The Kingdom of God
The Bible tells a story. A remarkable story that God has revealed and that we can live out today. Our goal at Vineyard City Church is to enter the Gospels and dwell there with Jesus. We are not asking, “what would Jesus do?”, but rather, “what is Jesus doing?” To make sense of this approach to our faith, let’s look at the story.
The Old Testament (Covenant):
In our culture, people tend to get so busy arguing over the science of the Book of Genesis, that they miss the point of the creation account. The first two chapters of Genesis describe a glorious creation, in harmony with God and within itself. God speaks out commands, they happen and He relishes the results. It really is all good!
But, tragically, in chapter three that harmony is shattered. Humans decide to try to become gods and rebel against God. The result is shame and alienation from God, from each other and from the earth. God is broken- hearted (Genesis 6:5-6).
God is patient, but the earth spirals downward in human violence. So, He implements a plan to redeem us (free us) from slavery to sin (we call that addiction today) and to bring us salvation (forgiveness and eternal life).
In Genesis 12, God begins a covenant with Abram (Abraham). A covenant is a contract between two individuals or groups. In the ancient world, it was usually between the king and his people. The covenant God forms with Israel is not just about the duty and rights of each side. It is a relational contract. Our closest equivalent today is marriage. Over time, Abraham’s relatives and descendants become a people group (the Jews), with a home (Israel), and a way to live worthy of a human (the Law of Moses).
The Old Testament prophets are enforcers of the covenant, but also complain that the covenant is flawed. For instance, Jeremiah says that even though God loves His people like their husband would, His people break the covenant. The solution for their infidelity (and ours!) is a new covenant that will come one day and change us from the inside out, causing us to really know God.
Beneath the whole Old Testament is a drum roll. The covenant will be given and sealed by the one who will rule on King David’s throne: the “anointed one.” In Hebrew, the Messiah. In Greek, the Christos. In English, the Christ. He will be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2) and will die for our sins and rise again (Isaiah 53). Even His death is described (Psalm 22).
After centuries of waiting, the Old Testament ends with anticipation of the day when the Lord will return, preceded by Elijah.
New Testament (Covenant):
While Matthew, Mark and Luke describe Jesus’ birth. John chooses a more dramatic way to declare Jesus’ arrival. John begins his Gospel:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (1:1) The Word became flesh and made His dwelling (literally, pitched His tent) among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (1:14) For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. (1:17)
Jesus is very clear about how we enter into the new covenant:
For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
The work of God is this: to believe in the One He has sent. (John 6:29)
First century Jews had a slogan when they discussed politics and the occupation of Palestine by the Roman Empire, “No king but God!”
So, it was electrifying around 27A.D. when a man emerged from the deep desert, dressed like Elijah and eating the same diet Elijah had (locust and honey). His central message was:
Repent (turn and walk another way), for the kingdom of heaven is near. (Matthew 3:2)
Soon, Jesus came to John the Baptist, was baptized by John and began His ministry. His early preaching sounded familiar.
Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near. (Matthew 4:17)
But, while John was the preparer, Jesus was the main event, the King! So, Jesus began by proclaiming the good news that the kingdom is here and by bringing it. (Matthew 4:23)
All through His three-year ministry, Jesus proclaimed that the kingdom of God is here and talked about how to enter and live in it. And He demonstrated it, by casting out demons, healing, caring for the poor and drawing sinners like bees to honey!
Jesus’ arrival triggered conflict, since the world was dominated by sin and shame. (Ephesians 2:1-2, 6:12 and Colossians 1:13-14) He represents the age to come, which wars against this present evil age. As George Eldon Ladd put it in his Theology of the New Testament:
In brief, this age, which extends from creation to the Day of the Lord…is the age of human existence in weakness and mortality, of evil, sin, and death. The age to come will see the realization of all that the reign of God means, and will be the age of resurrection into eternal life in the kingdom of God.(p. 48)
Both of these ages entered the same “time zone” when Jesus arrived. In a sense, therefore, the kingdom is not fully here yet. In many of His parables about the kingdom, Jesus talks about what will happen in the future, when He returns (Matthew 13). Yet, Jesus can also say:
But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. (Matthew 12:28)
This sense of the kingdom being here now and yet to come in full victory is captured in the Lord’s prayer, “Thy kingdom come, They will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
In this prayer, we join our Lord in calling out for the kingdom to come here, now! And we recognize it is not fully here yet. Ladd put this paradox this way, “we live in the presence of the future.”
One picture for the Christian life in this season is the period in World War II after D-Day. Oscar Cullman pointed out that after D-Day, the war in Europe was really won. But, it still had to be fought and many casualties were suffered. So, once Jesus arrived on earth, His death and resurrection guaranteed that His kingdom would triumph. But, His war still has to be fought. It is a real war. Many setbacks and tragedies happen.
Another picture is that the two ages are like the giant tectonic plates under the ocean floor. The age to come has slid over the present age in the New Testament and they co-exist. That will be the case until Christ returns, at which point this age will cease. When tectonic plates collide, there are earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. But, when tectonic plates slide over and under each other you get HUGE earthquakes and eruptions. We live in such an age.
On the cross, Christ pays (atones) for our sins and in His resurrection we receive eternal life. Therefore, at His last supper with His followers, Jesus says:
This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. (Matthew 26:28)
In Luke 9, Jesus sends out the 12 to proclaim and do the kingdom. In chapter 10, He does the same with most of His followers (the 72). In Matthew 28, He sends us all! Acts 1 reports His final words before His ascension into heaven:
Wait for the gift the Father promised… In a few days you will be baptized in the Holy Spirit… You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. (Acts 1:4,5,8)
Chapter 2 of the book of Acts records the fulfillment on Pentecost, the Jewish harvest festival, when all Jesus’ followers are filled with the Holy Spirit and a huge crowd asks:
Brothers, what shall we do? (Acts 2:37)
Peter graciously invites them to believe in Jesus and to also receive the gift of the Spirit. The Jerusalem church grows that day by 3,000 and keeps growing until it is scattered by persecution. (Acts 8:1)
As the message spreads, the apostles are very careful to make sure that all new believers are filled with the Spirit too, so they will also be empowered to proclaim and do the kingdom. Acts describes this process as it reaches Samaria (8:14-17), Gentiles (10:44-48), and new disciples further away. (19:1-7).The apostles never tire of talking about the kingdom. (28:30-31)
As writers like the great Southern Baptist theologian Henry Blackaby (Experiencing God) have shown, this open-ended story continues today. While new scripture ceased to be written when the apostles died, the experiences scripture says we are to have, continue. We live in the same season as the New Testament church did, the last days, between Christ’s resurrection and return.
Therefore we can join Jesus in what He is doing today. In the Gospel of John, Jesus says:
Don’t you know Me, Philip? ….anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father….Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me? I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in Me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. (John 14:9, 10, 12)
That sounds crazy doesn’t it? How could anyone, let alone a flawed and broken person like you and me, do what Jesus is doing today? He goes on to explain,
I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever, the Spirit of truth….you will know Him, for He lives with you and will be in you. (ie after Pentecost) I will not leave you as orphans, I will come to you. (John 14:16-18)
This is the heart of Christian spirituality. Christ has sent His Spirit to live in us, which is to say, Jesus lives in all who believe in Him. (Galatians 2:20) And the story gets even wilder:
“I am in the Father and you are in Me, and I am in you….If anyone loves Me, he will obey My teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” (John 14:20, 23)
This is the extraordinary result of the story from our perspective. Jesus has died for our sins and given us forgiveness and eternal life. God has adopted us into the Triune family. We get to live with Him forever. Inclusion in God’s family means inclusion in the family business (the kingdom of God).
So today, we are included in the family of God. Jesus is at work, because the Father is always working. (John 5:17) Jesus grew up in a home that was also a carpenter’s shop and learned that trade by watching, imitating and learning from Joseph. It works the same with God the Father and Son! Jesus does whatever He sees Dad doing. (5:19) We join Him. We don’t ask, “what would Jesus do?” He has risen and is alive. So, we ask Jesus, “what are you doing and may I join you?” And we join Him wherever we see an opportunity to proclaim and do the kingdom. We enter into the Gospels today, with our risen Lord.