What does the phrase “kingdom of God” really mean? How does it bring profound and practical clarity and coherence to living all of life—identity, work, play, relationships, justice, and character—in this age of distraction?
Bible Gateway interviewed Jeremy R. Treat (@JeremyTreat5) about his book, Seek First: How the Kingdom of God Changes Everything (Zondervan, 2019).
Why did you write this book?
Jeremy R. Treat: I’ll never forget the first time I heard that the kingdom of God was the number one thing that Jesus talked about. I was shocked. Having been in the church for a long time, I knew all about heaven and hell, the cross of Christ, and God’s love for sinners, but the kingdom did not have a place in my understanding of the message of Jesus.
So I went on a journey, seeking to understand what the kingdom is and what it means for my life. And when I looked to the Bible, it was clear: the kingdom of God is at the heart of Christ’s message and mission.
When Jesus began his ministry, the first words out of his mouth were, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). But this message of God’s reign was not only the beginning of his ministry. Christ proclaimed the kingdom of God in his preaching and demonstrated it in his miracles and healings. Jesus was crucified as the king of the Jews (Matt. 27:37), he was raised from the dead as the king of the world (Eph. 1:20–23), and then he gathered his disciples to teach them for 40 days about—guess what?—the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3).
Jesus gave his followers many commands, but there was only one thing he said to seek first. “Seek first the kingdom of God” (Matt. 6:33). This is the one thing that changes everything.
Since I began that journey, the message of the kingdom has changed my life. And it’s not just understanding the idea of the kingdom, but also experiencing the power of the kingdom. I wrote Seek First because I want others to experience the sovereign mercy of Christ in a life-changing way.
What is the kingdom of God?
Jeremy R. Treat: We’ll spend eternity learning the depths of the kingdom of God, but here’s my eight-word definition as a starting point: The kingdom is God’s reign through God’s people over God’s place. It’s a vision of the world reordered around the powerful love of God in Christ. I’ll break down each aspect of the definition:
God’s reign. The kingdom is first and foremost a statement about God. God is king, and he’s coming as king to set right what our sin made wrong. Many people today talk about the kingdom in a way that focuses on what we do to make the world a better place. The kingdom of God is not the culmination of human potential and effort but the intervention of God’s royal grace into a sinful and broken world.
God’s people. God the Creator-King reigns over all his creatures, but he also reigns through his people. This was God’s design from the beginning. Adam and Eve were sent out from the garden as royal representatives of the king, called to steward his creation and spread the blessings of his reign throughout the earth. Instead, they chose to seek their own path to power and glory, apart from God. Their rebellion fractured humanity’s relationship with God and shattered the goodness of his creation. Ever since sin entered the world, God’s kingdom project has at its heart a rescue mission for rebellious sinners, drawing them into his work of renewing his creation as king.
God’s place. The Bible is the story of God making his good creation a glorious kingdom. It all started in the garden, where God commissioned his people to go to the ends of the earth to make the rest of the world like Eden. The garden kingdom was meant to become a global kingdom where people would rejoice and the world would flourish under God’s loving reign. After the fall, making the world God’s glorious kingdom would require a reversal of the curse and a renewal by grace. And that’s exactly what God set out to do. The Bible is a rescue story, not about God rescuing sinners from a broken creation but about him rescuing them for a new creation. God’s reign begins in the human heart, but it will one day extend to the ends of the earth.
How does the message of the kingdom shape our lives practically in day-to-day life?
Jeremy R. Treat: Jesus’s command to “seek first the kingdom of God” wasn’t shared in a classroom lecture or preached from a pulpit. Rather, Jesus was responding to his disciples’ honest questions about the pressing needs of day-to-day life. They had left everything to follow Christ and now were wondering: What will we eat? What should we wear? How can we balance all of life’s needs? Jesus reassured them, promising that if they would seek the kingdom of God before anything else in life, “all these things will be added to you” as well (Matt. 6:33). In other words, prioritizing the kingdom does not minimize the other aspects of life; it puts them in perspective.
The kingdom of God doesn’t have to compete with our work, hobbies, relationships, and the other important aspects of life. In fact, when rightly understood, the kingdom will enhance every aspect of life, infusing them with fresh meaning and significance. As C. S. Lewis said, “When first things are put first, second things are not suppressed but increased.”
I’ll give an example of this from my own life. Growing up, I had two loves: God and basketball. The problem was that I thought the two had nothing to do with one another. I assumed that God cared about spiritual things like prayer, reading my Bible, and going to church. Basketball, so I thought, was a neutral activity that God only cared about if I used for evangelism.
But Jesus’ message of the kingdom reveals God’s comprehensive reign over all of life. Yes, he cares about spiritual things, but he also cares about my body, my relationships, my hobbies, my work, and so on. The kingdom has infused God-given meaning into every aspect of my life.
What do you mean when you write that Christians should become who they already are?
Jeremy R. Treat: Most people think that change is about becoming what you are not. If you’re not pure, become pure. If you’re selfish, become selfless. But Christianity says something different: be who you already truly are in Christ. Because our identity is given to us by faith, when God declares us righteous in Christ, we must learn who we are and then live out of that identity. In Christ you are pure, so live purely. In Christ you are light, so let your light shine. Because of grace, my identity is built not on what I do for God but on what he has done for me. Christian growth is not a matter of changing into something you are not but is about becoming who you truly are “in Christ.”
Let me give an example of how this works. On August 6, 2005, at about five o’clock in the evening, I became a husband. That was a new identity declared over me. And I’ve had to learn what it means to live into that identity. Since that day I’ve grown as a husband, but I am no more or less a husband now than I was then. What was true about the status of my relationship with my wife on that day is equally true today. When we place our faith in Christ, we are declared righteous, forgiven, and victorious.
And then we must learn to live out of that identity as sons and daughters of the king.
Seek First is published by HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc., the parent company of Bible Gateway.
Bio: Jeremy Treat (PhD, Wheaton College) is pastor for preaching and vision at Reality LA, a young and thriving church in the heart of Hollywood, California. The author of Seek First: How the Kingdom of God Changes Everything and The Crucified King: Atonement and Kingdom in Biblical and Systematic Theology, he also teaches theology as an adjunct professor at Biola University and regularly preaches on college campuses, such as USC and UCLA. Jeremy and his wife have four daughters and they live in Los Angeles.
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