Saturday, February 11, 2023

The Good News of the Kingdom of God

But he [Jesus] said, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.” (Luke 4:43)

Last week, two Jehovah’s Witnesses came to my door. I invited them in and we spent about an hour talking. They said they wanted to talk to me about the kingdom of God. According to them, Jesus’ purpose on earth was to proclaim the kingdom of God. They pointed to Luke 4:43 as proof of this.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses said that the kingdom of God is a real, physical kingdom. It is a government in heaven right now. It isn’t in the world yet, which is obvious by how much evil happens in the world. But it will be, and it was Jesus’ purpose to announce it’s coming.

On the surface, there seems to be much that is orthodox about what they were saying. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to get into the topic too deeply before they had to leave. What is the kingdom of God? Why is its proclamation good news? How does one enter the kingdom of God anyway? What was Jesus’ actual purpose? I suspect our theologies would diverge quite sharply with the answers to these questions.

The Pharisees asked Jesus a similar question: When would the kingdom of God come? He didn’t give them a date, a time, a location, or signs to look for. He said the kingdom of God was already among them:

Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst” (Luke 17:20-21).

The phrase which the NIV renders as “in your midst” in Luke 17:21 could also be translated as “within you.” In other words, Jesus could be saying one of two things. He could be saying that the kingdom of God was in their midst because He, Jesus, the Anointed One, was among them. Or, he could be telling them that the kingdom of God was something inside of them, which is spiritual and intangible.

The “in your midst” interpretation of Luke 17:21 seems to be better just based on the context of the conversation. Jesus is talking to the Pharisees, who do not believe in him. The idea that Jesus would tell unbelievers that they have the spiritual kingdom of God within them doesn’t make a lot of sense. After all, this is the group whom Jesus calls 1) sons of the devil, and 2) a brood of vipers. It does make sense, however, for Jesus, who claims to be the Messiah who establishes God’s kingdom, to say that the kingdom has arrived among them because He has arrived among them.

The kingdom of God is certainly both spiritual and intangible, but that doesn’t make it fake. It is a real thing. It is the redemption of man from sin and death; it is the redemption of creation from the curse. This redemption has been accomplished by Jesus’ death on the cross. We are made citizens of this kingdom of God when we come to faith in Christ and are baptized into Him, into His death, and His resurrection. This is what makes the proclamation of the kingdom of God good news.

And though we are truly subjects of God’s kingdom by our faith in Christ, we remain pilgrims in this world. God’s kingdom is our true home. Here in this fallen world, as the author of the letter to the Hebrews writes, we have no continuing city. Our citizenship is in heaven. But, this current spiritual reality will one day become a physical reality when Christ returns on the Last Day to judge the world.

When Christ returns in glory, He will establish for all eternity the kingdom of God. The kingdoms of this world will become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ.

When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we are praying that God’s kingdom would come. It certainly will come with or without our prayer, as Jesus has told us. In teaching us to pray “Thy kingdom come”, Jesus teaches us to pray for several things. He teaches us to pray for the Holy Spirit that we would believe and continue to believe; that we would lead a godly life as His subject; that He would continue to grow His kingdom by bringing more people into it; and also that He would finally establish His kingdom on earth.

Christians are already subjects of God’s kingdom. We have been brought from the dominion of darkness to God’s kingdom of light by the redemption of Christ:

For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (Colossians 1:13-14).

So, when will God establish His kingdom? Well, it is technically already established. That’s what Jesus tells us. That’s the good news of the kingdom of God: that by Jesus’ atoning death and resurrection we have been set free from the tyranny of sin, death, and the devil, and have therefore been brought into His kingdom. We are simply waiting for the resurrection on the Last Day when God’s real spiritual kingdom will become a physical reality. ###