Matthew 3:1-2 (GNT)
At that time John the Baptist came to the desert of Judea and started preaching.
2 “Turn away from your sins,” he said, “because the Kingdom of heaven is near!”
Or to put it another way: What is this Kingdom of God promise that comes up again and again in the Bible? The promise of the Kingdom of God is easier for us to live with than our wondering “How long, Lord, how long must we wait?” – for peace, for justice, for kindness, for rest!
We hear John the Baptist preaching repentance to pave the way for Jesus and the Kingdom (Matt. 3:1-3). Jesus continued John the Baptist’s invitation for people to turn away from their sins and hear the Good news for the Kingdom of God was at hand. (Mark 1:15) and promising to return at the coming of the Kingdom ( John 14:3, Matt. 16:27) but 2,000 years later we are still waiting – trying to divine the signs that would tell us when that “when” will arrive.
The first century Christians understood the Kingdom of God to be coming soon, Jesus was returning at any moment and they wanted to be ready. ((Matt. 24:42) I don’t think we have lost that sense that we have to be ready – but over the years we have wondered “ready for what?” and come up with diverse answers.
Some people understand the ushering in of the Kingdom of God is to turn this world into a peaceable kingdom where the lions of power and greed and might lie sleeping next to lambs who frolic without want or need. (Isaiah 11:6-9). It is a place and time of peace and plenty.
Some people understand the coming of the Kingdom as the Rapture or the second coming of Christ whose judgment separates heaven from hell and us with it. (Matt. 16:27, Matt. 24:29-31)
Some see the Kingdom as that which we work towards one step at a time, one good action or deed at a time, one social/ racial/ sexual/ sexist /religious barrier at a time. (Matt: 25: 31-46)
Some people understand the Kingdom to be within themselves. (Luke 17:21)
All of these ideas turn to scripture to support their positions. All of the people holding any one of these positions or any other idea of the Kingdom find footholds in their own lives to uphold and maintain their idea of the Kingdom of God.
When life is difficult, the promise of a better, happier, more fulfilling life with God in the afterlife seems to beckons to us, making the hardships of this life bearable (almost).
I have trouble with the Rapture, but it too has a solid basis in scripture, I have trouble with it for two main reasons:
- It seems like payback to me, to all we have judged not to belong for whatever reasons or who have transgressed us or who we just don’t like. Although it is God who does the judging the basis of getting into heaven seems to be God’s chosen people (Israel), or those who are persecuted because of their religious allegiance: followers of Jesus.
- If we profess a loving God of all humankind then who gets left out and why. Does a loving God reconcile everyone within the category “children of God”? Is God the God of all creation? Do people / souls redeem themselves? OK I have lots of questions.
Matthew 25 supports and indeed defines the idea that what we do individually, as a community and as a society to help those who need our help, the forgotten, the outcast, the refugee, those who are hungry, those who are thirsty, those who are sick and need comfort and care, those who are in prison, the homeless and addicted, and those who are going through a difficult time – all these things and more will define the kind of person, community and society we are in God’s judgment. Liberation theology takes this idea further and says that the more we move in this direction the closer we get to the Kingdom of God, here and now, in this world, despite Matthew 25’s emphasis on the final judgment.
In Luke 17:21, Jesus says that: “the Kingdom of God is within you”, suggesting that without the deep yearning, seeking, and being immersed in the spiritual life, the Kingdom of God is even more illusive.
As you can see we have barely scratched the surface of Kingdom of God talk and both the Christian and Hebrew Testaments are rich sources for understanding the Kingdom of God.
I have some questions, you may have others or you may have a completely different understanding of the Kingdom of God. I hope in coming conversations and discussions I will have a chance to hear what you have to say. I believe that there is room for all our ideas and that listening to each other will open our hearts and minds to a greater understanding of what the Kingdom of God means today.
There is Room for All (More Voices #62)
There is room for all
in the shadow of God's wing
there is room for all,
sheltered in God's love.
And I rejoice and sing, My refuge
and my rock in whom I trust.
There is room for all,
there is room for all.