The Gospel of the Kingdom (8)

9780736949149_centered_283x437The Gospel writers plainly want us to see that faith trumps force. The cross exposes Rome as “en evil bully who uses death as a weapon of fear and terror to dominate its subjects” (Heaven on Earth, 201). On the cross, in his horrific death, Jesus secures a real, cosmic and earthly victory over the kingdoms of this world without lifting a finger to defeat man’s greatest enemies–Satan and death.

On the day of Jesus’s death Rome believed it had prevailed against this Jewish “false” King. The disciples were defeated and discouraged. The resurrection was “the” great surprise and by it Jesus proclaimed his complete victory! The resurrection accounts, and especially the epistles of the New Testament, reveal a great change that came about as Spirit-filled disciples witnessed to the power of God working through the exalted and enthroned Jesus.

Streett is insightfully on target when he concludes his chapter on the present reign of Christ with these moving words:

When we think of King Jesus and his kingdom, we must avoid the mistake of separating his death and resurrection from his exaltation. They are all key elements of God’s end-time plan to restore creation. To preach Christ’s death and resurrection apart from his present reign is a truncated and false gospel. There can be no crown without a cross and no throne without a resurrection (Heaven on Earth, 223).

I love the way Alan Streett also follows this chapter on the present reign of Christ with a chapter titled: “I Pledge Allegiance to the Lamb.” Once again his simple, compelling use of image language is effective. What will surprise some readers is that he connects baptism in water, rightly so I believe, with this pledge to the Lamb of God. He summarizes this view as follows:

When we view baptism only as a rite of the church or as a public confession, we miss the more important eschatological significance as the act of initiation into the kingdom. The New Testament writers mention baptism more than 100 times, so we should view it as a core component of the gospel of the kingdom.

Just as the end-time Spirit indwells Jesus after his baptism, this same Spirit takes up residence in all kingdom citizens (Heaven on Earth, 238).

I am quite convinced that Streett is a Baptist, at least so far as his answer to the question about “who” should be baptized (i.e., those who confess faith in Christ properly are the proper recipients of water baptism, not infants). I am grateful, therefore, that he does not make the significance of the act of baptism to hinge on this question but rather precisely on the question the writers of the New Testament place it upon–its eschatological significance as an act of initiation into the kingdom. If we started all conversation about baptism here then the entire church would be much more healthy and we might stand a chance of hearing the importance of Streett’s point.

The final chapters of this excellent book deal with the church as “ colony and embassy,” rich metaphorical terms too often missed when we only use metaphors like “body of Christ” or “assembly.” These metaphors can all play a huge role in recovering the gospel of the kingdom in the modern church. The next to last chapter is titled: “The Kingdom-Focused Church.” The rubber of Streett’s kingdom theology really meets the road of the first-century church with a hard and moving reality in these words:

As a Christianized voluntary society, the church participated in a full meal and symposium. But instead of honoring Caesar and the Roman gods with libations and upholding Rome’s agenda of Pax Romana, believers lifted a cup to Jesus as Lord and to Yahweh, the God of Israel, proclaiming that true peace comes to earth only with the arrival of God’s kingdom. Therefore, in the first century all worship was political, and by the Empire’s standards, subversive (Heaven on Earth, 273)!

images-1Streett imagines a Roman citizen viewing a Christian church meeting that was gathered in a home in the ancient city of Rome. (I have actually been in one of the ancient churches. I sat for the longest time pondering what went on here over 1,900 years ago and what I would have felt like had I been there. A time of deep renewal went on in my soul.) Streett writes so wonderfully about this imaginary scene that I quote him without editing his words at all.

But if she [the non-Christian Roman] should linger a bit longer, she might witness an extraordinary manifestation of God’s glory as members utter prophecies, sing Spirit-inspired songs, pray for the sick, exhort sinners, encourage the suffering, read letters and Scriptures, and proclaim the good news of the kingdom. As she watches, an alcoholic neighbor falls to his knees begging for help and is raised a new man praising God. A crippled woman whom she recognizes is healed and stands to her feet. Witnessing firsthand the supernatural move of the Spirit, she decides not to report the group to the authorities, but knocks on the doors and seeks entrance for herself (Heaven on Earth, 274).

This, says Streett, is “what a kingdom focused church looked like in the first century.” And wherever believers gather today they can experience the fullness of kingdom life in the community of the kingdom. I have no doubt that many long for such life and some are praying, along with me, for an ancient-future faith that is deeply rooted in the gospel of the kingdom.

Streett finishes with the “future” of the kingdom, what will come when Jesus returns and “death will be no more.” He reminds readers that seeking utopia now is a mistake often made by well-meaning Christians but true hope drives us on toward the city whose builder and maker is God. He concludes:

One day the kingdom of God will become a reality, and when it arrives, you will not be disappointed. But even before it appears, you can enjoy many of its benefits. So I invite you to join the journey of a lifetime. Come under the reign of Christ and begin to experience the kingdom of God in the here and now (Heaven on Earth, 296).

This book is an excellent overview that would transform the lives of serious Christians who read it and discuss it with others in their own circles of fellowship. It is a rare book because it combines good scholarship with compelling and clear style. It correctly relates the good news to the kingdom and does this so clearly that I am sure most everyone who reads it will not be the same for having invested their time. Get it and read it. Pass it along. Start discussion groups. Ask the Spirit to open your heart to Christ’s kingdom message and the Spirit’s presence. Help lead a Spirit-driven recovery movement for “the gospel of the kingdom.”

 

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