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The Kingdom of God

Introduction

The kingdom of God is the very centerpiece of Jesus' teachings. Matthew speaks instead of the "kingdom of heaven." However, a number of passages in Matthew are virtually identical to those in Mark and Luke, except for the substitution of "kingdom of heaven" for "kingdom of God." Thus, the same reality is intended. The Gospel of John mentions the kingdom only twice but refers many times to the closely related concept of eternal life.

For hundreds of years, the Jews had been expecting the decisive intervention of God to restore the glory of Israel and defeat its enemies. When John the Baptist and then Jesus proclaimed that the kingdom was at hand, it was certainly understood in terms of this expectation. (Marshall, p. 647)

However, the kingdom initiated by Jesus is not the earthly kingdom that was widely inferred from the Old Testament prophesies. It is a spiritual kingdom that is now growing in the hearts of men and women, and it will find its fulfillment in the eventual sovereign rule of God and defeat of all evil. Those people who choose to belong to God's kingdom and serve Him, are those who are destined to inherit eternal life in God's presence.

The Kingdom of God Is Among Us

The kingdom of heaven is not some far away place in a far away time that we can only dream about. It is here and now, among and within us. Jesus put it this way:

One day the Pharisees asked Jesus, "When will the Kingdom of God begin?" Jesus replied, "The Kingdom of God isn't ushered in with visible signs. You won't be able to say, 'It has begun here in this place or there in that part of the country.' For the Kingdom of God is within you." (TLB, Luke 17:20-21)

Good and Bad Soil

Jesus often compared the kingdom of God to a seed planted in the hearts of men and women. Each of us has the seed of the kingdom within us, but it will grow only if we give it the proper "care and feeding." Jesus tells of this aspect of the kingdom in His famous Parable of the Sower:

Jesus left the house and went down to the shore, where an immense crowd soon gathered. He got into a boat and taught from it while the people listened on the beach. He used many illustrations such as this one in his sermon: "A farmer was sowing grain in his fields. As he scattered the seed across the ground, some fell beside a path, and the birds came and ate it. And some fell on rocky soil where there was little depth of earth; the plants sprang up quickly enough in the shallow soil, but the hot sun soon scorched them and they withered and died, for they had so little root. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns choked out the tender blades. But some fell on good soil and produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as he had planted. (TLB, Matthew 13:1-8)

Jesus' disciples were often just as baffled by His parables as the huge crowds of people who came to hear Him preach. Later, when he was alone with His disciples, Jesus explained the Parable of the Sower to them in plain language:

"Now here is the explanation of the story I told about the farmer planting grain: The hard path where some of the seeds fell represents the heart of a person who hears the Good News about the Kingdom and doesn't understand it; then Satan comes and snatches away the seeds from his heart. The shallow, rocky soil represents the heart of a man who hears the message and receives it with real joy, but he doesn't have much depth in his life, and the seeds don't root very deeply, and after a while when trouble comes, or persecution begins because of his beliefs, his enthusiasm fades, and he drops out. The ground covered with thistles represents a man who hears the message, but the cares of this life and his longing for money choke out God's Word, and he does less and less for God. The good ground represents the heart of a man who listens to the message and understands it and goes out and brings thirty, sixty, or even a hundred others into the Kingdom." (TLB, Matthew 13:18-23)

According to Jesus' explanation, three things are needed to belong to God's kingdom: understanding, commitment, and total devotion to God's Word above all else. Like the seed that falls on the hard path, a person who does not understand the Word and the Commandments will fall into the temptation of evil and lose sight of God's kingdom. Like the seed that falls on the shallow, rocky soil, a person lacking a strong commitment will drift away from faith because of peer pressure, inconvenience, embarrassment or persecution. Like the seed that falls among thistles, the faith of a person who is not totally devoted will succumb to the pettiness of worldly life and the desires for wealth, power and status.

The Mustard Seed

In the Parable of the Mustard Seed (Matthew 13:31-32), Jesus again compared the kingdom of heaven to a seed, this time a mustard seed. He said the mustard seed is the tiniest of all seeds, but it can grow into the largest of plants. In other words, the kingdom of heaven is like a tiny seed within each of us. We cannot see it or touch it and we are free to ignore it. However, if we choose to nurture it, it can grow into a powerful and wonderful force within us.

Humility

We are all God's children, and if we wish to be a part of His kingdom, we must humble ourselves before God like small children. We can enter only by the grace of God. God is not "required" to admit anyone because of faith proclaimed, church services attended, good deeds done, wise words spoken, or hardships suffered. We must come on God's terms, leaving our pride, arrogance, rebellion and self-centered desires behind:

The disciples came to Jesus, saying, "Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, and said, "Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven. "Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." (NAS, Matthew 18:1-4)

Spiritual Awakening

We Must Be Born Again

The Gospel of John tells of the kingdom of God in terms of a spiritual birth. Just as we were born and grow in the flesh, we must be "born" and grow in the Spirit. Speaking to the Pharisee Nicodemus, Jesus said we must be born again spiritually to enter the kingdom:

"Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." Nicodemus said to Him, "How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born, can he?" Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. "Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.' (NAS, John 3:3-7)

Saul's Conversion

Saul was a well-educated young man, a Jew and a Roman citizen. His Jewish heritage meant everything to Saul, and he saw the rise of Christianity as a threat to all that he held dear. He was present at the stoning of Stephen, the first Christian martyr, and he became a fierce persecutor of the early Christians. He was determined to destroy the young church, and went from house to house arresting Christians and sending them to prison. (Lockyer, pp. 805-6)

Sometime around the year 34 A.D., while on the road to Damascus, Saul was blinded by a bright light:

He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" "Who are you, Lord?" Saul asked. "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting," he replied. "Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do." The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. (NIV, Acts 9:4-7)

Saul was born again that day and became known as the Apostle Paul. He became the first and most influential interpreter of Jesus' message and teachings, a passionate missionary, founder of many Christian communities, and author of several New Testament letters.

Like Saul, a few people have a sudden, intense spiritual rebirth that instantly changes their whole lives. However, for most of us, spiritual rebirth is not so much an event as it is a process of becoming more and more focused on spiritual things and less on selfish material things. Not that we drop out of the world, but we think more and more of how we can do God's work on earth instead of just living for ourselves.

Wheat and Weeds

God's kingdom will not come to total fulfillment in the present age. The kingdom will continue to exist and grow among the powers of evil. This is told in Jesus' Parable of the Wheat and Weeds:

Jesus told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. "The owner's servants came to him and said, 'Sir, didn't you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?' "'An enemy did this,' he replied. "The servants asked him, 'Do you want us to go and pull them up?' "'No,' he answered, 'because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.'" (NIV, Matthew 13:24-30)

Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, "Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field." He answered, "The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels. "As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear. (NIV, Matthew 13:36-43)

The Parable of the Wheat and Weeds tells us that, like the farmer who sowed good seed, Jesus has brought God's kingdom into the world. However, it will not be totally fulfilled in this age. Like wheat growing among weeds, God's kingdom will exist and grow amidst the forces of evil that are so prevalent in our world.

We should not look for ease or perfection in this life. Those who belong to the kingdom and serve God will continue to live among those who (knowingly or unknowingly) serve the powers of evil. In the end, though, if we are able to cling to our faith despite all the surrounding evil, we will be freed from the evil of the world and live in perfect harmony with God. The ultimate fate of those who serve the forces of evil, whether by design or neglect, will be grim to say the least.

Conclusion

Being born again and entering the kingdom of God is a process of gradually coming to obey God's commandments instead of a "sin now, pray later" attitude. It is learning to truly obey Jesus' great commandment to "Love God with all your heart and soul and love your neighbor as yourself." It is listening to our consciences and spending time in prayer to ask for guidance and wisdom. It is feeling secure that God will give us the strength to face whatever challenges come our way and will take care of us in the end.

Related verses: Matthew 3:11, Matthew 5:8, Matthew 7:13-14, Matthew 7:21-23, Matthew 11:12, Matthew 11:25-26, Matthew 13:23-29, Matthew 5:20, Matthew 13:11-23, Matthew 13:33, Matthew 13:44-50, Matthew 16:8-12, Matthew 18:23-35, Matthew 19:13-14, Matthew 19:16-26, Matthew 20:20-28, Matthew 21:28-32, Matthew 23:11-12, Mark 4:1-20, Mark 4:30-32, Mark 9:35-37, Mark 10:17-27, Mark 10:42-44, Luke 8:1-18, Luke 9:48, Luke 11:9-13, Luke 12:22-31, Luke 12:49-53, Luke 13:22-28, Luke 15:24, Luke 18:15-16, Luke 18:18-30, Luke 19:1-10, Luke 21:10-11, John 6:57-58, John 6:63, John 8:12, John 14:16-17, John 18:36.

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