Imagine this scenario:
You want to be the leader of a new civilization on a beautiful island in the South Pacific, so you apply and get accepted to this position. You hire a personal tutor to educate and train you in everything you need to know for your new life and your future responsibilities. This guy is really, really good at everything from science to politics to personal relationships. He is supremely talented and incredibly wise. He has a knack for reading everything right.
So you give him control over every aspect of your training and agree to learn and do everything he tells you. He has daily teaching and training sessions with you that address every single facet of your life—your character, your personality, your knowledge of the world, your physical fitness—everything.
At the beginning of your training, he tells you, “I want you to keep going to school and to keep taking all the classes that you are already taking. Even though your teachers there don’t know nearly as much as I do and not all of the learning is really on track with mine, I want you to be as good a student as possible and learn everything you can. You will hear things there that won’t line up with what we are learning in our private session; just ignore this and keep going. The school also has some expectations of their students that would jeopardize your qualifications for the South Pacific Mission (like learning how to spin the truth for your own advantage); you need to refuse to participate in those activities. The goals and attitudes of your fellow students won’t be the same as yours, but just keep your eyes on the mission that you are about and stay focused.”
Looking at this student from the outside, he will look similar to all the other students. He is enrolled in the school and learning the same things and playing the same games. He completes all his assignments but often goes well beyond the requirements of his school and completes them with an eye toward satisfying his private tutor. He listens to the teachers, follows their instructions, and abides by the policies of the school (most of the time). Once in a while he deviates and seems to do his own thing. But through careful observation, one can see that he has a bit of a far-off look in his eye and seems to be listening to something outside of the school as he goes about his day. It looks like he is operating under the authority of the school, but his real authority is that man out there with whom he is going to meet after he gets home from school.
In our high school history class, we used this imaginary scenario to discuss a Christian’s position in civil society. He operates as a citizen of a nation-state and in its socio-economic structures but is being actively directed by an outside source of authority and with a core identity that is different from his peers. This diagram illustrates the rank and over-lap of this citizen’s authorities. Just as our imaginary student lives wholly within the sphere of his guide, a Christian lives wholly within the blue oval, the Kingdom of Jesus. That sphere extends into yellow territory, but the way that he participates in that arena is dictated by the purposes and norms of Jesus, the super-tutor.
In history class, we look at the timeline of world history, the rise and fall of kingdoms, and the Kingdom Jesus talked about when He entered history’s timeline. Studying this raises questions of how His Kingdom compares with other kingdoms.
History began with God creating the world. It belongs to Him. But the world—nature and humans–have been twisted and cursed because of sin.
The majority of the world’s inhabitants have given free rein to their twistedness, creating an existence that opposes the rule and will of their Creator. They have used their God-given abilities to develop systems—rebellious mini kingdoms—to insulate themselves from God. These rebellious systems include political structures, educational institutions, philosophical propositions, ethical systems, cultural norms, and economic structures. Over time, these systems become more sophisticated and more corrupt.
However, God has never ceased to be the Ruler of His creation. It has always been God’s desire that His creation—the earth and humans—be restored to a place of submission, love, and shalom, under His caring lordship.
Jesus inaugurated the Kingdom of God on earth with His life, death, and resurrection. The first message of His public ministry was, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” With this message, He announced God would turn the current rebellious mini kingdoms on their head. “God is coming to reclaim what is rightfully His. Acknowledge Him and submit to His rule voluntarily.” Jesus made it clear that anyone was welcome to join His Kingdom: “Fear not, little flock, for it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.”
Christians are those who respond to Christ’s call to repent with faith and humility. They renounce their former allegiances in order to become a liege of the King of Kings . They recognize that the self-serving systems that they were a part of oppose God’s will. In doing this, they are “translated from the kingdom of darkness to the Kingdom of His dear son.” Local congregations of believers are the outposts of this God’s Kingdom, seeking to bring His will and rule to bear on everything within their sphere of responsibility and influence.
God’s Kingdom provides a stark alternative to the rebellious systems and mini kingdoms of the world. Like the experience of our imaginary student in the introduction, submission to God’s rule puts Kingdom citizens into an entirely different orientation toward life. Instead of seeking to avoid their Creator, they seek to know Him and love Him. Instead of putting themselves at the center of the universe, they acknowledge Christ at the center. The Kingdom provides them with a new identity, a new society, a new culture, a new agenda, and new methods.
As Christians live in submission and obedience to Christ, the Kingdom of God is their home, both in its current form and in its promised future form of perfection. As they live on the earth and see their place in history’s timeline, Christians do not find identity or meaning in race, class, political party, nationality, economic status, geographical setting, historical era, IQ, level of education, appearance, or competence—the things that history usually values. They find their place as they kneel before the throne of their Creator in love and worship. In coming under Christ’s rule, the rebels have come home, and “nothing can separate them from Him.”
Earthly activity as God originally designed is good and worthwhile. “Be fruitful, multiply, have dominion.” But now Christ has given a new and more urgent mandate for His Kingdom in this enemy-occupied era—the mandate to make and teach disciples. Christians prioritize their resources according to God’s priorities. Creating a rose garden, for example, aligns with God’s original intent for man and can be a good activity. However, in light of the world’s current needs, God calls Christians to put the majority of their resources into growing the church.
Christians look forward to the ultimate triumph of King Jesus over sin and death—the devastating aspects of a broken, twisted world. Jesus, our eternal King, accomplishes this triumph through the resurrection of human beings and the re-creation of the new heaven and the new earth where He reigns forever. Christian will enjoy life with Christ eternally in the new heavens and the new earth. This Kingdom is far superior to any temporary mini-kingdom that we study in history!
Questions for reflection or discussion:
- What kind of Kingdom is Jesus’ Kingdom?
- Where does this Kingdom exist?
- When does it exist?
- Who is a part of it?
- Can we tell who is a part of the Kingdom?
- Is “the Kingdom” synonymous with “the church”? What is their relationship with each other?
- What are the implications of being a part of Christ’s Kingdom? What difference does it make for those who are a part of it? How would people act if they became fully convinced that the Kingdom is established already and Jesus is reigning over it right now?
- What are the agenda, the laws, the style of governance of this Kingdom?
- What is its relationship with all of the other kingdoms of the world?
- What is the future of Christ’s Kingdom?
CONTRIBUTOR: Kendall Myers