Did Jesus Come to Start a Kingdom
and Got Stuck with a Church instead?
There are two words that belong to Christian vocabulary. They are the words ”kingdom” and “church”: the Kingdom of God and the Church of Jesus Christ.
The Kingdom of God has a nice ring to it. The word “kingdom” reminds us of castles and palaces, banners flying and silver trumpets sounding. The word “kingdom” brings associations of pomp and pageantry, majesty and high moments.
The word “church” has a different ring. The trappings of splendor are usually missing. The people who gather as the church are no army of shining knights, but people who struggle with the issues of daily life. The church often proves to be a disappointment to those who are looking for a bit of heaven on earth. We are not the only ones who feel that way. The world of Jesus’ day felt the same.
The Kingdom Longed for
The audience that Jesus spoke to on the hills of Galilee looked for a kingdom with marvelous spires and peaceful moments. They wanted a world where picnics could be had, without bugs or bad weather, where Camelot could be seen in the background, where it never rained between sun up and sun down, where all women were classic beauties and all men were knight of chivalry, where all children were well above average and all pets were house broken.
They looked for the Kingdom of God that would put an instantaneous end to war, where all foes would be annihilated, every harvest would be a bumper crop and every home would be a palace. They looked for a heaven on earth, and called it the “Kingdom of God.”
Then Jesus came. He announced the arrival of the Kingdom of God. And when he healed some sick folk, and fed the crowds with fresh bread, when he raised the dead and cast out devils, they presumed that the age of wonders had dawned where death, illness and evil would be soon eradicated.
The Disappointment of Kingdom Seekers
But Jesus was a great disappointment. The miracles tailed off. His words called for a change of attitude and a transformation of character, not circumstances. He spoke of a kingdom, not of power, but of childlikeness. He took over no governments, and occupied no thrones. He built no palace and held no court, but instead wandered the hills in company with the under-employed. His kingdom was not, he finally said, of this world. Neither was it like any that had been previously envisioned.
His audience expected His kingdom to come in dramatic fashion, to terminate the old ways in a single blow, and to inaugurate the rule of God at every level of life, and all in the twinkling on an eye. But Jesus understood it differently. Very differently.
Listen to his teachings. The Kingdom of God is like seed sown – with mixed results. The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed – very small in its beginnings. The Kingdom of God is like yeast in the flour – that takes time to permeate the whole. The kingdom of God is like wheat and weeds planted together – with both good and evil co-existing until the end of time.
His view of the kingdom was a total reversal of what had been expected. His kingdom had not come to replace the kingdoms of this world, but was intended to live among them and in doing so transform all authorities and all powers. He had not come to destroy the world, but Hecame instead to revitalize it and to bring love and justice into every sphere of human experience. He came to redeem all of life, not to terminate it.
There are those, however, in the face of their disappointment have concluded that, Jesus came to start a kingdom, but got stuck with a church instead. They say that the original game plan was thwarted and so the church was created as a poor second alternative. The question is worth raising, “Is the church simply a sad substitute for the kingdom of power and glory?” Oh no!
His Intention to Build the Church
Jesus came to plant a kingdom that would be lead by men and women who were very human, very faulty, very fragile. He put the welfare of the world into the hands of mortals, and he called this group “the church.”
The church was his intention from the very beginning. As soon as he began his ministry, before he enacted his first miracle, he chose men of very common traits to be his friends. But not just his friends; to be his disciples; and eventually his co-workers and ambassadors.
He doesn’t, however, just choose a random number of followers. Out of the many who followed, He chose 12: twelve apostles who would be the counter part of the 12 leaders of the 12 tribes of Israel. Later in his ministry He chose a larger group from among his disciples to go out sharing the good news throughout Palestine: but not just a large bunch. He chose seventy. 70 was significant. There were 70 leaders in the Sanhedrin who ruled Jewish Religious life. These were the successors to the 70 elders with whom Moses shared leadership. What was Jesus up to? He was building a church that would be a shadow cabinet to the current systems that operated. He was creating “His Majesty’s Loyal Opposition” who would out-think, out-live and out-die the governments in power.
For Jesus was not simple a King come to rule in a magic kingdom. He was a leader of men and women, who intended to fashion them into a movement that could penetrate every part of human life with a message that would transpose the world into a higher key.
The Unconventional Kingdom
The kingdom he is still building will not be the conventional kind with geographic borders and capital cities and royal palaces. His kingdom will not be like the glamorous and glitzy edifices that we build for ourselves. His kingdom was to be a subversive kingdom inside the kingdom of another, functioning like a group of revolutionaries whose task is to draw all persons into a new allegiance to God, but without the use of armaments, or force, or coercion.
God gave to the church the work of being the Kingdom of God scattered among the kingdoms of this world. And he chose very human people to accomplish this task. He did not delegate the work to angels, in spite of the countless inferences of modern TV shows. The damaged humanity or the deep sinfulness of these men was no surprise to Jesus. He lived close enough to these men to know them to be extremely flawed. The Church of Jesus Christ is not the unfortunate result of a bungled game plan. The church instead is intended by its Lord to be a counter culture out to change the cultures of our communities, bit-by-bit, life-by-life, institution-by-institution. We are the people of God’s kingdom, released into our world, to nudge it gently towards God in any legitimate way we can. Can you believe it?!
Think it Through
Is there a danger whenever the church desires to rule the world instead of being a prophet to those who do govern? Is there a danger when the church wants to legislate morality, instead of demonstrate it?
What subversive action can you take this week to undermine the grip of evil in your community? What behind-the-scenes action can you take that will enrich the life of another?
For the Small Group Leader
Have you noticed the “subversive” element in the parables of Jesus?
- The kingdom is like seed sown in the soil, that dies, but underground comes to new life and brings a new harvest. (Mark 4:26-29)
- The work of the Kingdom of God is like salt that dissolves and loses its own identity, but adds a wonderful savor to our food. (Matthew 5:13)
- The work of the kingdom was the yeast in the bread, hardly noticeable by taste, but it gave a lightness to life when it was there. (Matthew 13:33)
- It is a treasure hidden in a field, than enriches the finder of this hidden wealth. (Matthew 13:34)
Published in Light and Life, January-February, 2002.