The Kingdom, Present or Future?

I am trudging my way through T. W. Manson’s The Teaching of Jesus. It is a bit laborious, but I came across a golden nugget on the nature of the Kingdom of God. It seems that Manson’s book may have influenced George Ladd quite significantly as we see that Ladd favorably quotes Manson several times in his book The Presence of the Future. Here is a clip from Manson’s book from the chapter "God as King" that I believe Ladd looked on with great respect:

Taking the evidence as a whole, then, it may be asserted that our four sources are in substantial agreement that Jesus speaks of the Kingdom as coming in the former part of his ministry: in the latter part he speaks of people entering the Kingdom.

Later in the chapter…

It is evident that the Kingdom is not in these passages conceived in any geographical or even political sense. It does not correspond to the empire or the state. It is not a district over which sway is exercised; neither is it a political construction. It is not Kingdom as opposed to oligarchy or democracy. The Kingdom here is a personal relation between the King and the subject. The claim on God’s part to rule, and the acknowledgement on man’s part of that claim, together constitute the actual Kingdom: and Peter’s Confession may fairly be regarded as just that acknowledgement that was needed to make the Kingdom de jure into a Kingdom de facto.

After commenting on two parables from the Mekhilta on Exodus 20:2, he continues…

Further, this conception of the Kingdom as a personal relation enables us to explain certain parables of the Kingdom, notably the Seed growing secretly, the Mustard Seed, and the Leaven, where the emphasis is on the growth of the Kingdom and the extension of its influence. A Kingdom which consists of the King and one subject might fairly be likened to a grain of mustard seed: and the luxuriant growth of the plant until the birds come and build their nests in it suggests an extension of the Kingdom out of all proportion to its humble beginnings. In the two Seed parables the emphasis is on the fact that the Kingdom grows; in the parable of the Leaven it is on the manner of the growth. It is a ferment which gradually penetrates until it affects the whole. That is to say, those who are already of the Kingdom are to the world what leaven is to dough.

We are thus brought face to face with what may be called the first manifestation of the Kingdom in the world. Primarily the Kingdom is a personal relation between God as King and the individual as subject. Then it appears in the world as a society, something which might be called the People of God. This society consists of all those who are linked together by the fact of their common allegiance to one King. It is the increase of this society which is pictured in the three parables just considered. The inner compulsion to bring fresh individuals into allegiance to the King constitutes what Jesus likens to the working of leaven in dough, and what in these days we should call the missionary motive. But it cannot be too strongly emphasised that the society is not the Kingdom, but only a manifestation or product of it: and that membership of the society is not entrance into the Kingdom, but only a result of entrance.

This first manifestation of the Kingdom in the world, the ‘little flock’ which Jesus likens to seed and leaven, is again an agent, an instrument in God’s hand, a means towards a yet greater manifestation which lies still in the future. This consummation is variously described. In Mark we are told of a coming of the Son of Man in the glory of his Father with the holy angels (Mk. viii. 38); again, with reminiscences of Dan. vii. 13, of the Son of Man coming on the clouds with great power and glory (xiii. 26). Likewise in Mark xiv. 62, where the imagery is again borrowed from the Old Testament (Dan. vii. 13; Ps. cx. (cix.) I ff.), we are shown the picture of the Son of Man seated on the right hand of ‘the Power’ (i.e. God) and coming with the clouds of heaven.

Now here is where it gets good.

Once these distinctions are made – and they are necessary distinctions – it becomes clear that the old dispute whether Jesus conceived the Kingdom as present or future, whether he pictured it as brought about by a gradual moral and social evolution or by a catastrophic supernatural act of God, has arisen out of the confusion of matters in the Gospel which are really distinct. The Kingdom of God in its essence is the Reign of God, a personal relation between God and the individual: and there is no point in asking whether it is present or future, just as there is no point in asking whether the Fatherhood of God is present or future. It is something independent of temporal and spatial relation. It is a standing claim made by God on the loyalty and obedience of man. From time to time individuals admit this claim and accept the sovereignty of God. This is what is meant by the phrase ‘receive the Kingdom of God’…

When the sovereignty of God is thus accepted the Kingdom becomes a present reality to those who are the subjects of the King. In this sense one may speak of the Kingdom – or rather what we have called above the first manifestation of it – as present, and describe it in parables which suggest increase in size and influence.

The final consummation, which is described as the Coming or the Parousia or the Day of the Son of Man is something which, right up to the end of the ministry, is conceived as still in the future.

And that’s where we will have to leave it. The Kingdom of God is just as Manson has described it. I maintain there is still a final consummation that awaits us in the future as the events he quotes above have not been fulfilled.

Have fun and stay busy – Luke 19:13

-The Orange Mailman

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