THE KINGDOM OF GOD
(A Textual Interpretation)
All biblical quotations are from the HOLY BIBLE (NIV)
Just as Jesus Christ was divinely conceived and grew in the womb of a human being before delivery into the world so has his Kingdom Of God been conceived through his divine activities in the womb of Jewish humanity and delivered into the world. This theocratic state, developing in parallel to all secular states, shall ultimately emerge upon the ruins of the latter which shall suffer total destruction. And Jesus Christ shall return from the heavens to rule over the new Kingdom as the representative (or Son) of God. So says the Scriptures.
Just before the commencement of his ministry, Jesus rejects all secular kingdoms. After the forty days that the devil tempts him in the desert one of the devil’s offers to him, after showing him “all the kingdoms of the world” (Luke 4:5), is to “give (him) all their authority and splendour.” (Luke 4:6). Before his birth, the angel Gabriel tells the Virgin Mary that “The Lord God will give (Jesus) the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” (Luke 1:32-33). The rejection of the devil’s offer, combined with the angel’s promise, points in the direction of a kingdom that, though established on earth, is different from all others.
This Kingdom of God is not projected as an instantly observable event like even the eclipse of the sun. It is a phenomenon that goes through a process of growth among existing kingdoms (or states) on earth. At Luke 17:20-21 Jesus says that, “The kingdom of God does not come with a careful observation, nor will people say ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you (where ‘within’ is understood as ‘among’ in the biblical footnote).”
Furthermore, in the parable of the mustard seed we understand that the Kingdom of God “is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade.” (Mark 4:31-32). (Emphasis added).
It is, however, different from those states as we see at John 18:36 where Jesus says, “My kingdom is not of this world… (It) is from another place.” He also declares that “I am not of this world.” (John 8:23). Just in the same vein he tells his disciples that “you do not belong to this world, but I have chosen you out of the world.” (John 15:19). In fact, at John 17:6 he refers to the disciples as “those whom (God) gave me out of the world.” At John 17:16 he makes the unified statement that his disciples “are not of the world, even as I am not of it”. Finally, at John 17:20 he includes in the Kingdom “those who will believe in me through (the disciples’) message”, that is, believers. (The word ‘world’ is here understood as ‘mundane or secular society’).
And to make his position clear Jesus tells Pilate straight in the face upon the latter’s interrogation that: “You are right in saying that I am a king.” (John 18:37). He does not say that he is ‘the king’ but ‘a king’ – meaning that he acknowledges the existence of other kings alongside his theocratic kingship. Hence, affirming his intention to establish a parallel state. The Jewish Establishment understands the significance of his claims. The Roman authorities do not.
This parallel existence of the theocratic state is resisted by the Jewish Establishment which conspires to nip it in the bud for fear of losing its own authority. At John 11:48-54 we learn that the growing support that Jesus gets from the people through his acts of performing miracles among them occasions a meeting of the Sanhedrin where a plot is hashed by the Jewish authorities to kill him.
Some of them argue in the citation that his activities will lead to the Roman authorities destroying not just the temple (the symbol of their authority) but the Jewish nation as well. (Jesus appears to share this apprehension at a point when “knowing that (his followers) intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew … to a mountain by himself” (John 6:15)). The high priest, in his contribution, says that, “… it is better for you that one man die (sic) for the people than that the whole nation perish (sic).” Sensing this danger to his life, “Jesus no longer moved about publicly among the Jews.” Of course, only for some time.
In the face of the threat to his life, Jesus uses parables to deliver his message. The parable of the tenants, whereby the ultimate dispossession of the Jewish resistance is declared, tells us at Luke 20:9-19 the extremes that Jesus is prepared to go in his determination to end the opposition of the Jewish Establishment. That is why “The teachers of the law and the chief priests looked for a way to arrest him immediately, because they knew he had spoken this parable against them.”
Jesus is convinced that his theocratic state is bound to emerge upon the rubbles of the other kingdoms. Thus, he does not mince words when one of his disciples observes and comments on the huge buildings that uphold the institutions and practices of the old society and exclaims, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!” (Mark 13:1).
Jesus responds thus: “You see all these great buildings? Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down…When you hear of wars and rumours of wars do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.” (Mark 13:2, 7-8). The ultimate emergence of the theocratic state, like the emergence of previous secular states out of the womb of the preceding ones, will experience birth pangs. Institutions of the old society will experience great shocks.
To underscore the drastic nature of the change that he is talking about, Jesus says at Mark 2:21-22 that the new kingdom must not be in or be mixed with the old. He is not talking about a reform of the old but its rejection or dissolution. These are what the verses say: “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, he pours new wine into new wineskins.”
In this regard, Jesus calls for absolute dedication to the evolving Kingdom of God – the theocratic state. Any commitments which tend to distract attention from that endeavour must be redirected. Hence, concerns with family, relatives and business in the old society must not be made to stand in the way of one’s work within or for the Kingdom. Whoever cannot leave those concerns behind in the old society cannot fit into the Kingdom.
In fact, one is urged to invest in the theocratic state rather than in the other kingdoms where, given the impending destruction that they must face, investments cannot be secure. This is what Jesus states tersely at Matthew 6:19-21 thus: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” The metaphoric use of “earth” and “heaven” respectively refers to ‘mundane or secular society’ (existing kingdoms or states) and ‘Kingdom of God’.
That Kingdom projects citizenship and benefits granted upon the Lord’s wish irrespective of the recipient’s qualifications. With respect to the benefits or blessings, Jesus tells us the parable of the workers of the vineyard at Matthew 20:1-16. There he defends the right of the landowner to pay those of his workers who had worked for only one hour the same wage as those who had worked for twelve hours. Clearly, the amount of work done is not the basis for the computation of the benefits distributed in the vineyard; else you would also accuse Jesus of injustice and therefore misunderstand the situation in the Kingdom of God as he describes it through this parable. In that Kingdom, man works “each according to his ability” (Acts 11:29) and gets “as he (has) need” (Acts 2:45).
Similarly, in respect of citizenship, the landowner in the vineyard parable decides on his own accord to bring into the vineyard whoever he chooses to. This he does not on the basis of what those outside have done or not done. That is why in the parable of the Wedding Banquet we hear the command: “Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find” (Matthew 22:9).
In fact, John 1:16 states that “From the fullness of grace we have all received one blessing after another.” Even ‘faith in Jesus Christ’ is possible only through grace. That is where our next concern is: How do we have ‘faith in Jesus’ which is the basic requirement in our relationship with the Christ and his theocracy, the Kingdom of God (which is among us now), so that our prayers will always be answered as children of God?
At John 5:39, Jesus makes mockery of those who think that a mere study of the Scriptures is sufficient for attainment of the ultimate benefit which is eternal life: “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life.” But if study by itself is not the path what is? Let’s search!
In our search let’s take note that with certainty, Jesus Christ, in his characteristic expression of faith, finally declares at John 16:33, “I have overcome the world” (that is, the secular states) – the seed of the Kingdom of God (the Universal Church) having germinated and been noticed even by the conservative resistance!
** This article was edited and published by the Daily Graphic in Ghana on October 9, 2008. This original version is marginally edited here. Two follow-ups to this article were refused publication by a reactionary features editor of the newspaper known and called Doreen Allotey. Those follow-ups appear here below.