As I indicated last week, the Jewish messianic expectation was a kingdom that would come in great power, changing the political order, displacing all human rule and authority, but as George Eldon Ladd points out in his classic work on the kingdom:
The Kingdom of God is here; but instead of destroying human sovereignty, it has attacked the sovereignty of Satan. The Kingdom of God is here but instead of making changes in the external, political order of things, it is making changes in the spiritual order and in the lives of men and women (Ladd, Gospel of the Kingdom [Eerdmanns, 1959]).
This is the “mystery” of the kingdom to which Jesus referred. God’s kingdom is at work among men in two different stages. The world has yet to see the coming of God’s kingdom in its full and final power, but the mystery-the new revelation announced by Jesus-is that God’s kingdom has come to work among men but in an unexpected way. It has come quietly, unobtrusively offering the present blessings of God’s rule, delivering men and creation from the power of Satan and sin. The kingdom did not arrive in a politically conquering sense as the Jews expected, but with the counterintuitive force of love, sacrifice, and submission. These virtues were to be expressed within a distinct community-the church-and their fruit would be peace, righteousness, and justice: the kingdom of God brought to bear on the fallen world.
In his first sermon at Nazareth, Jesus gives us an answer to the question of why he has come. In the synagogue where he had been raised, Jesus stands to speak. He is given a scroll bearing the words of Isaiah, and Jesus unrolls it and reads the following:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor (Luke 4:17–19, ESV).
When Jesus finishes speaking, he rolls up the scroll, returns it to the attendant, sits down and when he has everyone’s attention, he says, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21, ESV). Jesus declares that the long-awaited kingdom of God has arrived! Jesus is saying, “I am the Messiah-the King of kings-and I have come to fix everything that sin has ruined!” Tim Keller underscores this point when he writes, “The kingdom is the renewal of the whole world through the entrance of supernatural forces. As things are brought back under Christ’s rule and authority, they are restored to health, beauty, and freedom” (Keller, Ministries of Mercy [Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1997]).
Perhaps the best way to understand the goal of the kingdom and why Jesus came to earth is to recall what sin has ruined. In Genesis 3 we see a succession of four fundamental relationships that experience a break from God’s good design and intent. After the disobedience of Adam and Eve, God entered the garden “and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD” (Genesis 3:8, ESV). Whereas they once walked with God, they are now hiding from God. Our peace with God was replaced with fear, enmity, and avoidance. We became alienated from God.
Next, God discovers the hidden pair and Adam offers their sense of shame in explanation saying, “I was naked” (3:10). Suddenly Adam and Eve posses a knowledge of their nakedness and become insecure and ashamed, indicating that their relationship with themselves has been broken. Because our identities were severed from the God who made us, we are no longer at peace with ourselves. We struggle with our self-worth as we foolishly relocate our value in lesser things than our Creator.
Then when God exposes their disobedience, what does Adam do? He immediately turns on his partner Eve, blaming her [and God] (3:12). Man’s relationship with others is now broken. Strife, division, envy, greed, and every other malevolent vice render us alienated from one another. In essence, we are once again alone, unable to trust or love without fear. This is the third essential relationship our sin severed, and from it loneliness, sorrow, disappointment, war, and violence have followed.
Finally, our relationship with the rest of creation is distorted as God curses the ground and the childbearing process (see Genesis 3:16–19). Our role as co-regent charged with bringing the fullness of God’s creation into being was adversely affected. The severance of this relationship hinders our ability to bring forth the fullness of God’s creation. We are now inclined to abuse and exploit God’s good creation in pursuit of selfish gain; every system we create to order and structure our activity is fatally flawed. All our efforts in the formation of community (society) are marked by an inclination toward our own glory and the abuse of power, rather than the service of humanity and the glory of the Lord.
These four relationships are the building blocks for all human activity. Thus the effects of the fall extend far beyond the severance of man’s personal relationship with God to include his relationship to everything else: self, others, and the rest of creation. As authors Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert point out, “the effects of the fall are manifested in the economic, social, religious, and political systems that humans have created throughout history” (Corbett & Fikkert, When Helping Hurts, [Moody Publishers: Chicago, IL], 2009).
Certainly there are dimensions of the gospel of the kingdom that are profoundly and deeply personal, such as the restoration of our personal relationship with God and the healing of our broken relationship with self. However, the good news of God’s kingdom come into the world includes the restoration of those relationships that extend beyond the individual to include our fellowship with others and our relationship to the rest of God’s creation. And the creation that Christ and his kingdom is redeeming is not limited to the ecosystem but also the distorted structures created by men in the formation of society, such as economics, governments, art, and so forth. These are the actual ways in which we are in relationship to God’s creation.
God’s kingdom, in which Jesus-the one to whom all authority in heaven and on earth has been given-is making all things new, includes the reversal of the curse upon the dominion-exercising activity of men.
Jesus commanded us to pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven…” (see Matthew 6:10). The church is Christ’s body and as such we are one of the means that God uses to establish his will on earth. Thus the church-called and gathered by God-incorporates a diversity of giftedness to advance God’s redemptive kingdom. It is in the light of the gospel of the kingdom that we are given a larger vision of the good news in which God is restoring his relationship with men, gathering them into community, and sending them out into the world to proclaim the coming of the King and establish peace, righteousness, and justice as his kingdom is brought to bear on the fallen world now characterized by strife, unrighteousness, and injustice.