Hello, again! Let's get right down to business. We have already established that the kingdom of God is the future (heavenly) age breaking into the present age. (See Part I and Part II if you want to review.) That's why the kingdom of God may equally well be called the kingdom of heaven. It's cosmic; it includes the quick and the dead, angels and men. This certainly isn't a human institution -- nor is it the churc
In one sense the kingdom is the entire universe, since God is King of all creation. In another sense it is the sphere of obedience to the perfect will of God. We aren't "added to the kingdom" so much as that the Lord's reign is extended to us. The kingdom is an attitude, an orientation, a new world. It's also a government. And it is this last sense of "kingdom" that now needs fleshing out.
An alternative government?
Until the return of the King, we enjoy his kingdom, and strive to live in such a way as to please him. Our primary citizenship is not in Argentina, Belgium, or Canada, but in the kingdom of heaven (Philippians 3:20). Yet this kingdom is only dawning on our world; it has not come in its fullness. That's why we keep praying the Lord's Prayer, with its vital words "Thy kingdom come."
Our citizenship may be in heaven, but that doesn't mean God doesn't want us to be good citizens. We are commanded to respect and pray for our leaders (not slander them), pay taxes, go the extra mile when neighbors (and even strangers) need help, and so on. Yet it's in the nature of human governments to demand obedience (not just taxes). This is where Christians historically have occasionally run afoul of the powers that be. Consider the following:
- Every nation has laws, and no nation's laws are biblical (although occasionally a biblical principle may be visible by its influence).
- Therefore the laws of the kingdom (as in Matthew 5-7) frequently and fundamentally conflict with human laws (in such areas as resolving disputes, treatment of enemies, sexual ethics, marriage and divorce, etc). Where Christians follow the commands of God, a new society is sculpted, standing in judgment on the ego, materialism, and injustice of the world. It is fair to describe disciples of Christ as working under cover, spreading the kingdom life and message, establishing an alternative government!
- When my wife joined me in moving from Sweden to the United States, she became subject to U.S. laws. (Vicki's a Briton.) Yet she can't pick and choose which laws (Swedish, American, or British) to obey; that's dictated by the government. Just as one cannot serve two masters (Matthew 6:24; Luke 16:13), so Christians are first citizens of the kingdom, then residents of our native countries. That's why we cannot pledge our (ultimate) allegiance to any authority but God.
- The Kingdom is not based on coercion, but on humility (Matthew 5:3 etc). Nor are we to issue threats. Hence Christians have historically refused to take others to court -- quite the opposite. ("Give to the one who asks you.") As atheist Ayn Rand pointed out in Atlas Shrugged, enlisting the government to force others to give to you is in effect no different than demanding it at gunpoint. (Prison or worse awaits those who refuse to comply.) Kingdom thinking rests not on legislating morality, but on the Spirit, consent, and the will to obey our Sovereign. For more on this, see Q&A 1035: Lawsuits okay for Christians?
- Sadly, nearly all "Christians" blend in with the world -- with little difference between their lifestyles and those of their respectable religious neighbors. Whether it's double-mindedness or plain hypocrisy, reproach is brought on the church by those who play by the world's rules (2 Corinthians 10:4). Most church folks today implicitly believe that we may live a double life if such is authorized by the government. It is the notion that it is acceptable for a true believer to have two selves that I especially want to address.
Obviously an individual Christian can never invade a country, decimate its inhabitants, or any of the other actions that are entailed in war. Yet since the 4th century the majority of church members have accepted that some actions unthinkable if done by a private citizen are fully permissible -- even praiseworthy -- when carried out by a citizen acting for and in the name of his government.
We're so used to the idea of acceptable levels of violence -- I refer to Christian conduct, not actions undertaken by governments, such as capital punishment (Romans 13:4) -- that the thought of killing another human being does not seem odd at all. For this reason, to illustrate the point let's consider a different action: adultery. What if you worked for the government (perhaps as a soldier or a secret agent) and your superiors instructed you to sleep with the ambassador's wife in order to gain access to the enemy's state secrets? I doubt many of us would respond, "Sure, I'd seduce her for the good of my country." But if it wouldn't be you committing the adultery, but the government acting through you, why would you be guilty? Because Christians have one standard, the holy living found in the life of Jesus Christ! In the same way, Christian actors don't use profanity on the pretext that it isn't they who are using vulgarity, but the characters invented by the playwright. Sin contaminates us. It affects our hearts and minds (Ephesians 4:17-18), and acting (or play-acting) otherwise doesn't change this fact. We are always to live a in submission to our Superior, and there are no exceptions.
Naturally there's a lot more to consider with respect to the political implications of being a Christian. (Sorry, it isn't within the scope of this newsletter at this time to explore the issue of "Just War" vs. pacifism vs. passivism.) Hopefully we now appreciate the importance of the kingdom of God, and are thirsty for more. Two books that I can highly recommend were penned by Tom Jones and Steve Brown. The first is The Kingdom of God: The Future Breaks in. This is a comprehensive study of the kingdom, while the sequel volume, The Kingdom of God: The Sermon and the Life, explains how to live the kingdom life -- taking seriously the precepts of the Sermon on the Mount. These books are worth their weight in gold.
Are you part of the resistance?
The early church knew this truth, and occasionally paid a heavy price for not blending in or obeying Caesar when he opposed the will of God. Yet since the Middle Ages, most groups have taught that as we are citizens of two kingdoms, how we should behave depends on which king we're serving at the moment. How different this is to the kingdom living envisioned by Jesus -- Christians, in their loyalty to God (not Caesar), to some extent are subversive. This makes for no bland lifestyle, but an exciting vision and mission!
Bonus section: One kingdom or two?
Before exiting this mini-series, may I ask you to consider one more idea? There are two dominions now, one led by the prince of this world (Satan), and the other by the true King of Kings. Yet ultimately there will be only one kingdom. At the end of history, God will be all in all (1 Corinthians 15:28). Satan and all those who follow him will be destroyed (Matthew 10:28).
Why, then, do nearly all church groups teach that the kingdom of darkness will endure for all eternity? That those who reject the sovereignty of the King of Kings will live forever? After all, the Bible teaches that, unless we are in Christ, we are mortal (Romans 6:23; 1 Timothy 6:16; 1 Corinthians 15:53). Unless I have seriously misread the scriptures, one day the only beings that exist will be those who have decided to obey God. There will be no second kingdom lurking in some corner of the universe, since God will be all in all. At that time, the kingdom will have fully come, the entire universe transformed and brought into obedience to his will! (If this vision leaves you with questions, take a look at Terminal Punishment, a paper I wrote 25 years ago, and which many Christians have found liberating.)
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