By Prem Kumar Lee
The term kingdom appears over 150 times in the New Testament emphasizing the importance of the concept of the kingdom and the contrast between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the world. Yet it is a little understood concept.
Most of the references to the kingdom of God in the New Testament tends to show it a future kingdom and so it is forgotten that the kingdom of God is already present. However there are passages that speak of the kingdom having come.
You are reading this article now. But you may not understand it fully now, but may in the future. We can see the kingdom of God in the same way, that it is present now but will be experienced fully in the future.
The concept of the kingdom is first found in Deuteronomy 4:6 where it says that the life of the nation of Israel would be such that it would show the other nations a people who have wisdom and know how to live in love and harmony. Isaiah 9:6 reflects this when it says that the Messianic kingdom would be a kingdom of righteousness and justice. Because of this, according to Exodus 19:6, 22 the nation of Israel would be a nation of priests, where all would be priests having access to God. They would be priests to the Gentiles nations and would bring them to Yahweh in a grand finale mentioned in Deuteronomy 32:43.
In the preaching of Jesus, the gospel or good news is the arrival of this kingdom. With the arrival of the kingdom the invitation is given to turn away from the kingdom of the world and to the kingdom of God (Matt 4:17). This did not mean to leave this world but as it says in John 17:18 we are to remain in the kingdom of this world but not be a part of it. What does this mean? We see the kingdom of this world as the means through which God works and we identify with this work of God and do not let the things of this world rule our life. Rather we are ambassadors to the kingdom of the world (2 Corinthians 5:17), doing the work of God. By completing the work of God we earn treasures in heaven, which is the dominant focus of our life.
Today, the preaching is about the cross and not about the kingdom, which is where the kingdom is pushed into the future and life is lived in the shadow of the cross. The cross is vital and important, as it opened the kingdom for us. It is the door to the kingdom. We are not meant to just remain at the door, but to enter the kingdom and experience the fullness of God in our lives. This is missing in the lives of many as they remain at the cross, and keep contemplating the sacrifice Jesus has done for us, but do not enter in the life and ministry God has called us to in the kingdom.
In Luke 10:9-11 Jesus says that when the power of God is manifest in our midst in actions like healing, the kingdom of God is breaking into our midst. 1 Corinthians 4:20 says that the Kingdom of God is not in words but in power. This power is not only seen in healings and miracles but also in the transformed lives of believers according to 1 Thessalonians 1:5. According to Luke 11:20 it is seen in the casting out of demons and evil from our midst. Romans 14:17 says that the kingdom of God is not seen in material wealth and prosperity but in righteousness and justice in our lives.
The kingdom of God is seen to be present and is experienced in the transformed lives of the believers, the love which they exude, and works of God that they do.
The parables of the kingdom in Matthew 13 says that this life of believers permeates society and makes the kingdom grow invisibly. That means our life in the kingdom should be such that it impacts the people around us. Evangelism is not a project but a life which we lead. While, evangelistic campaigns like Paul did are valid, and necessary for areas where there are no churches and Christian witness, but where there are Christians, growth needs to be through our life permeating society, and making an impact. This is the presence of the kingdom of God in our midst. That is why Jesus says that our witness is the love which we manifest within the community of believers to the world outside. People should be talking about the Christian community in a positive manner. This was true of the church in most eras and countries, but sadly seems to be missing in India.
Julian the Apostate, one of the Roman rulers who turned away from Christianity testified of Christians as follows:- the impious Galileans (Christians) support our poor in addition to their own; everyone is able to see that our coreligionists are in want of aid from us.
Mother Teresa was a shining light, and so have been much of the missions in India. But the churches and Christians have developed a strongly negative reputation with statistics like Christians having the highest divorce rate, the highest suicide rate, the highest drug addiction etc. The kingdom of God seems to be strongly absent from our midst. As a community we need to introspect and see why the power of the kingdom is missing.
In the gospels, the kingdom had come, but most could not see it or experience it. Have you experienced the transformative power of the kingdom? Has all bitterness and anger against people disappeared and been replaced by the love which God pours into our lives? Do you have peace with God and from God? If not I invite you to enter the kingdom and experience the power of God in your life.