After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. (Acts 1:3)
In the gospel accounts Jesus spoke without ceasing about the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven. You could say he was almost obsessed with this single topic. It is mentioned more than 125 times in the New Testament, and most of the mentions are by Jesus himself. If you picked up your Bible and read just the four Gospels, looking only for references to the coming kingdom, you would come to perhaps a surprising conclusion: the central mission of Jesus’ incarnation was to launch God’s kingdom on earth.
Just how central was the idea of the kingdom to Jesus’ thinking? In Luke 4, after Jesus had performed several miracles, the people of Capernaum tried to get him to stay with them, but Jesus rebuked them, saying, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent” (Luke 4:43, emphasis mine).
In sermon after sermon, parable after parable, Jesus cast a breathtaking vision of this kingdom to everyone who would listen. It was to be a kingdom without borders which would survive, grow, and flourish apart from the rise and fall of human kingdoms.
Every citizen of this new kingdom would be equally loved and valued. The rich would share with the poor; the healthy would care for the sick; the strong would protect the weak. His kingdom would be characterized by the attributes and values of God himself: integrity, mercy, compassion, forgiveness, faithfulness, justice, and love.
It was not some pie-in-the-sky dream of a kingdom in the clouds; it was a concrete vision of communities of God’s people established in every nation of the world. God’s people living in God’s way would be a blessing to their neighbors, resulting in people of all nations being drawn into God’s expanding kingdom.
The first disciples changed the world with this message. The revolution swept through the Roman Empire like a virus. The early church was aggressively opposed by the Jewish authorities and brutally persecuted by Rome. All but one of the twelve disciples died as martyrs for their faith. But the exuberant expansion of the church dramatically altered the course of world history as it spread across the Middle East, East Asia, Europe, and North Africa.
The kingdom of God that Jesus imagined had established outposts and penetrated thousands of national, tribal, and ethnic groups across the globe. Those first disciples had fought the good fight and passed the baton to future generations. What have we done with it?
How is this vision of the kingdom of God similar or different from your local church community?
Lord, please help me to catch your vision for the kingdom of God in my life.