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16 reasons for thinking that the conversion of the empire was at the heart of New Testament eschatology

I suppose that one of the main oddities of my thorough-going narrative-historical reading of the New Testament, at least from a more or less orthodox evangelical perspective, is my contention that a significant part of its “eschatological” vision has in view the conversion of the nations of the Greek-Roman world as a matter of historical fact. I think, basically, that this is where the whole “kingdom of God” argument in scripture finally lands.

It’s not a retrospective argument. I’m not saying that the New Testament predicts Constantine or Christendom as we know them. But I do think that the early Christians held firmly to the conviction that at some point in a realistic future God would judge the pagan world, that their sufferings would be brought to an end, that they would be publicly vindicated for their faith in the Son of God, that Jesus would be confessed as Lord, in the place of Caesar, and that the nations of the empire as nations would learn the ways of Israel’s God. What happened next was out of sight—until we get to a final judgment and new creation. Here is a quick summary of my reasons for holding this view.

1. There is the general point to make that Jesus and the apostles had their own limited historical horizons. Our post-Christendom, post-enlightenment, post-colonial, globalising view of the world is very different. The historical horizon of the early church in the pagan world would have to be determined in some way by beliefs about Rome. That, I suppose, is simply a hermeneutical choice that I have made, but I think it is a sound one, borne out by the sense it makes of the biblical texts and by the realism that it brings to the self-understanding of the church.

2. If it may be argued that the prospect of a destructive war against Rome constituted a significant part of Jesus’ vision of Israel’s future (eg. Lk. 21:20), then it’s not unthinkable that the apostles envisaged a no less political outcome to their endeavours in the wider Greek-Roman world.

3. The expectation is widely expressed in the Old Testament that eventually YHWH would judge and rule over the nations. “Arise, O God,” the Psalmist says, “judge the earth; for you shall inherit all the nations!” (Ps. 82:8). The theology is straightforward: if YHWH really is who he claims to be, the God of the whole earth, then sooner or later he should rule over the nations in the same way that he has ruled over Israel.

The theology is straightforward: if YHWH really is who he claims to be, then sooner or later he should rule over the nations in the same way that he has ruled over Israel.

4. The Old Testament passages most commonly used in the New Testament to explain the significance of Jesus’ resurrection and exaltation are ones which speak of rule over the nations. He is the Son who has been given the nations as his heritage; he will rule them with a rod of iron (Ps. 2:7-9; cf. Acts 13:33; Heb. 1:5; 5:5; Rev. 2:27; 12:5; 19:15). He has been seated at the right hand of God to rule over his enemies and “execute judgement among the nations” (Ps. 110; cf. Matt. 22:44; 26:64; Mark 12:36; Luke 20:42, 43; Acts 2:34, 35; 1 Cor. 15:25; Eph. 1:20-22; Col. 3:1; Heb. 1:3; 1:13; 2:8; 8:1; 10:12-13; 12:2; 1 Pet. 3:22). He is the Son of Man who, as the embodiment of the persecuted churches, will have dominion over the nations and peoples of the former beast-like Roman empire (Dan. 7:13-27; cf. Matt. 26:64; Mark 14:62; Rev. 1:7; 14:14).

5. Jewish apocalyptic writings of the period make a distinction between a penultimate judgment against the pagan nations, followed by a rule of the Hebrews, and some manner of final judgment of humanity and renewal of all things. For example, in the Apocalypse of Weeks righteous Jews overthrow both apostate Jews and the foreign invader, a new house is built for the “Great King in glory”, and the nations abandon their idols and learn Torah; then after a period of time there will be an “eternal judgment” and the final eradication of sin (1 En. 91:12-17; 93:3-10). I think that the New Testament follows the outline of this narrative but proposes a radically different agency.

6. Jesus imagines a judgment when the nations will be rewarded or punished, included in the coming reign of God or excluded from it, according to how people responded to the suffering of his disciples in the intervening period.

7. Paul tells the “men of Athens” that the God of Israel, who is the one true living creator God, has “fixed a day on which he will judge the oikoumenē in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:31). In Luke in particular the oikoumenē is the empire (cf. Lk. 2:1; Acts 11:28).

8. Not long before the episode on the Areopagus the Jews in Thessalonica had complained that the apostles had turned the oikoumenē upside down, “all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus” (Acts 17:7). It is Caesar’s world that is contested. Paul is not proclaiming a final judgment of the whole world at the end of history. He is prophesying judgment on—the end of—the whole idolatrous pagan system of the Greek-Roman world.

9. Paul speaks in Romans of wrath against the Jew first, then wrath against the Greek—not against the rest of humankind (Rom. 2:5, 9). It is God’s wrath against the idolatrous Greek-Roman world that is “revealed” in the narrative of Romans 1:18-32, whatever implications the account may have had for over-confident Jews. In Romans 1:17 Paul makes reference to Habakkuk’s prophesy of judgment on unrighteous Israel by means of the violent Chaldeans, followed by judgment on the Chaldeans, who were even worse than Israel (cf. Hab. 2:4). Romans, as I argue in The Future of the People of God: Reading Romans Before and After Western Christendom is not general theology. It is historical theology.

10. Paul explains his mission to the nations by quoting Isaiah 11:10 LXX: “The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises (anistamenos) to rule the nations” (Rom. 15:12). It seems not out of the question that Paul saw in anistamenos a verbal anticipation of Jesus’ resurrection: it was by virtue of his resurrection from the dead and his exaltation to the right hand of the Father that Jesus would come to rule the nations. The thought echoes Paul’s opening statement about Jesus, who was declared Son of God—that is, the king who would receive the nations as his heritage—“by his resurrection (anastaseōs) from the dead” (Rom. 1:4).

11. In the New Testament letters there is a consistent apocalyptic narrative about the suffering of the churches and the prospect of vindication in the foreseeable future. I think we should take the narrative-historical continuity seriously: the churches persecuted by the pagan nations and by Rome in particular would eventually see their enemies overthrown and would be vindicated. Historically speaking, it is absurd to imagine that we are still waiting for these things to transpire.

12. The end of persecution will come when the Lord Jesus destroys the man of lawlessness “who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God” (2 Thess. 2:4). Interpretation of this passage is notoriously difficult, but I think we cannot avoid the conclusion that Paul had in mind a divinized pagan ruler such as Caesar.

13. The “Christ hymn” of Philippians 2:6-11 culminates in the declaration that every knee would bow at the name of Jesus and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. The passage recalls Isaiah’s vision of the nations abandoning their idols and turning to YHWH to be saved:

Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: ‘To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.’ (Is. 45:22–23)

But this is not a universal, supra-historical proclamation. It is firmly located in the story of the conquest of Babylon by Cyrus and the liberation of the Jews from captivity. I suggest that Paul is making a similarly circumscribed affirmation in Philippians 2:9-11.

14. Jesus is the king—the Son, the firstborn, who will rule from the throne of God—to whom God has subjected the “empire” (oikoumenē) to come” (Heb. 2:5; cf. 1:5, 6, 8, 13).

15. The judgments in Revelation culminate in the fall of “Babylon the great”—that is, pagan Rome (Rev. 18). Then from the mouth of the Word of God comes a sharp sword “with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords” (Rev. 19:15–16). Previously Caesar was “king of kings and lord of lords”, ruling the nations of the empire with a literal sword. But his place has been usurped by Jesus, who will rule the nations with the Word of God.

16. Satan is confined to the abyss so that he can no longer “deceive the nations” as he did through the demonic power of Rome. Instead, Jesus will reign over the nations with the resurrected martyrs throughout the thousand years (Rev. 20:1-6).

Image of The Coming of the Son of Man: New Testament Eschatology for an Emerging Church

On Amazon (US):

Andrew Perriman
Wipf & Stock Pub (2012), Paperback, 282 pages, $33.00
Image of Re: Mission: Biblical Mission for a Post-Biblical Church (Faith in an Emerging Culture)

On Amazon (US):

Andrew Perriman
Paternoster (2007), Paperback, 156 pages, $19.99
Image of The Future of the People of God: Reading Romans Before and After Western Christendom

On Amazon (US):

Andrew Perriman
Wipf & Stock Pub (2010), Paperback, 188 pages, $24.00

Comments

You need a subtitle like “#6 Will Shock You!”

It seems the OT predicted a return from exile and then a golden age when other nations would look up to Israel. But can we fast forward to Constantine and say, “See, here’s the fulfillment”? What about Alexander the Great and then the Roman Empire?

It just seems too convenient to wait hundreds of years until things sort of match prophesies and then declare such and such as the long-awaited fulfillment.

I’m not saying you’re wrong but just that this all seems quite forced at times…

It’s a good question about Alexander the Great. What I think happened was that the apocalyptic vision of YHWH’s take-over of the pagan empire was first formulated in response to Hellenism and then updated under Roman rule. So in the second century BC Daniel’s fourth beast is Greece, in the first century AD it is Rome—as in both Revelation and Josephus, for example.

As to the second point, yes, it complicates matters if we work backwards from possible fulfilment. My argument, rather, is that if we ask what it meant for Jewish-Christians to tell this apocalyptic story in the first century, within their limited historical horizons, we have to reckon with:

  • the ending of classical pagan opposition;
  • the defeat of the enemies of the church;
  • the public vindication of those who had believed in this new future, the age to come;
  • the confession of Jesus as Lord by the nations that had formerly served Rome;
  • and the rule of Israel’s God over the old empire through his Son, which in historical terms is exactly what Christendom was.

Just to be clear, are you saying the prophesies of restoration and exaltation after captivity (an age of peace, prosperity, and importance) that we read about in places like Isaiah, Jeremiah, etc. were an expectation waiting hundreds of years for fulfillment. But some second century Jews may have identified the Maccabean revolt as the fulfillment, and later, first century Christians may have seen the Christianization of the Roman Empire as fulfillment?

Or am I completely misunderstanding you?

Yes, probably something like that. In historical terms prophecy is not an exact science, but it seems to me that the clash with pagan empire from the Babylonian period onwards generated a growing conviction not only that Israel would be forgiven and restored but also that the scope of YHWH’s concrete rule would be expanded to embrace the pagan empire.

Clearly this took a long period of time, so empires came and went—hence Daniel 7. But in the fulness of time, so to speak, God sent his Son to achieve this long-held hope—and even then, it took 250 years for the proclamation of the good news about Jesus to bring about the conversion of the last and greatest of the pagan empires, bringing that long section of the story of God’s people to a fitting eschatological climax.

So I have a few more questions for you:
Do you think first-century Jewish followers of Christ recognized Daniel’s 4th beast as the Greeks and the horn as Antiochus?

Do you think most first-century Jews were still waiting for the peace and prosperity that was prophesied when Israel would be exalted and the other nations humbled? Is that what some were hoping Jesus would usher in? (I suppose practicing Jews today are still waiting for the fulfillment of this ancient prophesy, right?)

Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. You always give me something new to think about. :)

I’m not sure what evidence we have for the first question. Dating is always a bit problematic anyway. But I suspect that first century Jews would have been less interested in the historical reading of Daniel 7 than in applying the vision to Rome.

First century Jews who developed or got excited by the apocalyptic material—in other words, not all first century Jews—broadly and not entirely coherently expected the foreign invader to be defeated, Israel to be restored, etc., and a new age of Hebrew hegemony over the nations to be inaugurated.

No doubt some Jews thought that Jesus was about to trigger this chain of events. But I think his focus was on the coming wrath of God against Jerusalem and the consequent vindication of the disciples that he had sent out to proclaim the coming kingdom of God. It is only later that Christians began to unpack the significance of Jesus’ resurrection for the nations.

Usually by the time I have thought of something sensible to say about these or any items posted for consideration on Postost, the item has been superseded by the next. So probably more for my own interest than anything else, I offer the following responses to the 16 points.

My broad response, which connects with Point 1. is that the significance of Rome in NT history has generally been underplayed. I think you overplay it. That’s my own hermeneutical choice, but which I continue to think makes sense of the overall weighting and coherence of the texts and more importantly the narrative as whole, and our connection to it.

This sort of balance would apply to Points 2. and 3., the key phrase in question being in Point 3: “sooner or later he (God) should rule over the nations in the same way that he has ruled over Israel”. Can we really assume the rule to be “in the same way”?

Continuing this line of thought, none of the NT quotations from Psalm 2 (except the three Revelation passages) includes the line “He will rule them with a rod of iron”. It is often a dangerous and misleading assumption in the NT to include straightforwardly the rest of an OT passage in an extract quoted. Jesus significantly omits the final line of the quotation from Isaiah 61 (Luke 4:18-19); Paul drives a coach and horses through the sense in context of some of the texts he quotes from the OT by omitting crucial adjoining lines, eg the passages in Romans 15 quoted from Psalm 18:41-49, and Deuteronomy 32:43, with the sense brought out being the opposite of the sense of the passages in context. Further examples are in Romans 3:10-18, which ignore the distinction in the first three Psalms between the righteous and unrighteous, and 1 Corinthians 15:26 where Hosea 13:14 says the opposite of Paul.

Likewise when the NT quotes Psalm 110, it is important to see which part of the Psalm is quoted, and how its sense is understood in the NT context. You cite 16 quotations or allusions to verse 1, of which 7 include “until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”. The precise meaning of “enemies” and “footstool” is only explained once, in 1 Corinthians 15:26, and there it is not individuals who are referenced, but the impersonal “all dominion, authority and power”, and “death”, as “the final enemy”. The precise meaning of “the Son of Man coming on/with the clouds of heaven” in Matthew and Mark is left open, and it could be a process (the coming of the Spirit on the church and its consequences) as much as an event (Jerusalem judged, the temple destroyed). It could include the Spirit coming in power as well as judgment on Jerusalem.

In Point 9, two assumptions are made. The first is that Christ’s judging role will be one of violent retribution on idolatry (which might reinforce the call to repent). This is an assumption based on OT prophetic antecedents, but is questionable in the light of who “the judge” will be, and of his first appearance on earth. The “righteousness” by which he will judge encompasses a far broader meaning than simply violence on God’s enemies. It’s also the case that even in Like/Acts, oikoumenē is not simply the Roman Empire, eg Luke 4:5, Acts 19:27.

In Point 9, as I am sure you were aware, the Jew/Greek divide was simply a way of distinguishing Jews from everyone else, and did not mean Greeks as opposed to any other peoples elsewhere in the world who did not speak Greek. The point is academic, as for all practical purposes, Paul was talking about the Greek speaking Roman world. But it does have a bearing on Point 13.

In Point 13, you quote Isaiah 45:22-23, asserting that “all the ends of the earth” only refers to the limits of the Babylonian Empire, because the context is Cyrus and the liberation of Jews from Babylonian captivity. But the phrase is used loosely in the OT, and sometimes very clearly to the entire inhabited creation, eg Psalm 19:4, (cp v,6), Psalm 46:9, Psalm 135:7. As I have argued before, there us no reason why Isaiah should not be making a broader point within a more limited context. So in Isaiah 42, the Servant is set in the context of God who created the heavens and the earth (v. 5), and calls for praise from “the ends of the earth”, which extends to sea, islands, desert, Sela and Kedar.

I don’t have any issues with Points 10, 11, 12, except that you beg the question of the meaning of Jesus’s exaltation to the right hand of the Father and rule of the nations, and also in 14 , 15 and 16. Point 15 reminds me of Mark Driscoll’s infamous comment that he could never worship somebody whom he could beat up. Does Jesus really become the violent judge in his ruling and reigning role, in contrast to the pattern he established in his earthly ministry? This is a crucial question not simply of NT interpretation, but of the OT also.

On the point of “violent retribution”: 1) doesn’t Jesus enact a “violent” judgment against the temple in anticipation of AD 70, citing Jeremiah 7:11—not to mention other statements in the Gospels about the destruction of the wicked tenants or the city of the churlish guests? and 2) it’s not clear to me that judgment on Rome in Revelation is conceived in literally violent terms: idolatrous Rome is defeated by the Word of God and the faithful witness of the saints, not by the sword.

I’m not sure he does. He drives out those who are abusing the temple: John 2:14-16.

Also, I agree with your 2nd point, but find it hard to see how that could be a judgment, in the OT sense, and in the sense of Romans 1:18. Does Revelation 18 (v. 21 especially) describe defeat by the faithful witness of the saints and the word of God, or is it just apocalyptic hyperbole? Weren’t you earlier drawing a parallel between armies coming against Jerusalem and the same with Rome?

Hey Peter,

I don’t know how this plays into the mix, but in terms of the actual historical progression of Christianity in Rome, a fair amount of violence was involved. In fact, when Constantine first puts the Chi Rho on his army, it’s in a civil war against Maxentius. Constantine puts an end to Christian persecution, but he seems reasonably tolerant of Roman paganism until later in life when he starts doing things like leveling the Temple of Aphrodite to build a Christian church on it. These aggressive moves against paganism are only amplified by his successors, especially Gratian who divests pagans of all political power, along with their money, buildings, and possessions. Then we get to Theodosius who also has to establish his reign through civil war, and he declares Christianity to be the state religion.

I just wanted to point out that the conversion of the Roman Empire to Christianity was far from bloodless. Whether the apocalyptic imagery in Revelation is describing that or not is of course its own discussion.

This doesn’t sit well with Andrew’s response that the end of idolatry was through the word and faithful witness of the saints. From my perspective, this is not the fulfilment of a narrative about Christ ruling the nations. This simply did not reflect anything to do with the character of his rule. I think it’s misleading and a big distortion to suggest it did.

Well, it is that, too. I mean, there’s a reason Constantine was a Christian and ended Christian persecution.

Obviously, paganism in Rome didn’t come to an end just because it hit a tipping point of converts, but I don’t think that’s Andrew’s thesis. The faithfulness in crisis that motivates the historical act of deliverance would be a common feature both to AD 70 and Rome’s reversal.

Thanks Phil. I do think one of the reasons paganism came to an end was that it hit a tipping point of converts. It also came to an end for political reasons; it was a useful means of unifying the empire. Hence Constantine’s addiction for councils which would unify the church around creeds - which themselves were a turn away from the unifying presence of Jesus in the church to verbal formulae which many think encouraged formalism over heart and character. I think Constantine’s motives in this respect, and his supposed conversion, are very largely retrospective myth-making.

However, the violence of the Roman Empire, both before, during and after its ‘conversion’, are reasons for questioning the integrity of Andrew’s narrative historical interpretation. The other side of the coin of ‘faithfulness in crisis’, according to the interpretation, is Christ ruling over the nations, which means demonstrating his rule through the empire and through Constantine. We do have to look at the character of that rule as reflected in historical events. I think there is a complete mismatch between what this particular narrative historical interpretation says about the place of the empire in reflecting the concrete outworking of the narrative, and what the gospels show us of Jesus himself.

In the end, it’s the character of Jesus which is on trial. It’s the same character through which Jesus radically reinterpreted the Old Testament and its scriptures in his own lifetime, calling into question the very reward/punishment/violent retribution system on which the narrative historical interpretation seems to rely. Indeed the narrative historical interpretation only leaves us reward/punishment as Christ’s on-going reality. Everything else that is said about him in the NT is restricted to what is regarded as a limited historical period of transition, until he became ruler of the nations. Thereafter, it no longer supposedly applies.

Well, Christians were definitely still in the minority during the reign of Constantine, so I don’t know that we can chalk everything up to a political desire for a united Empire. Certainly there were some things that are difficult to explain purely as a matter of political expediency. There’s no reason, for example, for him to adopt the Chi Rho for his armies if he’s just trying to keep Christians and pagans happy together. Also, his prohibitions against new pagan temples does not equalize pagans and Christians, but rather is an active suppression of the pagan religion which was still in the majority at the time, not just among the common people, but especially the Senate.

It does not appear to me that Constantine feared a Christian revolt. If anything, it appears to me that his measures for political expedience were more directed at paganism, allowing them their sacrifices, for example, despite his opposition to the practice.

We also have to look at Constantine’s successors as we talk about the Roman Empire’s stance toward paganism, which becomes increasingly aggressive until we arrive at flat-out governmental seizure of pagan lands, goods, and commerce and a forced disbanding of any kind of state encapsulated expressions of pagan belief.

Anyway, all that to say that it’s hard for me to embrace a historical interpretation of Constantine’s reign that says that Christians just grew in number and power, and eventually he had to deal with that reality as Emperor, much in the way American Presidents have to court the religious right. The growth of Christianity as an entity is certainly a factor, but Constantine did things he didn’t have to do, even if for some reason he was worried about what Christians might do to him, politically.

Obviously, I could be totally wrong. I’m neither a historian nor a classicist nor an expert on Constantine. I do think the pattern of God’s faithful being under oppression demonstrating that faithfulness such that a political force moves in to change their situation is a fairly common pattern in the biblical narratives, and I think the phenomenon of Constantine and his successors can plausibly fit that pattern.

But then there’s the issue, as you pointed out, of how Christlike it is if violence and political power are the tools used to establish the Kingdom. That’s a very good point, and I don’t know if I have a great answer for it. I think we can say that, from the standpoint of the Old Testament, such a narrative is common. Under what circumstances could God plausibly call Cyrus “my servant” if this pagan ruler with his powerful empire and armies were not serving His purpose in restoring His people?

The question would be, with the advent of Jesus, should that not produce a discontinuity given Jesus’ apparent non-violence and critique of political power? To that I guess I would respond that one factor to take into account is that Jesus’ teaching and critique are at least partially conditioned by his historical circumstances - an Israel under a hostile foreign power whose leadership sets themselves and idols up as gods. We might (and people do) certainly debate over, for instance, Jesus’ teaching on retribution in the Sermon on the Mount is meant to be something people should do all times everywhere and in all circumstances, or if he is primarily thinking about the fruits of striking back against the Empire (heh) and the effects that might have, both in the legitimacy of Israel’s testimony and the nasty repercussions.

But even granting that Jesus’ non-violence teachings are meant to be universalized, would you think that we can’t describe something on earth as Jesus’ reign unless it perfectly reflects his character? If that’s the case, it seems like we’d have to say Jesus is most definitely not reigning in any sense on earth and never has been.

Granted, we might think of the use of military might as a pretty severe difference as opposed to, say, a nonviolent Christian ruler who spent his money a little excessively (although I don’t know how we’d go about evaluating that sort of thing), but even so - Constantine in his own, fallible way established justice and peace, professed Jesus as the Lord, and delivered Christians from their persecutions. These all seem to be commensurate with the kinds of things Jesus wanted for his people, so there are certainly some Christ-like characteristics of Constantine’s reign. Or would you disagree on that?

This is becoming quite a conversation. Thanks for your thoughts. Maybe I’m overly sceptical about Constantine. I’m more sceptical about the Roman Empire as it became under him and his successors being a demonstration of the rule of Christ over the nations: not least because the essential viciousness of the Empire remained - but now also directed against those who did not join the developing consensus of the church.

I’m sceptical about any supposed revelation being used as an affirmation of victory over your enemies on the battlefield, especially where that revelation is used as an emblem for the victorious army. But as you suggest, what did Constantine have to gain from using it? Maybe his generals were believers, and he was impressed by their faith - though for 300 years at least Christians had refused to bear arms of any sort in the Empire’s army. There might have been many influences on him. Some evidence seems to suggest that Constantine’s faith was more political than personal. He maintained emblems of sun worship long after his conversion, and delayed baptism until his death bed, giving him the best chance of a problem free transition to whatever lay on the other side.

As regards ‘tipping point’, I don’t know what the statistical evidence is for numbers of believers one way or the other, but it is certainly the case that the faith had penetrated all levels of society, and that Caesar’s household was being penetrated in this way even in Paul’s time. Also the case that Christianity was becoming a mass movement before the time of Constantine. Also that Christians obtained respect for caring for the poor and needy. But as you say, politically Constantine had as much to lose as to gain from association with this new faith. Or maybe he calculated that he had more to gain than lose?

But there’s a much bigger issue to do with the nature of Christ’s reign over the nations and what that would look like. In my opinion, it had little to do with empire and armies, and much more to do with the power of an upside-down kingdom, in which the poor, marginalised and excluded in society were the recipients of Christ’s reign, in a way that subverted the powerful. This reign was, in my opinion, well underway before Constantine. Persecution did nothing to stem its growth.

The association of this kingdom with the kingdom of the Roman Empire produced mixed results for the faith. On the one hand, wholesale compromise and the opposite of anything that demonstrated Christlike characteristics, and its power. So I’m ruling this out as a demonstration of ‘Christ’s rule of the nations’, and this would include the world of power politics which the non-biblical term ‘Christendom’ conveys. On the other hand, there was a great deal happening within the Empire, both by its representatives in the church, and especially by those outside the imperial church, which bears many hallmarks of the Christ of the gospels, albeit sometimes mixed, which seems much closer to what Jesus and Paul would have identified and recognised as ‘kingdom’, in gospels and letters.

Basically it seems quite clear to me from the gospels that Christ regarded the era of God’s will being enacted through violent force of arms, at least as a primary means, as being over. I don’t buy the idea that the teaching of the gospels was only to get through a supposed period of transition, following which it was business, or slaughter, as usual - not least by the powers-that-be in the church on those believers who disagreed with them. This has been the heritage of the Constantinian settlement through succeeding centuries, including the Protestant Reformation(s), and to the present day in some parts of the world. I think the way the kingdom of God works, as Christ presented it, is very different, just about as far removed from this as could be imagined.

Good thoughts, but biblical architecture helps. Revelation works from the Garden (a new Adam among the lampstand-trees) into the Land, not “earth” (Herodian Cains versus Christian Abels) and then into the World (all nations). Jesus opens the New Covenant scroll at His ascension, and the Gospel is sent into the Land, beginning with a white horse. The firstfruits saints are martyred, the Jewish-Roman conspiracy against the Church is broken, and then Jesus marches with these saints on many white horses into all nations. The book follows the covenant pattern established in the Torah, only with Jerusalem as the city “circumcised” or cut around instead of Jericho. That was actually the end of the oikoumene in covenant terms - the destruction of the Jew-Gentile order set up by God in Daniel. After AD70 the terms Jew and Gentile mean nothing in God’s economy.