The Kingdom of God in Paul

I recently listened to this teaching by N.T. Wright, the Bishop of Durham in England. I find it incredible how much he emphasizes that the biblical destiny is not going to heaven at death but rather resurrection when Jesus comes to establish the kingdom (or in his words, “put the world to rights”). Often, those of us who believe in the kingdom of God focus mostly on the Old Testament and the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) and tend to shy away from the Pauline epistles. However, NT Wright, rightly points out that Paul is not preaching a different message than Jesus, his lord. The following verses are primary in this talk.

Acts 14.21-22
21 After they [including Paul] had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, 22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”

Acts 19.8
And he [Paul] entered the synagogue and continued speaking out boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God.

Acts 20.24-25
24 “But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I [Paul] may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God. 25 “And now, behold, I know that all of you, among whom I went about preaching the kingdom, will no longer see my face.

Acts 28.23
When they had set a day for Paul, they came to him at his lodging in large numbers; and he was explaining to them by solemnly testifying about the kingdom of God and trying to persuade them concerning Jesus, from both the Law of Moses and from the Prophets, from morning until evening.

Acts 28.30-31
30 And he stayed two full years in his own rented quarters and was welcoming all who came to him, 31 preaching the kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered.

However, in this lecture, NT Wright does not stop with Acts. He probes Paul’s letters and demonstrates conclusively that Paul was not preaching a different “go to heaven when you die” type of message, rather he was primarily concerned with the coming kingdom of God and the spectacular events surrounding Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension. He does believe in an inaugurated eschatology, which is the idea that when Jesus ascended the kingdom was established to some degree (i.e. through Jesus the kingdom was inaugurated but not consummated). This is something I still find hard to swallow given the state of the world. Even so, one must admit that from certain of Paul’s letters there is cosmic language employed to talk about Jesus’ current role (Eph 1; Col 1; etc.). Perhaps we can follow Johannes Weiss in saying that Jesus established the kingdom in the spiritual realm (i.e., the sub-lunar, principalities, powers, etc. were re-ordered at Jesus’ ascension and Jesus was given the highest position, next to the Father) BUT this is not to say that the kingdom is on earth. In other words, the kingdom gets established in the spiritual realm first and then it is just a matter of time until that event (the establishment of the kingdom) manifests on earth. Of course, we know that the kingdom comes when Jesus comes at the last trumpet (Rev 11.15; 1 Cor 15).

If you are interested in listening to this audio message please click here
[total time is 59:07]

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One response to this post.

  1. This presentation by Bishop Wright is really wonderful. So often we do not see the continuity in message between Jesus and Paul because the phrase “Kingdom of God” is sometimes absent from Paul’s writings or not used with the same frequency as Jesus. But Wright does a masterful job of highlighting Kingdom language within Paul’s writings. This also helped me gain insight into how the Kingdom would be described to different audiences than the crowds Jesus spoke to – something that is important for us today.

    This has subsequently helped me identify the kingdom-language in my own reading of the NT – for example, something stood out to me in my recent reading of Ephesians. Paul is praying that we would know the power of God, which was able to raise Jesus from the dead – he then continues that this power not only can raise the dead but also was the power that exalted Jesus to be the king of the world.

    “…which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church… (Ephesians 1:20-22)”

    Paul says that by God’s power, Jesus has been places above any ruler that has ever been or that will ever be. In our fellowship we thought about how much energy, time, sacrifice, and work it took for the American colonies to overthrow the British monarchy in the 1700’s, and here we have the story of Jesus the Messiah over powering all of the rulers of the world and the prince of this age as well by the awesome power of God!

    That is very political, governmental and authoritative in my opinion! Paul perhaps also could have said, “king of kings, lord of lords,” or something to express the same truth – but add some vivid language to get us to understand Jesus’ role as well as contextually, that this power is what God is working in those who believe as well!

    Reply

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