My recent ramblings around Jesus’ understanding of salvation and repentance have been aimed at encouraging us to see the good news of Jesus as being about more than a narrow view of ‘life after death’. The good news of Jesus is based on his message that the Kingdom of God has come through him. Through his life, death and resurrection, Jesus brings God’s reign into a fallen and hurting world and into the lives of people who desperately need his salvation.
We often talk about the Kingdom of God in terms of Jesus’ manifesto of Luke 4, with its emphasis on proclaiming good news to the poor and setting the oppressed free. This is absolutely right, but there is a broader dimension to Jesus’ Kingdom message that we can miss when we concentrate only on Luke 4. I’ve been aware that my last two posts have been pretty focussed on the impact of Jesus and the kingdom of God on human beings. To counterbalance that I want simply to outline Richard Bauckham’s ecological reading of Jesus’ Kingdom message – it’s fresh, innovative and we need to hear it!
He makes the point that, although we tend to focus on Isaiah and Daniel, Jesus’ Kingdom theology would also have come very much from the Psalms, which he would have been brought up with. The Psalms feature the kingship and rule of God very prominently and these themes are closely related to the wider creation. The creation theology that we see in the Psalms tells us that God created all things; that he created them good, and that he is lovingly involved daily with their care. The non-human creation acknowledges that God rules now and look forward to when he will reign in fullness, and they praise God and declare his glory.
Jesus would have had this broad (‘cosmic’) understanding as a foundation to what he meant when he came proclaiming that the Kingdom of God had come in him, as shown in the the Lord’s Prayer. Bauckham sees the phrase ‘on earth as it is in heaven’ as relating to each of the three petitions: ie, ‘may your name be hallowed, may your kingdom come, and may your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven’. It can be easy to see the earth as simply a backdrop against which God’s will is done in people’s lives, but that is a misreading of what Jesus is teaching his disciples to pray! For Jesus, the Kingdom of God was never something that only impacted people.
Jesus’ Kingdom message thus encompasses the wider creation, as well as human beings. Two instances are particularly interesting in this regard. The first is Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness and Mark’s description of Jesus as being ‘with the wild animals’ (Mk. 1:13). In the Hebrew Bible, one of the things that was anticipated when God came to his people and reigned fully was that there would be peace throughout the created order: peace between wild and domestic animals, and peace between wild animals and humans. Isaiah 11:6-9 is the classic picture of this with its description of the wolf lying down with the lamb and the child putting its hand into the snake’s nest.
When Jesus goes into the wilderness Bauckham highlights that he meets three groups: Satan, the wild animals, and the angels. Satan is Jesus’ enemy and the angels are his friends, but standing between them are the wild animals, enemies with whom Jesus makes friends. The phrase ‘to be with someone’ is used elsewhere by Mark to signify friendship (eg. 3:14, 14:67) and is the phrase used of the animals in the ark (they were ‘with’ Noah). So here, Jesus makes peace between the human world and the wild animals in a way that begins to fulfil the Bible’s future messianic hope.
The second instance is the stilling of the storm in Mark 4:35-41 (and its equivalents). This story reflects the ancient imagery of the primeval waters in the creation narrative, which God controlled by putting boundaries around it and giving it limits, hence creating a stable environment for life. But these waters were only confined not fully abolished. When Jesus speaks to the wind and the sea he evokes the way that God spoke to the waters of chaos at the dawn of creation. ‘What Jesus enacts, therefore, is the Creator’s pacification of chaos. In this small-scale instance he anticipates the final elimination of all forces of destruction that will distinguish the renewed creation from the present’.
Jesus is the Lord of all creation, the one through whom and for whom all things have been created (Col. 1:16). When we read the Gospels with that belief in our minds, we might find we discover some surprising new things!
This post is based on Richard Bauckham’s writing in chapter 3 (‘Reading the Synoptic Gospels Ecologically’) of, Living With Other Creatures: Green Exegesis and Theology (Paternoster Press, 2012).