In this ongoing series of articles we have considered the Church. and the church, a congregation in local context. We have looked at the historical, biblical and traditional ways these words have been used by most Christians. Now we turn our attention to the kingdom of God, or the reign of Christ.
We all know the Jesus taught his disciples to pray:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not bring us to the time of trial,
but rescue us from the evil one (Matthew 6:9-13).
But what is the kingdom/reign of God? It is one of two dominant themes in the Bible. The other is the covenant, which in effect is “the constitution” of the kingdom of God. The phrase kingdom of God does not occur in the Old Testament. Yet the idea that God reigns as king and made a covenant with Israel surely is a dominant theme. The kingdom of Jesus is not “utopia on earth” or an ideological and political movement. In biblical language it answers directly to Israel’s hope and expectation. Jesus announced it as the new and final order of history. In Jesus’ preaching the kingdom is both present and future, what is sometimes called the tension of the already/not yet.
In Jesus Christ the kingdom of God has “come upon you” (Matthew 12:28; Luke 11:20). But this kingdom is one, thus is not a series of various “kingdoms.” It is a kingdom that is arriving in eschatological stages. Jesus preached the gospel of the kingdom (cf. Mark 14-15) but the apostles preached “Jesus as the Christ.” The epistles explain Christ’s teaching of the kingdom from the Gospels by spelling out the reality that is the kingdom of Jesus in our midst.
When we pray the Lord’s Prayer we are actually praying that God would reign on the earth in every place where Jesus is named as Lord. God, through the reign of Jesus, has come to earth and in those who obey him he now draws near to all. Believers recognize him not only as God but as divine mercy and love that draws near in real human presence. This is why we do not preach judgment on others, but rather declare the mercy and grace of God for all. Through this love God shines forth in us through earth’s darkness. We are “the light of the world” because of this present kingdom. The reconciled children of God are like leaven, or fruit. We touch every aspect of society. The whole of humanity thus receives blessings in its political projects, via human labor, by beautiful art, in making glorious music and through whole-life education. In this way we become “salt and light” to the world.
The church relates to this kingdom by being subordinate, by being the mission of Jesus’ kingdom. The church not only preaches the good news of the kingdom but trains disciples to follow all that Jesus commanded. By this means the church becomes what has rightly been called “the outpost of the kingdom of God on earth.” To see a healthy church is to see a reflection of God’s reign on the earth in his redeemed people. This explains a major reason why the enemy hates the church and continually promotes division and corruption. The church is like the moon. Its light reflects the rays to the kingdom’s sun (Son) and pours forth the glory of Christ the King.
ACT3 Network This Week
- I am preparing a written report, as well as many visual reports, from our meeting in Green Lake, June 24-28. You will read and see more soon.
- I have several ministry lunches and private meetings this week.
John H. Armstrong