|Preterism and the "Kingdom of God"|
What is the relationship between the parousia of the Son of Man, the destruction of Jerusalem, and the Kingdom of God in preterist thought? The first involves Jesus' heavenly assumption of the throne in Heaven; the second was an obvious historical event which marked that assumption. But what of the "Kingdom of God" (hereafter KOG)?
Commentators in the past have noted the "already-not yet" tension often associated with this phrase; at times Jesus and Paul speak of it as something now present, at others as something future. Preterism I think finds a unique answer for this paradox, inasmuch as it recognizes the KoG as God's rule within the hearts of His people (cf. Jer. 31:33) as well as being a sort of realm that matches conceptually with what we popularly call "Heaven".
This is primarily an ideological rule, based in personal loyalty and obedience to YHWH. This is confirmed by Jerome Neyrey in Render to God, who writes that the KoG "describes how Father-Patron bestows the benefaction of power" in relationships with His clients . It is a Kingdom truly "invisible" on earth inside the hearts and heads of believers; hence Jesus could indeed speak of the KoG as present in some ways, as in the hearts and minds of his disciples, or in specific acts of his that advanced the KoG.
Yet because he WAS King in the KoG, and was yet officially enthroned as he would be at the parousia, there are also senses in which he could speak of the KoG as future. Put another way, the present kingdom in Jesus' day was the kingdom power, manifested in the prophetic voice and miraculous ministry, which is different from the kingdom rule, which is the final "ruling until he places all his enemies under his feet" (1 Cor. 15).
Witherington in Jesus, Paul and the End of the World (64) notes that this is in accord with Jewish perceptions that the KoG was something that arrived over time and as part of a process -- it was not, "whoosh, there it is" but "a process or a series of events that could involve the present." (Note in passing that "God" in "Kingdom of God" is NOT the personal name of God, but per usage of theos is a noun like "deity" -- so that one cannot argue that "Kingdom of God" means the kingdom is not Jesus' to rule over. This is in line with references to it as the "kingdom of heaven" [not personal] or as the Son of Man's kingdom [Jesus'].)
We will now perform a survey of cites in the NT that speak of the KoG in descriptive terms of when it will happen or has happened (this excludes many passages that speak of behavior in the KoG, or how it will be run, for example), and analyze them in terms of this preterist eschatological view.
Matthew 3:2 And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
This is one of several verses in which someone (here John, but elsewhere Jesus) speaks of the KoG is said to be "at hand". (cf. Matt. 4:17) In light of preterism these warnings to repent are invitations to join up, because the KoG is now "open membership" and it is time to take God up on the offer, for the Messiah is soon to take the throne as in Daniel 7. Keener [Matthew commentary, 116-7] points out that John's location in the desert suggest that he is saying a "new exodus will take place in Jesus....The meaning of John's location would not be lost on Syro-Palestinian Jews. Israel's prophets had predicted a new exodus in the wilderness (Hos. 2:14-15; Is. 40:3; later interpreters properly understood such passages as applicable to the time of Israel's restoration -- e.g., Ps. So.. 11:1).
Jewish people in John's day acknowledged this as the appropriate place not only for renewal movements but for prophets and Messiahs..." Thus passages like this which see the Kingdom as "not yet" look forward to the parousia enthronement, but also anticipate the "already" of persons joining by repentance and making the KoG a present reality to that extent on earth.
Matthew 5:3 Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 5:10 Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 5:19-20 Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.
Here the KoG is clearly seen as something based in one's ideology, behavior and beliefs -- all interrelated, under the rubric of Semitic Totality. If you are a certain way, the kingdom is yours! This fits precisely with membership in the kingdom being to those who have loyalty to (faith in) the Messianic King (who by our soteriology, imputes his righteousness to us).
Witherington confirms this, noting that Jesus and Paul "place considerable stress on the ethical prerequisites to entering/inhabiting" (67) the KoG.
Matthew 6:10 Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
The appearance here is one of "not yet" anticipating the formal ascension of the heavenly throne by the Son of Man, but it is also, in a "already" sense, a prayer for more converts. It is a prayer for success of the Kingdom's mission -- which is not only the formal ascension to the throne, but the ideological conversion of others, even at this time in Jesus' ministry in process.
Matthew 6:33 But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
If as far as each person is concerned, the KoG involves personal ideological conversion, this makes perfect sense: It is something we "seek" and means that we wish for God to rule -- and that can be done at any time whether before or after the ascension of the Son of Man to the throne.
Matthew 7:21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
Here again personal loyalty (faith) is seen as the basis for entrance into the KoG.
Matthew 11:12 And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.
This confirms that the KoG was a present reality from the time of John and something that was "already" in a sense that could be acted upon. The allusion may be to those who sought to inaugurate the KoG by military force, but is more likely saying that John opened the way and now Jesus the king is leading the people on it. (See explanation here.) The KoG is a movement, again, of personal loyalty.
Matthew 12:28 But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you.
Here the power of Jesus demonstrates his authority as king. He is not yet enthroned, but already he does express his power and therefore the KoG finds expression. Think of this as the destined king entering into and conquering enemy territory. He is not yet enthroned, but clearly, by capturing enemy territory and by his rule being a foregone conclusion, it is proper to speak of his rule as both "already" and "not yet" as circumstances dictate.
Matthew 13:24-30 Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field: But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way. But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also. So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares? He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up? But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.
The agricultural motif here and in the mustard seed and leaven analogies that follow (31-33) represents the KoG as a thing that starts small and grows -- and this is a perfect picture of an ideological or social movement, one that starts with us here on earth and which we continue to participate in after our deaths. It also illustrates the KoG as something present in an inconspicuous way (like a tiny seed or a little leaven) through Jesus' followers.
Note that these analogies do not reflect anything having to do with when and how the rule of the KoG would be enacted via an enthronement. The focus is on the "already" aspect.
Matthew 13:38-41 The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one; The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels. As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity;
Once again the KoG is linked with specific loyalty to Christ; the "children of the Kingdom" are his loyal followers. Note that this language parallels the "body of Christ" figures of speech -- the analogy allows the followers to be identified as the "kingdom" much as one might identity the people of America as "America" but also allows "kingdom" to refer to a political rule. The collective of people and rule would be tied together in the Christian group identity, as when we are also called the "body of Christ."
Matthew 16:28 Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.
The reference here is in this view to Jesus' enthronement in heaven -- he "comes" in his kingdom, which already has a foothold on earth with his followers. It is this sense which was "not yet" at the time: the formal enthronement of the Son of Man. Of course this is also able to be called God's kingdom as in the Matthean parallel, as God is not a proper name here as noted above.
Matthew 19:14 But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.
Children are humble and they acknowledge the authority of others -- they are loyal, as one must be to a king. Once again this indicates an association with ideology. So likewise the rich man and needle analogy (23-24) which relates to the rich finding it difficult to meet kingdom demands for belief and corresponding, resultant behavior.
Matthew 23:13 But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.
How would these teachers of the people prevent others from entering the KoG, unless it were something that involved an ideological conversion?
Mark 9:47 And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire:
In light of our understanding this verse would now tell us that such actions (hyperbolically, of course!) are what to do even if they are a barrier to one's conversion. The parallel is to the rich man giving up all wealth on earth to remove barriers to his loyalty to God (Mark 10:23-4).
Mark 12:33-4 And to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices. And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, he said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God.
Again: the man's belief determines how far he is from the Kingdom of God.
Luke 21:31 So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand.
Here the KoG is a "not yet" phenomenon -- and refers to the formal enthronement and "official " start of the KoG as the premier power in the world.
John 3:3 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
John seldom mentions the KoG, but this cite makes it clear that joining involves an ideological conversion.
Romans 14:17 For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.
1 Cor. 4:20-1 For the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power. What will ye? shall I come unto you with a rod, or in love, and in the spirit of meekness?
This is in perfect agreement with preterist ideas of God's kingdom as something indwelling believers -- and against the dispensational notion that the KoG involved a literal return of Christ in the clouds to rule physically on earth. 1 Cor. 6:9-10//Gal. 5:21 lists people with bad behavior as those who will NOT inherit the Kingdom -- and these are non-believers.
As Witherington puts it (57-8), Paul views the KoG "at least in the present as something that is primarily spiritual in character and effect, not material or physical. He sees it as having to do with the spiritual transformation of human beings in the present, not the physical transformation of the cosmos." However, Paul does "associate material transformation of both persons and world with what will happen on the future" when Christ returns at the resurrection (an event preterists see as yet future to us).
1 Cor. 15:50 Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.
"Flesh and blood" is of course a metaphor for human weakness. It thus says the same thing as other passages that stress you need to be changed to inherit the Kingdom. Here on earth we participate as the Spirit indwells us and acts as a "deposit" for the Resurrection body.
1 Tim. 4:1 I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom;
This "not yet" would match up with the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25, which as we showed here portrays Jesus on the throne following his parousia, executing his role as judge over the dead.
Other passages mention the KoG but are repeats of what we have already looked at. Our conclusion is that KoG phrases fit very well into a preterist scenario, and indeed, make far more sense of such cites than a dispy scenario which envisions the KoG as STILL future from our perspective.