Saturday à Machen: Jesus, Paul, and the Kingdom

J. Gresham Machen” . . . Jesus and Paul present the same view of the Kingdom of God. The term ‘kingdom of God’ is not very frequent in the Epistles; but it is used as though familiar to the readers, and when it does occur, it has the same meaning as in the teaching of Jesus. The similarity appears, in the first place, in a negative featureboth in Jesus and in Paul, the idea of the Kingdom is divorced from all political and materialistic associations. That may seem to us to be a matter of course. But in the Judaism of the first century it was far from being a matter of course. On the contrary, it meant nothing less than a revolution in thought and in life. How did Paul, the patriot and the Pharisee, come to separate the thought of the Kingdom from political associations? How did he come to do so even if he had come to think that the Messiah had already appeared? How did he come to do so unless he was influenced in some way by the teaching of Jesus? But the similarity is not merely negative. In positive aspects also, the Kingdom of God in Paul is similar to that which appears in the teaching of Jesus. Both in Jesus and Paul, the implications of entrance are ethical. ‘Or know ye not,’ says Paul, ‘that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God?’ (1 Cor. vi. 9). Then follows, after these words, as in Gal. v. 19-21, a long list of sins which exclude a man from participation in the Kingdom. Paul is here continuing faithfully the teaching of Him who said, ‘Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Finally both in Jesus and in Paul the kingdom appears partly as present and partly as future. In the above passages from Galatians and 1 Corinthians, for example, and in 1 Cor. xv. 50, it is future; whereas in such passages as Rom. xiv. 17 (‘for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit’), the present aspect is rather in view. The same two aspects of the Kingdom appear also in the teaching of Jesus; all attempts at making Jesus’ conception thoroughly eschatological have failed. Both in Jesus and in Paul, therefore, the Kingdom of God is both transcendent and ethical. Both in Jesus and in Paul, finally, the coming of the Kingdom means joy as well as judgment. When Paul says that the Kingdom of God is ‘righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost,’ he is like Jesus not merely in word but in the whole spirit of his message; Jesus also proclaimed the coming of the Kingdom as a ‘gospel.'”

(J. Gresham Machen, The Origin of Paul’s Religion [1921; reprint, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973], pages 160-161.)

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