Monday, January 11, 2010

On Being and Becoming: The Kingdom of God as an Existential Posit Part IV

One should not here argue, obviously, that Israel gave up whole heartedly on the restoration of political nationhood. It is an obvious thematic expectation in the time of Christ. However, by breaking out of the political parameters and into the religious, dogmatic, and eventually Pharisaic sphere, the nation of Israel created a space where their being was inseparably associated not as much with their national affiliation but more with their covenantal duties and rites. So, while one sees Ezekiel proclaiming the resignation of God from the temple and the land and Israel herself waiting expectantly for the arrival of a political champion and messiah, their orientation to God is still espoused through a covenantal identity.[1]

Taking this sort of identity into view, it is necessary to next see the historical landscape that surrounds Christ’s proclamation of the Kingdom of God. Looking to the culture at large, it is not hard to find evidence that the idea of prudence in an authority’s, namely the king’s, relationship with legality and the divine was essential to the Hellenistic lifestyle. In fact, one need not look much further than Aristotle who was one of, if not the, most prolific philosophers of the Hellenistic era, who says:

"Therefore he who asks law to rule is asking God and intelligence and no others to rule; while he who asks the rule of a human being is importing a wild beast too; for desire is like a wild beast, and anger perverts rulers and the very best of men. Hence law is intelligence without appetition."[2]

While Aristotle and the Platonic school of thought traditionally substitutes the pantheon in real faith for a more monotheistic model, the affect of such thinking on the political realm cannot be thought of as diminished simply by the sheer magnitude of influence it had in relation to the ruling imperial power. By the time of Christ’s rise to ministry, the penance due to God by the ruling and legal strata, as suggested by Aristotle here, had progressed from mere conjunction with or subordination to God in the Hellenistic ideal and law to that which was most essentially tied to the political backdrop of the Caesars. If even, in the beginning, some of Rome’s emperors did not accept a divine title, it was certainly being professed of them and demanded of the later ones so that the union of God and law was the human emperor.[3]

Here, one might suggest that at least some of the synoptic accounts are written in light of the persecution that had arisen toward Christians in the political realm. Perhaps this persecution is meant as a backlash to the Jewish revolt and the early Christians associations therein as a Jewish sect by the Roman stance. Either way, “proclaiming Jesus as the Lord, was to destroy [the] vital ideology of the Roman imperium, and the reaction it called forth was the persecution of Christians during the first three centuries.”[4] By creating a kingdom reality apart from the imperial eye, Jesus’ pronouncement of the Kingdom of God sets up kingdom boundaries that encompass the whole of creation and the entirety of one’s paradigm(s) – it disorients the centrality of Jerusalem in Israelite tradition, but more poignantly Roman headship, and gives the whole of creation the potential to be that holy land occupied by that holy people. Scholar N.T. Wright notes this when he says, “Kingdom of Heaven/ Kingdom of God is not the place called heaven where God rules. It is the fact that God who is in heaven rules.”[5] By claiming the divine title, the Caesars had transgressed upon the sacred territory of the divine and so God’s kingdom is a call to not only remember the truth of God’s sovereignty but to also live it out as that separate sphere.

[1] Ezekiel 10.
[2] Aristotle, The Politics, trans. T.A. Sinclair (New York: Penguin, 1984), 226.
[3] Craig Blomberg, Jesus and the Gospels (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1997), 36-37.
[4]Colin Brown ed., “Basileia,” New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology 5.1, in LaserD[CD-Rom] (Michigan: Zondervan, 2005).
[5] N.T. Wright, “Whatever Did Saint Paul do with the Kingdom of God?,” Reformational UK: A Christianity Without Gaps (June 2007); available from ;Internet; accessed 11 October 2009.

No comments: