All people everywhere hold dearly to eschatological dreams. Jürgen Moltmann first made me aware of this, as he is very sensitive to the political ramifications and implications of doctrine. Through him, I started piecing through the political philosophy of Karl Marx, and discovered Marx’s frank admission that political hopes are but this-world treatments of religious ones. Secularists don’t talk about the Kingdom of God, they talk about utopias. (I’d always thought "Utopia" was just the title of a book without realizing that Sir Thomas More entitled his work _Utopia_ because it is one, it participates in the category of political dreaming about a better society. Also note Marx & Engel’s Socialism: Utopian and Scientific for a survey of utopias in political development from the middle ages to the 19th Century.)
Therefore, religious eschatology, rather than being the kabalistic science of radio preachers, is a powerful and important section of one’s personal and corporate theology which makes an impact in the everyday expression of life – and the same goes for those eschatologies which operate without God, or with many gods. Instead of ignoring and dismissing eschatology, which I’ve done for most of my life, now I sit up and pay attention! When someone starts talking about their eschatology, they are talking about their hopes and dreams, they are talking about their values and what is most meaningful to them. They are telling me about those things which are closest to them.
Second, I want to talk about the Kingdom of God as the rule of God and as a sacred rule. Again, over the last five years I’ve begun to understand the entire arc of the Bible as the story of the in-breaking Kingdom of God. This began when a professor pointed out to me that the substance and center of Jesus’s preaching is always the Kingdom. In other words, the central figure of the Bible makes the Kingdom of God the center of his public program. I read with great interest The Coming of the Kingdom, a rather thick book by the New Testament theologian Herman Ridderbos, and it changed my entire understanding of the New Testament and, with it, the Bible itself. The Kingdom of God, as it goes, is manifest wherever God’s rule is manifest; a complete product of the Spirit as it awakens human hearts to repentance and confession. But that isn’t the whole of it.
Just recently I read an article in this month’s Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (JETS). The first article, written by Dr. Greg Beale of Wheaton College, traced the exact same pattern as that traced by the now-familiar motif of the Kingdom of God. Yet, Beale never mentions the Kingdom. Rather, he talks again and again about the temple, ending his discussion with a treatment of the new creation as it is described in Revelation. That creation, he says, is a gigantic temple wholly inhabited and filled by God. [A later note: I wonder how Beale's temple-language mirrors N. T. Wright's theme of "the return of Yahweh to Zion"?]
The result over the last week has been a revision of this fundamental biblical theology encompassing both the inheritance, peace and rulership ideas of Kingdom with the sacred, priestly, life-giving categories of Temple. Doesn’t the Scripture say,” says my mind, “He has made you a kingdom of kings and priests.” Certainly, then, the United States or any other political power cannot by definition become the locus of Christian hope, for none is a temple.
That is where I have been going. If this priestly Kingdom is kept in mind, and thus informs a proper eschatology, I do not understand how anyone could fall for a theonomic utopia where, for example, justice is meted out according to stipulations in Numbers or Deuteronomy. It isn’t literal, but spiritual Israel which is being gathered in by the restorative missionary activity of the Spirit. It isn’t the United States which is the seat of the King of Glory, but the mountain of the Lord which cannot either be approached or established by human hands.
To miss this is to have fallen in with the utopia-makers, and to limit eschatological faith to political possibilities.
Kingdom of God; Herman Ridderbos; theonomy; dominionism; temple; Greg Beale; N. T. Wright; eschatology; utopia.