Wednesday, June 22, 2016

His Kingdom Will Never Be the Physical World?

Many people mistakenly take a Gnostic view of eternity, and believe that we will be forever in heaven. One of the few passages they can quote is John 18:36, where Jesus tells Pilate the following:

"My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm."

That is the way most translations translate it, but it is actually not quite what Jesus said. But we'll come back to that.

This meme was recently posted on FB that attempts to mock the idea that the kingdom is only currently not of this world. It mocks it by saying that Jesus never said it. Here is the meme.

Of course, the non sequitur is added that this is Jesus rejecting the idea of a physical kingdom and that He never taught it.

Let's actually take the book of John seriously though and try and understand what's going on in the book's literary and theological context.

John frequently argues from an “already-not yet” perspective. Notice, the entire trajectory in John is placed in a framework of the “time that is coming and now is” versus the “time that is coming.” The resurrection is both now spiritually and not of this realm, and in the future physically and of this realm. Jesus is both present with His disciples now spiritually through the Holy Spirit, but will come again to receive them to Himself in the future physically (“that where I am you may be also”). 

Hence, when speaking to Pilate, He can truthfully say that His kingdom is not of this world because in the present, it is the spiritual kingdom that has already come, not the physical one. This isn’t some ad hoc interpretation to satisfy a futurist perspective. It’s what John has been arguing the whole time in the book.

To take the phrase to mean that the kingdom is never of this world is to make it a very different statement, and one that ignores the context of John, his theology in other contexts, and the larger biblical narrative that come to a consummation in places like Daniel 2:44, "In the days of those kings [i.e., the Seleucid Kings] the God of heaven will set up a  kingdom  which will never be destroyed, and there will not be a kingdom left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever.”

In John’s own theology (assuming he or his disciples wrote Revelation) for instance, cf. Rev 11:15:
15  Then the seventh angel sounded; and there were loud voices in heaven, saying,  "The kingdom of the world has become [the kingdom] of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever."

This statement is made after the saints have overcome the temptations of the world and have now been vindicated. Hence, it is in no way the spiritual coming of the kingdom which is present at the time of Christ’s earthly ministry already (“the kingdom of God is here,” “the kingdom of God is in your midst”). 

There is an inauguration and a consummation. The spiritual kingdom is the inauguration. Notice that Christ calls it His existing kingdom made up already of His disciples. It’s not something coming. It’s something already in existence on the earth. That’s the kingdom to which He is referring in John 18:36.

In fact, what, unfortunately, is missed in this whole thing is that Jesus actually says that He’s referring to the present in contrast to the future by using His typical nun “now.” The kingdom is not now of this place,” the word “place” referring to the world He just mentioned. Why would Jesus say that it is not “now” of this place if He meant to say, “My kingdom is never of this world”? 

In fact, the Greek "literally" reads, "the kingdom which is Mine is not currenly/now of this realm," indicating that this is merely the present state of things, not the way they may always be.

The idea that we’re going to heaven forever simply isn’t biblical. It’s a misunderstanding of text after text. We see it, yet again, in this misunderstanding of what Jesus is saying to Pilate, which is likely included by John to also make a statement that the gospel and Christians are not a physical threat to the Roman Empire, as though Christians will violently take it over. Instead, in the “now,” the kingdom is spiritual. This is not a statement, however, that in the time that is coming, the kingdom of the world will not become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ.

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