What Is the Kingdom of God?
Reflecting on the Third Sunday in Lent, Three Days after Sunday (Year C)
Psalter: Psalm 39
Old Testament: Numbers 13:17-27
Gospel: Luke 13:18-21
God of the covenant, in the glory of the cross your Son embraced the power of death and broke its hold over your people. In this time of repentance, draw all people to yourself, that we who confess Jesus as Lord may put aside the deeds of death and accept the life of your kingdom. Amen.
He said therefore, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what should I compare it? (Luke 13:18).
by Scot McKnight
For some the “kingdom” is the social stuff, the be-good-to-others stuff, the justice stuff while “salvation” is the spiritual and conversion stuff. Another way I hear folks talk about this is this: kingdom is social stuff, it is universal stuff, it is the stuff we do to make the world a better place — in this sense, kingdom is much bigger than the church.
...many of us see “kingdom” as the “personal experience of God’s reign.” In other words, we find in the term “kingdom” our evangelical theology of the need for personal conversion. For such folks, kingdom is little different than the personal experience of salvation. This comes at the term from a modern evangelical angle and almost completely misses the Jewish context. This view of kingdom is hurting the church as much as it is helping because it feeds our individualism.
...while I can see some conversional dimensions to kingdom in the NT in the “enter the kingdom” sayings, we simply must begin where Jews would have begun: in the Jewish world, the very first connection with the word “kingdom” is “David.” God established the kingdom of David, God cut in half the kingdom of David, God disciplined the kingdom of Israel/Judah, and God promised someday the kingdom of our father David would be restored. When Jesus said, “the kingdom is at hand” in Mark 1:15, the ordinary Jew didn’t say “Wow, I can now get saved” but “Finally, our promises for the Davidic kingdom will be realized.” We must begin here or we get it all wrong.
...this means that a Jew (and Jesus) would have meant God’s true Society when they said kingdom. Let’s expand this briefly: to say “kingdom” in the 1st Century implies a King (Jesus is that King), a citizenship (Jesus’ followers are those citizens), and a Torah (Jesus’ teachings are the new Torah). One can’t say Kingdom and not think of these things in the Jewish world. Kingdom means God’s messianic society.
...here’s our problem: we have made “kingdom” so much about personal salvation that we evangelicals have colonized it. Frankly Protestant liberals have colonized it in another way: they’ve made it the Western social liberal democratic agenda. I have no reason to dispute that kingdom has a powerful socially-influential design, but we have made it too much about our personal agendas. We need to go back to see what Jesus meant by kingdom.
...I have made the suggestion before and I’ll make it again. There is good reason to think that Jesus used “kingdom” for God’s promised society of justice, peace, wisdom and love. I doubt many would dispute this. But I am suggesting that what Jesus called “kingdom” is more or less, sometimes more and sometimes less, than what Paul meant by “church.” I’m fully aware of the Constantinian disaster, of making kingdom/empire the same as church, and in the process wounding church dramatically. But I want to ask us to reconsider a closer connection of kingdom with church, not by equating the two but by seeing kingdom as God’s ideal society where God’s people do God’s will, and seeing church as the (yes) political term Paul chose to describe the embodiment of Jesus’ kingdom vision as he planted such kingdom bodies throughout the Roman empire. One could say the kingdom is the eschatological fullness of what we experience now in the church.
I am then making the suggestion that kingdom is about Jesus, it is about Jesus’ people, and it is about Jesus’ people living Jesus’ teachings. The place where that design is supposed to happen is the local church.
Here’s the problem: church has become so much about religion and personal spirituality that we’ve nearly surrendered the socio-political impact the church is supposed to be as kingdom embodied in this world. I’m asking that we expand our perception of church to kingdom dimensions.
Check out Scot’s blog “Jesus Creed” here.