Gradually breaking through
I have taken a break from my series Kingdom Thermodynamics partly because I needed to give some more thought to the theological side of this issue, and partly because I have been rather busy with my Bible translation work. I hope that this post will have some relevance to that series, but also be less technical and so accessible to all my readers.
I was prompted to begin that series by what I had been reading from the book Breakthrough about which I posted on 28th October. I have been continuing to read it, although slowly, and gathering from it material relevant to my series.
Here is an extract which is of some relevance, from the chapter on the Parables of the Kingdom, p.112:
We usually speak of 'the present and the future' because we orientate ourselves in the present and look towards the future. But Jesus speaks of the present from the future. He stands with God in the ultimate future of his kingly reign and speaks into the present. This is one of the reasons for saying that Jesus addresses men [sic] as God. Only God can speak from the future.Then from pp.113-114:
This future impinges on the present with such force that the 'now' is filled with significance. Right now the Son of Man is preaching the word of the kingdom (Matthew 13:37); good and bad seed are sown together; the mustard seed looks insignificant; the fish are encircled by the great net, and the seed is being scattered abroad (Mark 4:26-29). ...Well, I need to bear these last comments in mind on the subject of Kingdom Thermodynamics. I can't claim to be be able to discover "the exact relationship between the present and the future". But I hope it will do some good to look into it a bit more closely, when I have the time!
We should be aware that we live in a pregnant present overshadowed by an ultimate future. The danger is that we will be mystified by the hidden way in which the future is being manifest now and miss its overpowering significance. How does the little bit of leaven affect all the meal (Matthew 13:33)? How can the mustard seed become a great tree? How can a Galilean carpenter be the Messiah of the age to come? Why is there a delay before the bridegroom appears? If we conclude that the urgency has passed, we are seriously mistaken. There is no time to allow a tree to fail to bear fruit. If it does not bear within one more season, chop it down (Luke 13:6-9)!
Becoming snagged on the exact relationship between the present and the future will do us no good. We have to accept that it is a mystery. ...
Now for some extracts from the chapter on Kingdom Lifestyle, first from the section "Entering the Kingdom", p.121:
This leads to one of the most fundamental principles in kingdom theology. The call to repentance is uttered in the context of kingdom intervention. The kingdom is here, therefore repent! Repentance is part of our response to the good news that the kingdom is near. The presence of the kingdom must initiate repentance and not vice versa. Only when the powers of the age to come are present in the announcement of the gospel can one anticipate true repentance. ...And then from the section "Living in the Kingdom", pp.125-126:
... The rabbinical concept of repentance placed the initiative with man and his responsibility to repent. Jesus placed the initiative with God and the dynamic intervention of his reign. When Jesus preached repentance, the offer of grace was no mere verbal promise. When Jesus spoke, things happened. His words were events. When he announced liberty, people were set free. It was in this context, with the power of the Holy Spirit evident amongst the people, that Jesus demanded the most uncompromising repentance. This suggests that the greater the evidence of the power of God, the greater the possibility of deep repentance. When God's power is not evident, a powerful call to repentance only produces legalism.
The beatitudes can only be understood against the background of the presence of the future. Christians are people who have met Jesus, and to meet Jesus is to meet the end. We have been taken out of this present world and already live by the powers of the age to come. Yet at the same time we live in this world. We are caught in the tension between two worlds, but the power, reality and values of the kingdom determine our lives rather than the standards of this world.Finally, at the end of the chapter, p.136:
If the Sermon on the Mount were taken as the moral standard men have to attain, no one could ever hope to enter the Kingdom of God. Jesus is not prescribing a new set of rules. He is describing what happens to those who pass out of this age and begin to live in the age to come. A revolutionary change takes place in our lives when we are overtaken by the powers of the age to come. ... It is a description of the lifestyle of the new man in Christ, the new creature for whom the old has passed away and everything has become new (2 Corinthians 5:17).
... If we could escape from this world and live completely in the kingdom, it would be great. If we could forget about the kingdom and live only in this world, things would be safe. But neither is possible. We will continue to be part of both kingdoms at the same time. Our lives are disturbed in a most wonderfully upsetting way so that we can never see anything in quite the same way again.My reading gradually continues!