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return of Jesus

One of the great themes of the gospel is the Kingdom of God – that is the rule of God in the world as well as in the lives of people.  Many of Jesus’ parables were directly about the Kingdom of God.  The overall trajectory of these stories is that the Kingdom starts very small – so small that it seems insignificant and destined for oblivion.  Yet it grows and permeates itself through humanity and established itself as the central order in the entire universe.  This is a mystery of the Kingdom.

Thought the Kingdom of God grows quietly (Jesus illustrated it like yeast working its way through the dough) there are two epoch-changing crises that abruptly transfigure the Kingdom.  Both crises focus on the King of the Kingdom.  As the King completes a mission the Kingdom transforms into another order.

The first crisis that forever changed the Kingdom of God occurred at the Cross.  The death and resurrection of the King – the Messiah – forever altered the Kingdom.  This crisis has already occurred and set the Kingdom on a different trajectory.  It is now alive and growing almost in a subversive, bottoms-up manner.  Every person is invited – but the invitation can be freely declined – to enter and participate in the Kingdom.  Session 7 and the posts in that session look at this epoch changing event.

The second crisis has not yet occurred.  But the Gospel is replete with descriptions and parables about it.  This crisis will be the Return of the King – Jesus Christ – to don the mantle of rule on earth.  And this event will also so transform the Kingdom of God that its course will be again radically alter.

Some would perhaps question whether this is an important event since it has not yet occurred.  They fear that an undo emphasis on future (and uncertain in their minds) things leaves us unable to deal with present issues.  But even from a secular perspective we focus on future (and uncertain) events such as rising sea levels, global warming, pandemics, and potential economic collapses presented in a myriad of scenarios.  These issues are of interest to us precisely because our actions in the present may affect these outcomes in the future.  And though one cannot know with certainty about these outcomes the rationale behind the deliberations of these things is that present-day signs are indicators of their coming to pass in the future.  Thus wondering about rising sea levels is not simply some newly garbed astrology.  With present-day observations, coupled with some understanding of how things work, the claim is that these are calculations about the future – not speculations.

It is the same with the coming again of Christ.  This event, properly understood, will greatly affect how we live our lives in the present-day.  And observations made in the present-day can also be interpreted as signs or indicators of how imminent the events surrounding Christ’s return are.  In fact, Paul writing in 2 Thessalonians about the signs leading up to the return of Christ, told his readers that “Don’t you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things” (2 Thessalonians 2:5). Cross-referencing this with his time in Thessaloniki in the historical book of Acts it says that “on three Sabbaths he (Paul) reasoned with them from the scriptures…” (Acts 17:2).  And then it records how he was run out of the city.  So in the very short time we know that he had there, Paul thought this topic worth investing time to teach about.  It is central to the fulfilling of the Good News.

So the posts of this session will help us consider the promised Return of the King.  And one need not have a prior belief in order to consider it.  One can simply look from a detached point-of-view at the ‘signs’ and see if they match up, just like scientists can look at sea levels, climatologists can look at global temperatures, and economists can look at debt and deficit levels as signs of what will happen in the future.

We start the first post in this session at the trial of Jesus.  Yes, at the very place and time of his humiliation he gave echoes of his future return.  And in doing so he drew from even further back, into deep history, at a time before Socrates taught, when the Buddha was living in India, and the empires of Mesopotamia seemed destined to be permanently ascendant.  At that time, almost unnoticed, seeds of the Kingdom and its King were planted by Daniel.

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