April/May 2014 - Vol. 73
The Kingdom of God series
Part 1: What is the Kingdom of God? 

by Carlos Mantica

I would like to address a topic that is rarely dealt with nowadays. The topic is the Kingdom of God. It’s strange that the Kingdom is not a common subject, because Jesus Christ spoke about almost nothing else. Everything the Lord Jesus said was in some way related to the Kingdom.

What he announces is the arrival of the Kingdom. What he offers his followers is the Kingdom. His parables intend to explain what the Kingdom is like. A large part of his teaching is focused on how to enter the Kingdom and who is fit for it. The beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount are like the Constitution of the Kingdom. What we are to seek above everything else is the Kingdom of God and his justice. What Jesus hands over to Peter is the keys to the Kingdom. What he will deliver to his Father when his work has been accomplished is the Kingdom.

However, it is not just what he says but what he does that is in the line of the Kingdom. The miracles he performs and his works of power in the Spirit are intended to show that the Kingdom has arrived and that he is himself the King who was to come. These are the signs of the Kingdom and the credentials of the King.

When John the Baptist, already in prison, sends two of his followers to ask Jesus whether he is the one everybody was waiting for or whether they ought to wait for someone else, the Lord does not reply with words but with works. Scripture says that at that very moment he healed many people of their sicknesses and suffering and of evil spirits, and gave the sight to many blind men. Then he responded, 

“Go and tell John what you have seen and heard. Tell him that the blind can see, the lame can walk, and lepers are cleansed. If I cast out demons through the Spirit of God, this means that the Kingdom of God has already come to you.”
Matthew sums up Christ’s activity by saying that “Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every infirmity” (Matthew 9:35). The works of power are, thus, signs that go together with the announcement of the Kingdom, and a proof of its arrival.

“Lost the Thread”
We Christians have kept the teachings of Jesus as we would keep pearls, but without stringing them together in a necklace. That’s why we have so often “lost the thread.” We have preserved his teachings as if someone were to keep the parts of a disassembled car in a lot of boxes. All the pieces are there, but the car isn’t. Or at least we can’t see it clearly. The doctrine of the Lord also loses clarity when we only see the content of one box or another. We are lacking the chassis that kept them all together. And this chassis is the Gospel of the Kingdom. 

John the Baptist preached in the wilderness, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt. 3:2). The coming of the kingdom is supposed to provoke something in us, a preparation and a response. Christ proclaims that the kingdom is already among us and can find us unprepared or leave us indifferent. That’s because we don’t even know what the Kingdom is, what is that which we must seek and ask for, and expect above any other thing.

Many words change their meaning as time goes by. It is very important for us to understand the words of Jesus the way people understood them when they listened to him in his day. 

Meaning of the word “kingdom”
This thing that was called the Kingdom of God – what was its meaning for the Jews?  What kind of relationship was there between the awaited Messiah and this Kingdom of God which the prophets had announced? Why is its coming proclaimed as good news? What would your response be if I were to tell you, “Brothers and sisters, I’ve got big news for you: The Kingdom of God has come!”

Some translations further complicated the understanding of the Kingdom. As Jews would not dare pronounce even the word “God”, some of the evangelists wrote “Kingdom of Heaven” instead of  “Kingdom of God”. That’s why, in our day, there are so many people who are waiting to die so they can go to the Kingdom of Heaven, instead of living so the Kingdom of God comes.

The word “kingdom” means very little for us today, because we don’t even have kings in this world of ours. For most of us, a kingdom is a place, the country or territory governed by a king. But if we conceive of the Kingdom of God as a place, we get confused.

There are many cases of kingdoms in history which did not occupy a single country or place. One case is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and the British empire. Another is the kingdom of Charles I of Spain and V of Germany, whose realm was so large and so scattered out that, in the famous expression of some historians, the sun never set on it. It was present in many places, yet it was a single kingdom, and a single king was obeyed in it. The Kingdom of God is also scattered out and embraces people from all nations.

Instead of “kingdom”, Jesus would perhaps speak today of “regime”. Because this refers to the domain, the time and manner in which someone reigns. When we talk about “the  Somoza regime” we are not thinking of Nicaragua as a country, or of the territory we hold, but rather of the time when Somoza used to rule and of the manner in which his government was expressed.

Reign of God
The Kingdom of God, the REIGN of God, is God himself breaking into human history in order to reign on the earth, just as he is already reigning in heaven.

When we say, “Thy Kingdom come,” what we are expressing is our deep desire for our God to reign in an actual, true way within us and over the whole world, our desire for his will to be done on earth as it is already being done in heaven.

Our Father, may you be blessed! Reign within us, take the helm of our lives through your Holy Spirit. Make it possible for your will to be fulfilled on earth, just as it is already being fulfilled in heaven. Remember your covenant, and care for our daily needs as you care for the birds of the air and the lilies of the field which do not sow or spin, yet you clothe and feed them. Forgive our trespasses, just as we have already forgiven those who have trespassed against us. Do not put us to the test, because we are frail and small. Rather, deliver us from the power of the evil one. Because yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory for ever and ever. So be it!

The Our Father
This is the meaning of the Our Father, and a description of what the Kingdom is supposed to be: the domain and the time when men, already reconciled to God and to the brothers and sisters, and free from the evil one, once again receive everything from God, and live in order to praise and bless him.

We want his Kingdom to come, so that, as his will is being done on earth as in heaven, the earth will become Paradise once again. In fact, God’s purpose is to make a new heaven out of the earth:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband; and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.” And he who sat upon the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (Revelation 21:1-5)
We are under God’s rule, under God’s regime, in the age and the domain where our God reigns. And yet, we are still supposed to choose what rule we want to live under, what kingdom we want to be citizens of. Because, just as there is a Kingdom of God, there is also a kingdom of darkness, whose king is also among us. Jesus himself called him “the Prince of this world.”

The Lord explains and warns us that the wheat and the weeds will live together in the field up to the time of the harvest. At that time the weeds will be cut and thrown into the fire, but for now God lets them live even if they are harmful, lest on cutting it the wheat be cut too (Mt. 13:36-43). At this time the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of darkness co-exist in the same territory, but not for too long.

Does God reign in your life?
You will say, “This I don’t understand. Isn’t it the case that God reigns from eternity and in absolute way over all that exists?” Let me reply with a simple question, Does God reign in your life? Do you do his will at all times? Can he decide about you as he wills? If your answer is No, then this means he is not reigning over you. And therefore he does not reign over all things that exist.

Even if that is the most important part, because if he does not reign over men and women he does not reign over the world, I’m going to take the question one step further – Do you believe that the world as we see it around us is God’s will, that he wanted or wants it to be as it is? Do you believe that famine, war, lies, cruelty, torture, robbery, oppression, drug-addiction, prostitution, the abortion of millions of innocent babies, the daily violation of the totality of his laws, is a sign that God is reigning over the world, and that what God wants is done in the world?

God has the power to destroy the whole of mankind with a mere word of his, and he already did this once in the time of Noah. Hundreds of times, whole nations were judged because the multitude of their transgressions filled up the measure of God's wrath. But his wrath did not bring about the Kingdom, because his Kingdom is life not death, creation not destruction, conversion not imposition.

The stars, galaxies without number, obey his laws. The whole of creation proclaims his greatness. The microcosm is subject to his laws. Not a sparrow falls to the ground without his consent, says the gospel. And even the hairs in our head are counted. But man continues to rebel against God, and under Satan he has built a whole world in rebellion against God. And God does not fully reign in that world. There is no contradiction in this.

The United States, too, can destroy us just by pressing a button, but it does not reign over us. It can place a fleet of aircraft carriers in front of our coast, it can make all of us bald with some secret weapon; but it will only reign over us if we hand over our hearts or submit to its laws.

A king reigns where he is known, where his law is obeyed, where his will is fulfilled and his name is glorified. That is why God is not reigning yet over all things that exist. On the contrary, after the fall of Adam, it was Satan that began reigning on the world, with a law written within us which is the law of sin. No one would question the fact that the law we usually abide by is the law of our flesh, imposed by Satan, and institutionalized in the world as collective sin.

God’s kingship with Israel 
Given this predicament of man, God chooses a people who will be for some time the Kingdom of God on earth. This is the people of Israel. To this people God dictates a law, he makes a covenant with them, and he himself dwells with them. As long as they remain faithful to his covenant, the power of God keeps and protects them, and they receive all things from God.

Under God’s kingship, Israel is victor over all peoples and is taken to the promised land, a land that flows with milk and honey, the new Paradise. Their greatest glory and power is reached in the times of David and his son Solomon. But Israel goes away from her God. She even worships other gods, and the judgment of Yahweh comes over them. Once again they are submitted to slavery under other kings. The birth of Jesus finds them subject to the Roman Empire.

The people were waiting for the Messiah whom the prophets had announced, the Messiah who was to come to set his people free and to restore them to their old glory. He would reign over all nations, for ages without end. This is what the angel announces to Mary: “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord shall give him the throne of David his father; he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and his reign shall have no end” (Luke 1:32).

Isaiah, Micah, Ezekiel, Zephaniah, Zechariah and all the great prophets had announced his coming, and the oppressed people were impatiently waiting for his coming. The Kingdom of God was supposed to be above all God’s lordship and dominion over his people, obedience to his law and his will, while all the rest would be mere additions to his kingdom and covenant. But, as always, the people reversed the order of priorities. In the hearts of the Jewish people, the Kingdom of God meant above all political dominion and power over their enemies – the additions to the kingdom, without the search for the kingdom of God and his justice. The Kingdom would now be the result of a great leader, anointed by God (this is what the word “Christ” means), who would have military dominion over the whole world for Israel. As you can see, the idea is old: in order for heaven to come to earth and for the earth to become Paradise regained, it is necessary to destroy, to kill, to impose silence, to dominate, and to overcome.

Coming of the Messiah 
When the long-awaited Messiah finally did come John the Evangelist states in his Gospel prologue: 

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us… The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not. He came to his own home, and his own people received him not (John 1:14, 9-11).
They received him not, because his plan did not fit theirs, and because he would not folow the agenda they wanted to impose on him. Some of them wanted to make him a king when he fed the crowd, and he hid away. Others asked him to have fire come down from heaven over those who rejected him, and he rebuked them. And then he began talking about turning the other cheek, and about loving your enemies, and about giving your cloak also if you are asked for your coat. 

He said that whoever would be the greatest among them ought to become their servant, and not be  like earthly kings. He commanded people to forgive seventy times seven, and to love their enemies, and a whole lot of other stupid things that, as everyone knows well, will not lead a people to its liberation. He called them blessed who were meek, who were merciful, and who sought peace. But they didn’t want peace – they wanted victory over their enemies.

Thus, “he came to his own home, and his own people received him not. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God” (John 1:11-12) – of that God who makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

From the very beginning of his public life, Jesus is tempted by Satan to political messianism. Matthew records this in chapter 4: 

“Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them; and he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me’” (vv. 8-9). 
The funny thing is that Christ does not challenge Satan’s ability to offer him the kingdoms of the world, because in fact they belonged to him. Jesus simply answers, 
“‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve’” (v. 10).
Luke comments that the devil left him until an opportune time. Undoubtedly, Jesus was tempted many times to political messianism. There was nothing wrong in wanting to deliver his people from the imperialistic yoke, but certainly not at the price of making a pact with Satan, or apart from the Kingdom of God, or of its justice which is supposed to be an addition to it.

Christ knew that only the Kingdom of God within man is able to overcome the kingdom of darkness in the world. He knew that what enslaves man and leads him once and again to his own destruction does not lie in the external structures of power, but in the sin that is within him. And he knew that only God’s power, reigning in the heart of man, is able to overcome sin.

If political liberation were enough, we would be forced to conclude that Jesus was a perfect idiot. He died needlessly, just because he wanted to. And his Father was even more stupid. Jesus could have been delivered by the angels at the last minute, as he himself tells Pilate; but his death was absolutely necessary. His blood was to be the ransom price for the human race. The devil could not understand this, because the devil is unable to understand love. If he had understood it, he would never have allowed the crucifixion of Christ.

Go to > Part 2: Jesus’ Teaching on the Kingdom of God

The Kingdom of God

Part 1: What is the Kingdom of God?
Part 2: Jesus' Teaching on the Kingdom of God
Part 3: Extending the Kingdom - Parable of the Apartment Building
Part 4: Tools for Building the Kingdom: Word, Witness, and Community

This article is adapted from the book, From Egghead to Birdhood (hatch or rot as a Christian), (c) copyright 2001 Carlos Mantica. 

Carlos Mantica is a founder of The City of God community (La Cuidad de Dios) in Managua, Nicaragua, and a founding leader of the Sword of the Spirit. He served as president of the Sword of the Spirit between 1991 and 1995. 

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