It’s with a heavy heart that I write this article reflecting on the kingdom of God. What should have been a family night of celebrating love and friendship turned out to be a night of mourning for the victims of the horrific Florida school shooting last week.
As always, in the aftermath of yet another mass shooting, our country is forced to grapple with the reality of a tragic incident, which resulted in 17 casualties and multiple wounded due to gun violence. Why do these things continue to happen in this world? How could we have already experienced 30 mass shooting incidents in 2018? In part, it is on account that we live in an upside-down world where the values of God’s future kingdom are not valued and pursued. Jesus’ teaching on the kingdom of God envisions a different world and though its fullness might not materialize this side of heaven, we should work toward establishing a more just society modeled on it.
As we were reminded in a recent One Foundation presentation to faculty by Dr. Joshua Greever, the concept of the kingdom of God in the Christian worldview entails an already not yet reality. At the outset of his ministry Jesus proclaimed: “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand…” (Mark 1:15). Then, before his crucifixion, Jesus exclaimed: “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out” (John 12:31). But the cynical person might ask: If Jesus has cast out the ruler of this world and established his own kingdom why do we still experience tragic events like the recent mass shooting? Why do we continue to see such evil take place in this world if the kingdom of God has come?
A good place to start is Matthew chapter 13 where the author interweaves seven parables that together contrast the already not yet characteristics of the kingdom of God. First, the parable of the sower (Matt 13:3-9) reveals the unexpected characteristic that the kingdom of God would begin as the inward reign of God in the hearts of men and women, and from there spread outward to the world.
Second, in the parable of the wheat and the tares (Matthew 13:24-30), an enemy comes to sow weeds where a man had sown good seed (v 25). Later, when the servants saw the weeds growing with the wheat, they asked if they should gather the weeds (v 28). The landowner told them, however, to let them grow together for at the time of harvest the weeds would be gathered and burned (v 30).
Through this parable Jesus explained how the citizens of the kingdom of God live among the men and women of this world, growing together until the end time harvest (v 38-42). Only until the end will believers be separated from unbelievers. But until that time, Christians are instructed to live according to Jesus’ kingdom principles in the midst of a godless generation. Thus, the kingdom of God is growing within the hearts of believers who remain in the world. The duty of the citizens of the kingdom, then, is to bring forth fruit despite the surroundings they inhabit.
As we continue to face the dark realities of this present upside-down world order, we are reminded that a future kingdom is coming and in a sense it’s already here. As citizens of this future already not yet heavenly kingdom, we are challenged to seek for this other kingdom first (Matthew 6:33). However, we should not approach this with a heavenly pie-in-the-sky mentality. Although God’s full reign has a future realization, we are invited to live in this world as believers, and especially the church, to work so that each day our world can mirror God’s kingdom even if this is only very partial and minimal.
Granted, through the corporate efforts of believers as the church, we will never establish God’s kingdom on our own, but we are called to model that kingdom life in our lives, families and the church. We live in an upside-down world where violence still reigns, but we are called to preach God’s heavenly kingdom of peace and comfort to those who mourn, for His reign has proleptically irrupted among us who are already citizens of this future kingdom.
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