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Is the Kingdom Here, or Is it Coming?


Robert M. Price


I don’t know about you, but I loved the Alex Ross/Mark Waid epic Kingdom Come (just as much as I hated Waid’s terrible sequel, which must rank—and I do mean rank-- right down there with Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Strikes Back, not that that is naked news to anyone). I made a whole bunch of custom figures (5 inch scale) of most major Kingdom Come characters, though as soon as I heard DC Direct had plans to make “real” ones, I gave mine the bum’s rush and sold ‘em with not a regret. I eagerly anticipate each new wave of Kingdom Come figures with the eagerness of a zealot counting the days, deciphering the signs of the encroaching end of the age. Just like my favorite TV show Millennium: “The time is near”…! I’m not alone in this, as witness the daily countdown posted on the DC Direct message board by a fellow sporting the handle “Magog.”

And then the glad day, the day of days, arrives, and it’s like Christmas morning when the new KC figures show up in the store, in my case in Heroes Are Here in Goldsboro, North Carolina. I carefully take the little idols out of their boxes and pose them among their fellows. I enjoy gazing at them… and then thinking of how long it will be before the next batch arrives! And who will be included? Will they ever condescend to give us Power Man? Star Man? 666? They’d better! Heck, I’d even buy Planet Krypton waiters and waitresses!

But it’s the cyclical nature of the thing that puts me in a theological mood (as if Kingdom Come itself were not explicitly based on the Bible!). I am filled with anticipation as the day draws near, alive with eschatological expectancy (“eschatology” referring to the events of the End of the Age). And then it arrives! But only partially! As always when the predicted end of the world seems to arrive, when the promised messiah appears, there is but a piecemeal fulfillment, for history goes on, even if it has significantly changed. And the beckoning beacon of the End turns out to be a vacuum that draws history into itself but can never be satisfied. Even as we cannot. With fulfillment in our hands, ours at last!, and then, just as soon behind us, we begin to think that we have had what Paul in 2 Corinthians 1:22; 5:5 calls a “down payment” of the eschatological glories, and that therefore the fullness of it must have been deferred. We can stand our ground without discouragement because we have “tasted the powers of the age to come” (Hebrews 6:5), but there is still the tension of longing, which is good, lest faith fall slack. (And of course, here I’m talking about what Paul Tillich would call the “idolatrous faith” of incessant action figure collecting. But at least I guess that’s better than the adulterous womanizing he engaged in!)

This is always what happens in eschatological movements: the Big Day arrives and recedes only to be replaced by another future Big Day, perhaps bringing the Second Coming of the messiah. You see, when the end does not fully come, the messiah is not abandoned as a false messiah, as he might well have been, having failed to bring with him the very end of the age as expected. No, he is relegated to the position of a first coming of the messiah, to be succeeded sometime in the future by… himself!

We can see the same dynamic already taking place in the pages of the New Testament. Jesus predicts the imminent coming of the Kingdom of God. And yet he often speaks as though it has, with his own presence, arrived: “If I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you!” (Matthew 12:28). But then again he warns his people to be faithful and vigilant, “for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Mark 13:32). How are we to understand this seeming contradiction? New Testament scholars differ.

C.H. Dodd (The Parables of the Kingdom) decided that Jesus must have believed the Kingdom of God had dawned already in some figurative sense, and that this was the only sense in which it ought henceforth to be understood. The Bab and Baha’Ullah taught pretty much the same idea in the 19th century. But then, Dodd reasoned, some literalistic-minded Christians could not make the adjustment and posited, like the old days, that there would be a future denouement after all. It would have been they who fabricated sayings to the effect that the Kingdom lay yet in the future.

Joachim Jeremias (The Parables of Jesus) and Oscar Cullmann (Christ and Time) admitted that Dodd was almost right, but not quite. Jeremias and Cullmann suggested that Jesus understood the Kingdom of God, the new age of salvation, to have been inaugurated in his ministry to sinners and outcasts, but not yet to have been consummated. The latter awaited a traditional Day of Judgment scenario to come. Jeremias called this theory “eschatology in the process of realizing itself.” That’s a bit of a mouthful, even for a scholarly German. So most scholars refer to the position just described as “inaugurated eschatology” and speak of its final fulfillment as yet future.

For a long time I have thought that the pure eschatological faith of the early Christians survives in two places. First, you find it among fundamentalists like Hal Lindsey and Jerry Falwell, who do literally suppose they are living in the Last Days. Second, you find it in little kids awaiting Christmas morning. They are like the simple Melanesian islander members of Cargo Cults described by Peter Worsley in The Trumpet Shall Sound! who expect Jesus (the god of their colonial masters) to appear one day soon on board a ship containing all manner of Western inventions and conveniences for them. But, as I said, for us figure collectors, it’s Christmas day once or twice a month at least! Especially if it’s Kingdom Come figures you’re opening! And in that moment I rejoice! But inevitably, I start very soon to look forward to the next installment of the Kingdom! It is eschatology inaugurated but not consummated! The time is near…


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