APrayer of Jesus I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes; yea, Father, for such was thy gracoious will.
THE GOSPEL OF THE KINGDOM
By Edgar Jones
Introduction: The Promise
This paper presents an uncommon vision of the kingdom of God. I have carefully selected the word "vision." Jesus said, "Unless one is begotten from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God." (John 3:3) Our object is, therefore, to see it, so that we require a vision. This vision differs radically from most views espoused by the churchmen and scholars and I leave my readers to draw their own conclusions.
I draw this vision from the words and deeds of Jesus as recorded in the four canonical gospels. Any reader of those gospels will note the very large portion of his message that he devotes to the kingdom and the way the gospels describe his teaching as being about the kingdom. We read:And he went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every infirmity among the people. (Matt. 4:23)Mark and Luke say the same. All four gospels record many sayings specific to the kingdom, and the synoptic writers devote a large portion of their material to the parables of the kingdom. Jesus clearly intended these to enhance our understanding of a new and unique conception of the rule of God.
Jesus called his proclamation of the kingdom "gospel", which means "good news." And why was this message about the kingdom good news? God had promised the nation of Israel, through the prophets, that the kingdom of David and Solomon would stand forever. (II Sam. 7:13) When it fell, he continued to promise through the prophets that he would restore it under a new anointed one, or messiah, who was to arise from the line of David. (Amos 9:11-15) During the early First Century, restoration was the fervent hope of the nation, which was then chafing under Roman dominion.
Every patriotic Jew, such as Joseph of Arimathea, (Luke 23:51) was therefore seeking the kingdom and earnestly looking for the messiah. Jesus made the quest of the kingdom paramount when he issued this admonition,Seek ye first the kingdom of God . . .. (Mat. 6:33)When the disciples requested instruction on prayer, he responded immediately by admonishing them to pray for the coming of the kingdom. Thus, it was wonderful good news when Jesus announced that the kingdom was at hand, or very near. The gospels summarized his early announcements asRepent, for the kingdom of God is at hand. (Mat. 4:17)To qualify as good news to the people who heard Jesus proclaiming the nearness of the kingdom, the proclamation must have been fulfilled within their life times, and soon, consistent with the announcement of its nearness. Jesus would have been but one more deceiver, like the earlier Judas the Galilean (Acts 5:37) or the later Bar Kochba, if the kingdom had not come in short order. His proclamation would have been no more than another failed prophecy. Therefore we must first look for the time of its coming, and we must look for it within the near experience of those who heard him. Otherwise, Jesus was a false prophet.
Many will balk at this. So stupendous an event as the coming to earth of the kingdom of God must have been clearly established in the record of history, and life on earth today would surely be different. Where is the "peace on earth" that the prophets promised and of which Jesus spoke? And why are we yet offering up the prayer, "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven"? These are good questions, but I must respond with one of my own: Are you willing, then, to acknowledge Jesus to have been a false prophet? I am not.
Jesus made other statements indicating the nearness of the coming kingdom in addition to the proclamation that it was "at hand." Once, speaking to a gathering of "the multitudes with his disciples" he said,Truly, I say to you, there be some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power. (Mark 9:1)Later, speaking only to the disciples at the Passover supper, he took up a cup, gave thanks and said,Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I shall not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes. (Luke 22:18)Why? Why speak of the nearness of the coming kingdom in these particular ways?
Our first thought is that Mark 9:1 simply indicates that the kingdom was to come before all of them died. But does this correspond with its being "at hand?" Hardly; furthermore, this would not have been gospel (good news) to those who were to die before the coming, which could be all of the multitude and disciples but two (some) and still validate the saying. And what a strange thing to say at the Passover feast!
Why did he say it? Would not every eye surely see so great and important an event as the coming of the kingdom of God? What need of an indicator? And why that particular one, the drinking of the fruit of the vine? Some statement as to the time of the coming was clearly in order, since he knew during the Passover feast that he was soon to die. His entire ministry had been focussed on the nearness of the kingdom. If he doesn’t bring it – if he is to die before it appears – some explanation is required.
But how does this help? The disciples must all have been bitterly disappointed immediately after his death, like the two on the road to Emmaus who said to the stranger in their midst, "We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel." These questions demand answers if we are to maintain faith in the words of Jesus. The earliest disciples desperately needed answers, and we do also because it’s been a long, long time.
Luke 22:18 (see above) must be the focus of our attention here. Jesus, who had repeatedly taught his disciples that the kingdom was very near, knew that this common meal would be his last opportunity, prior to his death, to teach them. He must now, if ever, tell them the time! He takes up the cup and tells them, therefore, that he will no more drink the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.
Now let us pursue the obvious and determine when he next drank of the fruit of the vine, if indeed he has yet imbibed. We must also look for any incident in which he refused or avoided such drink.
Presumably they all went, except Judas, with Jesus from the "upper room" to Gethsemane, on the Mount of Olives. There the disciples slept while Jesus agonized in prayer, sweating blood and saying, "Father, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt. (Luke 22:42) He went thrice during the night and found them sleeping, and twice returned to his prayer, saying,My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, thy will be done. (Matt. 26:42).The last time he awakened them (sometime in the early morning) he said,Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand. (Matt. 26:46)For many years I understood Jesus’ use of "cup" during his prayer to refer to the bitter cup of his suffering that was just beginning. But if we examine this in the light of Luke 22:18, it takes on new meaning. During the Passover feast, introducing the saying about the coming of the kingdom, Luke first tells us that "he took a cup." Then Matthew has him saying, in Gethsemane, "If this cannot pass unless I drink it . . .." Could Jesus, in the upper room, have had in mind a particular cup containing a fruit of the vine that he was to drink on the morrow? And if so, this must also have weighed heavily on his mind during his hours of agonizing through the night, especially if he knew that the kingdom would come the very moment he drank from it.If this cannot pass unless I drink it, thy will be done. (Mat. 26:42)They seized Jesus and brought him to the house of Caiaphas, the high priest, where "the elders and the scribes had gathered." There they sought testimony against him, condemned him, mocked him and beat him. It was near the end of this trial that Peter uttered his third and last denial and heard the cockcrow. It was daybreak.
Jesus had been agonizing in prayer most of the night, had now been tried, condemned, mocked and beaten. But he had imbibed nothing. We are looking here at a very thirsty man, whose mouth, like cotton, was already fulfilling the Psalm: "My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue cleaves to my jaws. (Psalm 22:15) There followed three or four more hours of trials, interrogations, and abuse. Then they marched him off, probably bearing his own cross with some assistance, until they delivered him to be crucified at the third hour of the day, or about 9 am. He yet had naught to drink so that his thirst must have been most terrible.
Refusal of the First Offer
Finally there is one merciful act immediately before they crucified him. Someone offered him wine to drink mingled with gall (or myrrh) "But when he had tasted it, he would not drink it." (Mat. 27:34) Astonishing refusal! In the midst of his terrible, terrible thirst, he would not drink! But note first how he tasted it prior to refusing it. Had it been water, would he have drunk gladly? But this was a fruit of the vine, and tasting it, he would not drink. It doesn’t take a highly intelligent person to conclude that he refused because the kingdom had not come. Only a few hours had passed since he had told his disciples that he would no more drink the fruit of the vine until the kingdom comes. This was a fruit of the vine. Why else would he taste it and then refuse?
We are very familiar with the accounts of the terrible suffering that followed for about six hours until he died at about the ninth hour of the day (3pm). At no time did they give him anything to drink. All the gospels preserve important details of the crucifixion, but we have to go to The Fourth Gospel to understand what happened at the very end, because it was then, when Jesus, "knowing that all was now finished" cried out,I thirst. (John 19:28)Now this is indeed astonishing! In spite of his terrible thirst, Jesus has refused drink until the very moment of his death, when he, knowing "that all things were now finished" and thus that his thirst no longer mattered, cried out the next to his last word, "I thirst!"
Then, wonder of wonders, a bowl full of vinegar (sour wine, and therefore a fruit of the vine) stood there. "So they put a sponge full of the vinegar on hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the vinegar, he said,‘It is finished.’; and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (John 19:30)Jesus told us he would not again drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom came. Then, at the last moment prior to his death, he drank. Do you note how carefully the evangelist informs us that he received the vinegar? And how carefully he noted that Jesus knew the end had come? Then he uttered his very last word, "It is finished!" (A single word in New Testament Greek) Then he died and the kingdom came, on earth as it is in heaven. Jesus of Nazareth was not a false prophet! Also, we can now see why he used the precise words of Mark 9:1:There be some standing here who shall not taste of death before they see the kingdom of God come with power.It was pure irony, for he knew that he, among all those standing there, must taste of death to bring the kingdom.
This will seem an absurd claim to many, and words of confirmation are required. Jesus spoke again to his disciples after his resurrection, so the "it is finished" was not his very last word to us. Surely he would have confirmed the coming of the kingdom during some of his post resurrection appearances?
Confirmation and Implications
Yes! Again, according to Matthew it was the last thing he said prior to his ascension:All authority, in heaven and on earth, has been given to me. (28:18)Luke writesTo them he presented himself alive after his passion by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days, and speaking of the kingdom of God. (Acts 1:3)Luke, however, does not fully understand what has happened, because he has the disciples still asking him, after the coming of the kingdom and the forty days of instruction pertaining to the kingdom, "Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?"
He has doubtless told them clearly that the kingdom has already come, but they are yet expecting the traditional conception – the restoration of the rule of David at Jerusalem. Jesus had already taught them this will never happen:Therefore, I tell you, (Israel) the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation that will bear the fruits thereof. (Mat. 21:43)This particular manifestation of the kingdom that was the hope of Israel will never appear. It was, however, so close to the heart of his disciples that he could not at that time get through to them. Rather than write them off as hopeless, deaf and hard headed, and expecting that they would accept the truth after the Holy Spirit came upon them, he avoided a direct answer to their question but simply said,It is not for you to know times or seasons, which the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you . . .. (Acts 1:6-8)In contrast, Matthew’s version is brief and to the point,All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. (Matthew 28:18)This is a direct reflection of the Lord’s Prayer,Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.(Matthew 6:10)It is the announcement of that prayer’s answer in fulfillment. Jesus has been invested with kingly authority – with all authority, in heaven as on earth. Therefore the kingdom has come on earth as it is in heaven. This is precisely what the prophets and the Psalms had prophesied. He now reigns from the right hand of God (Psalm 110) in heaven and on earth. The opening petition of the Lord’s prayer was fully answered when Jesus died on the cross. Furthermore, in that he had already been given all authority, in heaven as on earth, there is nothing more to give him.
The kingdom of God came on earth at the moment of the death of Jesus. He was very careful to insure that we have the words and deeds before us that point to that exact moment. But where is the evidence? His Jewish disciples, as Jews, were the inheritors of divine promises that God would set a son of David on his throne in Jerusalem and redeem the nation, thus establishing his kingdom. This never occurred.
The Essence of the Kingdom
Much of Christendom is yet looking to heaven for the return of Jesus to earth to establish his heavenly kingdom on earth and reign from Jerusalem over the nations. This has of course not come to pass. Our first and most obvious conclusion must be that, whatever occurred at the death of Jesus, it must have been only the beginning of a long process that would eventually produce the kingdom of God on earth. This idea appeals strongly to many churchmen who see their task as kingdom building, or furthering the kingdom, and who utter the Lord’s Prayer with that in mind.
But this cannot be. When Jesus spoke of the coming of the kingdom that took place at his death, he always used the Greek aorist tense. This tense defines an action that is both point like in time and complete, which absolutely excludes any thought of a process of coming that is continuous in time. Like a gunshot, it happened instantaneously and completely. Isn’t this the only way any kingdom can come? No king rules until the moment of his investiture, at the coronation. That cannot be the beginning of a process, for he has all authority immediately.
What, then, can be the significance of a kingdom of God that came on earth, instantaneously and completely, at the death of Jesus?
The Will of God
Jesus answered this question when he instructed his disciples to pray,Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.Clearly, God’s kingdom has come on earth when his will is done on earth. So simple! So obvious! This is the essence of any kingdom, isn’t it?
Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary gives as definition 3:b, "the realm in which God’s will is fulfilled." This is precisely the definition to apply. One can rightly define any kingdom as the realm within which the will of the king is done.
Therefore, God’s kingdom came on earth at the very moment his will began to be done on the earth. God’s kingdom also has the biblical characteristic of "an everlasting kingdom" that shall never pass away. (Psalm 145:13, Dan. 7:27) Therefore, the will of God began to be done on earth when Jesus died, and it will continue to be done on earth while the earth endures.
Does the thought that the will of God has been consummated on the earth so as to inaugurate the kingdom and that Jesus did it in the moment of his death seems preposterous to you?
Many have a general conception of the will of God that sees its fulfillment in terms of the perfection of human society, and a particular conception of the will of God that sees its fulfillment in terms of specific desires in the life of the individual – should I take this job, should I marry this person, should I join this church? Such persons are earnestly desirous of finding God’s will for every day of their lives and for every serious decision or action.
This seems admirable on the face of it, but suppose they have misconceived the whole idea of doing the will of God? What is needed now is to go back to Jesus and seek to see the will of God through his eyes in the conviction that he correctly defined the Father’s will for all time and eternity. It was Jesus who linked these two things together – the coming of the kingdom and the doing of the will of the Father – and it was Jesus who revealed that the kingdom came at his death. Therefore Jesus must have understood the will of the Father, uniquely defined, to first be done on the earth when he died on the cross. What did Jesus mean by this expression, "the will of my Father?"
We begin by suggesting that Jesus’ term, "the will of my Father" (Mat. 7:21 and elsewhere) introduces a unique conception of God’s desire with regard to man. We will also establish that(1) this is absolute in that it has no special relevance to any particular human condition or situation. This will lead us to the conclusion,This seems a large order, but it will take surprisingly few words to fill it. We will focus first on the fourth gospel, verse 6:38 where Jesus says:
(2) that the will of God as usually defined by the churchmen in terms of human activity and/or changes in society only represents the will of man as distinct from the will of the Father. We will also learn,
(3) that men can do "the will of my Father" only as individuals and that for each individual it represents exactly the same decisive response to the initiative of Jesus of Nazareth. Therefore it is also absolute
(4) in that it is invariant across the full span of time and space in the history of man.For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me.Jesus was a man who found himself on the earth, sent by the Father for the purpose of doing the Father’s will, not the will of Jesus the man. We will see that what this implies is true to the preceding discussion in that the Father’s will is absolutely distinct from the will of man, even that of the man, Jesus. But it is also a thing that a human being can do, for Jesus must do it as such.
It follows that, when individuals are doing the Father’s will as they understand it, and when it is also something they wish to do, they are not doing the Father’s will. For example, an individual seeking employment, such as a minister seeking to become a pastor, has multiple offers and prayerfully considers which of them God would have him accept. Then he ponders them and selects one that pleases him. He has only done his own will. The will of the Father has not been done.
Jesus’ statement that his purpose in coming down to earth from heaven was to do his Father’s will implies that this uniquely defined Father’s will was not being done on earth – had never been done on earth – by any person prior to Jesus. If some earlier person had already done it, or if human beings were already doing it on earth, why would the Father have needed to send Jesus to do it?
The author of The Fourth Gospel saw that the whole world was in darkness, and this must have been because absolutely no one was doing the Father’s will or even understood it. Therefore, in coming to earth to do the Father’s will, Jesus was light shining in darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1:5)
Then Jesus proceeded immediately in vs. 39 and 40 to define the Father’s will:. . . this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up at the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that every one who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.The Father’s will then is the resurrection at the last day, and can only be fulfilled in the resurrection from the dead to eternal life. Note the powerful implication: the Father’s will is not life in time and has no final fulfillment in time. It does not involve considerations of human options in time, and God is not concerned with such things except for that which can contribute to the resurrection at the last day. Jesus defines this contribution as seeing the Son and believing in him, or believing in what one sees when one looks upon the Son.
Jesus was sent to do the will of the Father on earth and to do it as a leader. When we look upon the Son and see him doing the Father’s will, we will also do the Father’s will if we follow him as leader. But if we do not believe in him, there is no way we can do the Father’s will or participate in the resurrection to eternal life at the last day, which is the unique fulfillment of the uniquely defined will of the Father. Obviously, if the Father is only concerned with the resurrection at the last day, he is not concerned with whom I marry, or with what employment I seek or what monetary investment I make, or with any merely temporal consideration whatsoever (unless it contributes to the resurrection at the last day). He has only sent Jesus into the world to be and to show the Way to life eternal by manifesting the will of the Father.
But can't the will of the Father be defined in other terms?
Jesus, who is our only authority, did not define the will of the Father in any other terms. This is it, the resurrection at the last day. If there are other valid definitions, he, who presented himself as the light of the world and the source of Truth, did not present them and, by not presenting them, he has mislead us as to the definition of the will of the Father by allowing only this one definition.
Why would men seek other definitions?
I submit that it is only through prolonged exposure, (brainwashing) to false conceptions of the will of the Father as propogated by the churchmen. They have largely determined that the Father's will must reflect an ideal state of affairs on the earth. They pray for that every time they lead their congregations in prayer. It may be in terms of personal and individual affairs, or in terms of national and world affairs, but their conceptions of the will of the Father are mostly earthbound.
A Reasonable Assumption
So, the Father sent Jesus to the earth to do, on the earth, the unique will of the Father that contributes to the resurrection at the last day. Let us make the reasonable assumption that whenever Jesus spoke of doing the will of his Father, it was of this uniquely defined event that he spoke. It follows that when he taught his disciples to pray to the Father saying,Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. (Mat. 6:7)he was asking them to pray for him, that he would prevail and do what he had been sent to the earth to do.
He was specifically not asking them to pray for the realization on earth of any general human condition. Only Jesus understood the will of the Father and only he had been commissioned to do it on earth. Therefore the kingdom of God could come on earth only through the activity of Jesus who was uniquely commissioned to do the will of God on earth. The will of the Father would then be done on the earth, and the earth would then enter into the realm of the Father. The kingdom of God would be come on earth as inaugurated by Jesus. His disciples, seeing and believing in him, would continue to do the Father’s will on earth through following him, so maintaining the earth within the realm of the kingdom of God and so participating in the resurrection at the last day. Therefore, this is also a prayer for his disciples, that they would continue to follow him so as to do, on the earth, what Jesus did that day.
Yet when Jesus came to the last day of his life on earth, he still had not done what he came to do. When he left the upper room with his disciples and proceeded across the Kidron valley to Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives, it was to spend much of the night agonizing in prayer, saying,Father, not my will but yours be done. (Luke 22:42, par.)He had accomplished the work that the Father gave him to do. (John 17:4) But in that he had yet not done the Father’s will on earth, this work must only have been contributory to doing the Father’s will, and was in that secondary sense also the Father’s will. But if he now failed to follow through with the crucial action that was the contribution in time toward the Father’s will, which he defined as the resurrection from the dead at the last day, all would be lost. The Father’s will would not be done and his kingdom would not come.
The statement that Jesus was, in his model prayer, asking the disciples to pray for him that he would do the Father's will "on the earth as it is in heaven" will probably seem absurd to you. Perhaps it would help if you imagine yourself in Jesus' place, having been sent to earth to do a specific thing that is the will of your Father.
Now, first acknowledge that you, who would in that case have spent most of your existence to that time in heaven, have no preconceptions as the the meaning of the will of God as defined by listening to churchmen. You only know one thing: that the Father has sent you to earth to do something specific that is the Father's will. Further, you must do it as a man, and it is very, very hard to do, involving voluntarily yielding up your life on earth in an agonizing fashion. Furthermore, Satan is blasting you from every side with temptations to save your life, as when Peter protested so loudly at Jesus' prediction of his death.
Would you not exercise every resource available, including the prayers of your closest disciples?
A Brief Review
Now review briefly what has been established: Jesus defined the Father’s will as the resurrection at the last day. Therefore, there is only one way for Jesus or anyone else to do the Father’s will on the earth and in time: by doing what contributes to his will, which is the resurrection at the last day. Jesus came to earth uniquely commissioned to do this, yet when it came to the last few hours of his life, he yet had not done the Father’s will on earth because we find him agonizing in Gethsemane and praying that the Father’s will, not his, be done. He had somehow finished the work that he came to do, but he had not yet done the Father’s will on earth.
However, we know that he did do the Father’s will on earth at the moment of his death. We know this because he revealed that the kingdom of God came in that moment and as a result of that death. Since, therefore, the kingdom comes when and where the will of the king is done, we know also that the will of God was done on the earth at that moment.
The Lessons of the Lost Son
So, what did he do at that moment that was crucial to the resurrection at the last day? He died, of course, but there is more to it than that. The Romans crucified thousands of poor souls, but none resulted in the coming of the kingdom, or the doing of God’s will, until the crucifixion of Jesus.
Jesus answered this question for us and one way to get at it is to refer to his Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) and interpret it such that the father’s house is heaven, the father is God, the far country is this planet earth. The prodigal then represents, individually, all of the poor souls who are striving, in the darkness of this world, to find their life-fulfillment before they come to the grave.
Now we ask the simple question: What did the prodigal son do in that far country that contributed to his father’s will? Well, what did the father want him to do?
There can be only one answer to this: the father wanted his prodigal to arise and come home. The prodigal therefore did the father’s will only on the last day of his life in the far country, when he "arose" from the midst of the swine and started home.
In all his days in the far country, there was absolutely nothing the prodigal could do that would have pleased his father because the place was wrong, the life was wrong, and the son loved both. He had left the father’s house because he hated it, and thus hated his father by leaving him. But he returned to the love of his father when he yearned to return to him and to his house and he manifested that love when he arose from the swine and went home. This "arising" of the prodigal therefore corresponds to death to this world that leads to the arising, or resurrection, of the children of God at the last day. Simultaneously, his attitude to life in the far country underwent a radical reversal. He went there in love with that life, but on the day he departed, he hated it. That is precisely what Jesus did when he laid down his life to leave this "far country" and go to his Father’s house.
We must examine Jesus’ death to perceive its full significance as the first true performance of the will of the Father on the earth, and as the positive response to his request for prayer from this disciples, "Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." Jesus understood from a very early time in his ministry that he must lay down his life to accomplish his unique mission on the earth. Mark and Matthew record a saying of Jesus, teaching his disciples that they must not be as the Gentiles, lording it over one another.Whoever is great among you must be the servant, and whoever would be first must be their slave. (Mark 10:35-45)Then he gave himself as an example, saying,For the son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.In John, he presents himself as the Good Shepherd, who lays down his life for the sheep. (John 10:11:15) Then he gives as the very reason that the Father loves him, that he is to lay down his life, that he might take it again. (John 10:17) He was very careful to explain that he was to lay down his own life.No one" he said, "takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.(John 10:18)This was not something that Jesus, the man, wanted. He had not wanted to leave the glory of the Father to come into the world, here to lay down his life as a man. This he stated plainly, "I proceeded and came forth from God; I came not of my own accord, but he sent me." (John 8:42) Having come, it was not his will to lay down his life, a fact most clear from the agonized prayer in Gethsemane, "Not my will, but yours be done." Jesus was therefore here on earth against his will, and he came to give his life, which also was against his will. From the very beginning he wanted none of it. Nevertheless, he knew what the Father wanted and he committed himself to the doing of it.
Also from the beginning he was subject to fierce temptations to do what he wanted. Satan came to him often to divert him from the completion of his purpose – either by tempting him to save his life at the crucial moment or by precipitously throwing it away before his hour had come. This dual temptation appears in the wilderness when he resisted both the temptation to "command these stones to become bread," thus saving his life, or to cast himself down from the temple, thus losing his life. (Mat. 4:1-11, par.) When the people sought to take him by force and make him their king (after a worldly fashion, thus saving his life, John 6:15), he was mightily tempted and withdrew to a solitary place to pray and restore his resolve to give his life at the proper time.
This also was one of the wilderness temptations, to accept the kingdoms of the world, thus saving his life. When he revealed to the disciples that he must suffer and be killed, (Mk. 8:31-33, par.) Peter began to rebuke him, saying, "No, Lord, this shall never happen to you." This was clearly a temptation to save his life, and Jesus recognized the source when he responded, "Get behind me, Satan, for you are not on the side of God, but of men."
When he was arrested, he stopped any defense by his disciples and said,Do you not think that I can appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the scripture be fulfilled, that it must be so? (Mat. 26:53,54).So he could have saved his life, but did not. Especially on the cross, when his pain was most terrible, he was continually tempted in one way or another to save his life and come down from the cross. Think of the tremendous temptation to come down in response to the taunting tormentors,If you are the Son of God, save yourself! Come down from the cross. (Mat. 27:40)Luke records what may have been the most powerful temptation of all, the temptation to save his life coming shortly before his death. It came from one of the two criminals who were crucified with him,Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us! (Luke 23:39)So he knew all along that the Father’s will was that he lay down his life on the earth and arise to the Father, thus doing the Father’s will on earth and consummating the kingdom of God on earth. As a man, he did not want to do that; it was not his will. And so, at any time prior to the actual moment of his death, he could have yielded to the many temptations and come down from the cross, thus doing his own will, what he wanted to do, and saving his life. His death was therefore the crucial moment, for it was the moment of "no turning back." It was the moment of victory when the Father’s will was done beyond recall.
How was it that the kingdom came through the death of this one man? How did his death constitute the overthrow of satanic authority on earth and its replacement by the rule of God?
It was the first, direct, open and public manifestation of the will on God on the earth. And the will of God is simply this, for all his children on the earth, exactly the same as was the will of the Prodigal’s father, "Children, come home!" Jesus acknowledged this when he said,And now, Father, I am coming to you. (John 17:13)Jesus was the first man to lay down his life to go to the Father, out of love for the Father, and so he was the pioneer who conquered death and showed the way for us. Columbus was the first to conquer the seas and discover the New World, and so was also the pioneer who showed the way. The Wright brothers were the first to conquer the air and fly. They were the pioneers who showed the way.
In so far as it concerns us human beings, this is the exclusive will of the Father. His will is that we arise and come home, and absolutely nothing else. Therefore, nothing that we do here on the earth can be in accord with his will unless it leads us home to him. There is but one barrier that separates us from him: death. Therefore all who fear death, who are committed first to the saving of life and who delay their deaths by every means if only they can live in this world a little longer, all are transgressing the will of the Father. He wants only that they, through death, come home to him. They, on the other hand, love life in this world and want only to preserve it for as long as possible. This is the love of life, which is the essence of sin. It is the ultimate transgression of the will of the Father.Satan had the power of death, and he used that power to inspire the fear of death in human beings, preventing our going gladly to the Father through death. Therefore Satan held all in bondage through fear of death and this gave him effective dominion over the world and all its nations, whose kings rule through the ultimate threat of death, and so rule by the fear of death.
Jesus acknowledged Satan's dominion during the wilderness temptations. It would have been no temptation for Satan to offer him all the kingdoms of the world, if he did not have them to offer, would it?
There are those that say, “I’m not afraid of death…I’m not afraid to die…but I am afraid of torturous pain that might accompany it.” It is surely to help us to see through this that Jesus chose the terribly painful and prolonged death of the cross. He wants us to understand that our love of the Father must transcend every fear, both the torment and the dying! One’s love for the Father can and must overcome whatever pain might be endured during death, therefore he gave his painful death as an example.
But Jesus overcame the fear of death, thus destroying him who has the power of death and taking away his dominion over the nations. Those who fear death love life and hate God because they do not want to go to him. Those who follow Jesus in overcoming the fear of death hate life and love God because they want to go to him. They are uniquely begotten of God, from above, and can see the kingdom even now, in this life. They know the truth and they are free of the bondage and tyranny of life, precisely as Jesus promised,You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free. (John 8:32)It was thus that the kingdom of God came on earth at the death of Jesus; it was thus that his will was done on earth as it is in heaven. This is the good news, the Gospel of the Kingdom, preached for two millennia through the divine words of Jesus of Nazareth -- but not preached in the churches.
Now, Back to Our List of Four Pertinent Things
I listed above a number of things pertinent to the will of the Father. Let us recall them again. I said(1) that the will of God is absolute and has no particular relevance to any human condition or situation.This must follow from the fact that his will is exclusively concerned with receiving his children through the resurrection. His focus is on the resurrection and Jesus revealed that this only is his holy will for eternity. He wants this and nothing but this.(2) follows by pure reason. He is not concerned with human activity and with making changes in society, as the churchmen think.The Prodigal’s father concerned himself not a whit with the affairs of the far country where his straying son resided, nor with the circumstances of his son’s life. He considered him to be dead, lost and therefore beyond his concerns.(3) tells us that only individuals can do the will of God as they respond to the initiative of Jesus.That is because it is exclusively a matter of the individual’s decision to love God and go to him in the wake of Jesus. This is individualism to perfection, for there is absolutely no group that can make such a decision. Absolutely everything depends upon the individual will, for us as it did for Jesus. Finally, it is also absolute(4) in that it is invariant across the full span of time and space in the history of man.The Father wants nothing else, has never wanted anything else, and will never want anything else of human beings on earth or anywhere else than this:Come home!That’s his only will, first manifested on the earth by Jesus so that the rule of the Father became active on the earth. This is the Gospel of the Kingdom.
Do you ask, "If this is all the Father ever wanted, then why did he wait until the time of Jesus to make his will known to mankind when intelligence amongst man had endured for thousands of years before?"
This is a very good question at this point, and here is the answer:
There is a point of view other than our temporal one. It is the view of the Eternal One, who from the beginning was planning for the rescue of his servants and children from the futility of creation so as to join them to his Eternal Glory. From His perspective -- that of the Father in heaven -- salvation history is as old as creation. It has always been in His purpose. He has altered nothing, from the beginning until now, so that it can truly be termed an eternal salvation -- from eternity to eternity!<>The critical juncture between the temporal and the eternal became a possibility only after long ages of the creator's evolutionary work. Then the race of men reached an age of accountability before their creator. They had finally eaten from the tree of knowledge and were capable of making the critical decision that is fundamental to individual, eternal salvation. This experience in the race is prefigured by Adam when he ate the forbidden fruit.> Our race had attained adolescence and was ready for the facts of life. So Jesus came and fully revealed the salvation of God. You can find more on this at here: http://www.voiceofjesus.org/salvationhistory2.html
The exhibit on the linked page shows all this in terms of what I have come to call "The Great Principle" consistent with the "Great Commandment" and with the "Great Correlate" that I will explain below. It consists of parallel passages from all four canonical gospels where Jesus explained to the disciples why he must die. Even though it is, clearly and obviously, Jesus’ own explanation of his death, one almost never hears it in the halls of Christendom. We will focus here on The Fourth Gospel rendition:He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. (John 12:25)There you have it, the Great Principle according to which Jesus as a man attained eternal life, showing the way. Had he loved his life on earth, he would have lost life eternal, like any other man. Had he saved it he would have lost it; had he sought to "find his life" as fulfilled on the earth, he would have lost it. The Great Commandment,You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mindis perfectly consistent with the Great Principle. When one loves God, one wants to arise and go to him, to dwell in his house precisely as the prodigal wanted to go to his father. One does not want to cling to life on earth, which only separates us from the Father. Therefore the Great Principle correlates perfectly with the Great Commandment, thus comprising the Great Correlate. Another way to express this is as the Love of God/Hatred of Life Correlate. One who loves God necessarily hates his life in this world.
I must emphasize one thing here that you might otherwise miss. The Great Principle is not a validation of suicide. Jesus showed this when he refused to cast himself down from the temple, saying, "It is written, ‘You must not tempt the Lord your God.’" To "tempt" here means to test God, to try him and his word. If I should commit suicide so as to go to the Father, I would by that act be putting God to the test. "Here I am, Father, so take me in!" Instead, do you note how Jesus began his expression of the Great Principle with the words, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified?" He would not cast himself down from the Temple because his hour had not come. So with us – we must await our hour when the Father will reveal that it is time to come to him. Then we go gladly. But we must do this: repent of our sins, be merciful to those who sin against us, and follow Jesus in the way of the Cross. None of this is possible until we understand the essence of sin: that all sin springs from the love of life.
This world is a bittersweet mix of joy and sorrow, of happiness and despair, of pain and consolation. Many people seem to experience most of the sorrow and pain, heartbreak and despair, while others seem relatively free. Yet the latter also have pain and sorrow, and all must finally face what they generally see as the bleakness of death. If the Father only wants us to come to him, if he does not want us to be here, why has he put us here? Why does not he birth us directly into his glorious house? How can he do this to us and yet love us?
A Fundamental Question
As to his love, let us be reminded that the Father did not simply stick us in a sorrowful far place and stand back to wait for us to come to him. No, but he manifested his love for us in coming to us in the person of Jesus and experiencing through him the very worst that this world has to offer. He suffered for us, and he suffers with us, and yet we are dead to him while we remain bound to life.
Have you noted that the prodigal’s father did nothing to dissuade him when first he sought his inheritance and split for the far country? That is because there is no place in the Father’s house for a rebellious child.
All parents who have reared rebellious children can appreciate this point. I remember a sad day when I showed one of my sons the door. That is precisely why we must be here first, in a far country, so that we can resolve our rebellion against the Father in Heaven. We have done that only when we want for ourselves only what he wants for us – to be with the Father in his house! The Father wants a harvest of children from this world. He does not want servants, slaves or robots.
It is the children of the King who inherit the kingdom! So he has created us in his image with free will and independent minds, as every child bears the image of the parent, and placed us here until we learn to seek and respond to his Holy Will. And, since the Father created this "far country," we can even surmise that he created it expressly for us, to provide an optional place and an optional life where he could reveal himself to us and where we would learn to seek his will. I will not dwell on it here (see the papers on the topic of "Jesus and Science") but with just a little thought one can see that the world is perfect for this purpose.
Had he made it without pain and sorrow, who would want to leave it for the Father’s house? It took a famine in the far country to bring the prodigal home, and it takes similar things here to bring us home to God. But, had he filled the world with only pain and sorrow, who wouldn’t want to escape to the Father’s house? But it would only be to get relief and not out of love for the Father. Also, it must be by faith, for had he made his Glory plainly visible to us, who wouldn’t want a transfer? Not out of love for the Father, but to sate themselves in the Glory. In either case, rebellious, self-willed children would soon populate heaven and it would be earth in heaven.
The Fourth Gospel tells us (1:23,13)
It is a Family Affair.But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were begotten, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.So it was that Jesus told Nicodemus,You must be begotten from above. (John 3:3)When we are thus begotten of the Spirit, we become the children of God and he is our Father. All the old relations are superceded and become of no effect. God is the only father of those who are begotten from above, and we must recognize that by obeying the commandment of Jesus,Call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. (Mat. 23:9)This juxtaposition of earth/heaven and man/God is characteristic of Jesus and reveals that they are contrary the one to the other. Jesus is unique in doing this and he held to it rigidly, applying it to his own family relations. He refused to acknowledge Abraham (John 8:58) or David (Mat. 22:43-54) as his father but held to the exclusive Fatherhood of God. When others spoke to him of Mary and his siblings as "your mother and your brothers" he corrected them immediately, saying,Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven (will as defined above), the same is my brother and sister and mother. (Mat. 12:50)The spiritual relations supplant and dissolve the carnal ones. If God is my Father, he is my only father. The will of the Father is the resurrection, but it is more than that, for it is that we rise to him as his dear children who look only to him as Father.
The family of earth and men is only a shadow of that much better thing that is of heaven and God, but it has served a vital purpose because, without it, we would have no experiential basis whatsoever for comprehending the will of the Father. We know the will of God, who only wills that we come to him as dear children, only because we have had fathers according to the flesh, and also mothers and perhaps siblings. These things even an infant can comprehend who seeks its mother’s breast.
I conclude that my Father must have designed the creation specifically to give us the family experience as a basis for understanding what he wants of us. But having embraced the new, the old must pass away. That is why Jesus said so clearly,If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26)You see that he left no one out, because our relationship with God as Father is absolutely exclusive, like the relationship with a spouse. Also excluded is one’s own life in this world, because the Father has a much better one stored up for us.
I hasten to add that this does not imply that we must abandon our normal responsibilities toward earthly relatives. Have you noticed how Jesus, as one of his last acts, made provision for the care of Mary? If it were otherwise, scoundrels would attach themselves to the family of God so as to relieve themselves of earthly burdens. Therefore Jesus was most careful to make this point by his own example.
Becoming a child of God does nothing whatsoever to relieve us of any purely earthly burden. It only adds to our responsibilities, which is one cause of its hardness. In this way Jesus manifested his continued obedience to the Fifth Commandment,Honor your father and mother that your days may be long in the land which the Lord your God gives you. (Exod. 19:12)The reason given for this commandment tells us the purpose of the commandment, which is to insure that elderly persons are cared for. I honor my parents by caring for them in their old age. My children follow this example, therefore my days will be long on the earth. But now, having heard the Gospel of the Kingdom, we do this not on the basis of the Fifth Commandment, but on the basis of the Second Commandment of Jesus, to love your neighbor as yourself. The motive, "that your days may be long . . ." is no longer valid in the light of Jesus’ Great Principle. Jesus did not change the Fifth Commandment to remove "father," or to provide a diffrent promise consistent with his practice of not changing anything from the Old, but by replacing it wholly with his Word. All that have the Fifth Commandment but who, for whatever reason have never heard Jesus and his Gospel of the Kingdom, continue to be good servants of God by keeping the Fifth Commandment as it was delivered to Moses. But hearing the Gospel of the Kingdom as delivered by Jesus changes everything! We will understand this more fully when we understand this Word:
Lk.16:16 The law and the prophets [are] until John, from then the kingdom of God is proclaimed and all forcibly enter it. 17 But it is easier that heaven and the earth pass away than for one cross-of-a-"t" to fall from the law.
Please notice in particular verse 17.
The kingdom has come if Jesus was correct and was therefore not a false prophet. Why don’t the churchmen, those "preachers of the gospel" know it? Why are they yet leading their congregations every Lord’s day in the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer, asking for the coming of the kingdom? There is a chain of at least five clear reasons.
Why Don't the Churchmen Know it?
First, there is the ear problem. Jesus has explained all things, clearly and straightforwardly, but they aren’t listening. They aren’t listening because Paul and other New Testament writers have their attention, not Jesus. They prefer to be the profound interpreters of the mysteries of the Revelation of John or the arcane theology of Paul than to acknowledge and teach the simple truth as stated by their Lord. This has terrible implications because Jesus said, on the one hand,My sheep hear my voice. (John 10:27)On the other hand, he asked certain ones,Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father, the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. (John 8:43,44)Then he concluded,He who is of God hears the words of God; the reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God. (John 8:47)So I repeat, this failure to hear the simple, clear words of Jesus has terrible implications.
Second, there is the eye problem. They want to see the kingdom of God but they cannot see it, therefore it has not come. They are looking for signs and wonders, for the Lord descending in glory with the holy angels, for the purification of the earth, the end of war and all evil in society, for the "rapture," the millennium and all kinds of wonderful things, all happening on the earth.
They aren’t looking aright because of their ear problem. If they listened, they would hear the Lord saying,The kingdom of God is not coming with observation; neither will they say, ‘Lo, here!’ or ‘Lo, there!’ for lo, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you. (Luke 17:20)Could any statement be clearer? Simpler? It was his answer to the Pharisees who had just asked him the very question we have been responding to here: "When is the kingdom of God coming?" Of course, Jesus presented the fundamental diagnosis of the eye problem when he said to Nicodemus, "Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is begotten from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God." This, like the ear problem, carries terrible implications. I began this paper by stating that we require a "vision" if we are to see the Kingdom of God.
Third, there is the mouth problem. Since childhood they have been taught, and since adulthood teaching others, to recite the Lord’s Prayer during Sunday public worship and in Sunday Schools and all the schools of the church. Then, of course, they have been teaching and preaching, consistent with this prayer, that the kingdom of God has not yet come. Obviously it hasn’t; if it had, why would the church yet be praying for it? The little children who are growing up in the church are being so thoroughly conditioned by the repetition of this prayer that, when they become adults, it filters out the truth. That is what happened to us who are their parents and grandparents. Like the ear and eye problems, this mouth problem also has the most terrible implications. Jesus said,But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, slander, fornication, theft, false witness. (Matt. 15:18,19)Testifying that the kingdom has not come, when in fact it has come, is surely false witness. This, then, leads us directly to the fourth problem.
The fourth problem is the heart problem. This underlies the preceding ones because what one is willing to hear, able to see and eager to say all spring from the heart. It is in their hearts that the churchmen harbor the vision of a redeemed planet earth perfected by the Lord and inherited by the saints. This vision is the treasure they seek and earnestly strive to attain as they labor to change the world and build the kingdom of God on earth. It is a treasure that has for its location this earth, this planet of our habitation and this is precisely the core of the problem. Jesus said so clearly,Do not lay up treasure on the earth, . . . but lay up treasure in heaven . . .. For where your treasure is there will your heart be also. (Mat. 6:19-21)Treasuring earthly things, be it material objects, goals of endeavor, persons of endearment or kingdoms of God (as do Christians that look to a yet coming kingdom to transform the earth) testifies that our hearts are sited on earth because, as Jesus said, "where the treasure is, there will the heart be also." Jesus thus reveals the surprising contributors to the defilement of the heart, and of the whole person becauseWhat comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a man. (Matthew 15:18)I readily acknowledge that the churchmen also treasure heavenly things. They hope earnestly to receive an eternal blessedness, to inherit the kingdom and eternal life, then to reign with Christ from the Father’s right hand. But this mixing and mingling of the heavenly and the earthly in the heart of man is precisely the defilement that Jesus abhors. His first commandment,You shall love the Lord your God with . . . all your heart.is his prescription for purity of heart. This brings us to his beatitude,Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.This also has the most terrible implications for all who have polluted their hearts by seeking to mix the earthly with the heavenly treasure, for it implies that they will not see God. We all, therefore, must seek to purge our hearts of all earthly defilement and earnestly offer up this prayer of the Psalmist:Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. (Psalm 51:10)The life problem is the fifth and last impediment to seeing the kingdom of God. It is the fundamental one that underlies all the others and that leads to all the others: the ear, the eye, the mouth, and the heart problems. This should be evident from the above.
The Root of All Evil
The love of life is the root of all evil from which all sin springs. And it is the most natural, inevitable thing in the world. It is ubiquitous; not only in the human race, but in all living creatures because it is essential to the evolutionary process that has produced us. Before the fact of the ubiquitous love of life, Jesus’ Great Principle (John 12:25) is unthinkable. This love is the "great attractor" that begins to draw all into its vortex as soon as we are born and moves us to do things both wonderful and terrible, all in the guise of righteousness. It commands loyalty above all loyalties such that to deny it is treason to the race.
Therefore for two millennia the churchmen have been reading right over the Great Principle without having it register. And yet, it is clear that this one thing, the love of life, fuels every anxiety and every threat, every hostile response, every deed of greed and every act of violence. It is impossible to deal with sin while men enshrine the love of life; therefore only in Jesus can men overcome evil, for he alone, of all men, has told us the truth about it. No one comes to the Father but by him (John 14:6), through the hatred of life, the resurrection from the dead, and the love of God.
I noted above how Jesus juxtaposed man and God, earth and heaven, and the family of earth and the family of heaven. Everything earthly becomes a human option to the will of the Father, and therefore a continued devotion to the things of earth is contrary to the will of the Father and lies at the root of all evil. This is one of the most difficult things to accept for those who have long devoted themselves to the things of earth and men, such as home, family and nation. Nevertheless we must deal with it. Jesus used extreme care to state the extreme nature of this demand. He said,
The Hostility of the WorldWhatsoever is highly esteemed among men is an abomination to God. (Luke 16:15)This sets up tension between men and God in the lives of the children of God while they remain on the earth and accounts for the hostility of the powers of the world, both Roman and Jewish, toward Jesus. The cleavage is there and we must acknowledge it if we make any serious effort to follow Jesus.
The earthly powers, from Caesar (the nation) to family to the individual’s very life in this world continue to claim us but they cannot have us if we are the children of God. Jesus set the standard in answering the question concerning paying taxes to Caesar. He told them toRender to Caesar that which is Caesar’s.which was the tax money imprinted with Caesar’s image as the sign of ownership. Then he added,Render to God that which is God’s." (Mark 12:17, par.)By this he could only mean their persons that bore the image of God since creation as the sign of ownership -- precisely as the coin bore the image of Caesar..
The nations of men, committed to the love of life and motivated thereby, are not and can never be identified with the kingdom of God. Had the nation of the Jews responded to Jesus differently it is conceivable that the kingdom would have formed around them as a governing entity. We can never know what form the kingdom would have taken in that case because they "received him not." Consequently Jesus said of them,Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation (ethnic unit) bearing the fruits thereof. (Mat. 21:43)What is this nation, or ethnic unit, to which the kingdom was to be given? Listen to Jesus:Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. (Luke 12:32)This little flock constitutes a nation as an ethnic unit in that all within it are begotten from above, so that God is their Father. All the children of God belong to this nation. Being begotten from above, they have a new ethnicity and, as children of the king, will inherit the kingdom. The earthly nation is to the kingdom a seditious, hostile power and one cannot maintain simultaneous citizenship in both because each demands and compels allegiance. The national Pledge of Allegiance is treason before the Father.
The Gospel of the Kingdom has radical implications for the children of God who continue to abide in the world, after we acknowledge three things that stand unchanged. I noted the first of these above, which is the bearing of the responsibility for the care of family. I have also noted the second, in that we continue to pay taxes to Caesar, or the state, just as we always have done, because it belongs to the state. However, we do this as aliens who no more belong to the state. We acknowledge the earthly limits of state authority, which our king has authorized from the right hand of God. Third, and finally, we must continue to abide by the beneficent laws of the nation, but we do this not as citizens but as alien disciples of Jesus in obedience to his Second Commandment (You shall love your neighbor as yourself).
Some Implications for Life in This World
Now we turn to the radical implications. When we were living as the children of this world, our interests and actions were motivated by our desire to protect our lives and property and enhance our earthly existence. Now that our relatives are heavenly ones and our treasures are in heaven, our hearts are also in heaven and so are not set on earthly things. (Luke 12:34)
Under these conditions we can respond positively to the hard sayings of Jesus, in particular to the antitheses of the Sermon on the Mount. Where once we could only hate our enemies, now we can love them. (Mat. 5:44) Where once we were compelled to resist the evil one, we now offer no resistance. (Mat. 5:39) Where once we greatly feared every threat to our lives in this world, now we fear not him who is able to destroy the body but after that has no more he can do. (Luke 12:4) Where once we were anxious for the provision of tomorrow’s needs, we now suffer no such anxiety. (Mat. 12:25-34, par.)
A deputy sheriff who was a candidate for public office visited me so to leave his literature and solicit my vote. When I explained that I do not vote because I follow Jesus, who disqualifies me, he responded with the assertion,
An Example from Life
We Christians must participate in the political process because we still have to live here.
I quickly responded, "No!"
Then I explained: this is precisely what Jesus is about – we do not have to live here. We do not want to live here if our treasures and our hearts are in heaven. We must not want to live here if there is to be any hope of our eternal salvation. God wants us to be with him; we are only unrepentant sinners if we want otherwise since our desires are then contrary to the will of the Father and he will not drag us, screaming and kicking, out of this world and into his glory.
Our conversation continued for a short while during which the full implications of his position became clear. He is a devout churchman who is also employed by a local congregation to provide security during services. The pastor, he revealed, insisted on having a guard present because another congregation was sued and held liable after a rape occurred on their premises. Then he was very careful to inform me that he never takes his gun inside the building. "I stay outside at all times." I wish I had thought to say that this might also keep him "outside of heaven at all times." What a curious piety, that accords to a building on the earth what it does not accord to heaven!
The Old View – Sacrificial Atonement
What I say in the name of our Lord is that his death on the cross was not a sacrifice for sin, because he, himself, said that God does not desire sacrifice. It was his death and he ought to know, for he was careful to lift the words of the prophet, Hosea, to the status of words of the Father when he quoted him,
(Implications for the Churchmen)Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ (Hosea 6:6) for I came not to call the righteous, but sinners. (Matthew 9:13, 12:7)When Jesus, who is our Lord, says, "Go and learn what this means" we will do well to obey.
Consider the assertion, "I came not to call the righteous, but sinners." The "righteous" were those Jews who, zealous for the law, were careful to see that their sins were atoned by the sacrificial offerings of the temple cult. Jesus used extreme irony in designating them as "the righteous". The "tax collectors and sinners" who came and sat down with Jesus and his disciples, were those who did not make the prescribed sacrifices according to the Mosaic Code. Therefore, those persons who did not place their trust in sacrifices were the sinners Jesus came to call to him.
Jesus came not to make a sacrifice by his death, but to destroy sacrifices. Before that generation passed away, the temple was destroyed and the sacrifices ceased. The entire concept was heinous to Jesus, who made his point perfectly clear when he drove the sacrificial animals out of the temple. If there were no animals there to sacrifice, there could be no sacrifice, could there? Would he then make himself a sacrifice? Absolutely not.
The churchmen, following Paul, trust in the death of Jesus as a sacrifice of atonement for sin, by means of which they are accounted righteous before God. They believe themselves to be "in Christ" so that the righteousness of Christ is imputed to them and their sins are forgiven thereby. But did not he plainly state that he came not to call the righteous (those who trust in the sacrifice) but sinners?
What then does God desire?
He desires mercy! Jesus made this abundantly clear not only in the "mercy, not sacrifice" saying, but throughout the gospels. He began by enshrining it in a beatitude,Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. (Mat. 5:7)That is a promise. To receive mercy from God, including the forgiveness of sins, show mercy to others. No sacrifice required. So, your neighbor offends you, sins against you, seven times in a day? If he turns to you seven times and says, "I repent" you must forgive him. (Luke 17:4). When Peter questioned Jesus about this high number, Jesus responded,I do not say unto you "seven times" but seventy times seven. (Mat. 18:21,22)Does Jesus expect us to forgive more readily than the Father forgives us? Certainly not; therefore if we sin against God seventy times seven, repent and ask for forgiveness, he forgives us. No sacrifice required. Two things only are required: that we are merciful and forgive others when they offend us, and that we repent and seek forgiveness when we offend God.
Jesus told the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant (Matt. 18:23-35) to illustrate all this. Our king willingly forgives every debt, no matter how large or how often incurred, when the debtor truly repents and asks forgiveness. But if that same debtor is unmerciful towards those who owe him, there is no mercy for him.
Forgiveness of one’s offense to God requires two things and two things only: repentance towards God, and mercy towards those who offend us. In the Lord’s Prayer, it is "forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors," forIf you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive your trespasses. (Matt. 6:12,14)Again, no sacrifice required.
The Parable of the Prodigal Son illustrates this wonderfully. The miserable sinner trudged anxiously home reciting the words of his repentance in the hope that his father might be merciful enough to make him a hired servant, seeing he had squandered his inheritance on harlots and had no claim on his father's house.
Does his father look for a sacrifice?
No! Instead, he sees the repentant son coming up the road and rushes out rejoicing to meet him, hugs the astonished prodigal, kisses him. Then he cries out to the servants,Bring quickly the best robe and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet,for he was barefooted and naked.
Why did his father rejoice go greatly?This my son was dead and is alive, was lost and is found. (Luke 15, 22,23)No sacrifice required. Then they slew the fatted calf – but for a celebratory banquet, not for a sacrifice.
The Lamb of God?
The lamb was a favored animal for sacrifice, but Jesus never called himself a lamb. When using the pastoral metaphor, he is always the shepherd. When he used this pastoral metaphor and associated it with his death, he was not a lamb, but a shepherd! (John 10:11)
Therefore, he could not have died as a lamb, in any sense whatsoever, because he died as a shepherd! We are the lambs and the sheep of his pasture.
Nowhere in the gospels did Jesus say anything to indicate that God requires sacrifices to effect forgiveness or that he should be considered a lamb of sacrifice. Instead, he plainly declared that it was as the shepherd that he laid down his life for the sheep. Therefore he did not die as a lamb.
It is true that John the Baptist called Jesus the "Lamb of God" (John 1:29). But Jesus later said of him,There is none born of women greater than John. (Luke 7:28)Then he continued,The least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.John was a courageous transition figure, a great prophet and servant of God. But he was less than the least in the kingdom.
Ransom and Sacrifice
Jesus did say that he would give his life a "ransom for sin." (Mat. 20:28, par.) So, he ransomed us from captivity to Satan. That is the very opposite of a sacrifice. The offended one pays a ransom to an evil one to redeem an innocent one. But it is the offending one who offers up a sacrifice to the righteous one to redeem the guilty one. You see? Jesus’ death therefore could not have been a sacrifice, because it was a ransom.
Consider the heinous doctrine of Paul and the churchmen that God requires the death of an innocent one, Jesus, as a sacrifice of atonement in which we must believe before he will forgive our sins. They often explain the supposed necessity for this by saying that sin is so terrible that it cannot be forgiven without consequences. They say that for God to forgive freely would make a mockery of justice.
But what does their doctrine do to the love of God, whose love we believe is infinite? Cannot he, like the Prodigal’s father, forgive freely if he chooses to do so? No one looks for justice at the foot of the cross, but only for mercy.
Consider that you are the innocent son who has a very wicked brother. Your Dad is going to require you to suffer immensely and shed your blood unto death so that he can forgive your wayward sibling? Where, precisely, is the justice in that? And what use does God have for blood, or anything else of the flesh? Jesus said,The flesh profits nothing. (John 6:63)Therefore the shedding of blood is, in itself, to no profit for the forgiveness of sins.
They tell us that Jesus is our substitute and that he suffered for our sins so that we do not have to suffer for them – substitutionary atonement. In this view only one cross matters, that of Jesus. We are to trust in the cross of Christ. But Jesus said,Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:27).Everyone has his own cross to bear; Jesus is the leader who shows the way. We were not, as Paul taught, "Crucified with Christ." (Rom. 6:6, Gal. 2:20) Only two men were crucified with Christ, and only one of them was redeemed – the one that repented, hated his life and had no desire to save it.
We know that primitive men everywhere, from the highlands of the Andes to the lowlands of the Euphrates and the Nile, have invented Gods who require sacrifices for their propitiation. The more precious the sacrifice, the more effective, so they sacrifice their firstborn and an innocent child is slain on an altar, or they offer a young virgin to satisfy the lust of the god.
Is our God and Father going to require this?
I tell you in the name of our Lord, "No!" The sacrificial system, both Jewish and pagan, was but a remnant of primitive thinking arising in the darkness of the world. Jesus is the light of the world, shining in that darkness and destroying the sacrificial system.
Nevertheless, the death of Jesus was central and is necessary to our salvation for the reason he has explained (as presented above in the "Great Principle" page). He was showing the way that leads to eternal life; we must follow. (Mat. 7:13,14)
Many persons have great hopes for the future of the world. They are yet praying for the coming of the kingdom, on earth as it is in heaven. But Jesus has shown this to be history. What is left for prophecy?
From Now On
Jesus uttered two prophecies that, between them, summarize all we need to know. These are prophecies that pertain to the destiny of the children of God who are in the world and to the world itself. Concerning the first, he said very simply,In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. (John 14:2,3)And what of the future of the world? This is a question that should not concern the children of God. On the day that he left it, was the prodigal son concerned for the future of the "far country?" Did his father manifest any concern for that country?
No, he was only concerned for his son. A dominant concern for the future of life on earth betrays a heart that is set on earth. I do not mean that Jesus and his followers have no interest in, say for example, degradation of the environment. Love for one’s neighbor mandates at least that one avoids contributing to things that are inimical to life on earth. But we must not misunderstand Jesus when he said that he came that we might have life abundant. The abundant life of which he spoke is the abundant life of the heavenly glory.
He made one prophecy concerning the future of the world, and our future in the world, that contains all we need to know:Then they will deliver you up to tribulation, and put you to death;
And you will hated by all nations for my name’s sake.
And then many will fall away, and betray one another, and hate one another.
And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray.
And because wickedness is multiplied, most men’s love will grow cold.
But he who endures to the end will be saved.
And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, as a testimony to all nations;
and then the end will come. (Mat. 24:9-14)