As you know, this blog is devoted largely to studies about the kingdom of God. I am fascinated with the central idea of the gospel as the coming of the King into the world to mediate the rule of God over all nations. But the coming of the kingdom happens in stages. It does not happen all at once. This is what Israel missed in the days of Jesus, and it is what we often miss today. The kingdom of God will come slowly rather than suddenly, and it will come spiritually rather than violently, which means that the kingdom will come by the indwelling of the Spirit rather than be imposed externally by force. This is what Jesus means when He speaks of the kingdom being “spiritual.” He means that it comes into the world by the power of the Holy Spirit rather the power of Israel’s armies.
The kingdom comes into the world through the transformation of the human heart. The kingdom comes gradually because the kingdom comes individually. However, what Jesus does not mean is that because the kingdom is “spiritual” it has no affect on the physical world until after the resurrection. That is a fundamental misunderstanding of the coming of the kingdom that must be corrected. The kingdom is spiritual because it comes through the gift of the Spirit, but the spiritual kingdom affects the physical world.
The physical effect of the spiritual kingdom is really not that hard to grasp. Just think of how God sanctifies an individual. He fills him with the Spirit. The kingdom comes in his life spiritually. But we do not for a moment think that the new believer can go on living physically unaffected by the coming of the kingdom. He cannot live in sin physically while claiming that Christ rules him spiritually. No way. We fully and rightfully expect that the spiritual kingdom that dwells within the new believer will begin to transform the physical life of that believer. Holiness inside and outside.
The same is true of the coming of the kingdom in the world. When God transforms believers through the coming of the kingdom in their heart, the rule of the King begins to spill out into everyday life. This means, since all people are social, that the kingdom will have an effect on society. It is impossible to sow the power of the gospel into a believer and it have no effect on the world around him. You may as well ask salt not to affect meat. Or, ask light not to affect darkness. It is impossible to stop the kingdom from changing the world!
The kingdom comes in stages. The kingdom started coming into the world through the incarnation of Jesus as the Mighty God in Christ. Then, the kingdom continued its advance through the ascension, through the coming of the Spirit of Christ at Pentecost and the evangelization of all nations in the mediated person and presence of Christ in the church. The kingdom will reach its full denouement at the Second Coming when the resurrection shall gather together all things as one in Christ.
Not only does the kingdom come in stages, but when it comes, we shall rule with God in Christ over all creation. God’s people, the elect of God, the redeemed children of Abraham, will rule as kings with the King. Our destiny is to rule with Him. He is not only coming to be King, for God has always been King over the nations. But He is coming to reveal Jesus Christ, the Second Adam, as King and the sons of men as kings with Him. This is the heart of the gospel, and it is an important point. The message of the kingdom is not just that God shall rule through Christ, but that God shall rule through Christ and through us. Jesus will exalt all who overcome to sit with Him in His throne ruling over the nations.
Now, this is important. We tend to think of our rule with Jesus only in terms of ruling with Jesus over our heart. We have radically privatized and personalized the rule of Jesus and our rule with Him. If I were to preach a sermon on the rule of Jesus, most of us would fall on our knees to pray that Jesus would rule our unruly heart. All the while singing, “I Surrender All.” And perfectly correct, as far as it goes. But the scripture teaches that we shall actually rule over the nations with Jesus in the coming kingdom. We shall rule over the physical universe. Think about that for a moment. There is an important point to consider here: our rule with Jesus includes our rule over the world around us. God did not call us just to rule over our heart, though that is certainly where the rule of God begins. But He called us to rule over the physical world that He has given into our oversight.
We shall rule with Jesus over the physical world. Our rule in the world to come will not just be ruling over our heart. That is point number one. But the rule of God has already broken into the world. That is point number two–and it must not be missed! We shall rule with Christ over the world to come, and the rule of Christ has already broken into the world now in first fruits form. This means that we should already start ruling now over whatever area of life God places in our charge.
We must not spiritualize the kingdom and postpone its dominion until after the Second Coming. The kingdom of God begins in the heart of a believer and then flows out into the physical world that the believer inhabits. The kingdom that is coming starts working its power in the life of the believer, and his world begins to be transformed. God gives the believer dominion over his heart and over his life, and this dominion affects his family, his job and his neighborhood. Everything that the believer shall be in the world to come starts working already in seed form in the present world.
This is why the believer remains in the world. This is why the Second Coming is taking so long. Jesus is working out His rule in the world in a first fruits sense until His authority over all nations reaches critical mass and His enemies are subdued under His feet. The delay of the Second Coming is not an administrative snafu. It is deliberate. Jesus is working out His kingdom plan in the world. And He is doing so through you and me.
If we are going to rule then, we must rule now. And we must rule now as we shall rule then, at least in foretaste if not in fullness. In other words, we must not reduce the rule of the King to just presiding over the court of our heart. We must release the rule of Jesus into every realm of life where we have been given influence. Do you rule with Jesus? Do you rule with Him over your heart? This is certainly where the rule of Christ begins. This is why the kingdom is spiritual. But, if Jesus has called you to rule the world with Him in the age to come, and if the age to come has already broken in upon the present age through the resurrection of Jesus and the coming of the Spirit to dwell within us, then your future rule must become your present rule in first fruit form. You must rule over your world and not just your heart.
We are called extend the rule of Jesus from our hearts through our hands into our homes and from our homes into our world. Do you rule with Jesus? Do you rule over your emotions? Do you rule over your appetites? Do you rule over your words and deeds? Do you rule over your money? What about your hobbies and entertainment? Does Jesus and you rule, or does Hollywood? Do you rule over your education and work? Do you rule over your career? Do you rule over the areas of responsibility that God has given you in the world? Do you rule over the tasks that your boss assigns you? Do you rule by serving on your neighborhood watch committee, or in local politics? Do you rule as a Christian by feeding the hungry and clothing the naked? Do you rule by supporting causes that help rescue victims of human trafficking and modern slavery? Do you rule by volunteering at your local hospital or homeless shelter? If not, why not? Is it because we have reduced the rule of Jesus to ruling over our heart? As the man said, if you have Jesus in your heart, let Him out!
Jesus has called us to rule with Him as kings. This means that we are called to be leaders in the world. Does the world you inhabit look to you for leadership? If you serve on your school’s PTA committee, are you just a wall flower, or does the wisdom and love of Christ elevate you to inevitable leadership? It is a shame that often Christians are the last ones the world looks to for leadership. But we should be indispensable to our work and other public realms of life. We should be like Daniel and Joseph. We should be the ones ruling with Jesus over areas of public and private responsibility. The kingdom that is coming has already come, and we should start living now like the children of the King.
What does the world look like under the rule of King Jesus? Then, that is what we should pray that our present world will start looking like now. When unbelievers ask for our idea of what the world should be like, we should be so full of the vision of Christ’s kingdom that we can immediately and passionately set forth a vision of what the world should be like. How does King Jesus feel about abortion? How does He feel about homosexuality? How does He feel about slavery and sex tourism? How does He feel about divorce and the abandonment of children? Our vision of the world is not a merely pragmatic “whatever works.” No, our vision of the world is defined by the rule of Jesus. What does the world look like under the rule of Jesus? That is the question we should ask everyday in every situation.
I struggle with the fact that much of our preaching on the kingdom remans theoretical and future. But if we can ask the question every day, “What does the world look like under the rule of Jesus?” then we can take the preaching of the kingdom out of the realm of the theoretical and into the realm of the practical. Then, we can explore practical solutions to everyday problems. We can offer gospel centered solutions for the problems of life. Thus, our kingdom preaching becomes essentially practical.
Christians should ask this question of themselves and of one another. We should have constant discussions about how to apply the values of the coming kingdom to present life. These questions should shape conversations that we have with one another on a daily basis. We should work carefully and prayerfully on how to live out the implications of the rule of Jesus in everyday life. We cannot simply leave it up to the preacher to tell us how it is done. There are countless kingdom scenarios that the pastor will never discuss on Sunday. Bt if the church is discussing these things daily, then we will develop a “kingdom mindset” that will regularly evaluate life and its problems in light of the glorious rule of Christ. We must develop the framework and worldview that causes us to develop these questions and answers in our own particular and personal situations.
The King is coming. But He will come in us daily long before He comes in the sky. This is what Pentecost is all about. If we long to see the King–and we do!–then we must allow the King to come in our daily life so that the advance of His kingdom in every day life becomes the catalyst for the Second Coming. Even so, come Lord Jesus!