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The Kingdom of God

2006 June 29
by Mike

The primary message of Jesus of Nazareth was the kingdom of God. It lies right at the heart of what his life and his message were about, according to the gospels. As his public ministry was launched he said, “The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” Many of the stories he told were introduced with these words: “The kingdom of God is like . . . .”

Those words undoubtedly got the attention of his listeners. Most of the Jewish sects were eagerly awaiting the kingdom of God, though they were conceiving of it in very different ways. They anticipated the day when God would break in, defeat the hated Romans, and restore the land to his people.

The framework for this teaching goes back to the Old Testament, of course. There we learn that God is the King of the universe.

For the Lord Most High is awesome,
the great King over all the earth. . . .
God is the King of all the earth;
sing to him a psalm of praise.

(Psalm 47:2, 7)

For the Lord is the great God,
the great King above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth,
and the mountain peaks belong to him.
The sea is his, for he made it,
and his hands formed the dry land.
Come, let us bow down in worship,
let us kneel before the Lord our Maker
.
(Psalm 95:3-6)

The Lord has established his throne in heaven,
and his kingdom rules over all
.
(Psalm 103:19)

This God who created everything is the King of kings. No wonder so many of the prophetic visions anticipate a day when his rule will extend throughout the world. (See, e.g., Isaiah 11:6-9; Micah 4:1-4; Isaiah 65:17-25; and Daniel 7:13-14.)

What hope! A day is coming when the wolf and lamb will feed together, when infants will not die, when weeping and crying will be heard no more. The Shalom of God in its fulness!

Then John the Baptist comes announcing the nearness of the kingdom (Matthew 3:2 – “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”). And Jesus builds his teaching around that conviction.

The kingdom, we learn, isn’t what many of the Jews thought. It isn’t a political kingdom (John 18:36). Rather, it is the dynamic presence of God in Jesus Christ. “Kingdom” refers to the rule of God, to his sovereign reign in this world.

And in Jesus this kingdom was (is) present. He healed the sick, saved the lost, gave sight to the blind, and invited the poor. The reign of God was breaking in. The future had arrived to reverse the curse and to set the world right as God had intended it through the life and ministry of Jesus.

His stories and teaching pointed to a very different kind of kingdom than most of the Jews expected — a kingdom that was inverted, where the poor are blessed, the sinners are received, the dead are made alive, and the last will be first.

They shouldn’t look for armies and thrones and political borders, he told them. “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst” (Luke 17:21).

He came reversing the curse and taking the world back to the way God intended in creation. That’s the kingdom, or rule of God. So he taught his disciples to live with the perspective of the kingdom. That’s what the Sermon on the Mount is: living in light of the inbreaking reign of God. Living in harmony with God and with others and with the world God created and blessed.

He taught them (and us) to pray: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” It’s been widely recognized that these are parallel requests. He’s praying for the kingdom to come — or in other words, for God’s will to be done in this realm called earth just as it is in God’s realm called heaven. We’re praying for the rule of God to come more and more and, in essence, we’re reporting for duty to be a part of this. We’re offering our lives in confession, repentence, faith, and mission.

Some have thought we should no longer pray the Lord’s Prayer because the church has been established. But to reduce the dynamic concept of kingdom to the church is a serious mistake. The church enters the kingdom of God; the church receives the kingdom of God; and the church announces the kingdom of God. But the church doesn’t exhaust the kingdom of God! So we continue praying as Jesus taught us for the kingdom to come, for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. As long as there is evidence of the curse, as long as the wolf and lamb aren’t feeding together, as long as infants are still dying, as long as there is weeping and crying, as long as there is war, as long as there is hatred, bitterness, and resentment — it’s still safe to pray this prayer.

The future reign of God has broken in through the presence of Jesus. And yet . . . it hasn’t arrived in its fullness. We are living “between the times” — between the incarnation/death/resurrection of Jesus and the coming consummation that we await.

Paul’s writings carry that important tension concerning the rule of God. Sometimes when he refers to the kingdom he’s talking about a present reality (Romans 14:17; 1 Corinthians 4:20), while at other times he’s referring to a future hope (1 Thessalonians 2:12; 2 Thessalonians 1:5; 1 Corinthians 15:24, 50).

Meanwhile, we continue to yield our lives to the reign of God. We seek to be used by him as lights in the world. We wait, hope, long, groan, pray, and work. We keep one eye on the task before us, knowing that the reign of God is present in Jesus Christ, and we keep one eye peeled for the future act of God when the dead will be raised, all tears will be wiped away, and God himself will be in our midst (Revelation 21-22).

Finally, these words from William Willimon and Stanley Hauerwas’s book Lord Teach Us: The Lord’s Prayer & the Christian Life:

The kingdom of God that is coming, here, not here, present, not fully present, is a banquet, a great party thrown for outsiders who, before Jesus, had no place in the promises of God to Israel. By an amazing act of generosity, Jesus has made possible a party to which even Gentiles like us have been invited. The kingdom of God is a party to which all of the good people refused the invitation so the host went out and invited all of the bad people. The kingdom of God is a party for a bunch of people with whom we wouldn’t be caught dead spending a Saturday night, had we not also been invited.

This is one of the reasons why being in the church can be a real pain, considering the sort of reprobates Jesus has invited to the party, the party that is called kingdom of God.

We are able to live hopefully in a fallen-yet-being-redeemed world because of the One who has taught us to pray “this way.” As Christians, to us has been given the grace to know that we live between the times, having seen the fullness of God in Jesus Christ, yet also knowing that all the world is not yet fulfilled as God’s world. That tension, stretched as we are between what is ours now in Christ and that which is yet promised, is our role as God’s people. We, you and I, are living, breathing evidence that God has not abandoned the world. We are able continually and fervently to pray that God’s kingdom come because we know that God’s will has been done. We are able to be honest about all the ways in which this world is not the kingdom of God in its fullness and to hope for more because we know that God’s will has yet to be done, God’s kingdom has yet to come. We are able to live without despair in the world’s present situation because, even in us, God has claimed a bit of enemy territory, has wrestled something from the forces of evil and death. That reclaimed, renovated territory is us.

33 Responses leave one →
  1. June 29, 2006

    Mel Brookes said, “It’s good to be the king.”

    I want to go on record of saying, “Its good to know the King.”

    Come quickly my King Jesus!

    Thanks, Mike. I love you. But apparently, after reading this post…you’re not really the man…turns out Jesus is? I’ll let John know.

  2. June 29, 2006

    Edward Fudge has written an excellent review of Darry Tippens’s new book Pilgrim Heart. Check it out here at the New Wineskins website. (Click on the link at the top.)

  3. June 29, 2006

    Overheard as I walked into the banquet,

    “Who invited him?”

  4. Terry permalink
    June 29, 2006

    We trust, have faith, work and pray. That is why “I Can Only Imagine”, toches a cord and brings hope.

  5. clintL permalink
    June 29, 2006

    Do you think, even with God’s word printed in English, we still don’t get it today. Do we still want God to be a physical king and grant us worldly positions while professing a spiritual kingdom? Why do we seem to see worldly positions as spiritual blessings?

    “We keep one eye on the task before us, knowing that the reign of God is present in Jesus Christ, and we keep one eye peeled for the future act of God”
    no wander I am cross-eyed.

  6. June 29, 2006

    Excellent post Mike. I’ve heard you talk about this subject before, but this helped clarify a lot of points for me. Our church is currently revisting and refocusing on our mission, but I think sometimes we struggle because we don’t all have a clear picture of the Kingdom and our role in it. I think I need to send a link to your blog to our leadership. 🙂

    Thank you for your wisdom, your generosity and your obvious desire to help the people of God to see the Kingdom in a whole new light. You are truly a blessing to me. But some of your recent comments have me a little concerned about your long-term plans…

    Please keep this blog going for at least another million hits!

  7. June 29, 2006

    Wonderful post Mike!

    Did you sit down and write this, or was this something you had been working on, preaching on, etc?

    While I think the Yoderites/Campites among us might desire a bit more nuance with the “not a political kingdom” bit, this post nonetheless absolutely nails it.

    Thanks for this!

    b blessed
    russ

  8. June 29, 2006

    Regarding the kingdom, I like the line from John Shea’s poem, The Indiscriminate Host: “The banquet is open to all who are willing to sit down with all.”

  9. June 29, 2006

    Mike, I remember reading John Bright’s classic well over 30 years ago. My heritage and my training to that point had not prepared me for this notion of the Kingdom of God. In my view it is the truth about the kingdom that sets us free to see the breadth and depth and reach of God’s amazing heart for ALL people. It was also this concept that uncoupled my soul and my life from “restorationism” as the chief organizing principle of my own theology. I wonder how others have been affected?

  10. June 29, 2006

    Larry – GREAT question. Maybe that’s what people should pursue here. What does this mean for us?

    Russ – I started to put a caveat at that point (when talking about how it isn’t a political kingdom), but decided not to. Yoder (along with Hauerwas, Willimon, etc.) notes that it is very much political — but not in the sense the Jews were thinking or in the sense we often consider today. It’s political in that it constructs an alternative way of living that demands allegiance. It is another way. Our citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20). Thanks. It’s not anything I’ve been working on for teaching or preaching — and yet it’s been on my heart for many, many years. I just needed time (which I got yesterday afternoon) to sit down and put it together. There’s so much more, of course. This is, after all, THE theme of Jesus’ preaching.

  11. June 29, 2006

    Good teaching Mike. Thanks.

    Many have used the word “kingdom” as a new buzz-word in church circles. Or…kingdom has become a euphamism for the word church. As is “we’re not about church anymore. We’re about the kingdom, which is much bigger than church”…then they go about doing the same ole church stuff.

    Is “kingdom” a new way of doing church? Is it the same ole same ole??

    Meet the new boss, same as the old boss – (The Who – Don’t Get Fooled Again”)

  12. June 29, 2006

    Mike, great stuff. I know you have read McLaren’s Secret Message of Jesus but did you get the “extra” chapter at his website? Great chapter on the Lord’s Prayer and the kingdom. Goes along with your explanation of why we need to keep praying this prayer.

    Right now I am working on a series on the Sermon on the Mount. This kingdom stuff really hits home here (I also found your book – Righteousness Inside Out – incredibly helpful as well – you can thank me later for the plug). God’s Kingdom certainly is an upside-down, topsy-turvy, inside out thing.

  13. Josh Ross permalink
    June 29, 2006

    Thanks for emphasizing that the role of the faith community is to receive, enter, and announce the in-breaking of the kingdom. Our task and responsibility IS NOT to build the Kingdom, which some try to do.

    I like the idea of the “here-but-not-yet” because it emphasizes that how we live TODAY–where we pledge our ultimate allegiance TODAY, is just as important as the life in heaven that we point people to.

    Shane Claiborne writes, “Few people are interested in a religion that has nothing to say to the world and offers them only life after death, when what people are really wondering is whether there is life before death.”

    Good post. Looks like you have your sermon for this Sunday, and you just gave dozens of other preachers their sermons for this Sunday too.

  14. June 29, 2006

    Josh – A couple of your parishioners should be back in town. Weary, but home.

    Canada Jim – Haven’t seen that. Could you post a link to it? Thanks.

  15. June 29, 2006

    Now . . . just a wee bit off the subject . . . for Abilene friends who are wanting to know when the all-star games are, here is the schedule. We’re Abilene South #2. Thanks to Tim Crowe for keeping up one of the best little league websites I’ve ever seen.

  16. June 29, 2006

    Here’s the link to the register page for the bonus chapter and a study guide. You have to register but then it takes you to the chapter. It’s the best stuff I’ve read on the Lord’s Prayer in a while.

    http://www.brianmclaren.net/please_register.html

    Jim MacKenzie

  17. June 29, 2006

    Extra chapter for McLaren’s book is at his web site. You have to register before receiving permission to download the study guide and the extra chapter, but it’s basic and simple.

    http://www.brianmclaren.net

    Peace.

  18. June 29, 2006

    Sorry Jim. Didn’t know you already had the link up.

    Peace.

  19. June 29, 2006

    When I was growing up the teaching was always:

    kingdom = church

    church = kingdom

    I think Prentice Meador (Who Rules Your Life? Exploring the Kingdom Parables of Jesus–1979) was the one who first help me understand the Kingdom as God’s reign and rule in the lives and hearts of his children and that the Kingdom is more spatial than it is physical or literal.

    Jesus’ prayer is so powerful when understood in terms of bringing what’s up in heaven down to the earth. Jesus wants us to be about following him, being like him, and living like him before others, not trying to tell people what the minimal requirements are for getting into heaven.

    Helps one understand a little more fully what Paul meant when he said that Christ didn’t send him to baptize but to preach the good news. Christ call him to follow him and Paul called others to follow him as he followed Christ.

    This Kingdom understanding is powerful to the point of life changing.

    Peace.

  20. June 29, 2006

    Thanks Mike!

    For anyone preaching or teaching through the SOT, I highly recommend Stassen and Gushee’s “Kingdom Ethics.” Highly.

    b blessed
    russ

  21. Cheryl permalink
    June 29, 2006

    Thanks for this. I always wonder what would happen if each one of us decided to be the Kingdom of God. What would our homes, our churches, our communities, our world look like? Early on, I thought of the Kingdom being some far off concept or place, but it’s really just about me being like Christ and reaching out, in love, to a hurting world.

  22. June 29, 2006

    Oh no, Mike. The All Star schedule is all about the Kingdom! What could be more celebratory, challenging and engaging? Besides, a game with as much time for meditation, centering prayer (i. e. “Hit the ball.” “Hit the ball.” “Hit the ball.”) and openness to the imperatives of movement and teamwork, must be right in the heart of the K of God! The game also calls for human effort, but the deal usually boils down to sheer grace! Plus, everybody’s welcome. . .thanks to Jackie Robinson!

  23. Paul Mathis permalink
    June 29, 2006

    Thank you for this discussion. About 2 years ago, I started a series on the Kingdom and my basic points were the same as yours (great minds, right?). I met a lot of resistace because the mindset of the congregation was that the church is here, the church is perfect, we are just waiting for Heaven to come and get rid of all the riff-raff. The concept that the earthly church is not the perfect Kingdom was very challenging. Thank you for helping to clarify for me some of my own thinking.

    As to Larry James’ question, I am struggling now with how my heritage relates to my present and my future. I love the Restoration principle. I love my heritage in the Churches of Christ, warts and all. However, I do not believe I need to bind myself only to C of C, but in practice, I find it challenging to attend elsewhere. In other words, intellectually I believe the Kingdom encompasses a whole lot more than I ever seen; yet in practice I search for the Kingdom in the place I am most comfortable.

  24. June 29, 2006

    Mike,

    This is a very good piece. You did a very good job of giving a good sumation in one post. (Not the easiest thing to do!) Thanks…

  25. Jeff Brooks permalink
    June 29, 2006

    Mike,

    A few posts ago you referenced “Christmas at Matthew’s House.” I was one of Andre’s preaching students not long after the publishing of the article and ensuing backlash. In class, we discussed the article at length and he shared with us a Fred Craddock(?) article that kind of inspired his article. This is where my memory fails me. I remember the article being about Matthew and referring to Rachel weeping for her children, and ending with the line, “Now, who wants to preach this Sunday?” It was brilliant. So now ten years later, I’m wondering, do you know the name of the Craddock article and where could I get my hands on it? Just curious. Love your blog. I always read, but never comment. I will now return to the shadows.

    Thanks,

    Jeff

  26. June 30, 2006

    The kingdom rule is a daily heart decision.

  27. June 30, 2006

    mmm-mmm-good! Worth waiting for, brother!

    In “The Secret Message of Jesus” Brian McLaren says so much about the Kingdom. As I’ve contemplated why the kingdom concept has been minimized in our teaching, I’ve often thought that it’s really a control issue. While “church” is a biblical word to use in referring to the body of believers called from the world by the gospel, it falls short of fully describing the nature of this body. Choosing to use this word permits us (and I’ve been as guilty of this as any other) to write our own script, especially with respect to polity.
    In the context in which we find ourselves, this has been the preferred practices for many for so long that we don’t even recognize it for what it is. Thus, there is and will always be, by my estimation, a sense in which the reign of Christ is being realized in the lives of women and men today. The kingdom is and the kingdom is not yet. This is the way it has always been and will continue to be until the consummation of the ages.
    The real issue for me is how am I responding to the kingdom call of Jesus? Am I living into Jesus’ kingdom vision for my life? Am I part of a community of believers that is striving to do the same? The answer to these questions is seen, not by analyzing how we are “doing church”, but by examining ourselves to see whether on not we are yielding to Jesus’ sovereignty. Jesus is king of His kingdom.
    Thus, there are no control issues to resolve, not even who sits on Jesus’ right or left hand. In commenting on the “You have heard that it was said . . . but I say to you” sections in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Kingdom Manifesto) McLaren summarizes this with the following: “The kingdom of God calls you to desire and seek a genuinely pure heart.”

    What do you think?

  28. Tim permalink
    January 3, 2007

    Great post! A great resource in addition to McLaren’s is Rick McKinley’s book “This Beautiful Mess”. A great study of the Kingdom of God and its practical implications.

    http://www.amazon.com/This-Beautiful-Mess-Practicing-Presence/dp/1590525019/sr=1-1/qid=1167802583/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1/103-4429473-3764668?ie=UTF8&s=books

  29. January 16, 2007

    Google is the best search engine

  30. February 28, 2007

    Very nice site! Good work.

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