Rediscovering the Kingdom
Sadly, Christians generally do not understand their faith in the context of the Kingdom of God. Our Post-Enlightenment Christianity has reduced our faith into an individualistic relationship with Jesus excluding any intrinsic relationships with our fellow Christians. As mentioned repeatedly, this is because of our Enlightenment Compromise. This makes a distinctly Christian view of politics almost impossible and tempts Christians to settle for secular political ideologies, either left-wing or right-wing variants, and tacking it onto their faith. Thus, many Christians identify themselves as Conservative Christians or Liberal Christians unthinkingly acknowledging that they serve two masters: privately we serve Jesus, but publicly we serve the idols of our times. Thankfully, we are in the mist of a theological reformation that is calling into question the individualistic interpretations of our faith and exploring our faith in the context of Christ’s Kingdom. Unfortunately, this will take a long time to trickle down into the self-understandings of particular believers.
What is the Kingdom of God?
The Kingdom of God is a place where Heaven and Earth meet. The most basic story of the Bible is the reconciliation of Heaven and Earth. The Scriptures begins with God creating Heaven and Earth. Earth was originally designed as the place where God would dwell with his creation. The Fall broke this communion and sin separated us from God, from each other and the rest of creation. Adam and Eve stepped away from God and a distance was created between God’s space, Heaven, and the space of the rest of Creation symbolized by the Earth. The great story of the Bible is the bringing back together of all these estranged parties. Even though humanity is the offending party in this epic dispute, the offended party, Yahweh, will take the initiative in this reconciliation. Thus, we find throughout Scripture the theme of God returning to his people. This can be summarized as Heaven coming back to Earth. This is precisely what we find at the end of Revelations. Heaven returns back to Earth and God finally dwells with his people again. This broad outline shows us the beginning and the end. The Kingdom of God is the thread that ties these two together.
The vast body of a story lies between its beginning and its end. The Scriptures is no different. The Bible tells the long story of how the rift between Heaven and Earth is healed and how God returns once again to dwell with his creation. Note: the Bible does not tell the story of how I become reconciled with God. The idea that the story of all creation is about how I get reconciled with God is insanely self-centered. The Scripture isn’t even about the reunion of God and humanity. Even though we are the apex of God’s creation, we are not the whole of all creation. We were created to be the steward’s of creation and thus we have implicated all of creation into our sin. The reconciliation of Heaven and Earth is the healing of all of creation together with God.
God began his work of redemption of all creation by choosing a people to come out of the world and dwell with him. Abraham was the father of God’s people Israel. God called him out of his pagan home in Ur and commanding him to go to a land he promised to give to his descendants. By faith Abraham did as God commanded even though he had no children and as time went on it seemed increasingly likely that he never would. God promised that through him all the nations of the world would be blessed. Israel was the prototype of the Kingdom of God that is called out of the Kingdom of this World. God’s people were called to be separate from the pagans around them. Why? So they could be a blessing to all the surrounding people. Similarly today, Christians are called to be a blessing to all people. The Kingdom of God is to be a light to the world. We are to show others a different way of living. We are to live by the ways of the Kingdom and not by the rules of this World. We are to be rulers and priest to the World. We are to reflect God’s love into Creation and lead others by our examples. We are to be peacemakers reconciling one another with God. We are to reflect our spirit of love and peace back to our Father. Yet, things went badly wrong: both back in ancient Israel and with Christians today.
God called us to be different from the World so we could be a redemptive light to the World. Yet, sinful people always seem to grasp on to any difference to make ourselves superior to others. The sin of pride, the desire to usurp the rightful place of God, caused Israel to transform their difference from being a blessing into a curse. Israel boasted in being the chosen ones of God and saw themselves as superior to the pagans. This pride of superiority did not encourage them in their vocation of erasing this difference but just the opposite: of strengthening the difference between Jew and Gentile. The story of Jonah is very telling in this regard. This is a problem with contemporary Christians who want to mix their faith with nationalism. Some have dreamed the illusion that Americans are the chosen people of God?! They boast in themselves rather than in what Christ has done for us. They do not need to do anything by virtue of the fact they already are God’s people. Christians seem to have a fixation on “getting saved,” but talk very little about our Christian vocation. This is the sin the Pharisees suffered from and unfortunately many Christians today have not heeded Jesus’ warnings about their leaven. This should be a sobering reminder to us. People can turn the good things of God into an evil. Christians United! is very conscious of this danger. As we make distinction between God’s Kingdom and the Kingdom of this World, we pray that we will never use this good distinction in an evil way. We seek to be an instrument of God’s blessing to the people around us. We seek to love our enemies and by our example bring many people back to the Kingdom. God help us to follow his path and to keep our motives pure.
Ancient Israel is the forerunner of the Kingdom of God. The two are not synonymous. Jesus inaugurated the Kingdom of God with his death on the cross and his resurrection from the dead. When Yahweh first formed his people into a nation they weren’t a kingdom at all. God ruled them directly mediated through Moses. God had returned to Earth and saved his people from their slavery to the Egyptian Empire. In the weakest newly-formed nation of slaves, Heaven had returned to Earth and the promise was that from this small beginning, Yahweh’s rule would spread to encompass all the Earth. Yet, the perennial problem of sin got in the way. Israel immediately returned to paganism and God curtailed his presence on Earth because of the hardness of their sins. In the wilderness, Yahweh remained with Israel as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. God promised to dwell with his people in the Tabernacle. This was a tent that traveled with the wanderings of the Israel. The Tabernacle was a place where Heaven and Earth intersected as God dwelled with his people. The Tabernacle can be understood as the initial beachhead from which the glory of Yahweh would one day reign over the world.
God continued to rule directly over Israel during the time of the Judges. This period is characterized by the rapid disintegration of Israel. Because of their continuing unfaithfulness, Israel is repeatedly oppressed by their neighboring peoples. God hears their cry and repeatedly raises Judges to lead his people out of this oppression. Israel’s initial thanksgiving to Yahweh quickly dissipates and they return to their former idolatrous way. Israel goes from bad to worse. Finally, Israel demands to have a King like the nations around them. Samuel, the last Judge, is appalled: the demand for a king is a rejection of Yahweh as King. Yet, God counsels Samuel to give the people what they want with the solemn warning that a king will oppress them, just like the people around them have oppressed them. Why does God allow this rejection of himself as King? The key can be found in the final verse of Judges: In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. The author of Judges recognizes that the disorder in Israel results from the lack of a strong leader. The direct Kingship of Yahweh is not working. God’s people were stubborn, ungrateful and unfaithful.
The Kingship in Scripture is one step backwards and two steps forward. It is a step backwards because the people’s desire for a king was a rejection of God. But reminiscent of the story of Joseph, whereas the people meant the kingship for evil, God transforms it for the good. The first step was the need to bring order to the chaos Israel had become under the Judges. God’s people were not faithful enough to follow the ways of God without a strong leader imposing it on them. They were doing what was right in their own eyes. This is of course only a relative good. With unfaithful leaders, Israel was only exchanging the ungodliness of the many for the evil of the one. The first king Saul, like the first man Adam, is the archetypal unfaithful king: he does what is right in his own eyes. Nevertheless, this is seen as a step forward. Negatively, Saul’s oppressive reign is seen as justice. The people got the king that they deserved by rejecting the loving, patient and true king, Yahweh. But, more importantly order is restored to Israel enabling God’s redemptive plan to more forward. The chaos of the Judges resulted internal conflict and inaction.
God’s answer to Israel’s rebellious demand for a king is the Messiah. The people want a king but God insists that the king will not be of their own choosing. God will choose the king. How can we tell which one is God’s choice? His choice will be signified by the anointing of God’s prophet. The Hebrew word for the anointed one is the Messiah. Thus, God’s choice of king is the Messiah. Both Saul and David are furtively anointed king by Samuel long before they are acclaimed king by the people. The ritual of anointing and its timing is to make it clear that God is the one choosing the king. Yet, there is a deeper significance. The anointing sets Israel’s king apart from the godless kings around them. The Messiah is to be a different kind of king than the other worldly kings. A worldly king has an ambiguous relationship with his people. He is both the ruler over the people and the people’s representative. These roles are in tension and generally collapse into one role or the other. The Messiah is the mediator between God and the people. He is both the people’s representative to God and God’s representative to the people. Yet, neither Saul nor even David were able to live up to exulted office of the Messiah. One greater than David was required to be the true Messiah.
The Cross and The Resurrection
Christians often have a warped one-sided view of the Cross and the Resurrection. This stems for our privatization of our faith. We seem to have the idea that the Cross and Resurrection was all about me. I find my salvation in the Cross and Resurrection and not my condemnation. Thus the pair must be about redemption and not justice. This self-absorbed view of the Cross and Resurrection falsely make them into an either/or proposition with respect to redemption and justice. If its all about me, then I cannot be both saved and condemned. The problem, or course, is it is not all about me! The Cross and the Resurrection is about both justice and redemption. The Kingdom of this World is brought to justice and condemned. God’s people are redeemed from their slavery to the Kingdom of this World and are saved by entering into the newly inaugurated Kingdom of God. Christians always remember the redemption aspect of the Cross and Resurrection, but often forget its aspect of justice. This must be kept in mind since justice has a big part to play in politics.
God so Loved the World…
Another problem in understanding the Kingdom of God is that we forget the really big picture. In reading John 3:16, Christians often assume that the reason God gave his son to die was because he loved me so much. But this is not what the verse says. It says that God so loved the world that he gave his son to die. Note, that God’s love is bigger than just his love for me, bigger than his love of humanity, its for the love of his whole creation. The redemption of the Cross and Resurrection is bigger than the salvation of humanity; its about the redemption of the whole cosmos. Thus, we must understand the dual purpose of the Cross and Resurrection in this larger context. Its not just about us, its about all of God’s creation. The coming of God’s Kingdom is about bringing redemption to all of God’s creation and judgment to the Kingdom of this World. These purposes are intertwined together, but the priority of the coming of God’s Kingdom is the redemption of all creation. We should not pretend, however, that this redemption can come without judgment. The rebellion and the evil wrought by the Kingdoms of this World must be faced, ended and judged, if creation is to be redeemed. Thus, the Kingdom of God stands opposed to the Kingdoms of this World. Yet, we must remember that this is not an end unto itself. Jesus judges the Kingdoms of this World with the end purpose of redeeming the whole Creation.