The most frequent subject in the teaching of Jesus was “the Kingdom of God” or as St. Matthew puts it “the Kingdom of Heaven.” We are apt to misunderstand this somewhat, as our ideas of what a kingdom is are shaped by kingdoms as we know them—definite areas of land, with known boundaries and an indigenous population, such that all who are born within these groups belong automatically to the kingdom.
But it was not such a kingdom of which Jesus taught. The roots of His conception go back to the Old Testament, where in very early days we find folk singing “The Lord shall reign for ever and ever” (Ex. 15.18). The idea of the sovereignty of God is one which we find throughout the Old Testament, and even when Israel was ruled by earthly kings the idea seems to have been that these kings did not hold their office in any absolute sense, but that they ruled almost in the sense of deputies, God being the real ruler. In course of time the nation entered difficult days, and for centuries lost her independence, passing from the control of one mighty nation to that of another. Yet in all this time it would seem that the idea of the Kingdom never disappeared from among the faithful. God was still King, and though for His own purposes He suffered His people to be under the sway of heathen tyrants yet in due course He would certainly put forth His mighty power, and the cause of truth would be vindicated. This kind of faith seemed to glow brightest when things were at their worst, and it formed an inner reserve that sustained the Jews in the direst of misfortunes.
The Kingdom and the Romans.
Thus when Jesus came preaching the Kingdom He spoke of something dear to men. All through the years round about that time there were continuous little niggling movements of revolt. We hear of men like Simeon, Athronges, and Judah the Galilean, and there were many more. There were men who led abortive movements of revolt, and from the human viewpoint there seems to have been no chance for success from the very beginning. But these patriots were sustained by a burning faith. For they knew that in due time God would establish the Kingdom, and who could tell whether it might not be now?
A Different Kingdom.
But as men listened to Jesus teaching of the Kingdom it presently dawned in on them that He was not simply another revolutionary biding His time. His idea of the nature of the Kingdom was different. Scholars in modern times have been pointing out that the Greek word basileia or the Aramaic malkuth, both of which we translate “kingdom,” are basically dynamic rather than static in meaning, and signify something like “rule,” or “reign” rather than “kingdom.” They denote something that is happening, God’s rule in action. His parables often describe something growing, and vital, a mustard seed, leaven working in meal, and so on, and they give the impression of the kingdom as something that happens, rather than something ,which simply exists. It is God’s rule in action, and not simply a number of people, or a place.
God’s Power in Action.
From all this it would be easy to get the idea that the Kingdom is the result of men dedicating themselves to the highest way of all, the service of God, and then what would be necessary from God’s side for the establishing of the Kingdom would be simply the revelation of the way. Thus the principal activity of Jesus would be that of Teacher.
But this is not the way of the Kingdom at all. The Kingdom rather is God’s in action, and Jesus can say “if I with the finger of God cast out devils, no doubt the kingdom of God is come upon you” (Luke 11.20), where it is the power shown in the casting out of devils that reveals the presence of the Kingdom. In the following section the Lord proceeds to speak of the “strong man armed” keeping his palace, and of “a stronger than he” that shall overcome him, thus pictorially describing the defeat of Satan in His own coming to earth. The Kingdom then is not simply good advice, it is God taking action to overthrow evil and thus to enable men to live according to His will.
A Challenge to Decision.
It is fascinating that immediately after disclosing that this is the nature of the Kingdom Jesus adds “He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth” (verse 23). In other words the Kingdom is something about which there can be no neutrality. Once you have seen that God cares enough for you to send His Son to die for you, and that by His atoning death there is released spiritual power which will enable you to live a victorious life, triumphing over temptation in His strength, then you never can be the same again. Either you respond with gladness, accepting His offer of salvation, and entering the Kingdom where His will is being done, or you don’t. But the very nature of the Kingdom is such that it is impossible to remain uncommitted. When the offer of power over evil is made to a man, not to accept it is the same thing as to cast in his lot with the forces of evil.
From the Vault of the Australian Church Record, February 17, 1955.