The Kingdom of God And Education–Questioning The Ghanaian Church’s Perspective

Three weeks ago I attended the funeral of a cousin of mine in my hometown Gbi Kledzo, one of the towns of the Gbi Traditional area whose capital, Hohoe is currently under seige by communal violence. But don’t worry, today’s post is not going to be about the raging violence. Someday I will have something to say about that, but the time is not today. I’m currently reading JH Yoder’s “Body Politics: Five Practices of the Christian Community before the Watching World”, and his thoughts have resonated with something that bothered me at my hometown, and I can’t rest without writing these down. So here I am this evening, goaded on by Yoder to address the attitude of the church towards education and ultimately towards poverty alleviation.

I attended the Sunday memorial service for my cousin held at the local “branch” of one of the most influential churches in the Volta Region, and I did enjoy the vim and vigour with which members sang so many theologically sound and deep songs in worship of God. In spite of the conditions of poverty that abounded in their midst, their attitude of praise was indeed miles ahead of many mega churches, I must say. This church tradition’s music is something I do admire a lot theologically, but music does not make the kingdom; actions do. And I do have a lot of friends who are members of this church so I’m not mentioning names. The point however is that this problem really goes beyond this church I attended alone.  And so, I digress.

In the sermon, the preacher urged the members to be faithful in giving their weekly donations towards the building/funding of a university being built by the leadership of the denomination, as God will indeed bless them in this wise. Of course he made the usual run-around about offering and tithes, but that is a moot point if you are familiar with my view on these matters. Though this was not the greatest sermon I’d ever heard in my life, that was my point of departure, and my deviously fertile mind began to ask questions.

Seriously?

Seriously? Given the levels of poverty in this town, how many members of this church can actually be able to pay for their children’s education all the way to the university level? How many children graduate from the local primary school and even advance to SHS? What is the quality of education being received by the children of these church members to be able to compete with their colleagues in the big cities? Are these church members by virtue of their contribution to the building of this university going to get free tuition if by some miracle their children are able to make it past JHS? Is the church more interested in the empire building antiques of having a university in it’s name, or are they actually concerned about breaking the vicious cycle of poverty through education?

I listen to the political elite spew all sorts of propaganda about education, from making SHS education free to increasing enrollment through increasing capitation grants and school feeding programs, and none of them is tackling the cold hard issue – the quality of our education, whether free or not, abundant or few is simply going down the tube. And yet it is a universally accepted fact that it is better to have a smaller number of highly skilled people who are able to turn around and create wealth for the lower skilled people to benefit from, than for everybody to be illiterate. At the pace at which the world is advancing today, we must invest in bringing higher quality education to our children to be able to compete, to be able to break the cycle of poverty that exists in our communities. Instead today, quality education is the preserve of the rich and middle class, and that is the end of the matter. As usual with politicians, they have simply lost the plot.

Top Down, or Bottom Up?

And so when I see our Archbishops, Moderators, Presidents, General Overseers etc busily competing with each other to also build universities so they can put their church’s name on it, I’m indeed saddened. Are we interested in dealing with the problems at the root, or do we want to continue with the superficial window dressing, all in the name of empire building? If we are, then we must not be tackling the problem from the top (university level where it is always the easiest to do and we can make the most money to continue feeding the church elite) but rather begin to focus on the weak foundations (which admittedly is harder to do and will cost us more in time and energy, but whose effectiveness is well proven). If not, then I wonder what difference there is between the church and the political structures of the day?

Because as Jesus showed in Lk 4:18-21, his coming is the source of good news to the poor, the oppressed, the destitute and the imprisoned. Our unfamiliarity with the history of the times of second Judaism clouds our ability to understand Jesus in these texts. For his coming was supposed to break the oppression that was being meted out by the rich Jew on his fellow Jew who was in debt and had sold himself into slavery to repay the debt. As Ex 21:1-11 and Lev 25 showed, after 6 years of service, no matter how high the debt, people were to be set free. And after 50 years, all property sold as a result of poverty is to returned to the poor. But then as it is today, the heart of the rich in this world has not been very open to obedience to the word of God regarding how to treat the poor, and it’s not about to change anytime in this age and in this worldly kingdom.

And so if Christ’s coming is good news to the poor, how is the church using education as a tool to uplift the poor? How is building a university good news to the poor and oppressed in the Kledzo church, when their children will never be able to progress academically to get there? And who says that until a person is able to attend the university, they don’t have enough education to make a change in society? As my sister Priscilla put it at our church meeting this morning, “if Jesus is the head and we are the body, then we the body act out what the head has thought up. If not, we have become dysfunctional, and might end up in a mental institution, or at worst in the mortuary.”

And So

And so I draw on a familiar story around me to make the point as to the Church’s ineffectiveness and lack of imagination when it comes to being the bearer of good news;  I refer to the ability of someone from Norway to make millions from his business and give back to society not by donating to charities unknown or giving to the corrupt politicians in the government of Ghana to fill their pockets, but actually building a school to train software entrepreneurs in Africa. I refer to Jorn Lyseggen and to the Meltwater Enterprieneural School of Technology model only because here is a person attempting to deal with problems the hard way, but definitely the more effective way. In this particular circumstance as the popular saying goes, he has been more Catholic than the Pope, an effort worth commending.

The church has the greatest capacity to bring change in EACH COMMUNITY in which it is found, if it is minded to be faithful to its king and to his kingdom agenda. This is why Jesus said he will build his church, and the gates of Hell will not overcome it. The kingdom of God is amongst us, and we must not collect people to fill up our pews only to build empires to fill up the elite leadership’s egos of importance. The Messianic age has already began now and the violent enter it by force (Mt 11:12) – we must not tell the poor to wait till they go to heaven to experience it. That theology is totally pagan (i.e. Greek) and has no Jewish underpinnings whatsoever.

Are we building up those whom God made in his own image and has rescued with his own blood, or are we creating empires for self-glorification?

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Oh, So Were We Not Raptured? Or Should We Have Been?

Apparently there was supposed to be rapture on the 21st May 2011, as predicted by Harold Camping of the Family Radio Network. So if you are reading this piece, two things must have happened. Possibly, your sins were too many to warrant you a passport to partake of the rapture, or the more obvious thing happened – the rapture predictions of Mr. Camping were simply what they were; a failed weather forecast.

However in my interactions with most Christians, the generality of Ghanaian Christians do believe that there will be a Rapture of some sorts indeed. Their only beef is the attempt by the venerable [sic] Mr. Camping to put a date to something that Christ did not know and said we could not know.  Well, I do not only question the predictive skills of Mr. Camping, I want to go beyond that and question the premise of biblical support for something called “The Rapture” in the first place. So let’s try and push the envelope of eschatology and see what we get.

I will admit before I go on that there is so much that needs to be answered that I cannot answer in this post alone, and some which I (and many other Christians) don’t even know the answer to, given the symbolic nature of how apocalyptic hopes are described in the NT and other non-biblical but related documents. I will focus solely on the concept of Rapture, and leave the rest to our own personal research.

The Jewish Hope of Yahweh’s Coming

Again, as I’ve been doing in my previous posts, we cannot fail to overlook the fact that Christianity is the junior brother of Judaism. Therefore any attempt to understand Christianity on its own without a reference to the root from which it originated will be an attempt to create a caricature of our own idea of Jesus and his purpose for his people.

The Jews have always had a hope of God coming to transform this earth and set it aright, where he himself dwells amongst man and as a result Jerusalem will be the light to the rest of the world. Because of their special ideas about God establishing his kingdom and ruling from Jerusalem, they always considered themselves the royal people, and there was no shortage of boasting about this status. Take a look at Isaiah 65 and see how “different” it is from Rev 21.

“Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy.” (Isaiah 65:17-18 NIV).

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them’” (Rev 21:1-3 NIV).

From the above (and a host of other prophecies as well as a proper study of Judaism), their mindset of the earth was quite different from ours. The earth was not some damned place that we need to escape from and go to heaven – the earth is where the action is, because God’s intent is to dwell with men in a renewed heaven and earth. The Jewish mind understands that God is in charge of both the heaven and the earth and he created a good earth, but sin had blighted this earth. Therefore their hope and expectation was that God will come and renew this earth, and bring the wonders of that heaven in which he lives to bear fully on this earth, causing a fusion of the two. Unlike Greco-Roman paganism’s thoughts of the spirit leaving this corrupt world for the world of the gods (heaven), Jews believed that we will walk on a renewed earth in a renewed body (the resurrection body) and experience the joys of this earth with God himself. Unfortunately Greco-Roman paganism seems to have carried the day even in Christian teachings about heaven and earth. As Paul taught, our spirits only go to be with the Lord in heaven to wait for our other brethren and for the time when we’ll return to reign on this earth and God will clothe us with immortal bodies. The earth is indeed where the action is.

This hope of a new and renewed earth also went along not only with joy for them, but judgment for those they esteemed in their mind are “sinners” – Gentiles and those Israelites who were not “faithful” to the law as they interpreted it. This judgment was to be brought by the one whom God will give authority over the kingdom to – the one whom Daniel calls the Son of Man in Daniel 7:14 – the Messiah. Interestingly most Jews viewed it as a day of God vindicating Israel and judging its enemies, but the prophets Amos and Zephaniah were not so charitable to them in their claims of superiority.

“Woe to you who long for the day of the Lord! Why do you long for the day of the Lord? That day will be darkness, not light … Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream.” (Amos 5:18; 23-24 NIV).

“The great day of the Lord is near – near and coming quickly. Listen! The cry on the day of the Lord will be bitter, the shouting of the warrior there … I will bring distress on the people and they will walk like blind men, because they have sinned against the Lord” (Zeph. 1:14; 17)

In fact Isaiah 61 captures the spirit of what that day entails and what the Messiah will do – both on the positive – renewing the earth and bringing joy to “them that love his appearance” – and the negative – bringing “vengeance” to those that do not.

The Christian Hope of Jesus’ Coming

In a lot of ways there is very little difference between the Jewish hope and the early Christian hope of the return of Christ. To us Jesus is the Messiah, and therefore all the prophecy relating to the kingdom will be fulfilled in him. However, because this Messiah had already appeared amongst men and expounded specifically that his kingdom had begun; the early Christians did not only wait for the eschatological appearance of their king, but preached his current reign over all the earth.  Those of you who have read my previous post on “The Gospel of the Kingdom – Resurrection Perspectives” would be familiar with the point made by many contemporary NT scholars that Christ’s kingdom is both now and in the future. Therefore our responsibility on this earth as we wait for that future kingdom is to manifest the King and his kingdom’s character today on this earth.

The Origins of Rapture Theology

It will surprise you to note that the ideas around the Rapture event are very recent in history. Even a Wikipedia entry will educate us that there is very little mention of this idea of Jesus coming in two phases until the 17th century. Unfortunately this theology has been picked up and drummed up by a group of theologians called Dispensational Theologians. It’s wide spread began with John Nelson Darby, who was the founder of the Plymouth Brethren in England and went over to evangelize in America as well between 1859 and 1877. According to Ben Witherington III in “The Problem with Evangelical Theology”

“Darby showed up on the brink of the [American] Civil War, during the war, and after the war, right when many Americans were quite vulnerable to an escapist theology that promised they would not have to go through the great tribulation. The timing could not have been better for promulgating such a theology”.

This teaching was further spread by the popular evangelist D.L. Moody and his Moody Bible Institute and John Scoffield with his Scofield Bible. To promote this theology, the Dallas Theological Seminary was established in 1924, and there is no question why most of the popular Dispensationalists all went to, are associated with or claim influence from people who went there. In contemporary days, this teaching has led to popular “Left Behind” books and movies, picturing Christ coming to take the Christians away from this earth and leaving everyone else behind. From the preceding historical discourse, it’s not surprising that Mr. Camping is an American.

The Theology Backing It

This whole theology hangs on the somewhat misunderstood interpretation of Paul’s description of the coming of Christ in 1 Thess. 4:13-17 and 5:1-11. In particular, this theology has hang it’s boots on two phrases or words i) parousia – which means “coming” or more correctly “presence” and ii) haparzo – which means “caught up” and is the root word for rapture. As usual because of our penchant for creating theologies without recourse to context and history, we have presented Paul as saying in the above passages that there is coming a time when Christ will come and take us up to heaven, before he subsequently comes a second time to judge the world. Let us see if a little contextual background and further probing will not help clear up this confusion.

In the times of the Caesars – Julius Caesar, Augustus Caesar and his lineage – when the emperor visited any of his subject cities/states, this was announced beforehand by the sounding of trumpets (just like 1 Thess. 4:16 (KJV) For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God). Those who are the leaders of the city and all Roman citizens living in the city were mandated to form a welcoming party and meet the king outside the gates of the city (Just like Ps 24:7 (KJV) Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in).They then escort this king through the city gates into the city, singing his praises and declaring “peace and security” in the name of that emperor (Just like 1 Thess. 5:3 KJV –For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape”).

Those with a keen eye will also notice that this sequence of events is very similar to the triumphal entry of Christ into Jerusalem on his colt. It will be noted also that the book of Psalms is full of such imagery related to the Messianic King. In fact, these practices of subjects welcoming their kings were very common in ancient times, and the Roman emperor was no exception. Of course, the emperors probably demanded even more courtesy, pomp and pageantry for the emperors actually declared themselves gods in every right.

Most people do not take into account the fact that at some point, Thessalonica was historically quite a respected city in Greco-Roman times. Paul’s ministry in Thessalonica was indeed a dangerous one, for already in Act 17:7, Paul had been accused of “defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus”. Therefore there was no doubt that the Christians in Thessalonica were under a lot of persecution for their defiance of Caesar and declaration of Jesus as king. Therefore it is natural that having lost some of their members to persecution, they’d be worried if their dead brethren will be able to partake of the “parousia” of Christ and therefore wrote to Paul to find out the fate of those who’d died.

The Thessalonians may have been Greeks and didn’t know that the OT had the same concepts, but they definitely understood “parousia” of Jesus not in “rapture to heaven”, but welcoming king Jesus into the city – in this case onto this earth. Hear the New Testament writer Ben Witherington III:

“ Paul’s Thessalonian audience may have missed some of the allusions to the OT, but they would not have missed the language used here about a royal visit, indeed an imperial visit. They would remember the visit of Pompey and later Octavian and others in the days when Thessalonike could even be talked about by Pompey as the capital in exile.”

It is instructive to note that although v 17 says Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord” – it does not say that we will then go on to heaven. It only says that we will be with him. Are we just going to be hanging with him in the skies, or as a kingly visit denotes and as the context clearly shows, we will come down with him to show the rest of the world this King we’ve been making a big fuss about all along? This king whose kingdom we’ve been building on this earth through love and self-sacrifice for one another?

Conclusion

“The Ascension of Jesus and the Second Coming are nevertheless vital Christian doctrines, and I don’t deny that I believe some future event will result in the personal presence of Jesus within God’s new creation. This is taught throughout the New Testament outside the Gospels. But this event won’t in any way resemble the Left Behind account.” –  NT Wright, Eminent NT scholar in “Farewell to the Rapture”

I don’t want to go beyond 4 pages on my word processor, so I’m forced to cut short the discourse. However, is our gullibility in respect of “rapture” not a reflection of the fact that we haven’t understood what the Kingdom of God/Heaven – which appears more than 50 times in the Gospels – truly means? And if we haven’t understood it, then whose kingdom are we building – ours?

The Gospel of The Kingdom: Resurrection Perspectives

Easter has just passed us and gone, and it definitely afforded us the time to reflect on the impact of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. So I want to share my reflections on this period, with particular emphasis on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. One of the eminent NT scholars of our time, Nicholas Thomas Wright, has been challenging my notions of the implications of Christ’s resurrection in his book Surprised by Hope, and I cannot but share them with us all.

We have all read and re-read some of the recorded instances of public preaching in the book of Acts. However, a little bit more attention to detail will show that one of the continuous themes that most Christians have missed (simply because most of the preaching of the gospel we hear misses it too) was the importance of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. As we already know, the word “gospel” means “good news”. Now look at how the “good news” always included the resurrection in the ff passages.

“Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, the he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact” (Ac 2:31-32 NIV) – Peter preaching the gospel on the day of Pentecost

“We tell you the good news; What God promised our fathers, he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus …” (Ac 13:32 NIV) – Paul preaching to the Jews & God-fearers of Psidian Antioch

“A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to dispute with him. Some of them asked ‘What is this babbler trying to say?’ Others remarked, ‘He seems to be advocating foreign gods.’ They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.” (Ac 17:18 NIV) – Paul preaching in Athens.

Before we go on, it is important to note that most Jews of the time of Jesus and the apostles sided with the Pharisees on the belief that one day there will be a general resurrection of the dead. This belief is echoed by Martha when Jesus said her brother Lazarus will rise again in Jn 11:24. And by resurrection they don’t mean the spirit rising and the body being left behind, as Greco-Roman influences have changed the Christian message over the years. Resurrection was meant to be just like Christ’s own – a resurrected body being a fusion of the spirit and a transformed body that can be recognised, seen, and touched, but can also enter rooms without opening doors (1 Co 15:35-44). The idea that the body is a corrupt thing which must be left behind for the purified soul/spirit to go to heaven is totally pagan Greco-Roman philosophy which has been imported into Christianity, and works against everything that Judaism and it’s younger brother early Christianity taught about resurrection.

We are familiar with the Jewish belief in a Messiah who was supposed to come and rescue Israel from it’s assailants (Is 40) – at the time of Jesus their political assailant was the Roman Empire. According to Ps 72 (especially v 8), Ps 47 and other OT passages, this Messiah will not only rule over Israel, but also over the whole world. In the light of all of this, why is Jesus’ Christ’s resurrection so important that the delivery of the apostle’s gospel to unbelievers always included mention of the fact that Jesus Christ was resurrected?

Christ’s Resurrection Was a Repudiation of the Earthly Powers

At the time of Jesus Christ and the apostles, the Roman Empire revered it’s dead emperors as gods that needed to be worshipped. Overtime however, the living ones coveted this honour, and declared themselves gods as well. These emperors had their images placed in temples of all the cities they’d conquered, forcing everyone to worship them. However none of the emperors in all their vanity, ever died and resurrected. However, Jesus had resurrected. That is why Paul says God has given the world proof that Jesus will judge the world by “raising him from among the dead” when he was talking to the Athenians.

To therefore declare Jesus as the king of the world was not a simple matter, because Paul was definitely challenging the Roman emperor. With this background then, it is very easy why Paul will be accused of treason whiles in Thessalonica in the ff:

These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here … They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus” (Ac 17:6-7)

According to the German historian, Ethelber Stauffer, the religious principle of the Roman Empire, from the days of Augustus on, was salvation by Caesar: “Salvation is to be found in none other save Augustus, and there is no other name given to men in which they can be saved”. Now, tell me how different this is from what Peter said in Ac 4:12? In the same way, tell me how different this is from our blindness to the political systems of the day including democracy, which claim to be the solution to men’s problems? The resurrection of Jesus was truly a political statement (not just a spiritual one), and a treasonous one at that.

If Christ is indeed the king of this world, shouldn’t Christians be reconsidering their die-hard following of earthly political powers, since salvation is indeed to be found only in Christ?

Christ’s Resurrection Commissions Us to Build His Kingdom on Earth

To most Christians, our idea of the kingdom of God/heaven is a kingdom that will only come in the future. For now, all we need to do is to believe in Jesus Christ and go to church and “worship” him, all in waiting for the time when we “go to heaven”. But if this king’s kingship was all about a future kingdom, then there was no need for the people of Thessalonica to feel threatened by the declaration that Jesus is Lord (not “Jesus will be Lord”).

What has worsened this erroneous idea of “worship until he comes” is a misunderstanding of passages like Phil 3:20-21 where Paul says “our citizenship is in heaven”. Most people have miscronstrued it to mean that we are meant for heaven, so we have no role on this earth except waiting for Christ (and thereby the purpose of church is to save more people for heaven, and that the church is just an association of the saved). However, the Philippian recipients would have understood what Paul said quite differently. Philippi was a Roman colony. Augustus had settled his veterans there after the battles of Philippi (42 BC) and Actium (31 BC). This was done to spread the rule of the Roman empire, as well as to prevent overcrowding of Rome with old veteran soldiers. Therefore most of these people were Roman citizens by default. Paul is only using the same imagery of Roman citizenship that they are very familiar with to show them who they were to God and what their purpose was – God is using them, citizens of heaven, to establish and extend his kingdom over this earth until he comes, just like Augustus was using them to spread the Roman empire.

Paul spent the longest chapter he’d ever written of his epistles on the topic of resurrection in 1 Cor 15, yet he did not conclude that because we are going to be resurrected, we should cross our legs and go to sleep – he rather says that we should stand firm and not be moved, because our labour is not in vain (v 54). What labour could that be? Believing in Jesus so we can go to heaven? I think you’ll agree that there’s very little “labour” involved in that.

Christ’s Resurrection & Kingship Shows Us the Way of His Kingdom

But if we are to build his kingdom, we are to build it as he wills it and with the methods and means he has shown us – with love and self-sacrifice. Many people have sought to “establish the kingdom of Christ” by using the same tools and methods that the world uses in establishing itself – violence, laws, discrimination, nationalism, political systems, bureaucracy and abuse of authority etc. But the author of the gospel of John spent chapters 13 to 17 laying down the true markers of Jesus’ kingdom (some scholars say the Gospel of John was indeed written by Lazarus, being likely to be the “disciple Christ loved”, and the evidence is rather interesting, see Jn 21:22-24) . He begins with Jesus’ washing of his disciples’ feet and the call to self-sacrifice for one another (Jn 13:13-17), to love for one another (Jn 13:34), to laying down our lives for one another (Jn 15:13), to the work of the Holy Spirit in showing us the will of the Father, to praying to the father that they may be one in community with each other (Jn 17) just as he is in community with the Father in the Trinity.
These standards are standards that the earthly political systems will never be able to live by, being driven by greed, power, pride and divided interests. This is why it is amongst them that claim to be part of this kingdom inaugurated by the King who is superior to Caesar (here referring to all socio-cultural and political ideologies) that we are supposed to see these virtues alive. If our king is truly alive now (and not just in the future), then we have a responsibility to make his kingdom’s impact felt through his way, not our way. And yet there is much to be desired amongst us believers, for predominantly we prefer the means of the world in achieving the purposes of our king. Any other way apart from his, and we are simply building our personal kingdoms and not his eternal one.

It Shows Christ’s Victory Over Death and the Coming Judgement

Then as now, the number one tool that can be used to threaten a people into submission is the fear of death. Just look right now at what Ghadaffi is doing in Libya, and you’ll know why that is. However, when a people see death as only an inconvenience because they will rise again (not just their spirits alone), they are not afraid to stand before those who do evil and condemn them. Unfortunately Christians have been trained to think that death is a good thing, because it is the means by which we “go to heaven from this evil world” anyway. Hear NT Wright

A piety that sees death as the moment of ‘going home at last,’ the time when we are ‘called to God’s eternal peace,’ has no quarrel with power-mongers who want to carve up the world to suit their own ends.”

And this state of affairs is clearly played out in the relationship between Jesus and the Pharisees on the one hand and the Sadducees on the other. Though Jesus seems to be quite critical of the Pharisees, he tended to agree more with them than with the Sadducees for good reason. According to NT historian FF Bruce’s “New Testament History”, the Sadducees were the council of priests who run the temple. At the time of Jesus the high priest was no longer appointed from the family of Zadok, descendant of Aaron, but chosen by the Roman authorities dependent on ones political connections and or how much bribe one could pay. They were therefore more interested in oppressing the people, the upshot of which was their resistance to the idea of resurrection, because resurrection was tied to judgement. This is very similar to the reaction of the Athenians regarding the ideas of resurrection and judgement in Act 17:31-32.

How different is this reaction against the idea of resurrection from those of world leaders from communists to democrats who abhor the idea of resurrection and judgement – simply because what they do with their political leadership tenures today has implications?

Conclusion

There are so many implications of Jesus’ resurrection  that NT Wright talks about in arguably his most popular book, “Surprised by Hope”, which I can’t cover for lack of space. But one of the points which I cannot conclude without mentioning is what resurrection means to our concept of salvation. If Christ’s resurrection is about declaring him king of now and in the future, then the purpose of my salvation is not just my personal deliverance from sin, but my inclusion into that community of people who are making his kingdom felt on this earth until he comes. I have written elsewhere about the problem with our individualistic eyeglasses through which we read and practice the NT, so I couldn’t help resonating with NT Wright on this point. To the early Christian, salvation was not only about them being saved, but them being added to the Lord (as correctly translated by the KJV in Ac 5:14) and to his community. Christianity is not centered on “my relationship with God”, but “my membership in the family of God”. This is why there are 58 references to “one another” in the NT. This is why Paul talks about “Christ in you (plural “you”) – (Col 1:27)” and “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” (1 Cor 12:27). One thing I’ve noticed is that when a person is the center of attention, their focus is on projecting themselves. If the center of attention is on the group that he belongs to, then their focus is on projecting that group. As the Americans say, we pick our poison, and contemporary Christianity has obviously picked the former, so today we are bearing the fruits in individualisim and personal prosperity/breakthrough seeking over communal advancement and sacrifice for one another. But the problem started long ago, and today’s fruits are only latter day manifestations.

The implications of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and his claim to kingship of the world both now and the future are seriously challenging on multiple fronts. We have a lot of restating of our message and purpose to do because the resurrected king and his kingdom is already amongst us.

Vicit Angus Noster Eum Sequamur – Our Lamb has Conquered, Him Let us Follow

Inheritance! What Inheritance?

This article is available in pdf format here

I don’t know how many of us actually have actually taken time to digest Galatians 3, but it is one of those chapters that made me go like “Wow!!!”. I believe it behoves us to go into the implications of the content of that chapter and how they affect the hope and faith we have, against that which God had predetermined from the foundation of the earth. We’ll start off by looking at a passage from that chapter.

The Gospel was First Preached to Abraham?

The Scriptures foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: ‘All nations will be blessed through you’” (Gal 3:8).

The first wow comes from realising that the gospel – the good news – did not originate from Jesus Christ on his earthly mission, but rather was in existence way before that, to the extent that it was preached to Abraham. Wasn’t the gospel about Jesus Christ? How did Abraham understand the gospel announced to him then, if there wasn’t as yet the one to bring it into fulfilment? The basis of our modern faith is Christ’s work on the cross that redeemed us from sin and brought us to the Father. But what was the basis of his faith? If “we who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith” (Gal 3:9), then how similar or different is ours?

The key to understanding this is found in the same Galatians 3, this time in v 16.

The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say ‘and to seeds’, meaning many people, but ‘and to your seed’, meaning one person, who is Christ” (Gal 3:16).

It important to note that in most of the passages in the NT where the word “promises” are used, it does refer to the promises God made to Abraham. In fact, most of the passages containing this word are misapplied in contemporary Christianity to mean some prosperity that God has promised for those who have faith in him on this earth, without recourse to what God has already told our “father of faith”, Abraham.

But back to the point. These promises were spoken to Abraham when God called him out of his father’s house in Ur. God promised to give a certain land through which all nations will be blessed to Abraham and to his offspring. He was to “take possession of the land”.

He also said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it” (Ge 15:7).

A Stranger in His Own Land. Promise Fulfilled? Not Yet.

But we find that Abraham lived in tents and as a stranger on the land even when he had finally arrived there. He never built a city, neither did Isaac nor Jacob. Even God acknowledged that fact.

The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.” (Ge 17:8).

The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day” (Ge 18:1)

To understand this stranger-in-your-own-land behaviour of Abraham, we have to ask why there is always the attachment of the offspring to the promises, and not just to Abraham, Isaac or Jacob alone. As Gal 3:16 says, it was because that offspring is not a plural one and no ordinary singular one as well. He is the Christ himself. Note that the Israeli nation, though they have inhabited the “promised land” for so many years, have had periods long of total exile from their own land. Indeed, they themselves continue to wait for a Messiah who will grant them total unconditional reign over that land and over the earth. And in that same wise, until that offspring has come, that land will never belong fully to Abraham (and to all who are heirs with him of that promise). It is this offspring who shall bring the promise to fulfilment.

The writer of Hebrews does a brilliant expose on this particular issue in 11:8-10, and it is one that every child of Abraham, everyone who lives by the faith of Abraham, must continuously imbibe.

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as an inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign land; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to a city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Heb 11:8-10).

The inheritance of a city is what Abraham looked forward to, and he looked forward to it by faith alone. It simply wasn’t one he could bring about. Only God in all his wisdom and power could. And obviously he never gained this promise, but he determined to live like a stranger on this earth until that promise was brought to fulfilment by He who had made it. And he was not the only one who lived by faith in the promises, however all those who shared in this faith with him had one thing in common – they were looking forward to a country of their own.

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have the opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country – a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” (Heb 11:13-16)

So we see that Abraham and these men of faith were waiting for a city that God Himself will build,a heavenly city. What city is this city? Where is it and what is it like? The only city in the Scriptures that match this criteria is the New Jerusalem, described in Rev 21. I’ll encourage us to take the time and read all of it, but verse 1&2 of it says:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.” (Rev 21:11-2).

This was their inheritance, and everywhere that you see the word “inheritance” or “inherit” especially in the NT, you should have this picture in mind. This was their privilege and their honour – to be found in the city of God at the end of the age of men. Let us look at some examples.

As for you, go your way till the end. You will rest, and then at the end of the days you will rise to receive your allotted inheritance (Dan 12:13 – which was spoken to Daniel at the end of all the visions he received from God).

Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified(Ac 20:32 – Paul’s farewell to the Ephesian elders)

who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession – to the praise of his glory” (Eph 1:14 – Paul talking about the Holy Spirit the Ephesian disciples had received by faith).

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Heb 12:28-29 – speaking of their future inheritance)

He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son” (Rev 21:7 – declaration of God to John in his vision about the heavenly Jerusalem)

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the Kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world (Mt 25:34 – Jesus separating the sheep from the goat in his judgement on his throne of glory”

Note that inheriting this city is only an extension of the millennial reign, in which these same overcomers will rule with Christ over the whole world, physical and spiritual.

I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge … and reigned with Christ for a thousand years” (Rev 20:4)

Christ and the Inheritance

So then, did Christ teach about this inheritance of a kingdom, of an eternal city? Did Christ promise the reign in that kingdom (not just entry into it) to his disciples? What did Christ preach at all?

The stage was set for what Christ was to do on this earth even before he entered the world from Mary’s womb, when the angel appeared to her concerning the son she was about to give birth to.

He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; his kingdom will never end”.(Lk 1:32-33)

And so, Jesus carried the message of who he was and what he was bringing to us who believe in his message. Let’s take a look at what he preached at the very beginning of his three year ministry, right after being tempted by the devil in the wilderness.

From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near’” (Mt 4:17).

Jesus began by calling people to repentance. But you will observe that the call to repentance is not for repentance sake, but for a purpose – because of the kingdom. You see, the gospel has always been about the kingdom. It is not about Jesus’ death and resurrection, it is not about redemption from sin. It is not about healing and miraculous deed of Jesus, neither is is about healing us and providing us with daily bread. These wonderful themes aforementioned are the process through which the purpose is achieved – God’s ultimate plan of sharing the reign of the world physical and spiritual with His called out people (‘eklessia’ or the church) in a kingdom whose capital is the new Jerusalem – the one Abraham was looking forward to. The fact that the kingdom Abraham looked forward to is the same one Jesus has prepared for us can be seen in the light Mt 25:34 and other places, which states that the Kingdom was prepared for us “since the creation of this world” or “before the creation of the world” (Eph 1:4; 2 Ti 1:9). It is no wonder then that Jesus himself calls His gospel “the gospel of the kingdom”.

And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Mt 24:14)

It will interest you to know that there are more than 50 references to the phrase “kingdom of God” or “kingdom of heaven” in Matthew alone, not speaking of the other Gospels. In fact, when Peter was beginning to wonder what exactly they were following Jesus for, he got a clear and straight answer reminding him not of gaining repentance from sin and eternal life, but an inheritance in that Kingdom. He didn’t tell Peter of the process, for Peter was already part of those who were following me. He was telling him of the purpose – the kingdom.

Peter answered him, ‘We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?’ Jesus said to them, ‘I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel’” (Mt 19:27-28)

You see, the Jews have always been a strong-headed people who prided in their position as children of Abraham, children of the promise. And Jesus’ message never changed that promise, or made a different promise to them. Have you wondered why there are a so many of the parables which talk about the kingdom of God (“the kingdom of God/heaven is like ….”)? The Parable of the Weeds, the Parable of the Net, Parable of the Mastard Seed, Parable of the Talents & Pounds, Parable of the Wedding Banquet, Parable of the Ten Virgins etc? And neither did the Jews misunderstand Jesus’s message in relation to the promise, for they had come to know and believe he was the Anointed One, the expected king who was going to bring about the kingdom of God.

While they were listening to this, he went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once.” (Lk 19:11).

All this belief culminated in the Triumphal entry into Jerusalem described in the Gospels. In fact, the Jews of his day are the direct opposite of modern Christian – they had a good glimpse of the purpose (though not completely), but were completely thrown off tracks when Jesus expounded the process by which they may enjoy that purpose – repentance, faith and obedience to God through a renewed life offered by Jesus alone. On the contrary, we are caught up in different stages of this process, and I honestly cannot say that much for our appreciation of the purpose – the kingdom.

Implications of the Inheritance Life

If we are to be called true children of Abraham (Gal 3:7), then the examples in the life that our father Abraham lived should become cornerstones of our faith. And therefore it behoves us to look at certain characteristics of the life of our “father of faith”, that we may apply these to our own. Because I guarantee you that we cannot have it any easier than he had it and still be fit for the inheritance.

  1. Be ready to live like a stranger on this earth – As we have already established, Abraham lived as a stranger on this earth, this same earth that will be given back to him to rule over when Jesus returns. We as Christians cannot set our goals and priorities on what the worldly also desire. We must fully understand that although we are in this world, we are only waiting for our heavenly city and until Christ returns, we can only wait in faith and in His earthly representative’s power – the Holy Spirit. We should expect the world not to understand us for living like this, because they have not submitted their lives to the Holy Spirit that quickens us. If we endeavour to build our cities now, we will gain the world’s approval alright, but I believe I don’t need to state the obvious when it comes to God’s own.

  2. Be ready to suffer for your faith – Not because God hates you, but because as Frank Viola put it last week, God intentions grow the “human spirit but frustrates the soul and bids death to the flesh”. Between the time God called Abraham and blessed him, till the time he gave birth to Isaac was 25 years. It was such a long time that he was tempted to get the blessing through some other means – through Hagar. Of course that wasn’t God’s plan, but it shows us the importance of total reliance on God for the fulfilment of his own promises to us, something that our rebellious soul hates.

  3. Be ready to loose much for your faith – Related to the theme of suffering is loss. Here was Abraham, missing the company of family, friends and familiar settings. And these losses do not preclude the loss of the comfort of religious institutionalism. Just as Abraham was called out of his comfort zone, history has continuously shown that true spirituality does not breed well in the institutions of the day, which tend to exist for their own self-perpetuation.

    Also this loss could be also very personal. Take the case where Abraham was prepared to lose his son, knowing that God was capable of providing again through resurrection (Heb 11:17-19). Little did Abraham know that the real sacrifice was yet to come in the form of “the seed” – Christ.

  4. Become a friend of God – I’ve heard the popular song “I’m a friend of God”, and I’ve had cause to ask myself how I am a friend of God. We will all agree that friendship does not just form in the air. It is based on sharing a mutual concern or love or participation in something, and our friendship with God is definitely not about our interests, but His. If we are truly friends of God like Abraham was, we will be busy about building his kingdom, not ours. The one thing most important to God on this earth is the church which is to be the bride of Christ (if you doubt that, take some time to digest the book of Ephesians), and we better become active participants in building it, not warming its pews. Oh, and I don’t mean the church buildings, but his organic church, composed of them that that are gathered in his name.


If you study this gospel of the kingdom and it’s attendant Spirit produced lifestyle, it makes you understand the dearth of true spirituality in the church today. And it is not surprising, given the condemnation that Paul pronounced on those who preach any other gospel.

Conclusion

If you study this gospel of the kingdom and it’s attendant Spirit produced lifestyle, it makes you understand the dearth of true spirituality in the church today. And it is not surprising, given the condemnation that Paul pronounced on those who preach any other gospel.

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – which is really on gospel at all. Evidently, some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: if anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!” (Gal l:6-9)

Today, the gospel we hear keeps “motivating” us to build our cities on this earth. They keep telling us that what is good for the world is good for us as well. The pulpit has become the stage for teaching philosophy and management skills, all wrapped up with a semblance of Jesus Christ. Even though Paul reminds us to “set our heart on things above” (Col 3:1), we have woefully turned it upside down. As for those who keep to the reformist theology, they unfortunately only continue to harp on the processes as individual in their own right, and fail to see their connectedness to achieve that ultimate purpose.

Or is it because of this?

As for the prophets who lead my people astray, if one feeds them, they proclaim ‘peace’; if he does not, they prepare to wage war against him” (Mic 3:5).

WHAT IS THE GOSPEL OF THE KINGDOM?

In recent times, we (my family and some neighbours at home) have been looking again at what we mean by preaching the “gospel”. What is the gospel? It literally means “good news”, but good news about what? Is it all about redemption from sin and a place in heaven? Or is it the “prosperity gospel” of today? As for the latter I’ll reserve my shots at it for another post.

In one of our meetings, someone shared this with us “I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him. … For if someone comes to your and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily” (2 Co 11:2,4).

Further bible references led us to Gal 1:6-9 “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let be eternally condemned!”

Granted that the context of Paul’s statements were about practices of the Law which the Galatians, under the direction of some devil inspired Jewish Christian, were being deceived into practicing as part of the requirements for eternal salvation. However, we would all agree that Paul’s words are very strong here. So we started applying the question to ourselves, asking “what is the gospel we preach?” To put that in a better perspective, “what is the gospel that the Jesus himself and his apostles preached?” That way we can compare it to what we preach and know if we are destined to be “eternally condemned” or not. Suffice it to say that most of us have known the gospel to be that God sent Jesus to die for men’s sins. But is that really all that Jesus and the disciples whose example we are encouraged to follow preached as “the gospel”? “Follow my example, as I follow the example as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Co 11:1)

 

By the yearning for truth and the Spirit’s direction (who is a Spirit of truth) we have a better understanding of what the gospel of the kingdom is. Ac 13:32-33a puts it in a good light “We tell you the good news: What God promised our fathers he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus.” Hmm. What does he man by “What God promised our fathers”? Let’s do a little breakdown. When Jews refer to their fathers immediately Abraham comes to mind. The they speak of Isaac, Jacob, Moses and David. Let’s make a few observations from promises made to some of these men.

  1. God promised Abraham that his seed will inherit the land on which God had sent him FOREVER. Has that happened? Israelites have even been vamoosed from their land for time and again, being exiled in Babylon, Persia etc. Until 1948, the nation of Israel had ceased to exist. We can’t reasonably say this promise has been fulfilled. Ge 12,15,17

  2. Moses prophesied about a prophet whom we must listen to. (Du 18:15)

  3. God promised David that his descendant will sit on his throne and that his descendant’s kingdom will last forever. Again the kingdom of Israel has never lasted forever. 2 Sa 7:11-16.

  4. Does “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most Hight. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; his kingdom will never end” (Lk 1;32-33) not refer then to this kingdom promised to David and to the blessing of the whole world (Jew and Gentile) by the “seed” of Abraham?

  5. There are apparently 50 or so references to the phrase “the kingdom of heaven” in Matthew alone, not counting “kingdom of God” and other such phrases elsewhere. What did John the Baptist and Jesus mean when they said “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Mt 3:2; 4:17; Mt 25:34)? When Jesus said “kingdom of heaven” did the Jews only think he was referring to something in heaven or to “the promises made to our fathers”? To a Jew, what was the Messiah, the Christ supposed to come and do? Has Jesus changed it or conform to it?

  6. How does this relate to the Thousand Year (Millenium) reign of Christ in Rev 20. Does this not reflect a physical kingdom? How is this related to what Jesus promised his disciples in Lk 22:28-30, Mt 19:27-28 and what Paul states all over the epistles, an example being Ro 8:17?

  7. What about the new Jerusalem in Rev 21. Does it not signify a transition from an earthly kingdom after the Millennial reign to a fusion of the earthly and heavenly into a city of righteousness, fulfilling the “forever” part of the promise of God to the fathers of old?

  8. So then comparing what Peter preaches in Ac 2:14-36, Paul in Ac 13:13-52 and what we preach as the gospel today, is our gospel complete and speak the whole will of God – “For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God” ( Ac 20:27)? Did Jesus Christ just come to save us from sin or he came to restore to man the Kingdom promise and to being the co-heirs to the throne of that kingdom? If its just about redemption from sin, what does Paul mean when he says “It is because of the hope of Israel that I am bound with this chain” (Ac 28:20b)?

  9. So then come the harder questions follow:

    1. Isn’t redemption from sin only the beginning of the race, a race which can only be completed by proving oneself worthy of the reward of inheritance?(1 Co 9:26-27; 2 Ti 4:7-8;1 Th 2:12; 2 Th 1:5,11; Ro 8:17)

    2. If we are just to be going to heaven, what exactly are we to be doing there? (This caused a very staunch Christian friend of mine to stun me with the saying that heaven will be boring. Obviously he hasn’t heard the gospel of the kingdom and the glory attached to it, a glory of which I’ll be addressing in another post)

    3. Is what we preach really the gospel? Doesn’t preaching the beginning step as the will of God toward men and leaving the even more important part of service in obedience to be rewarded with a share in the throne of Christ, constitute deception and contrary to the will of God?

    4. Haven’t we brought condemnation upon ourselves by what we preach as the gospel today: a quarter baked one (Gal 1:9, Jam 3:1)? If we have been half preaching the will of God, is that to the glory of God or or the devil? Is what we preach from God?

I’m attaching a more detailed document: The Gospel of the Kingdom to this post which will help shed some light on this topic. Read this with a heart and mind that seeks to know and obey the truth. Then confront what you preach, whether it is in line with the “will of God”. Jesus says “Not everyone that says to me , ‘Lord, Lord’, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven (Mt 7:21). Does what you preach or have been preached to conform to the will of God for men in sending His son? Don’t be surprised if it isn’t, because much of the church today is clearly not owned by Jesus Christ anymore (Rev 3:14-22). If our foundation – the gospel we preach – is not sound, what else is sound about us? Don’t be scared, encourage yourself with this – “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” (Heb 11:6)

I’ll end again with Paul: “Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him – to the only wise God be glory for ever through Jesus Christ! Amen” (Ac 16:25-27)

Quotes are from the NIV version of the bible. All mistakes are mine please, not the bible’s :-).