Kingdom is the Key

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Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Lo, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:20-21, 85 C.E.)

His disciples said to him, “When will the kingdom come?” “It will not come by watching for it. It will not be said, ‘Look, here!’ or ‘Look, there!’ Rather, the Father’s kingdom is spread out upon the earth, and people don’t see it.” (Thomas: 113, 50-60 C.E.)

Scholars believe the earliest version of the non-biblical Gospel of Thomas appeared around 50-60 C.E. Luke-Acts was written around 85 C.E., around 30 years later. Though these passages are similar, scholars do not believe Luke used Thomas as one of his sources. The long-standing hypothesis is that Luke used Mark, Q, and another source unique to Luke to compose his story.

These two passages, separated by time and space, depict a kingdom of God that cannot be observed. Mainstream Christianity, and the Gospel writers in general, adopted the notion of an observable kingdom. Jesus was speaking of the kingdom as a spiritual dimension that cannot be seen with the physical eye. Nor is there adequate language to describe it, which is no doubt why he employed parables.

In his book, The Varieties of Religious Experience, psychologist William James makes this observation concerning the mystical experience:

The mystical experience, defies expression, that no adequate report of its contents can be given in words. Its quality must be directly experienced; it cannot be imparted or transferred to others. Mystical states are more like states of feeling than like states of intellect. No one can make clear to another who has never had a certain feeling, in what the quality or worth of it consists.

Over 2000 years have passed since the death of Jesus, and still he has not returned to usher in the expected kingdom. Why? Because this is not the nature of the kingdom of which he spoke. His kingdom of God is intuitively experienced in moments of quiet receptivity. As we become aware of God as an inner presence, we then begin to see that this kingdom is also spread out upon the earth. Like the Psalmist, we realize that wherever we are, God is:

Where can I go from your Spirit?  Where can I flee from your presence?
 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;  if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. (Psalms 139:7)

I speak of the mystical thread that I believe was the heart of Jesus’ teachings. Understanding what he meant by the kingdom of God, and how this understanding differs from that of the Gospel writers, is the key to detecting this thread.

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