The first part of our conversation was about the Tetragrammaton in the New Testament. While there is some rhetorical effect here, it is not an essential goal for my conversation with Jehovah’s Witnesses. That is why we switched directions to the kingdom of God.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses wanted to focus on Old Testament mentions of the kingdom but I wanted to look at what Jesus said. They were nice enough to comply. My question was about the kingdom was the timing of its arrival. I pointed them to this passage:
“The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:1-15)
I was aware that their belief was that the kingdom of God was established in heaven in 1914 and will be established on earth when Jesus returns. I used this verse to challenge that idea.
What does it mean that the kingdom of God was near? They stated that it was closer that it was say a thousand years before. But that is not what Jesus is saying. The way this word was explained to me in seminary, it is like standing on a train platform and the train is pulling in but has not quite stopped.
Even if we were generous and said the kingdom of God was coming in 1914 (which was only a reference to heaven), the idea of “near” doesn’t seem to indicate 1900 years. Added to this, Jesus seems to be speaking about the kingdom on earth, which according to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, has not happened yet.
I also pointed them toward this passage:
But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. (Matthew 12:28)
This sounds like Jesus is saying that the kingdom of God is already there at that moment. They disagreed by saying it was only a sign that Jesus could eventually establish the kingdom. But that is not what it says.
I explained how I understand the kingdom of God. The kingdom began with the ministry of Jesus and that with every miracle, healing and forgiveness, the kingdom was being being expanded on earth. I agree with my Jehovah’s Witness friends that the kingdom won’t be here in fulness until Jesus returns. But the kingdom has begun.
As a person interested in military history, I compare it to events in the Second World War. When the allies invaded Normandy on D-Day, the end of Nazi Germany was assured. But there were still many battles to fight before V-E Day. I see the first arrival of Jesus as D-Day and his second coming as V-E Day.
The Jehovah’s Witness asked me if I thought Jesus in the Gospels was campaigning (militarily not politically). I hadn’t thought of it in those terms but I liked that. He asserted that Jesus wasn’t campaigning but I think that is exactly what the Bible says.
While even Christians debate the nature of the kingdom of God on earth, it was strange for me to hear that they believed that the kingdom was only established in heaven in 1914. I won’t go into their calculations for getting to 1914 here.
Their evidence is that there are biblical passages that indicate that Satan had access to heaven before this (e.g. Job). Since Satan had access to heaven, God therefore didn’t have full control of heaven until Satan and his angels were cast out.
There is much I could say here but I saw here the main problem between my view of the kingdom and theirs. They see the kingdom as only present only when God is in full control and there is no more rebellion. This means that during the earthly of ministry of Jesus, the kingdom wasn’t in either in heaven or earth.
But that is not how we talk about kingdoms. The people who first heard Jesus would think in terms of the Roman Empire. The Emperor was in charge but there was disobedience and rebellion within his territory. People rejecting the authority of the Emperor did not mean that the Roman Empire was not fact.
Or we could think about the kingdom of David. There was always rebellion within his kingdom, sometimes from his own family. But none of that meant that the kingdom of David didn’t exist.
There has been rebellion in heaven and there have been people on earth since the time of Jesus that have rejected God’s kingdom. But the kingdom of God is here and there nonetheless.
A book that I’m reading that is helpful in this is A Theology of the New Testament.