What Do You Think Is Meant by "the Kingdom of God"?
Humiliated in the 1930’s, Germany yearned to be a great country again. Hitler appealed to that longing. After the breakup of the Soviet empire and the collapse of the Communist dream, Russians experienced the humiliation of food aid and economic collapse. Putin addressed the longing to be viewed as a great country again. President Trump made the focus of his campaign, “Make America great again.”
The Jewish people also longed for the fame that once was theirs as a nation. Since the glorious days of Solomon, they had lived through years of humiliation, being ruled by others. Without changing your physical address in Israel, you became a subject of the Babylonian empire, the Persian Empire, the Greek Empire, and now the Roman Empire. When Jesus appeared preaching that God’s Kingdom was near, it must have resonated. The good old days, the ancient glory of Israel would return. People may have thought of the long expected Messiah who would deal with their enemies and oppressors in the way Nebuchadnezzar, Alexander the Great, or Caesar imposed their kingdoms.
Jesus, in preaching the good news of God's Kingdom being near, used many illustrations to clarify the nature of that kingdom and how it would come about. “One who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the sons of the kingdom.’ " (Matthew 13:37-38) He likened the Kingdom to a little yeast that leavened a whole lump of dough. He said that we are the light of the world, the salt of the earth.
Jesus’s parables describe the children of the Kingdom as united, but dispersed. They penetrate society. They are on the offensive, even knocking down the gates of hell, which can not prevail against the onslaught. (Matthew 16:18) What a contrast to the view of the church as a fortress defending itself from attack.
There is a universal tendency for believers to gather together and to stay clumped together, for many good, convenient, and comfortable reasons. Sometimes it is intentional, and other times it just happens. We all like to associate with people we have the most in common with. It is natural, but is it the Kingdom? Over the centuries church became associated with attending meetings instead of with our very identity. Separation from the world was viewed in the Old Testament as not associating with unclean foreigners. Jesus, who was scornfully called a friend of sinners, was criticized by religious leaders for his association with such people. In the perspective of God’s Kingdom, separation from the world is about values, not associations. Jesus prayed shortly before His death for his disciples, "My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world... My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message…” (John 17:15-20)
Jesus called children of the Kingdom the salt of the earth, the light of the world. He also spoke of the futility of a light being put under a bushel or of salt that wasn’t salty. How can we climb out from under the bushel and climb out the salt shaker. We can begin to grasp the good news of the Kingdom that Jesus brought. The Kingdom is a 24/7 affair. Everyday is holy. Every place is holy when our lives are impacted by a Kingdom perspective. The natural, including the mundane and the ordinary, becomes spiritual, and the spiritual becomes natural (without added special effects).
The focus of Jesus’s teaching and life was on explaining the Kingdom. In place of an emphasis on the Kingdom, have we substituted something else? I've only touched on one aspect of the Kingdom. Jesus often made statements beginning with the words, "The Kingdom is like... " He is constantly illustrating it. How do you understand the Kingdom of God? I used to think it referred to heaven. Is that accurate? What particular truth or illustration about the Kingdom stands out to you?