Dr. Randy White
Is there a “Christian consensus” that sometimes overrides what the Bible actually says? As a pastor and theologian, I believe that such a consensus exists, and it is so strong that the Christian community is willing to sit idly while its scholars accuse the apostles of being patently wrong. Nowhere is this more evident than in the area of teaching about the Kingdom of God.
Let’s consider two passages that prove my point.
In Mark 10:37-44, James and John ask for power positions in the Kingdom of God. This account is sometimes used to show the “carnal” nature of the Apostles and the “spiritual” nature of the Kingdom. But the commentary on this passage is derogatory towards the apostles and dismissive of the “physical kingdom” doctrine.
R.T. France says that “it is probably asking too much of James and John to expect them yet to have worked out a theology of victory through the cross.” Rodney Cooper says they “misunderstood what kind of kingdom Jesus had come to establish.” A.T. Robertson says they “are looking for a grand Jewish world empire with apocalyptic features in the eschatological culmination of the Messiah’s kingdom. That dream brushed aside all the talk of Jesus about his death and resurrection as mere pessimism.”
These comments are typical of Christian teaching that chastises the apostles for their Kingdom understanding. But were James and John looking for a physical kingdom? It would be hard to interpret the scripture in any other way. Did Jesus rebuke them for looking for such? While He did rebuke them for their lack of humility, He did not rebuke them for their Kingdom views. In fact, He acknowledged these positions of power to be a reality.
In Acts 1:6-7, the apostles ask about the restoration of the kingdom to Israel, causing many commentators to “blow a gasket.” They accuse the apostles of being ignorant and foolish for asking about a political kingdom, despite the fact that Jesus had just spent 40 days with them teaching about the nature of the Kingdom of God.
The disciples based their understanding of the Kingdom on the teachings of Jesus and the Hebrew scriptures, which gave a Jewish expectation of a restored Davidic kingdom. To argue that the disciples’ understanding of the Kingdom was wrong or deficient would throw doubt on the prophetic teachings of the Kingdom and Jesus’ teaching abilities.
Yet commentators like Polhill, Hendrickson, Gangle, the UBS handbook, Chrysostom, and Packer all accuse the apostles of being foolish, ignorant, and conditioned by Jewish expectations.
As a pastor and theologian, I am convinced that there is not a single passage in Acts through Revelation that teaches a “universal” or “spiritual” or “already/not yet” Kingdom of God. Every passage teaches a coming Kingdom that is not yet here.
But the Christian world is committed to the spiritual Kingdom idea, to the point where they will allow the apostles to be accused of stupidity and ignorance. This is a sad state of affairs.
Ephesians 2:20 says that our doctrinal system in the Body of Christ is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets. Yet they consistently allow those apostles and prophets to be accused of folly in regards to one of the most important things of the Bible.
It’s time for the Christian community to reexamine its understanding of the Kingdom of God and give the apostles the respect they deserve. We must stop accusing them of ignorance and recognize the foundation upon which our doctrinal system is built.
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