The Kingdom of God
Jesus' main message was the kingdom of God. It's all He ever seemed to talk about. "The kingdom is like a mustard seed." "The kingdom is like a tree." "It's like a treasure." "Seek first the kingdom," "Kingdom, kingdom, kingdom." Most people think that Jesus was talking about how to go to heaven when you die. Although, Jesus cared deeply about our salvation, it was just one sliver of what the kingdom of God means.
Trying to follow Jesus without understanding the kingdom is like trying to follow Martin Luther King Jr. without knowing what civil rights are. It’s possible, but you probably will not be on the same page, or very productive.
If you want to dedicate your life to becoming His disciple, then it is essential to understand the central theme of His ministry. To begin, we must ask, "What is a kingdom?” A kingdom has four parts: A king, his subjects, the king’s rules, and a territory.
When Jesus spoke of "The kingdom of God," He was referring to the place where God is king, the angels are His subjects, God's heart makes the rules, and is located in a place called heaven.
Before we begin, there are two other kingdoms that require our attention. The first is the Kingdom of Man. We see its formation in the very first verse of the Bible. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” A new territory was created. Later God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over …all the creatures that move along the ground" (Gen. 1:26). The kingdom of Man is the place where humankind rules, where the heart of humankind makes the rules, the animals are their subjects, and it is located on planet earth.
The King and His Rulers
The Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Man shared a relationship similar to the relationship between a nation and a colony. In those arrangements, the King gives his vision to the rulers with certain rules for how to carry it out, and then delegates his power and authority to accomplish it. The rulers would then act to make that vision a reality. They are expected to do the work of colonization, which is bringing the king’s value system and his kingdom’s lifestyle into a new territory. These rulers were trusted individuals, as they were often children of the king, and were given a lot of latitude to make their own decisions, in so much as they did the King's business, and didn’t contradict his authority.
We see that relationship emerge in the creation narrative. God defines His vision of having a fruitful live giving planet, and He delegates His power to His children to accomplish it. God gave His new rulers only three rules. What’s interesting about the rules was that each was designed to enhance the pleasure of living in the garden.
- Have babies (Gen. 1:28). If you don’t know why that’s pleasurable, ask your mommy.
- Subdue the earth (Gen. 1:28). In this command we see the birth of culture. Culture is when we take the world we find ourselves in and make something out of it. God was telling humanity to take the earth, and to make it better by building houses, creating violins, and developing the Internet. Secondly, it meant to expand their territory from Eden outward.
God wanted His children to enjoy being creative just as much as He enjoyed creating.
- Don’t eat the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden (Gen 2:16).
The last rule doesn’t seem pleasure focused at first. When people are forbidden from doing something it creates a desire to do what they are told not to do. It’s painful resisting. Why did God intentionally create pain in a perfect world? The explanation is a little complex, but it is extremely important to understanding the heart of God.
We were designed so that the most pleasurable thing we can experience is God’s presence. God is arrestingly beautiful. If you ever saw Him face to face, and you will, you would feel overwhelming joy. Unlike any other pleasure, it grows in intensity every time you experience Him. We were designed so that we would experience the pleasure of creating through sex, and ???then experience God, and find Him more desirable. He's that Good. As an early reformer wrote, the purpose of this life is to “glorify God by enjoying Him.“
Humanity was designed so that we would experience God most fully when we choose Him over lesser desires. By forbidding the couple from eating from the tree, God was creating a scenario for Adam and Eve to experience deeper levels of bliss through choosing Him.
Secondly, God gave the first couple freedom so that they could choose to love Him, instead of Him forcing them to love Him. For love to exist, it must be freely chosen.
The Terms and Conditions:
The ancient term for a king’s rules is called a covenant. In a covenant, the king sets the rules, the consequences for disobedience, and the subjects don’t get any say in the matter. If a king’s rules don’t have consequences, the king doesn’t have real power. God's consequence was death.
Death seems a little extreme to us at first, until you realize that the punishment of death was built into the way the world is designed. Breaking one of God’s rules in a perfect world is like putting sugar in a gas tank. God knew that if the couple ever rebelled there would be no turning back, and it would mess up their lives forever.
Life was Perfect:
The couple named the animals, ate fruit, built, lived in harmony with each other and nature, and had lots of hot sex in paradise. Yet they enjoyed communing with God above all else. This is the picture of what living under God’s Kingdom looks like. The Hebrews had a word for it called Shalom. It means to experience the wholeness, completeness and peace of a life blessed by God, and living life to the fullest in God’s presence under God’s rule and reign. In the beginning, life was perfect.
Shortly after creation the devil rebelled against God. A third of the angels rebelled as well. God cast them out of heaven. The disobedient angels are now called demons. The devil hated God, and has dedicated his life to destroying what God loves.
One of Satan's first acts of destruction was the day he silently slithered up to Eve in the form of a serpent. He tricked her and her husband into eating the forbidden fruit. Breaking God’s law had terrible consequences. Sin is like radiation. It mutates everything. It distorted their thinking, emotions, and personality. Sickness and death entered the world. Adam and Eve had to be removed from the garden and God’s presence less God’s holiness totally destroy them. Without constant access to God, humanity would have to begin to seek the pleasure they found through with Him in other things. Their hearts literally began to crave evil to fill this void. Anything that we use to take the place of finding joy in God is what the Bible calls an idol. That's why the reformers used to say after the fall, “our hearts became idol factories.”
The Fall reshaped how people interacted with each other. Shame entered the world, and brought with it alienation that drove people way from intimacy and love. Secondly, when broken people get together, a broken culture emerges. It is one that punishes doing what’s right and rewards doing evil. It’s this culture that the Bible is calls the world. When the Bible says, “do not love the world,” it’s not talking about the planet. It’s talking about the world’s culture that allures people through promises of quick pleasure as a substitute for God. This is a culture of darkness that works in opposition to the culture God originally designed for people.
The last consequence, and most importantly for the topic of kingdom, when Adam and Eve ate the fruit the right to rule was transferred to the devil. Paul explains this in Romans 6:16: “Don't you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness.” Things change. No longer is mankind the ruler of this world. Rather the devil is, the demons become his subjects, and humanity his slaves. His heart governs the earth.
This is called the Kingdom of Darkness.
In an instant earth radically changed. Her new ruler’s heart was very different than her previous one. God is good. The devil is bad. Satan intentionally governs the earth opposite of God’s original intent. God values life love, health, justice, intimacy, peace, blessing, freedom and truth. The devil values death, sickness, injustice, alienation, war, poverty, bondages and lies. The earth reflects the heart of the devil to this very day. No longer is there peace between the kingdoms. No longer is everything right and good.
Adam and Eve expected their lives to end. So they hid, but God saw them. He could have destroyed them right there. If you think about it, it’s just two people. No big loss. But God didn't punish them like they deserved. Why? He loved them passionately, so He chose to save them.
But this was easier said than done, because saving humanity creates a dilemma. God had to punish sin with death, or He would be a liar, and thus become sinful Himself. Yet the very act of punishing sin would cause Him to kill the people He loves. Theologians call this "The Sin Problem." How can God punish sin and remove it without destroying humanity? It sounds impossible to do, but from the beginning God had a plan to solve it. The very next thing God does is begin to unfold that plan.
The Lord said to Satan, "Because you have done this cursed are you above all the livestock…And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel" (Gen 3:14-15).
In doing so, God prophetically told the devil,'“You and I are at war now. I am going to destroy you. I will give the woman a child who will crush you and your kingdom. You will try to destroy him, but He will wipe you off the Earth.' God promised to invade the world in space and time to destroy the kingdom of Darkness and to fix everything through a single child. In God's mind, human history has three stages. The first stage is creation which is when God made the earth and placed humanity as its rulers.
The second stage is when the kingdom of darkness rules the earth. The Bible sometimes refers to it as, “this age.” As in, “The god of this age (Satan) has blinded the minds of the unbeliever to keep them from seeing the light and glory of Christ" (2 Cor. 4:4).
The third is the period of time when God restores all things. This is recorded in Rev 21. John sees a new heaven (sky) and a new earth, and Jesus says, “behold I make all things new.” Contrary to popular belief, God’s goal isn’t to burn everything up, but to make all things right. God's end game is to restore the world by removing sin, and its effects from it. In the age to come that will happen. We will live in our resurrected bodies (1 Cor. 15.) on a planet similar to this one, in space and time. Paradise will be restored, and we will experience God’s presence like we were originally intended.
The World We Live in:
Before we move forward, it is essential that you grasp that the Bible teaches that the spiritual elements of our world and the natural ones overlap, or it will not make sense to you. When most people think about the spiritual realm, they think of it as a place outside of the edge of the universe as if the spiritual world is past the last star. They think of God and the devil fighting battles out there. Although it is true that the spiritual elements of reality existed outside of and prior to the natural ones. The Bible teaches after the creation they are intertwined with each other.
The Bible also teaches that God is omnipresent which means that He is here, now, always. He may manifest his presence or hide it, but He is deeply involved in the world shaping history. The angels minister to people on earth (Heb. 1:14). The devil roams the earth like a roaring lion (1 Pet. 5:8). Demons are cast of out people (Luke 8:29). The spiritual world isn't just something that happens out there, rather it is something that is happening, right were you are, right now. Just because you can't see something doesn't mean it's not there. I can't see cell phone signals, but they are real and affect my life, just like the spiritual elements of reality affect my life.
The Old Testament:
The Old Testament contains the story of God preparing the world for the promised child. It cannot be understood outside of the context of warfare between God and Satan over the fate of humanity that is taking place while the Lord deals with our sin problem. We are not going to flush out the entire Old Testament now because it will distract from the main story.
In brief, God chose Abraham as the family for that child to be born into. He gave Moses the Law, to show that no one can live up to it, and to give a standard to prove the promised one lived a perfect life. God sets up the Davidic Dynastic to show a picture of what it will look like when He rules over the entire world.
The prophetic books teach what the kingdom of heaven is like, and what it will look like when God restores all things. There will be no sickness or death. The captives will be set free, and people freedom from bondage. All nations will worship God.
The pinnacle of history is when Jesus arrives. He is the one that God foretold the devil about. In Jesus, the king of heaven comes to earth to live among men.
The Promised Child:
Jesus' ministry confused everyone. The religious people of his day thought the messiah would defeat Rome, but Rome was not His real enemy. Satan was. He brilliantly attacked him, but was seen as apathetic by those who were spiritually dull.
Many thought He would pick up their religious practices. But He lived the culture of heaven which values mercy, love and authenticity more than self-promotion. He was not holy in their eyes, because He lived out the heart of God. He could touch the unclean and instead of it making Him unclean, He cleansed them. His holiness overcame the effects of sin.
When he said, “the kingdom of heaven is near,” the people saw oppression, death, sickness, and a foreign army that stood in Israel, and said to themselves, “What kingdom?” "That’s dumb Jesus."
Then he showed them what it looks like when heaven invades earth by demonstrating it through his life. He healed the sick, cast out demons, set hearts free, fed the poor, empowered women, and refused to be religious.
He said that his mission was to reveal the Father’s heart to people. He went to those who were considered the most evil of his society, the whores, murders, and thieves, and he told them that God felt love for them like a father feels for his children. He taught that if you would take one step toward Him that the Father would run toward you regardless of what you had done.
There was something about Jesus that when he said those words people knew they were true. They knew He could be trusted because they saw someone who loved like only God could love. It awoke a hunger in them that they had forgotten, and had ceased to believe could be filled. He caused them to lust for God's presence. The heart of Jesus was arrestingly beautiful. His heart is similar to a sunset that is so gorgeous you can’t take your eyes off of it. The beauty grabs you and screams, “There is more to life than you are currently aware.” When people met Jesus it was as if He was what every sunset pointed toward. As He went about his day, people who had just met Him would begin to spontaneously tell Him how wonderful he was, as if they were worshiping a god. It felt right to do it even though He was a man.
Jesus did something that hadn’t been done. He was tempted in every way a human could be tempted, yet He lived the law. He was the perfect Israelite. When the devil saw he could not sway Jesus, he used everything at his disposal to bring Jesus to his level. He had Jesus betrayed by His best friend, and put on mock trail, tried by crooked religious leaders, and a crooked government. He was beat within an inch of His live, and hung on a cross, left to suffocate for seven hours. As N.T. Wright says, “The most righteous man who ever lived was killed in the most unjust way possible.” Surely that would break Him. But it didn’t.
Yet Jesus never sinned. If He had, He would have died for what He had done. But because He was blameless, He could die for someone else: Us. On the cross Jesus acted as our representative. The father punished Him like He needed to punish us, and poured out His full wrath toward sin. He took it all. It was exhausted on Jesus. There is no more punishment for it for those who believe in him. On the cross, Jesus solved the problem created in the garden. Sin was punished, and humanity was restored to rightful relationship with Him.
Now when the Father sees us He see Jesus. Why? He loves us, and wants to remove anything that keeps us from intimacy with Him. He knew we could not do it on our own so He did it for us. After three days He was resurrected from the dead. In doing so, He had victory over sin, death Satan, and the grave. They no longer had power over Him.
The Resurrection Changes Everything:
Jesus' resurrection changed the way Israel related to God. Once the only right way to live was to follow the law. That is until Jesus got up from the grave. Today, following the law will enslave you. Before Jesus rose from the dead, sacrifices were a necessity. Immediately upon His resurrection killing a sheep was blasphemy.
The radically transforming nature of the resurrection caught many Jews off guard. They could not adapt to what God had done. So they did what was safe, and lived out the former ways. In doing so they hindered their relationship with Him. Some became legalists, Judaizers, or even worse, they opposed the gospel. Most of the New Testament epistles were written to help correct errors in their thinking about what the resurrection means for God’s people.
The Already/Not Yet
In Jesus, the Kingdom of heaven began invading earth. After His resurrection, He went into heaven, and is continuing His destruction of Satan's works. His kingdom will continue to invade until the age to come, and nothing can stop it from happening. We live during the time when the kingdom has come, is coming, and yet has not yet fully come. G. E. Ladd calls this the Already /Not Yet Nature of the kingdom. He equates Jesus’ resurrection to d-day for the allied forces. When the first ship landed on the beaches of Normandy the war with the Nazis, by all accounts, was already won. The Allies had more troops, and were better trained. However, it would be several years before the war was over. The kingdom is already come, is advancing, but all things have yet to restored.
Part of the way Jesus plans to bring His kingdom to earth is by turning people into His disciples. A rabbi/disciple is like a student/teacher relationship with one exception. A student’s goal is to know what the teacher knows about a subject. A disciple’s goal is to learn to live like the rabbi in every way. When Jesus said come follow me, He was telling the twelve come and be like me. So they spent three and a half years on a camping mission's trip with Him where He taught them everything He knew.
He taught them to love the Father like He did, to worship how He worshiped, how to have the Father's heart, how to pray like He did. He replicated Himself in their lives. Then He sent them out to teach and heal as He did. “These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instruction… Preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, and drive out demons (Matt 10:5-8).” When they acted on Jesus' instructions, they saw the kingdom come, and were amazed. A few weeks later, He sent out seventy two, with the same instructions, and the same thing happened.
Jesus last words to His disciples were, “Go and make disciples of all nations…and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age" (Matt 28:19-20). He wants to replicate Himself in us, and teach us to partner with Him to see His Kingdom come.
Jesus teaches us how to partner with God. He said, “My father is always at work. I only do what I see my father doing.” Jesus taught that there are a lot of things that I can be doing with my time. I choose to only do those things that God is currently doing. Powerful things happens when we do what God is doing. In order to understand God’s work we must understand it at the macro and micro-level because we must partner with Him at both levels. Marco means big. Mirco means small. When we talk about what God is doing at a macro level, we are talking about the big picture for the trend that His work usually takes. He is bringing the kingdom. He is healing the sick, raising the death, ministering to the broken, setting people free from oppression all over the world at this very moment.
We must also understand His nature. He is always loving, always good, and always in control. With that in mind, we partner with God at the macro level by being open at any moment to find a situation for the kingdom to break in, and that He is always in the mood to do it.
However, God always has a unique way of doing what He wants to accomplish. Being attentive at the mirco-level means listening to what He wants to how He wants to go about it. He may have you pray for one person with cancer one way, and then pray another person in a different way. I often see people become ineffective because they get caught focusing too much on either the mirco or macro level. If you focus on the marco-level too much you will miss when the Spirit takes a unique direction. God might have you praying with an Aids victim, and the Spirit wants you to lead the person through prayers of forgiveness. If you are too focused on see healing, you might miss what God is doing. Likewise, there may be times when you are praying and the Spirit isn’t giving you direction. You have dialed down, and are listening for Him, but He is silent. In those moments you can pray with God at the Marco-level because you know His heart. I know those are times when He is saying, “I want to see what you will do with this.” I have seen many miracles where God just honors sincere prayers.
If you focus too much on the mirco-level you will be afraid to pray because of a fear of getting ahead of God. God loves to speak to us at the mirco level, but don’t let that reality handicap you when He is not giving you a particular direction. Learning how to look at both levels at the same time is more of an art than a science. So don’t beat yourself up if you are not good at it initially.
Living in a War
We live in a war between Good and Evil, Truth and Lies, Love and Hate, God and Satan. We will experience the in breaking of the Kingdom like a solider experiences a battle. Sometimes, victory will come almost instantly. Other times, it will come only after much trivial. Other times, we experience defeat. In order to grow as disciples we must learn how to properly react to situation we find ourselves in.
When the Kingdom comes
When we experience the kingdom in any way, shape or form we must realize it is by God’s grace. We do not earn it. We cannot make the kingdom come of our own efforts. God gives it, and when you receive a gift for free the only proper response is gratitude. We need to thank God for both healing minor pains just as much as we do for Him healing cancer. I have often heard of reports from people who say that they were experiencing an outpouring of the Spirit. God was doing amazing miracles. They were so amazed that the minor miracles didn’t attract people’s attention any more. So they stopped thanking God for them. Many reported that the miracles would cease. Over time things become less and less impressive. What was first a spontaneous praise, now requires effort. Praise Him anyways.
Secondly, we have an obligation to tell the testimony. “Declare the praise of the Lord,” the Bible says. Sharing the testimony builds up people's faith, and sometimes God uses it to minister to others. He may heal again through it. When you share the testimony, make Jesus the hero. “He who boasts, let him boast in the Lord.” There is a big difference between saying when I prayed for this guy and his leg got healed, vs. when I prayed for him, Jesus healed his leg. In the first one it sounds like my efforts are what causes the healing. In the second one it sounds like Jesus’ efforts are what did the healing.
When the Kingdom is Delayed
Sometimes the kingdom is delayed. We pray for something and it doesn’t happen. Jesus’ answer is to keep praying. He does this by telling a parable about a persistent women who kept begging a judge for justice. The judge gave her what she wanted because she kept nagging. The moral of the story is keeping asking God. I have heard countless stories of people who prayer for lost children for 20 years+, only to see them turn around. When you get tired ask God for more grace. When you get depressed find others who have found breakthrough in the area you are contending for and listen to their testimony. What you absolutely cannot do during this time is blame yourself or blame God. The reason the kingdom is delayed is a mystery. Don’t try to make up a reason. You can ask God for wisdom in how to pray, but if you blame anyone you will get discouraged.
When you see any progress thank God. There was a lady at my church who had a shoulder issue. I prayed for her, and nothing really happened. I told her that when she went home to keep thanking God for any improvement. She did, and she was progressively healed that night. For whatever reason, thanking God sometimes speeds things along.