God designed earth to operate under heaven’s management. God designed people as his representatives, to care for the earth and its creatures on his behalf. Grasping power that should have been in God’s hands led to hostility against God and violent conflict with each other. It’s what’s wrong with the world as we know it: a beautiful world, where people do ugly things.
Our heavenly sovereign wanted to repatriate us under his governance, but he would never force himself on us. He allowed the nations to go their way. Then he chose a family to build a designer nation to showcase his rule, so the nations would see the blessing they were missing. Exodus tells the story of God rescuing this family from human rule to be the first nation ruled by God.
But without a human ruler, Israel struggled to survive against the warring nations. They asked for a human king like that nations. God conceded. A human ruler didn’t save them: eventually they lost their land to the nations (Assyria and Babylon). The dream of divine rule died as Israel was swallowed by the empires.
That’s why Jesus’ kingdom vision was so radical, so exciting. His life and ministry were all about restoring divine rule over Israel and over the nations. Matthew introduced him as God’s anointed ruler (Christ), the king on earth who represents the heavenly ruler (son of David), the one who brings the blessing of God’s rule to the nations (son of Abraham): “Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (1:1).
He is the Immanuel child, bringing the divine ruler’s presence on earth (1:23). He is the king of the Jews (2:2), the promised ruler (2:6). He is the one who restores heaven’s rule to earth (3:2-3), the chosen and anointed Son of the heavenly sovereign (3:16-17). He fought and repelled Israel’s enemy (4:1-11), and announced the restoration of heaven’s rule (4:17).
The restoration of God’s rule means blessing for those who’ve been missing out (5:1-6) and for those who cooperate with God (5:7-12). It’s not a top-down hierarchy of powerful people; it’s a grassroots kingdom where ordinary people exude the flavour and brilliance of divine rule (5:13-16). King Jesus doesn’t set aside the requirements of the heavenly sovereign; he fulfils those requirements for his people (5:17-19). He’s such a contrast to Israel’s other leaders, who should turn their judgements on themselves (5:21-30). God’s reign comes to earth not by killing their enemies but by loving them perfectly (5:38-48).
Those who focus on how others see them are fake rulers. God’s kingdom comes when we invite God to be king (6:1-18). If you’re seeking wealth or status, you’re no different to the people who live in rebellion against God’s kingship (6:19-32).
To “seek first the kingdom” means to live as people whose highest priority is for divine governance to be restored to earth. It’s in direct contrast with seeking status and power. It’s in direct contrast with seeking wealth.
But is Jesus’ kingdom vision realistic? Can love really overcome evil? Or will it always come down to force? Aren’t evil rulers likely to kill anyone who threatens their power? Don’t we need to fight force with force? Isn’t Jesus’s kingdom vision naïve? Isn’t he likely to be killed doing this? And his followers too? Can Jesus’ vision change the world?
Stay tuned. This story isn’t over.
In the meantime, be assured that Jesus is not ignorant of the extent of evil and the human rebellion against God’s power. He advises us not to let the fear of tomorrow’s evil limit our faith in God’s capacity to restore his reign today:
Matthew 6:33-34 (my translation)
33 Live first for God’s kingdom, for his reign that sets everything right. Everything will be provided to you. 34 So don’t be stressed about tomorrow: let tomorrow bear its own stresses. Each day has enough bad stuff of its own.
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