Thoughts on the kingdom of God
Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” – Mark 1:14,15
In the Gospels, the central message of Jesus from Nazareth was the coming kingdom or reign of God. So much so that the gospel of Mark describes the coming of God’s kingdom as the ‘good news’.
According to Mark’s gospel the ‘good news’ is that the kingdom of God is near. Which is to say the coming of the kingdom of God is the Gospel. Whatever could this mean? What does it mean to say that the kingdom of God is coming? If we are to take serious Mark’s gospel and the rest of the synoptics that have a similar witness regarding the coming kingdom then where does that leave contemporary Christians today in their multi-faceted efforts to proclaim ‘good news’? Are we really proclaiming ‘good news’? If we are, then is there in our witness or embodiedment of this good news concrete display of the coming kingdom of God?
According to the synoptic gospels Jesus begins his ministry with the proclamation that the kingdom of God is near or coming. Of course Jesus does not leave us with only a proclamation he gives us an example, through his own faithfulness to God, of what it means to ‘see’ and ‘enter’ God’s kingdom. Let us discuss two basic features of the kingdom:
1. The kingdom is the breaking forth of the new amid the old.
The kingdom of God in the primitive Church’s witness seems to be understood as an eschatological reality. It is the in-breaking of a new order in the midst of the apparent ‘naturalness’ of an old order we are told is passing away. An old order that is characterized by falleness, alienation, and out-right rebellion against God. This in-breaking of the new is said to have been inaugarated by Christ. In his life, death, resurrection, and outpouring of the Spirit Christ has inaugarated a new order of things, a new way of living in God’s creation, a new way of being community, a new and living way that is described in the biblical narrative as a ‘new creation’. We are reminded by the apostle Paul that ‘in Christ’ old things have passed away and that new things have come. Christ told us that he was making all things new. The coming of the kingdom of God is in-breaking of a new creation. It is the future intent God has for creation being poured out in our present.
Any theology of the kingdom would have to take into serious consideration what it means to give demonstration of this newness in our own time. Many faithful theologians and pastors have articulated to us the many ways in which we demonstrate the coming of the kingdom. When we baptize new Christians we bear witness to this newness wrought by Christ. In baptism, we are being initiated into a holy community. A community that is not to be self-righteous, but a community that understands that its holiness or set-apartness is due to its participation in the in-breaking newness wrought by Christ. In Eucharist, we are ‘re-membering’ Christ’s death and all that his death points to and actualizes. Eucharist, like baptism, is the signifying way in which we demonstrate our participation in the kingdom of God. In Eucharist, we are reminded that our sins are forgiven, that we stand justified before God, and that we are the physical extension and continuation of Christ’s body in real-time.
This sounds really cool. The in-breaking of God’s newness in our present. The future of God and God’s creation being tasted in our present time. The bursting forth of the new amid the old. All of this is great, however, what is needed is discernment. How do we distinguish the ‘new’ from the ‘old’? In the biblical narrative the old is characterized as ‘sinfulness’ and the new is characterized as ‘righteousness’. Indeed to be a righteous person is to practice and embody the newness that is God’s coming kingdom. Any theology of the kingdom would require one to discern what constitutes sinfulness or un-righteousness. It would require that Christians be able to discern the various ways in which we are complicit with evil both on a personal and societal level.
2. The kingdom is an affront against sin, death, and satan.
What is unmistakeable about Jesus’ ministry is his constant confrontation with sin, death, and satan. The gospel narratives show us Jesus healing, delivering, saving, and rescuing people from the jaws of evil in many of its manifestations. Whether it is straight up death, hopelessness, demonic oppression, etc. the kingdom of God is both an affront and the reversal of the brokeness and captivity of people. The kingdom is an affront towards false realities that have been constructed by the ‘prinicipalities and powers’ in their rebellion against God.
The kingdom orients us, in both our personal and communal existence, towards habits, practices and beliefs that are an affront towards what the biblical narrative describes as the world. The world is that part of creation that has yet to bow its knee to Christ. It is the fallen order that we described in the first feature of God’s kingdom as the old order of things. Christ’s kingdom is an affront to this false-reality that is presented in our times as ‘reality’. Many times on this journey called the kingdom of God the world will appear more real than the ‘new’ that has seized us in Christ. In fact, when we sin before God and against our neighbors, we believe for that one moment, that the world put forward to us by the powers is a truer account of living than that offered by Christ.
The kingdom is not so much about being against the world as it is being for the newness brought about by Christ’s death and resurrection.
Of course there is much more that can be said about the kingdom of God. These are just the two features that immediately come to mind when I reflect on the biblical narrative and their account of the kingdom of God.
O God, we thank you for the sending of your Son. Grant us grace and mercy. Fill us afresh with your Spirit so that we might be faithful co-laborers in Your kingdom. Forgive us of our complicity with the old way of living and bless us with the grace to live faithfully in Your new creation. Amen.