In the Kingdom of God, the ends are the means

By the Rev. Corey Fields

When it was announced that the U.S. embassy in Israel would be moved to the hotly disputed city of Jerusalem, some evangelicals were ecstatic. Church historian Diana Butler Bass detailed the reason via Twitter:

“Conservative evangelicals…believe it [this move] is necessary…to regain control of the Temple mount. That is important because rebuilding the Temple is the event that will spark the events of the Book of Revelation and the End Times. …They’ve been waiting for this, praying for this. They want war in the Middle East, the Battle of Armageddon, at which time Jesus Christ will return to the Earth and vanquish all God’s enemies.”

By this view, to bring about the return of Christ and an everlasting peace, it is first necessary that violence, war and conquest take place. God is supposedly going to bring about an end that is different than the means.

In a Feb. 12, 2018, column for Religion News Service, Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church, Dallas, argued that exclusionary immigration policies are compatible with a Christian view of the world. While most people recognize that it is necessary for a country to maintain borders in some form, Jeffress takes it a step further.

“Although God’s children will one day live together without borders in the new world,” he writes, “that is not his plan for this present world.”

God is supposedly going to bring about an end that is different than the means. Does God accomplish God’s ends by different — and sometimes contradictory — means?

We could ask this question of several other areas of Christian thought and practice. Is God bringing us into one heavenly family later by excluding certain people from the full life of the church now? Is God bringing us into a future Kingdom where moth and rust do not destroy by giving us earthly wealth and prosperity now?

The Bible begins in Genesis with God creating the heavens and the Earth, and ends in Revelation 21:1 with the promise that God will make “a new heaven and a new earth.” As we read in between of God’s unrelenting faithfulness to God’s people in spite of their sin and rebellion, part of the message of the prophets was powerful visions of where this world is headed — what is to come when God restores and reconciles the world through Israel:

The mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established…and…all the nations shall stream to it. …They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more (Isaiah 2:2, 4; Micah 4:3).
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy (Isaiah 35:5–6).
The wolf and the lamb shall feed together. …They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain (Isaiah 65:25).
The Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners (Isaiah 61:1).

That last passage from Isaiah 61 is part of what Jesus read in the Nazareth synagogue and said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). In other words, this work, the inauguration of this kingdom of peace and justice, began anew with Christ. “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matt. 3:2). God is birthing a “new creation” and is “reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor. 5:17, 19).

So what we see in the life of Jesus, who was the full incarnation of God, is that this Kingdom has come, and this new creation is budding and hatching in our midst. The storyline of scripture is not a ticking time bomb for God’s destruction of the Earth but the creation of a “new earth.” Most Christians pray every Sunday that God’s Kingdom would “come” and that God’s will be done “on earth as it is in heaven.”

As Brian Zahnd put it in “A Farewell to Mars: An Evangelical Pastor’s Journey Toward the Biblical Gospel of Peace” (David C. Cook Publishing, 2014): “Christianity’s first apostles evangelized, not by trying to sign people up for an apocalyptic evacuation, but by announcing the arrival of a new world order. The apostles understood the kingdom of God as a new arrangement of human society where Jesus is the world’s true King.”

Therefore, as God’s reign comes and is born again among us, the ends and the means are the same. The reign of God is not a future reality for which we wait while God does something different for now. The Kingdom is now.

God is not bringing about peace by way of war. Peace is both the end and the means. We get to peace by way of peace. Peacemaking is God’s work now.

God is not calling us into one human family by leaving desperate immigrants and refugees outside the walls. Mercy is both the end and the means. We get to mercy by way of mercy. Mercy is God’s work now.

The stranger is welcomed now. We start washing each other’s feet now. We put stones down now. We stop calling down fire on our enemies now. We start sharing table fellowship with our enemies now. We feed the hungry, clothe the naked and heal the sick now.

After all, Easter resurrection is not only an event of the past but continues today. Resurrection is not only a coming reality of the future; it has already begun.

The Rev. Corey Fields is senior pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, Newark, Del.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.

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