Kingdom Uprising

Reclaiming Jesus' Hope, Gospel, and Way

Category: Kingdom Promoters

Promised Land on Steroids (Papias)

Papias was the overseer of the congregation at Hierapolis, a city through which a major road carried many travelers. As Christians came through, Papias would ask them if they had known the apostles and if they knew any sayings of Christ. Around the year a.d. 130 he composed five volumes called Expositions of the Sayings of the Lord from what he had learned. Sadly his work did not survive until today, though we can get glimpses of it through the quotations of a few later Christians like Irenaeus and Eusebius. Here is an excerpt from that book:

The blessing thus foretold undoubtedly belongs to the times of the kingdom, when the righteous will rise from the dead and reign, when creation, too, renewed and freed from bondage, will produce an abundance of food of all kinds from the dew of heaven and from the fertility of the earth, just as the elders, who saw John the disciple of the Lord, recalled having heard from him how the Lord used to teach about those times and say: ‘The days will come when vines will grow, each having ten thousand shoots, and on each shoot ten thousand branches, and on each branch ten thousand twigs, and on each twig ten thousand clusters, and in each cluster ten thousand grapes, and each grape when crushed will yield twenty-five measures of wine. And when one of the saints takes hold of a cluster, another cluster will cry out, ‘I am better, take me, bless the Lord through me.’ Similarly a grain of wheat will produce ten thousand heads, and every head will have ten thousand grains, and every grain ten pounds of fine flour, white and clean. And the other fruits, seeds, and grass will produce in similar proportions, and all the animals feeding on these fruits produced by the soil will in turn become peaceful and harmonious toward one another, and fully subject to humankind.

(Irenaeus, Against Heresies 5.33.3-4, trans. Michael Holmes)

Although it is impossible to say whether or not Papias’ saying really goes back to the historical Jesus, we should not rule it out completely because of its outlandishness. Consider, for a moment, that when the children of Israel first entered the Promised Land, two men carried a single cluster of grapes along with some figs and pomegranates on a rod between them (Numbers 13.23). In the kingdom age, this idea of incredible abundance gets amplified. Take a look at these prophecies from Amos and Joel:

Amos 9.13 [ESV]
“Behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD, “When the plowman will overtake the reaper And the treader of grapes him who sows seed; When the mountains will drip sweet wine And all the hills will be dissolved.

Joel 3.18 [ESV]
And in that day The mountains will drip with sweet wine, And the hills will flow with milk, And all the brooks of Judah will flow with water; And a spring will go out from the house of the LORD To water the valley of Shittim.

Furthermore, Papias’ statement about the taming of animals comes straight from Isaiah:

Isaiah 11.6-9 [ESV]
6 The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. 7 The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. 8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. 9 They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.

Whether or not Papias’ information really went back to Jesus does not affect the fact that Papias himself clearly believed in a kingdom coming to the earth in which the land would produce abundantly and animals would abstain from violence. Considering the fact that he wrote very early (around a.d. 130) and reportedly knew the apostle John, we cannot merely dismiss his testimony as one later Christian did when he wrote:

The same writer [Papias] has recorded other accounts as having come to him from unwritten tradition, certain strange parables of the Lord and teachings of his and some other statements of a more mythical character. Among other things he says that after the resurrection of the dead there will be a period of a thousand years when the kingdom of Christ will be set up in material form on this earth. These ideas, I suppose, he got through a misunderstanding of the apostolic accounts, not realizing that the things recorded in figurative language were spoken by them mystically. For he certainly appears to be a man of very little intelligence, as one may say judging from his own words.

(Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.31.3, trans. Michael Holmes)

So Papias is silly to accept scripture at face value instead of interpreting everything allegorically, like later Christians. (To read more about how anti-kingdom Christians used allegorical interpretation to undermine the idea of an earthly kingdom, see this article.) Ironically, I believe Papias intended the quote above to be taken figuratively. Obviously a grape cannot cry out, “I am better” nor can a head of grain contain 10,000 kernels. However, what does the exaggerated language mean? The saying teaches that the produce and grain of the earth in the kingdom will grow prolifically and that everyone will have enough food. Rather than people fighting over who gets the food, the food will fight over who gets the people. It is Eusebius who doesn’t “get it,” not Papias.

In conclusion, Papias stands as a strong witness to an early vibrant faith in the coming kingdom on earth–a time when God heals our world and causes it to flourish abundantly. Like Amos and Joel before him, Papias envisioned the kingdom age in terms of agricultural abundance rather than a disembodied flight to the celestial realm.

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Please Him in the Present World to Receive the Future World (Polycarp)

Polycarp was a very early Christian author and leader who wrote a letter to the Philippians between the years a.d. 110 and 140. According to Irenaeus who had heard Polycarp speak once in his youth, Polycarp had been a follower of the Apostle John. As an old man, the government arrested and executed Polycarp on the charge of professing Christianity. Here is what Polycarp says about the kingdom. Unsurprisingly, it sounds very similar to what we find in the New Testament:

To the Philippians 5.2-3
2 Similarly, deacons must be blameless in the presence of his righteousness, as servants of God and Christ and not of people. They must not be slanderers, not insincere, not lovers of money, but self-controlled in every respect, compassionate, diligent, acting in accordance with the truth of the Lord, who became a servant of all. If we please him in this present world, we will receive the world to come as well, inasmuch as he promised that he will raise us from the dead and that if we prove to be citizens worthy of him, we will also reign with him–if, that is, we continue to believe. 3 Similarly, the younger men must be blameless in all things; they should be concerned about purity above all, reining themselves away from all evil. For it is good to be cut off from the sinful desires in the world, because every sinful desire wages war against the spirit, and neither fornicators nor men who have sex with men (whether as the passive or as the active partner) will inherit the kingdom of God, nor will those who do perverse things.

To the Philippians 11.2
But how can someone who is unable to exercise self-control in these matters preach self-control to anyone else? Anyone who does not avoid love of money will be polluted by idolatry and will be judged as one of the Gentiles, who are ignorant of the Lord’s judgment. Or do we not know that the saints will judge the world, as Paul teaches?

[Polycarp, The Letter of Polycarp to the Philippians, trans. Michael Holmes, 2007]

In Polycarp’s mind, how we live plays a great role in determining where we will end up. In other words, he does not separate our hope from our lifestyle. Because of our destiny to inherit the kingdom, we should live righteously in the present. Our aim is to please the Lord in this age so that we will receive the future age when resurrection happens.

Notice how Polycarp thinks temporally rather than spatially. He does not talk about going “up” to heaven or “down” to hell at death. Rather he looks “forward” to when the future kingdom arrives. He looks forwards not upwards. The question is not “Where will I spend eternity?” but “Will I enjoy the future age?” He understands, as Paul teaches, that those who turn away from sinful lives in the present will judge the world in the future.

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Continuity of Message from Jesus to Disciples and Beyond (Clement of Rome)

Clement of Rome wrote and epistle to the church at Corinth between a.d. 80 and 100 because the younger generation ousted the established leadership. In the course of his epistle he mentioned the kingdom twice:

1 Clement 42
The apostles received the gospel for us from the Lord Jesus Christ…Having therefore received their orders and being fully assured by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and full of faith in the word of God, they went forth with the firm assurance that the Holy Spirit gives, preaching the good news that the kingdom of God was about to come. So, preaching both in the country and in the towns, they appointed their first fruits, when they had tested them by the spirit, to be bishops and deacons for the future believers.

1 Clement 50
…All the generations from Adam to this day have passed away, but those who by God’s grace were perfected in love have a place among the godly, who will be revealed when the kingdom of Christ visits us. for it is written: “Enter into the innermost rooms for a very little while, until my anger and wrath shall pass away, and I will remember a good day and will raise you from your graves.”…

The first of these quotes shows that Clement recognized Christ’s disciples performed the same ministry as Jesus. Mark described Jesus’ own gospel message with the following words:

Mark 1.14-15
14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

It is hard to miss the continuity between how Clement describes the disciples and what Mark said about Jesus himself. They both preached the kingdom as gospel. Furthermore we can also observe that Clement does not believe the kingdom came during Jesus’ ministry or even on the day of Pentecost. The disciples carried on the ministry of preaching the kingdom gospel right up until the time when they appointed overseers in the various churches that were present in Clement’s time.

The second text attests not to the proclamation of the kingdom message but to Clement’s own expectation. He looks for the time “when the kingdom of Christ visits us.” Thus, for Clement, the kingdom was undoubtedly a future expectation.

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Church Manual Affirms Coming Kingdom (Didache)

Dated between a.d 60 and 150 the Didache is an early Christian manual on how to do church, covering baptism, communion, righteous living, and other practical topics. It is one of the earliest Christian documents ever written apart from those which are in the New Testament.

Didache 8.2
Nor should you pray like the hypocrites. Instead, pray like this, just as the Lord commanded in his Gospel: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven…”

Didache 9.4
Just as this broken bread was scattered upon the mountains and then was gathered together and became one, so may your church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into your kingdom; for yours is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ forever.

Didache 10.5-6
5 Remember your church, Lord, to deliver it from all evil and to make it perfect in your love; and from the four winds gather the church that has been sanctified into your kingdom, which you have prepared for it; for yours is the power and glory forever. 6 May grace come, and may this world pass away. Hosanna to the God of David. If anyone is holy, let him come; if anyone is not, let him repent. Maranatha! Amen.

Didache 16.6-8
6 And then there will appear the signs of the truth: first the sign of an opening in heaven, then the sign of the sound of a trumpet, and third, the resurrection of the dead—7 but not of all; rather, as it has been said, “The Lord will come, and all his saints with him.” 8 Then the world will see the Lord coming upon the clouds of heaven.

The author(s) of the Didache believed the kingdom was in the future. Some Christians today say that although Jesus prayed for God’s kingdom to come, it arrived on the day of Pentecost. However, the Didache goes against such an idea, since they were still praying for the kingdom to come. We see a hope that God will gather together the church into God’s kingdom. At first this may not seem unusual until we realize how corporate the language is. Instead of individuals going to heaven at death, the Didache instructs us to pray that God would gather all of his church into his kingdom. This is an event that happens once at the end of our age. Lastly, this document teaches that Jesus is coming back to this earth with his saints. The goal is not to depart and join Jesus in heaven, but to meet him (presumably in the air on his way down cf. 1 Thessalonians 4.17) and escort him to his destination on earth.

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