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Tim, thanks for this. Good to hear from you. Here are some quick and possibly incoherent thoughts in response.

We need to distinguish between means and ends. I think Jesus and his followers may have been in broad agreement about the ends but not about the means.

If the “means” involved suffering and death, then presumably it was understood that Jesus would reign as king in a heavenly Jerusalem, seated at the right hand of God, even after the parousia. That seems to me to be how it is understood in Revelation 20. But this perhaps maintains a separation between an ideal heavenly government of Jesus and the martyrs and the mundane and flawed life of the governed on earth. Here is the crucial question: do we press New Testament rhetoric for the transcendent implications of its eschatological vision, or do we suppose that this is (nearly) always fundamentally about the concrete existence of the people of God under changing historical circumstances?

I think that Paul had more or less the same ends in view, but a) he was much more conscious of the empire-wide reach of the coming rule of YHWH through Jesus over the pagan nations, and b) he saw the growing inclusion of gentiles in the eschatological movement as a clear sign that the intrinsically Jewish (as distinct from Abrahamic) character of this future rule was at risk.

The critical question then may be how the apostles envisaged the continuing function of the churches after the conversion of the Greek-Roman world—if they thought about it at all. In the New Testament the churches are signs of a political-religious transformation to come, but what are they supposed to do once that transformation has happened?

One important point to make here is that the emphasis was on bringing the pagan religious system to an end, not on overthrowing systems of government. Kings, governors, and magistrates—perhaps even emperors—would stay in place, but they would acknowledge the final authority of Jesus, honour one God, and implement justice accordingly. The reign of Queen Elizabeth II was a faint but authentic memory of that principle.

It seems to me most likely that the ongoing existence of the churches in a converted empire would be as a largely non-professional priesthood, in the place of the old pagan priesthoods, charged with the task of mediating the lively presence of the one true God and teaching the nations how to walk in his ways. But this model would not require the nations suddenly to cease to be earthly political entities, subject to all the usual problems generated by human sin, meaning that the use of force to execute justice and maintain security would continue. No excuse for the crusades, however.

The tension would obviously be very difficult to manage—and was. But this was no different from the Old Testament arrangement, in which a priestly-prophetic caste, often internally split, came into conflict with Israel’s rulers—Ahaz and Isaiah, for example, or David and Nathan.

The New Testament insistence on not resorting to violence, even in self-defence, applied to the difficult transitional period leading up to the conversion of the pagan oikoumenē. Whether the apostles would have expected this to be normal in a Christian civilisation, I don’t know.

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