The Kingdom of God. It’s a Jesus-phrase that gets a lot of air time in Christian circles, and yet the depth of it often means that we don’t realize the profundity of what we are talking about when these words pass through our lips.
However, as Christians who want to actively influence our homes, church, workplaces, and communities for the honor and glory of Christ, understanding what Jesus meant by the Kingdom of God has the power to bring remarkable clarity to how we interact with both other people and our environment.
Here’s what we need to understand about the Kingdom of God:
1. We enter the Kingdom when we accept Christ as our King.
As leaders, our ultimate goal is to lead people into the Kingdom. But what does that mean?
The Kingdom of God refers to both the rule of God and the realm of God.[ref]Pentecost, Thy Kingdom Come (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregal Publications, 1995),pp. 12-13[/ref] Realm refers to the ownership of the world. The world is God’s realm. Psalm 89:11 proclaims, “The heavens are yours, and yours also the earth; you founded the world and all that is in it” (NIV). It is not Satan’s realm. Satan does not own creation. God does. This is God’s world.
The battle between the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan occurs in the area of ruling. While Satan does not own the realm, he does have the power to rule “in the hearts of the people and in the life of the world” through those whom he rules.[ref]Webber, Ancient-Future Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing, 1999), p. 54[/ref] When Jesus proclaimed His Kingdom, He was calling people to turn the rule of every area of their lives over to God. He was saying, “The ruler of the universe has come to rule in your life. Turn away from other demands for ownership of your life. Enter into my reign. Let me rule in the life of the world through my rule in you”.[ref]Ibid[/ref]
We enter the Kingdom of God when we renounce the right to rule our own lives and place ourselves under the rule of Jesus instead, accepting His sacrificial righteousness for a prideful self-righteousness that leads to our own destruction.
Therefore, to lead someone to the Kingdom is to influence them to the point in which they make the decision to live under Christ’s leadership as a recipient of His sacrifice and righteousness.
2. The Kingdom is a Direct Reflection of the King.
The Kingdom is not just a hypothetical dream-world, it is a current reality that we enter into as soon as Christ becomes our King. We aren’t called to just lead people to the gates of the Kingdom but to continue to act as tour guides as we explore the Kingdom together.
We know that God’s Kingdom is timeless – it predates the creation of the earth and will exist into eternity. We also know that it is universal – that there is no realm outside of God’s authority.[ref]Pentecost, pp. 16-20[/ref]
It is important to note that while some of these passages of Scripture refer to God’s present realm and reign, other passages refer to the realm of reign of God’s future kingdom. However, regardless of how the word “kingdom” is used, there are 3 underlying themes regarding the Kingdom of God:[ref]Webber, pp. 53-54[/ref]
- The rule of God in Christ over all areas of life
- The Kingdom is a gift
- Jesus Himself as the embodiment of the Kingdom
Because God is unchanging, the principles by which He rules – and has always ruled and always will rule – are unchanging.
We can point to how God’s principles manifest themselves differently within the context of covenant, but the underlying principles never change. He has universal laws written into His very nature that we can identify as theological principles embedded in the story of His interactions with creation.
Think about the atmosphere of your bedroom or home. Everything in your little kingdom is a reflection of you and your values. The pictures on the wall. The music in the air. The moving pictures that you choose to grace the screen. It all reflects how you choose to rule that space.
The same is true for the atmosphere of God’s Kingdom. A realm completely under His rule will be marked by characteristics that reflect the laws of His nature and how He has chosen to rule that space. The most vivid picture of this is found in the Old Testament prophets’ description of a future manifestation of the Kingdom in which the influence of Satan is completely bound, including:[ref]Pentecost, pp. 335-336[/ref]
That being said, our very DNA bears the scars of thousands of years of humanity yielding to the rule of sin and Satan. While we have authority over these powers through Christ, they continue to poison the realm that surrounds us and attempt to break through and deface the beauty of the Kingdom of God on earth.
In addition to this, Jesus demonstrated that His Kingdom is one worth suffering and sacrificing for, and in fact, magnified its beauty through suffering. Like Him, we must presently suffer for the Kingdom[ref]II Thess. 2:5[/ref], but Jesus taught his disciples (and us) to live in such a way that they would be evidence of God’s future kingdom. Just look at all of Jesus’ teachings in this context. Read the epistles. He was calling us to walk in that kingdom through Him. Not just in the future. But now. To have joy in the midst of suffering. To experience that peace that passes all understanding. To trust in Him to take care of our needs.
3. Jesus’ gospel (good news) is the “good news of the Kingdom of God”.
We are often guilty of reducing the gospel to a declaration of faith in Christ as the passport to eternal life. But Jesus did not come as a metaphoric fountain of youth!
The words “Kingdom of God” occur within the New Testament a total 65 times. 51 of those times are within the gospels. Jesus viewed the message of the Kingdom of God as being so important that after His resurrection, when He appeared to his disciples over that period of 40 days all we are told is that he spoke to them about the Kingdom of God.[ref]Acts 1:3[/ref]
What was the good news? That because of Jesus and His sacrificial righteousness, we can be ruled by God and live in His Kingdom, not just in the future, but now.
Jesus told people that the Kingdom of God was coming in power…and then, with each step He took He gave people a first hand glimpse of what the prophets had foretold…of what a realm looks like that is under the rule of God:
- His forgiveness removed the curse of sin
- He brought unprecedented joy
- He brought peace and comfort
- He brought abundance, turning water into wine multiplying bread and fish
- He healed the sick, the blind, and the crippled
- He set people free from the oppression of Satan
- He showed His glory on the Mount of Transfiguration
- He countered immaturity with knowledge and instruction of the ways of God
- He pronounced judgment
- He called people to holiness
- He demonstrated working to the glory of God
- He demonstrated and foreshadowed the gift of Sabbath rest
- He was the very manifest presence of God
- He walked in the power of the Holy Spirit and promised that the Holy Spirit would soon be poured out on ordinary people
Jesus quite literally embodied the Kingdom. He carried it with Him everywhere He went and invited everyone He came into contact with to dwell in it with Him.
4. We influence by making the Kingdom of God a reality to the people around us.
At its heart, Christian leadership is about creating environments such that when people come into that space they are able to experience the atmosphere and amenities of God’s Kingdom. The space could be as small as your arm’s reach or as large as any area over which you have jurisdiction.
It’s a space where people tangibly experience the good news of the Kingdom of God.
Let’s take a look at the term ‘good news’:
- “Good news” is translated from two Greek words: ‘eu’, which means ‘well’ or ‘good’ and ‘angelios‘, meaning ‘message’.
- Put the two together and we get ‘euangelios’ – the English rendering of the active form of this word being ‘evangelize’.
Thus, a call to Christian leadership is a call to evangelism. And evangelism is nothing to be intimidated about. It is simply making the Kingdom of God a reality to the people around us. We communicate this Kingdom through words, attitudes, and actions and then invite people into this Kingdom through Jesus.
Jesus modeled this in Luke 10.
We see that Jesus appointed 72 disciples to go ahead of Him into “every town and place where he was about to go.”
These people were not going to come to Jesus. Instead, He was going to go to them.
Jesus’ instructions were very simple. They were to go straight to their destination and bring peace to the homes that they entered. In other words, they were to bring evidence of the Kingdom with them to that house. Then, they were to heal the sick people in the town. As or after they demonstrated the power of the Kingdom, they were to announce “the kingdom of God is near you.”
However, there were people who rejected the Kingdom. They hadn’t even met Jesus yet, but yet they wanted no part of the Kingdom. They were not peace-loving; they were not Kingdom-loving. They didn’t want their curses removed. Jesus instructed His disciples to wipe the dust off their feet, leave, and bring evidence of the Kingdom to the next town.
To sum it up, they were to:
- Bring peace (a characteristic of the Kingdom)
- Heal the sick (a characteristic of the Kingdom)
- Announce the Kingdom
- Continue spreading the Kingdom
God’s Kingdom is found wherever the rule of God and the realm of God intersect.
When Jesus is ruling over and through us, we bring the Kingdom to every physical square inch of the realm that lies within our circle of influence.
We bring the Kingdom with us when we feed the hungry, when we clothe the poor, when we teach people about Jesus in a spirit of love, when our words and actions are marked by the fruit of the Spirit, when we do anything for someone else out of love for Jesus.
There will be many people who will reject the Kingdom and thus will reject the King, but there are many more who will be drawn to Christ through His Kingdom.
Regardless of our realms of influence, we must understand that…
5. The Church is the Greatest Picture of God’s future Kingdom.
We don’t lead – we don’t influence – by ourselves. We are to lead, not in competition with other Christians, but alongside other Christians. The Church.
One of the messiest parts of life is the reality that we don’t live by ourselves. We get to deal with our own drama and everyone else’s. Every. Single. Day.
This is perhaps one of the most mind-boggling promises of the Kingdom of God. Our future with Christ will not be marked by petty grudges, arguments, and hurt feelings.
Can you imagine what it would be like to live in such a community? Neither can anyone else. And that is why it’s shocking that the Church – everyone under the rule of Christ – is called to foreshadow the future community that will be the residents of God’s eternal Kingdom:[ref]Webber, Journey to Jesus (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2001), p. 20[/ref]
- to embody in community what a redeemed people can look like (Acts 2:42-47)
- to witness to the world that the powers of evil have been defeated (Eph. 3:10)
- to call the world to live under the reign of Jesus Christ who is Lord of creation (Gal. 1:15-2:10)
- to go and tell the world the good news (Acts 1:8)
- to call the world to repent, be baptized, receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38)
- to invite all to live in the fellowship of God’s new community (Eph. 2:19-22)
- to enlist the world in expectation of Christ’s coming to set up his kingdom and rule forever (2 Pet. 3:10-18)
- to model exemplary lives (2 Pet. 3:14)
What we are called to do, we are called to do together. Not in competition with one another but in collaboration. To encourage one another and build one another up, and in doing so, intertwine our stories with the Kingdom of God as it grows to fill the entire earth.