People Of The Kingdom
Deciding to become a Christian has its origins in believing the things about Jesus, certainly, in an intellectual sense; who he is and what he came for – but there’s more to it than that. We are also choosing to surrender to his guidance and leadership in our life as a willing subject of God’s designated king.
Jesus has been given all authority in heaven and earth, he becomes the first claimant on our affections, the motivating force in our decisions and the final judge of our soul (Matthew 28:18-20, Isaiah 9:6, Luke 1:33, Acts 10:36, 1 Corinthians 15:27, Colossians 1:27, Romans 8:10, Ephesians 3:16, Acts 10:42, John 5:22. 2 Timothy 4:8, James 1:21, 1 Peter 2:25).
Becoming a Christian is, therefore, primarily a matter of the heart; a reorienting of our life and decisions in line with our allegiance to the king.
The People Of The Kingdom
An intrinsic part of our identity as Christians is to recognise that we have given our allegiance to the king and that we have been transferred into his kingdom (Colossians 1:13). This kingdom’s advancement, day by day in the lives of those who surrender to King Jesus, is demonstrated in a kingdom community that we call ‘the church’. The church is the tangible evidence of the reality of the kingdom of God. Church people are kingdom people, living in a fellowship under King Jesus, with lives that “are literally connected to things before the creation of the world and extending far into eternity” (Ecclesiastes 3:11) (Matter Of The Heart)
Yet, for many Christians, the ‘kingdom of God’ is something that takes place solely in the future. Jesus’ words “the kingdom is near” (Luke 17:20-21) are understood to mean, in reality, “the kingdom is coming at some later time, that time being hundreds or even thousands of years away”. The idea of ‘the kingdom’ is as a future hope for faithful Christians, only realised at the return of Jesus, and not as a present reality. Entrance to this ‘kingdom’ (in the future) is by believing in Jesus now, receiving the forgiveness of sins in baptism, and then living a morally faithful life; and this is commonly described and preached as ‘the gospel of good news’ (in its entirety). In other words, “I am a sinner. I need saving. I believe Jesus came to save me. In Jesus, I am forgiven (I hope! – one can never be too sure) and I hope to be in ‘the kingdom’, at some point in the future (again, all going well).“
Yet the kingdom of God – the sovereignty and rule of God – has always existed and will always exist (Psalm 47:7, 1 Chronicles 29:11, Exodus 15:18, Psalm 103:19). ‘The kingdom’ existed in the past, it exists now and it will exist in the future. Our hope, as Christians, is not just some distant, far-off expectation but a reality that exists right now as we choose to yield to Jesus’ rule and live ‘kingdom lives’ under his dominion. Believing in Jesus and being baptised doesn’t just grant us forgiveness of sins; through God’s grace, we also receive an entirely new identity; our small, individual stories becoming part of the much bigger story that is being told. We become kingdom people right now! (Matthew 13:38, Philippians 3:20-21, Ephesians 2:19).
Five Things That Make A Kingdom
Kingdom = King + Rule + Realm + Law + Land. Here are some thoughts about the idea of ‘kingdom’ in the Bible:
1. A kingdom is a people governed by a KING. The king is God; He has always been king, ruling firstly through theocracy, then by monarchy and now through christocracy. The kingdom of God, therefore, has gone through many phases, one of which was the phase exhibited during the time of Israel’s monarchy. A reasonable chunk of the Old Testament is dedicated to the telling of this story. You can read more about this in the article ‘Jesus, King Of The World‘.
2. The king must RULE over the kingdom. In biblical language, this is always firstly redemptive, and then secondly by governing.
3. There has to be PEOPLE for there to be a kingdom. In the Old Testament (OT), this was the nation/kingdom of Israel. But Israel, like a tree, has deep roots and grafted-in branches, seen in the New Testament (NT) to be the church (which does not replace Israel but expands it) (Romans 11:1-28).
4. A kingdom must have a governing LAW. In OT times, this was achieved through the Torah, also known as the Law of Moses. When Jesus (God’s perfect king) arrived, he didn’t destroy this law but fulfilled it completely, and by his life, death and resurrection, a greater law came into being – the Law of Cruciformity; loving as Jesus loved. Jesus stated that the entire law of the new covenant, the law which governs people of the kingdom, is summarised in these words “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. Love others as much as you love yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-40, CEB)
5. A kingdom must have a LAND. Land is big in the OT and moving into the NT, we see the ‘tree of the kingdom’ expanding to (eventually) encompass the whole world (Matthew 13:31-32, Mark 4:3-32). In the past, this has been, at various phases, in literal places like the Garden of Eden or the land of Israel. But right now, ‘the land’ is wherever ‘the church’ (the community of kingdom people) takes up physical space. Wherever kingdom people reside, God, in Jesus, rules. One day, this kingdom will fill all the earth and God’s rule and glory will be seen in all things – as He intended from the beginning (Numbers 14:21, Habakkuk 2:14, Matthew 6:10, Revelation 21: 1, 4)
This reality – that church people are kingdom people – is one of the most exciting and empowering aspects of a Christian’s existence in this life – we are living for the king! So why don’t we talk much about kingdom living or being kingdom people? And why don’t we speak more often of the church as the kingdom community?
Soteriology: “Small-Story” Gospel
Well, here’s what I think the reason might be. For many Christians, the gospel of “the good news of the kingdom of God” (which, incidentally, is what Jesus came preaching!) has unfortunately been reduced to simply a system of personal salvation and sin management. It has become a gospel of soteriology alone; a doctrine of salvation which has somehow become disconnected from the larger big-story gospel of ecclesiology; theology about the nature and structure of the church.
The truth is; when we are saved by Jesus, God also brings us into family and puts us in community! The gospel is not just about our own personal salvation but includes larger theological implications of ecclesiology – that Christian people, gathered together, are church people, who are kingdom people!
“The movement that has long called itself “Evangelical” is in fact better labelled “Soterian.” That is, we have thought we were talking about “the gospel” when in fact we were concentrating on “salvation.” | Scot McKnight
If we have a small-story gospel understanding, our trajectory as a Christian may go something like this: we (individually) repent, we (individually) are then baptised…and then life gets kind of weird for a lot of Christians. We’re saved – but what now?
At this point, Christians can become obsessed with getting other unbelievers ‘over the line’ (saved!) but still aren’t really sure what to do with them after that. Our Christian lives seem mostly about sin management (ourselves or for others) and we can tend to also be a little self-absorbed in this. All we know of ‘gospel’ is that we’re sinners who need saving. Others are sinners who need saving. ‘Christian living’ (gospel living) is only about being, firstly, saved from sin and then executing a moral life thereafter.
Christianity can take a sudden and exhausting turn into the territory of works-based living, eventually leading to church burnout and, for many Christians, the question of whether church-going is even relevant anymore.
Don’t get me wrong. Sin is absolutely a problem for us, as is mortality. It is the thing that separates us from a whole relationship with God and absolutely needs addressing in our individual lives as well as in the collective human experience (Isaiah 59:2, Isaiah 53:6, Acts 3:19, Galatians 5:19-21, Romans 5: 12-21, Hebrews 7:25).
But the problem with thinking the gospel is only about personal salvation or forgiveness of sins is that we fail to recognise we are being invited into something much bigger than just a solution for our own individual stories. When we receive the good news of the gospel, our little stories are actually becoming intertwined and woven into God’s larger kingdom story. We are supposed to begin experiencing life, personally and collectively, as people of the kingdom, connected to something that extends far into eternity. The fascinating reality of the gospel is that “we are invited into a story that is bigger than our culture, bigger even than our own imaginations, and yet we get to experience it and tell that story to others with the particularity of our own moment and place in time” (Rachel Held Evans).
“The good news is as epic as it gets, with universal theological implications, and yet the Bible tells it from the perspective of fishermen and farmers, pregnant ladies and squirmy kids. This story about the nature of God and God’s relationship to humanity smells like mud and manger hay and tastes like salt and wine…It is the biggest story and the smallest story all at once – the great quest for the One Ring and the quiet friendship of Frodo and Sam.” | Rachel Held Evans
When we become a Christian, we become a kingdom person, living in a fellowship with other kingdom people. Church isn’t just something we go to, it’s the tangible evidence of the reality of the kingdom. Church isn’t just an event we attend, it’s a fellowship we belong to. It’s the Fellowship of the King! (1 John 1:3, Acts 2:42, 1 Corinthians 1:9)
A New Day In An Old Story
While our individual salvation is absolutely bound up in what we have come to describe as the gospel, the good news that was preached in the first century had its roots in a much older, much larger story, that of the long-promised king and saviour of the world. The power of Jesus’ sacrifice and the wonder of his resurrection form the foundation of a Christian’s faith and hope but it is the fact that Jesus is the Christ (“the anointed one”), that is at the heart of the gospel (2 Timothy 2:8). Our forgiveness and redemption sits inside this much larger gospel message – that of the rule and dominion of the king. Recognising the gospel as “the good news of the kingdom of God” (which, in the gospel of Matthew is also called the kingdom of heaven) helps correct our gospel theology and realign it to the larger story that’s being told. You are part of a much bigger story than your personal salvation alone!
Author Scot McKnight argues that Western Christians conceive ‘the kingdom’ too individualistically.
In both the Old and New Testaments, God’s kingdom is defined in terms of God’s people. This reality means that one may not put the kingdom and the church in antithesis. On the contrary, “you can’t be kingdom people without being church people“. McKnight, in fact, claims that “there is no kingdom now outside the church” and that “there is no kingdom mission that is not church mission” (The King Jesus Gospel pages 79, 87, 96). Kingdom living consists, then, of the church being the church – “liv[ing]” together “as a fellowship under King Jesus” (p.99). | Scot McKnight
“When Jesus came preaching the kingdom of God, he was preaching much more than personal salvation for the individual. He was preaching “a new day in an old story – the story of God the King – and God as king in King Jesus. The one gospel is about Jesus the lord, the king the messiah and the saviour. This is the story that alone makes sense of Jesus’ choice of the word kingdom to explain the mission of God to the world.” (Scot McKnight)
“Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist! Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force.” | Matthew 11:11, NASB
“From then on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near!” | Matthew 4:17, NIV
“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near, Repent and believe in the good news! | Mark 1:15, NIV
“Now having been questioned by the Pharisees as to when the kingdom of God was coming, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or, ‘There it is!’ For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst.” | Luke 17:20-21, NASB
The Significance Of “The Kingdom”
“To grasp the significance of the message of the kingdom in the ministry of Jesus, we can also resort to a statistical analysis. The term basileia (kingdom) occurs 162 times in the New Testament and 121 of those are in the Synoptic Gospels where the preaching of Jesus is recorded. The formula “kingdom of God” or the “kingdom of heaven” occurs 104 times in the Gospels. This message is not only the inaugural message of Jesus and the focus of His great Sermon on the Mount, it is his final message. “After he had suffered, he also presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3). The gospel of the kingdom includes the necessity of salvation since the very message begins with the call for repentance, but it goes beyond the call to salvation and includes the demand for kingdom-focused living. It insists that we are saved for a purpose.” – SBC Life
‘Kingdom redemption’ is the work of God, through Jesus, and by virtue of his sin-solving cross and new-life creating resurrection, unleashed to those who are needy because of their sins. Any kind of “redemptive” activity that does not deal with sin, that does not find strength in the cross, that does not see the primary agent as Jesus, and that does not see it all as God’s new creation life unleashed is not kingdom redemption, even if it is liberating and good and for the common good. | Scot McKnight
The kingdom of God is more than social justice or personal salvation. ‘The kingdom’ is the promise of God from the beginning to fill the earth with Himself and to rule justly in the hearts and lives of all humanity. It includes the promise of total reconciliation with humanity; only made possible in Jesus (Ephesians 1:11-12, 1 Timothy 1:16-17, 2 Timothy 4:18, 1 Peter 4:11, Romans 11:36, Revelation 1:16).
And if we want to know how Jesus understands the collective Christian life – ‘church life’ – the place to begin is with what he called the kingdom of God. When we think of the church – the one body of Christ, the community of believers, we need to understand how this connects in tangible, relatable ways to the ‘kingdom of God’ and how we see this illustrated in the people of the kingdom today. A true and full telling of the gospel must include the reality of the church, not as individuals gathered together in a building but as a kingdom of people – priests, rulers and images bearers on behalf of the King – King Jesus.
“For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son” | Colossians 1:13, ESV