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Blog / The Meaning of the Kingdom of God: An Interview with Frank Viola

The Meaning of the Kingdom of God: An Interview with Frank Viola

Frank ViolaHas the church lost the explosive, earthshaking gospel of the kingdom that Jesus, Paul, and the other apostles preached in the Bible? Does the allegiance that radical terrorists give to their cause exceed the allegiance many Christians today give to Jesus Christ? Have Christians lost the dynamic, titanic, living gospel and exchanged it for a gospel of religious duty or permissiveness and “easy believism”?

Bible Gateway interviewed Frank Viola (@FrankViola) about his book, Insurgence: Reclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom (Baker Books, 2018).

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What message are you conveying by the one-word title of your book?

Frank Viola: There’s a revolution happening right now in the body of Christ: an insurgence against what the New Testament calls “the world system” and into what Jesus called “the gospel of the kingdom,” which is the most powerful message in the New Testament.

The insurgence began in the first century, but it’s being recovered (or “reclaimed”) in our time. In the book, I explain exactly how, offering stories of ordinary sisters and brothers in Christ who’ve joined the insurgence and how astounding their experience has been.

How should Christians approach your book?

Frank Viola: I want readers to hear the kingdom message anew and afresh. As Christians we’re very good at filtering whatever we read or hear through the grid of our own understanding and experience, and this can cause us to miss important truths.

Based on the feedback so far, the people who’ve read the book—all of them serious Christians—said it gave them important breakthroughs in their spiritual walk with the Lord. Many said it was the first time they heard the gospel of the kingdom.

What are the three gospels you write of?

Frank Viola: There’s the gospel of legalism, which isn’t just working for one’s salvation. The gospel of legalism says that if you want God’s favor, you have to perform to receive it. This causes many Christians to live with a headache of guilt and a constant feeling that they’re never measuring up.

In reaction to that is the “gospel” of libertinism which says that because we’re under grace, our behavior doesn’t really matter much to God. So we can live the way we want, and God is okay with it because he understands that we’re mere mortals.

The third is the gospel of the kingdom, which brings liberty on the one hand and absolute allegiance to Christ’s lordship on the other.

What is the kingdom of God and why were you compelled to write about it?

Frank Viola: The New Testament never defines the kingdom of God. It illustrates it. I do the same in the book.
It’s impossible to illustrate it in an interview like this without diluting its power and draining its glory, as well as raising many questions.

I’ll simply say that the kingdom of God is more than what most of us have been taught. And it doesn’t fit the agenda of the progressive left or the conservative right. Nor is it purely future or purely present or past. In addition, the kingdom of God is antithetical to fallen human civilization (another term for “the world system”). I uncork all of this in the book and demonstrate it biblically as well as through real-life stories.

What are some of the popular myths or misconceptions about the kingdom of God among Christians today?

Frank Viola: Generally speaking, there are five major misconceptions about the kingdom among believers:

  • Misconception 1: The kingdom of God is the equivalent of social justice and social activism. It’s the attempt to make the world a better place by engaging in political activism and sitting at Caesar’s table to affect laws. Many people who identify with the progressive left view the kingdom of God this way, but it’s misguided since it makes the body of Christ just another branch of the world system.
  • Misconception 2: The kingdom of God is associated with the Christian effort to take dominion in the world by influencing lawmakers to pass laws that represent Christian values. Many people who identify with the conservative right view the kingdom this way. One of their goals is to bring America back to the moral climate of the 1950s.

    Interestingly, the exact same premise undergirds misconception 1 and 2. Each camp just cuts the moral line in a different place. But both involve God’s people sitting at Caesar’s table to change laws and to Christianize the world (whether that means laws which favor the poor or laws that outlaw personal choices regarded immoral).

  • Misconception 3: The kingdom of God is the equivalent of working signs, wonders, and miracles on the earth. This view is held by many in the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements. Interestingly, these movements are recent to church history.

    I’m not a cessationist. I believe in the supernatural power of the Spirit for our time. However, signs and wonders are never mentioned in Jesus’ central teaching on the kingdom of God (Matthew 5-7), except at the very end, and what he says is chilling. Namely, “many” will say that they did signs and wonders in his name, but the Lord will say to them, “I never knew you.”

    God is not after gifting and outward power. He’s after brokenness and inward transformation. While both are associated with kingdom citizens, the latter is always the priority.

    Unfortunately, there’s a tendency for these two movements (Pentecostal and Charismatic) to exaggerate (and even fabricate) the miraculous. And so there’s a great deal of mixture to sort through in both. I know this firsthand because I grew up in both the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements myself.

    The point is that the kingdom of God isn’t the equivalent of signs and wonders. It’s far more than that. To reduce it to outward signs removes its cutting edge and its power to transform the mind and heart.

  • Misconception 4: The kingdom is “within” every believer. Therefore, it’s an individualistic, privatized religious experience. This idea is based on a misunderstanding of a statement of Jesus in Luke 17. I deal with that text in Insurgence. While Christ lives in every genuine believer, the New Testament says we enter the kingdom.
  • Misconception 5: The kingdom of God is the equivalent of going to heaven. According to this view, the task of every Christian is to bring as many people to Christ as possible and wait for the kingdom to arrive at Christ’s return (or our entrance into the kingdom at death). This view is incorrect because it turns the kingdom into something completely futuristic, which it is not. It’s only partially futuristic.

All of these views are misguided in that they take a biblical truth and expand it to unbiblical proportions. In other words, there are aspects of the kingdom of God that tie into some of these themes, but the kingdom and the gospel of the kingdom (in particular) are way beyond all of these viewpoints.

I detail all of this in the book. And what I argue has the testimony of Scripture and the witness of church history behind it, I believe.

What do you say about radical terrorist organizations in the book?

Frank Viola: Consider the level of commitment and passion that radical terrorists have to their false cause. Then compare it to the level of commitment and passion that the average Christian has to Jesus Christ. If you do this, you’ll quickly discover that something is amiss.

You see, the kind of convert produced is the result of the kind of gospel preached and received.

In the New Testament, the gospel of the kingdom produced a “radicalization” to Jesus Christ, which was the true radicalization. Baptism signified this radicalization in the first century.

When the people were baptized into Jesus Christ in the first century, they were signing their death warrants. They were dying to the world system and becoming a participant of a new society that had a new way of living with a new allegiance to a new Lord.
Unfortunately, we’ve exchanged the explosive gospel of the kingdom of the first century for either a gospel that’s all about the future (going to heaven when we die) or a social gospel (trying to make the world a better place through social activism and political leverage). But the gospel of the kingdom transcends both in power, glory, and transformative effects.

What role should the Bible have in a person dedicated to the insurgence?

Frank Viola: The Bible is the story of how the insurgence was born as well as how it thrives. In the book, I go through the Old Testament story and show how Jesus’ words in Mark 1:14, “the time has come!,” was the fulfillment of the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms, all of which pointed to the divine insurgence led by the Insurgent, Jesus of Nazareth. (The New Testament actually calls Jesus an insurgent.)

To put it another way, the Scriptures are the inspired, God-breathed, fully reliable and authoritative narrative, map, and guide for all who have joined the divine insurgence which Jesus launched and that continues today.

You share stories in the book about people who’ve joined the insurgence. Recount one here.

Here’s one that’s a moving testimony of a woman named Ruth. She wrote it out, then read it aloud to a group of believers just before she was baptized after she heard the gospel of the kingdom for the first time in her life:

Thirty-four years ago I responded to a very weak and inaccurate gospel message that I had been taught all of my life. It was a message that was mixed with half truth and half lies. It was a perverted “gospel message” based on works and fueled by fear. I was baptized into that system of control. It’s important for me to be re-baptized today to declare my renunciation with that system and my commitment to the real, true gospel and to our Lord Jesus Christ.

So today I do this before you as witnesses, God, and all the heavenly beings, both holy and the demonic beings, because they need to hear my renunciation and proclamation: By my baptism today, I publicly declare my intentions to completely break ties of loyalty to and come away from this world’s systems and all of its entanglements, distractions, and counterfeits. I choose to forsake all that gets in the way of me fully coming into the kingdom of God—into the Lord Jesus himself. I repent of being baptized into a legalistic system that taught my acceptance by him was based on my performance in addition to what Jesus did for me. I renounce any agreement with the fear that this belief produced in me if I didn’t measure up. Although I believed I would go to heaven, I did not know then what it meant to forsake all and to fully enter his kingdom; to “come follow him.”

I sever my ties to a mixture of lies and half truth, which resulted in a lack of seeing the power of the pure gospel’s effect in my life. I repent of not receiving the fullness of the power of the resurrected Christ in my heart, but instead followed a lie of him still on the cross. I choose to live by the power of the resurrected Christ and by his grace to appropriate my full inheritance that he paid for, to be a radical laid-down lover of Jesus who will bring this kingdom everywhere I go, to be the royal mature bride that my Beloved deserves and to impact the world with his love.

By his grace, I have counted the cost as best as I know, and I choose to be “all in” toward him and all out of the world today and forever. I go under the water so that I might die to myself and everything that has tentacles around me, including compromising the gospel. I come up in newness of life, into his glorious light, putting to death all known or unknown agreements to darkness or to living by my flesh or man’s systems. I will be a new creation, a new citizen who is fully immersed in God’s kingdom! I will live by Jesus’ gospel, not any version of man’s invention. Today is a new day, a new start!

What is a favorite Bible passage of yours and why?

Frank Viola: I don’t have an all-time favorite passage because there are too many gems in Scripture to favor just one. But I guess I have a favorite of the week. This week it’s Ephesians 1:3, where Paul says that we have access to the heavenly realm right now while we’re still on earth (just as Jesus did).

What are your thoughts about Bible Gateway and the Bible Gateway App and Bible Audio App?

Frank Viola: Highly valuable. Insurgence is packed with Scripture references and quotes, and I used Bible Gateway for locating and copying many of those texts into the manuscript.

Is there anything else you’d like to say?

Frank Viola: Yes, Insurgence has endorsements from some of the leading voices in the Christian world today. We’re also giving away 3 bonuses to anyone who orders the book from any retailer. Readers can check out samples, the endorsements, and find out how to get the bonuses by going to Insurgence.org.


Bio: Frank Viola has helped thousands of people around the world to deepen their relationship with Jesus Christ and enter into a more vibrant and authentic experience of church. His mission is to help serious followers of Jesus know their Lord more deeply so they can experience real transformation and make a lasting impact. Viola has written many books on these themes, including Insurgence, God’s Favorite Place on Earth, From Eternity to Here, and Jesus Manifesto (with Leonard Sweet). His blog, frankviola.org, is rated as one of the most popular in Christian circles today.

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Filed under Books, Discipleship, Evangelism, Interviews