Should God’s people despair over the condition of the world? Over the condition of our nation? At different times in history, the church has experienced pendulum swings: from extreme pessimism and resignation on the one hand to being overly optimistic and triumphalistic on the other. What should we expect to happen before Jesus’ return? Does what we think about this matter?
If we were to ask Jesus why He came, we might get a surprise. The typical answers are correct as far as they go: to die for humanity, to deliver us from our sins, to reveal God, etc. Yet without the bigger picture of things, what God is up to in history, we might well misunderstand even these fundamental truths about Jesus’ life and mission.1
Jesus was not confused about His purpose; why He had come. In fact, He tells us directly, “I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, for I was sent for this purpose.” (Luke 4:43, emphasis mine). The word for preach is related to the word we use for “gospel,” but in verbal form. In effect, Jesus says, “I was sent to “good news” the kingdom, that is My mission, My purpose.”2
The “kingdom of God” was not just Jesus message in the gospels; He demonstrated its reality and power in all that He did and in the way that He lived. Then He commissioned his disciples (and us) to go and do the same!
So what is this “kingdom?” The nature and implications of the kingdom have long been discussed among Jesus’ followers over the centuries. In recent years, there has been revived reflection on this very important Biblical theme.3
To keep it simple, the kingdom of God is the loving, healing, redemptive rulership of Jesus over everything in life. It is a very practical, very applicable reality. God longs to see His redemption applied to everything in life, all people, all spheres, all nations, everything. It means that we, as God’s kingdom people, are called to see Jesus be King over our personal lives, our marriages, our families, our churches, our vocation, our cities, our nations.
Suddenly, we are pressed to see our personal lives and our life together as God’s people, as extraordinarily significant. Everything I do is “spiritual,” all of life is sacred, and my responsibility as an ordinary believer is to see Jesus become King over every aspect of my daily life. It is a powerful, compelling vision.4
Jesus expressed His dream and His passionate heart for a fallen world in Matt. 6:10, “let Your kingdom come, let Your will be done, on earth as in heaven.” In other words, “Father, I want your will, your healing to come completely to earth in exactly the same way it is where you are in heaven.” The verbs are imperative, it is not a casual or passive request; rather it is nearly a command: “Father, don’t hold back, bring it, DO IT!”
While we as God’s people cannot bring the kingdom to earth, we are called to fully engage with Him in seeing His healing power, presence and truth released into the world’s dark places, in the here and now. As Francis Schaeffer said a generation ago, “we should be looking now, on the basis of Christ’s work, for substantial healing in every area affected by the fall.”
What should we expect? I don’t know! But I do know that is likely greater than anything we “ask or think”! In other words, I need to stretch my vision, my heart, so that they are in line with the God who longs to change the nations.
I like the expression, “Beyond human ability, through human agency.” This idea matches what Paul says in Eph. 3:20-21: “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever.”
1 This is sometimes called the “metanarrative” of Scripture. What is the over-arching story that the Bible tells; about God, humanity, redemption, etc.?
2 Euangellion is our word for gospel or good news; the verb here is in the same family, euangelizw. It means Jesus was “gospeling” about the kingdom, “goodnewsing” the fact that God’s loving, redemptive rulership had arrived in the world with Him.
3 This is ongoing. A very helpful resource, one that shows how the church historically understood the kingdom and its implications, see Howard Snyder, Models of the Kingdom.
4 The “sacred/secular” division, meaning that some things (and some people) are more “spiritual” than others is not only a lie but has hamstrung God’s people over the centuries. It must be rejected if we are to be faithful to Jesus.