What does the kingdom of God mean to you? Is it the Church? Is it heaven? Is it an earthly utopia created by men and women based on the ethical principles of Jesus? Is it a “new world” or a “new creation” (Rev 21:1)?
“Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “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 17:20-21)
Jesus said you cannot see the kingdom of God coming – that is – it was not going to be a matter of God coming down and taking over nations. Not at that time anyways. No. The kingdom of God would come in a way that, in fact, could not be pointed to at all. No one could say, “‘Here it is” or “There it is”. Can we see how clearly Jesus stated that the kingdom of God cannot be seen, pointed to, or limited to a place, person, group, or anything else that we commonly think of as a kingdom?
No. Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is in your midst.” The kingdom of God is the reign of God which God wants to set up in His people. To use, “kingdom language,” God wants to set up a whole new government or kingdom in our hearts and minds. If you examine this, you will find that this requires a new king – Jesus Christ. It also requires that the people who are now under His reign, be adjusted completely to a new realm or rule. This is a whole new life altogether.
Many theologians have failed to see the kingdom of God as a vision. The power of a vision is that while it describes the future state to be achieved, it begins to immediately shape the present. A community or organization doesn’t wait for a vision to magically happen, the group works together to make it a reality. Jesus chose to take the long awaited dream of God’s new society, and by acting on it, make it a vision that would lead to the transformation of the world.
A vision is like a seed that is planted in the hearts and minds of people. When it takes root and is nourished it can grow to accomplish astounding results. Jesus used this imagery with the kingdom of God. It is like a mustard seed, a tiny herb seed about the size of a grain of sand. Someday it will be very big. (cf. Matt 13:31-32; 13:18-19)
The parable of the mustard seed shows that the beginnings of the gospel would be small, but its latter end would greatly increase; in this way the work of grace in the heart, the kingdom of God within us, would be carried on. In the soul where grace truly is, it will really grow; though perhaps at first not to be discerned, it will at last come to great strength and usefulness. The preaching of the gospel works like leaven in the hearts of those who receive it. The leaven works certainly, so does the word, yet gradually. It works silently, and without being seen (cf. Mark 4:26-29), yet strongly; without noise, for so is the way of the Spirit, but without fail. Thus it was in the world. The apostles, by preaching the gospel, hid a handful of leaven in the great mass of mankind. It was made powerful by the Holy Spirit, who works, and none can hinder. Thus it is in the heart. When the gospel comes into the soul, it works a thorough change; it spreads itself into all the powers and faculties of the soul, and alters the property even of the members of the body (cf. Rom 6:13).
The kingdom as preached by Jesus was an alternative understanding of God’s new action in the world. The reign of God that Jesus described in words and images was the action that God was already taking in the world to restore God’s intention for humanity from the very beginning of creation. Rather than the restoration of political and religious power through external action, Jesus painted a vision of God changing the world from within through the creation of a new community bonded together through new social relationships. Jesus described what would happen when God finally broke through the hearts and minds of people to transform their actions and relationships into a new community based on love and compassion. Jesus proclaimed that the kingdom had already arrived and could be clearly seen and entered into if a person underwent a radical transformation.
To Jesus, the good news of the kingdom of God was the decisive action God was taking to defeat the kingdom of Satan—the “domination system” of the World. Jesus saw himself as the one who was called to announce the beginning of God’s new order—a domination-free order for human life (cf. Luke 4:18-21). As the new order began, he could see the old order falling. “He said to them [his disciples], `I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightening.’” (Luke 10:18) In that hour in which he saw Satan fall, and heard of the good success of his ministers, in that hour he rejoiced. The more simply dependent we are on the teaching, help, and blessing of the Son of God, the more we shall know both of the Father and of the Son; the more blessed we shall be in seeing the glory, and hearing the words of the Divine Saviour; and the more useful we shall be made in promoting his cause.
God’s kingdom would bring an end to domination, violence, injustice and poverty—all signs of Satan’s kingdom. Those who would benefit most would be those who suffer most under the domination system: the poor and the marginalized—social outcasts, women and children. Thus Jesus proclaims good news to the poor—“for theirs is the kingdom of God.” (Luke 6:20)
The new economic order of God’s kingdom is not based on personal accumulation of wealth, but on gracious generosity, sharing and sufficiency. Jesus taught us to pray only for what we need for tomorrow: “Give us this day our daily bread.” (Matt 6:11; Luke 11:3) We ask for bread; that teaches us sobriety and temperance: and we ask only for bread; not for what we do not need. We ask for our bread; that teaches us honesty and industry: we do not ask for the bread of others, nor the bread of deceit, Pr 20:17; nor the bread of idleness, Pr 31:27, but the bread honestly gotten. We ask for our daily bread; which teaches us constantly to depend upon Divine Providence. We beg of God to give it to us; not sell it to us, nor lend it to us, but give it. The greatest of men must be beholden to the mercy of God for their daily bread. We pray, Give it to us. This teaches us a compassion for the poor.
God’s new order began with Jesus. It exists side by side with the old order of Satan. Someday God’s new order will fill the earth. Until that day, we are called to live out God’s new order—of equality, humility, servanthood, compassion, forgiveness, nonviolence, and sharing—in the midst of the old. Doing that, however, puts us into conflict with the kingdom of Satan. Because the values of the domination system—the pursuit of power, prestige, wealth, and exclusive community—are the dominant values of any society, followers of Jesus will always find themselves counter-cultural.
To be a subject in the kingdom of God – as mere fact through salvation – is one thing. But to function and move in harmony with the reign of God – with the realm of the Spirit – is quite another. When the Bible talks about entering the kingdom through tribulation, this cannot mean we must suffer to be saved (cf. 2 Thes. 1:5; Acts 14:22). No. We must suffer – have our kingdom dismantled – in order to be able to function in the rule of God. Sure. We are not constituted for the rule of God as natural human beings.
The values of Satan’s kingdom are most clearly identified with the values of “self”—self-interest, self-concern, self-centeredness, selfishness. A focus on the self often leads to alienation, isolation and separation from communion with others and with God. The values of the kingdom of God are most clearly identified with concern for the other—compassion, service, and sharing. Jesus is the best role model, the man for others. “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13)
God’s kingdom is not established by domination, coercion or violence. It is open to all and is offered as an invitation. But it relies on a profound change of heart and a radical change of life to enter.
Entrance requires a change in priorities—from self-interest (What will I eat? What will I drink? What will I wear?)—to a compassionate interest about the least in society (What will they eat? What will they drink? What will they wear?). The kingdom involves feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the imprisoned, caring for the sick, accepting the unacceptable (cf. Matt 25:31-46).
The kingdom of God is the realization of a fundamental utopia of the human heart. For Jesus, God’s reign is both a realization of all our authentically human hopes and dreams and much more than we have ever dreamed of or hoped for. The kingdom of God is a vision of a radical transformation of human beings and human institutions (social, political, economic and religious) to a form that will express the character and nature of God. It is a belief that the reign of God in human lives and institutions will transform the social structures of hierarchy, domination and inequity to structures of equality.
It is the total transformation of this world, free from all that alienates human beings, free from unnecessary suffering, sin, divisions, and the fearful power of death. The divine activity of the kingdom of God is focused on the needs and the desires of the people.
The kingdom of God is a movement, a gathering of people who have decided to follow Jesus. It is a community of people who are committed to the new values of the new order. These are people who listen to the words of Jesus and act on them. Jesus referred to this community as his true family (cf. Luke 8:21).
The kingdom of God is not great and mighty. Most of the time it appears hidden from view (cf. Matt 13:44). It is found in action. It involves simple everyday acts of compassion, acceptance, forgiveness and service. Every act that weakens the domination system, strengthens the kingdom of God. Through small actions by many people the world will be transformed.
Let us praise God with the song “Our God Reigns”: