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The Person of Jesus and the Kingdom of God


Bertil E. Grtner Theology Today 1970 27: 32 DOI: 10.1177/004057367002700105 The online version of this article can be found at: http://ttj.sagepub.com/content/27/1/32

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THE PERSON OF JESUS AND THE KINGDOM OF GOD


By BERTIL

E.

GARTNER

"In this essay we can only consider how the concept of the Kingdom of God was used before and after the resurrection. This comparison will shed light on the authority of Jesus) a crucial element in the origin of christology; and this comparison will help explain the shift from Jesus> proclamation of the Kingdom to the primitive church>s kerygma and its development of christology. We will find that there is a definite difference between Jesus> preaching and the teaching of the early church) but we will also detect a continuity between them in terms of the person of Jesus."
INCE Martin Kahler posited a distinction between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith> the relation between the historical Jesus and his teaching and the early church's proclamation of the Christ of faith has been a topic of theological discussion. Bultmann intensified the issue when he presented the problem in terms of a break between history and faith (d. W. Schmithals> An Introduction to the Theology of Rudolf Bultmann) pp. 207ff.). Jesus felt himself to be the last messenger, the decisive caller to repentance. The Kingdom is the power which meets man, as a call from God, through the preached word. This call was renewed through the kerygma in the early church. The "bridge" between Jesus and the early church, then, is the call to decision. It is not the person of Jesus who is the link of continuity but the call to de-

BertH E. Gartner, who was Professor of New Testament at Princeton Theological Seminary from 1965-1970, has just become Dean of Gothenburg Cathedral, an industrial parish in Sweden. He holds a doctorate from Uppsala University and was for several years a member of the theological faculty of that university. Among his many publications are The Theology of the Gospel of Thomas (1961), The Temple and Community in Qumran and in the New Testament (1965), as well as several books in Swedish.

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CIS lOn, the message (R. Bultmann, The Historical Jesus and the Kerygmatic Christ). The "New Quest" men of the fifties tried to show that there is more continuity than Bultmann admits. Kasemann, for example, stated with emphasis that Jesus taught with a new authority, never heard of before ("The Problem of the Historical Jesus," Essays on New Testament Themes, pp. 42f.). This claim to authority in his teaching of the inaugurated Kingdom is an important link between the historical Jesus and the Christ of the church that never can be nullified without ending up in docetism. This link of continuity, however, is the preaching and the message; the important thing is not the person of Jesus (ibid., p. 46). Bornkamm made a similar statement, typical of a large group of scholars, when he described the difference between the historical Jesus and the preaching of the church as "Jesus Christ, who proclaimed the Kingdom of God, . . . became the one proclaimed; the one who called to faith, became the content of the faith" (Jesus of Nazareth, p. 188). Thus "Jesus" is said to be the necessary link of continuity. But it is not a question of the person of Jesus. It is rather the exousia that Jesus possessed which became a starting point for the new understanding of Christ in the church. The characteristic idea, then, of many of these scholars is the attempt to establish a continuity between Jesus and Christ through emphasizing the proclamation or the teaching of Jesus. It is the message that connects Jesus with the Christ of faith, and not the person. On the other hand, there are the scholars who see Jesus' use of christological or messianic titles (showing his interpretation of his ministry) as the link between him and the church's faith in Christ. The christology of the early church has its roots in Jesus' own messianic self-consciousness which was reflected in his identification of himself with the Son of Man and/or the Servant of the Lord (see, for example, W. Manson, Jesus the Messiah, and O. Cullmann, The Christology of the New Testament). This idea is, of course, rejected by those who deny that Jesus ever used any messianic titles. They assert that he never identified himself with the Messiah, the Son of Man, or the suffering servant (R. Bultmann, E. Kiisemann, G. Bornkamm). He never expressed an interest in his own person. Christology, therefore, belongs to the post-resurrection church and could not have existed before the crucial events of the kerygma took place.
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This debate is, of course, not yet finished, and the complicated material has not yet yielded any definite answer. But the problem of the continuity between the historical Jesus and the faith of the church can profitably be approached in other ways. We propose to do it by studying the concept of the Kingdom of God. It is easy to show that one can discuss christology, that is, the principal elements which form the basic content of the later christological titles, without referring to specific titles. For example, John the Baptist asked Jesus, "Are you he who is to come or shall we look for another?" (Matt. 11: 3). Jesus' answer does not contain a single messianic title but is, nevertheless, a rather important messianic interpretation of Jesus' ministry: "Go and tell John what you hear and see. . . ." Jesus' ministry is thought of in terms of Isaiah's promise of the characteristic signs of the messianic age, namely, what a man could both see and hear, what is already being manifested through him. The same could be said about Jesus' casting out the demons with the help of "God's finger" (Lk. 11: 20). "But if it is by the finger of God that I cast demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you." The power of the inaugurated Kingdom is at work in and through Jesus, an idea that has farreaching consequences for a christological interpretation. In this way, it may be possible to avoid the deadlocked discussion of the messianic titles and to present interpretations of important elements of christology without reference to specific titles. In this essay we can only consider how the concept of the Kingdom of God was used before and after the resurrection. This comparison will shed light on the authority of Jesus, a crucial element in the origin of christology; and this comparison will help explain the shift from Jesus' proclamation of the Kingdom to the primitive church's kerygma and its development of christology. We will find that there is a definite difference between Jesus' preaching and the teaching of the early church, but we will also detect a continuity between them in terms of the person of Jesus.
I

Jesus' claim to authority is a is a common basis in today's tinuity problem. If we look Jesus in the synoptic material,

useful point of departure because it discussion of the continuity-disconat expressions of this authority of which is not too heavily influenced

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by the christological thinking of the post-resurrection church, we find, among many aspects worthy of mention, the following five. First, there is Jesus' forgiveness of sins. Even though the instances in the gospels of Jesus forgiving sins are rare, several traditions present Jesus as the one who opened the Kingdom for sinners, and that includes forgiveness. The authenticity of a saying of Jesus such as Mark 2: 10, "The Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins," can be evaluated in different ways. We will not discuss whether the title Son of Man was used by Jesus or not, but in my opinion nothing rules out the possibility that this saying expresses explicitly what was an important element in Jesus' claim to authority, an authority not always presented explicitly in terms of messianic titles. The same authority came to expression when Jesus invited to a meal those who were condemned as great sinners, sharing with them the blessings of the Kingdom. Jesus' eating with sinners was another side of his authority to forgive sins (Mk. 2: 15f.; Lk. 7: 39, 14: 13,21). According to Jewish theology, God was the only one who had the authority to forgive sins. How then could Jesus act in the place of God? Did he do so because of the essence of his person, the one appointed by God to be Son of Man or Son of God, or did he do so because of his vocation to announce the coming Kingdom? Is it a question of his essence or his function? The answer to this question is found in Jesus' relation to the Kingdom. Repentance and forgiveness were signs of the Kingdom at work. When the Kingdom comes, many Jews said, forgiveness comes, because without cleansing and forgiveness man cannot enter the Kingdom. The Kingdom is God's final offering of forgiveness. Therefore, when Jesus approached those who were excluded from forgiveness because of the scribes' interpretation of the Torah, he offered them a new communion with God in the Kingdom, symbolized for example, by the breaking of bread together. Here Jesus acted in the place of God. Could Jesus offer forgiveness because he represented the Kingdom or could he do so because he was the Son of Man or the Son of God? These messianic titles were not combined in their original Jewish contexts with the idea of forgiveness. But the Kingdom certainly was. God had been active in many prophets and also in John the Baptist. What then was peculiar about Jesus?
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He represented the Kingdom, because in him the Kingdom began to manifest itself in a unique way as the beginning of God's final action. He had a unique authority. The Kingdom can be explained as God's abode, presence, God's blessings,t and it was this kind of Kingdom Jesus represented. The reason for Jesus' words and deeds was the Kingdom; he had his authority from the Kingdom. Second, Jesus considered himself to be greater than Moses. Moses was not considered to have authority over the Torah; his authority was based on the Torah. Jesus claimed to have an authority that surpassed that of the elders. He also considered himself to be greater than Moses because in his teaching he substituted his own interpretations for those of Moses. When he broke the laws of purification and of the Sabbath, or when he rejected the traditional interpretations of marriage, fasting and prayer, oath and retaliation, or sin and righteousness, he claimed an authority unsurpassed by anyone but God. From where did Jesus get such authority? I think that part of the answer lies in the fact that he represented the Kingdom and hence put the Kingdom above the Torah. When the Jew recited the Shema> he meant to take the yoke of the Kingdom on his shoulders by keeping the law. God's reign occurred when he submitted himself to the Torah, and by doing this he did not establish the Kingdom on earth but was part of the process inaugurating the Kingdom. The Kingdom of God was therefore thought of as a Torah-structured Kingdom. The Kingdom proclaimed by Jesus, on the other hand, has a non-Torah structure. It meant, among many other things, that the Kingdom represented another righteousness than that coming from the Torah. Jesus taught the "way of God" or the "way of righteousness," a new understanding of God's Kingdom and of the conditions of entering the Kingdom. The Kingdom could not be earned, but it was a gift. What Jesus called "righteousness," "mercy," "love for one's neighbor" was an expression of a new interpretation of what the Kingdom meant. In numerous gospel traditions we find Jesus in conflict with the rabbis because of this new interpretation of the Kingdom. Because Jesus represented the Kingdom, he could break the regulations of the elders when he found that they did not correspond to the grace of the Kingdom. The rich man, children, tax-collectors, lepers, and
1 S. Aalen, .. 'Reign' and 'House' in the Kingdom of God in the Gospels," New Testament Studies, No.8, 1961/62.
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many others were the object of Jesus' concern because he believed the Kingdom to be grace and mercy, not excluding anybody who repented. Jesus' authority did not grow out of a vocation to be an outstanding rabbi or a prophet or even the Son of Man or the Messiah, but it came from his self-consciousness of representing the Kingdom. He did not simply take over some traditions about the Kingdom or create some new aspects of the Kingdom. He could teach and act against the interpretations of the Torah because he represented the Kingdom that was more than the Torah, a gift from God, a new communion with God. Third, Jesus had authority over demons. This showed that Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom, not only by words but also by deeds (cE. E. Kasemann, ibid., pp. 34, 41). Casting out of demons was an act of the greatest importance in Jesus' ministry because it showed that Jesus' authority extended over the evil powers of this world. It was a common Jewish idea at this time that the end of the present age and the dawn of the coming age should lead to a final battle between God and the evil powers in the cosmos. The victory of God formed an integral part of the teaching of the coming Kingdom, and the gospel material reflects this. Jesus began this battle and was victorious (Lk. 10: 18; Mk. 3: 27). Where did Jesus get such authority? Not from the rabbis or other Jewish authorities, not from Beelzebub, as some believed, but from the Kingdom, the power of which was the "finger of God." "If it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come to you" (Lk. II: 20). The Kingdom was not at work through a message only, but in and through Jesus. Fourth, Jesus had authority as a judge. A common belief at this time in several Jewish groups was that the arrival of the Kingdom would lead to a judgment, the last judgment. Many of the Kingdom parables contain this motif. Wherever Jesus met a rejection of his proclamation of the Kingdom, he also spoke of the coming judgment. But this judgment was already at work. His woes over the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Scribes ("this evil and adulterous generation") grew out of this rejection. His judgment would then be confirmed at the final judgment (Matt. 12: 41-42). Jesus in his earthly ministry had the authority to represent the Kingdom in this judging activity.
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Fifth, Jesus himself is a manifestation of the presence of the King. dom. In my opinion, it is obvious that in most of the gospel material there is a strong future aspect to the Kingdom. On this point, Jesus' presentation coincided with that of contemporary Judaism. On the other hand, the gospels also contain traditions which emphasize that the Kingdom was already manifesting itself through Jesus. What I have already mentioned speaks in favor of this. Jesus' words and deeds showed that the Kingdom was already at work to a certain extent in the present age. Jesus represented the presence of the Kingdom, and this was the source of his authority when he preached and acted. If the Kingdom had merely been a future reality, Jesus would have been just another prophet preparing the way for the Kingdom. But now its presence could be seen and heard in Jesus' person. In summary, then, Jesus received his authority from the Kingdom of God, and he represented it on earth. He proclaimed the Kingdom in many ways: through his words, his miraculous acts and symbolic actions, his way of taking care of people. This means that his words and deeds were different aspects of one event: the Kingdom of God beginning to manifest itself. To speak, however, of the words and deeds of a man without emphasizing the man himself is an invalid separation of the proclaimer and the message. Jesus represented the Kingdom in his person and, therefore, one may say that the person of Jesus, his words and deeds, are all aspects of one thing, the Kingdom.
II

This close connection between Jesus' person and the Kingdom as manifesting itself is the root of christology. It is here that we will find a link of continuity between the historical Jesus and the Christ of the post-resurrection church. But the early church did not think that the Kingdom of God gave Jesus his authority, but the resurrection. His resurrection made him Lord and Son of God. Our question thus becomes: Is there any continuity between the Kingdom of God, proclaimed by the earthly Jesus, and the Christ of the resurrection? To answer this question adequately would require investigation of a vast body of material, which is impossible in this context. Therefore, I will limit myself to one small line of investigation, an examination of the few passages in Paul's writing which
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contain direct references to the Kingdom of God. There are only nine passages in the undisputed epistles of Paul that contain a direct reference to the Kingdom of God and three in Colossians and Ephesians. The following are some of the more important aspects of what the Kingdom meant in the Pauline tradition, aspects that are the same as those found in the gospel material which we have just examined, and they are here arranged in the same order as the five aspects of Jesus' authority already presented. First, "forgiveness of sins" or redemption through Christ is the way into the Kingdom of God. Paul makes it perfectly clear in I Corinthians 6: 9-11 that evildoers, immoral persons, thieves, drunkards, and other sinners cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. Some of the members of the church in Corinth had earlier been like these sinners. But through Christ they could expect to inherit the Kingdom because "you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God." Forgiveness is not a typical term of Paul's, and it is not mentioned here. But it is quite obvious that being freed from sins and being renewed by baptism and the Spirit were made possible through Christ, and that meant that they had received salvation and could enter the Kingdom. At the end of Galatians 5 Paul uses two lists, one for the works of the flesh and one for the fruits of the Spirit. After the list of sins he says that sinners cannot "inherit the Kingdom," and after the list of spiritual fruits he writes that Christians have crucified their flesh so that they could in the Spirit produce good fruits. Through Jesus' death and the gift of the Spirit the sins of the Christians were removed, and they were renewed and were able to live the new life of salvation. The way into the Kingdom went through Christ and the Spirit. In Colossians 1: 13-14 we find another reference of the same character to the Kingdom. The believers are transferred, it says, from the dominion of darkness to the Kingdom of his beloved Son, and this is possible because in him there is redemption and forgiveness. The Kingdom is entered through Christ and the fruits of his redemptive death (d. Ephes. 5: 4ff.). This corresponds to what was said about Jesus and forgiveness in the gospel material. But the change is obvious. Christ's death and the Spirit are now the means of and the way to forgiveness and
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salvation. What the Kingdom could offer in Jesus is now offered in Christ and the Spirit. Even though the terminology is different, the concept is the same. In both cases the person of Jesus is linked to the Kingdom, and his person is the means used by God to give man freedom from condemnation because of his sins. Second, righteousness through Christ comes as a gift. One of the leading motifs of Jesus' proclamation was that the Kingdom cannot be earned. The Kingdom is not a reward which rests on the performance of the deeds of the Kingdom. The same principle comes out very strongly in Paul's interpretation of redemption and salvation-righteousness as gifts from God through Christ. In contrast to the legalism and the stringent regulations among his opponents, Paul presents the Kingdom as something that "does not mean food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Rom. 14: 17). The same principle that the blessings of the Kingdom are gifts or signs of renewal is also behind other Kingdom passages such as I Corinthians 6: 9-11 and Colossians 1: 11-14. Third, there is victory over evil powers. I have already mentioned I Corinthians 6, Galatians 5, and Colossians 1 where Paul presents Christ as the victor over evil in terms of sins. A more important aspect of this victory in the context of this study is found in I Corinthians 15: 24. Here Paul presents Christ as the ruler of the Kingdom. He is the Lord of the Kingdom through his resurrection. The victory, however, is not yet completed. Christ must reign, but it involves a continuous battle against the enemies of God. When the final cosmic victory is won, Christ will give himself up to God together with the Kingdom. The link between this Pauline notion and the picture of Jesus casting out demons, defeating the evil powers, is evident. Jesus wins a victory over the demons because of his Kingdom authority. In the post-resurrection church he defeats the cosmic evil powers because of his resurrection authority. Thus a christologizing of Jesus' victory over the demons has taken place in the light of the kerygma) but the Kingdom forms a link of continuity. And in both cases the victory is closely linked to Jesus' person. Fourth, the Kingdom involves judgment. The gospel preached by the apostle sheds light on man's real situation in this world, on man's sins and his turning away from God. Therefore the gospel has an indirect function of judgment. According to Paul, this can
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also be expressed in terms of the Kingdom idea. No sinner or evildoer can enter the Kingdom or inherit the Kingdom until he, through Christ, is judged and forgiven and renewed (I Cor. 6, Gal. 5). The purpose of mentioning the Kingdom in this context was to exhort the Christians to be serious about their way of living, to allow the judgment to come now before the final establishment of the Kingdom. And the Kingdom meant judgment. Paul could refer directly to the Kingdom and the final judgment, as is clear from II Thessalonians I: 5, where the apostle speaks about the sufferings which now fall on the Christians already in this age as signs of the final, coming judgment which will precede Jesus' return as the judge with his angels. Even now the judgment has started, but the final judgment and entrance into the Kingdom are yet to come. Fifth, the Kingdom is present through Christ. The future perspective is clear in some of the Kingdom texts in Paul's writing, but Paul expresses several times the idea that the Kingdom is now present and manifest as well. In his critique of the inflated apostlesopponents in Corinth, Paul says that he is not only talking, using words as they do, but he also presents a gospel which is dynamis. And this gospel is a manifestation of the Kingdom; "The Kingdom of God does not consist in talk but power (dynamis)." It manifests itself as dynamis. It is interesting to notice that Paul chose this word as a sign of the Kingdom, because in other passages in I Corinthians it is used only for the dynamis of the Spirit (12: 10), of Christ (5: 4), of the word about the cross (1: 18; 2: 4), Christ as the dynamis of God (1: 24). But it is consistent with the Kingdom having a new focus, Christ and the Spirit. The Kingdom is not present only as a message, but also as a Spirit-Christ, dynamis. In another passage Paul criticizes those who put too much emphasis on food regulations, and he concludes, "For the Kingdom of God does not mean food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Rom. 14: 17). The three terms "righteousness," "peace," and "joy" are often used by Paul to describe the new life which the believers live "in Christ" through the Spirit (d. Rom. 15: 13). The Kingdom is already present and manifests itself through the gifts of the Spirit as righteousness, peace, and joy (d. Gal. 5: 22). A similar idea is found in Colossians 1: 9-14 where it is said that the inheritance of the Kingdom ("the inheritance of the saints in
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the light") is both something expected to come and already a fact. They now are living within the realm of the Kingdom ("He has transferred us to the Kingdom of his beloved Son," v. 13), and this means a new life in the Spirit (vv.9f). In the gospel material the Kingdom was said to be manifested through Jesus and his words and deeds. In Paul's writing the kerygma has changed the perspective of the Kingdom, but it is said to be present as the fruit of the Christ events. We have here another noticeable christologizing of the Kingdom idea. But the link of continuity is also here, connected with the Kingdom and the person of Jesus Christ. 2 Our investigation of what the Kingdom meant in Pauline tradition indicates the following. The authority of Christ emanates from his resurrection, not from the Kingdom. The kerygma, not the Kingdom, is now in the center of the preaching of the early church. But the concept of the Kingdom of God is not left out completely; sometimes the term Kingdom is still used. The Kingdom, however, stands for something new; it is understood in the light of the kerygma. The Kingdom is now combined with Jesus as Christ and Lord and Savior.

III
Now that we have considered under five concepts how the Kingdom was understood before and after the resurrection, we may draw out the results of our investigation. The crucial thing is that what the Kingdom stood for in the preaching of Jesus remains essential in the new teaching of the church. Forgiveness, righteousness, judgment and mercy, victory over the evil powers, and the present dynamis of the Kingdom were essential for Jesus' preaching and acting. They were manifested through the person of Jesus and his
2 One minor observation could be added. The Kingdom is in Paul's writing both God's and Christ's Kingdom, which also reflects the change due to the kerygma. In the gospels the Kingdom is not characterized as ruled by Jesus. The expression in Matthew 13: 41 and 16: 28, "The Kingdom of the Son of Man," and similar formulations in Luke ("his Kingdom," 1: 33; 22: 30; 23: 42) are later reflections. They are similar to what we find in passages like Colossians 1: 13, where the Kingdom is called "his (God's) beloved Son's Kingdom," an idea that reflects a developed christology such as that of the Christ hymn that follows this verse; d. Ephesians 5: 5. Otherwise the Kingdom can be spoken of almost as a parallel to the realm of "being in Christ." In Galatians 5: 21 Paul writes that the righteous will inherit the Kingdom. Later in the same section, v. 24, he talks about "those who belong to Christ." The two expressions sound much like parallels, even though one stresses the future and the other the present. Here we have a sign of how the Kingdom idea could fade away and be replaced by a completely Christ-centered expression such as "in Christ."
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authority, as he represented the Kingdom. They were likewise present in the church through the same person who now is Christ and Lord. This means that the kerygma shed new light on and added new dimensions to the five concepts we have discussed. But we should observe that the Kingdom of God forms a link of continuity, not just as a message but as a present dynamis through the person of Jesus now known as the resurrected one. The Kingdom is linked to the person of Jesus and cannot be separated from it. In my opinion, this indicates that a number of the first theologians of the early church were aware of the problem of continuity and tried to solve it in terms of a christologized Kingdom. Most of the material in Paul to which I have referred seems to be old formulas or at least to reflect old traditions. This indicates that the concept of the Kingdom was still connected to the kerygma in the post-resurrection church. Later on, however, it disappeared and was replaced by other ideas like "in Christ" and "in the Spirit." Because of its political overtones the term basileia was not suitable for the church as it expanded in the Roman Empire. And when the term ekklesia came to dominate the vocabulary, the term basileia was limited to the Kingdom or reign of Christ in the new age. The conclusions drawn from the material we have presented indicate that when we discuss the origin of christology, we cannot limit ourselves to the post-resurrection church and discuss only the messianic or christological titles in the early church, or concentrate on what has been called with an ambiguous term "Jesus' messianic selfconsciousness." We must include the person of Jesus as reflected in his authority and representation of the dynamis of the Kingdom. Before we discuss the titles, we should try to find out more about the fundamental elements of christology. There were other important traditions which helped the church interpret the kerygmatic Christ, such as the Wisdom-Logos motif. But when we discuss the origin of christology and the problem of continuity-discontinuity, we should also be aware of the important role that the concept of the Kingdom of God played in the formation of the christology of the New Testament.

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