Why is it so easy to miss something right in front of your face? Seems like it happens all the time with car keys, cell phones, and even glasses it turns out you are wearing. The same thing happens with big, life changing ideas. For most of my life, I missed an enormous issue Jesus talked about all the time. It was right there in front of me.
It was his message of the Kingdom. To be honest, until about 15 years ago, I failed to notice how significant or constant the message of the Kingdom was in the gospels. It was like the words went in one ear and right out the other. How did I miss it? I was a pastor!
It’s possible that I missed it because I grew up in a tradition that was fixated on heaven as the primary benefit of following Christ, so I read through those words as a poetic nod to heaven. Or maybe it’s because I was so accustomed to seeing the words of scripture through the lens of overly spiritualized language that references to the Kingdom felt disconnected from anything tangible and real in daily life. Perhaps it was due to the fact that I have never lived in a Kingdom ruled by an all-powerful king. (No, “The Magic Kingdom” doesn’t count.) Whatever the reason, I missed it—and for a dangerously long time.
Jesus spoke of the Kingdom all the time:
To Nicodemus, Jesus said, “unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).
He announced the beginning of his public ministry, “proclaiming the good news of God…the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news” (Mark 1:14-15).
Matthew describes Jesus’s ministry by saying, “Jesus went through all the towns and villages… preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease” (Matthew 9:35).
When Jesus sent out the 12, he did so with this instruction, “as you go, preach this message: ‘the kingdom of heaven is near’” (Matthew 10:7).
In fact, the announcement of the Kingdom was the good news Jesus proclaimed. (He used the same Greek word we translate “gospel” in connection to the Kingdom.) Consider these: “Jesus went… preaching the good news of the kingdom” (Matthew 4:23), “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to other towns also, because that is why I was sent” (Luke 4:43). “…they believed Philip as he preached the good news of the kingdom of God” (Acts 8:12).
So, what exactly does “the Kingdom of God” or its twin, “the Kingdom of heaven,” mean? Quite literally, the Kingdom refers to the actual rule and reign of God.
When a new Caesar ascended the throne they would send a herald throughout the land announcing the “good news.” They would proclaim something like, “Behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people, the rule and reign of a new Caesar has come.” Jesus announcing the good news was literally a confrontation with the kingdoms of this earth. He declared that the good news is not that a new Caesar has come, but that the rule and reign of the true God has now come to earth. In fact, the phrase “Jesus is Lord” could literally be considered as acknowledgment of the ruling king. It has the same weight as saying, “Jesus is king!” And, by the way, Caesar is not.
N.T. Wright captured this message in the title of his book, When God Became King. The rule and reign of God is good news for the present, not just a future heaven. His reign has come to earth. His will and his agenda will not be thwarted. Yes, that Kingdom is both now and not yet, but it is still now. You can almost picture Jesus planting the flag of the Kingdom of God, claiming the land in the name of the King. He even taught us to pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6 and Luke 11).
So, let’s get practical. Because the message of the Kingdom was so prominent in the ministry of Jesus, it is worth so much more time and space than we have here. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t immediate points of application for us. Let me suggest three.
You’ve probably seen enough movies to imagine this scene: In a great castle hall a new king stands before his nobles and knights. They all have a decision to make. Will we pledge allegiance—meaning, will we give up our lives for the sake of this new king? Will we surrender our swords as well as all that they represent? Will we put all our trust in this king and choose to follow him without reservation? Allegiance means we not only commit our lives to this king and all he stands for, but we are now at his command. Allegiance is the decision to declare, “You are not just the king, you are my king.”
When a new king comes he establishes new laws, but allegiance is deeper than mere compliance to laws. Allegiance to the king touches every corner of our lives. In our Christian circles we would equate the concept of allegiance with words like, “conversion,” “salvation,” “surrender,” and “being born again.”
Jesus came proclaiming the good news that the Kingdom of God has come. That declaration raises the question of allegiance. So, I wonder, how much of your heart is fully surrendered in allegiance to King Jesus? Is there any sword you are hanging onto these days that needs to be surrendered?
When a new king takes the throne, he and he alone sets the laws and values that will govern his land. A kingdom is not a democratic society, the king determines the ways of his kingdom. He defines what matters, the way things will run, and what will not be tolerated. To say it another way, the king has a kingdom. The subjects of the king need to align themselves with the ways of the kingdom. Jesus said those ways are good news.
So think about this. Most of us could identify issues God we know cares about--issues he will one day eradicate. He cares about injustice that takes advantage of people. He longs to obliterate racial divides and intolerance. He wants the needs of the poor and the systemic causes of poverty addressed. He cares about widows and orphans and the breakdown of marriage that leaves so many fatherless. And, we are just warming up. All the things we know about the new heaven and new earth are expressions of his Kingdom.
Alignment with the ways of the Kingdom means taking a redemptive role in the brokenness of our world right now. This is part of what it means to demonstrate the good news of a good king. The word we would use most often to represent alignment would be obedience. Claiming to live under the rule and reign of the King means we cannot sit idly by while the ways of the King are flagrantly trampled in the lives of people all around us. Ask yourself, what is one thing I could do to bring good news to someone’s life who has been injured by the things that break God’s heart? Meditate on this quote as a way to spur your thinking:
“Unless the church is equipping believers to embrace the values and vision of the kingdom of God and turn away from the materialism, consumerism, greed, and power of the present age, it not only abandons its biblical mandate, it is rendered missionally ineffective.”
—Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch, Faith of Leap.
The Christian life is more than a life of intimate communion with Christ. We are children of God and the family business is our business. Kingdom people are people on mission and to carry out that mission the King extends to us his authority and power. That authority is crucial, for we sit in the middle of kingdoms at war.
You recall these words in the Great Commission: “all authority on heaven and earth have been given to me… and I am with you wherever you go” (Matthew 28:18–20). However, the delegation of his authority is found all over the New Testament. “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven” (Matthew 16:9 and 18:18). “When Jesus sent out the twelve he gave them power and authority…” (Luke 9:1). When the 72 returned Jesus said, “I saw Satan fall from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions…” (Luke 10:18–19).
The good news of the Kingdom means the authority and power of the King has not only come to earth, it has been delegated to us. We have been given the fulness of the Spirit and through him the authority to act as Jesus did. Evidence of a supernatural God is revealed in supernatural ways. As agents of his kingdom we stand in his authority and power with the resources of heaven at our disposal.
There are so many ways to step more deeply into this authority, but let me suggest a one-week experiment. Listen to the words and posture of your prayers. Do your prayers sound like a vain hope that maybe, just maybe, this might be the time when God moves? Or, are you addressing the issue head on with the full authority of the King? What would prayer that flows from that position of authority sound like for you? I dare you. Give it a try for a week.
The ultimate question behind our exploration of life in God’s Kingdom is how do we live into the fullness of the good news the Kingdom contains? Allegiance, alignment, and authority are three starting points on the pathway of that “good news life,” three dimensions to life in a world where we are desperate for a Good King.
Allegiance, because we cannot be our own savior.
Alignment, because the brokenness of the world hurts everyone.
Authority, because hope demands more than words (I Corinthians 4.20).
Which of the three is our Good King speaking to you most strongly about today?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Gary Mayes joined Novo in 1997 after 20 years of pastoral ministry, in order to live out his calling to equip leaders to build the church to reach the world of tomorrow. He’s the executive director of ChurchNEXT, giving leadership to 150 staff who serve on 17 teams worldwide. Gary and his wife Margaret live in the Phoenix area near their two adult children and three grandsons.