At youth camp this past year, I was a counselor for a team of elementary school kids. My team was the purple group and they announced all of our kids. However, there was one little boy who looking kind of sad as we gathered all of our new recruits.
Now if you know me, you know that dealing with kids past the age of 4 or 5 isn’t my strong suit. My relatability level goes out the door. What are we doing to talk about… how hard double digit addition is?
But I had to talk to him. And apparently, he was upset because he didn’t like the color purple. That’s a kid for you. I was telling him, “Well you know what the color purple sometimes represents? Royalty! That means you’re like a king!” And then he said, “But we don’t have a government that is led by kings anymore. We have a democracy, not a monarchy.”
Okay, wise guy.
Outsmarted by a 9 year old.
This kid was bright. So I had to think on my feet. Then I said, “Well, you know, we actually are a part of a monarchy, citizens of a certain kingdom.” He looked confused. And inside I was thinking, “Gotcha, you punk!” But then I explained what I meant.
I said, “Jesus is the leader of a monarchy and when we become Christians, we enter into his kingdom. In fact, the Bible even says that Jesus is our King! The purple we wear doesn’t just signify any monarchy or royalty; it’s the ultimate monarchy and royalty!” And he said, “But we don’t get to enter Jesus’ kingdom until after we die!”
And my heart sunk. Because what this kid told me is what I grew up believing and what countless Christians throughout America and the rest of the world believe as well. However, the Bible—especially the gospels—paints a different picture of the kingdom of God. And it does so, I believe, in three main ways.
1) The Kingdom of God is Among Us
In popular schemes of end times theology, we put the kingdom of God in the future. We say that one day Jesus is going to come back, and when he does, then we’ll get his kingdom. But to limit the kingdom to the future alone is a grave injustice, both to the nature of the kingdom and to what Jesus actually said about it.
There are countless verses to point to, but I’ll point to a few. The main place is one of the most commonly recited passages—the Lord’s Prayer. Thy kingdom come! Send your kingdom now, God! Let your will be done in this moment! Let heaven’s rule come to earth in the present! That’s what this prayer is all about. Jesus didn’t tell his disciples to pray this in reference to his second coming.
In the gospels, it says that Jesus went around preaching, “the gospel of the kingdom.” Gospel means good news, so he was giving them good news about the kingdom of God. And that good news wasn’t, “Hey guys, in thousands of years to come, I’m going to come back and establish a kingdom.” No! The good news is that the kingdom had come now, even if only in part.
In Luke 17:20-21, it says, “Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming.” That’s basically the same question that we’re asking right now. Now look what Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.” Other translations say it’s “within” you. The point is we’re not looking for a grand apocalyptic event to get a glimpse of the kingdom. We’ve already been exposed to the kingdom.
Even though there is definitely a future fullness of the kingdom when Jesus comes back to earth to rule and reign, the point of his ministry on earth was to establish in part now what he was going in full in the future.
2) The Kingdom of God is From Heaven
What does this mean? You’re probably thinking, “This guy just said that the kingdom is something going on now… why is he talking about heaven?”
Here’s the thing: to say that the kingdom of God is from heaven isn’t to say that it is in heaven. It means that the source of the kingdom is heaven, not the world. The kingdom doesn’t draw its influence from the fallen, broken world. Rather, its influence is from heaven, where God’s perfect will is done. Where Jesus’ perfect rule exist. Which is why in the Lord’s prayer, it says we are supposed to model God’s kingdom and his will as it is in heaven… because, there, it is perfect.
I’ll give you a verse we know. Matthew 6:20 says, “store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.” Now, most of the times that I’ve heard this verse explained, I’ve heard things like, “You don’t need to worry about this present, fleeting age. You need to worry about the age to come. When you get to heaven, that’s when you’ll get all your rewards.” But I’m afraid that that’s not what this verse is saying.
Whenever I come home and my mom says, “Blake, I stored spaghetti in the refrigerator,” first of all I get excited because I love spaghetti. But secondly, I don’t think that in order partake of the treasure that is this glorious spaghetti, I have to actually climb into the refrigerator and enjoy it in there. No, you see, by storing the spaghetti in the refrigerator, she was able to preserve it and keep it safe from the rotting and getting moldy. That’s what it means to store our treasures in heaven. And that’s what it means to say that the kingdom is from heaven. The kingdom isn’t affected by the mold and rot of the world. It affected by the heart of heaven.
I think about Jesus when he faced Pilate. When Pilate questioned him, Jesus replied in John 18:36, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”
There you have it. What Jesus is saying that his kingdom isn’t drawn from the way of the world. If it was, his disciples would have been doing things the way the world does, namely through a violent uproar. But Jesus was the Prince of Peace. He didn’t conquer by killing others. He conquered by being killed! He didn’t exercise power by being first. He exercised his power by being last! He didn’t rule by having others serve him. He ruled by serving others and giving his life up as a ransom for many!
When we say that his kingdom is not of this world, we aren’t saying that it isn’t in the world. It is! What we’re saying is that it isn’t derived from this world.
3) The Kingdom of God is For Earth
From the beginning, God has wanted to make for himself a people that would serve the world. In the creation account, Adam and Eve are given dominion over the world. This is basically another way of saying that they were supposed to exercise God’s kingdom throughout the world. They were supposed to reign in love over the garden and make sure God’s rule was represented faithfully here on earth.
Later on, after humanity messes up a lot, God makes a covenant with Abraham and in Genesis 12:3 he says, “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” You see, God didn’t just bless Abraham so that he could soak it all in. He was going to bless him so that he would be a blessing to the world.
This was the same role the nation of Israel had. The Bible calls them a “light to the nations,” a “priestly kingdom”, a place where the world could look to and see the rule of God lived out. Of course, they failed miserably. However, the point is that God’s project has always been about more than just blessing those on the inside. Those who are on the inside were called to bless those on the outside.
We see this played out in the ministry of Jesus so well. He was passionate about reaching out to those who others had left out. He gave hope to those marginalized because of ethnicity, gender, social status, health, and more. He didn’t come for the healthy, the rich, or the good. He came for the sick. He came for the poor. He came for the bad. He came for the ones that Israel had failed to go to.
The kingdom of God is on a mission. We aren’t bound to the four walls of the sanctuary. We’re called to go into all the world. We’re given the same roles that Israel was given. We’re spreading the good news of the kingdom, just like Jesus did. As Jonathan Martin says, for everyone person that confesses Jesus as Lord, there is another outpost for the kingdom of God. It doesn’t matter who they are, where they’re from, or what they’ve done. All we have to is preach Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, and announce that the kingdom of God is at hand! Repent and believe!
The kingdom isn’t primarily for the kingdom itself. It’s for those outside of the kingdom. It’s for the world that God created as good. The kingdom of God is the force that God is using to restore that goodness, little by little.
So, I gave that kid from my group at camp a condensed version of all this. I told him that we don’t have to wait until we die to experience God’s incredible kingdom and to serve Jesus as King. Jesus came so that he could call us to enter into that kingdom right now, in order to bring heaven to earth. That’s what it means to be a Christian.
And he said, “Oh… well I still don’t like purple.”