How do the Church and Kingdom triumph on earth?

In my last post, I referred to Wilson’s postmillennial view of the Church/Kingdom relationship.  His post explains how he believes the Kingdom of God will come on earth: through the gradual working of the Spirit (leaven is an analogy that he often uses, referring to Jesus’ parable).  Here are a couple quotes:

When kings come to Christ, their glory will grow. When kings die to their own glory, they will be raised in the glory of Another. And incidentally, though I am a minarchist (not an anarchist), and I believe that the kings of the latter glory will largely be ceremonial figureheads, I do not intend this as demeaning or as some kind of a nothing-honor. Why would any of us think that ceremony is a trivial thing? I suspect it will be shown to be the chief thing, far better than the current techniques for lording it over people — to wit, kicking butt and taking names — peace through superior firepower. That is a model that has a certain rough justice about it, but we have to admit that improvements could be made. When the lion lies down with the lamb, it will not be because men with block letters on their jackets are standing over them with automatic weapons.

Secondly:

So the Church is not gathered into the State, with ecclesiastical functions delegated to some part of the bureaucracy. Rather, I see the nations gathered to the Church, with the remaining civil functions distinct from the Church proper, but subordinate to it. The honor and glory of the kings really is honor and glory, and that honor and glory is really brought as tribute to be laid on the altar. In other words, I don’t see the nations gathering the Church, but rather the Church gathering the nations.

Remember, this is a purified Church, and not a grasping Church with a thin veneer of piety. Remember, this is eschatology, and depends upon the Spirit working through millennia. I am talking about 3500 A.D., and not proposing a sorry retread of the Sanhedrin or the Council of Constance to be implemented tomorrow.

I haven’t done much sorting out of my own eschatological views.  I really don’t know where to start.  But it is certainly fascinating to get others’ views on it.

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20 comments

  1. I don’t think any of today’s speculators will do any better than the speculators BC. Even the OT prophets had only a hazy glimpse of what the Messiah would be like. None of them had nearly as clear an idea of the Messiah as the would-be prophets of today do about the end times. Apocryphal literature is incredibly flexible in how people interpret it, rightly or wrongly.

    When I read people’s opinions about how they think the kingdom of god “will” come on earth, I wonder how they interpret Jesus words that the kingdom of God has come to earth.

  2. I agree with you. I think that Wilson and some of the other clear-thinking postmills that I’ve read are interesting in that they have a general idea of what they believe things will look like, and that future is pretty exciting: global Christianity, non-coercive government, the planet looking more and more as God intended it: http://www.leithart.com/2009/12/20/the-long-view/.

    But is it biblically sound? Is it right? There are some pretty good objections raised by competing eschatological schools.

    Eschatology for me is interesting to read others’ opinions about, but I haven’t felt compelled to define my views yet.

  3. I might not agree with Wilson’s interpretation of leaven (I tend to think it symbolizes sin and corruption), but I appreciate his practical goal of building a better world rather than abandoning it.

    I like his minarchist inclinations, though I don’t understand what he means when he says that the State should be ceremonial and subordinate to the Church.

    His contrast between ceremony and compulsion also confuses me since I can’t see how one can be a substitute for the other. He seems to conflate “ceremony” with “voluntary cooperation” or something (cf. his lion and lamb sentence).

    Wilson also seems to associate the Kingdom with the State which is strange to me. His purpose in not mixing Church and State seems to be the preservation of the ministers’ purity, which I think is an illusion.

    IMHO, the State should embody the smallest subset of our morals that require compulsion. Naturally, these coerced morals would be consistent with the morals of the Church (which should be God’s Morality), but the State would have its own structure of representatives for its very narrow and specific purpose in order to guard against contamination of its purpose, e.g. by feature creep.

    • Kevin, his illustration of leaven comes from Matthew 13:33 and Luke 13:31, I believe, where the kingdom of God is compared to leaven.

      As far as the state/church relationship, I don’t disagree with your questions. I put it up more to show how Wilson thought his postmillenial view could come to pass. It’s an interesting perspective, but my internal jury is still out on eschatology.

      • Right — those are the scriptures I think Wilson would be referring to, but a positive interpretation of leaven is opposite its Jewish symbolism as well as the context of those scriptures. Note also the “birds of the air” symbol.

  4. I guess that I don’t see how leaven is negative in that case if the kingdom of God is compared to it (as opposed to when Jesus tells his disciples to beware the leaven of the Pharisees and others). Can you explain why you think that it’s negative?

    To me, “the birds of the air” nest on the plant that grows from the mustard seed because the plant is big. What is your interpretation of that symbol?

  5. Matthew 13 begins with the Parable of the Sower, where the seed is the message of the kingdom and we are the soil. Note that in one case, the birds eat the seed and in verse 19 Jesus says they symbolize the evil one.

    Then comes the Parable of the Weeds that explicitly says that the kingdom of heaven is like a man who sows good seed, but the enemy comes along and sows weeds amongst them.

    I think a pattern is emerging, strengthened by Jesus’ explanations, where he is portraying the kingdom of heaven amongst corruption. There is a mixture of good and bad.

    Then comes the The Parable of the Mustard Seed, again using the seed symbolism but this time the seed grows and gives perch for birds. A simple and positive interpretation would be a little odd in the context, but we might overlook that — except that Jesus just used birds to represent the evil one, and birds do eat seeds. The mustard plant itself might also be symbolic, but I haven’t read about it as much.

    Then comes the Parable of the Yeast which is perhaps the shortest and, again, except for the context and the fact that leaven / yeast has negative connotations in Judaism (including the NT), one might interpret it as purely positive.

    The parables continue, with some more clear than others. I don’t fully understand them, but there does seem to be a theme of good mixed with evil, and I am very skeptical of interpretations which: (1) ignore or oppose the Jewish symbolism that would have been understood at the time, and (2) detach the parable from its context.

    • I think that you have better knowledge than I do about leaven, but there are some things that don’t compute for me here.

      First, I don’t see how leaven really had negative associations in Judaism. You may have a better grasp on this, but my understanding of unleavened bread is that it symbolized the haste with which the people left Egypt. And most of the year, they eat leavened bread, so it doesn’t seem like something bad. Work wasn’t bad, but people had to give it up on the Sabbath.

      Second, you may be right to connect the birds in the parable of the sower and the birds in the parable of the mustard seed. I think that the role of the birds is essential to the parable of the sower and Jesus clearly explains it. But they seem more like an incidental part of the parable of the mustard seed. They end up landing on the huge plant that grew from the little seed, as the kingdom grows mysteriously.

      Third, the leaven wins in the parable of the leaven. It spreads throughout the whole thing. That seems difficult to reconcile with leaven as corruption in this case. To me, it would seem that Jesus uses leaven (in this parable or in talking about the leaven of the Pharisees, Saducess, and Herod) as way of talking about something that spreads.

  6. FWIW, here’s the ESV Study Bible’s commentary on the mustard seed and leaven parables:

    Luke 13:19 The mustard seed (see notes on Matt. 13:31–32 and Mark 4:30–32) would have been the smallest known seed to Jesus’ audience. became a tree. The mustard “tree” refers to a large herbal plant that grows to the height of 8 to 12 feet (2.4 to 3.7 m). The birds . . . made nests emphasizes the surprising supernatural result—i.e., the enormous size of the final plant in comparison to the very small seed from which it grew. The Jews expected the kingdom to come with apocalyptic power, bringing God’s judgment on all evil, and hence Jesus’ teaching that it would arrive in such an “insignificant” way was surprising (cf. note on Luke 17:20).

    Luke 13:21 Similar to the mustard seed (v. 19), a minute quantity of yeast can permeate a large amount of dough to produce a large amount of bread (cf. note on 1 Cor. 5:6–7). Three measures would have produced enough bread to feed 100 people. Some think these parables teach only the contrast between the small beginning and large end result, and not the gradual growth process of the kingdom between start and finish. Others argue that the growth process is also in view. Both sides agree that the parables contrast the apparently small and unnoticed arrival of the kingdom (the “already now”) with its extensive and glorious consummation when the Son of Man returns (the “not yet”).

  7. Not that I’m an expert or anything, but I would be reticent to tie specific symbolism in scripture to one particular meaning. Certainly, in the case of the passover and elsewhere in Scripture, leaven signifies sin. However, it can also symbolize good, as Jesus seems to use it in the context of bread where he seems to say that is an example of the Church which spreads and slowly permeates culture, changing it for the better.

    • Some symbols may vary but there is also a lot of consistent symbolism in Judaism that Jesus uses.

      Note that your positive example of leaven is the exact same one we are debating and would be the only positive one in the NT (if it overlaps with Luke). All other uses of leaven in the NT are clearly negative, which amounts to about a handful if we overlap the gospels.

      There were a few offerings in the OT that were leavened (because it is not literally bad, would be my guess), but unleavened significantly outnumbers them and I believe it is pretty clearly ranked more pure and holy. And given a comparison between unleavened and leavened, the associations of pure and contaminated, good and bad, are never switched — except by a simple reading of this one parable.

  8. I stumbled across this in my rereading of Ignatius’ letters tonight. From his Epistle to the Magnesians (~ AD 110).

    “Let us not, therefore, be insensible to His kindness. For were He to reward us according to our works, we should cease to be. Therefore, having become His disciples, let us learn to live according to the principles of Christianity. For whosoever is called by any other name besides this, is not of God. Lay aside, therefore, the evil, the old, the sour leaven, and be ye changed into the new leaven, which is Jesus Christ. Be ye salted in Him, lest any one among you should be corrupted, since by your savour ye shall be convicted. It is absurd to profess Christ Jesus, and to Judaize. For Christianity did not embrace Judaism, but Judaism Christianity, that so every tongue which believeth might be gathered together to God.”
    http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/ignatius-magnesians-longer.html

    • That is peculiar — contrasting old leaven to new leaven; I haven’t seen that in the Bible. But I probably have seen it in Christian literature, presumably all derived from this one parable. Note that all leaven is sour, though I suppose old leaven would be more sour.

      The only link I can see that might support Ignatius’ symbolism (and a positive interpretation of this parable) is that there was a wave offering of leavened bread on Pentecost (for the priests to consume) during the harvest Festival of Weeks (Shavuot).

      If we work backwards and say that the leavening in that bread must be good because it is in an offering, and it occurs on Pentecost which aligns with the descent of the Holy Spirit which Christ could only send because he was “risen” (the pun is key), then we might conclude that Christ is the new leaven that inflates us rather than sin.

      I think that’s a dubious and circuitous stretch, especially considering the continued use of leaven as sin by Jesus and Paul, but I do think the conclusion has nice associations to it.

      On Ignatius’ general point, I can understand his wanting to separate from those who do not believe Jesus to be Christ, but IMHO, understanding the Judaism that Jesus practiced, as well as his audience, is key to understanding the Bible.

      • Given that Ignatius was a disciple of the apostle John and a man ordained by St. Peter himself, I tend to think that he got many of his ideas on the interpretation of the gospels straight from the actual authors. It seems pretty clear to me that the church did not simply continue a negative leaven symbolism from the Old Testament, but also had a positive symbolism for leaven, as is seen both in Scripture (applying it to the church) and in the non-canonical writings of the early church (applying it to Christ and the new life in Him).

        Searching the early texts for leaven, I came upon this passage from Justin Martyr’s dialogue with Trypho. It might shed more light on this positive interpretation of leaven in the Old Testament. I’ve always thought that Jesus and his disciples played a lot looser with interpreting the Old Testament than people would accept today (e.g., getting resurrection from a statement about God being the God of Abraham just because the statement was made after his death), so perhaps it won’t pass modern muster with most people. However, I think there is enough flexibility in the interpretation of the Scriptures to allow it.

        “By reason, therefore, of this laver of repentance and knowledge of God, which has been ordained on account of the transgression of God’s people, as Isaiah cries, we have believed, and testify that that very baptism which he announced is alone able to purify those who have repented; and this is the water of life. But the cisterns which you have dug for yourselves are broken and profitless to you. For what is the use of that baptism which cleanses the flesh and body alone? Baptize the soul from wrath and from covetousness, from envy, and from hatred; and, lo! the body is pure. For this is the symbolic significance of unleavened bread, that you do not commit the old deeds of wicked leaven. But you have understood all things in a carnal sense, and you suppose it to be piety if you do such things, while your souls are filled with deceit, and, in short, with every wickedness. Accordingly, also, after the seven days of eating unleavened bread, God commanded them to mingle new leaven, that is, the performance of other works, and not the imitation of the old and evil works. And because this is what this new Lawgiver demands of you, I shall again refer to the words which have been quoted by me, and to others also which have been passed over. They
        are related by Isaiah to the following effect: ‘Hearken to me, and your soul shall live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, even the sure mercies of David…”
        Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho, ch. 14

  9. MB,

    Justin Martyr wrote: “Accordingly, also, after the seven days of eating unleavened bread, God commanded them to mingle new leaven, that is, the performance of other works, and not the imitation of the old and evil works.

    Do you know what “new leaven” Justin’s talking about that was commanded after the 7 days? Is Justin talking about the wave offering on Pentecost? Please correct me if I’m wrong, but it looks like there’s a ~40 day gap there — it doesn’t punctuate the 7 days as he seems to imply. They could eat leavened bread in the meantime and I don’t think the leaven was necessarily “new”. Plus, the wave offering seems more intended for the priests in celebration of the first fruits of harvest (as the verse states), though there are, of course, other symbolic links that can be made indirectly through Pentecost.

    Limited to the Bible alone, I think the symbolism of leaven is reasonably clear (excepting this one parable about the kingdom). That the early church fathers should know better is a fair argument. But the unnecessary reversal of an established symbol and the introduction of a “new leaven” is strange. If you are right, then neither Jesus nor Paul were committed to the new symbolism, but rather just muddling the symbol. I don’t think the Bible even distinguishes old and new leaven anywhere.

    MB wrote: “getting resurrection from a statement about God being the God of Abraham just because the statement was made after his death

    I know this was an aside, but I’m sorry, I miss the reference — could you elaborate? Which verses are you referring to?

  10. I’ve been trying to post a comment replying to Scott, but I keep getting a page that says “discarded”. Maybe my comment is too long. (sorry! :)) I’ll try posting it in pieces.

  11. Good points, Scott.

    Regarding your parallel to “work”, I think there’s an intended balance between work and rest that doesn’t really apply to leaven and unleaven. And, other than possibly the first Passover, the significance of leaven seems almost entirely symbolic. As you note, leaven isn’t literally bad to eat (unlike other unclean foods), which is probably why leavened bread is used in the wave offering, but it was nevertheless controlled in holy matters.

    Matzah (unleavened bread, associated with purity and sweetness 04682) was required:

    (1) by God’s command in preparation for the actual Passover when there was enough time for dough to rise if the people or God had so desired, and,

    (2) by the Exodus itself which did not allow enough time for leavening, so they only brought unleavened dough out of Egypt.

    So, matzah came to symbolize purity and holiness (it itself didn’t symbolize haste though that was a reason for it in #2), while the chametz (leavened bread, associated with “sour” or “fermented” 02557. see also its root chamets 02556) came to symbolize contamination, sin, and the inflated self over God, which is the way Jesus and Paul more clearly used it in all other cases.

    Imagine if, by God’s command, every year (in fact, the calendar year was redefined for this event), you had to remove everything fermented from your house and only eat unfermented foods for 7 days. If anyone ate something fermented, they had to be cut off from the family and group (presumably for the duration of the memorial). You would be treating leaven not only as something which spreads, but as a contaminant during this time.

    Given this, how would you perceive the symbolism of leaven in a parable? Not to mention that Jesus is going around telling people to beware the leavening of Herod and the Pharisees.

    Here are a few more (possibly extraneous :)) tangents from this very short leaven parable:

    (1) The “three measures” is likely a reference to the three measures prepared by Sarah for the LORD and two angels. Though not explicit, from the described preparation, it sounds unleavened. Shortly after, Lot likewise fed those two angels unleavened bread when they came to destroy Sodom (which fits the context of these NT parables very well). This is the first use of the word “unleavened” in the Bible and is prior to the Exodus.

    (2) The woman “hid” the leaven in the meal. That word is enekrupsen 1470 (root 2928) which I think has the same roots as the english “encrypted”. Now, this might be the common word ancient greeks used for mixing starter with flour, in which case it would not be significant at all, but it seems odd to me.

    (3) If we try to match the seed themes in context, note that flour is literally made from seeds.

    Does the image of the kingdom growing amongst weeds, punctuated by a purging, strike you as consistent with a kingdom that simply grows as dough ferments?

    I’m not sure the leaven “wins” in this parable. The indirect reference to Sarah implies that the result is going to God to sort out, like the weeds and fishes.

    Regarding the mustard parable:

    Here is exegesis that ultimately supports your interpretation, but on the way reveals the negative connotations of mustard being a weed (cf. the weed parable) that would not be mixed in a garden.

    They also point out OT verses that indicate the positive symbolism of great trees giving shelter to birds and animals. Yet mustard isn’t so much a tree as a bush, and the birds have a more specific symbolism in context.

    Well, I’m sure y’all are as exhausted by my exegesis here as I am. Suffice it to say, I could be wrong in my interpretation — maybe Jesus is just mixing metaphors haphazardly. But I do have enough doubt about the simple meaning of these parables in context that I don’t put much weight in it or rely upon the exceptional symbolism.

    In any case, I think it’s more important that we agree on the basic meaning, which I think we do through other verses, than on the symbols themselves.

  12. Turns out it was the links to a Strong’s Concordance that caused it to be rejected by WordPress. Apparently, eliyah is blacklisted (it’s the first Strong’s that comes up in google). I just switched the links to another Strong’s and it posted fine.

  13. I think the 7 day reference is to the number of days in which the leaven is to be removed from the house (e.g., it refers to the reintroduction of leaven after the passover). I could certainly be wrong on that.

    I was referring to Jesus refutation of the scribes who didn’t believe in a resurrection (Matthew 22:29-32). Because they also didn’t acknowledge many books other than the Pentateuch (if any) to be inspired, he went with a verse from Exodus to refute them. While people accept that reference today based on the source being Christ, if it was said by anybody else, it would be flat out rejected by 99% of the employers of modern interpretive methods as Biblical proof of the resurrection. The belief in a resurrection was a development of Judaism, compatible with interpretations of earlier passages but not explicitly acknowledged in early writings of Judaism. As such the resurrection was strenuously denied by people focusing on those writings. I could point to verses in the NT that are much more clear on the existence of a post-death purification (i.e., purgatory) than the verse Jesus referred to on the Resurrection.

    People today employ much more rigid standards in interpreting the Bible than did the apostles or Jesus. Looking at the NT references to OT scripture, they just don’t stand up to rigid modern interpretive methods.

    MB

    • MB wrote: “I think the 7 day reference is to the number of days in which the leaven is to be removed from the house (e.g., it refers to the reintroduction of leaven after the passover). I could certainly be wrong on that.

      Right — after Passover there is The Feast of Unleavened Bread that lasts 7 days, but AFAIK, God never commanded them to reintroduce leaven after the 7 days or that the leaven must be “new” as Justin states.

      MB wrote: “I was referring to Jesus refutation of the scribes who didn’t believe in a resurrection (Matthew 22:29-32). [‘have you not read what God said to you, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.]

      Ah, thanks for the explanation. I agree — that is extremely poor logical proof of the resurrection. It’s hard for me to imagine that Jesus would think that was conclusive evidence. But hopefully the Sadducees were at least convinced that the resurrection of the dead is not logically inconsistent — both with the Pentateuch and God’s character.

      MB wrote: “People today employ much more rigid standards in interpreting the Bible than did the apostles or Jesus. Looking at the NT references to OT scripture, they just don’t stand up to rigid modern interpretive methods.

      Good and fascinating point. They do seem to make many interpretive stretches which is a bit disturbing if they intended it to be dispositive exegesis.

      And I agree with (what I think is) your general point that Christianity is not merely logically derived from the OT — it adds and reinterprets it to some extent. Determining that extent is the key, and to do so, I still think it helps to start with the same base Jesus does, even as he flexes it.

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