What does the kingdom of God mean to you? Take a moment and picture it in your mind, as well as you can. What does it look like? Where is it? When is it? How are you defining “kingdom”?
For a long time, I’ve noticed that many Christians I meet seem to talk about the kingdom in two different ways. One group of people talks about it as something that’s here, in-progress, right now. “We bring the kingdom come” echoes through our radios, and teachings, books, and conversation reveals the idea that the kingdom is happening today and that we’re involved. On the other hand, some talk about the kingdom as something that will happen/arrive at a specific time in the future. Again, this view of the kingdom echoes through our music, sermons, books and conversation as we talk about the kingdom.
I’ve been going through all the New Testament scriptures talking about God’s kingdom, and I’m struck by the realization that Jesus talks about the kingdom in both senses. At one point He says, “The kingdom of God is in your midst” (Luke 17:21, NET), then He talks about the kingdom as something believers inherit after His second coming (Matt. 25:31-34). If we try to pick just one view or the other, we lose something important that God is trying to tell us about His kingdom. This kingdom is real and in-progress now, but it will not be fully realized and present until the future. Understanding this can have a profound impact on the ways that we live and worship today.
We’ll return to what Jesus Himself says about the kingdom, but I think it’s helpful to start with looking at how one of the people that Jesus directly taught explained the kingdom to newer believers.
giving thanks to the Father who has qualified you to share in the saints’ inheritance in the light. He delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of the Son he loves.Colossians 1:12-13, NET
Paul says that believers have already been placed in Jesus’s kingdom by God the Father. The kingdom belongs to God, and He calls us to be there (1 Thes. 2:12). This has already happened, and is continuing today. Then, something else will happen after the resurrection.
For just as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ, the firstfruits; then when Christ comes, those who belong to him. Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, when he has brought to an end all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.1 Cor. 15:22-25, NET
Jesus is currently ruling, running, and bringing about the kingdom, filling a key role the Father has entrusted to Him. The Father is actively involved as well, selecting and calling people into the kingdom. This kingdom is something we’re part of today and, if we remain faithful, we’ll also be part of the future, fully-realized kingdom at the time when all enemies, including death, are eliminated (1 Cor. 15:26-28) and the kingdom is subject to the Father’s direct rule (Rev. 19-22).
Aiming Toward the Kingdom
A frequent description of Christ’s ministry is that He came preaching Good News of the kingdom (Matt. 4:23; 9:35; Luke 4:43; 8:1; Acts 1:3). Over and over, He talked about what the kingdom of God is like (mostly through parables) and explained what people need to to do be in the kingdom. We know that our walk with God is a relationship, and we’re supposed to obey Him because we love Him, not because we’re trying to get something out of Him. That does not, however, cancel-out the fact that we are promised a place in the kingdom as a reward for following God faithfully. There’s no shame in joyfully accepting the gifts that God is delighted to give us.
Instead, pursue his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father is well pleased to give you the kingdom.Luke 12:31-32, NET
This is a memory scripture for many, and seems simple on the surface. But how can you actually pursue the kingdom? Is it about living as if you’re there now? Or aiming for the future kingdom? Or maybe we should set the idea of pursuing the kingdom aside and just focus on seeking a relationship with God, since that might be easier to make sense of.
I’d been pondering these questions for over a week when I stumbled upon an idea from Jordan Peterson (through an Akira the Don song, of all things) that helped things come together. This quote is from his lecture series on Genesis, when he took a side-trip into the New Testament to talk about the “lilies of the field” passages in Matthew 6 and Luke 12.
The idea is that, if you configure your life so that what you are genuinely doing is aiming at the highest possibly good, then the things that you need to survive and thrive on a day-to-day basis will deliver themselves to you. That’s a hypothesis, and it’s not some simple hypothesis. What it basically says is, if you dare to do the most difficult thing that you can conceptualize, your life will work out better than it will if you do anything else. Well, how are you going to find out if that’s true?
It’s a Kierkegaardian leap of faith. There’s no way you’re going to find out whether or not that’s true unless you do it. No one can tell you, either: working for someone else is no proof that it will work for you. You have to be all-in in this game. The idea is, “seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness.” It’s like, that’s actually a fairly important caution when you’re talking about not having to pay attention to what you’re going to eat or what you’re going to wear. What it’s essentially saying is that those problems are trivial in comparison.Jordan Peterson, “Biblical Series VII: Walking with God: Noah and the Flood”
One of the things Peterson points out is that Jesus is saying we need to live right now in a way that aims us toward the kingdom. That’s also where righteousness comes in, as we seek to mimic God’s character and live as if we are already part of the kingdom Christ is building now and will complete in the future. Anything else is so much less important that it’s like it doesn’t matter. The kingdom should be so valuable to use that we’re willing to let go of whatever’s getting in the way of us being there (Mark 9:43-50; Luke 18:24-30).
Citizens of a Heavenly Kingdom
The Bible talks of us as pilgrim travelers here on this earth and as aliens in a foreign land. When we covenant with God and give our lives to Him, we transfer our citizenship to heaven (Phil. 3:20-21). God is our king now, today, because Jesus “loves us and has set us free from our sins at the cost of his own blood and has appointed us as a kingdom, as priests serving his God and Father” (Rev. 1:5-6, NET). For us, the kingdom of God is real and relevant today, and it is also the goal we keep in mind to help bolster our faith.
These all died in faith without receiving the things promised, but they saw them in the distance and welcomed them and acknowledged that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth. For those who speak in such a way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. … they aspire to a better land, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.Hebrews 11:13-14, 16, NET
Our loyalties should lie with God. His kingdom is the “country” we should think of as our true home. That’s a key part of what it means to be all-in, seeking His kingdom and righteousness. It’s not about what we get; it’s about knowing who we are in Christ and committing ourselves to being part of the family He and the Father are building.