The Gospel of the Kingdom, Pt. 4

Last week I noted that the New Testament Gospels refer to “the gospel of the kingdom” and don’t contain the sort of gospel presentation with which many of us may be familiar.  We may be used to hearing about the mechanics of a personal transaction that begins with the problem of sin and separation from God, includes the provision of God in Christ of atonement, and lets us know how we can be forgiven and restored to fellowship with God.

Now, it’s one thing to acknowledge that “the gospel” in the Gospels has to do with a broader announcement of a larger reality—the arrival of God’s long-awaited restored order of creation’s flourishing with the advent of Jesus, God’s appointed ruler of that realm.  But how do we talk about that?  How do we move from talking about the gospel-as-tidy-presentation to speaking about the gospel according to the Gospels?

Beyond what I wrote last week, here’s a further consideration:

When it comes to the gospel, Christians should learn to think from and talk from Genesis 1-2 and Israel.

These two orienting points in the biblical narrative should loom increasingly large in our imaginations in order to understand the New Testament gospel.

I think that the problem for most of us is one of starting in the wrong place.  We start with Genesis 3, forgetting that this isn’t where the Bible starts.  And we jump directly to Jesus, consigning the rest of the Scriptures—including the story of Israel—to utter irrelevance.

If we mention Genesis 1-2 at all, we do so only briefly, noting that Adam and Eve were in a perfect environment when they disobeyed God.  This is terribly unfortunate, since “perfection” is highly misleading here and sets things on a wrong trajectory.

And if we mention Israel at all, it’s only to indicate that they were a people who got the gospel wrong or didn’t believe it or tried to earn salvation by works.  Israel is more or less dispensable or functions as a foil for talking about the gospel that arrives in the New Testament (and especially with Paul).

But if we think from Genesis 1-2, and let our biblically-sanctified imaginations settle there for a while, we’ll get a good grip on God’s original intentions for creation.  God wanted his creation to flourish and to grow and develop so that creation’s thriving would keep abounding and super-abounding.  And this could only happen if creation had someone to oversee that project.

This is where humanity comes in.

God put humanity on earth to oversee the spread of flourishing (shalom) throughout the entirety of creation, so that humanity and the creation itself shared in the wonder of being fully alive in God’s good world.

This involved humanity’s relationship to the creation itself and to one another—and our worship of the one true God was our fruitful and faithful conduct in these relationships.  We were to know and enjoy the Creator God in the endless variety and the countless dimensions of these relationships.

But humanity blew it.  Beyond the fact of humanity’s rebellion, it’s important to note the form of the original sin.  Humanity refused to oversee creation (i.e., the serpent) on behalf of God.

After this, the relationship of human to human is badly broken and the relationship of humanity to the creation is perverted.  Human conduct now does not look like knowing and enjoying God.

It looks like the absence of God.

There’s more to say about this and I’ll have to continue this in a subsequent post, but in thinking about “the gospel,” we must first understand God’s original intentions and how Scripture speaks of them.  Only then do we move to how it all went wrong.

In the beginning, God wanted his rule over creation to be embodied and depicted by humans enjoying one another in community and overseeing creation’s flourishing on his behalf.  We won’t get the gospel of the kingdom right if we don’t start there.

14 thoughts on “The Gospel of the Kingdom, Pt. 4

  1. gjohnston2244

    “Beyond the fact of humanity’s rebellion, it’s important to note the form of the original sin. Humanity refused to oversee creation (i.e., the serpent) on behalf of God.”

    Waltke suggested something similar. They should have thrown the snake out of the Garden. But I don’t see that anywhere in the text. “No eating from this tree and no snakes allowed.” I’m not denying it. But it’s a pretty big deal. So I’m just looking for something a bit more explicit. Where does it say or clearly imply that Garden care precludes snakes?

    1. timgombis

      I’m not familiar with Waltke’s discussion, but the issue is that the serpent is a created thing over which Adam & Eve had dominion. It needed oversight and direction so that it developed in such a way as to flourish. They failed to carry out that task with disastrous results.

  2. gjohnston2244

    I think we need to be careful about this. I follow your reasoning. We could take it a step further. Humans failed to exercise dominion over the serpent either by throwing it out or killing it (not sure what “oversight and direction” would look like), but instead of exercising dominion over the serpent, they ended up being take captive by the Serpent and being held in life-long bondage (Hebrews 2:14-15). This makes sense, but I’m not convinced that is the understanding or intent of the writer. It seems a bit conjectural to me. I’m not sure I would want to adopt it as a way of talking about Genesis 1-3 in evangelism.

    1. timgombis

      I’m not so sure you need to bring up the serpent in evangelism (I sure wouldn’t). The important point is that God’s original intention in Gen. 1-2 is that humanity would oversee the flourishing of creation–all of it. What humanity failed to do is to rule over creation by directing the serpent to play a proper role within creation. Conceivably, Eve could have just answered the questions and directed the serpent to get back to doing whatever it had been doing. But things went badly.

      At any rate, the important thing is that humanity was commissioned to rule, to oversee creation on God’s behalf and they failed to do that. They were to enjoy one another and the creation, and things have been corrupted since then. So, my point is that when we talk about the gospel or reason from the gospel or discuss the gospel, we start from God’s original intentions–from Genesis 1-2–and not from the point at which things went wrong–i.e., Gen. 3.

  3. Greg Johnston

    OK. Once again I may have read too much into your “it’s important to note the form of the original sin” comment. Of course I agree that there was the commission to have dominion and that this logically included dominion over the snake. But it seems to me that the narrative puts more emphasis on the failure being (1) lack of trust in God (listening to the snake’s ad hominem against God) and (2) the vanity of wanting to “be like God, knowing good and evil.” The failure to tell the snake where to get off seems to be a result of one and/or the other of these two. But it may be worth noting.

    But enough of my reservations. I’m ready for Part 5. You are exploring an extremely important topic here. I’ve read a lot and thought a lot about how the gospel might be formulated as a story, but have never seen anyone attempt to negotiate the perilous waters of actually formulating an approach. I believe NT Wright attempted to do something like that in SIMPLY CHRISTIAN. I’m not sure his formulation was ideal. Kind of wordy.

  4. Andrew T.

    Following the logic here: When it comes to the gospel, Christians should learn to think from and talk from Genesis 1-2 and Israel.

    Ok, got it (and suspect you may be correct for the simple reason the Messiah was the son of David – king of the original Kingdom of God).

    And if we mention Israel at all, it’s only to indicate that they were a people who got the gospel wrong or didn’t believe it or tried to earn salvation by works.

    .. and yet does it seem that dispassionate and objective discussions about the relationship of Israel to her bridegroom under a new covenant are happening? Isn’t this exactly what conversations about the ‘Kingdom’ have been missing? So who says Israel can be mentioned beyond what you’ve noted above?

    The whole replacement theology (heresy?) / dispensationalism (heresy?) debate is yet to be resolved, and then there’s a wee question about who were the recipients of the New Covenant.

    Jeremiah [Jer 31:31-32] says the New Covenant would be forged with the House of Israel and the House of Judah, not like the covenant that He made with their fathers on the day when He took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt … Did God in fact forge this new covenant with Israel and Judah then, or did he not? If God forged this covenant with Israel (as so many prophets say he was going to) why does the new covenant decidedly not look like the original covenant perfected? Why isn’t Israel the ‘kingdom of priests’ it was forecast to be [Exo 19:6]? If the Gospel is God’s message that indeed creates this ‘Kingdom of priests’ why is it Christian’s believe non-Israelites are the ones fulfulling that promise then?

    Ahh, a Christian would say, ‘He forged it with the whole world’: yet that’s not what Jeremiah says, or Isaiah [Isa 37:31], or Hosea [Hos 5:14], or Ezekiel [Eze 37:16…] ….

    If the original covenant was a marriage, with God as the husband and Israel/Judah the bride [Isa 54:5] why do we not recognize Israel in this New Covenant which was promised [Rom 9:4] to them them? Throw into this mix a new perspective which purports to reclaim ancient Judaism, and yet the Judaism it reclaims looks suspiciously like modern Judaism, at best a poor facsimile of ancient Phariseeism, and we get further down this hole.

    The early Church fathers certainly couldn’t rationalize Christianity against Israel so isn’t this ultimately an issue that raises dangerous and difficult questions for Christianity, some of which remain unsettled?

    1. gjohnston2244

      “Ahh, a Christian would say, ‘He forged it with the whole world’: yet that’s not what Jeremiah says, or Isaiah [Isa 37:31], or Hosea [Hos 5:14], or Ezekiel [Eze 37:16…] …”.

      You may be right about what some Christians would say in answer to your question about with whom the new covenant was established. However, the emerging view is that YHWH established his new covenant with the house of Israel but with a redefined and “reconstituted” house of Israel. Israel is now defined by those within Israel who submit to Jesus as their rightful king, heir to the eternal throne of David. And of course (according to Paul), the undisclosed part (“mystery”) of that covenant is that the nations are fellow heirs according to that new covenant (Eph 3:4-6; Col 1:26-27; Rom 2:14-20). As a result, the “priestly kingdom” is now formed of the new Israel composed of Abraham’s spiritual seed (who walk by faith), first the Jew and then the Greek (1 Pet 2:9-10).

      Or at least this is my understanding. But we need to be careful not to hijack Tim’s thread.

      1. Andrew

        Yes, I agree. I also recognize this as an emerging view, except Jeremiah says this of the priestly Kingdom:

        [Jer 31:35-37] — Thus says YHWH, who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar – YHWH of hosts is his name: ‘If this fixed order departs from before me, declares YHWH, then shall the offspring of Israel cease from being a nation before me forever.’ Thus says YHWH: ‘If the heavens above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth below can be explored, then I shall cast off all the offspring of Israel for all that they have done, declares YHWH.’

        Because the sun hasn’t ceased to shine, nor has the waves ceased to roar, the notion of a reconstituted Israel seems to be just another variation on ‘replacement theology’. As a theology, it satisfies our imperfect knowledge but it isn’t quite in conformance with the bible, so I don’t believe it myself.

        I tend to agree with [Rom 3:4] “Let God be true and ever one a liar ..“. Fitting a theory to suit the facts, rather than the facts to the theory, I reason as follows:

        If the bible says this new covenant would be forged with the House of Israel and the House of Judah [Jer 31:31]it was since God dealt thus with no other nation [Psa 147:20].

        If God promised to make Israel a kingdom of priests and a holy nation [Exo 19:6]He did (recognizing that lack of faith could be grounds for exclusion under the covenant [Deut 28:15][Rom 9:13])

        Accordingly, the conclusion must be that Christians are Israelites and Israelites Christians – because the flock recognized their shepherd. Jesus said “My sheep [Jer 23:2; 31:10][Amos 7:15][Matt 15:24] hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” [John 10:27].

      2. Andrew

        … sorry, in the spirit of not hijacking Tim’s thread – Ill conclude with this thought:

        If Christians are Israelites and Israelites Christ beleivers – that would make the figurative “Kingdom of God”, David’s actual earthly Kingdom.

        As David’s actual descendant, the man Jesus would inherit the right to rule this Kingdom.
        As the founder of David’s kingdom, the deity Jesus would already possess that right.
        As redeemer, and faithful covenant Israelite even unto the cross, Jesus would again possess ownership over this kingdom as kinsman redeemer who had purchased back what was already his.

        What does that make of Paul’s theology in [Romans]?

        If Israel is that faithless wife [Rom 7:3] she is an adulterous as long as her husband [Isa 54:5] lives.

        Yet if Israel’s husband dies, she is free to remarry as a bride (no longer an adulterous because she has been freed from the law that makes her such). If this redeemed bride remarries the husband she was an adulterous to, her past sins are forgotten – which is why [Isaiah 54:4] says:

        ‘Fear not, for you will not be ashamed; be not confounded, for you will not be disgraced; for you will forget the shame of your youth, and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more.

        The adulterous is now bride – the Kingdom has been restored for the King (husband) lives!

        (Hopefully Tim will be satisfied we’ve gotten back on track)

      3. gjohnston2244

        “… sorry, in the spirit of not hijacking Tim’s thread – Ill conclude with this thought:”

        This thought? In the spirit of not hijacking Tim’s thread, I’ll just point out that your math is suspect.

  5. joey

    This IS the starting point of the Gospel. Well said, Tim. Colossians 1: The resurrected, embodied, glorified, human Jesus (living everlastingly with us, AS one of us – or we as one of him) was God’s first and guiding thought before he created anything. Paul is echoing Genesis 1 with his use of “image,” “creation,” and “beginning.” (I’m vaguely recalling something about variations of the Greek word for “beginning” being use here. Maybe I’m thinking of another passage.) And THIS Jesus was his last thought – the end result of what God has done. Along the way, God had to deal with Sin, but Sin is not the starting point of the Gospel.

  6. imaginewithscripture

    Reblogged this on Imagine with Scripture and commented:
    “But if we think from Genesis 1-2, and let our biblically-sanctified imaginations settle there for a while, we’ll get a good grip on God’s original intentions for creation. God wanted his creation to flourish and to grow and develop so that creation’s thriving would keep abounding and super-abounding. And this could only happen if creation had someone to oversee that project.” Tim Gombis

  7. Chaz Mortensen

    Thanks, Tim. I am all for getting people out of the System of Salvation. What we need for the Gospel of the Kingdom to take hold in the pew and the pulpit (not so much a problem in the literature) is to reframe the Plan of Salvation in terms of the Kingdom. McKnight’s King Jesus Gospel makes an attempt.

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