The Kingdom of Heaven

 

It’s interesting that throughout much of the beginning of the Old Testament, God’s people don’t have a human king. This was intentional, however, because God was meant to be their king. Therefore, we see those who take on leadership over Israel to be those whom God speaks to. He relates his instructions to these people and they relay it on to everyone else.

But once we reach the book of 1 Samuel, God’s people demand a human king. It bothers the prophet Samuel quite a bit, so he goes to talk to God about it. God tells him that if they want to reject Him as king and do that, then they can. But, first they need to understand what’s going to happen if they want a human king. God then lies out a long list of unpleasant things all kings do to their people. Basically, everyone is going to be a slave to him and everything he wants.

So Samuel goes and delivers the news. “Are you really sure you want a king? Here’s what’s going to happen if you do.” He then delivers the expansive list of all the things kings do. It’s like it all goes in one ear and out the other. “Yes, give us a king!” they say.

It doesn’t take long for things to haywire. The first king, Saul, goes crazy. And while the second king, David, is always looked at as the greatest king of Israel, that man did some pretty messed up things in his reign. Soon we’re flying through kings—one after the other every few years until we reach Manasseh. This king was so bad and led Israel so astray that all of the other nations out there were living better lives than God’s own people were.

They gave up God as King for human kings who couldn’t handle the power, each one of them falling in their own way.

Fortunately, God became King again. It’s one of the aspects of Easter that we don’t often look like, even though famous theologian N.T. Wright would point out that it was one of the main things Jesus was doing on earth—making God king again.

And when you look at the life of Jesus, you realize there’s a lot more politically going on than we thought. One of Jesus’ core messages (if not the core message) was about the kingdom of Heaven. It’s not just a place we go when we die, it’s something we bring to earth now. It’s a place that already exists that we are called to live in while here on earth. And if we want to follow Jesus, then we have to recognize that this is the kingdom He calls us into and it is the place where He reigns.

And suddenly the politics of his time on earth start to pop out, but they’re all so much different than we’d expect. It ends up that the Kingdom of Heaven is very backwards from our own kingdoms on earth. In fact it’s so different, that if Jesus ran for president we probably wouldn’t even recognize that He was doing it. And if we did recognize that he was doing it, we’d say he’s sabotaging his career to become president.

Sure, Jesus has a royal birth, but he’s born into a feeding trough and the people who come up to worship him are the lowly shepherds and the wise men practicing the sins God forbids His people to practice.

We see him go into the desert for 40 days where he faces political seduction. The devil offers him another way of being king of the world. He offers him all the kingdoms of the world if Jesus will bow down and worship him.

We see Jesus refuse this seduction and then return home to give his commencement speech. He reads a prophecy from the Old Testament to his home community and then says that the prophecy has been fulfilled in their hearing. But where most people would celebrate a commencement speech, Jesus’ hometown tries to throw him off a cliff for what he just said.

Jesus then travels around the area and explains to people what the Kingdom of Heaven looks like. He uses parables to explain it. He preaches on it. He shows it. He describes how backwards it is. It’s a place where the poor in spirit are blessed. It’s a place where one is blessed for being persecuted for righteousness. It’s a place where someone slaps you and you turn the other cheek to welcome them to slap that one as well. It’s so different from our ways of doing things.

Eventually Jesus has his anti-triumphal entrance into Jerusalem. Whereas a king would usually enter in on a majestic horse or a shiny red convertible, Jesus comes riding in on a donkey.

And perhaps most backwards of all? His coronation service where He is crowned king. He’s given a death sentence, mocked by everyone, handed a stick for a scepter, a purple robe, and a crown of thorns, and then paraded up to the cross where he’s nailed and left to die.

But the story doesn’t end there. If the king was dead, then we’d expect it to be the end. But the story of Easter is the story that Jesus did not die! He is very much alive! We see that death was victory, not defeat. The kingdom of God has usurped the kingdom of this world. King Jesus has usurped the kings of this world. Heaven and Earth have been joined together by the new Temple that is found in Jesus Christ.

And now we see that love always beats violence—that the politics of the kingdom of Heaven are real and in action today if we choose to live in Heaven now first and foremost and follow our king here and now.

We live in the most exciting time in history, because we live in a time where Jesus has been inaugurated. We get to live in the kingdom not when we die, but right here, right now.

Much of this post is based off the books Jesus for President by Shane Claiborne and How God Became King by N.T. Wright. Check out these books to learn more.

 

Too lazy to read? Me too.

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