Some of my friends think Jesus’ kingdom vision was unrealistic, something we can never achieve until he returns and forces the world to submit.
I think they’re wrong. Two reasons:
- If we could make no progress towards his goal (the kingdom of God), then the bulk of Jesus’ teaching is misguided: he was wasting his breath asking us to embody kingdom life in the present.
- Evil villains use their power to force everyone into submission, but that’s not how God uses his power. God submitted himself to us in the upside-down wisdom of the cross in order to restore his kingship over the world — the exact opposite of force. Jesus’ character will not change when he returns: we won’t feel we’ve been tricked with a bait-and-switch.
Part of the problem is our impoverished understanding of the cross. For many Christians, the cross means that Jesus died in my place, to forgive my sins, so I can go to heaven instead of the other place. But Jesus did far more than address my crimes. He died to reconcile the world to God.
So where does that leave the world?
Picture the world running as God intends. Jesus called it the kingdom of God — human society flourishing under his governance.
What would be different?
- We’d take care of each other and the other creatures God has placed in our care.
- We’d manage earth as God’s creation, fulfilling our human purpose (partnering with God to care for his realm).
- We’d value communal justice more than individual achievement (cooperation over competition).
- We’d gladly share the resources God provides.
- Evil would be absent: no one dominating or taking advantage of another.
We don’t have that society yet. Business and politics don’t operate like that. Life is a struggle, where only the powerful survive.
Nevertheless, Jesus calls us to live as his kingdom now — in the present world where some do not yet recognize their king.
That’s a tough ask! How can we run our businesses cooperatively in a world where the competition wants to put us out of business? How can we live for communal justice while those in power are more interested in their own careers?
Doesn’t that put us at a huge disadvantage? Yes it does. “Like sheep among wolves” is how Jesus expects us to feel (Matthew 10:16).
How do we survive in the violently competitive world?
That’s the story of the Bible: from the murder of Abel, the exile of Israel, the crucifixion of Jesus, to the story of the church. This is the story of the kingdom of God.
So how do we survive?
Ironically, the competitive power-hungry consumer-driven ways of this world are self-destructive, a system that cannot survive. Only those who love earth’s true sovereign (and so gladly live as the community he desires) survive as the enduring kingdom of God.
Our life choices reveal the kingdom we love:
1 John 2 15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. 16 For everything in the world — the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life — comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever. (NIV)
What others are saying
David P. Gushee and Glen H. Stassen, Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2016), 81 (emphasis original):
Our central task is to be useful servants of the reign of God, and thus with all our heart we seek to discern and put into practice a total way of life in tune with God’s kingdom.
Jesus’s moral teaching in the Sermon on the Mount is focused precisely in this way. He does not instruct his listeners merely in right beliefs about moral issues but trains them in those behaviors, those practices, that characterize the reign of God and offers concrete transforming initiatives that advance it.