Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Kingdom of God – It's Importance

What is the most important teaching in the Bible? Many would say it is the good news about the saving work of Jesus on the cross. Others could argue it's the assurance of life demonstrated by Christ's resurrection on Sunday morning. One of my favorite radio hosts believes it is found in Genesis 1:1, "In the beginning, God created..." Certainly the argument could be made that the most important teaching is found in Matthew 22:37-40:

And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

All of these teachings are important, and to one degree or another they all answer at least part of the question. That said, I think there is an answer that is straight forward, encompasses all the answers above, and completely pervades both the Old and New Testaments:

The Kingdom of God.

Jesus was obsessed with teaching the Kingdom. Every covenant between God and man related in the Bible is inseparably linked to building the Kingdom. By comparison, the Apostles taught the Kingdom of God and little else.

So what is the Kingdom of God? When did it begin? What does it mean for believers today? Why should we care?

Jesus himself clearly says that The Kingdom should be first on our list of priorities. Starting in Luke 9 there are a series of passages which clearly highlight the importance of The Kingdom to Jesus’ work on Earth.

Luke 9:1-2

And he called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal.

This is the first missionary journey for Jesus’ twelve closest followers. He decides it is time for the disciples to step out on their own, so he gathers them together, gives them power, and sends them out to tell the people to put their trust in Jesus so they might be saved…wait a second, that’s not quite right. Such a message might be part of what Jesus wants them to preach, but instead of that traditional missionary message He explicitly instructs them to “proclaim the kingdom of God” to all who will listen.

The next chapter in Luke begins similarly:

Luke 10:1-2, 8-9

After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go. And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest…Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you. Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’

So Christ sends out another 72 individuals on 36 different missionary journeys to do what? Heal the sick and tell them that The Kingdom is near them.

At the beginning of Chapter 11 of Luke’s gospel the disciples ask Jesus to teach them how to pray. Jesus' answer is somewhat truncated in Luke, but the expanded version can be found in Matthew 6:

Matthew 6:9-13

Pray then like this:

“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 lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.”

While there is a great deal that could be said about this prayer, simply note that praying for the coming of The Kingdom is second only to exalting God the Father. Is the picture becoming clear yet? The Kingdom is a topic of great importance to Jesus.

While any number of passages could be cited to drive this point home, let's look at only two more:

Matthew 24:9-14

“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name's sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

Matthew 6:31-33

Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

There is a lot of baggage that could be unpacked in the 24th chapter of Matthew, it is highly eschatological and often apocalyptic in nature, making its interpretation less than straightforward. Fortunately, no matter what you believe Jesus is teaching in this chapter it is clear that he highlights the proclamation of the Kingdom of God as the thing of utmost importance. Getting out the message of this kingdom is the thing that must happen before “the end will come.”

Going back to the sixth chapter of Matthew, Jesus follows up his teaching on prayer by speaking at some length about the priorities of his followers. He expounds on things that we normally place foremost in our lives - making a good living, getting food to eat, clothes to wear, and a roof over our heads - and places them behind The Kingdom, saying, “seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness,” and all He’ll worry about that other stuff. The Kingdom should be our ultimate concern.

Christ was obsessed with the Kingdom of God. While I have only highlighted a few passages, Jesus spoke about it nearly non-stop. If He was that concerned about The Kingdom, isn’t it a sign that we should be as well?

Over the next several posts, I want to dig into this subject of the Kingdom of God. I hope you find it as interesting as I have.

Next: What the Kingdom Is Not.