Jesus began his ministry proclaiming, “The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe the good news.” Centuries of waiting, but it is here. What God has promised to do has dawned on the world in Jesus, the son of Mary. If anyone is confused about the heart of the gospel, it is this: God’s kingdom has broken into the present evil age and is being made available through Jesus.
What is the kingdom of God? We can break down the specifics of each word and see that the word kingdom for example means rule or reign. This question stumps many theologians because Jesus actually never gives a specific definition. Instead, he tells stories and parables describing what it looks like when the kingdom has broken into particular situations.
It would be mistaken to think of God’s kingdom as heaven. Jesus teaches us to pray that ‘God’s kingdom and will’ would be done on earth even as it is in heaven. This language of kingdom or rule actually starts in the beginning of scripture. The people of Israel believed that every human being was made in God’s image. And this meant that every living person in God’s world was meant to rule together embodying God’s likeness and extending his creative and wise love into the world.
The Adam and Eve narrative functions archetypally showing our collective abandonment of that vision and vocation. In rejecting God’s original creation project the world has spun into chaos. As we’ve exchanged the author of life for idols, the result has been a descent into further dehumanization and slavery, leading to death. But the steadfast love of the Lord endures forever.
The Promise, The Law, and Exile
The story of scripture tells us that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is not content to abandon his creation project. He is willing to endure our rebellion and this chaos if it means redemption and union with us in the end. Even as his beloved creation has chosen to worship idols leading to violence of every form. God has chosen to meet us where we were, selecting an unlikely pair of humans through whom he would bless all of creation.
Through this couple, he formed a people who would be a ‘display people’ in the world. After he gathered them together from a life of slavery and oppression out of Egypt, he gave them a contextual and timely law that formed their life together under his rule. This law was only the beginning of God’s revelation and redemptive movement in the world not the climax. The people of Israel were to be a ‘light to the nations’. What we know, as Israel’s own prophets attest, is that the problem wasn’t simply out there. They too found themselves under the sway of idolatrous powers and principalities. God warned his people that when they too abandoned their vocation it would lead to exile, pain, chaos, and death. They didn’t listen and found themselves, again and again, a nation of slaves. This pattern continued for centuries. But the steadfast love of the Lord endures forever.
God’s New Creation Project
Jesus arrives on the scene not in violent coercive power but in meekness and gentleness. He doesn’t depend on the resources of Rome to support his work but chooses a group of unlikely men and women to share in his life and love. He teaches them about this new way of being human. He announces that God is at work to bring down the mighty and raise up the lowly. He embodies what it means to be human and pushes back on the demonic and oppressive forces that inhibit the flourishing of people by healing the sick, forgiving sinners, liberating the oppressed, and raising the dead. In true form, these powers only push back further as their power is threatened. Through the collusion of a rogue disciple, Israel’s leaders, and the power of Rome, the Satan works to eliminate this threat.
Through a show of force and violence, Jesus is brutally crucified. Betrayed and abandoned, this messianic figure is put to death. Like the other figures of old who had the gall to announce themselves as would be Messiah’s, he has met the same fate. Violence proves itself most efficacious; a sure sign that coercive power is a legitimate and unstoppable means to rule. Could this peaceable figure truly be the one to untruth these lies?
This is the good news. That Jesus of Nazareth who was killed by his own people under Pontius Pilate, God has raised him from the dead. He is Israel’s Messiah and the true Lord of the world. In his death, the violence, sin, pain, and shame of the world were absorbed into his body, condemned. Forgiveness and new life is offered to all. In his death, death was defeated. Through his resurrection, a new world has begun. The world is no longer the same place. A new era of human history has begun in the midst of the old. And life in this new world is available to all along with a new way of being human embodied in the life of Jesus.
Through allegiance in King Jesus, we’re able to share in his life and are invited to share in his new creation project. Discipleship today is saying yes to God’s vision for the world in his Son. It is a dying to the old self, attached and defined to the old creation, and coming alive to Jesus’ way of life, full of grace and truth. In Jesus, God has created a people for himself. In and through us, we bear witness to the present rule of Jesus and seek to embody and extend his presence into the world.
This is good news indeed!