I’ve recently been reading Matthew’s Gospel and reflecting on the Christian life as life in the Kingdom of God, under the authority and power of His king – Jesus the Christ.
Life under a sovereign might seem like an unfamiliar concept these days – a romantic social order reserved just for a fantasy novel or Netflix show. Those who have grown up in Australia might find the thought of being under a sovereign to be just a nice notional concept. We’re interested by the events in the life of Prince Harry, but is he really the one to lead a nation into war these days? And does his grandmother exercise any real influence over us or do we just let her be queen because she doesn’t make any real demands for allegiance and loyalty? However, in many parts of the world even today there are still sovereigns who (actually) rule. Recently I was reading the Bible with a guy from Jordan, and he could very easily relate to the idea of the Christian life as life under a sovereign.
When Jesus first came into Galilee he came as the Son of God (Mark 1.1). He offered amnesty to those who repented of leading their own kingdoms (their lives) in rebellion if they submitted to him and brought their lives under his authority and influence. We might be very efficient rulers. We might have everything under control, but when the Son of God arrives with unquestionable authority and undeniable power we need to recognise his right as sovereign. Instead of conquering humanity in crushing power, he was himself crushed, only to rise from the grave and be declared the Son of God (Romans 1.4) with absolute sovereignty over everything.
Mark Sayers (Red Church, Melbourne) is an insightful and stimulating cultural analyst. In his podcast (This Cultural Moment), he argues that there are three stages to culture. There is the pre-Christian culture in which superstition and paganism dominated how people view life and the after life. Then Christianity came (the second culture) and secularised the world of myth and legend. Christianity is creedal in nature affirming a unique view of God, mankind and creation. Now, we live in a culture which is increasingly defining itself as post-Christian. This third culture is one that is still built on many of the philosophical assumptions the second culture established but defines itself in opposition to and against Christianity. Mark argues that western culture today may be thought of as wanting all the benefits of the kingdom without accepting the authority of the King. That is, today we want many of the values that Jesus spoke of and taught on (equality, forgiveness, justice, mercy etc.) but we refuse to acknowledge the authority of the one who gives them and the price that they cost. We love the explanatory power of science and advances of modern medical practices, but we’re increasingly reluctant to acknowledge that this is only possible if you start with the assumption that the universe is ordered and predictable. We even think that overall the world is improving and progressing towards some sort of final utopia of human flourishing, but the best vision we have is the here and now – a world of batch brewed coffee, complete financial freedom and endless travel. We want the kingdom without THE KING.
So what is the future that we look forward to? Two verses are helpful in answering this question. “Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power” (1 Corinthians 15.24). “The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: ‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever’” (Revelation 11.15). And what an incredible moment that will be as we find complete joy in celebrating the achievements of someone else’s complete and perfect kingdom. The kingdom of our death conquering king that we can enjoy forever.
So next time you’re in a gospel conversation, I wonder if explaining the gospel in kingdom concepts and language might be helpful. (I’d be interested to hear your thoughts!) And remember that Jesus taught us to prioritise the Kingdom when we pray “your kingdom come and your will be done.” (I find this so hard as the first thing I begin my prayers with each day is “Father please help me to ….)
Let’s keep thinking of the Christian life in the categories that Jesus presents them, and let’s keeping praying for our Heavenly Father to establish His kingdom in the lives of those around us.