Traditional Jewish and Christian Explanations
Taking their cue from the unified expectation of the prophets, the Jewish Rabbis gathered from the Scriptures the following information about the Messiah and his future Kingdom:
1. The Messiah is to be a descendent of the house of David, and his purpose is to restore the Kingdom to Israel and extend its influence over the world.
2. In a last terrible battle for world domination the enemies of God, concentrated in a single Antichrist, will be defeated and destroyed.
3. The establishment of Messiah's Kingdom, following the defeat of Antichrist, will result in the spiritual and political supremacy of Israel, when all the nations will be taught to accept the unity of God, acknowledge the rule of His representative, the Messiah, and seek instruction from the law.
It is beyond question that the source of this information is the Hebrew Old Testament Scriptures. It is no less clear that the hope kindled by the prophets was fully confirmed by Gabriel when he designated Jesus as the promised ruler in whom the long-expected worldwide government would be realized: "The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever" (Luk_1:32-33).
Luke has given us in these versed a definitive Christian statement, on the highest authority, about the destiny of Jesus. He is to restore the fortunes of his people and rule the world from Jerusalem as the divinely appointed king. The hope was social, spiritual and political -- and related to the earth! Belief in the coming Kingdom was the heart of New Testament Christianity as Luke, the traveling companion of Paul, taught it to Theophilus (Luk_1:1-4).
In the light of the unanimous message of the Hebrew prophets, the Jewish people have generally concluded that Jesus' claim to Messiahship should be rejected. They argue as follows: Since the claim to be Messiah implies that one will overthrow the world powers, and since Jesus did not overturn the Roman power in Palestine or establish the Kingdom of God, Jesus and his disciples were wrong in believing that he was the promised Messiah. The New Testament documents therefore present a false claim.
Faced with the same data, traditional Christianity has reasoned like this: Since Jesus claimed to be and was indeed the Messiah, and since the Roman rule in Palestine was not overturned and the Messianic Kingdom was not established on the earth, Jesus cannot have intended to carry out the Messianic program as the Jews expected. He must therefore have so reinterpreted the Messianic hope of the prophets as to exclude any idea of political revolution and the establishment of the Messianic government on earth.
To support this line of reasoning, theologians have expanded a great deal of scholarly energy in an effort to convince us that the Jewish understanding of the Kingdom and Jesus' conception of it were irreconcilably opposed. Above all we are not to think that Jesus had any political ambition. His objectives, so it has long been maintained, were entirely "spiritual." The gist of this long-standing and deeply entrenched conviction can be summarized as follows: Many in Israel were expecting salvation through a Messiah, an anointed one, whom God would send to rule, destroying evil and establishing righteousness with irresistible power. What Jesus did was quite different. He established the Kingdom in the hearts of his followers.
Standard works constantly reflect the same view of Jesus and the Kingdom. Common to all of them. at least, is the recognition that the Kingdom of God was the basis of all that Jesus taught. But the Kingdom, far from being a world government, is reduced to an ethical rule of God in the hearts of men:
"The burden of Jesus' message was: the Kingdom of God is the will of the heavenly father enthroned in the hearts of men. He taught that faith in God would bring in a new order of things in which the cares and fears of life would be abandoned . . . By prayer from hearts which have been purified through repentance and sincere desire of a better life, the presence of God will be gained, His kingdom will come and the reward of men will be fellowship with God."
Astonishingly, this sort of description of the Kingdom of God has been accepted by the churchgoing public as a satisfactory reflection of the Kingdom which appears in the christian documents. Yet the popular view omits any reference to the second coming of Jesus and the subsequent Messianic Kingdom on earth. Moreover, the standard definition of the Kingdom is open to a major objection: it is utterly self-contradictory to claim to be the Messiah and at the some time to reject altogether the political role which the Hebrew Scriptures designate for the Messiah and which is the main point of Messiahship! It makes no sense at all that Jesus could speak of the Kingdom of God (and of himself as Messiah) while denying the meaning of that phrase as the restoration of a worldwide theocratic government on earth,with Jerusalem as the metropolis of a new society, as all the Hebrew prophets had envisaged it. The rejection of the external, political Kingdom is all the more impossible when one constantly affirms, as Jesus did, that the Hebrew Scriptures are the inspired and authoritative source of all religious truth. Since no new political order on earth appeared as a result of Jesus' ministry, commentators have chosen between two alternatives: either Jesus sis not in fact ever claim tob the Messiah, in which case his disciples must have mistakenly attributed that title to him; or he did indeed claim to be the Messiah, but used the title and the phrase "Kingdom of God" in a radically new way which divorced it forever from its Old Testament roots, above all divesting it of any political significance.
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