In recent months I have been reading and writing through the Book of Matthew and am about to begin Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount”. At this point I think it would be important to review the concept and language central not only to this sermon, but to the entire reality Jesus was establishing on Earth, that of the Kingdom of Heaven.
I recall one Sunday after Bible study, a member asked, “Why is it so important that we talk about this kingdom stuff? Shouldn’t we just be talking about walking with God, having a personal relationship with Jesus, and loving others?”
Since the concern is absolutely valid, I will here try to explain why what was central to Jesus need be central to us. Please click on the links for Scripture references.
Why is the concept and language of the Kingdom of Heaven so important?
To begin with, the Kingdom of Heaven is the story arc of the Bible; it is the framework or structure within which God operates in relation to our world. In His first step towards redemption, LORD promised Abram that all the families of the Earth would be blessed through him and his descendants, the people of Israel; though he never saw it himself, Abram lived as one looking for a “heavenly country”. Generations later, after leading the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt, LORD declared that, as His chosen people, they were to be a “kingdom of priests”. Israel later adopted an earthly kingdom model, rejecting LORD as their king. LORD later promises King David, as a commitment to Israel and a foreshadowing of Jesus, that one from his tribe would always sit on the throne. As Israel continues its journey away from LORD, the prophet Isaiah spoke of a servant who would uphold a future government from God. In later Israelite history, the prophet Daniel had a vision of future world powers that would rise, but be followed by a kingdom that would have no end, an idea reiterated when Mary miraculously conceives the child, Jesus. Thus far, God’s kingdom comprises the dots through which the line of history runs.
This brings us to the second reason why the kingdom concept is important: the Kingdom of Heaven was the message Jesus and his apostles proclaimed. While our churches usually define the “good news” as Jesus, Jesus defined the “good news”, or gospel, as the Kingdom of Heaven. He preached and demonstrated its reality through teachings and miracles, illustrated it with parables, citing the importance of its exclusive mysteries. He declared that the message of the Kingdom must be proclaimed throughout the entire world before the end. He spoke of it with Rome’s chief representative prior to his crucifixion and the concept was even in the mind of a criminal who died next to him. With His authority and power consolidated through his resurrection, he authorized his disciples to make disciples, those who would seek first the kingdom by making much of its king. As a prologue to the Book of Acts, Luke’s history of the formation and spread of the Kingdom community, Jesus continues preaching its good news until He ascends to the Father. Peter speaks of Jesus’ reign in his first Spirit-filled sermon. The apostle Paul spoke and wrote about it consistently; it’s actually the final image in the Book of Acts, leaving the reader to wonder where we go from there. Finally, in John’s revelation of the end of time, the theme returns to the calling of God’s people to be a kingdom of priests; the Book of Revelation concludes with all other kingdoms fading into darkness while the Kingdom of God arrives with salvation, power, authority, and eternal dominion.
It’s a very reasonable thought: if this is the language the Bible repeatedly uses, by all of its prophets, priests, poets, apostles, and King Jesus Himself, the responsible practice of Christians and ministers should be to incorporate this Kingdom-language into our everyday vocabulary as the expression of our Kingdom-reality.
What is the risk of not incorporating such language? We risk using phrases and concepts that, though interesting and perhaps possess elements of the truth, have the potential to not only inaccurately or incomprehensively describe the reality God has already established for us in His Word, but can also likely create a reality built on interpretations that best fit how we prefer to live. We risk twisting the kingdom-culture of Christ into a “Christian” culture of our own convenience.
In a world of religious pluralism where truth is being viewed as relative and we grow increasingly humanistic, the concept and language of God’s Kingdom is able to rescue and restore us to a reality established in the throne room where Christ reigns as King. Every biblical figure graced with a vision of God stood in awe of His majesty; if majestic supremacy is God’s constant reality, we must live according to that reality, rejoicing in our King, gladly submissive to His rule and decrees, and faithfully waiting as all of life is being brought into subjection to him.
May His Kingdom come, in our thinking, our actions, and our words.