Wednesday, October 22

The Kingdom of Heaven is Near

Recently at Quest, we started to explore a new topic. We had been looking at the idea of forgiveness and discussing the importance of forgiveness between ourselves and God and between ourselves and others. The last aspect of that topic we discussed was the idea of repentance. Both John the Baptist and Jesus preached the message “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” (Matthew 3:2 and 4:17) Over the next several weeks, we are going to be discussing what all this idea of the “kingdom of heaven” or the “kingdom of God” encompasses. Here is some of what we talked about as we introduced this idea:

· The word “near” is interesting because it has a couple of different meanings. It can refer to either location or time. Both of those are relevant when thinking about the “kingdom of God.” We can really think in terms of there being two aspects to the “kingdom.” There is the part that is coming in the future when the followers of Jesus will be together with him for eternity. There also is the aspect of living out the message of Jesus in the world around us. The future that we will spend with Jesus is heaven is “near” in the sense of time. It is coming, and (at least in comparison to eternity) it is coming soon. And the way we represent Jesus and live out his message here on earth is “near” in terms of location because it is all around us.

· It is important to remember and to balance these two different meanings of “near.” We need to both be prepared for the future kingdom and to live out the message of Jesus here on earth. Focusing primarily (or exclusively) on one or the other can lead to real problems. If our primary emphasis is on the future kingdom, we run the risk of not really living out the message of Jesus here on earth. It can become easy to ignore issues of injustice that were obviously important to Jesus when he was alive. At the same time, if we put too much emphasis on the kingdom in this world, we run the risk of creating a very legalistic form of Christianity that looks only at whether or not a person is doing the right things, and checking the right boxes, and doesn’t look at the heart. We need a balanced view of the kingdom of God that recognizes the kingdom both in this world and in the next.

· When going back to the Greek expressions that are translated as “kingdom of God” and “kingdom of Heaven” imply that there are a couple of different aspects to the definition. In one sense, the kingdom of God is made up of everywhere that God is sovereign, which means that it is everywhere. At the same time, there are people who are in rebellion against God. So the “kingdom of God” can also be used to refer to those places where the sovereignty of God is recognized; that is, in the lives of those who follow God. To illustrate this distinction, I used the example of the Civil War. According to the Union, it was not possible for a state to leave the U.S.A., so the Confederacy was still part of the United States. However, because of the rebellion, the authority of the United States was only recognized in the North. Similarly, while God is sovereign everywhere, we will really only see his kingdom operating among the people who want to follow him.

· The ideas of repentance and the kingdom of God go together. In fact, both Jesus and John give the nearness of the kingdom of God as the reason to repent. As we talked about last week, repenting involves turning away from the old life and going in a new direction. This goes hand in hand with the kingdom of God because the kingdom of God operates on different principles and has different priorities than the rest of the world. When we choose to become a part of the kingdom of God, we need to realign our principles and priorities with those of the kingdom. In order to do this, we need to turn away from, or repent from, our old way of looking at the world. It is only when we do this that we can become an effective part of the kingdom of God.
Over the next several weeks, we will begin to explore these principles and priorities of the kingdom of God, and we will see how Jesus intends for this kingdom to operate.

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