Discussions concerning the Kingdom of God commonly revolve around eschatological debate. Questions such as ‘is there an afterlife?’ and ‘what will the new heaven look like?’ are often raised (Matthew 6:10 and Revelation 21). This often draws our attention away from a crucial reality: The Kingdom of God is among us, right here and right now. It exists and is experienced within the body of Christ, giving us a foretaste of heaven which we shall imminently experience in full when our flesh gives way and we dwell in the immediate presence of God for eternity.
The Kingdom of God is near
14 ‘After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”’ Mark 1:14-15 (NIV)
The earlier verses detailed John the Baptist’s ministry of baptism and repentance which was preparatory work which pathed the way for the coming Messiah (Isaiah 40:3).
This was followed by Jesus’s baptism in which He was glorified as signalled by the dove-like descent of the Holy Spirit and the subsequent temptation in the wilderness.
In the present verse, Jesus’s ministry began upon the imprisonment of John the Baptist. The way was pathed, all prerequisites met, the hour had arrived. Behold: The Gospel of the Kingdom of God being presented by Jesus. This was not a distant, dream-like land as the Jews anticipated. Contrastingly, it was a kingdom they could partake in and dive into upon the confession of their sinful nature repentance and belief in the Lordship of Jesus Christ, the only one who could and can save.
The Greek for ‘near’ may be translated to ‘at hand’. Therefore, the Kingdom of God is within our grasp! This is a joyous call to immerse ourselves in it and live according to its culture. As Bruxy Cavey writes, ‘The good news of the kingdom is that we can participate in God’s will and God’s way on earth as it is in heaven’.
Essential to the Gospel
The centrality of the Kingdom of God is often overlooked, yet critical in maintaining a holistic view of the Good News. Dallas Willard eloquently stated:
‘The Gospel is less about how to get into the Kingdom of Heaven after you die, and more about how to live in the kingdom of heaven before you die’ Dallas Willard
Thus, the Kingdom of God is alive and active, transforming us from the inside out and its essence evidencing itself in the relationships among fellow believers and interactions with the world at large. To God’s Kingdom we are residents but to this world we are ambassadors of Christ’s Kingdom. (2 Corinthians 5:20-21) and (1 Peter 2:11-12).
What is a kingdom?
The Ancient Greek word ‘Basileia’ translates to kingdom, sovereignty or royal power. From this word we have ‘baileus’ – king – the one who shapes a kingdom’s values and vision. In our kingdom, Christ is the sovereign power. Our allegiance is toward Jesus as King and the one who shapes the its values, patterned after His earthly ministry.
The ethos of His Kingdom: a radical acceptance
The Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world are antithetical. However, the distinction between the two has become increasingly blurred, reflecting a failure of the citizens of God’s Kingdom in living out its values collectively. The ‘you can’t sit with us’ culture is one remote from the Kingdom Christ preached, lived and presides over. So why is it that Christians are known more so for what they oppose rather than what they stand for? This seems to have raised an ‘us against them’ mentality between the church (the people) and several other world communities. Some accountability must be taken as this is partially self-inflicted and may be attributed to a failure embody the first point of our ethos: the Kingdom of God is one marked by a radical acceptance of all people.
‘Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’ Romans 5:7-8 (NIV)
The same chapter details the depravity of man in the wake of the fall. We are a people so detached from God, unworthy to be in union with a righteous, perfect and blameless God. As sin entered the world through one, an inheritance of death was upon us because we in our sinful state were detached from God in desperate need of a Saviour (Romans 5:12). None were qualified or deserving, but Christ died and took our rightful place on the cross. Through His blood we were reconciled to the Father and can have relationship with Him. Though unacceptable, Christ levelled the playing field and sacrificed Himself so that we may be forgiven and welcomed into the family of God.
This all-embracing, reckless love ought to govern our relationships both within and outside the Kingdom of God, making known this open invitation. One which extends to the most self-righteous (Luke 5:32), morally corrupt and hated (Luke 19:1-10).
In light of this, the Kingdom of God should be a diverse body of broken people made right with God by Christ’s finished work on the cross. A justified people who are in the process becoming continually restored by the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:11). In the absence of criterium establishing acceptability, there should be a vast range of people from different backgrounds and walks of life. The common denominator which binds them together being no one other than Jesus Christ. His overwhelming love is the model to follow and foundation upon which relationships are founded. We too must be willing to engage with all, sharing the Gospel through living out the ethos of radical acceptance by which the Kingdom of God is characterised.
The ethos of His Kingdom: An others-centred love
Within the Kingdom of God abides agape love: an others-centred, selfless love which esteems others above the self. Jesus walked as good a game as He talked as vividly illustrated in the thirteenth chapter of John’s gospel.
34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
John 13:34-35 (NIV)
From verses 1 to 11, Jesus washes the feet of His disciples. In doing so, He demonstrates a potent display of humility and agape love. In taking the cloth and girding Himself (wrapping it around His waist), He adopted the lowly status of a servant, ready to work. In washing the feet of those who dined He fulfilled the work of the lowest servant in the Jewish home. This striking metaphor epitomises Jesus’s thirty-three and a half years on earth: one in which He did not stubbornly clutch onto His divinity but remained God as He occupied the status of a servant of the Father so that His will would be done (Philippians 2:5-8). Jesus did so to the point where His greatest desire and sustenance was found in fulfilling the will of the Father. (John 4:34).
Thus, the command given to the twelve to serve one another as He had served them carried great gravity. The newness of the command can be seen in regard to its the far-reaching nature of this love. Its freshness is demonstrated by the fact that it is not only the pattern of His behaviour but in the enablement of living by it. This is through a deep-rooted connection in Him; to abide in Christ. (John 15:1-12). God’s people should be a body which an onlooker gazes upon and is marvelled by the magnitude of love. This should be experienced as God’s Kingdom is embodied on the earth through relationships with others both within and outside the body of Christ.
The ethos of His Kingdom: A primary concern for the salvation of others
The Parable of the Lost Sheep:
4 ‘”Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”’ Luke 15:4-7 (NIV)
The parable of the Lost Sheep tells of Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd’s great love and compassion for His lost sheep: those unaware that they belong to Him as they stray from holiness and wander deeper into sin. The people whom He sought after and laid down His life for, oblivious and/or unaccepting that they were bought with the price of His precious blood. In Charles Spurgeon’s sermon on this parable on September 28 1884 at The Metropolitan Tabernacle, he declared:
‘The wandering of a lost soul causes Jesus deep sorrow. He cannot bear the thought of its perishing. Such is the love and tenderness of His heart that He cannot bear that one of His own should be in jeopardy.’ Charles Spurgeon
With Jesus decreeing the principles of the Kingdom after His very own nature, its members naturally develop a deep sympathy for every wandering heart. His people are pained when coming across those with no desire to know Jesus for themselves. As the individual members of God’s Kingdom were once lost, they have a heart for reconciliation of others unto God, desiring that none go astray but reside under the care of the Great Shepherd.
Thus, at the moment of reunion, an uncontainable surge of joy flows through the entire Kingdom. For a soul has been added; a new member welcomed into the family of God to experience His Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. The body of Christ join the chorus of angels and the heavenly host in celebrating the day of salvation. By virtue of sharing in the pity of the lost, the body triumphs in the reunion between a person and God.
Pondering upon the Kingdom of God should focus our attention on the immediacy of the Kingdom. God’s Kingdom is alive and active. Its cultural norms are of great magnitude, shattering the ethos of earthly domains and magnifying the beauty of God’s Kingdom. The resounding acceptance, other-centred love and concern for the salvation of others is supernatural within itself; superseding the seismic shifts and mass healing we oftentimes desire. The prospect of God’s Kingdom thriving in the present is the greater miracle to yearn for.