Rethinking Kingdom Expectations

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“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).

With these words, Mark’s Gospel inaugurates the ministry of Jesus. They carried tremendous impact in His day, and they should in ours as well.

Jesus spoke into a time of heightened expectation. John the Baptist had shattered four hundred years of prophetic silence with the look and sound of Elijah. He came on the scene when Messianic expectancy was running high, when men claiming to be the Messiah had gathered followings, been killed, and come to nothing (Acts 5:36, 37).

Jesus’ words spoke of hope, of good news, confirming the validity of expectancy. But He also spoke of change; He spoke of repentance.

What do you think of when you read or hear the word repent? Do you think of the ministry of John the Baptist, of people confessing sins and expressing remorse? The word itself means “to think differently . . . [to] reconsider” (Strong’s Greek Dictionary, G3340). Entering the kingdom of God was going to require a lot of rethinking! The kingdom of God was going to be different than expected, and to enter it would require a different kind of belief.

Changing past thinking

The Messiah would not be a conquering king on a white stallion but a suffering servant on a donkey; not a Roman evictor but a victim of Roman execution; not a pious Pharisee but the friend of tax collectors and prostitutes. The kingdom of God, too, would be different than expected. Not a Davidic throne in Jerusalem centered around temple sacrifices but a shekinah glory inhabiting millions of Gentile hearts. A kingdom not of one purified ethnic nation but for all people in all tribes and nations.

For many the drastic change of thinking was too much. For some it was not good news at all. Paul could recount the work of God through the history of Israel and be patiently received — until he said he was sent to bring the good news to the Gentiles. To these words the Jewish mob responded, “Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he is not fit to live!” (Acts 22:22).

Despite the extreme difference between expectation and reality, the truth was still good news: The kingdom of God was at hand, within reach, present at that moment in the person of
Jesus. All that was required to enter was to receive Him as Savior and Lord. Yet, how few entered. How few repented.

How different this Messiah was from all the pretenders who promised to vanquish Rome and restore the throne of David. They died and came to nothing. This One made no such promises. He promised instead to forgive sins, to resurrect the dead, to be the way, the truth, and the life and the only way to God (John 14:6). How much more ostentatious were His promises! Yet He, too, died — only to validate His claims by rising from the dead.

Correcting present thinking

Here is where we need to take note, to pause and make sure that we do not repeat the errors of history. Those who know the old, old story love to hear it best, says the hymn. We love to hear how much Jesus loves us, that He died to forgive our sins, but we forget that He did come to establish a kingdom. A kingdom is a place under the sovereign rule of a king.

What is our expectancy regarding the kingdom of God? Where is it? When is it?  How do we enter? What must we do to be saved? These are the questions we spend time wrestling with, when the real questions are “Who is it?” and “Do you know Him?” And maybe even more important, “Does He know you?” Have you come under the sovereign rule of the King of Kings? Have you joined Him in His mission?

The time is fulfilled; the kingdom of God is at hand. Jesus has come. He died and rose again. He sits at the right hand of the Father with all authority in heaven and earth, and He has sent His Spirit to dwell in us. His kingdom is a present reality in each heart surrendered to His will. And His will is not a vague notion. It is a specific commission: to make disciples, to be His ambassadors, to continue what He began until He comes again.

Have we begun to see this as our personal purpose? Is that our expectation of what it means to be living in the kingdom of God?

Get focused

We, too, can miss the Messiah’s true mission. He wasn’t forging a nation-state. He was not intent on creating an enclave for the pure and holy. He did not come to condemn but to save. He was willing to leave the ninety-nine to find the one. His kingdom would not be like any in this world. The greatest would be the servant of all, and victory over enemies would come by loving them. Are we pursuing the same goals by the same means as Jesus did?

The questions the church still needs to wrestle with are “Have we turned from our old ways [i.e., repented]? Are we falling into the trap of seeking lesser things, earthly kingdoms, and familiar, comfortable, self-serving purposes? Have we sacrificed our thoughts and expectations to God to make way for Jesus’ identity and mission to reign in us?”

We long for the conquering king to ride in on the white stallion and put right all the injustices, to humble the proud, to purify the land (and He will). But He left glory (and the ninety-nine) to find the one wandering sheep. It was to the sick that the Great Physician went. And until He comes again, we are to do the same ­— to be His hands, feet, and voice; to share the invitation to enter His kingdom with those who are lost and dying in this dark world.

Jesus told all who would follow Him to take up their cross daily, denying their own desires and expectations, and to do the will of the King who died to rescue His servants. This is the narrow path of entry into the kingdom of God. Let us focus on Jesus and follow His plan as citizens of the kingdom of God!

Loren Gjesdal
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Loren is husband to Nickki for more than 30 years and father to 2 adult children and 1 teen. He lives in Oregon where he is co-pastor of the Marion Church of God (Seventh Day), part time property manager, and Artios Christian College Co-Director.