Kingdom Misconceptions by Jim Patterson
Since the time of Jesus Christ, mankind has held various misconceptions of the Kingdom of God. Our own ideas of government and organizations that are born out of worldly experience can lead us to conceive God’s Kingdom is a glorious ideal of the same form. This article brings us to the conclusion that there is a fundamental difference between the Kingdom of God, and all that we can conceive of or experience in any man-made organizational structure. Before we can conclude with what is unique about the Kingdom of God as revealed by Jesus Christ, it is necessary that we should dispose of a few misconceptions.
How are we doing today in the Church of God with our understanding of the Kingdom of God? I think it is a fair question to ask, and an important one, as we are currently part of the Kingdom’s advancement on earth. If that last sentence appears awkward, then perhaps we have already touched on a misconception on God’s Kingdom. We will get to that later, and some very exciting promises in the Bible about the Kingdom of God.
Beware of the Institutional Trap
The Church of God has been exposed to various presentations of the Church or the Kingdom suggesting that Christ is building an organization. These presentations often have corporate underpinnings, and have even suggested that independence of these ideas of an organization, is an opposite or opposing idea of Christ’s intentions, and is selfish, or subverting the process. These discussions distract us from Jesus Christ’s revealing of the Gospel of the Kingdom.
We need to take Jesus Christ at His word when He stated “My Kingdom is not of this World” (John 18:36). There are no parts of our worldly models that will form part of the kingdom. What a relief.
The Babel Bust
The first Biblical account of a large scale organized cohesive group is the account of the city of Babel.
And they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth” (Genesis 11:4).
From this statement, we are told it was fear and pride as the motivating factors behind the construction of the city. The tower they built was a ziggurat, which was a kind of winding pyramid, or having successive steps so that one can reach the top. At the top there may have been a shrine. Though this tower may have had religious significance, we see non-religious forms of them today. Every generation builds its symbols of achievement, which could be actual skyscrapers or mega corporations making a name for themselves.
The people of Babel had a few things going for them which fuelled their growth. They were united in language, and they were united in one spirit of pride. This type of unity fuels a false sense of power that leads to greater rebellion against God. Indeed, the Lord did not ordain that they centralize, but He commanded them to “fill the earth” (Genesis 9:1). The Lord saw the escalating problem:
And the Lord said, “Indeed the people are one and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them” (Genesis 11:6).
The Lord’s solution was not the destruction of the people, He rather graciously intervened and let them live so that they could come to their senses and perhaps return to Him for their security.
“Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad with power” — Charles A. Beard
Before God acts, He often allows situations to escalate to such a degree before He intervenes, and His delay should not be considered an endorsement at the time. Those who unwittingly shift their loyalty from the Creator to systems of men may find themselves scattered to find the Lord again.
Kingdom of Israel
Another case of following the temptation for centralization was the origins of the Kingdom of Israel, a United Monarchy, which came about by the rejection of the Lord’s rule as their King. Israel up to that time was one nation, comprised of a loose federation of tribes. Each were expected to seek the Lord as their King.
Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him, “Look you are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways, now make us a king to judge us like all the nations” (1 Samuel 8:4-5).
The request itself was not what displeased Samuel and God; it was their disbelief in the Lord’s security, which was subject to their obedience to the law. Instead they wanted a centralized power, amalgamated under a king, who would ... go out before us and fight our battles” (1 Samuel 8:20). What they forgot was that Israel’s strength was unlike any other nation. They were a covenant people. Their wisdom and strength were in the Law Giver. These elders looked at the worldly model of government and were tempted by its offering of security and uniformity. At first the warnings against having a centralized system under a human king did not come to fruition. The harsh realities came to be under King Solomon (1 Kings 4:7-28, 12:1-4).
We tend to discard the harder belief that the Lord is our security, and rather undetectably, look to self-assured leaders who will tell us we are ok. And that is more than evident in recent Church of God history, and in many current forms. The easy path for us has been uniformity. We institutionalize easier, and we interpret that as unity. We may begin to serve the institution, which over time may lead to disillusionment. The message will begin to serve the organization, not the Head or the needs of the congregants. Fear and dependency begin to dominate the decision making processes of those in charge.
Throughout history the Lord appears to have an issue with centralization that comes about by man, particularly when it is a rejection of His promise to be the Provider. God did accede to the wishes of Israel to have a king, but God’s greatest judgment is often allowing us to have our own way. It is a judgment mixed with grace. We are capable of organizing in groups in His name, and there is nothing in scripture that forbids it. But the first commandment must be kept, for we are responsible to ensure that we do not find our security in it, or as leaders, offer more than it is supposed to offer, or deem others suspect for their relative independence. In the end, there is only one centralization that our Lord will endorse, and it is entirely connected to the Father’s will.
... that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth—in Him (Ephesians 1:10).
This is the presentation of the Kingdom we need to have solid in our hearts. All contrary ideas must be avoided; they are often rooted in the institutional traditions of men we have touched on here. Sometimes they are ideas that have infiltrated from the corporate world. Sometimes they are doctrinal, but both mitigate the true message of the Gospel that Christ delivered to us.
“Every plant which My Heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone. They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch” (Matt 15:13-14).
These words of Jesus were given in the context regarding vain worship that comes about by the doctrines of men. Many have fallen into the ditch of believing false presentations of the Gospel and false ideas of the Church’s role in spreading and presenting the message.
Disillusionment with unfulfilled promises of prophecy and false ideas of the Church of God have led many to fall away or become ineffective and stagnant.
The discussion above is necessary in an attempt to dispose of institutional ideas we have imposed on God’s kingdom. We are not the first to do so either.
When is the Kingdom Showing Up?
In an encounter with the Pharisees, the religious elite and custodians of the law at that time, Jesus was engaged regarding when the Kingdom of God would come.
During this time, the Jewish people lived in an atmosphere of anticipation. There was an expectancy of a deliverer, such as they had before in Moses, and that which was promised. With the attention on Jesus going to Jerusalem, perhaps then He would establish the promised Kingdom. Today, with Christianity at large, there is this same atmosphere of expectancy. There is a lesson to be learned from this encounter, and from the private lesson that Jesus gives to his disciples shortly thereafter.
Now when He was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said “The kingdom of God does not come with observation, nor will they say, “See here!” or “See there!” For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:20-21).
Jesus Christ without question will return with great observation, the Kingdom of God apparently will not arrive in the same fashion. The Pharisees saw the kingdom as political, not universal. Fascinated with the great events of the future, they were consumed with knowing the kingdom’s progression. I have a feeing that if Jesus walked the earth today, many of us would ask him the same question, and for some of the same reasons. Jesus’ response would be the same to us as it was to them: He emphasized the spiritual kingdom, which can only be known and experienced by the presence of Christ in the heart (Colossians 1:27).
From this discussion, Jesus was prompted to say more privately to His disciples:
“The days will come when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it. And they will say to you ‘Look here!’ or ‘Look there!’ Do not go after them or follow them” (Luke 17:22, 23).
There is something here that Jesus Christ wants us to know about Christian life leading up to His return. Don’t try to continuously evaluate or have an unhealthy obsession with His return, and don’t be anxious about it either. We should examine our thinking in light of this, because a completely forward look to the established Kingdom of God on earth and the Millennial rule of Jesus Christ, will cause us to miss out on the present experience and opportunity that the Kingdom of God offers. Indeed, there is a present experience!
For decades the Kingdom of God has been presented as the future reign on earth of Jesus Christ. This message is true, but Jesus Christ has already reigned (past) and is reigning in the present in the hearts of men and women. The Gospel of the Kingdom can be experienced now.
Jesus Christ and the New Testament writers have never presented the Gospel as all future and neither should we, but in many ways we have, leading to another possible misconception. Where does this come from?
I have often heard the phrase “The Gospel of the coming Kingdom of God”, or the “soon coming Kingdom of God.” This phrase is not found in the New Testament, for we have inserted the word “coming” into the message, implying a future only experience When, our Lord taught us to pray, He said “Your Kingdom Come”. Here He is not exclusively referring to the event of His return and millennial rule, He is also speaking of something broader in scope and current in time. He is talking about how we should focus our prayers on His will that the Kingdom continue to come and rule in our hearts, and in the hearts of others, and that time is now. This simply means it is time to cultivate love in our hearts, time for the renewal of our mind. It is time to embrace the metamorphosis that comes about by the work of the Holy Spirit.
Therefore, when I hear discussion about the Church’s role in where to direct its efforts and resources into either proclaiming the coming Kingdom of God, versus feeding the flock, then this is a clear symptom of misinterpreting the gospel message. The gospel message of the Kingdom is not to be divided.
The Gospel is about opportunity, “Repent for the Kingdom of God is at Hand”, not “Repent, for death and destruction is at hand.” Death and destruction are certainly coming, but it is the goodness of God that brings us to repentance. Even His delay in return is a testimony to His goodness, and if we are on the same page as He is, we will interpret as He does and not simply be anxious about our own stake in the Lord’s return:
Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest (Matthew 9:38).
The Kingdom is Inherited, not Just Entered
Our discussion to dismiss corporate and institutional ideas of the Kingdom and the “all future” blessings of it are necessary so they no longer cloud the true hopes of the Gospel, and the divine nature.
Jesus Christ revealed a special and exciting truth about the Kingdom of God that cannot be fully grasped by our currently limited ability to understand.
“Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32).
“Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world…” (Matthew 25:34).
The Kingdom of God will belong to you. Its origins are not born out of fear or pride. It exists for the Glory of God.
See the essential difference? You can belong to an institution, at best you can head one up, but even then you will always fear losing it. An institution will never belong to you. You can only belong to it.
The Glory of God in the Kingdom
What does it mean when God is glorified? It means that the Life of God is enhanced, increased, adorned further and undoubtedly even more than that.
“Herein is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit “(John 15:8).
The work of the Spirit of God coming to fruition in His children glorifies the Father. When His life is enhanced, so does all life that relates to Him. Indeed, His very existence is enhanced. When God is glorified, it is not just an event in time, it is for all time.
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:10).
God’s workmanship is always His masterpiece! We are fulfilling His desire. Only that which is Holy can bring about holiness and perfection.
And yet, there is more!
Kings and Priests
Who we are and who we are becoming will complete our discussion of the Kingdom.
But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; (1 Peter 2:9).
…and He has made us kings and priests to His God and Father… (Revelation 1:6).
Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years (Revelation 20:6).
And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him (Revelation 22:3).
The Greek word to serve suggests a priestly service
What service does the Royal Priesthood offer the King? Is it carrying out mundane tasks, and delivering messages? Not so.
They serve Him by pleasing Him by who they are, by how they can identify with Him through their mutual bond. They know His wishes and desires. They continue to enhance His life and increase his connection with His creation and with life. After all, is that not what priests do?
They are instrumental in bringing glory to the Throne of God, for they too are there, they also are royalty.
For this writer, I cannot imagine a higher experience or expression of living to be of the Royal Priesthood. There is nothing greater mentioned in scripture or in the imagination.
Jesus Christ spoke of His Father’s wishes: But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him (John 4:23).
The apostle Paul wrote of the Father’s wishes for us:
For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs-heirs if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us (Romans 8:14-18).
Paul writes that we will inherit the universe, the promise, the Kingdom, eternal life and that we would share in the glory.
Indeed, God seeks to enhance His life. And He wants to enhance yours too. We live in a fallen world and ideas of God and the Kingdom will always be around us. This does not change the reality of the Kingdom of God, which is moving along according to plan.
The Gospel of the Kingdom is about opportunity. The invitation to the Kingdom is to be part of the glorification of God. To me this is a whole lot of Good News. Our calling is to proclaim it right, and for the right reasons.
(This article was previously published in Shepherd's Voice Magazine - Spring 2012