Our life together in the church must be oriented by nothing else but by Jesus’ life, his word, and his working. Our commission is to bear the love of Christ, which is poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. This love, free of the unclarity of human thinking and feeling, was manifested perfectly and unmistakably in the life Jesus lived. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, his life was sealed as the revelation of God’s heart. (John 6:27) The Holy Spirit, when it descended on the first church in Jerusalem, made this sealing of Jesus’ life known to the church so that it might follow Jesus and carry his life back into the world.
Jesus prophesied that the Spirit would remind the church of everything he had said. Within the church the Spirit will put Jesus’ life into the clearest light, revealing through it the entire future of the kingdom of God. Further, the Spirit, through the active mission of the church, will convict and convince the world in regard to sin, righteousness, and judgment. . . . (John 16:7-11) The prince of this world, the spirit of the age that rules everywhere over all peoples, is judged by Jesus (Luke 10:18) – judged not by legions of angel princes answering Satan’s violence with violence, but by the perfect love of Jesus Christ, revealed on the cross. . . . (Matt. 26:53)
In his living and in his dying, Jesus disclosed the goodness and love of God’s heart in a way unique in time and space. Whoever steps forward to stand by his side and is gripped by this total love is free from the judgment pronounced on the spirit of this world and age. Of course, any who want to follow the prince of this world – the zeitgeist that controls people and governs the earth as its god – are subject to the same judgment pronounced on him, since they follow the injustice of his mammon, the falsehood and lying and unfaithfulness of his deceit, and the murderous impulses of the abyss.
By contrast, those who follow and believe in Jesus have forsaken the destructive fury of the devil and his works. They are not judged, for they have already been judged: they have experienced the judgment of the spirit of the church, which has been carried out and is continually being carried out on their hearts, lives, and old human identity. They are judged in the new sense, that of grace, through which the spirit of Jesus Christ gives itself to them and renews them completely in the very act of judgment.
After his baptism by John and temptation in the wilderness, Jesus began his ministry by proclaiming the good news: “The kingdom of God has drawn near!” (Matt. 4:17) Yet he prefaced this good news with a call for his hearers to repent: to change their whole way of thinking, to overthrow completely their entire previous lives.
Jesus’ message is: Change your lives radically in every way – prepare for the coming kingdom by turning upside down everything you have up till now felt, thought, and done. The supreme event is imminent, compared to which all other events in human history are insignificant. (Mark 1:15) Now God is coming to us. (John 1:14) Now history is really starting. True, there has been preparatory history, but now the real history is beginning, the history that will decide, interrupt, and transform everything. For the kingdom of God is coming. Get ready for it.
This is what matters now: Love God! Change so much that you will be able to love with your whole hearts. (Matt. 22:37) Change your lives so that everything you do will be nothing but love to him. Change in such a way that this love to God will be not just a personal matter of your hearts but will mean for you the revolution of all things, the abolition of all injustice, and the conquest of all countries and all peoples for God’s reign. Until now you have been under the sway of the beast of prey that prowls around you, (1 Peter 5:8) disguised as an angel of light and persuading you to set your hope on gradual progress. (2 Cor. 11:13-15) Therefore you must change your thinking completely, so that you cannot succumb to the beast’s seductive influence. Believe only in this one joyful message: God is near! His sovereignty is breaking in! You can expect good from no other source. Your thinking must be transformed, your life must take a new direction. (Rom. 12:2) Believe in this message, this news, this evangel!
In his talk with Nicodemus at the beginning of the Gospel of John, Jesus says that we will only be able to recognize this kingdom and be incorporated into it if we completely restart our life. When a baby is born, a completely new being arrives in our midst. (John 3:1-10)As yet we know nothing about the child except that it is here and is starting its life. This is exactly the way it should be for anyone who wants to see and enter the kingdom of God. An individual must be renewed to such an extent that he or she becomes as a newborn child, starting life fresh from the very beginning.
This rebirth, however, takes place in a very definite context. Just as a child is born into a family, so a person who is reborn through the Spirit is born into the kingdom. (James 1:18)The surroundings into which such a one is born, the vista that he or she sees from the hour of this new birth, is God’s kingdom and nothing but God’s kingdom. So do not be surprised that you have to be born again – otherwise you could never see the kingdom. And bear in mind that what matters about your personal rebirth is not your own experience but the kingdom of God. That which seems most subjective is in fact the most objective.
We find the clearest picture of this mysterious rebirth – this birth into a new world – near the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew, in the Sermon of the Mount. (Matt. 5-7) This Sermon shows us the nature and character of the new reborn life of the kingdom of God. It shows us what landscape one sees, what kind of world one is born into, once one is truly reborn.
The new life of rebirth brings a justice that cannot be compared with any human morality, social order, or theology – a justice that is nothing but the goodness of God’s heart. This new justice is better than anything ever thought, felt, willed, or spoken by humans, for it is God’s own doing.
The new justice is the outpouring of God’s spirit, the essence of his innermost life. It is God’s nature, his substance, his basic working – and thus it is life at its most vibrant, movement and activity at their most free. This new righteousness is a life born of God, and for this reason it is utterly opposed to every kind of self-righteousness or human justice. These both stem from consciousness of self and of one’s own rightful claims. But divine justice – the new righteousness – begins by becoming a beggar, by becoming poor and being judged, by extinguishing all claims to possessions, rights, and privileges. (Mark 10:41-45)
What is more, the new justice begins under the weight of the whole world’s suffering. It begins at the point where the whole world’s load of pain presses down on a believing human heart. To be sure, human justice knows something of compassion for suffering too, but it quickly reverts to a bloodthirsty hatred against those who caused the suffering. Human justice thus turns into injustice, since from among the guilty – and in fact all are guilty – it seeks out a group of particularly guilty people on whom to avenge itself.
In the midst of this absence of love or peace, the justice of the new kingdom of Jesus Christ seeks the all-embracing peace of God. (Mark 2:17) It desires the kindliness that has a heart for all people, including the guiltiest,and is merciful even to those who have sinned most gravely against peace and justice. This new justice is revealed as God’s heart – a heart ready to sacrifice and ready to die, which does not want to kill the guilty but rather to be killed for them, so that they may become innocent by grasping the meaning and value of this sacrifice: the readiness of the heart of God to offer itself up, even to the last drop of blood. (John 12:32) God can be found only if we are prepared to suffer death – including sacrifice of the physical body, which we cling to as our last entitlement and prerogative – for the sake of his righteousness and his kingdom. Only then are we truly reborn for the kingdom of God.
In the first verses of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus thus opens a way for us to understand the kingdom of God. From this starting point, the rest of the Sermon follows naturally.
Now you must love your enemies. For love’s sake you will surrender your last possessions, down to the last coat and the last shirt. (Matt. 5:39-40) Now you will not pay back force with force. You will not resist evil by responding with evil.
Here you will find faithfulness, and in faithfulness, purity in both physical and emotional relationships. (Matt. 5:27-30) You will find the truly better righteousness manifested as perfect love and as eternal loyalty in love – and therefore also as the inviolability of monogamous marriage.
You shall in your way be perfect, just as the Father himself is perfect. (Matt. 5:48) In your words you are to be perfect too, saying nothing superfluous but speaking the truth simply, clearly, and to the point. (Matt. 5:33-37) There is no other truthfulness than that of love; there is no other perfection than that of love.
Can you not see what thwarts and destroys love? It is mammon. (Matt. 6:24) You cannot serve both God and mammon; you cannot serve both ownership and love, nor both material worries and trusting love. Whoever heaps up possessions – whoever holds on to even the least private property for his own interest while his brothers and sisters are hungry and cold and lack a roof over their heads – has no love. Because of this, Jesus says, do not gather property. Have nothing at all belonging to yourselves; have no hidden treasures or reserves anywhere. (Matt. 6:19-20)
But do not worry about your livelihood either. Those who are fearful about necessities seek just as anxiously to preserve the material basis for life as those who cling to their bank account or real estate. All this belongs to mammon just as much as hanging on to property does. The gray fog of worry stems from mammon just as surely as the golden glitter of money. Therefore do not worry. (Matt. 6:25-34) Learn from nature, which you should love because it is God’s creation. Look at the birds and flowers. Believe in the loving Father, who sets their table for them and gives them their feathers and colorful raiment.
The righteousness of the kingdom of God, the renewal of the reborn heart, means singleness of heart. The heart can be compared to an inner eye which is focused on God alone. (Matt.6:22) If your inner eye is really concentrated on God, you cannot have a fortune, nor can you have any worries either. Instead you will grasp that to call upon God is to trust in his love. To pray is to plead for God’s dominion. (Matt. 6:5-13) It is to do his will and hallow his name. It is the gift of daily bread, spiritual as well as temporal. With this clear inner eye, you will have new, loving hearts, free from evil and the rule of violence, free from the temptation and trials that will shake this world right up to its last hour. In this way call upon God.
This love to God means love to all people, for God loves all and his heart is directed toward all. He is merciful to all and lets his sun shine on all and gives his rain to all. (Matt. 5:45) A person who through the love of God has experienced new birth cannot judge anyone else; we must have faith for everyone. Jesus tells us: Do not judge others; love them. (Matt. 7:1) Judgment means passing a final, conclusive verdict. This you must never do. Love’s hope and faith’s trust must always leave open the way to return home, to be saved for God’s kingdom.
Nevertheless, for the sake of the love you have for God, beware of surrendering what is holiest in your heart to those who are not ready for it. For then you would be abandoning true love to God in favor of a sham love. Speak to people as befits their inner receptiveness, in a way they can grasp, but do so without denying the least grain of the truth. Either of these would be a sin against love for God – to judge others, or to share indiscriminately what is holy with people who are not yet awakened. . . .
Deal with all people as you wish them to act toward you. (Matt. 7:12) You wish for yourselves that God may care for you in body, soul, and mind. What you expect for yourselves you should make possible for everyone. And this should be done without exceptions. (Matt. 5:46-48) This is the new justice. You must not limit the good works of your love to people congenial to you, for God loves all people, no matter what they are like. Therefore you, too, must love all people with God’s love, and do to them everything that you wish done to you and yours. The genuine love, the new justice that is for all – this is the truth of God’s kingdom.
The narrow gate through which you must enter is summed up in this evangelical counsel: Treat every person just as you would like to be treated yourselves, (Matt. 7:13-14) and as you would like your dearest family members to be treated. This new justice is better than that of all the moralists and theologians. It is the narrow mountain path, the entry into the kingdom of God, the ascent to the city on the hill. (Matt.5:14) Love others as you love yourselves. Do this because you love God and because you have experienced that God loves each person. You take for granted that your own body, soul, and mind need caring for – so make it your business to care for everyone else’s in the same way. Only then will you find the door to God’s kingdom, following the narrow path that leads along the precipice upward to his city. (Matt. 7:21-23)
At first there will be very few of you who go this way. Troublesome spirits and hostile powers will oppose you. Their outward violence will be able to do little harm to you, for it cannot kill your conscience or change your will. (Matt. 7:15-20) More dangerous is false prophecy, which joins forces with this violence and tries to confuse the single eye. Therefore it is necessary for you to learn to recognize false prophecy. You will know it by its deeds, above all by this one identifying mark: whether it takes sides with the beast of prey or not. Everything that is connected with the beast’s rapacious nature – mammon, faithless carnal passion, the shedding of blood, dishonest business profits, collective egoism1 – is false prophecy. Beware of the veiled nature of the beast of prey that lurks in false prophecy.
Love the true prophets. You will know them by their love. This love can ultimately be recognized in that the true prophet gives his or her life for the brothers and sisters. (John 15:13) Readiness to sacrifice one’s own physical life, without injuring any other life – this is the mark of true prophecy.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus discloses the character of the new way of life and the new kingdom; he shows the nature of the new building of life that cannot collapse, that cannot be corrupted by any worldly power. (Matt. 7:24-27)
Everything that Jesus said, he did as well. Everything he proclaimed in the Sermon on the Mount and in his parables he put into practice. He did so by gathering his twelve disciples into an itinerant fellowship, sharing all possessions in a common life characterized by homelessness and by dedication in love. He did so too by sending these disciples out as God’s ambassadors of the coming kingdom, charged to represent the full authority and the complete love of the kingdom of God in their mission. (Matt. 10:1-8)
Jesus proved the amazing strength and endurance of his commitment to this fellowship by remaining true to it, despite his disciples’ persistent foolishness, right to the end – until they fled while he was crucified. And he proved it in the diligence with which he instructed his disciples in the truth of his teachings right up until his death.
In this way the four Gospels in the New Testament came into being. Though written long after Jesus’ death, they derive from his daily practice of giving instruction and then the continuance of this practice in the church. Whenever the church gathered, stories of Jesus would be told. . . . Through this oral transmission – through the joy of telling over and over again who Jesus was and what he did and said – the truth was carried from heart to heart, from one life into another.
At the end of the Gospel of John it is reported that Jesus did many other things, but if they were all to be written down, the world could not hold the books that would have to be written. (John 21-25) All the same, those deeds which were recorded show us clearly the content of Jesus’ life in all its authority. What he did when with his circle of companions was nothing different from what he taught and proclaimed: it was an expression of a love that offers itself up equally in body, soul, and mind. His actions demonstrated the future he proclaimed.
This is most obvious in the driving out of demons and diabolical powers; as Jesus said, the kingdom of God is present when devils are driven from human bodies by the finger of the Holy Spirit. Likewise, his healings showed that death – and the root of death, sin – are done away with through Jesus’ coming and the approach of God’s kingdom. . . .
Death is the last weapon of the satanic power. And so Jesus turned to those who had died, bringing people back to life whose bodies were already decomposing. He touched corpses: the dead were awakened by his intervention. Precisely in regard to death he had to demonstrate the power of life. Without resurrection the gospel of God and his life is null and void. . . .
Yet Jesus’ deeds were not limited to helping human beings; his work went even further. . . . (Mark 4:35-41) When Jesus stilled the storm that raged over the Sea of Galilee and when he made the fig tree wither, he showed that all the other elements of creation, too, must be touched by his breath and the approach of his kingdom. He showed that he reigns over all forces in creation, that everything must be transformed into something completely new.
Thus, everything Jesus did points toward the end of days and to the coming of God’s kingdom, when the natural world of the first creation will experience one final miracle affecting human bodies as well. His deeds show that God’s love is directed not only toward the souls of human beings, but just as much toward physical existence and toward the whole natural order. (Rev. 21:1-5) To be sure, what happens in each individual soul remains decisive, otherwise no person could take part in this renewal. But God’s great interest is directed toward all of creation and the natural order of the whole universe, so that they may all be included in his new creation, the kingdom of God. . . . Accordingly, Jesus’ authority to forgive sins will become visible through driving evil out of individual hearts – not so that they may overrate the experiences of their own small souls, but so that they can become free for the mighty work that encompasses everything: the approach of God’s kingdom.
This means destroying the works of the devil. (1 John 3:8) The creation, spoiled by Satan’s malign influence, will be restored to the fullness of life that God originally intended for it. (Rev. 22:1-5) All Jesus’ deeds are a sign and a symbol of the greatness that is to come when the invincible life of the second creation will be manifest, when death, the last enemy, will be vanquished and when God, the Creator Spirit, will reign over renewed nature. (Rom. 8:19-25)
It was necessary for this mystery to be revealed in and through Jesus himself. That is why he truly rose from the dead. He, the Risen One, is present in the church through the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, in fulfillment of his promise: “I am with you always, till the end of the world. All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” (Matt. 28:18-20) Here, in the Holy Spirit, the King of the coming kingdom, he who conquers all worlds for God, is present in the church. (John 14:15-21) The Holy Spirit, being the substance of the church’s life, is the guarantor of the joyful news that Jesus is coming as king of the ultimate kingdom.
1.“Collective egoism” is a coinage by French communitarian anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809–1865) describing the tendency of groups to behave based on self-interest.
Translated from Hella Romer's stenography by Nicoline Maas and Hela Ehrlich. Arnold's words have been edited for conciseness.