Last week I introduced our upcoming joint sermon series, Kingdom Citizens (September 13-October 18) with Sojourn, and sought to explain why understanding our place in the kingdom of God is essential to navigating our way through the tumultuous times in which we live. It has been persuasively argued that Jesus’ central message is the kingdom of God, so it is a basic building block for discipleship.
Today we’ll ask four questions about the kingdom of God: What is it? What are some key concepts to understand? When does it arrive? What should we do about it?
What is the kingdom of God?
When Jesus announces, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17), what is he talking about? Was he announcing that his kingdom would transform society and solve all social and economic and political problems? Was he announcing health and prosperity to all with enough faith? Was he announcing the Church? Was he announcing something that would not appear until his return in glory?
Understanding Jesus’ kingdom requires some work. In modern democracies like ours, we don’t get to see many kings and queens ruling and reigning the way they used to in most parts of the world. Further, Jesus’ teaching about the kingdom introduces tensions: it is both a rule and a realm and it is both present and future. Allow me to explain.
What’s a rule and what’s a realm?
Jesus tells a story in Luke 19 that helps us understand a king’s rule and realm. In this parable, a nobleman goes away “to receive for himself a kingdom and then return.” (Luke 19:12). This man lived in the place where he was supposed to rule. We can call that place a realm. But he didn’t have the authority that was needed: he lacked the authority to rule. So he traveled to receive that authority from the powers that be and when he returned, he ruled as king. A king needs both a rule and a realm. His rule is his authority to be in charge. His realm is wherever he rules.
When Jesus announces that the kingdom of God is at hand (Mark 1:14), he is announcing that he is the King who has come with the authority to rule in the midst of a world in rebellion against him. King Jesus is invading the world in order to invite people to repent and come under his redemptive authority, to welcome his saving, kingly power and authority. The realm of Jesus’ kingdom is the hearts and minds and lives of the people who receive his kingly rule in their lives through repentance and faith.
How can the kingdom both present and future?
The kingdom is today.
Let’s listen to Jesus speak about the kingdom.
- Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. (Luke 6:20, italics added)
- Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ (Luke 10:9)
- But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. (Luke 11:20)
- He said therefore, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? It is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his garden, and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.” (Luke 13:18-19)
If this was all Jesus had to say about the kingdom, we would conclude that it is present, here, now. Yet he has more to say.
The kingdom is tomorrow.
Let’s hear more of what Jesus has to say about the kingdom.
- And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 22:15-16)
- “You are those who have stayed with me in my trials, and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (Luke 22:28-30)
- And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. (Matthew 25:33-34)
- So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority….” (Acts 1:6-7)
If this was all that Jesus had to say about the kingdom, we would conclude that it is future! How do we put all of this together? The kingdom is both today and tomorrow, present and future, now and not yet. The kingdom is present truly but not yet fully. When Jesus returns in glory, the kingdom will come fully.
So, what is the kingdom of God? The kingdom of God is redemptive reign, inaugurated at his birth, completed at his return, enjoyed by his people.
What difference does this make?
If Jesus is king, and his kingdom is both present and futures, how shall we live? We’ll unpack this in our series, but the impact is enormous. This gives us realistic expectations for this life and anchors our hopes in the life to come. We know the redemptive, saving power of the risen Jesus here and now, but not yet fully, so we are prepared for triumphs and suffering, joy and sorrow. If the kingdom is future, why would we hitch the wagon of our hopes to any political party, presidential candidate, or social movement? If the kingdom is present, why would we withdraw into Christian bubbles when we can live for the good of our city through proclaiming good news, doing justice, and loving kindness?
P.S. If you’d like to learn more about the kingdom of God, I commend to you George Ladd’s book, The Gospel of the Kingdom.