“In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again. Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.” John 3:3, 5
I’m ashamed to admit it, but until twenty years ago, I was clueless about the kingdom of God. Oh, I’d heard about it of course. How could I not? Jesus spoke about the kingdom more often than almost any other subject and he made it clear we had to be born again spiritually to enter it. But I thought the kingdom of God Jesus was always talking about was heaven. You know – when we die, we will enter the kingdom of Heaven. Well that’s true, but not the whole truth – not even half the truth!
Let’s be honest, most of us picture God living in heaven somewhere in space, in a galaxy, far, far, away. The danger with that notion is that it distances us mentally from God and the kingdom over which he presently reigns. As children we heard stories of Jesus “preparing mansions” for us, which only re-enforces the idea that Jesus and the Father are working on projects way up in heaven, making sure things are ready when we arrive and making preparations for the future kingdom, when Jesus returns.
It is true, the Bible teaches God is omnipresent which means he is present everywhere in the universe simultaneously, including galaxies far, far away. But more importantly for us, Paul, at Mars Hill told the Athenians, “God… is not far from each one of us. For in him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28) It is from the space immediately around us that God watches, acts, and interacts with and in his creation. The membrane between God and you is thinner than you may have ever imagined!
Then, if that weren’t close enough, we have the stunning reality of God – the Spirit of Christ – the Holy Spirit actually living in us!
“I have been crucified with Christ, I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” Gal. 2:20a “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! “ II Cor 5:17
At the moment of our surrender to Jesus, when we were truly born again, our “old self” died spiritually and the Spirit of the Living God came to take up residence in us. We weren’t just forgiven – we were made brand new, infused with new – spiritual DNA, actually becoming the spiritual children of God.
“Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God– children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” John 1:12, 13
As children of God, we were automatically adopted into the family of God! God the Father became our father, Jesus became our elder brother and every true follower of Jesus, every man, woman and child are now my spiritual family. I used to think this was just a metaphor, but I was wrong.
“Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” Mark 3:35
In my previous worldview, as a religious Christian, prior to my own spiritual re-birth, some forty years ago now, I had a Sunday school understanding of the gospel and the kingdom. Jesus’ life, death, burial and resurrection was all about me – getting me and others out from underneath this problem with sin, which we had with God. Once that was done, I had my promise of heaven someday, so to some extent, I could relax. Of course, Jesus expected me to live differently, but I thought of his instructions more like family rules and chores we did out of gratitude to Jesus for salvation, which is true, but again not the whole truth. That’s where my understanding of the kingdom ended and here’s what I had missed:
Jesus didn’t come, just to die on the cross for our sins, so that you and I could go to heaven someday.
Jesus purchased us for God, to serve as priests in the kingdom of God, beginning right here on earth.
“And they sang a new song: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” Rev. 5:9-10
We are Jesus’ gifts to the Father, to serve in his kingdom!
“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” I Peter 2:9
Salvations purpose was and still is to enable those who truly have faith in Jesus to join this conspiracy of the faithful, sold out to God, doing the will of God, for the glory and pleasure of God; first in this life and then the next!
We have a mission from God!
Dallas Willard, in The Divine Conspiracy, helped set me straight on the kingdom. He defines the kingdom this way: “The Kingdom of Heaven is the range of God’s effective will – where what he wants done, is done”.1 Even though God rules sovereign over the entire universe including our world, because of Satan and sin, there are “pockets of resistance,” or ignorance over which his rule is not yet complete, for reasons known only to God.
Not only does God have a kingdom, but he entrusts each believer with a “sub-kingdom”, or as Neal Plantinga, President of Calvin Seminary, calls them “little kingdoms”, smaller spheres of influence and responsibility, within God’s kingdom over which we “have our say.”1
“Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.” Luke 17:20-21
The kingdom is in us! Therefore, the ultimate purpose for every follower of Jesus – priests and co-workers in his kingdom, is the same – to shamelessly love God and both proclaim the good news and be the good news in those remaining pockets of resistance, wherever we find them in our sub-kingdoms.
So when Jesus instructs us to pray, “May thy kingdom come, may your will be done”, we aren’t praying for the kingdom to come into existence. It has always been and will always be! And, we’re also not merely asking God wishfully for Christ’s future kingdom to come more quickly. Rather, we are praying for God’s will to “be done on earth as it is in heaven”, in your life and my life as the redeemed of God on earth.
So, whenever we bring the truth and light of the gospel where only darkness and confusion now exists, “The kingdom comes”, because the will of God is being done. That’s why Jesus said, “You are the light of the world” (Matt. 5:14a). To be sure, Jesus is the light of the world, but we’re extensions of his light – Christ invading the darkness through us.
Do you remember babysitting for your younger brothers and sisters? When your parents left they expected you to “rule” in their place – that is to keep order, protect and care for your siblings and make the kinds of judgments they would if they were present. In essence, they ruled through you. Now, maybe it didn’t always go all that well and it won’t always in your sub-kingdom either, but that’s the idea.
So, how does this work in real life? When hanging out with your friends and your Christ-like character raises the level of conversation, Christ is ruling or influencing through you. As a child of God, when you’re kind to a really difficult person and your “Jesus like” response, changes the dynamics of that exchange, your obedience causes the kingdom or the “rule of God” to come. When you’re an advocate for a frightened, overwhelmed person, or you help the poor – God’s grace comes – in the flesh – your flesh. When you introduce a friend to God, or to the teachings of Jesus – the kingdom comes. Darkness is in full retreat whenever God’s will is done. The Empire is striking back!
Yes. It’s unclear from Scripture, if there’s anything we can do to speed up Christ’s return. However, Christians can and should cause Christ’s kingdom to come today on earth as it is in heaven. So, how do you plan to make that a reality today?
Next week: Can Christians “hinder” the kingdom from coming?
How following Jesus works in real life.
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