The motif of 'the kingdom of God/heaven' spoke (and speaks) of at least two things fundamental to any quest of Jesus. (1) The Jesus tradition bears clear testimony to the centrality of the kingship of God in Jesus' preaching. That God was 'king', with all the implications of absolute sovereignty and power which the very title encapsulated, was also axiomatic in Jesus' framework of understanding and fundamental to his message. Jesus was evidently quite certain that what God does/has done/will do is of far greater importance than anything contrived on earth — a quantum leap of perspective to a different plane of motivation. For him it was all-important to align individual and societal goals by that reference point.
(2) Jesus was certain that God had a purpose for his creation which was unfolding, indeed, was reaching towards its climax, and that his own mission was an expression of that purpose and a vital agency towards its fulfilment. We have only begun to unpack these two dimensions of Jesus' kingdom talk, and the following chapters will continue the process, focusing particularly on the immediate implications for discipleship (How then should those who responded to his message of the kingdom henceforth live?) and for Jesus' own role in the kingdom and its In this chapter we have had to be con tent to outline the background to Jesus' usage, to sketch its most immediate features (leaving aside the often complementary talk of the Son of Man), and to focus attention on what has been the main question raised (the kingdom as present/future).
In sum, we can assume that the basic reference of what appears to have been his most characteristic phrase, 'the kingdom of God', was given by the traditional language of Jewish devotion. However, he is not remembered as talking about God as 'king' or worshipping God as 'king of the universe'. All his re
387. A useful survey of recent debate may be found in D. C. Duling, 'Kingdom of God, Kingdom of Heaven', ABD 4.56-69 (here 62-65).
membered preaching of God's kingdom has to do in greater or less degree with what had previously been hopes and expectations for the future.388
Some of these hopes he claimed were already being fulfilled. Things were happening that earlier generations had longed to see. Something new, of life-changing value, was already before his hearers. Sight was being restored to the blind, the lame were walking, even the dead raised. Good news was being preached to the poor: the kingdom was theirs! The Baptist's message of imminent judgment had to be qualified in the light of what was already happening through Jesus' ministry. Satan's rule was already broken. There was an eschato-logical harvest already to be reaped.389
At other times Jesus spoke in still future terms. Of the kingdom of God pressingly close: it had drawn near (in his own ministry); it posed a crisis which had to be responded to at once. Of the kingdom of God as a sort of Utopian ideal for the future on the earth: the last first, the humble exalted, the despised already able to press into it; some at least of the promised reward could be given in a further phase of history. Of the kingdom of God as a post-mortem state: to be 'entered into' after suffering and self-sacrifice. Of the kingdom of God as a final condition: following the unprecedented suffering anticipated in apocalyptic thought (and by the Baptist), following a final judgment involving other generations and nations, an angel-like existence.
Here then the Jesus quester is faced with a major problem. Both present and future strands of Jesus' preaching on the kingdom of God seem to be firmly rooted in the Jesus tradition and well established in all streams of the tradition. In the light of this evidence we have little choice other than to conclude that Jesus' teaching was remembered as being characterized by both emphases. Attempts to eliminate one or the other or to give one a weight which overwhelms the other have not generally been counted successful.390 Individual items within the vari
388. 'Jesus is not a "marginal Jew" in his eschatological preaching' (Theissen and Merz, Historical Jesus 276).
389. Riches argues, with reference to such data, that Jesus 'transformed' the traditional associations of the term 'kingdom' (Jesus ch. 5, particularly 103-104), but neglects the wider associations listed in § 12.2c above, which suggest that 'transformation' is not the most appropriate term to use.
390. For example, Weiss's future emphasis is one-sidedly pressed by Hiers, Historical Jesus; Sanders is clear that in any choice between 'present' and 'future' the emphasis has to be put on the kingdom as 'immediately future' (Jesus and Judaism 152); Allison, Jesus of Nazareth, and Ehrman, Jesus, press the case more strongly. Caragounis finds no 'single kingdom of God saying which unequivocally demands to be taken in the present sense' ('Kingdom of God' 424). On the other side, Dodd argued that 'Jesus intended to proclaim the Kingdom of God not as something to come in the near future, but as a matter of present experience' (Parables 46); in turn Käsemann argued that the irreconcilable contradiction between the two emphases could be explained only by postulating that the 'already present' emphasis was authentic, and the 'still to ous sequences may be detected as elaborations and developments of particular emphases or more specific themes. But it is impossible to root out sequences or either emphasis in toto without seriously distorting the tradition. Such would probably have been the scholarly consensus until the 1970s,391 and most still find themselves driven to conclude that some sort of both-and, yet de scription is unavoidable.392
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