then with the catastrophic events of 66-70AD, there was a renewed interest for a restored Israel. The messianic fervor at this time was at its zenith. Naturally many new Jewish converts would flock to Christianity since they already had a messiah in place (which is not to say many others also claimed this title as Josephus’ history at this time attests). Jewish Christians would exploit the fears of Israelites, albeit with good intention, in hopes of garnering more converts which they no doubt accomplished.

After eight years of theological training, I was never taught why the synoptic gospels were truly written. Without a proper historical and theological perspective, they are simply a collection of traditions about Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection. They are so much more. They are a last ditch attempt by followers of Jesus to salvage the faith.

The Jewish branch of Christianity had made a fatal mistake in promising its followers the Messiah Jesus would come imminently. The profaning of the Temple by Titus and/or the Zealots, its destruction and the Fall of the Holy City were indisputable “sign” the “son of man” was “coming” (‘parousia’). In gambling parlance, they had gone “all in.”

Now came the wait. Long after the dust had settled and the smoke cleared over Jerusalem, Jesus was no where to be found. Christian leaders had admonished the faithful to be ready for a coming that did not come. Jewish Christianity’s survival depended on a restored Israel. It began hemorrhaging followers. Its leaders now considered a protracted delay in Jesus’ return a distinct possibility and prepared for the worse.

The gospels reflect a desperate attempt to explain the inexplicable. Where was the promised messiah? If ever there was an opportune time to appear, it was when Rome stomped its imperious heel on Zion. Several years had elapsed and it was necessary to stem the tide of defections and awaken those who were becoming apathetic. In all, many believers had lost their zeal.

It is no accident the gospels are littered with exhortations warning of the dire consequences of faithlessness and irresponsibility. Unwise virgins, unfaithful servants, rich fools and unwanted wedding guests illustrate the fate of those who fail in their obligations and responsibilities to Jesus when he comes in glory.

The gospel writers no doubt borrowed from traditions which predated Jesus death as well as in the span leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem. However, their works were not completed until several years after this event when it was necessary to provide an authoritative “hard copy” rather than oral traditions to illicit faithfulness.

I would be remiss if I did not mention, neither Jesus nor his glorious kingdom arrived leaving Jewish Christianity to wither and eventually die, hopeless. The tragic remains of this once proud sect of Judaism are found strewn on the pages of the gospels. For those brave enough to look through the lens of rational objectivity and not through the foggy glass of faith, a clear picture emerges.

A promised kingdom and judgment that never came. A declared king who never ruled and a religion that eventually died. Today’s evangelical version of Christianity is a gross misrepresentation of what is reflected in the gospels both doctrinally and practically. The invention of the Rapture theory waters down the import of the Second Coming by removing the primary incentive for righteous living. Instead, evangelicals are conveniently snatched away before judgment and given a front row seat while the world burns.

Complacency is the only fruit produced by believing in the Rapture. And if you take the Bible literally, that won’t get you to heaven.

Published by ronarends

I was born in London, Ontario, Canada. I attended Capernwray Bible School (England and Austria), Moody Bible Institute (Chicago, Il.), the University of Western Ontario (London, Ontario), London Baptist Seminary (London, Ontario) and Dallas Theological Seminary (Dallas, Tx.). I have had several temporary jobs over the years but my focus has alway been on an investigative study of the Bible, Jesus and Christianity particularly evangelicalism. Currently editing a massive literary undertaking deconstructing Christianity and Jesus.

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