The kingdom of God is not like other kingdoms or nations. Since time immemorial, when one nation has invaded another, the invaded nation knows. Eventually so does everyone else who cares at all.
Most of you can probably name the years for the last two or three times Germany invaded France. It doesn’t have to be an invasion with armies, either. Regardless of where you stand on immigration, you have to know that a lot of Latin America has taken residence in the US.
Has there ever been any kind of invasion on earth where it was not clear just who was invading?
In Matthew 12:22, Jesus healed a blind and mute man. Some people though maybe Jesus was the promised Son of David. Others thought that he worked miracles by the power of the devil.
So yes. Something supernatural enabled Jesus to work his miracles, and observers couldn’t tell what it was. The ones who were most confident in their answer were wrong. Jesus said, “But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (v. 28, ESV).
The Old Testament does not talk about the kingdom of God. Jesus introduced the whole idea. In Jesus, heaven invaded earth, and for the most part, no one has noticed or paid much attention. So what are we supposed to do about it?
Seek the kingdom
In Matthew 6:33, Jesus said not only to seek it, but seek it first. Nothing is more important than the kingdom of God. Everything else we need comes along with seeking the kingdom.
He doesn’t even say that we have to find the kingdom in order for our physical needs to be met. On the other hand, if we have more food, clothing, and all the rest than we know what to do with, it’s of no benefit to us if we don’t seek the kingdom.
That’s where we get our spiritual needs met. Every other apparent source is counterfeit.
We can all quote the verse. I suppose we can all sing it. But I suspect that I’m not the only one who has found the concept of an unseen kingdom a little hazy. Jesus traveled all over Galilee and Judea teaching about the kingdom. Some people caught on. Most didn’t.
What does it mean, then, when Jesus said in Mark 9:1 that some within the sound of his voice would live to see the kingdom of God come in power? Obviously not his triumphant return at the end of the age. How about the following?
- The transfiguration, about a week later
- Christ’s resurrection and ascension
- The birth of the church on Pentecost
- The explosive growth of the church in a single generation
- The writing and circulation of the literature that became the New Testament
- The destruction of Jerusalem and with it the whole system of temple worship and sacrifice
Enter the kingdom
Wherever you are, it’s fairly simple in concept to go somewhere else. Maybe you need to go through the rigmarole of getting a visa and whatever other barriers there are. Or maybe you choose to sneak in undetected. In any case, it’s simple to understand no matter how hard it is to do.
Humans are as much spiritual beings as physical beings. That doesn’t mean we can see and understand the spiritual as well as we think we understand the physical.
Jesus said that anyone who enters the kingdom must do so like a child. You have to be born again even to see it. Elsewhere he said it is very difficult for the rich to enter it. Anyone who looks back isn’t fit for it.
Paul and Barnabas worked kingdom miracles in Lystra, but then outsiders opposed to the kingdom came to town. The crowd stoned Paul and left him for dead. When he was able to get up, he added a new element to his preaching: we must enter the kingdom of God through many tribulations (Acts 14:22).
It would appear that anyone who catches a glimpse of what the kingdom of God is about wants in. God doesn’t make it difficult to enter. The devil makes his kingdom difficult to leave.
Later (Acts 22:28), a tribune asked Paul if he was a Roman citizen. It had cost the tribune a lot of money to become a citizen. Paul responded that he was a Roman citizen by birth.
Since everyone must use force against the devil even to enter the kingdom, does entrance confer citizenship there? Apparently not, if the history of the Gibeonites of the Old Testament applies to heaven.
But there is another level of belonging that we all seek. It’s different from citizenship.
Inherit the kingdom
A kingdom is a realm ruled by a king (or queen—there is apparently no such thing as a queendom). The US is not a kingdom. The UK is. We speak of British subjects. It’s a different flavor of citizenship, which might be helpful in dealing with the next question.
Who inherits the kingdom?
Isn’t that inheritance limited to the royal family? Is there any circumstance under which an ordinary British subject would inherit the United Kingdom?
But we read in Paul’s epistles how Christians are all adopted as sons of God. (Women in those days didn’t inherit anything under Jewish, Greek, Roman, or any other law any of Paul’s readers could have known. So to my women readers, you, too, are sons of God and therefore heirs.)
Elsewhere, the Bible refers to the church as a royal priesthood. It begins to look, then, like we are not supposed to be ordinary subjects. Does that mean that we’ll all inherit the kingdom? No.
- The unrighteous (including thieves, greedy people, drunkards, revilers, or swindlers) will not inherit the kingdom (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).
- The immoral, impure, covetous, or idolatrous will not inherit the kingdom (Ephesians 5:6).
- People who do the works of the flesh (sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, etc.) will not inherit the kingdom (Galatians 5:19-21).
- Those who see Jesus (in the guise of the poor and oppressed) in need and do nothing about it will not inherit the kingdom (Matthew 25:41-46).
Scripture addresses all of these comments to the church, by the way. Not outsiders. Christians.
Take a long, honest look at those scriptures. Is there any unrighteousness listed that cannot be found in the church? Can anyone look in the mirror and be sure that the person staring back has never fallen into any of these things?
In passages that don’t explicitly mention the kingdom, Jesus says that if we don’t forgive those who hurt us, God won’t forgive us. Ouch.
Do any of these considerations mean that salvation is only for a chosen few? Not the way I read the whole of Scripture. Is there room in heaven for an unforgiven Christian? That’s a tough one.
I don’t know if all who enter the kingdom of God inherit it. I don’t know the answers to a lot of other tough questions. I do know that God’s justice and grace are both perfect.
The only thing I can think of to do about these questions is to keep seeking the kingdom of God and fight the devil with every weapon the Holy Spirit provides in order to enter and leave all my unrighteousness behind. None of us can get there on our own.
Cobh cathedral. Wikimedia commons
The other images are public domain.