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Kingdom Of God

  From earliest times in the religions of the ancient Near East, God has been represented as a king presiding over his court or leading his hosts in battle. This imagery became stronger with the rise of a monarchy in Israel, as the evidence of many of the psalms shows. From a heavenly warlord intervening on behalf of his people, the concept was enlarged to make God ruler of all nations. The problem was that the nations did not acknowledge his sovereignty, though ultimately they would have to, according to the prophets. As Jewish political power waned so the conviction grew that there would be a day of judgement at God\'s hands, but originally the Kingdom of God was a political and historical event, establishing peace and justice.

Jesus began his ministry proclaiming the advent of the Kingdom of God and preaching preparation by repentance and reform as John the Baptist had done. The miracles he performed displayed the power of God\'s kingdom, but it is a matter of dispute how soon he expected the new age to come when creation would be redeemed. He was executed as a political agitator, but the Early Christian Church held his resurrection to be a vindication of his teachings and the beginning of a process that would transform life. At first Jesus\'s return in the glory of the Kingdom was expected imminently, but by the close of the 1st century it was seen as eternal life, a new dimension, a new quality of life which begins now. Jesus\' teaching was reassessed in such a way that three solutions to the problem of the Kingdom arose.

First, it was seen as a future reality, when the sin, illness, evil and death which corrupt creation would be abolished. Second, the Kingdom was seen as a present reality, though hidden from all but the faithful. Finally, there is the view that the Church is the anticipation of this heavenly kingdom, and in the centuries when Christianity was supreme in Europe, the Church was regarded as the only bulwark against heathen hordes, the identification of Church and Kingdom was complete. (In the East, the Kingdom was identified with the Byzantine Empire).

After the epoch-making writings of Albert Schweitzer (see below), no Christian theologian has been able to ignore the relationship of Jesus to the Kingdom of God, itself the subject of fierce controversy. Just as a synthesis concerning the present and future reality of the Kingdom was being worked out in the 1950s and 1960s, a polarization of ‘liberal’ and ‘Evangelical’ Christians took place, with the former supporting ‘realized’ eschatology, or the kingdom present here and now, and the latter extreme apocalyptic. With the upsurge of liberation theology interest has tended to focus again on establishing peace and justice now as part of God\'s plan. EMJ

Further reading A. Schweitzer, The Mystery of the Kingdom of God (1925); , W. Pannenberg, Theology and the Kingdom of God.



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