The Kingdom of God.
The Kingdom of Heaven.
It’s something that is talked about throughout the New Testament, but yet there is still so much mystery surrounding it. Where is it? When is it coming? Is it actually supposed to come here, or do we go there? What does it look like? What goes on in that place?
Don’t let your questions overwhelm you. The Kingdom of God, or Heaven, I’ll use them interchangeably, is not something that should cause us any headaches or make us feel spiritually confused. In fact, it is something that we should be encouraged and excited by.
I propose that we can understand the Kingdom of God in 3 ways. There may be other ways to describe or explain it, but I will offer only three.
We can understand the Kingdom of God AS A PLACE.
We can understand the Kingdom of God AS A POWER.
We can understand the Kingdom of God THROUGH A PERSON.
While it may seem that I am adding to the confusion, I believe that thinking about the Kingdom of Heaven in these ways will help enrich our lives as Christians, and propel us towards a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ.
THE KINGDOM OF GOD AS A PLACE
When you think of heaven, what do you think of?
I’m sure that for most Christians, they think about heaven as a physical place. It’s a location, somewhere out there. There are some that believe that somewhere beyond the stars and the numerous galaxies, there is the physical place where God resides. But when we look through the Scriptures, the Kingdom of God is not limited to a place in space. In fact, there is so much more to this Kingdom.
Consider this: A kingdom is anywhere a king or a lord rules, or has authority.
When there was a king in Buckingham Palace, he ruled over the entire kingdom. All of England, Scotland, Wales, and parts of Ireland were under his rule. It even stretched out to the Commonwealth, places like Canada, Australia, India and parts of Asia were under his domain. Currently, the Queen rules in England and does a marvellous job.
But that is a kingdom. That is what we think of a kingdom.
It is right to think of God’s Kingdom as being in Heaven, but that isn’t it.
In Genesis 14, the mysterious figure of Melchizedek appears to Abraham. This mystery man is the high priest of The Lord Most High, blesses Abraham.
“Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram [later Abraham], saying, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Possessor of HEAVEN AND EARTH.” – Genesis 14:18-19 NIV, [emphasis added]
Early in the story of the Bible, God is identified as the authority over Heaven and Earth. He has command over them, just like a king.
Or consider what the Psalmist says.
“Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy. How awesome is the LORD Most High, THE GREAT KING OVER ALL THE EARTH!” – Psalm 47:1-2, [emphasis added]
God’s Kingdom is in Heaven. But God’s Kingdom is not limited to Heaven. Far from it, the Earth and all that is on it is a part of His kingdom. To think that God is limited to the space of His kingdom would be to great underestimate the greatness and grandeur of His Kingship. The Kingdom of God is uncontainable, covering the Heavens and filling the Earth.
As King Solomon wisely said,
“But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you.’ – 1 Kings 8:27
I could say a lot more here, but I want to make sure you understand this. The Kingdom of God is so much bigger than Heaven. The Kingdom of God is here too. The Earth, the universe that He created is all a part of His Kingdom. Over all this, He has dominion and authority.
THE KINGDOM OF GOD AS A POWER
Imagine if you will that the United States is invading Iraq.
Planes are being flown over a small Iraqi settlement and bombs are being dropped. Homes are destroyed. Lives ended. The landscape is forever ruined.
If you asked him what he experienced, he might say something like this; “I have witnessed the destructive force and power of America.”
But you would say to this man, “No, America is a place. A country. Not a power.”
Who is right?
Both are correct. America is a place, a country attached to a parcel of land. But seeing and experiencing the power of that place is a display of what that country is like.
If America dropping bombs on Iraq is a display of what America is like, you have seen the power of a physical place. So America, or the Kingdom of America is both a place and a power.
I am paraphrasing this idea from a wonderful book, Skeletons In God’s Closet by Joshua Ryan Butler. I highly recommend it. In his example, he was addressing the inconsistent way he spoke of Hell. He talked about it as a power in one chapter. In another, it was a place. And both were right.
I propose that just as America can be seen as a place and a power, and just as Hell can be seen as a place and a power, The Kingdom of God can be seen the same way.
Consider this Scripture from Acts, when the church was starting out.
But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some brethren to the rulers of the city, crying out, “These who have turned the world upside down have come here too. Jason has harboured them, and these are all acting contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying there is another king—Jesus.”- Acts 17:6-7 NKJV
The church was moving so much, and so far beyond the walls of Jerusalem, at this point. What the Christians were doing was radical and unlike anything the people of that day had ever seen. The power that was behind their actions frightened them. They didn’t know what do to. It wasn’t just a bunch of people talking about stuff. There was a force, an energy, something behind them that gave them power, courage, and strength to keep going. You could say that the Kingdom of God was moving in power.
The book of Acts is filled with stories like this. Acts 2, the Spirit falls and radically changes the lives of three thousand people. There are healings. There are people moving throughout the world sharing the powerful and life-changing message of Jesus. And everything they did had an effect. No word came back void, because of the power behind the movement.
Jesus said this in Matthew’s gospel,
He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.” – Matthew 13:33 NIV
Jesus makes this powerful comparison to yeast and the Kingdom of God. He says that there is a power that will radically and irreversibly alter the makeup of everything. Anywhere the message of the Kingdom goes, there is change. Anywhere you go talking about Jesus and what he did, the world will be affected in a way that is cannot be undone.
You can’t take the yeast out of dough once it is in there. The yeast will start moving and changing and alter that flour and dough until it is nothing like it was before. There is a power in the yeast to radically make things new. And the same is true of the Kingdom of God. It is a power that changes the face of the world, the heart of the world when the message of the Kingdom is proclaimed.
What is this power?
“For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” – Romans 14:17
“Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom.” – Psalm 45:6
“For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power. What do you prefer? Shall I come to you with a whip, on in love and with a gentle spirit?” – 1 Corinthians 4:20-21
Paul speaks of the power of the Kingdom of God as one of righteousness, peace and joy. These are names of the power of God that move and transform the world. These are the yeast that irreversibly alters the dough that is our lives. Justice is what the psalmist recognizes as the power of the Kingdom of Heaven. And Paul adds more to the list, including love and gentleness as the way the Kingdom of God moves forward, conquering territory.
I could go on and talk about encouragement, comforting, forgiveness, and mercy as the other aspects of the power of the Kingdom of Heaven. But I’m sure even mentioning those few has helped illustrated how the Kingdom of Heaven is not just a place, but it is a power that changes the world.
THE KINGDOM OF GOD THROUGH A PERSON
How do we live in this place? The Kingdom of Heaven or Kingdom of God has often had a theoretical, confusing, and completely intangible sense to it. If it is really a place, not just beyond the stars, but here, and if it is a power that can change our world, how do we interact with it?
What do we do? When Jesus talked about the Kingdom of Heaven it was often in parables, stories by their nature unclear, confusing, and open to interpretation.
So what do we do?
I believe that the best way to understand the Kingdom of God, to know how to live in it and live in its power, is to look to a person. I believe we need to look at Jesus. He was and is the prime example of what it means to live in the Kingdom of Heaven, whether we are talking about it as a place or a power.
“Jesus gave them this answer: “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” – John 5:19
Jesus says it himself. He only does what He sees God doing. The actions that He took, the things that He did, were only done because He saw God doing them too. The actions of the God of the Kingdom of Heaven did something, and so Jesus did the same.
The greatest and most powerful thing that God did, that Jesus did as well, was love.
“God is love.” That is what 1 John 4 says. That God is love, and everything about Him and the actions He takes is rooted in love. There was, is, and never will be any action taken by God that will not be all about love. That would be against His character, against the very nature of who He is. And it would be against the character and nature of His Son, Jesus.
“For God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son, what whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16
“But God demonstrated his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” – Romans 5:8
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 8:38-39
This is who God is. This is what He does. His Kingdom is all about Love. And Jesus perfectly modeled that, lived in that, so that we would be able to see it. Once we have seen it, then we can live in it, and model it for the rest of the world to see.
Jesus didn’t stop at just displaying this love from the Kingdom of God.
“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” – 1 John 3:16
This is how we are to live in the Kingdom of God. We are to love like Christ has. We are to love like God has. This is what it means to live in The Kingdom of Heaven.
This may be all new information for you. This may all be old hat and something you’ve heard a million times before. Either way, I want you to ponder these questions. Answering these questions helps to evaluate where we are in relationship to the Kingdom of Heaven, and the God and Lord of that Kingdom.
Are you actively surrendering to the cosmic lordship of God? If so, share what that is like in the comments. And if not, what is standing in the way of that surrender?
Are you living in the power of the Kingdom of God, and showing that power to the world? If so, tell me what that looks like in your life. And if not, what do you think is holding you back from knowing this glorious, life-altering power?
Are you choosing to love as Christ loves? If so, share a story of a time when you did. And if not, what is stopping you from living a life like Jesus?
Grace and Peace.