The Kingdom of God – The Bible’s Unified Message
Excerpted from The Coming Kingdom of the Messiah, pp. 9,10
The process of reading the New Testament through the filter of church tradition has been going on for so long that nothing short of a theological revolution will bring it to an end. But there are hopeful signs. The late twentieth century produced a mood likely to encourage the new look at the New Testament documents necessary for getting at the heart of them. A thirst for exploration is abroad among theologians and ordinary students of the Bible. There is evidence that the dogmas of post-biblical Christianity are beginning to relax their vice-like grip.
What needs to be undertaken urgently is a reading of the New Testament, and the whole Bible, allowing its unified message to speak to us. But we must be on guard against filtering out those elements of the message which we find distasteful or alien to our modern ways of thinking. It has so often happened that scholars decide arbitrarily which elements of the New Testament they will accept as relevant to faith. If they do not care for apocalyptic,¹ the Jesus they find in the records will not have said anything dramatic about the end of the age. If it is a liberal figure they are looking for, they will find him in Jesus. If a social reformer, they will discover him in the Christian documents.
It is widely recognized that this has been a weakness of the scholarly method in the past. Nevertheless, contemporary theologians continue to demonstrate their dislike of the Messianism of Jesus when they either ignore those of his sayings which prove him to be in the best Old Testament and Jewish apocalyptic tradition, or blame all such “flights of fancy” on the New Testament church. Much ingenuity has been employed in an effort to excuse Jesus for those of his teachings which we find uncomfortable or unacceptable.
If, however, we read the New Testament in its Hebrew context, and allow ourselves to become involved in its message, we will
find that a Christianity emerges which is both coherent and practical, though different in some important respects from the faith which has gained acceptance as the religion of Jesus and the Apostles.
It is with the central theme of all Jesus’ teachings that any investigation must begin. Fortunately scholarship is unanimous in its understanding of what that theme is. Even a cursory glance at the reports of Matthew, Mark and Luke reveal it to be unquestionably the Kingdom of God.
¹ I.e., having to do with a future cataclysmic intervention by God, using His agent, the Messiah, to establish a new society — the Kingdom of God.