Sunday, July 7, 2024

What the Kingdom of God is NOT

So, if the Sermon on the Mount is the Kingdom of God's constitution, what does the Kingdom really look like?

First, you have to look in the right places. Jesus addresses this very issue in Luke 17:20-37: 

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.”

Then he said to his disciples, “The time is coming when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, but you will not see it. People will tell you, ‘There he is!’ or ‘Here he is!’ Do not go running off after them. For the Son of Man in his day will be like the lightning, which flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other. But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.

Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man. People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all.

It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all.

It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed. On that day no one who is on the housetop, with possessions inside, should go down to get them. Likewise, no one in the field should go back for anything. Remember Lot’s wife! Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it. I tell you, on that night two people will be in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left.”

“Where, Lord?” they asked.

He replied, “Where there is a dead body, there the vultures will gather.”
(17:20-37 NIV) [emphasis mine]

Remember that many of Jesus' followers, including the disciples, were still enamoured of the idea that the Messiah would be an invading Warrior of God, intent on conquering Israel's enemies, thereby allowing Israel to once more be free of oppression and to worship Yahweh unimpeded, with joy and thanksgiving.

Jesus is trying to disavow His listeners of the notion that the Kingdom of God is a place--somewhere you go and experience its reign and its visible presence.  

A place where Romans don't walk down the street with scorn on their faces and harbor subterranean violence just waiting to erupt.  Right?

A place where emperors are not worshipped and puppet kings aren't allowed to do whatever they want.  Right? 

A place where religious leaders are not more concerned about control and power and do not scorn those who do not look like them or act like them, or see the Scriptures the way they do. Right?

A place where poverty is gone and those in charge are genuinely concerned for the welfare of others. Right?

A place where Yahweh is honored and revered and all pagan temples with their abhorrent practices are nowhere to be found. Right? 

Who wouldn't want such a place to be brought forth by Jesus, right here, right now?  Perhaps the disciples thought that with all the power Jesus possessed, as evinced by miracle after miracle and powerful teaching after powerful teaching, why wouldn't He just go and make this Kingdom of God a reality?  

It's interesting that the Pharisees asked Him the question.  Were they testing Him (they periodically did so with loaded questions, trying to trap Him in a response they could use against Him) by asking about this Kingdom of God thing, seeing if He was planning this Warrior-Messiah thing and stirring up His followers to join His enterprise? 

Jesus cuts quickly to the chase: The Kingdom of God is HERE...It's ME and those who believe in Me.  It's a belief, with a humble and seeking heart, that places you in the Kingdom, because it places you beside Me. 

In other words, Jesus is telling the Pharisees, 

I am not setting anything up.  The Kingdom of God is where you reside in the Messiah and He resides in you.  Kingdoms can be invaded, destroyed or reorganized beyond recognition. This kingdom will go everywhere because My disciples will go everywhere.  It's not tethered to a location--it's tethered to My followers' hearts and they will be messengers, ambassadors, of this Kingdom.  You don't go to the Kingdom--it comes to you on the wings of a whispered prayer to the One who will soon prove His love for you by hanging on a cross. 

Then you notice, Jesus starts teaching His disciples, because they were probably stumped by Jesus' remark to the Pharisees.  

If the Kingdom of God is in us, what does it look like?

The Sermon on the Mount is what people who dwell in the Kingdom, and it dwells in them, looks like. But they seem to have forgotten He's already laid out Kingdom life.  Because the idea of a restoration of Israel had probably grown in their hearts and in the hearts of others as He gained more popularity,  did more miracles and confronted the authorities, He needs to clarify what the Kingdom is not, having already laid out what it is in His sermon and His teachings.

First of all, it won't be place where the Messiah just shows up.  The Messiah will come as lightning in the sky:  unmistakable and seen by all. 


First, He must suffer.  That statement right there lays to rest the notion of Him as the Messiah coming and vanquishing His foes.  That day will come, but other more important things must happen first.

The restoration of Israel must come after the restoration of the people's hearts, and not just the Jewish people's.  Their original mission was to be a blessing to the nations (Gen.12:3) and this is coming in the near future, when the upcoming sacrifice of Jesus will be for all people. 

And just as in days passed, people will be going on in their daily lives, not concerned about spiritual matters of obedience and serving Yahweh with a full heart. Why?  Because the timetable the people have set for the Messiah to come and conquer will not happen the way they want it.  After awhile, people will lose their joyful sense of expectation and go back to everyday life and perhaps become even more resistant to spiritual matters, because they perceive that God is in no hurry to bring forth His righteousness.  The people will think they have plenty of time to do what they want and then shape up when the time grows near.

Jesus is prophetically mapping out the future.  In 40 years or so, many Jewish people, fed up with God's (perceived) delay, decide to take matters into their own hands and bring the Kingdom of God to earth, by leading what became known as The Great Revolt.  It started in Galilee in AD 66 and culminated with the destruction of the Temple and a million plus Jews losing their lives in AD 70, when Jerusalem was besieged by the Romans. 

Did some of them argue, several decades hence, 

Hey!  Nothing happened with that Jesus of yours!  How could He let the Romans kill him? Where's that Kingdom He talked so much about?   Oh, that Sermon on the Mount--wasn't that just metaphors and adages?

The Kingdom of God the people imagined turned into rubble, death and dispersion.  Those not killed or driven out were enslaved.  In fact, the Roman Coliseum was built from Jewish slave labor after the fall of Jerusalem. Jesus is speaking to that counterfeit day, when some will say the Messiah has arrived and He's going to war. Jesus is warning that on that day, you will be on the rooftop, in the field, or in your room and you will hear of the Kingdom coming!  

No. People will be arrested or just dragged off and those who remain will be tempted to join in and clean the clocks of the Romans once and for all. Don't.  

Please don't.

The vultures will gather because they know death is coming.  They will soon feast on Romans, Zealots, bystanders, supporters and believers.  No winners will emerge from this fight. This will not be the Kingdom of God in any way, shape or form, despite what its leaders will want you to believe.  

God's kingdom is not brought about by violence, but by reclamation and restoration of fallen human hearts.

God's kingdom is not brought about with swords, sieges and slogans, but by humility.

God's kingdom is not brought about by killing Romans, but by praying for them, walking an extra mile with them and modelling Kingdom values, not retailory ones borrowed from the world. 

Jesus is not only warning His disciples, but He is also educating them so they can teach others and so avoid, in the future, being seduced by a counterfeit kingdom.  

The Great Revolt was catastrophic for the Jewish people, during the siege and after.  Couple that with Bar-Kokhba's rather messianically-cloaked rebellion in AD 135, the Jewish people, cast from Israel once and for all by the Romans, would not see their homeland restored to them until 1948. 

Jesus wanted to spare His people this future. 

By the Kingdom of God being in the hearts of those who loved and served Him, there would be no expedient overthrow or seismic change of rule in the future.  

But there would light coming to a world of darkness.

There would be a salt's flavor and preservation coming rescue the decay of hope.

There would be an encounced Kingdom that no one could destroy.  

In fact, the ultimate "Roman,"--the enemy of all of mankind--would not be able to prevail against it. 

Not then.

Not now. 


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