The Challenge of the Kingdom.
Strong and Courageous
So here is a question, what did Jesus mean when he said the Kingdom of God is at hand? This question is the title of a chapter in the book The Challenge of Jesus by N.T. Wright. It is a very good question for us today as we grapple with the idea that this kingdom was central to Jesus’ message, but there is difficulty in figuring out what that precisely means.
When Jesus spoke these words, he was enmeshed inside of first century Jewish culture. Wright states “he [Jesus] believed that the creator God had purposed from the beginning to address and deal with the problems within his creation through the nation of Israel.” Jesus’ life and ministry took place within the confines of this historical context. His life, death, and resurrection represents the very pinnacle of human history. He provided the means of salvation to ultimately save Jewish believers, and all of the rest of humanity who believe in Him by faith. Therefore, when Jesus speaks of the kingdom of God being at hand, he is referring to himself and to what he is destined to accomplish. The religious leaders of the day thought that the Kingdom of God meant political safety and dominance for the Jews. Jesus thought differently. Wright states, “God was now unveiling his age-old plan, bringing his sovereignty to bear on Israel and the world as he had always intended, bringing justice and mercy to Israel and the world. And He was doing so apparently, through Jesus.”
Wright further says, “This kingdom is more than just a place called heaven, where we land when we die. It refers to the rule of heaven, that is, of God, being brought to bear in the present world.” In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus says “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Our understanding of this Kingdom involves praying and asking God to bring heaven down and into the challenges that we face in the here and now. We are subjects of this kingdom and God desires to extend this kingdom through His people, the church. We are saved by his glorious grace, and are called to be salt and light to the world around us. The great commission is our mandate, that we share the good news of the gospel and make disciples.
Notice that in the prior paragraph we see two distinct aspects of time involved. Heaven is into the future, praying about Kingdom business is in the present tense. Therefore, there are aspects of both the now and what is to come, which is very much a part of what the Kingdom of God is about.
Jesus states that in the kingdom, he is the one who holds all authority. This has been puzzling to me, as there is so much evil and suffering in the world presently. However, there is a destiny to the fulfillment of this coming kingdom that cannot be denied. There is a river of God that has flowed throughout the entire history of humanity. God has been and is currently on the move, bringing this kingdom to fruition. I am so grateful to be a part of all of this. I hope you are too.