Christian theology is fundamentally concerned with the issue of God and history and more specifically is rooted in Christo logy and the revelation of God in the person and the work of Jesus Christ. Christian theology is not a philosophy like Buddhism, though it addresses philosophical issues. It is not primarily about laws and morals like Islam, though it addresses standards and morality. It is not just about keeping a covenant relationship with God as in Judaism, though it takes that important theme to a higher level. Christian theology is all about the intersection of the present age with the age to come, the intersection of that which is of earth with that which is of heaven, the intersection of that which is temporal with that which is eternal, all in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.
Astonishingly, Christian theology, which is the foundation of the religion with the most adherents on the planet, is primarily about one person. More than that, it is about one person who lived a short life even by the standards of his day and had a public ministry that lasted three years or less. Thus every Christian group is concerned with Jesus to one degree or another, and each group is powerfully shaped by its view of Jesus and the elements in his lite, character and message that they choose to emphasize or ignore.
In this article, after an overview of Jesus, particularly as found in the Gospels, I will share my perspective on the view of Jesus found in the International Churches of Christ (ICOC) going back to its formative years, and how that view has affected this movement.
“The time has come,” [Jesus] said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1.15 NASB). Given that his earliest statements, like this one, indicated he was bringing in the long-awaited kingdom of God, it seems fair to say that the Gospel writers see Jesus as the kingdom inaugurator. In this role, Jesus does not satisfy popular and nationalistic expectations found among the Jews, but he does something more important: he fulfills the law and the prophets (Matt 5.17). He does not come, as most Jews expected, as a man of force to expel or destroy the Gentiles, but rather as a suffering servant seeking to include in the kingdom both Jews and Gentiles (Luke 24.47).
In another surprise, he does not come to bring history to an end, judge the unrighteous and replace the present age with the age to come. He comes bringing the age to come into the present age as we see in Matthew 12.28: “But when I force out demons by the power of God’s Spirit, it proves that God’s kingdom has already come to you” (CEV).
The same message is seen in Luke 17.20-21. The Pharisees asked Jesus when the kingdom of God would come, to which he answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming with something observable; no one will say, ‘Look here!’ or ‘ There!’ For you see, the kingdom of God is among you” (HCSB).
While Jesus would eventually speak of another and future coming when the kingdom would be brought to complete fulfillment, his primary focus was on living a “kingdom life” in the present age and calling his disciples to do the same (Matt. 6.10). He promised that when his followers lived this countercultural life, more or less as aliens from the future, they would often receive the same response that Jesus received. This meant those that accepted the summons of the kingdom must expect to be persecuted in this world (Matt 5.10-12). This fact was given a surprising amount of emphasis in Jesus’ teaching, but is really not so surprising, when we consider that the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world are so diametrically opposed (John 18.36)-a truth increasingly ignored in post-Constantine Christendom.
In the minds of some thinkers, Jesus has been seen as primarily a great ethical teacher, but they often miss the fact that his moral principles all are rooted in his understanding of the kingdom and the concept of doing God’s will on earth as it is in heaven (Matt 6.10). Without an understanding and acceptance of his eschatology, so much that he says seems foolish and defies what we call common sense.
Maybe the best summary of Jesus’ message is found in Matthew 4.23 where we are told he “went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.”