I don’t know how many of us recognize the impact of Jesus’ words when He announced, “The Kingdom of God is at hand.” (Mark 1:14 – 15) It was revolutionary. He was literally announcing that everything was about to change.
To paraphrase ‘kingdom of God’ with the phrase ‘revolution of God’ may help us to appreciate some of the excitement of Jesus’ message. He was announcing a dramatic, forceful change in society to people who — unlike many in our complacent modern world — really longed for such a change: God was at last intervening to put things right. Not surprisingly Jesus’ contemporaries understood Jesus to mean that the Roman imperialists and their unprincipled and unpleasant lackeys such as the Herods were about to be driven out of Palestine: ‘kingdom’ to many of them, like ‘revolution’ to many of us, suggested something primarily political and military. But Jesus had in mind a bigger revolution than that: God’s revolution was to be a total revolution overthrowing Satan and evil and bringing earth and heaven back into harmony, and this would not be accomplished by force of arms, but — unbelievably so far as the disciples were concerned, and who blames them? — through suffering and death.
But, although God’s revolution was not quite as the disciples expected, it was something powerful and down-to-earth, not just a heavenly reality. Modern readers of the New Testament may be misled by the phrase ‘kingdom of heaven’, which we find in Matthew’s gospel, and suppose that in speaking about the kingdom Jesus was talking about ‘getting to heaven’. But the phrase ‘kingdom of heaven’ is just an alternative way of saying ‘kingdom of God’ (the expression used by Mark and Luke in their gospels). Matthew, writing his distinctively Jewish gospel, uses the alternative expression because it refers to God indirectly (as the Jews often did) rather than directly, and perhaps because it makes it clear that the kingdom in question is not a purely this-worldly kingdom. And ye the kingdom which Jesus proclaimed was not just up in heaven; it was more like and invasion of earth by heaven!
Jesus’ extraordinary miracles were evidence of this. He explained them as a fulfillment of the Old Testament promises and as tangible evidence of the overthrow of Satan’s evil empire: so when John the Baptist had doubts about Jesus, Jesus said to John’s disciples, ‘ God back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised’ — a revolution indeed, and a fulfillment of Old Testament passages such as Isaiah 35:5 – 6; 61:1 (see Mat 11:2 – 6, Lk 7:18 – 23).
Jesus’ revolution affected not only people’s diseases, but also their relationships with each other: Jesus broke through social barriers, bringing together Jew and Samaritan, man and woman, rich and poor. It was no accident that on meeting with Jesus the rich Zacchaeus gave half his goods to the poor (Lk 19:8), because God’s revolutionary rule is not something affecting only people’s minds or their relationship with God, but also their life in society and their relationships with each other. The revolution of God entails the establishment of a revolutionary society. Indeed the word ‘kingdom’, when used by Jesus, often suggests not just the process of revolution, but also the new world and society that God is bringing.*
What About You?
What about you? Are you part of the revolution inaugurated by King Jesus? You are if you are living in the Reign.
*David Wenham, The Parables of Jesus (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1989), 23 – 24.