What is the Kingdom?
We are currently taking a look at the topic of the Kingdom of God
The Kingdom of God is the primary topic that Jesus spoke about
All throughout the Gospels we see passages that talk about Jesus “preaching the good news of the Kingdom” or saying things like “the Kingdom of God is like this …”
With as much as Jesus talked about it you would think that the church would teach on it frequently as well, but sadly that is not the case
In fact, in all my years of preaching this is the first time I’ve ever seriously looked at the topic in depth – and man what a deep topic it is!
Last week we looked at the difference between Kingdom and Empire
Many people say they want the Kingdom of God, when in reality what they want is an empire
An empire is focused inward
Empire is all about maintaining and increasing – power, prestige, influence, money, control
Kingdom is exactly the opposite – Whatever empire does Kingdom does the opposite
Kingdom is outward focused
Jesus said that in His kingdom the first will be last and the last will be first
He said that the greatest in the Kingdom would be those who serve, not those who demand to be served
One blogger put it this way – “The forgotten faces of an empire sit on thrones in the Kingdom.”
Today I want to start to explore the topic of what the Kingdom of God actually is
As I mentioned last week, this is a huge topic and I am still trying to figure it all out myself!
My message today may raise more questions than it answers, but that is not necessarily a bad thing
If I can get you to think, if I can get you to challenge what you’ve always thought and get you to seek God for answers, then I have accomplished my goal!
So, what is the Kingdom of God?
To many it is simply heaven after you die – a future hope
To some the Kingdom of God is here and now – a present reality
So, which is it – a future hope or a present reality?
I believe that it is both
The Kingdom of God is a present reality to a certain extent, but will never be fully realized until after the Second Coming of Christ
There are many passages of Scriptures that support both the present reality and the future hope of the Kingdom
For example, Isaiah spoke of a day when men will live together in peace.
Isaiah 2:4 He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.
Since nations are still at war with other nations I think it is very safe to say that this is a future hope!
Moving ahead a few chapters in Isaiah we read
Isaiah 11:6-9 The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. 7 The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. 8 The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper's nest. 9 They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.
Again, this is very obviously speaking of future events that will not happen until after the return of Jesus
There are MANY more passages of Scripture that speak of the Kingdom of God as a future hope
Yet at the same time there are also many that speak of the Kingdom as a present reality
Matthew 4:17 From that time on Jesus began to preach, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near."
Luke 17:20-21 Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, "The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, 21 nor will people say, 'Here it is,' or 'There it is,' because the kingdom of God is within you."
We are even told to pray in the Lord’s prayer – “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven
But all this still begs the question, what is the Kingdom of God?
To understand Jesus’ message on the Kingdom of God we need to understand the culture in which Jesus was living and teaching
I spoke about that some last week, but I want to build on it some more
We are all fully aware of the fact that at this point in history Israel was occupied by the Roman Empire
The Israelites hated the Romans, and to be honest the Romans were not all that fond of the Israelites
Israel wanted nothing more than to drive Rome from their land
Because of this they were anxiously awaiting the Messiah to come and establish the Kingdom of God
What would it take to bring in this Kingdom?
It depended on who you asked
There were 4 major groups of people that had huge influence over first century Israel
As I get into this I just wanted to comment that this part was heavily influenced by Brian MacLaren’s book “The Secret Message of Jesus” (which is really not a secret)
(much of the following is a direct copy and paste from Brian MacLaren's book)
said, “The reason we’re oppressed is that we’re passive and cowardly. If we would have courage, if we would rise up and rebel, God would give us victory. If we would take action and slit a few Roman throats, if we had the faith and nerve to launch a violent revolution, God would give us the power, like little David, to defeat the Goliath that is Rome so we would be free.”
The Herodians were named for their support of the puppet ruler, Herod
The Sadducees were the, for lack of a better term, “liberals” of their day
These two groups thought the Zealots’ approach was stupid and wrong.
“You have no idea how powerful Rome is. To rebel is suicide. Resistance is futile; you will be crushed. No, we should make the best of our situation, cooperate, and play the game. That’s the only safe and sensible way.”
Thought both Zealots and Herodians were unenlightened. They said, “The only way to please God is to leave the corrupt religious and political systems and create an alternative society out in the desert.” They established various wilderness communes where they sought to be faithful by isolating themselves from the culture at large, which they felt was sick beyond remedy.
They had a different diagnosis and prescription: “The Lord would send Messiah to deliver us if we would just become purer. If we would obey the Bible’s teachings more rigorously, God would liberate us. There’s too much sin and not enough piety among us. If there were more righteous people like us and fewer sinners among us—fewer prostitutes, drunks, and Roman collaborators—then Roman domination would be brought to an end by God. It’s the fault of those notorious sinners that we remain under the heel of the Roman boot! Religious purity and rigor—that’s the answer!”
We see a little bit of each of these groups today don’t we?
Each of these groups has their good points
But each of them is very wrong as well
Blaise Pascal hits the nail on the head quite well “God created man in his own image...and man returned the favor.”
The same holds true for the Kingdom of God – we all expect it to be exactly as we picture it, exactly as we want it to be
Imagine a busy street crowded with people. A young man has gathered a crowd in a corner of the local market. Someone shouts out, “What’s your plan? What’s your message?” He responds, “Change your way of thinking. The kingdom of God is available to all. Believe this good news! The empire of God is now available to all!” The kingdom of God, the empire of God? What could Jesus mean by this? One thing is sure: he did not mean what many— perhaps most—people today think he meant. He did not mean “heaven after you die.” Maybe the meaning would be clearer if we paraphrased it like this: “You’re all preoccupied with the oppressive empire of Caesar and the oppressed kingdom of Israel. You’re missing the point: the kingdom of God is here now, available to all! This is the reality that matters most. Believe this good news and follow me!”
If you’re a first-century Jew, it’s obvious to you that Jesus hasn’t appeared in a vacuum. He isn’t delivering lectures or debating with scholars at a theological seminary (although at the age of twelve he did spend a few days doing something like that in the temple in Jerusalem). He’s preaching on the streets, in fields, out in public—because his message is a timely, public message. So you’re standing there in the crowd, thinking, Well, maybe he’s a Zealot. It takes a lot of courage to stand up in public and speak out. Imagine that a Roman soldier comes along just then and disperses the crowd with an angry shout and a wave of his spear. Jesus doesn’t call on the crowds to kill the infidel occupier; he, with the rest of the crowd, quietly complies. You feel disappointed. You were hoping to hear more of what this Galilean carpenter had to say.
A few days later, you hear that he’s speaking to a large crowd outside of town on a hillside. You rush out to hear him. “Do you want to know who will be blessed? Not the powerful ones with lots of money and weapons. No, the poor will be blessed. Not the ones who can shout the loudest and get their way. No, the meek will be blessed. Not the ones who kill their enemies. No, the ones who are persecuted for doing what’s right. Not those who play it safe, but those who stand up for the sake of justice. Not the clever and the sly, but the pure in heart. Not those who make war. No, those who make peace.” You say to yourself, “Well, he sounds like a Zealot in some ways, but he can’t be a Zealot; they’re all about power and violence, not peacemaking and meekness. And it’s clear he’s not an Essene, because they wouldn’t even bother preaching to the rest of us. We’re all lost causes in their minds, so they’ve retreated into their elite religious communes in the countryside. And he can’t be a Herodian. They would never use inflammatory language like ‘the kingdom of God,’ and they wouldn’t talk about standing up against injustice. They would say that God wants us to honor the emperor and sit down and be quiet. So I’m not sure just where he fits in.
Maybe he’s a Pharisee.” But a few minutes later, Jesus says, “You must be more just and good than the Pharisees are. They just wash the outside of the cup; they don’t deal with the inside. The Pharisees won’t enter the kingdom of God. If you want to enter it, you must surpass the Pharisees in your pursuit of goodness. Even the prostitutes will enter the kingdom of God before the Pharisees will!” That shocks you. How could anyone be more just and better than a Pharisee? They follow the rules scrupulously. And how could anyone dare to antagonize the Pharisees? After all, they have a reputation for responding severely to those who disagree with them. Maybe Jesus represents some sort of new super-Pharisee movement—maybe he’s trying to out-Pharisee the Pharisees. But then you see Jesus at a party a few nights later. Attending this party are prostitutes, drunks, Roman collaborators (tax collectors), and other notorious people—the very people the Pharisees say are the cause of our troubles. This makes no sense. On top of it, he seems to enjoy wine and good food. If Jesus says the Pharisees’ standards are too low, then why would he be lowering himself to associate with these despicable people? And why wouldn’t he be less of a partygoer and more of a strict ascetic?
Your curiosity grows. Jesus seems to be a bundle of contradictions. You can’t stop wondering about him, trying to figure him out. You get out to hear Jesus every chance you can, and when you can’t hear him in person, you ask people you know to summarize his message. Eventually it becomes clear: this man is not just another revolutionary; he is calling for a revolutionary new sort of revolution. You’ve never heard anything like it, and you are both attracted and unsettled. You turn this over in your mind:
Jesus agrees with the violent Zealots and overpious Pharisees (against the status-quo Herodians) that the status quo is wrong and shouldn’t be considered acceptable.
He agrees with the Pharisees and Herodians (against the Zealots): the solution isn’t violent overthrow of the Romans.
Yet he disagrees strongly with the Pharisees: you can’t scapegoat the prostitutes and drunks and blame them for our problems, but you must instead love them and accept them as God’s beloved children.
Much about his message is frustratingly unclear and impossible to categorize, but this much is clear: this carpenter’s son from Galilee challenges every existing political movement to a radical rethinking and dares everyone to imagine and consider his revolutionary alternative.
What is that alternative? It is to see, seek, receive, and enter a new political and social and spiritual reality he calls the kingdom of God, or the kingdom of heaven.⁴
This kingdom throws down a direct challenge to the supremacy of the empire of Caesar centered in Rome, for in the kingdom of God, the ultimate authority is not Caesar but rather the Creator. And you find your identity—your citizenship—not in Rome but rather in a spiritual realm, in the presence of God
If you are part of this kingdom, you won’t slit Roman throats like the Zealots. Instead, if a Roman soldier backhands you with a blow to the right cheek, you’ll turn the other in a kind of nonviolent and transcendent countermove.
If a soldier forces you to carry his pack for one mile, you’ll carry it a second mile as an expression of your own benevolent free will; you choose a higher option, one above either passive submission or active retaliation.
If you are part of this kingdom, you won’t curse and damn the notorious sinners and scoundrels to hell; instead, you’ll interact with them gently and kindly, refusing to judge, even inviting them to your parties and treating them as neighbors—being less afraid of their polluting influence on you than you are hopeful about your possible healing and ennobling influence on them.
If you’re part of this kingdom, you won’t be blindly patriotic and compliant like the Herodians and their allies, the Sadducees; instead, you’ll be willing to confront injustice, even at the cost of your life. You won’t nestle snugly into the status quo, but you’ll seek to undermine the way things are to welcome the way things could and should be.
If you’re part of this kingdom, you begin to live in a way that some will say is stupid and naive. (Turning the other cheek? Walking the second mile? Defeating violence with forgiveness, sacrifice, and love? Come on! Get real!)
But others might see in your way of life the courageous and wild hope that could heal and transform the world.
John 18:36 Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place."
1 Corinthians 15:50 I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.
1 Corinthians 4:20 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.
Graeme Goldsworthy has summarized a definition of the Kingdom of God as "God's people in God's place under God's rule."
DA Carson said “The Kingdom of God concerns the restoration of God's explicit reign among a people who have rebelled against Him”
So, the Kingdom of God is us surrendering ourselves totally and completely to God’s rule
Romans 14:17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit,
Righteousness – surrendering our physical selves to doing right things
Peace and joy 0 surrendering our minds to thinking about the right things