You’re probably noticed the disconnect between what God intends and life as we know it. If not, ask a Ukrainian. Fighting and killing are not the Life-giver’s intentions. Stockpiling resources while others starve is not life as Providence intends.
So, how do we close the gap?
People have offered various solutions. Some call for a benevolent dictator with the power to force everyone to do right (fascism). Some call for revolution to overthrow oppression and redistribute wealth (communism). Some call for unrestricted markets where the cream can rise to the top and the dross can sink to the bottom (capitalism).
Jesus had a different answer. He called everyone back under God’s authority. War and poverty and inequality and abuse would end if we all lived as God intends. In following him, we would be a kingdom of heaven on earth.
Jesus’ expectations may sound too lofty in a world driven by self-interest. Those who hold the political, social, and economic capital have little motivation to share the assets God provides for us all. It’s easier to get a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the reign of God (Mark 10:25). Those who currently hold power have no intention of yielding to a higher authority. Capitalism, communism, and fascism do not want the kingdom of God on earth: the price is too high.
So, do we give up? Was Jesus’ concept of earth as a kingdom of heaven just an impractical utopian ideal? Was it never going to work unless you could convince the whole world to live this way?
The problem is that if some people start living as God’s kingdom while others don’t, the believers who trust God will end up oppressed by those who assert their own power over everyone.
That is the story of the Old Testament. New Testament too: Jesus was betrayed for money, rejected by Jerusalem’s leaders, crucified by the Roman proconsul. And those who followed his teachings were arrested, jailed, threatened, persecuted, and killed.
This is not a side-story. It’s the main theme. As soon as Jesus’ disciples began to live as the unselfish kingdom of the resurrected Christ (Acts 2:44), his name posed a threat to the existing authorities (4:18).
People who have other allegiances don’t want to hear that heaven has given authority to the son of man. When Stephen made that declaration, they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him (Acts 7:57-58).
In response, those who looked to Jesus’ leadership expected no justice from the Jerusalem authorities. They just relocated. And that’s how the message of Jesus’ kingship spread beyond Jerusalem (Acts 8:4).
But wherever they went, the messengers of this good news were viewed as a threat to existing authorities. They were imprisoned, beaten, run out of town, and left for dead (Acts 13–18). Eventually, all of the Christ’s apostles were killed (or exiled) as a threat to the current powers.
Suffering isn’t optional. It’s inherent to Jesus’ kingdom message. He expected it himself, and he told his followers to expect it. If some people live as God intends while others are still living for their own power, the kingdom-of-God people will suffer at the hands of those who use power for themselves.
This is precisely what Jesus calls us to do. Don’t wait until everyone else is willing to recognize God’s sovereign authority and live as he intends. Start the ball rolling, so the world can see how it works.
Suffer the injustice now. Gladly. Because this is how King Jesus leads the world back under God’s reign.
You’re vulnerable if you’re following a king who has no army to protect him. The human descendant who brings creation back under heaven’s authority observed how birds and animals have places to rest, while he himself had no fortress or palace where he could sleep safely. That’s the homeless king’s response to the person who says, “I will follow you wherever you go.”
You’re at a disadvantage if you’re a businessperson who genuinely cares for your customers while your competitors gouge prices, avoid tax, manipulate markets, eradicate competition, underpay staff, profiteer from shortages, and sell vulnerable people what they do not need.
You’re at a disadvantage if you’re a politician who has to choose between how God wants his world governed and the popular policies that will get you re-elected.
You’re at a disadvantage if you welcome all people equally because everyone belongs under Christ’s authority, while others are trying to keep impoverished people out so the wealthy nations stay wealthy.
Don’t expect your neighbours to like you if you carry the soldier’s pack for a second mile so you can make friends with the guy who represents the oppression of your land.
You’re at a disadvantage if your enemy has a gun and you don’t because you’re not going to kill him even if he threatens you and your loved ones.
You’re at a disadvantage if you’re carrying a cross while someone else is carrying a sword.
Are we disadvantaged, or blessed? It depends on what you value.
What could be more blessed than living as a gateway to the kingdom of God?
What could be more blessed than participating in a story far grander than your own life?
What could be more blessed than living in the joyful untwisting of God’s world?
One who saves their life for their own advantage loses. One who offers their life for the King is already glowing with divine life coming into the earthly realm through them.
There is no other name given by heaven to rescue God’s world into God’s reign. There is no greater way to live than serving the counter-cultural King.
He’s not forcing heaven’s reign on anyone. He’s calling people like you to do right because you trust him.
What others are saying
Apostle Paul, Second Letter to the Corinthians 4:7-10 (NIV)
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Discipleship (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003), 133:
Evil will become powerless when it finds no opposing object, no resistance, but, instead, is willingly borne and suffered. Evil meets an opponent for which it is not a match.
- The camel that won’t go through (Mt 19:23-26)
- Jesus’ paradoxical path to power (Mt 16:27-28)
- How Jesus overcomes the world’s power problem
- The kingdom and personal power: more than conquerors?
- Why democracy is not our message
- The mind of Christ (Phil 2)
- The royal law (James 2)
- The church’s role in the world
- Shaking the chains at Philippi (Acts 16)
- Beatitudes: blessings from the king