The Kingdom of God

The message of Jesus focused on the “Kingdom of God,” the reign of God that bears little resemblance to the political systems of this age

Roman Arch - Photo by Jace & Afsoon on Unsplash
When Jesus appeared in Galilee, he began to proclaim the “
Kingdom of God” – “Repent, for the kingdom is at hand.” In his ministry, the reign of God began to invade the world. But His realm is of an entirely different nature than the political systems of this world, and on more than one occasion, Christ refused that kind of political power - [Rome - Photo by Jace & Afsoon on Unsplash].

In the wilderness, the Devil tempted Jesus by offering him “all the kingdoms of the world.” To attain absolute power, all he needed to do was “render homage” to the Tempter. Surprisingly, he did NOT dispute Satan’s ability or “right” to dispense political power, but he refused it. Instead, he submitted to the path of the Suffering Servant of Yahweh - (Matthew 4:8-11, Luke 4:5-7).

In contrast, over the intervening centuries, many Christians have embraced the political means and institutions of this present age to advance the Kingdom of God, though inevitably, this necessitates accommodating biblical principles to the values of the world.

WHOSE WAY?

According to Satan, submission to his overlordship is the price of political power. The kingdoms of this age “have been delivered to me and I give them to whomever I will.” Perhaps his claim goes far to explain the reprehensible behavior of governments and regimes throughout history.

Although God has destined him to rule all the nations of the earth, Jesus refused this satanic offer. Scripture confirms his appointment to reign over the Cosmos, yet he refused the kind of political power so valued by this age - (Psalm 2:6-8).

But how could Yahweh’s anointed king reign over the rebellious nations of the earth without the military and economic might of the all-powerful State?

Imagine the great good that Jesus could accomplish if he held Caesar’s throne and commanded his legions! With him at the imperial helm, would not righteousness soon prevail across the empire? Surely, if ever there was justification for the resort to State power, this was it. Who better to wield the might and majesty of Rome than the Prince of Peace?

However, rather than employ the political means of this age, Jesus embraced the way of the cross. In the “Kingdom of God,” true victory is achieved through self-denial and sacrifice. “Greatness” is defined and performed by acts of mercy to others, including one’s “enemies.”

Threatening and otherwise coercing others to submit to one’s diktats has no place in a realm epitomized in the Cross of Christ. He “gave his life a ransom for many,” and that provides his disciples with the pattern for how power is to be wielded in his domain. God delights in “mercy, not sacrifice.”

CONTINUING TEMPTATION

But the temptation in the “wilderness” was not the end of Satan’s political intrigues. Following his rebuff, “the Devil departed from him until an opportune time.”

After he fed a multitude near the Sea of Galilee, certain members of the crowd planned “to seize him that they might make him king.” But he walked away at the point the mob had determined to crown him king, thus turning many minds against him.

Jesus would not be the militaristic messiah intent on destroying Rome that so many of his contemporaries desired. And the closer he came to his death on Golgotha, the more the fickle crowds rejected him as the Messiah of Israel - (Luke 4:13, John 6:15).

Prior to his execution, Pontius Pilate inquired whether Jesus was “the king of the Jews.” He did not deny his kingship, and he responded thus to Rome’s representative - “You say that I am a king, and for this, I was born.” The Son of God qualified his kingship, stating:
  • My kingdom is not from (ek) this world. If my kingdom was from this world, then my own officers would fight that I should not be delivered up to the Jews. But now, my kingdom is not from here” - (John 18:33-36).

This does not mean his kingdom is strictly “spiritual” or otherworldly, or that his messianic program is nonpolitical. But the source of his sovereignty is other than the political power that has characterized the existing world. It is of an entirely different nature than the realms of this age.

Pilate found no fault in him and was about to release Jesus. But at the instigation of the priestly authorities, the crowd demanded that Pilate release Barabbas instead, a léstés (Greek) or “brigand.” Seemingly, the representatives of the nation preferred a violent political revolutionary and murderer to the Suffering Servant of Yahweh.

Contrary to the messianic expectations of his contemporaries, Jesus “took on the form of a slave” and became “obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” Because of this choice, God exalted him and bestowed on him “the name, which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.” And he summons his disciples to adopt this very same mind - (Philippians 2:6-11).

Christianity has a long and sordid history of mixing Church and State. The temptation to use political power to impose “right” beliefs and conduct has been too great. Force always appears easier than persuasion. After all, is it not preferable to do a little “evil” to achieve some far greater “good”?

But advancing the cause of Christ through the political means of this fallen age always necessitates resorting to the coercive power of the State. Anyone who does not go along with the program must be forced into submission.

Cross in Sun - Photo by Nicolas Peyrol on Unsplash
[Photo by Nicolas Peyrol on Unsplash]


The choice before his disciples is between the cruciform and rough path trod by Jesus, or the expedient and smooth highway offered by Satan. Jesus declared that when he was “lifted up” on the cross, THEN he would “draw all men to me,” not when he was seated on Caesar’s throne. And he calls all men to “deny themselves, take up the cross,” and follow the same road regardless of where it leads.

Should we, the disciples of the same Jesus who “gave his life a ransom for many,” embrace what he rejected? Or should we emulate his example of self-sacrificial service for others? We cannot do both.

To achieve dominion over all the nations, all Jesus needed to do was render homage to the Devil. And that is precisely what we do when we decide to acquire and use political power to achieve our ends.

It is high time for disciples of the Crucified Messiah to return to the task assigned to them by Jesus to preach “this gospel of the kingdom of God to all nations,” and to do so in the same manner that he did.



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