Over the years, the Kingdom of God has come to have an increasingly prominent place in my faith, my theology and my goals for church life. The proclamation of the Kingdom’s arrival and availability was at the heart of Jesus’ teaching (see, for example, Mark 1:15); and much of his teaching unpacked the implications of the Kingdom, both in terms of our heart devotion and our life obedience.
Having said that, however, I think that we followers of Jesus continue to struggle with what it means to “seek first the Kingdom,” as Jesus instructed us to do. What does it look like in an individual life and in the life of a faith community when “God’s Kingdom comes and God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven”?
Well, one thing that it apparently doesn’t look like — at least for now — is the formation of a “Christian” or “Kingdom” power structure that replaces existing worldly ones. This, it seems to me, was the mistake that many of Jesus’ contemporaries made when they assumed that the arrival of the Kingdom necessarily meant the removal of Roman power and the institution of a theocratic state. In today’s Daily Office, for example, a group of Pharisees come and ask Jesus when the Kingdom of God would come. But Jesus tells them:
“The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.” (Luke 17:20-21)
Of course, that statement still presents a fair amount of mystery. What does it mean that “the Kingdom of God is in our midst”? Well, certainly Jesus’ many teachings give some definition to the contours of the Kingdom: contours that challenge and overturn many of our underlying assumptions about the ways in which kingdoms and powers work. In the Kingdom of God, greatness is found not in lording it over others, but in serving others. In the Kingdom of God, victory comes not through hating and fighting our enemies, but by loving and forgiving them. In the Kingdom of God, our value is determined not by the status that we earn, but by the grace we receive.
Most of all, of course, the Kingdom of God looks like and is defined by the presence of Jesus. I suspect that Jesus’ main point in the statement above could be “contextualized” like this: “You Pharisees are looking for a kingdom that can be clearly identified by a certain set of laws, or a certain set of power arrangements. But the Kingdom is already here, because I’m already here! Oh, that you could see the Kingdom in your midst.”
One day, of course, we will be able to say of the Kingdom: “Here it is!” Because one day, “the kingdoms of this world will become the Kingdom of our LORD and of His Christ, and He will reign forever.” (Rev. 11:15) But in the meantime, may we truly live as Kingdom citizens; and may we always be seeking the presence of the One who is the Kingdom, and the Power, and the Glory forever.