Central to the teaching and preaching of Jesus Christ was this message of the Kingdom of God, or the Kingdom of Heaven, as Matthew called it. Go through the gospels and you will find over and over again this theme of the Kingdom of God. The Beatitudes begin with a promise about inheriting the Kingdom of God, and draw to a close with the warning that not everyone who says “Lord, Lord” will enter the Kingdom of God.
When the Bible talks about the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven, what is it talking about? What impact does that have on your life and mine as we seek to live for Jesus in a day and age where anyone but Jesus seems to be in charge? As we consider the Kingdom of God this morning, I want us to focus on two specific areas:
THE THEOLOGICAL SCOPE OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD
Throughout Scripture, God is painted as a reigning monarch, as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The Bible speaks of the Kingdom of God within the context of the general sovereignty or rule that God has over the entire universe. God is the absolute ruler of all that is. He is the great and mighty King.
The Kingdom of God is both present and future. Presently, the Kingdom of God describes the rule and reign that Jesus has in the hearts and lives of those who have come to know Him as Lord (another word for King) and Savior. We often talk about letting Jesus sit on the throne of our hearts or be the Lord of our lives. These are simply expressions we use to talk about the authority and the dominion that Jesus has in the lives of those who know Him.
The Scripture also presents the Kingdom of God as something that will come to completion in the future. While Jesus reigns and rules in the hearts of those who love Him today, at some point in the future all people everywhere will acknowledge His Lordship. A day is coming when all things will be submitted, either willingly or unwillingly, to His rule.
I want to be clear that Jesus is Lord of all, whether we realize it or not. There is nothing over which He does not have absolute authority. But in His sovereignty and in His grace, it has pleased Him to allow others to have temporary rule over certain areas. Ephesians chapters 2 and 6 tell us that the devil, who the Bible calls the god of this age, has been granted limited and temporary powers. And people today must choose whom they will serve, they must choose whether or not they will serve Jesus or someone or something else. God has not yet brought the final reality of His rule to bear upon creation, but a day is coming when He will.
Many people live their lives today as though they were in control of their own destiny, they live as though there is no God to whom they must ultimately answer, and they go throughout the course of their lives without a thought for the eternal realty which they will ultimately face. But the Bible tells us that someday the clouds will roll back, with the voice of the arch angel and the trumpet of God, Jesus will appear, and like it or not, every defiant knee will bow and every rebellious tongue will confess what we already know to be true, that Jesus is Lord of all. That is the future reality of the Kingdom of God. Jesus is coming back to the earth one day, only this time things will be very different.
The first time He came as a baby in Bethlehem’s manger; the next time He’s coming as heaven’s eternal king. The first time He came, He was attended by the barnyard animals; the next time He comes heaven’s hosts will accompany their king, shouting with deafening voices that the King of all creation has returned. The first time He came, He was subject to the will of evil men; the next time He comes evil men will be subject to Him. The first time His coming was only known by a few wise men who sought Him out to worship Him; the next time He comes, everyone, wise men and foolish men alike, those who sought Him and those who rejected Him, will all bow before Him and worship at His feet.
There is coming a day when the Kingdom of God will be completed here on the earth, when Jesus sits on the throne of David and rules forever and ever. Creation waits for that day when it will be freed from the physical curse of sin (Rom. 8:20-23). That is a future reality that has yet to consummate. Until that day, the kingdom of God exists within the hearts and lives of those who love Him.
THE APPLICABLE PRINCIPLES OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD
In its present application, the kingdom of God speaks of Jesus Christ being the absolute Lord over our lives. This is what the Sermon on the Mount addresses, this is what many of the parables illustrate, that Jesus is to be Lord of our lives, and He is to be the most valuable One who exercises authority in our lives. But knowing that He is to be Lord in our lives and allowing Him to reign are two entirely different things.
Please turn with me in your Bibles to Mark 10:35-45. I want to walk you through an experience between Jesus and the disciples and draw from that text, several applicable principles of God’s present Kingdom, which I believe will be helpful as we seek to walk under the Lordship or Kingship of Jesus in our lives.
35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”
36 “What do you want me to do for you?” He asked.
37 They replied, “Let one of us sit at Your right and the other at Your left in Your kingdom.”
38 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”
39 “We can,” they answered.
Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, 40 but to sit at My right or left is not for Me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.”
41 When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. 42 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”
Jesus gives us great insight into a life that is truly lived under His Lordship; He shows us what Kingdom citizens should really look like.
To properly put this in context we need to remember that in the last two verses before our text, in 10:33-34, Jesus has just told His disciples that He will be betrayed by the chief priests and that they will mock Him, scourge Him, and crucify Him.
So, this is what happened: Jesus has just told them about His death, but instead of contemplating what that meant, they are jockeying for the best position within His kingdom. They are exhibiting their ambitions, eager to get ahead of one another. As we consider this dialogue, we are able to draw four applicable principles from it:
THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS ABOUT GLORIFYING GOD, NOT ADVANCING THE AMBITIONS OF MEN
Look at verse 38: Jesus says, “You don’t know what you’re asking.” In other words, the kingdom of God is not what you think it is. God’s kingdom is not of this world. His kingdom is all about bringing people out of spiritual bondage and into spiritual freedom and life, not about mustering earthly power and wealth.
But the disciples were looking at the Kingdom of God just like they looked at the kingdoms of men. They were operating within God’s spiritual kingdom just like the world operated within its physical kingdoms. They were ambitious and their ambition was made known by their request.
Many people today continue to seek to use the Kingdom of God to further their own earthly empires. Churches across the ages have been ravaged by power groups. Instead of truly seeking first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, many see the church as just another business, just another gathering of people where the ambitious get ahead and the less ambitious get left behind.
This is not what Jesus said His kingdom was going to be. I wonder what Jesus would think about the Christian superstars, with the same kinds of contracts and demands that secular stars have; I wonder what Jesus would think about the Christian preachers who now have booking agents and charge outrageous speaking fees? I wonder what Jesus would have to say about the way many people view His kingdom today?
Make no mistake about it, Jesus evaluates what we do in His name and the requests we make of Him. He is looking past our words and into our hearts to see who we are trying to glorify and whose kingdom we are seeking to advance.
LIFE WITHIN THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS LIVED UNDER GOD’S AUTHORITY
It is interesting to recognize that Jesus did not simply come out and tell the disciples “no” to their request. After He tells them that they don’t know what they are asking, He goes on to tell them that what they have asked of Him is not even His to give but rather belongs to the Father, Who will give it to those for whom He has prepared it. Jesus was again communicating that He was not here to do what He wanted, but to be obedient to the Father.
In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus prays, “…not My will but Thy will be done.” Jesus clearly lived His life under the absolute authority of the Father. In turn, we are to live our lives under the Lordship, authority, and Kingship of Jesus.
This is where the disciples went wrong. Rather than being content with what God would give them within His kingdom, they were trying to advance themselves, to get God to bless their selfish agendas. They wanted to exercise their own will, rather than being submissive to God’s authority.
How often do we too go wrong at this point? How often do we want to accomplish our own agenda, rather than truly be open to the leadership and influence of God’s direction in our lives?
Living under the authority of Jesus means all of our choices are laid at His feet and left to His discretion. It means we go where He tells us, when He tells us, and stay as long as He tells us. It means we give no thought about any glory for ourselves, whether or not we get the credit. Our only goal, as was the goal of Jesus, is to do the will of the Father. Living under His authority means that we walk in obedience to what He has told us to do.
LIFE IN THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS OPPOSITE FROM LIFE IN THE EMPIRES OF MEN
Throughout the New Testament, especially the Beatitudes, we find Jesus preaching this message. “The first shall be last – and the last shall be first. Those who seek to save their lives will lose it – and those who lose their life for the sake of the Kingdom will save it.” John the Baptist said it well: “I must decrease, so that He might increase” (Jn. 30:30).
Life in the kingdom of God is upside down from that of the kingdoms of this world. We have been called to be different from the world. We have been commissioned with the responsibility of showing the world around us the difference Jesus can make in our lives. Whereas the world hates those who hate them, we are to love our enemies. In the world, when someone slaps you, you slap them back, but in the kingdom of God, we turn the other cheek. In the Beatitudes, we see that it is the meek who inherit the earth, that we are blessed when others persecute us and say all kinds of evil against us on account of Jesus.
GOD’S KINGDOM BELONGS TO THE SERVANTS, NOT TO THOSE WHO WANT TO BE SERVED
The classic argument here is that if Jesus came to serve and not to be served, how much more should we as His servants desire to serve instead of desiring to be served? Let’s face it; in much of what we do, things are just like they are in the kingdoms of men. People are measured by their status, not with respect to their service. But Jesus says that in His kingdom, regardless of what we may think, irrespective of how we may want to assess things, those who are truly the greatest are those who are the servants, not those who are being served.
We have Christian brothers and sisters in other countries who have truly sacrificed themselves for the kingdom of God. There are those who have been martyred and given up their very lives for the sake of the gospel. On earth, they are measured as the last, but in heaven, they will be among the first.
Greatness in the world is determined by status; greatness in the kingdom of God is through humility. Greatness in the world is shown by ruling; in the kingdom of God, by serving. In the world’s eyes, the great are those who can order others around; in the kingdom of God, they are those who endure hard times and injustice without complaining.
God does not measure things as man measures them. God’s ways are not our ways; His thoughts are not our thoughts. Jesus said, “Not everyone who says ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only those who do the will of the Father” (Matt. 7:21).