“He sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:2)
“Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven.” (Matt. 6:10)
When Jesus sent his disciples out, it was with the clear mandate to “proclaim the kingdom of God.” But what did he mean, exactly?
Fifteen hundred years before, God had promised Moses that the Israelites “will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation“(Exodus 19:6). In 1 Chr 29:10 and Dan 4:3, the phrase “Kingdom of the LORD” refers to the Jewish understanding that God would restore the nation of Israel to their land.
But Jesus was not referring to the nation of Israel but to the rule and authority of God.
The word “kingdom” is a translation of the Greek basileia which in turn is a translation of the words malkuth (Hebrew). Or “kingship,” “kingly rule,” “reign”, “queen”, or “sovereignty” or “God’s imperial rule”, “God’s domain.”
The concept of the kingdom of God is the main message of Jesus. The relationship between God and humanity inherently involves the notion of the Kingship of God. The Old Testament forms the backcloth on which the New Testament stage is set, or –to use another picture– it is the root system for the flowering of the church of Jesus.
The view of the kingdom developed during that time included a restoration of Israel to a Kingdom like that od David and the intervention of God in history via a powerful, ruling Son of Man as described by Daniel.
Most Jewish writers imagined a restoration of Israel and either a destruction of the nations or a gathering of the nations to obedience to the One True God.
Up to a point, Jesus stood in this tradition. His association of his own person and ministry with the “coming of the kingdom” indicates that he was announcing that God’s great intervention in history had arrived, and that he was the agent of that intervention.
But what of his suffering and death? How could God’s appointed king be killed? The resurrection established his claim, and the claim of his exaltation to the right hand of God established him as “king.”
Jesus’ predictions of his return make it clear that God’s kingdom is not yet fully realized but in the meantime the good news that forgiveness of sins is available through his name is to be proclaimed to the nations.
Has God’s kingly rule and authority already come into the world? Or is it still future? Or is there some sense in which it is both present and future? The teaching of the New Testament is clear: The Kingdom is both “already” but “not yet.” It has come, and yet it is coming. It is both present and future.
Several verses in the New Testament teach that God’s rule has broken into human history to deliver men and women from the power of sin, death, and Satan. Matthew 12:28-29 is a case in point:
“But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom [read: redeeming rule] of God has come upon you. Or how can anyone enter the strong man’s house and carry off his property, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house.”
In the context of these verses, Jesus had been accused by the Pharisees of casting out demons by Beelzebub, the prince of the demons. Nonsense, Jesus said. Any kingdom divided against itself cannot stand.
God’s Kingdom power and authority was present in Jesus and demonstrated in his every word and in his every deed. Over against falsehood and error, he taught truth, and his powerful teaching was proof positive of the Kingdom’s presence.
Over against disease, death and demonic possession, he healed, resurrected, and delivered, and his miracles were also powerful proofs positive of the kingdom’s presence. From start to finish, Jesus’ entire life and ministry was the expression of God’s mighty rule that had broken into history to deliver the creation and its human inhabitants from the curse of sin and death. The rule of God was in Jesus. He was, as ancient church theologians believed, the Autobasileia, Himself the Kingdom!
But what does that kingdom look like?
Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” (John 18:36
No, it’s a different kind of kingdom, “from another place.” The kingdom that is “of this world” might look like patriotism, or defending a comfortable western society against hordes of invading foreigners. It might look like hatred and fear of outsiders. It might be rich and prosperous, coveting power, political control and human authority. It might look more like a business.
But the kingdom of Jesus is the cross! The cross is the Kingdom – in disguise! Yes, there on the cross, God in Christ conquered sin, defeated death, and triumphed over Satan. Yet it could not have appeared more unkingly. Jesus hung there in apparent defeat. There He suffered and died. Satan appears to have won the battle.
Yet by this means, Jesus triumphed over God’s enemies and ours, and shares that victory with those who believe. Jesus is Christus Victor! By means of this victory, we are restored to God and our true purposes as human beings.
It is the mystery of the Kingdom that makes us new creatures in Christ.
- Think about the phrase “Already but not yet.” What happens if you over-emphasize one or the other?
- How do you respond to this quote? “We need to be politically engaged, but peculiar in how we engage. Jesus and the early Christians had a marvellous political imagination. They turned all the presumptions and ideas of power and blessing upside down.” (Shane Claiborne)
- This is how Erwin McManus introduced his church. What do you think? “We’re a part of the insurrection, trying to turn Christianity upside down. We’re an experimental church: God’s research and development arm.”
- What do we do about the kingdom on earth?