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: Difficulties in Entering the Kingdom

Luke tells us (Luke 16:16, NIV) that, “The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing their way into it.” This verse is among a collection of sayings and parables that Jesus taught in regard to the defective religious understandings of the Pharisees. It does not seem to tell us that the kingdom of God had actually arrived at that time but that the ordinary people were eager for the new religious ideas being proclaimed by Jesus. In fact, “faith” rather than “forcing” seems the right approach to entering the kingdom. Jesus’ words seem to show that not only the Pharisees but the common people had wrong ideas about what was meant by a place in the kingdom.

 In another place (Matthew 23:13, NIV), we find among the seven woes that Jesus pronounced regarding the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees these words, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.” People’s interest in the kingdom of heaven was being actively opposed by respectable religious groups.

 There is another obstacle to entering the kingdom of God—wealth. In Mark 10:23-25 (NIV) we are told, “Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!’ The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, ‘Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!  It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’” The same teaching is recorded in Matthew 19:23-24 and Luke 18:24-25 (NIV). No matter how we interpret the camel and the eye of the needle it is clear that Jesus taught that wealth constituted a difficulty when it came to entering the kingdom of God.

 In 1 John 2:16 we are warned against the love of the world and the craving for things that John calls “the lust of the eyes” (NIV). Seemingly this is the explanation for the severe words of Jesus, “And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where ‘the worms that eat them do not die, and the fire is not quenched.’” (Mark 9:47-48, NIV)

Paul tells us in three places that various forms of immorality not just create difficulties in regard to entering the kingdom of God they make it impossible for those who practice them to do so. “For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God” (Ephesians 5:5, NIV). In 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 (NIV) we have a description of some of the forms of immorality that bar people from the kingdom of God. “Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” Galatians 5:19-21 (NIV) provides another list of behaviors that keep people out of the kingdom of God. “The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.”