The Kingdom of God
If you were going to try to boil down everything that Jesus said into one core message, topic, or teaching what would it be? “Do unto others as you would have them do to you?” “Love your neighbour as yourself?” What about simply, “follow me?”
This exercise is pretty revealing because what we choose tells us a lot about how we understand Jesus. It also tells us a lot about how we relate to Jesus and to the world around us.
And while I’m sure this question could spark a lot of interesting debate and conversation, three of the four gospel writers actually take the liberty of boiling down what Jesus taught into this simple teaching:
“Repent, for the Kingdom of God is near.” – Matthew 4:17; Mark 1:15; Luke 4:43
Jesus talked about the Kindom of God a lot. He refers to the Kingdom over 50 times in the book of Matthew alone, that’s roughly twice per chapter. It’s the theme underneath almost everything Jesus teaches: his parables, His moral teachings, even anger towards the Pharisees. The Kingdom of God is the core of Jesus’ message, it’s the purpose for which He came (Luke 4:43). So if we want to understand who Jesus is, who He sees Himself as, how we relate to Him, and to our world, we need to understand the Kingdom, and how it fits into the story of the Bible.
The first step in understanding what Jesus means when He talks about the Kingdom of God, is that what we think about when we think of a kingdom is not what Jesus is talking about. When we think of a kingdom, the first thing we tend to think about is a location or a place: a specific area that is under the jurisdiction of a ruler. However, both the Greek and Hebrew words that we translate as “kingdom” are more focused on the activity of ruling, rather than the area being ruled. In fact, it might be more helpful to think about the “Kingdom of God” as the “reign” or “rule” of God.
With that out of the way, let’s go back to thinking about a Kingdom. Beyond a specific area, each kingdom is different, and that difference comes from the unique person on the throne. What the king or queen says goes. They create the laws that everyone inside their kingdom lives by, and they create the culture and society within their kingdom as well. The way it feels, the expectations and responsibilities of the people inside the kingdom, what comes to mind when people think about their kingdom: all of this is created by the ruler.
So when teaches the Good News of the Kingdom of God, He is telling people that God is King. In some way that it wasn’t before, God’s reign and rule and His way of doing things is now in place. This by itself is an odd idea. Was there a time when God wasn’t King over creation? Actually, in a sense, yes.
At the beginning of Genesis, God gave over the rule of His world to Adam and Eve. He handed over His royal sceptre to humanity, and encouraged them to reign and to rule (Gen. 1:28; 2:15). But instead of reigning in God’s ways, upholding His laws, continuing His culture and social order, humanity decided to reign as they saw fit. And so, though God is still King, His reign and rule were not being carried out by humanity. Some other rule was holding sway.
And all throughout the Old Testament, we see and hear the results of this rule. People go to war with each other, they take others as slaves, they hoard resources for themselves while others go hungry. Ruler after ruler go against God’s reign and rule God’s world in their own corrupt way.
In the midst of this corruption of purpose, and in the middle of a foreign kingdom, Jesus has Good News. He teaches that God has not forgotten His world. Jesus is the beginning of a new kind of reign, the inauguration of a new age of His Kingdom. The King has come to Earth, and He is going to re-establish His reign and rule, and He calls all humanity to turn away from the corrupt, self-serving reigns that we are trying to keep together and to return to our intended purpose: to carry out the reign and rule of God.
That’s the beginning of the Good News of the Kingdom: Jesus is here; God in the flesh, to show us how to carry out God’s reign and rule. And in His life and teaching, we see what that means. It means loving everyone, serving everyone, especially the poor, the marginalized, the people the world looks down on and pushes away. It means listening to the hurts of the people around us, and giving them comfort.
So how does understanding the Kingdom help us relate to Jesus? It helps us understand that following Jesus means taking very seriously the phrase “Jesus is Lord.” It means that Jesus is my King, and I live according to His way of doing things. But I don’t do this out of fear, or drudgery, I do this out of gratitude and love. Because in addition to my King, Jesus is also my saviour. He has saved me from my own rule; He has saved me from a world in which I am king.
And though He knows all my faults and failures, He still extends His own sceptre and encourages me to reign and rule with Him. I have been given the opportunity to reign and rule with Jesus (Rev. 3:21); to bring goodness and beauty into the world with Him as my guide and my friend.
That, coincidentally, answers the question of how I should relate to the world around me. The world is not an evil place, it is a good place under poor management. The kingdoms of the world are often corrupt, unjust places, ruled by people or spiritual forces that do not recognize Jesus as their King.
For everyone who claims Jesus as their Lord, it is different. We rule the world as Jesus showed us: caring for the poor, the hurting, and the helpless. No matter who is in government, or the culture around us, we promote the culture that comes from our true King, and we follow His ways. We pray for our government and we pay our taxes, we co-operate with the people around us, and we support and take part in the things that the culture around us has in common with the culture of God’s Kingdom. We care for the animals God made and we care for the environments God has created because we have been asked to rule and reign in God’s Kingdom, on His behalf.
Until Jesus returns, we continue to create pockets of the Kingdom on earth, blessing God’s heart, and inviting people to become its citizens and rulers. And as we do, we look forward to the day when all other kingdoms melt away, and all of creation experiences the reign and rule of its true King.