Kingdom vs Empire
For the last couple of years I have felt the Lord giving me a theme for the year to revolve most of the teaching around
Last year was Identity, the year before that was Destiny
I was asking the Lord for a theme for this year and the word that kept coming to me over and over was Kingdom
So, with that in mind, this year our primary focus will be on the Kingdom of God
I will admit right up front that this is a huge topic, and one that I am a little nervous about teaching
Why am I nervous?
Because even though the Kingdom of God is the primary topic that Jesus taught on, there is a lot of confusion over what the Kingdom of God is
In fact, well known Bible scholar George Eldon Ladd said “There are few themes so prominent in the Bible which have received such radically divergent interpretations as that of the Kingdom of God.”
If you ask 20 different preachers you may very well get 20 different answers
I want to state right up front that I am in no way, shape, or form saying that I have it figured out
Quite the opposite!
Although I think I have a decent handle on the topic I am still very much in the process of trying to figure it out
I will be learning as we explore this topic together and it is likely that some of my thinking might be different at the end of this series than it is right now.
As I mentioned before, the Kingdom of God is the primary topic upon which Jesus spoke
The term "Kingdom of God" occurs four times in Matthew, fourteen times in Mark, thirty-two times in Luke, twice in the Gospel of John, six times in Acts, eight times in Paul’s epistles, and once in Revelation .
Matthew actually prefers the term "Kingdom of heaven" – which means the same thing - and he uses it over 20 times in his gospel
So, if my math is correct, that’s a total of 87 times that the Kingdom of God or Kingdom of Heaven Is mentioned
That doesn’t count the times it’s simply referred to in Scripture as “the Kingdom”
At the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, right after He returned from His 40 days in the wilderness, we read:
Matthew 4:17 From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
Over and over in the Gospels we read similar statements
Undeniably the Kingdom of God is at the center of Jesus’ life and ministry
But what exactly is the Kingdom of God?
What did Jesus mean when He talked about this Kingdom of God?
One of the things we need to remember is that Jesus did not preach in a vacuum
Jesus spoke to a specific people, in a specific culture, and at a specific time in history
Jesus’ teachings are timeless, but to fully understand them we need to understand the context in which they were spoken
The term “Kingdom of God” or “Kingdom of Heaven” would have been well known to the typical Jewish person in First Century Palestine
This was something that was talked about extensively
The Hebrew Scriptures spoke often about the coming kingdom of God, although they did not necessarily use that exact term
One of the primary prophetic Scriptures about the Kingdom of God is one that is fairly familiar to us and is found in Isaiah 9
Isaiah 9:6,7 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.
This prophecy speaks of a coming individual who would “reign on David’s throne” – this person is commonly referred to as the Messiah
The Messiah would have a great government and would rule with peace, justice, and righteousness forever
Sounds pretty good doesn’t it?
How many of you would like a government that promoted peace, had true justice for all people, and was centered around righteousness?
The first century Jews would have seen the Kingdom of God as primarily a Jewish-based, Jerusalem centered, earthly kingdom
First century Jews believed that the Messiah would arrive on the scene with great fanfare, lead a rebellion against the Roman Empire, drive the enemy out of the land, and establish the everlasting Kingdom of God
This was how they interpreted the prophecies about the Messiah and the Kingdom
It was in this environment that Jesus began preaching about the Kingdom of God
Every time Jesus used the phrase “Kingdom of God” this is what His audience thought of
I find it interesting, however, that Jesus often corrected this way of thinking
There are many times where we see Jesus give a parable that starts off with the phrase “The Kingdom of God is like this …”
Jesus then goes on to speak about something that goes directly against the popular interpretation of the Kingdom of God
We will be looking at several of these instances in this series on the Kingdom
Suffice it to say that many of the people were so sure about what Jesus meant by “Kingdom of God” that they didn’t listen to what He was really saying
Kind of like the words from those great American philosophers Simon and Garfunkel – “A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest”
I’m so glad that we don’t do this today! (sarcasm of course)
I used to wonder how the Pharisees, Sadducees, and other religious leaders could miss out so badly on Jesus
If anyone should have recognized Jesus for who He was it should have been them
Nobody knew the Scriptures like they did, yet by and large they rejected Jesus and His Kingdom message
This made no sense to me for the longest time, and then it suddenly hit me why these religious leaders rejected Jesus
They rejected Jesus because He wasn’t doing what the thought the Messiah was supposed to do
They expected Jesus to fall in line with their interpretation of the Kingdom of God, and when He didn’t they naturally assumed that Jesus was not the Messiah
After all, the messiah would obviously follow along with their ideas of how things should take place
The problem was, however, that even though the religious leaders said they wanted the Kingdom of God they were not so much interested in the Kingdom as they were an empire
There is a huge difference between Kingdom and Empire
There is a fairly well known passage of Scripture that emphasizes this
Matthew 28:11-15 While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. 12 When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, 13 telling them, "You are to say, 'His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.' 14 If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble." 15 So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.
The religious leaders knew the truth that Jesus really did rise from the dead
At this moment they knew Jesus was who He claimed to be
Yet they still refused to acknowledge Jesus as Messiah
Because they were more interested in building their empire than in building God’s Kingdom
You can see the difference between Kingdom and Empire in the Gospel of Mark
Mark 9:38-40 "Teacher," said John, "we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us." 39 "Do not stop him," Jesus said. "No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me,
40 for whoever is not against us is for us.
So, what does Kingdom look like for us?
Luke 22:24-30 Also a dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. 25 Jesus said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. 26 But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. 27 For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. 28 You are those who have stood by me in my trials. 29 And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, 30 so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
So what does all of this mean for us?
I need to make sure that I am building God’s Kingdom, not someone’s empire
If I am secretly happy when another church or ministry is having problems I am building an empire
If I am only willing to work with those in my group I am building an empire
If I only support ministries that I am in charge of or benefit directly from, I am building an empire
I am called to build God’s Kingdom, not anyone’s empire