The Future of the Kingdom Is Inaugurated In and Around Jesus

Are you the one who was to come? This is, of course, the question put to Jesus by John the Baptist. Jesus replies: “Go and tell John what you see and hear: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is he who takes no offense at me” (Matt 11:2ff) In other words: The answer to that question is found in Jesus’ ministry and teaching. Here is how Moltmann unpacks this exchange, in chapter 3 of The Crucified God:

The events which took place around Jesus and at his word speak on his behalf, for they are the signs of the messianic age. The gospel which comes in the miracles to those without hope, and to the poor in his preaching, upholds and authenticates Jesus. His office is upheld not by the incarnation of the eternal Son of God nor by the archetype of true humanity, but by the future of the kingdom which is inaugurated in and around him.
(CG, p. 98)

When we talk about Jesus’ Messianiac mission, it is hard to avoid the conflict between Christianity and Judaism, that is, “between an atonement, which is already believed to be present, and a real redemption which lies in the future” (CG p. 100) Moltmann quotes Shalom Ben-Chroin stating that to a Jew, the “conception of a redeemed soul in the midst of an unredeemed world is of its very nature totally alien.” (p. 100) And so Jesus is rejected as Messiah because the world is not yet redeemed. The world has not yet been made right, therefore the Messiah has not come. Usually when this subject comes up (at least among many Christians), the Jewish rejection of Jesus is assumed to be based on a Jewish misunderstanding of what the coming of the Messiah would look like: They wanted a Messiah to come and do x (overthrow the Romans and set up the Kingdom of God on earth?); we Christians with the benefit of hindsight now know that God actually sent the Messiah (Jesus) to come and do y (die for our sins so that we can go to heaven?).

But if the messianic mission of Jesus is seen most clearly when “the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them“, maybe we are the ones who have missed the boat on Jesus’ Messianiac mission, in which (as Moltmann puts it), “the future of the kingdom is inaugurated in and around [Jesus].” The common “interiorization” of salvation broadens the rift between Christian and Jew, and is ultimately a distortion of how Jesus’ messianic mission should be properly understood:

A faith which worships Christ as God without his future, a church which understands itself as the kingdom and a consciousness of atonement which no longer suffers from the continued unredeemed condition of the world, a Christian state which regards itself as God here present upon earth, cannot tolerate any Jewish hope beside itself. But is it still authentic Christian faith?
(CG, p. 101)

For Moltmann at least, this opens up an exciting opportunity for “convergence” between Christian Christology and Jewish futurist eschatology:

Christian christology made the hope of the Messiah suspect in Judaism. On the other hand, the Jewish expectation of the kingdom, with its realism, made realist and futurist eschatology suspect among Christians. On this level, after the long history of divergence, a history of convergence is wholly conceivable.
(CG, p. 102)

Jesus’ ministry was an emphatic “yes” to God’s future. He did not come to redeem souls out of an unredeemed world; he came to redeem the world and inaugurate the future of the kingdom.

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