Thoughts on the Kingdom of God in the New Testament: Costs of the Kingdom

There are those who say, “family comes first,” that is to say it comes before everything else. This is not what Jesus said. “Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’ Still another [person] said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.’ Jesus replied, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God’” (Luke 9:60-62, NIV). In Luke 18:29-30 (NIV) we find even more explicit words regarding the priority of the kingdom of God in the lives of those who follow Jesus. “’Truly I tell you,’ Jesus said to them, ‘no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.’”

Jesus even spoke of some people adopting a celibate life to devote themselves to the kingdom of heaven. “For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it” (Matthew 19:12, NIV).

There are hardships to be endured in the kingdom of God beyond those that are accepted voluntarily. It is as Paul and those with him told the disciples in some of the cities of Asia Minor. “They preached the gospel in that city [Derbe] and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. ‘We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,’ they said” (Acts 14:21-22, NIV).

There is also separation from loved ones. Paul told the elders of Ephesus, “Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again” (Acts 20:25, NIV). In his novel, The Painted Veil, W. Somerset Maugham, who was not a Christian, gives a touching description of French nuns leaving their homeland to serve in China. They know they will never see their families, friends and homes again. They were paying a high price for the sake of the kingdom of God but not more than it is worth.

And finally, there is martyrdom for the sake of the kingdom of God. In Matthew 20:20-23 we are told the mother of James and John knelt before Jesus and asked him for a favor. “What is it you want?” he asked.” She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.” She, of course, having the common misunderstanding of the kingdom of heaven did not have any idea of what she was requesting. However, Jesus, knowing the eventual fates of James and John asked them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” They told him they could, and they did, but not on the crosses on either side of Jesus as he came into his kingdom.

Paul rejoiced in the growing love the Thessalonians had for each other in the midst of persecutions and trials and said he boasted to other churches about their faith and perseverance. He told them, “All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering” (2 Thessalonians 1:5, NIV).

The author of the book of Revelation also suffered for the sake of the kingdom of God. “I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus” (Revelation 1:9, NIV).

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Thoughts on the Kingdom of God: The Kingdom Both on Earth and in Heaven

Jesus told Peter that he was the rock on which Jesus would build his church and that the gates of Hades would not overcome it. Then, in Jesus’ next statement to Peter he says, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:18). If we think the church is an earthly entity given the task of finding and strengthening the people of kingdom of God and that the kingdom of heaven is a spiritual realm that exists both on earth and in heaven, then it is reasonable that Jesus was speaking here of two different aspects of Peter’s future apostleship.

Churches are institutions formed in the here and now by Christians to do the things Jesus has given the churches to do. However, “Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” (John 18:36, NIV). We can probably read “from another place” as meaning “of a different kind.”

Luke 14:1-24 is a rendition of words Jesus said to Pharisees at a Sabbath meal to which he had been invited. Most of what he said contradicted the beliefs of the Pharisees, however “When one of those at the table with him heard this [the teaching concerning who should be invited to banquets], he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God” (Luke 14:15, NIV). Jesus did not deny then there would be a feast in the kingdom of God but told the parable of the great banquet about who would be enjoying the feast. The next section of the fourteenth chapter is where Jesus spoke about the cost of discipleship.