WHY THE KINGDOM MESSAGE IS SO ESSENTIAL TO THE GOSPEL

JesusApocalypticProphet

This post continues where the last post left off – the centrality of the Kingdom of God and the Second Coming of Christ to the Gospel’s authentic message.  It draws upon my book, Blood Moon:  Biblical Signs of the Coming Apocalypse, which I wrote to distinguish between true and false signs, the reason why Bible prophecy is so important to the preaching of the Gospel, and the nearness of the apocalypse.


WHY THE KINGDOM MESSAGE IS SO ESSENTIAL TO THE GOSPEL

EVEN MODERN THEOLOGIANS TESTIFY TO THIS TRUTH

For the past one hundred years, most liberal theologians asserted that Jesus Christ looked to a physical Kingdom of God in this world. He believed in the apocalypse. He preached a coming Kingdom in which God would break into the natural order and bring justice to the world.

Unfortunately, these teachers believed he was deceived to think that way, being one of many “apocalyptic rabbis” roaming about the countryside in Palestine, expecting the world to end soon in flames of fire. It is important, however, to recognize these ‘doubting Thomases,’ while not regarding Jesus to be the Son of God in the correct sense, still asserted Jesus DID believe in a coming Kingdom of God in a real, not ‘spiritual’ sense.

Bart D. Ehrman, in his book, Jesus: Apocalpytic Prophet of the New Millennium argues a compelling case for this view. Although the most prolific and popular writer on New Testament topics today, ironically Ehrman writes as an agnostic. He investigates and writes as an historian, absent faith that Jesus Christ was anything more than a remarkable personage.

But what does Ehrman assert concerning this principal character of religious history, one Jesus of Nazareth who is worshipped by over a billion people today? Jesus must be understood as a person in the context of his day and age. He must be seen as an apocalypticist—a rabbi utterly convinced the world was coming to an end. His entire message—the coming of the Kingdom of God—begins and ends with his radical (and socially ‘sideways’) perspective. Ehrman states:

What has struck me over the years, though, is that the view shared probably by the majority of scholars over the course of this century, at least in Germany and America, is equally shocking for most nonspecialist readers. And yet it is scarcely known to the general reading public. This is the view that is embraced in this [Ehrman’s] book. In a nutshell, it’s a view first advanced most persuasively by none other than the great twentieth-century humanitarian Albert Schweitzer. It claims that Jesus is best understood as a first-century Jewish apocalypticist. This is a shorthand way of saying that Jesus fully expected that the history of the world as we know it (well, as he knew it) was going to come to a screeching halt, that God was soon going to intervene in the affairs of this world, overthrow the forces of evil in a cosmic act of judgment, destroy huge masses of humanity, and abolish existing human political and religious institutions. All this would be a prelude to the arrival of a new order on earth, the Kingdom of God. Moreover, Jesus expected that this cataclysmic end of history would come in his own generation, at least during the lifetime of his disciples. It’s pretty shocking stuff, really. And the evidence that Jesus believed and taught it is fairly impressive.[1]

Such strongly supportive testimony for the assertion that Jesus preached the apocalypse, looked at from the standpoint of evidentiary value, constitutes a more decisive witness than those who believe in Bible prophecy and the divinity of Jesus Christ.

Why would I say that? Because Ehrman’s view, like most modern theology, rejects Jesus ever claimed to be the Son of God—it expresses doubt that Jesus even claimed to be the fulfillment of the Son of Man referenced in the Book of Daniel and other inter-testament writings (one thinks of the Book of Enoch and other extra-biblical sources discovered in the Dead Sea Scrolls).   Nonetheless, liberal scholarship asserts Jesus did believe in the physical manifestation of the Messiah in the realm of space-time. The Kingdom of God would intersect the realm of humankind. It was not to be ‘pie in the sky by and by.’ Rather, in the same guise as Jesus actions in the Temple when he overturned the tables of the moneychangers, the Kingdom of God would upset the apple cart. It would forever alter the normal ways of the world where the poor are oppressed while the rich run the show.

Thus, modern theologians, no friends of literal biblical interpretation, do not deny that Jesus preached the imminent literal apocalypse—they simply reject that what he preached would ever come to pass, as such change would require the supernatural intervention of God. From their viewpoint, Jesus may have been mixed up about certain things. But he was never double-minded about the end of the world. He based His whole ministry on that assumption.

Liberalism, of course, does not leave it there. It goes on to assert that while Jesus believed in apocalypse and the upheaval of the world system, He was just wrong to think that God would stop the injustice and terminate mankind’s reproachable reign. Of course, that is where we that believe Jesus was the Son of God (and was not confused about the meaning and timing of the apocalypse) part company.

Assuming, for the sake of argument that Jesus is who we evangelicals believe He claimed to be—i.e., the Son of Man and the Son of God–of all Christian ‘branches’ of faith we should be the most eager to understand the essence of His gospel so we remain true to its substance. If His principal teaching consisted of the coming Kingdom, it should be front and center in the pulpits of America. Even liberal theologians would confirm this very truth. To be authentic, we had better understand why Jesus was an apocalypticist.

EVANGELICALS DENY THE MESSAGE OF THE KINGDOM

How ironic then that famed evangelical preacher Rick Warren dismisses the apocalypse and coming Kingdom as a matter of no import to Jesus. In his blockbuster book, The Purpose Driven Life, Warren makes no bones about it. Prophecy is not important.

When the disciples wanted to talk about prophecy, Jesus quickly switched the conversation to evangelism. He wanted them to concentrate on their mission in the world. He said in essence, “The details of my return are none of your business. What is your business in the mission I have given you. Focus on that!”[2]

Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life
Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life

What a thorough misrepresentation of the truth! Warren contends 200 years of liberal protestant scholarship, the emphasis of the true church almost 2,000 years in the making, and the ‘fundamentals’ espoused by evangelicals in this country during the past century have all gotten the gospel wrong. Instead, the essential message should be about the here and now (the ‘hic and nunc’ as theologians say, citing the Latin), about finding purpose in life today through this up-to-date ‘Jesus.’ To Warren, Jesus believed the apocalypse was malarkey and would have nothing to do with it! Furthermore, neither should the disciples then or now.

How tragic that Warren’s message is considered an idyllic statement of evangelical belief! It fails even to be a fair portrayal of liberal protestant scholarship. It can only be a statement that has been thoroughly infused with ‘positive thinking’ if not out-and-out new age mysticism. Furthermore, Warren pulls Jesus completely out of his historical context and puts words into His mouth that reflect the Gospel According to Rick. For these reasons, I choose not to back away from a most critical assessment of Warren’s message: Rick Warren preaches another gospel than that which Jesus Christ preached. His assertion that Jesus possessed a lackadaisical attitude toward Bible prophecy could not be further from the truth. It ignores scores of Jesus’ statements to the contrary. As such the Gospel According to Rick could not be more at odds with the essential message of this book (Blood Moon:  Biblical Signs of the Coming Apocalypse). However, I do not intend to mount a negative polemic against those in evangelicalism such as Rick Warren who dismiss the importance of eschatology, let alone who fail to proclaim the message of the Kingdom of God. The truth will become evident of its own accord as I advance a positive polemic demonstrating why the apocalypse matters not only doctrinally but practically to those who seek to be disciples of Jesus Christ.

To recap: the coming of the Kingdom of God was the heart of Jesus’ message. Virtually all respected Bible scholars (liberal or conservative) assert this to be so. The only real issue concerns whether we should believe Jesus or not and put into practice the form of spirituality he taught and exemplified, which hung on the promise of His soon return. Additionally, unless we conclude that Jesus intentionally wished to mislead His disciples about His return to this world (to culminate the age in which we now live), it seems most illogical to assume the central teaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ is based upon a non-literal, non-historical, indeed nonsense non-event.

The Kingdom of God is coming. It will happen in space-time. The “other side” will break into our experience one day. The curtains will be pulled back. The day of reckoning will come. The time of reward and recompense will be here before we know it.

BLOOD MOONS AND THE SIGNS OF HIS COMING

The past interest in the so-called blood moons (lunar eclipses) of 2014 and 2015, brought the question of the apocalypse back into the discussion for many—not just those who study Bible prophecy. The very unusual occurrence of four blood moons within a short interval of time (in this case 18 months), with those blood moons falling on certain very important of the Jewish feast days (holy days), gave rise to increased speculation about the end of the world. Why was this the case? Because the blood moon portrays a portent in the heavens that speak of apocalypse.

Blood Moon Tetrads - Signs of the Apocalypse?
Blood Moon Tetrads – Signs of the Apocalypse?

For many reasons, the apocalypse appears imminent. But whether it commences soon, several decades from now, or beyond—more than ever before—the only hope for our troubled nation and our world rests in the truth of the Bible and its prescriptions for our personal lives, our culture, and our nation.

Many will object to this assertion; their tag-line likely being, “Been there, done that.” However, the unfortunate reality remains that the witness Jesus’ followers were ordered to proclaim (then and now), a proclamation to the utmost parts of the world and to the very end of the age, often failed to resemble what Jesus truly taught and the authentic spirituality he demands of us. Somewhere along the line, those meant to serve as salt in the world lost their savor. No small part of why this happened owes to the fact that the apocalyptic element of Christianity was downplayed or eliminated altogether. The message “Jesus is coming” was interpreted right out of existence. It was altered to mean something far different than what Jesus instilled in the minds of His closest followers.

In other words, the Christian message appears irrelevant to many members of our society not because it has been tried and found wanting; but because most of its proponents today (and during the past two centuries) so rarely represented a most essential element of the gospel of Christ, leading too few converts to commit themselves to its achievement.

Most modern-day preachers ceased the proclamation of an authentic gospel when they jettisoned elements indispensable to its meaning, in particular the biblical catchphrase “The Kingdom of God is at hand!” Fearing an accusation of preaching “hell, fire, and brimstone” too few ministers heralded what Jesus proclaimed, “Repent and believe—before it is too late!” For far too long, the gospel has been diluted—its life-changing message watered down. It has failed to affect society because it became a message directed only for inward comfort, not outward change.

A ‘KINGDOMLESS’ GOSPEL HAS HAD LITTLE IMPACT

And yet, Christ’s admonition that God’s Kingdom comes, remains crucial for this element catalyzes all other aspects of Christ’s radical solution for humankind—a solution that has both personal and social implications. When the gospel of Christ does not contain a strong dose of apocalyptic fervor, the audience interprets the offer of salvation as a ‘take it or leave it’ proposition. It’s merely advice only—lacking any mention of repentance from immorality, any mandate to forsake self as priority, any call for justice for those dispossessed. Without the stark reminder that the Kingdom of God is not of this world—not compatible with human government or manmade religious efforts to acquire happiness and purpose—Christianity has nothing different to offer, nothing worth dying for. And once we acknowledge that there is nothing worth a martyr’s death, we soon realize that there is nothing worth living for either.

True Christianity and true spirituality (what we believe and how we put it into practice) stand upon the premise our time in this life remains short—every moment counts. And yet, in the short period we have on this planet, we leave a legacy—good or bad. Each and every day our actions leave an indelible imprint in the fabric of time. Our lives either enhance the design in the tapestry or disfigure the picture it provides. As an old preacher friend of mine used to say, “Every day is a day of judgment.”

At the danger of reducing this truism to a sound bite, or worse, an abbreviated limerick, allow me to offer this rhyming proverb: We spin the weave we wish to leave. To switch the metaphor: we make our mark indelibly on the paper regardless of whether we lift a pen. The gospel of Jesus Christ teaches how we should live and why this lifestyle provides hope and meaning. However, the irony is that evangelists diminish the impact of the gospel when they disregard the proximity of the end of days.

The paradox should not be that surprising to those who reflect on the teachings of Jesus. They were full of apparent contradictions: “He who loses his life for my sake shall find it.” “He who wishes to be great among you must be servant of all.” And many other similarly disconcerting teachings. Should it be shocking that the most effective way to change the world is to predict that its ending has now come into view? Indeed, in the final analysis, the so-called harbingers of doom may be the greatest of optimists for they see a new world coming after the existing order crumbles. They expect that a society now stressed to the breaking point stands at the brink, ready to be overturned. Soon it will be transcended. In short, therein lies the message of the Kingdom of God.

The Kingdom of God is Within You
The Kingdom of God is Within You

It remains my contention, however ironic it may seem to the reader, that too little optimism exists today because far too few hold fast this conviction that the apocalypse stands ready to break upon us—the Kingdom of God is near to us (Luke 10:9). In fact, it appears in our midst now (Luke 17:21). [3]  In a nutshell, there’s a new world coming, because the old world is about to pass away.

To be more emphatic: there remains only one foundation from which to build an enduring hope. It requires believing in a gospel with the conviction that only the Second Advent of Jesus Christ can achieve the radical transformation humanity needs, both individually and corporately. His return culminates history, specifically accomplishing our salvation as expressed through the words of the New Testament. We cannot compromise and say we must only experience inward transformation because we do not know when the Lord will return. That is, as they used to say, a cop out.

In response, atheists or agnostics will complain: “At best this can be no more than a dereliction of duty! At worst it is the greatest of grand delusions!” But the promise of the Second Coming comprises the gospel truth. It conveys what Jesus taught. Likewise, His Apostles institutionalized this expectation at the beginning of His church. Even as the first century came to a close and the Lord had not returned, we saw throughout the Patristic Period (characterized by early leaders like Polycarp, Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, Origen, Athanasius… leading up to St. Augustine), that the soon coming of the Lord was strenuously upheld. It was essential to the Church’s message. The Lord may tarry—but that does not mean He has forever delayed His return.

The dark predictions of what lies ahead—a sun black like a sackcloth of hair and a moon turned blood red—are merely the most dramatic of many ominous signs depicted for the last days by the Bible. Not long ago, almost everyone agreed these images were no more than imaginative symbols. However, such frightening pictures no longer seem too fantastic to occur in our empirical reality. Many scenarios suggest how such horrible sights could become the standard way our ‘sky lights’ appear. In this regard, it now seems easier than ever to be a biblical literalist.  The blood moons of 2014 and 2015 reminded us of this unimpeachable fact. Other signs in the heavens such as the appearance of what might have been the Bethlehem Star one year ago reaffirmed this as well.

EVEN SCIENCE TELLS US THE APOCALYPSE IS NEAR

However, empirical evidence—now more than ever—makes the approaching apocalypse appear much more plausible (if not totally probable). In other words, the argument that we are living in the last days relies not on fanciful interpretation of scripture nor on a consensus of the world’s religions that the end is near. Rather secular science, in this context a most surprising partner to the Bible, forecasts impending and insurmountable catastrophes.

Massive Solar Flares - Could the Sun Destroy the Earth?
Massive Solar Flares – Could the Sun Destroy the Earth?

Comet collisions could come crashing into our planet, unprecedented solar activity might destroy our electrical grid, increasing stress on Earth’s tectonic plates seem likely to generate more and more massive earthquakes, unprecedented climate change threatens to kill off entire species, and biological threats (be they natural or manmade) could destroy human life altogether. Pick your poison: science serves up a surplus of calamities that constitute the most proximate of perils.

Whether we choose to accept what the Bible predicts, or whether we simply acknowledge what science projects concerning the future, either source tells the same story: we seem ultimately destined for doomsday. It is not a question of if, but how soon. Since this fate has been forced upon us, addressing the apocalypse is no longer merely a matter of “getting the gospel message right.” It appears to be a question of life and death which we must stare right in the eye.

For this reason, as well as to try to rectify the right meaning of the gospel for the benefit of my readers, this book (Blood Moon: Biblical Signs of the Coming Apocalypse) in the pages ahead underscores that our confidence and hope must come from (1) a better understanding of what the Bible says is soon coming to pass; (2) what we can do to escape the worst of these cataclysms; and (3) most notably, why we should eagerly look forward to the amazing promises of the coming Kingdom of God.

BLOOD MOON - Discussion on True Biblical Signs and the Timing of the Rapture
BLOOD MOON – Discussion on True Biblical Signs and the Timing of the Rapture

However, please rest assured I do not argue we should just give up and decide that we ought to resign from all forms of social activism, or pledge our efforts solely to evangelism (to get as many into the lifeboats as possible since the ship stands destined to sink). The true gospel insists upon achieving balance. We must prepare for the worst, but hope for the best. We must provide for our families, but realize that the ultimate provision for those we love amounts to far more than just food and clothing. We must assume the Lord returns today, but plan for tomorrow. We must warn everyone that our out-of-control ship continues full speed ahead heading straight for the rocks. Unless we change course now, we will crash headlong into them. We can change course—but only if enough people convince the captain to turn the rudder.

While hardly comforting, this description of our predicament sums up the tension inherent in the Christian message and in living an authentic Christian life, a manner of living mandated for those who choose to pick up their crosses daily and follow Him. For only in taking up our crosses can we find real peace, enduring meaning, and unassailable hope.


NOTES

[1] Ehrman, Bart D. Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium (p. 2). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

[2] Pastor Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life, p. 285.

[3] “Neither shall they say, Lo here! Or, lo there! For, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:21)

I’m extending the offer on the Kindle version of my book, Blood Moon:  Biblical Signs of the Coming Apocalypse, for $2.99 this week.

Please visit my author page at Amazon to check out all my books.  All books are available in printed (paperback) format or eBook format (Kindle format at Amazon, and also at iBooks for Apple, and Barnes & Noble Nook, and Lulu).

Small Banner