Sunday, January 16, 2022

Jesus's Core Message Is About the Kingdom of God

(I took this picture on the Temple Mount in Jerusale

In my Philosophy of Religion classes at MCCC I taught, at times, on the major comparative religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam). When it comes to Christianity I asked students the question: "What was the main thing Jesus taught?" They give a variety of answers, but no one ever got this right. The correct answer is: Jesus' main message was about "the kingdom of God."

The parables of Jesus were all about this kingdom. Many parables begin with Jesus saying, "The kingdom of heaven is like..." (Note: "kingdom of God" and "kingdom of heaven" mean the same thing. Observant Jews of the time would prefer "kingdom of heaven" so as not to say the sacred name of God [YHWH].) 

In the Lord's Prayer Jesus tells us to pray for God's kingdom to come on earth, as it is in heaven. 

Immediately after Jesus was baptized and tempted in the wilderness he began to preach, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near." (Matthew 4:17)

What, to Jesus and his hearers, did "kingdom of God" mean? It did not mean a place, or a location. The kingdom of God is not some place we are going to. Rather, it meant, and means today, the rule, or reign, of God.   Because Jesus said, “If you see me cast out demons by the finger of God then the kingdom of God has come to you.” (Matthew 12:28) By this Jesus does not mean a place. Further, Jesus said his kingdom “is not of this world.” (John 18:36)

Few things have impacted me as deeply as coming to understand the kingdom of God. New Testament scholar Michael McClymond writes that this term “is meant to conjure up the dynamic notion of God powerfully ruling over his creation, over his people, and over the history of both… the kingdom of God means God ruling as king. Hence his action upon and his dynamic relationship to those ruled, rather than any delimited territory, is what is primary.” (McClymond, Familiar Stranger, 74)

N.T. Wright asks: What would it "look like if we really believed that the living God was king on earth as in heaven? That, after all, is the story all four gospels tell." (Wright, N. T., How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels, K62) What would it look like in your life, in your church family, in your community if, in the midst of it all, the reign of God was established?

When I understood more about the kingdom of God I began to pray The Lord's Prayer in a different way. Now I pray it like this, because I believe this is how the early Jesus-followers understood it:

God, let your kingdom come...,
not only in the future,
but here
and now.
God, reign over my heart and mind
As I am typing this sentence
As I take my next breath
As I walk into whatever this day has for me
Let things be here
in my home
in my church family
in my community
and beyond,
on this earth,
as things are in heaven.