Jesus’ core message as he begins his ministry in the Gospels is, essentially, “Repent, for the kingdom of God has come near.”
Which meant, “Repent, because you’re going to die soon and you need to be sure you’re going to go to heaven.” Or “Repent, because the world is about to end and you’re all going to burn!”
Or maybe not.
Personally, I’m pretty sure Jesus wasn’t announcing the end of your life or the end of the world. I think Jesus was announcing the presence of a new kingdom, one that stood in contrast to the kingdom of the Romans or the kingdom of the religious leaders of his day.
A Different Kind of Kingdom
The kingdom of God is a different kind of kingdom than the world’s kingdoms. It’s a kingdom in which the poor in spirit (which Dallas Willard calls “the spiritual zeroes, those without a wisp of religion”) are blessed because, believe it or not, the kingdom of heaven belongs to them. It’s a kingdom in which those who mourn are blessed because they will find comfort. It’s a kingdom in which the meek are blessed because in the end they are the ones who will inherit the earth.
It’s also a kingdom where the first will be last. Where the greatest must be a servant of all. And where success is defined as laying down one’s life.
A Kingdom of Domination?
But I’m not sure this is the kingdom the church (at least the church in the West) likes to promote. It seems to me that the church tends to lean into ideas of conquering and domination. We talk about “expanding the kingdom of God” or “advancing the kingdom of God.” We talk about “taking back our city for Jesus” or setting goals like “making this the greatest city for Christ in America.”
Listen, I think it would be great if a majority of people in a city become followers of Jesus. But I wonder if “taking the city” is the way Jesus would think about his Kingdom.
How Jesus Talked About the Kingdom
In Luke 17:20-21, Jesus said, “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.”
You may know that the phrase “the kingdom of God is in your midst” might also be translated, “the kingdom of God is within you.” In other words, the Kingdom of God isn’t so much a cause we need to advance or a fortress we need to build. The Kingdom of God is more like a seed (didn’t Jesus say something about that?). It is something that grows and emerges as the people of God live into their calling, their vocation.
The Kingdom of God is within you. The Kingdom of God is in your midst. And as we live out who God has called and created us to be, the Kingdom of God will begin to bloom like a wildflower in the desert.