Ordination Questions: Kingdom of God, Resurrection, Eternal Life

9.) What is your understanding of (a) the Kingdom of God; (b) the Resurrection; (c) eternal life?

Although there is a great deal of variety in United Methodist worship, I have yet to attend a United Methodist Church that does not pray the Lord’s Prayer.  Each week, the congregations I serve petition God asking that, “Thy Kingdom come, they will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  So what are we asking for when we ask for God’s Kingdom to come?

One of the central themes of Jesus’ proclamation was that of God’s Kingdom and its entry into our world.  In fact, Jesus seemed to suggest that in some very real way, God’s Kingdom had already appeared on earth in and through his ministry.  Still, Jesus urged us to pray, “Thy Kingdom come.”  God’s Kingdom, therefore, is located somewhere in the tension between what has already arrived and what is not yet here, or as N.T. Wright once wrote, “an ‘arrival’ with Jesus and a still-awaited ‘arrival’ which would complete the implementation of what he had already accomplished”.[1]  Unfortunately, the language of Kingdom is not as immediately clear as it was in Jesus’ day.  After all, as Brian McClaren points out, “where kings exist they are by and large anachronisms…” and, “When people hear Kingdom of God, we don’t want them to think ‘the anachronistic, limited, ceremonial, and symbolic but practially ineffectual rule of God’”![2]  Instead, we want to communicate the powerful, earth-shattering, life-changing existence of God in our world!  McClaren goes on to suggest some alternative possibilities to translate the meaning of Kingdom: God’s dream, the revolution of God, the mission of God, God’s dance, and God’s party.[3] If McClaren is right, then we need to search for new metaphors to talk about the way God definitively entered our world in Christ and continues to invite us to participate and join in with God’s purposes.  Whatever language we use, what began in creation and continued in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is still happening in our world and awaiting its fullness in the future.  We both anticipate and participate in God’s activity on earth when we follow the command of Micah 6:8 to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.

            The resurrection is the basis of our future hope as Christians.[4] I believe that resurrection is far more than someone living in our memory or the appearance of someone being lifted up as an example in some spiritual sense. Instead, resurrection is in a very real way a bodily event.  The preponderance of evidence in the first century and before suggests that resurrection was the word used to refer to someone who had died only to be found alive again.  Of course, we must state that there is both continuity and discontinuity between the body before resurrection and the post-resurrection body, as seen in the confusion of Jesus with a gardener at the tomb (John 20:15). After Jesus’ resurrection, this incredible event was interpreted by early disciples as the very turning point of history, pointing forward to the resurrection of the dead at some future point in time.  Christ’s resurrection was the entry of the end of history into first century Palestine. Bishop Tom Wright helpfully speaks about the theological implications of resurrection for Christians and the Church, “Tyrants and bullies try to rule by force, only to discover that in order to do so they have to quash all rumours of resurrection, rumours that would imply that their greatest weapons, death and deconstruction, are not after all omnipotent.”[5]  Therefore, resurrection is the power of God and the hope of the Church, which gives us the strength to carry on, even in the face of those who might injure us physically.  We may therefore submit ourselves to the One who holds the power of resurrection even in the face of great evil.

            In the New Interpreter’s Bible commentary on the Gospel of John, Gail R. O’Day writes about the famous verse, John 3:16, “Eternal life is not something held in abeyance until the believer’s future, but begins in the believer’s present.”[6]  O’Day’s comments are helpful in that they remind us that eternal life is not simply living forever on clouds and strumming harps.  It is far more than the authors of such works as the Left Behind series suggest, because our hope is not reserved completely for the future.  Our participation in the kingdom of God and faith in the resurrection give us glimpses of the eternity that lies beyond our vision and a share in eternity in the here and now.  While it is certainly important not to discount major themes of the Bible, which suggest an eternity beyond our earthly lives, I also believe this is a great mystery (a phrase that we shouldn’t be afraid to use!) which calls us to be faithful disciples as we live in hope and expectation of something we cannot easily grasp. 

[1] Wright, N.T. The Resurrection of the Son of God. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), p. 568

[2] McClaren, Brian.  The Secret Message of Jesus. (Nasvhille: W Publishing Group, 2006), p 139.

[3] ibid., pp. 144-147

[4] Wright, N.T. The Resurrection of the Son of God. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), p. 737

[5] ibid., p 209.

[6] The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume IX. 1995 by Abingdon Press

3 thoughts on “Ordination Questions: Kingdom of God, Resurrection, Eternal Life

  1. No worries! I’m finished and far under the wire – this was probably my longest answer. Later on I settle for answers like, “Maybe…”

  2. congratulations on being finished. I wish I could say the same thing. Though I am making progress… (and actually I haven’t read your responses, because I know they will be so good that if I read them I won’t be able to come up with my own answers… so I look forward to reading them when I am done.)

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