The fundamental claim that roots all of Christian life and behaviour is that the Kingdom has begun. Everything in Christian life is rooted in the Easter morning event. This is the good news, the evangel, that there is a new King (the original evangelists were the heralds sent out after a battle to proclaim that a battle has taken place, there has been a victory, and now there is a new King. Paul takes up this language and uses it to talk about Jesus). The whole point of being a Christian is to live under this new King, for the Kingdom is breaking into the world here and now. It is not something that will be accomplished all at once at the end of time (that is apocalypse), it is something which is beginning, and now we are engaged in this process of starting to live by the rules of the Kingdom.
That is what the Church is called to be. The Church is that community which lives by the rules of the Kingdom. The Church consists of all those who accept that Jesus is Lord – that God is in charge, that His purposes will be accomplished. It is not up to us to achieve the salvation of the world, for the world already has been saved. We do not have to save the world, but we do have to live in the belief that it has been saved. We are resident aliens, immigrants within the secular world, who have ways of life which don’t belong to the world but which belong to the Kingdom, which is coming but not fully here yet. So our ways of life, our hearts, are set upon a different Kingdom, which we long for and which we hope for. The crucial thing about Christian hope is that it is rooted in a decision, a settled will. It is not that we feel hopeful. Christian hope is not a feeling, it doesn’t rest upon our emotional make-up. It is a decision to act according to this information about the new King. It is a decision and a way of life. It is not an internal emotional state.
John Chapter 3 verses 14 –21. “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life, for God did not send His son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict. Light has come into the world but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.”
We are all working in the darkness, and before we know about Christ we do not really know whether our work is good or not. Once the light starts to dawn we can see the nature of the lives we are embedded in, and once we can see the crisis comes. That is when we have a choice to make. Do we stay trapped in the works of darkness or do we go towards the light? “They will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.” What is that fear? It is the fear of judgement. It is the fear of being condemned. It is the removal of that fear of condemnation which enables the walking into the light. The whole point about the good news it is that the process of judgement doesn’t have to apply. However, if you believe that you are going to be judged and condemned for what you have been doing, then you will resist what is coming. If, instead, you trust in God being benign, you are enabled to walk into the light. That is the kernel of Christian hope: we can change from how we have been. We can turn towards the light.
The Christian imagination is not about imagining the apocalypse – that is the worldly vision. The Christian imagination is instead rooted in love. The revelation, the light which is coming in, is about the truth of who we are as created human beings. It is to say “it doesn’t have to be like this, this world is not set up in the way that God intends us to live, this is not God’s intention”. Instead, the light which is dawning is revealing what God’s intention is, and it exposes the truth about who we are and how we live and therefore it sets us free from these processes. We now have a choice. When Jesus says “I come not to bring peace but a sword”, this is what He is describing. There is a peace in the darkness but now that the light has come there is a necessity of choice. The choice can be painful. There will be a clash between those who turn towards the light and those who stay in the darkness, between those who move towards the light and those who don’t want people to go to the light, because it threatens their comfortable darkness. This is why those who turn to the light will be persecuted. That is the way of the cross.
This is profoundly political in implication. It is about how we live, the choices that we make from day to day. We are called to repent of our present ways, changing our hearts, setting our hearts on the light, turning our hearts away from the darkness and turning to the light. This is why Jesus begins his teaching with these words: “The time has come, the Kingdom of God is near, turn your hearts around and believe in the Good News.”