What Is the Kingdom of God?
When I was 17 years old I went to a youth conference where I heard about the person of Jesus, his profound love for me, and the truth that because of his life, death, and resurrection, I could have salvation when I put my faith in Him. This is when God became personal to me. My eyes had been opened and I realized the implications this had on my life. God truly loves me. There is real hope beyond this sad broken world. My deepest desire is God and I have been lost trying to fill other things with what is only found in knowing Him.
This was a crucial moment in my faith journey. One that I am so grateful for. It was a necessary piece of a puzzle I was trying to make sense of, but questions still bounced around in my head. I thought things like:
“How does this really impact my life?”
“Do I now just go on living till I die and then I get to meet Jesus?”
“Does God care about the choices I make?”
“How do I not waste my life?”
My paradigm for life shifted once again in a profound way later that year. I took a flight to Haiti to spend a week on a mission trip. I sat with people impoverished beyond what I could have ever imagined. These were people who made on average a dollar a day or less. What marked me though about these people was their profound sense of purpose and mission in their life. I spoke with pastors who were deeply devoted to the gospel and seeing people experience hope and new life from it. I witnessed community leaders that looked for creative opportunities to bring peace to a neighborhood struck by violence. I watched as instructors taught young kids karate and gave them another way other than being sucked into a gang.
During that week I began to become soberly aware that the box I squeezed God into was much smaller than the work He was doing all around. He broadened my horizon and He called me to live with a greater vision for the kingdom in the world. He showed me how his Spirit was working in and through people in different parts of the earth in unique, but unifying ways bringing the kingdom of God to earth.
“The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” Mark 1:15
The word kingdom is used 122 times in the gospels. It is included in most of the teachings of Jesus. He is continually trying to renew people's minds and understanding of the reality around this concept. The Sermon on the Mount is considered a “manifesto for the kingdom”. The point is it’s important to Jesus.
So what is the kingdom of God and why is the theology around it matter to us?
Simply put, the kingdom of God is the range of God’s effective will. It is what God has reigning authority over. And the Gospel then is, “the good news that God’s kingdom has come near through Jesus, and through his life, death, and resurrection and enthronement, the powers of Satan, sin, and death no longer have the last word." -Rich Villodas
The intimacy that was lost in the garden through disobedience has been restored through the sacrificial love of the Son. And now the earth that was once fallen is being renewed slowly by the Spirit of God working in and through the people of God.
So if the kingdom of God has come near and God has reigning authority then why is there still evil in the world? Why does it seem like the enemy is still so active?
Theologians call the period of time we live in the “already and not yet”. Jesus came and said “it is finished” on the cross. In other words, it has been paid in full. He won the authority of the kingdom back from what the enemy tried to steal, and he is now actively working through the church to exercise that authority on earth. The enemy lost all authority so he only has what we have now given him. That is why his primary tactic is to deceive or lie. The enemy is trying to plant lies in the minds of people, communities, and cultures as a whole to drive people away from the grace and truth Jesus came to bring.
So Jesus already won, and still, there is work to do. God is currently spreading His image across the nations and is establishing his goodness everywhere. We are co-working with the Spirit as He invites us to carry on the kingdom Jesus established 2000 years ago. The same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead now lives in us and guides us to deeper obedience and aligns our hearts with God's.
“So if we ask, Where is the kingdom of God today? here is the gospel answer: it is wherever a man or woman has made Christ the Lord of life and accepted the rule of God in the heart. That is where the Kingdom is. And that is the real explanation of the sudden happiness that comes to any man who makes the great decision; it is the other world, the eternal Kingdom world, breaking through into time, coming above the surface in that man's life. The kingdom of God is there." -James Stewart
So we have an understanding of what the kingdom of God is and how it functions in the here and now, but what is at the heart of the kingdom? Jesus describes this kingdom that is truly unlike any kingdom we could grasp. Many people call it an upside-down kingdom. He most clearly outlines the heart of it in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus proclaims the kingdom centers around things like enemy love, humility, honesty, forgiveness, goodness, giving to those in need, trust in God’s provision, and more.
John Mark Comer puts it this way, “It’s a kingdom where agape or love defined by Jesus is the ultimate value and the most important reality and agape is expressed as peace and justice and generosity and compassion.”
In other words, it functions nothing like the “kingdoms” around the world try to run. We have seen time and time again that corruption, selfishness, greed, and exploitation have been at the center of those in authority on earth, but Jesus came to establish something completely different.
So how do we move toward the kingdom? How do we forgo our attempt to establish our kingdoms on this earth? How do we stop trying to define good and evil for ourselves and set up our castles?
We must learn the art of surrender and seeking the kingdom first.
“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Matthew 6:33
This requires an incredible amount of humility. We are often too quick to jump in and assume what seeking the kingdom of God looks like. We take little time to listen for the Spirit’s invitation in the seeking process and we settle for filling our life with kingdom-like activities. All the while we are missing out on the Spirit of God’s invitation to deep communion with him that flows to purposeful work in Him.
“Søren Kierkegaard considers what sort of effort could be made to pursue the kingdom of God. Should a person get a suitable job in order to exert a virtuous influence? His answer: no, we must first seek God’s kingdom. Then should we give away all our money to feed the poor? Again the answer: no, we must first seek God’s kingdom. Well, then perhaps we are to go out and preach this truth to the world that people are to seek first God’s kingdom? Once again the answer is a resounding: no, we are first to seek the kingdom of God. Kierkegaard concludes, “Then in a certain sense it is nothing I shall do. Yes, certainly, in a certain sense it is nothing, become nothing before God, learn to keep silent; in this silence is the beginning, which is, first to seek God’s Kingdom.” -Richard Foster
So I would invite you to slow down. Abide with Jesus. Let the kingdom of God flow into your heart and pour over into your life around you.