Discussions concerning the kingdom of God often raise questions such as “is there an afterlife?” or “what will the new heavens and the new earth look like?” Although they importantly enquire into eternity, solely focusing on these questions may draw 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 experience in full when our flesh gives way and we dwell in the immediate presence of God forever.
The Kingdom of God is near
Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”
The preceding verses detailed John the Baptist’s ministry of baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins through faith in the coming Messiah (Mark 1:4). This was preparatory work which pathed the way for Christ’s ministry (Mark 1:1-8; Isaiah 40:3-5). This was followed by Jesus’s baptism and subsequent temptation in the wilderness (Mark 1:9-13).
Jesus’s ministry began upon the imprisonment of John the Baptist. The way was pathed, all prerequisites met, the hour had come. Behold: The Messiah had arrived, preaching the Gospel of the kingdom of God. This was not a distant, dream-like land of peace, political independence and prosperity as the Jews anticipated. Contrastingly, it was a kingdom they could presently 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 “at hand” is akin to nearness. 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 scope of the Good News. The Kingdom of God concerns the present and future life. The way of His kingdom is transforming us from the inside out. Its essence is revealed in the relationships among believers and engagement with the world at large. To God’s kingdom we are citizens but to this world we are ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20-21; 1 Peter 2:11-12).
What is a kingdom?
The 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 God’s messianic kingdom, Christ is the sovereign power. Our allegiance is toward Jesus as King and the one who continually revealed insights into the way of His kingdom throughout the gospels.
The ethos of His kingdom: Radical love and 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 to live out its values as a collective. The ‘you can’t sit with us’ culture is one remote from the kingdom Christ preached and presides over, yet it seems to have crept through the church doors. Some accountability must be taken as this is somewhat self-inflicted. We may attribute one the of numerous reasons to a failure to embody the first point of our ethos. We’re to love all people, welcoming and accepting all who repent and trust in Christ for the forgiveness of all their sins, submitting to His rule as Lord over their lives.
Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
The same chapter details the depravity of man in the wake of the fall. We were a people so detached from God, unworthy to be in union with a righteous, perfect and blameless God. As sin entered the world through Adam, we received an inheritance of death as its penalty and were in desperate need of a Saviour (Romans 5:12). None were qualified nor deserving, but Christ died and took our rightful place on the cross. Through faith in His life, death and resurrection we were reconciled to the Father and can have a 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 (John 1:12).
This revolutionary type of love ought to govern our relationships with non-Christians, making known our open invitation of salvation by faith in Jesus. One which extends to the most self-righteous (Luke 18:9-14); Romans 2:17-24), morally corrupt and hated (Luke 19:1-10).
In light of this, the Kingdom of God should be a diverse body of people made right with God through faith in Christ’s finished work. A justified people who are in being continually transformed into the image of His son by the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:29-30; Philippians 1:6). The common denominator which binds us together being none other than Jesus Christ Himself. 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 and living out out the ethos of radical love acceptance by which the kingdom of God is characterised.
The ethos of His kingdom: An others-centred love
God’s kingdom is defined by an 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.
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
In the previous verses, Jesus did something extraordinary as He and His disciples prepared to eat. He takes a cloth and girds Himself (wrapping it around His waist), adopting the lowly status of a servant, ready to work. God incarnate does the work of the lowest servant in the Jewish home. He washes His disciples’ feet as was the custom of the day where travellers arrived at their destination with their feet dirtied by the Palestinian roads. This striking act epitomises Jesus’s thirty-three and a half years on earth: it was one of servitude (Matthew 20:28). He did not stubbornly clutch onto His divine privileges for His own benefit. Maintaining His divinity, He put on flesh, becoming the God-Man so that He may be a sufficient atonement for our sins. (Philippians 2:5-8). Jesus served to the point where His greatest desire and sustenance was found in fulfilling His Father’s will. (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 the example provided and how it was demonstrated being brought to its culmination at Calvary. Its freshness is also seen in how we are enabled to display it. This is through a deep-rooted connection in Him; to abide in Christ. (John 15:1-5). God’s people should be a body which an onlooker gazes upon and is marvelled by the magnitude of love each person has for one another.
The ethos of His kingdom: A primary concern for the salvation of others
“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.’ 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.”
The parable of the Lost Sheep tells us about Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd’s great love and compassion for His lost sheep: those unaware that they belong to Him as they are led astray 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. Preaching on this parable on September 28 1884 at The Metropolitan Tabernacle, Charles Spurgeon 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.’
With Christ as our King and individuals who were once lost, we must have a heart for reconciliation of others unto God, desiring that none go astray but reside under the care of the Good 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 their salvation. By virtue of sharing in the pity of the lost, we triumph in the reunion between a person and God.
The immediacy of God’s Kingdom demands our attention as does its future aspects. The cultural norms are of great magnitude, shattering the ethos of earthly domains and magnifying the beauty of God’s Kingdom. The resounding love and acceptance, others-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.