As I think through answers to my Board of Ordained Ministry papers, I'll be sharing them here as a sort of log of my thinking. I'm sure they will change as I am changed by God's Holy Spirit at work in me drawing and working me toward holiness. Please feel free to comment and question.
This sixth question leads us to look at the end things. What happens when we die? What is the resurrection like? What is the Kingdom of God? When does it start? This question asks for our understanding of the Kingdom of God, the resurrection, and eternal life?
This question has become a regular topic of discussion in the churches I serve recently. Starting in the Scriptures, I find the Old Testament understanding of the Kingdom of God including all places over which God rules, as Psalm 22:28 proclaims, “For kingship belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations,” and Psalm 103:19 “The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.” The prophets of the Old Testament look to a time of God “setting things right” in a future fulfilled reign of God (Isaiah 2:4 and Daniel 7:14). In the New Testament, Jesus himself refers to both a future and present understanding of the Kingdom. In Matthew 12:22-28, Jesus refers to his own presence on earth as the proof of the Kingdom of God being a reality, then in Luke 21:31 and Rev. 21:1, the Kingdom is something that is yet to be completed. So, we find what has been termed a “now and not yet” reality of the Kingdom of God.
The Kingdom of God is a present reality because of the resurrection of Jesus. With his resurrection and assention, Jesus sent the Holy spirit to empower the people of God with the “gifts, [and] the means in and by which God makes his reconciling work in Christ present to humanity (Oden, Life in the Spirit: Systematic Theology Volume III 272).” As we pray “thy Kingdom come, on earth, as it is in Heaven,” we seek that the character of life here on earth may be consumed by the character of God here and now as God’s Spirit leads us, restores and transforms us into a representative of God here and now. With other disciples then, the whole church is a present representation of a future completion of the Kingdom of God.
This future fulfillment refers to the way many New Testament texts refer to the Kingdom of God as a promised future, one which we long for and anticipate in the eternal life. It is being made complete in a place in time ahead, where all things will be justified to the will of God, including the final perfection of our love and rejection of sin. Scripture promise that those who place faith in Jesus enter into an everlasting life as we are justified through God’s forgiveness based on our faith in Jesus’s sacrificial death and resurrection. In this way, we enter into the eternal life upon our death, as Jesus did even though we are allowed to experience a foretaste of that eternal life now. This has been the understanding of the church from the beginning, and continues to be vital for us today. We can live for others because our life here on earth is but a glimpse of the life we have in the future. We can disregard any difficulties, even praise God in our infirmities, because we have a future and a hope that extends beyond what we can see, touch, smell, taste, and hear (1 Corinthians 15:12-44).
I recently surveyed my congregation and by far the point of most concern was the doctrine of eternal life and the Kingdom of God. It is clear that trusting God to provide for us in death as we proclaim him to do in life is much easier said than done. This is one reason I find great honor in officiating funerals for families in my community. For people I knew to be a Christian, it is a pleasure to be able to approach the funeral as both a true celebration of a life well lived, and as a clear opportunity to remind people of our Christian hope in the eternal life in the Kingdom of God. But also in the funerals of people whose faith can’t as clearly be determined, it is an honor to point the people gathered to God’s prevenient grace through the life of their loved one, as I believe the eulogy is as much a reminder for the living as it is to honor the dead. The eulogy of the Christian points to a life lived here on earth, as a prelude of the Kingdom they now are blessed to inhabit in perfection; where that of the unsaved, the eulogy can point us to the places where God was at work in one’s life, using people and experiences to call them. So while we are ultimately unsure of an individual’s faith, we can rest in both the hope that God knows the condition of our hearts and in the confidence that the Son came to die for the sins of the world, sinners of which we all are.
6/2014-2/2017 Pastor Gary Priddy