Thy Kingdom Come- Reconciliation - An Eschatological Perspective
Pr. Joji Mathew
Reconciliation (katallagē) is an event which indicates the changed relationship for the better between persons or groups, who formerly were at enmity with each other. Bible, both the Old and the New Testaments, gives us sufficient insight into the need and nature of reconciliation, either between God and the humankind or between the humans themselves. Reconciliation is God’s initiative, seeking “to reconcile to himself all things” through Christ (Colossians 1:19). Reconciliation is grounded in God restoring the world to God’s intentions, the process of restoring the brokenness between people and God, within people, between people and with God’s created earth. Reconciliation between people is a mutual journey, requiring reciprocal participation. It includes a willingness to acknowledge wrongs done, extend forgiveness, and make restorative changes that help build trust so that truth and mercy, justice and peace dwell together. According to John Macquarie reconciliation is the highest providential activity of God. Reconciliation is a continuous process and the eschatological perspective of reconciliation is signifincant.
God’s initiative for Reconciliation through Christ
The centrality of reconciliation as God’s gift is spelled out in Romans 5:10-11 and Ephesians 2:15-16.The basic characteristic of reconciliation is that the initiative as well as the environment for reconciliation is taken and worked out mainly by the offended party in the estrangement and not by the other who is responsible for such an estrangement. Paul has given us some of the most beautiful reflections on reconciliation as a sublime expression in Christian life. “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away. See, everything has become new. All this is from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to him, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ. Since God is making his appeal through us, we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Cor 5:17-20). The orientation towards these reflections are given in 2 Cor 1:3-6: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are abundant for us, so also our consolation is abundant through Christ. If we are being afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation; if we are being consoled, it is for your consolation, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we are also suffering”. For Paul, God is the source of human reconciliation. The divine power enables and empowers the ministry of reconciliation in the world, extended to all areas where divisions of all sorts remain. God is in us, saying to the world, “Be reconciled.”
Kingdom of God and Reconciliation
The major focus in the teaching and preaching of Jesus Christ was Kingdom of God. Jesus asked the disciples to pray “thy Kingdom come.” The present and futuristic dimensions of Kingdom of God are significant. Kingdom of God is inaugurated in Jesus. Jesus’ proclamation that the Kingdom of God is in your midst, affirms the idea of initiation of the Kingdom of God in and through Jesus Christ. Reconciliation and Peace are the ruling ideas connected with Kingdom of God. In the Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5-7) Kingdom values are explicated by Jesus. Jesus stresses the importance of acting for reconciliation in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:23-24).The ‘already’ and ‘Not yet’ dimensions of the Kingdom of God are important. Even when we emphasize the present experiences of God’s Kingdom, the futuristic dimension of the Kingdom of God cannot be negated. The Kingdom has come in one sense for believers in that they are now in it (Col. 1:13, cf. John 3:3f, Romans 14:17, I Cor. 4:20). At the same time, the Kingdom has yet to come in its fullness (I Cor. 15:24-28, cf. Rev. 11:15, Rev. 12:10f). The Kingdom then will have happened, or come in its fullness, when evil is finally defeated. In the same manner reconciliation also has a futuristic dimension. Along with the understanding of present reconciliation achieved through death of Christ, the futuristic dimension also should be highlighted.
It seems that the first thing to note about the context of reconciliation is that the New Testament places it in the all-encompassing framework of the kingdom of God which was revealed in Christ’s coming. Reconciliation is not just a matter between God and the individual person, but must be understood from the universal and eschatological point of view of God’s coming to a world estranged from him, an advent of redemption and of judgment. In this light we must hear the call to reconciliation “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Christ represents this universal character of the kingdom in many ways. At his birth the angels sang “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased.” This peace is not just an inner contentment in the hearts of those who know themselves to be reconciled with God. It is the state of shalom, the kingdom of peace and justice of which the Psalmists had sung and which the prophets had foretold, a kingdom that begins at Christ’s birth. Christ preached the gospel in its all-embracing meaning, but he also put it into effect. When doubts beset John the Baptist so that he was not sure of Jesus and his messianic kingship, Jesus sent him the following message: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them” (Matt. 11:4, 5). That is the peace on earth of which the angels sang in the field of Bethlehem. It cannot be denied that forgiveness of sin and reconciliation of God with man is the heart and basis of that peace. The forgiveness and peace involve more than the new relation between God and men and also imply a new relation among people mutually. For that reason the oppressed and afflicted, those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, are also called blessed and those who make peace are called children of God. Reconciliation is the central focus of Jesus’ universal proclamation of salvation. Only within this all-encompassing framework of the kingdom will we be able to understand the profound and true significance of reconciliation.
Reconciliation in Eschatological Perspective
Eschatology deals with the doctrine of last things. Though the order in systematic theology places it last, it is not last or least in terms of importance. According to Bultmann it has become more and more clear that the eschatological expectation and hope are the core of the New Testament preaching through out. The concept of reconciliation has clear eschatological implications also.
The biblical message of reconciliation is to be understood within the wide compass of the history of salvation and cannot be contained within some individualistic soteriology (Study of Salvation). The reconciliation effected through the death of Jesus Christ has not only present but a futuristic dimension also. It is parochial to understand reconciliation only in individualistic terms. In Revelation the exalted Christ is repeatedly described in the language of reconciliation as the Lamb that was slain (Rev. 5:6, 8, 12, 13, etc. - 29 times in all). As such, however, he bears seven horns to symbolize his power, and we behold him before the throne of God receiving the book of the seven seals (to symbolize his lordship over the history of the future) from him who sits on the throne (Rev. 5:6). As in the gospels and the letter to the Colossians, here, too, the concept of the kingdom and the concept of reconciliation are very closely interrelated.
God’s mission of reconciliation is extended to the future. Scripture witnesses that God’s mission of reconciliation is holistic, including relationships with God, self, others, and creation. This mission has never changed from the Fall to the new creation in Christ, to its fulfilment in the coming of Jesus in the eschaton. God’s reconciling mission involves the very in-breaking of the Kingdom of God, as realized through Jesus’ incarnation, His life and ministry and preaching, and through His death and resurrection. God’s initiative of reconciliation through Christ transforms believers into God’s new creation. With all of creation, we await our final and perfect transformation in the end of time. At that time, when Jesus returns, God’s mission will be complete. People of every nation, tribe, and language, gathered as one, will worship the Lamb, the tree of life and its leaves shall be for the healing of the nations, and the new heavens and earth shall make the reign of God a reality with all things reconciled to God (Romans 8:18-39, Revelation 7:9-17; 21-22:5).
Cosmic dimension in Eschatological Reconciliation
Eschatology must never be seen apart from creation, since the climax of the eschaton is the renewal of creation (cf. Isaiah 65:l7ff, 66:22ff, Rev. 21:lf, etc.). Hence in Ephesians 1:9-10 all things of creation are said to be finally headed up (or, unified) in Christ. Creation is related to redemption since Romans 8:l8ff (cf. Isaiah 11:1-9) speaks of the redemption of creation into its ultimate form and liberty. Reconciliation is continuous with consummation, the bringing of creation to its perfection.
In Colossians and Ephesians the image of a glorified Christ is used to describe the cosmic reconciliation won by the cross: “For in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile all things for him, making peace by the blood of his cross…. And you who once were alienated and hostile in mind because of evil deeds, he has now reconciled…. through his death, to present you holy, without blemish, and irreproachable before him” (Col 1:19-22). Ephesians uses the same idea of the social harmony brought about by the complete transformation of believers through the death of Christ. The author speaks of Christ as “our peace” (2:14) who created “in himself one new person (kainos anthropos) (Eph 2:15) in place of the two ( Jews and Greeks), thus establishing peace that he might “reconcile us both with God, in one body, through the cross, putting that enmity to death by it” (Eph 2:16).
The church is called to be a living sign of the one body of Christ, an agent of hope and holistic reconciliation in our broken and fragmented world. Reconciliation is God’s initiative, restoring a broken world to God’s intentions by reconciling “to himself all things” through Christ (Colossians 1:19) including the relationship between people and God, between people and with God’s created earth. Christians participate with God’s mission by being transformed into ambassadors of reconciliation. In the Bible, reconciliation means a deep improvement in relationships, not only between God and humans, but among humans themselves and also between the humans and the environment. From a biblical standpoint, the empowerment to develop healing and growth-producing relationships among people, however, is given by God. According to the New Testament, reconciliation is the supreme gift of God expressed in the saving death of Jesus of Nazareth, who thereby won for us redemption and salvation. Reconciliation continues to be offered and sustained through the Church. Reconciliation in the New Testament is not so much the cultic matter that it is for the Old Testament. It is the sum and essence of God’s work in Christ, and expression of grace in our relationships with one another.
Reconciliation is the activity whereby the disorders of existence are healed, its imbalances redressed, its alienations bridged over. It is very important to discuss reconciliation in eschatological perspective. In anticipation of the eschatological reconciliation, Christians are expected to involve in the ministry of reconciliation. We are to be doing the work of healing and restoring broken relationships -- reaching out into all the world, into all the creation, embodying and expressing and proclaiming the good news of reconciliation. That is our mandate in human relationships, and ecologically. We are given the ministry of reconciliation, of healing, wherever sin has distorted and fractured relationships. We are called to participate in God’s mission of reconciliation. This includes obeying Jesus’ command to humbly make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20), teaching them to follow the example of Jesus who suffered for a suffering world. In Christ, God repairs and restores broken relationships. God brings healing and restoration into a world filled with sin, injustice, exploitation and brokenness. That astonishing forgiveness, that grace, that reconciliation is the distinctive message of the Christian faith. In Acts and the apostolic writings Jesus the Christ, by virtue of his death and resurrection, is presented as the mediator between God and humanity, person and person, group and group. The Bible as an Instrument of Reconciliation expresses the meaning of the life, death, resurrection, and abiding presence of Jesus Christ. Biblical reconciliation implies friendship with God and each other, radical change and the transformation of a relationship or of a society, and the restoration of harmony.