Jesus brought a fresh new message to the world. It is a message that heralds both judgment and rebirth. It announces a totally different social order: the coming reign of God, which will bring to an end the present age ruled by man. Without God we sink down into hollowness and coldness of heart, into stubbornness and self-delusion. In Jesus the Father revealed his love to us, a love that wants to conquer and rule everything that once belonged to it. Jesus calls, urging a divided humankind to sit together at one table, God’s table, where there is room for all. He invites all people to a meal of fellowship and fetches his guests from the roadsides and skid rows. The future age comes as God’s banquet, God’s wedding feast, God’s reign of unity. God will be Lord over his creation again, consummating the victory of his spirit of unity and love.

In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus calls on God, our Father, that his primal will should alone prevail on earth, that the future age in which he alone rules should draw near (Matt. 6:10). His being, his name, shall at last be honored because he alone is worthy. Then God will liberate us from all the evil of the present world, from its wickedness and death, from Satan, the evil one now ruling. God grants forgiveness of sin by revealing his power and his love. This saves and protects us in the hour of temptation, the hour of crisis for the whole world. In this way God conquers the earth, with the burden of its historical development and the necessity of daily nourishment.

However, the dark powers of godlessness pervade the world as it is today so strongly that they can be conquered only in the last stronghold of the enemy’s might, in death itself. So Jesus calls us to his heroic way of an utterly ignominious death. The catastrophe of the final battle must be provoked, for Satan with all his demonic powers can be driven out in no other way. Jesus’ death on the cross is the decisive act. This death makes Jesus the sole leader on the new way that reflects the coming time of God. It makes him the sole captain in the great battle that will consummate God’s victory (Heb. 12:1–3).

In whom else could we, criminals and godless people that we are, be justified except in the Son of God alone? Letter to Diognetus 9:4–5

There is a gulf between these two deadly hostile camps, between the present and the future: between the age we live in and the age to come. Therefore the heroism of Jesus is untimely, hostile in every way to the spirit of the age. For his way subjects every aspect and every condition of today’s life to the coming goal of the future. God’s time is in the future, yet it has been made known now. Its essence and nature and power became a person in Jesus, became history in him, clearly stated in his words and victoriously fought out in his life and deeds. In this Messiah alone God’s future is present.

The new future puts an end to all powers, legal systems, and property laws now in force. The coming kingdom reveals itself even now wherever God’s all-powerful love unites people in a life of surrendered brotherhood. Jesus proclaimed and brought nothing but God, nothing but his coming rule and order. He founded neither churches nor sects (weder Kirche noch Sekte). His life belonged to greater things. Pointing toward the ultimate goal, he gave the direction. He brought us God’s compass, which determines the way by taking its bearings from the pole of the future.

Jesus called people to a practical way of loving brotherhood (Mark 10:28–31). This is the only way in keeping with our expectation of that which is coming. It alone leads us to others; it alone breaks down the barriers erected by the covetous will to possess, because it is determined to give itself to all. The Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5–7) depicts the liberating power of God’s love wherever it rules supreme. When Jesus sent out his disciples and ambassadors, he gave them their work assignment, without which no one can live as he did: in word and deed we are to proclaim the imminence of the kingdom (Matt. 10, Mark 6:7–11, Luke 9:1–6). He gives authority to overcome diseases and demonic powers. To oppose the order of the present world epoch and focus on the task at hand we must abandon all possessions and take to the road. The hallmark of his mission is readiness to become a target for people’s hatred in the fierce battle of spirits, and finally, to be killed in action.

Footnotes

  1. The first disciples gave witness to the cross, the resurrection, and the future kingdom, and showed that through love, the power of the Holy Spirit could overcome the power of private property and heal people. The Acts of the Apostles, especially chapters 2–4, describes this decisive manifestation of the church.
  2. Ignatius, Letter to the Ephesians 19:3.
  3. The same words are used in Acts of Peter 37: “The cross of Christ, who is the Word stretched out, the one and only, of whom the Spirit saith: For what else is Christ, but the Word, the sound of God?” See also Acts of John 94–95, 98–99.
  4. Ignatius, Letter to the Smyrnaeans 1–3.
  5. Origen, Against Celsus VI.34.
  6. Lucian, On the Death of Peregrinus II.
  7. The Syriac Testament of Our Lord Jesus Christ 1:28; the Arabic Didascalia (Chapter 39, where it is introduced as mystagogia Jesu Christi ).
  8. Ode of Solomon 22.
  9. See the Liturgy of James and the Liturgy of Mark. See also the so-called “Clementine Liturgy” in the Apostolic Constitutions and the Syriac Testament of Our Lord.
  10. The Armenian Liturgy, the Apostolic Constitutions VIII, Clementine Liturgy, after Psalm 118:26.
  11. The comparison between those tied to the cross (the Christians united with the Crucified One) and Ulysses appears in very early Christian art and writing.
  12. Macarius Magnes, Apocriticus IV.19, in Porphyry, Against the Christians.
  13. Justin, First Apology 61.
  14. Second Letter of Clement 6:9. “What assurance do we have of entering the kingdom of God if we fail to keep our baptism pure and undefiled?”
  15. Cyprian, To Donatus 3–5.
  16. Didache 12:2–5.
  17. 2 Thess. 3:6–15. See Didascalia 8.
  18. Hermas, The Shepherd 14:5–6, 17:2–5.
  19. The pagan Lucian, in The Death of Peregrinus 13, describes how the Christians rallied to support one of their number when he was imprisoned.
  20. See Justin, First Apology 67.
  21. Macarius Magnes, Apocriticus III.5, Porphyry Fragment 58.
  22. See Didascalia XIX: “That it is a duty to take care of those who for the name of Christ suffer affliction as martyrs.”
  23. Julian, To Arsacius.
  24. Tertullian, To His Wife II.4.
  25. Ignatius, Letter to the Romans, Salutation.
  26. Bishop Cornelius in Eusebius, Church History VI.43.
  27. One could agree to a Christian’s right to hold a high office in which he was empowered to adjudicate over the civic rights of a person only if he did not condemn or penalize anyone, or cause anyone to be put into chains, thrown into prison, or tortured (Tertullian, On Idolatry 17).
  28. Tertullian, On Idolatry 12: “Faith does not fear hunger.”
  29. Cf. Tertullian, On the Prescription of Heretics 20.
  30. Irenaeus, Against Heresies IV.33:1, 8.