Rich Nathan explores and unpacks the mystery of the Kingdom of God.
“One of the most challenging questions confronting Christian faith is simply this: If Jesus really was who he said he was, if he really was the long-awaited Jewish Messiah, then why is the world still in such bad shape? Why do so many people still die of hunger and cancer? Why are there still so many wars and suicide bombings? Why is there still so much slaughter taking place in Syria, in Iraq and in Afghanistan? Why is rape used as a common tactic of war across the African continent?
Let me make this really simple. If Jesus is Lord and he has all power and we have the Holy Spirit, and we have this powerful message called the Gospel, then why aren’t we more successful than we are? Why are so many marriages, even among church-going, supposedly Bible-believing Christians, in such bad shape? And why do some Christian marriages end in divorce? Why do so many kids raised in Christian families end up barely connected to church? Why are so many church-goers living double lives, hopelessly addicted, unhappy, unfulfilled?
The bottom line is if Jesus is really true and is really risen, why is the truth not more obvious? Why don’t more people believe what Christians believe? Why is the world not in better shape if the Messiah really did come? Haven’t you wondered about this?
Have these questions crossed your mind? For the last hundred or so years New Testament scholars have been unanimous in saying that the basic message of Jesus concerned the kingdom of God. Jesus came preaching that through his person and his ministry the kingdom of God had broken into the world. So we read lots of texts like this one:
‘After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!’”’ (Mark 1:14–15).
So what is the kingdom of God? What did Jesus mean when he said, “The kingdom of God has come near?” Is he saying Christianity has come near in my person? Is the kingdom of God the Christian religion? No. Is the kingdom of God the church? Is Jesus saying the church has come near? Not at all. Is the kingdom of God heaven? Not really.
What are we Christians praying when we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, ‘Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven?’ Very simply, the kingdom of God is what things would be like if Jesus ran everything and if his will was done everywhere. The kingdom of God is what things would be like if Jesus was in charge. When we pray “your kingdom come,” we are saying that we want this situation to be like what it would be like, if you, Lord, were in charge, if your will was done. We say the kingdom has come when the Lord totally has his way, when he is running the show.
Everyone who listens to Jesus hears the secret that God’s kingdom is going to come in two stages.
There is a secret that God has kept for all eternity, but has now disclosed. Everyone who listens to Jesus hears the secret that God’s kingdom is going to come in two stages. In the first stage the kingdom is going to be hidden. It is not going to be obvious. You have to look for it and search for it. In the second stage God’s kingdom will be evident and open. It is going to be overwhelming, like a boulder from heaven. In the first stage God’s will doesn’t displace every other will. In the first stage of the kingdom coming into the world, God’s will is done, but so is the will of sinful human beings, so is the will of Satan.
In the second stage of the coming of the kingdom, when Christ returns, there will be only one will done on earth, the will of God. Right now, during this era, God’s will doesn’t always win the day. God’s will can be resisted. God’s will can be ignored.
The mystery of the kingdom is that the kingdom of God is here, but it hasn’t replaced every other kingdom. The will of God is being done, but so is the will of sinful men and women, and so is the will of Satan. In this age, we’re running on parallel tracks. When Christ returns creation is going to run on a monorail. Our world is going to run on the will of God.