the problem with the two kingdom approach

Luther and the Lutheran theology which follows, advocates a two kingdom approach in which we as followers of Jesus are called to live as responsible citizens in both. For example, Paul would be a responsible Roman citizen, while at the same time being a responsible citizen of heaven, or the kingdom of God.

Part of the argument for a two kingdom approach would be that people must live in an order in which the sword of the state plays its part to restrain evildoers. Note Romans 13:1-7.

The problem with the two kingdom approach for us who are followers of Jesus is simply this: Jesus is Lord. It’s as simple as that.

Of course all Christians subscribe to that statement, but if Jesus’ Lordship means anything, it must mean that we are to follow his teaching (the Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon on the Plain are foundational in this). Which I believe denies that we are to give our allegiance to any earthly kingdom or government, including any that is supposed to be Christian. No, we are of a different kingdom, which may live in the kingdom of this world, indeed is in the world, but is not of it. We are to live out a countercultural life across the board, and yet one that is not seeking to overturn the powers that be. They have their place, indeed they are called “God’s servant for your good.” They are part of a kind of justice from God, which followers of Jesus are not to work out. Romans 12:14-21 sets the Roman 13 passage in context.

And so we in Jesus are salt and light, hopefully influencing the powers that be for good, but never seeking to overturn them. We are not of the world, including not of them, as the followers of Jesus in the reconstituted, restored Israel. The Israel of God for the world.

being grounded in the faith (so that we are both in the world, but not of it)

Sometimes, in fact I think oftentimes we Christians are not sufficiently grounded in the faith, our faith, the faith that is in Jesus. I am not referring to Christendom and all we’ve inherited from that: much good and much not so good. Nor am I referring to our cultural brand of Christianity which is much more in the grip of the unholy alliance of state and church, the result of Christendom (I would say church and state, except when these are aligned, the state always takes precedence). Of course our reference point is Christ and his fulfillment of Israel’s calling from God for the world. By his coming, life, ministry, and then “finished” in his death out of which came his resurrection, then ascension, we experience his rule at the Father’s right hand through the continued pouring out of the Spirit on us his body the church, in the world. And Christendom or not, along with all our failures and shortcomings, which in a sense are inevitable, but in another sense, not, God’s work in Christ continues. God is faithful.

What I’m getting at infects us all; none of us are immune to this. However it helps if we begin to become aware of the problem, so that we can begin to take baby steps to correct it by God’s grace. This problem is manifest in a host of ways, not just the Christendom which I don’t believe is Christian in the thoroughly biblical, apostolic sense. The problem is that when we come to Christ, we experience heart conversion, but we tend to live in the same system with its values, as we did before. In a certain sense that is inevitable, but in another sense that is not to be. Yes, we’re in the world, while not of it. And yes, we want to be all things to all people in order that through all possible means, we might see some, even many saved. So we want to keep what from culture is good and can be used by God not only to bring people to faith, but as a vehicle or means of expressing our faith.

The problem is when we fail to take into our culture the faith God has entrusted to us in Jesus. An example of how this problem manifests itself came in the context of a discussion I had with a devout believer. The context of the discussion is important, so that I could be misunderstanding something of their intent, but when I questioned just why we Christians are to be ordering our lives according to the United States Constitution, as if that document has a final or even a primary voice in how we live, they asked incredulously what I live by. My answer to them at the time was Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. We well may have been talking past each other a bit. But I think this illustrates enough the problem I’m referring to. It is also manifested popularly in our attention to “precious promises” in scripture, taken out of context, or more charitably put, not considering the context sufficiently enough. For example we have promises that God wishes to bless us as his people in Jesus, but with an emphasis that God blesses us to be a blessing particularly to the poor, the outcast, the down and out.

Where to get started in correcting this problem? Of course I’m assuming a faith from the gospel, the good news of Jesus, that he is Lord, and all that flows out from that in his saving work. But both regularly praying and meditating on this text can help us become better grounded, and rooted in God’s covenant community in Jesus, the manifestation of God’s kingdom in fulfilling Israel and Israel’s calling, in a true sense the true restoration of Israel in and for the world today. And so let us pray with the words our Lord taught his disciples:

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one,
for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

John I. Durham on Israel as a kingdom of priests

Israel as “a kingdom of priests” is Israel committed to the extension throughout the world of the ministry of Yaweh’s presence…a kingdom not run by politicians depending upon strength and connivance but by priests depending on faith in Yahweh, a servant nation instead of a ruling nation.

John I. Durham, Exodus (Word Biblical Commentary), 263, quoted by Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission, 121.

Fulfillment in Jesus through Israel

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
from ancient times.”

Therefore Israel will be abandoned
until the time when she who is in labor bears a son,
and the rest of his brothers return
to join the Israelites.

He will stand and shepherd his flock
in the strength of the Lord,
in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they will live securely, for then his greatness
will reach to the ends of the earth…”

And he will be our peace

The story of Israel needs to be told if we’re to understand the gospel. Jesus is the fulfillment of that story, and God’s fulfillment of blessing the world through Abraham and through his seed, which ends up being in and through Jesus himself.

Often we see the gospel as simply salvation from sins due to Adam’s sin. Jesus taking that sin on himself and dying in our place, and then rising again, so that we may be forgiven and have new life. That’s true, but it fails to take into account a large portion of scripture. And making much of prophecies, such as the one in Micah here, to support this truncated version of the gospel, fails to do justice to God’s word and revelation to us in Jesus.

If you don’t read the old covenant, the Hebrew Bible, what we commonly call the Old Testament, then you won’t understand as well the new covenant, the “New Testament.” Although in simply reading the New Testament, if one does so carefully, one can’t help but notice how the old covenant is referred to time and time again, and unpacked. Yes, Jesus’ fulfillment comes in unexpected ways, and yet we can see the essence of what he fulfilled when we read Genesis through Malachi (the order in our Bibles).

In this wonderful passage in the book of the prophet Micah, we see Jesus’ fulfillment within Israel, as a part of Israel, a fulfillment not confined only for the blessing of Israel, but for the ends of the earth. That latter point is made certain by other prophecies we find in the Old Testament, and is hinted at, here. This is a blessing from God through Israel, the church being the new Israel I take it, or the renewed Israel in and through Jesus. All Jews and Gentiles who put their faith in Jesus as Messiah and Lord constitute this new or renewed people of God. It is therefore both a revelation that is grounded in God’s calling to Abraham, and is carried on in its fulfillment in the church, Christ’s body, the people of God.

Bethlehem. Wonderful. We love to think of the story of our Savior’s birth in that lowly place. In God’s care and love for the world. Which goes on in Jesus even through us in him, together for the world.

Jesus, the King of Israel

All too often the gospel that is shared is not the complete gospel in that it fails to take into account the full story found in scripture. A major issue in this is the bypassing of much of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament in the story of Israel. It is asserted that humankind was created good, in God’s image, humankind sinned, Jesus came to pay the penalty for sins, and all who believe and put their trust in him are saved. The end. Not that the Holy Spirit can’t use that to bring a person into God’s salvation. But the point of the good news and of salvation is largely missed.

Jesus as Messiah would fulfill the role of prophet, priest and king. It is noted that Joseph, Jesus legal father was in the lineage of David. Jesus does not back down from the assertion that he is a king, before Pilate, but only that his kingdom is not of this world, but comes from another place, while certainly for this world.

Jesus as Lord is to be king over the whole earth, but his rule starts over God’s people. And that rule extends beyond God’s people through conversion, never at the point of a gun, or the tip of a sword, but by the way of the cross. “Jesus and him crucified” is the message people need to hear. This king reigns on a cross and by way of a cross.

And so we read in Zephaniah:

Sing, Daughter Zion;
shout aloud, Israel!
Be glad and rejoice with all your heart,
Daughter Jerusalem!
The LORD has taken away your punishment,
he has turned back your enemy.
The LORD, the King of Israel, is with you;
never again will you fear any harm.
On that day
they will say to Jerusalem,
“Do not fear, Zion;
do not let your hands hang limp.
The Lord your God is with you,
the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
but will rejoice over you with singing.”

“I will remove from you
all who mourn over the loss of your appointed festivals,
which is a burden and reproach for you.
At that time I will deal
with all who oppressed you.
I will rescue the lame;
I will gather the exiles.
I will give them praise and honor
in every land where they have suffered shame.
At that time I will gather you;
at that time I will bring you home.
I will give you honor and praise
among all the peoples of the earth
when I restore your fortunes
before your very eyes,”
says the Lord.

God was with Israel in the person of his Son, Jesus. The reign is one that brings to fulfillment Israel’s role and calling in the world to be blessed to be a blessing. Israel is marked out as the people of God, although how this is to unfold is seen when Jesus arrives, and the aftermath, or result of that.

Therefore to understand Jesus’ fulfillment of prophecy, we need to study more than just isolated predictions here and there, however many they may be. We need the entire story as told in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament of God’s calling to Israel, Israel’s failure as well as God’s work through them. And then we are ready to understand what Jesus’ kingship and kingdom is all about. But not until then.

It is in terms of blessing, a blessing received and then given. But always centered in, or coming our from this kingdom, and precisely from the King himself, Jesus. And so we remember and celebrate the coming of King Jesus. Reigning humbly as seen in his birth, life and death.  Now ascended in the place of supreme power at the right hand of the Father, the Holy Spirit having been poured out, as a result. And to come again in his reappearing as the Lamb that was slain and the Lion of the tribe of Judah to judge and to save. As we continue to be a witness of all of this to the world.

(See Scot McKnight, The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited)

John I. Durham on the difference between Israel* and the other nations

Israel as a “kingdom of priests” is Israel committed to the extension throughout the world of the ministry of Yahweh’s presence…a kingdom not run by politicians depending upon strength and connivance but by priests depending on faith in Yahweh, a servant nation instead of a ruling nation.

John I. Durham, Exodus (Word Bible Commentary; Waco, TX: Word, 1987), 263, quoted by Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission (Biblical Theology for Life), 121.

*The story of Israel is fulfilled in Jesus as the Messiah and carried on by the church, aside from the question of whether or whether not Israel as a nation in the Holy Land centered in Jerusalem has any future role to play. I lean toward the church replacing Israel as the one holy nation consisting of all Jews and Gentiles who put their faith in Jesus as the Messiah. But I reserve the right (if you can call it that, and if that’s justified; we are all mistaken in some points of theology) to be wrong, in other words I’m open to the belief that there will be some sort of future role for ethnic Israel through faith in Jesus as King and Messiah.