Jesus Before Christianity
by Albert Nolan, pages 57-58, 1992
The gospel or good news which Jesus brought to the poor and the oppressed was a prophecy. He prophesied a future event which would be a blessing to the poor. This event was not merely the coming of God’s “kingdom” but the coming of God’s “kingdom” for the poor and the oppressed. “Yours is the kingdom of God” (Lk 6:20).
Jesus’ basic prophecy is contained in those passages of the gospel which we call the beatitudes:
Blessed are the poor
because yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who are hungry now
because you shall be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now
because you shall laugh. (Lk 6:20-21)
… If great hopes for the future were awakened in the poor by Jesus’ activity, even greater hopes must have been awakened by his prophetic words. But these hopes had originally nothing whatsoever to do with heaven - at least not as a place of happiness and rewards in the after-life. Heaven in the time of Jesus was a synonym for God. The “kingdom” of heaven means the “kingdom” of God. Having rewards or treasures in heaven means being in the good books of God. Literally heaven was the sky, the place where God and all other spirits dwell. All dead people go into sheol, i.e., the underworld or the grave. Even those who believed in rewards and punishments in the after-life (before the general resurrection) pictured this as something that happened in two different departments of sheol. The virtuous were in the bosom of Abraham in sheol, and a great chasm separated them from the wicked, who were in another part of sheol (compare Lk 16:23-26). The Christian belief in heaven originated after the death of Jesus with the idea that he had been taken up into heaven or exalted to the right hand of God.
But the good news of the “kingdom” of God was news about a future state of affairs on earth when the poor would no longer be poor, the hungry would be satisfied and the oppressed would no longer be miserable. To say “Thy kingdom come” is the same as saying “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Mt 6:10 par).
Christadelphians will agree with this Catholic theologian that the kingdom of God will be on earth, and not in heaven after death. But before getting too excited that you have the agreement of a Catholic scholar, take careful note of his main point.
The really great part of this quote, in my opinion, is that Nolan has picked up that Jesus did not come simply to say "the Kingdom of God is coming", but rather "the Kingdom of God is coming for the poor, the oppressed, the rejected, the mistreated, the disenfranchised, and those who don't measure-up to the standards imposed by the religious".