Three Characteristics of the Kingdom of God: Jesus v. John the Baptist

John Dominic Crossan makes an interesting comparison between the Kingdom of God as preached by John the Baptist and as preached by Jesus. 

For John, the Kingdom is

  1. Imminent
  2. Non-collaborative
  3. Violent

In other words, very soon God will violently clean up all that is wrong with the world. In order to bring this about, we must simply keep our end of the covenant, obey God, and await God’s violent solution to the present problems of the world. 

For Jesus, by contrast the Kingdom is

  1. Present
  2. Collaborative
  3. Non-violent

Of these characteristics, I find Crossan’s commentary on the second one about collaboration to be the most intriguing:

…Jesus proclaimed another – and indeed, necessarily concomitant- aspect of his paradigm shift within contemporary eschatological expectation. You have been waiting for God, he said, while God has been waiting for you. No wonder nothing is happening. You want God’s intervention, he said, while God wants your collaboration. God’s kingdom is here, but only insofar as you accept it, enter it, live it, and thereby establish it.That is the only possible interpretation that does not render Jesus’s claim of the kingdom’s presence a cruel joke.

I am not sure if it is the only possible interpretation, but I have often been perplexed by what to make of the claim that Jesus marked a turning point in history and the inauguration of God’s kingdom. In Luke, Jesus replies to the inquiries of John the Baptist, saying that Jesus is indeed the one sent by God to inaugurate the Kingdom by pointing out that “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them.” (Luke 7:22) These are clearly physical signs of what the world would look like if God’s will were to be done. 

And yet today these physical signs that Jesus points to are not being fulfilled and the Kingdom of God seems just as far away as it did before Jesus. This is the cruel joke that I see in many interpretations of the Kingdom being present or ‘already but not yet.’ Luke 17:20-21 seems to lend support to Crossan’s interpretation, “The Kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.”

It seems that only be aligning our will with God’s will can God’s will actually be done on earth and the Kingdom of God be brought to fruition. I am reminded of the Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who insisted that religion was not about satisfying human needs, but was instead about satisfying divine needs. 

To define religion primarily as a quest for personal satisfaction, as the satisfaction of a human need, is to make it a refined sort of magic……Religion is not a way of satisfying needs. It is an answer to the question: Who needs man? It is an awareness of being needed, of man being a need of God.

Perhaps instead of making God prove Godself to us it is time for us to prove ourselves to God. 

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One thought on “Three Characteristics of the Kingdom of God: Jesus v. John the Baptist

  1. Pingback: Three Characteristics of the Kingdom of God: Jesus v. John the Baptist | Faith and Public Policy

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