The Kingdom of God

by J. Heinrich Arnold

It is quite clear that the kingdom of God cannot exist where bombs are being dropped on people, whether guilty or innocent, where there is racial hatred among men, where there is such poor distribution of food that some people starve while others have surplus food, or where people cannot find work because of automation.

If we really see the injustice of the world for what it is, we will long for the kingdom of God. Only when the hearts of men are moved toward love and peace will his righteousness break in. Those who remain unmoved, however, cannot take part in the kingdom. Therefore John the Baptist said, "Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand (Mt. 3:2)." And Jesus said, "Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and everything else will be yours as well (Mt. 6:33)."

Jesus came to prepare all men for the kingdom of God, which has not yet come, as we know only too well. He told us that the kingdom will be among us when we love God with our whole heart and soul, and when we love our neighbor as ourselves. If only we would do this, not just in words but in deed!

Jesus came not as a great king or president but as a humble baby. That is what people have not understood. He proclaimed the coming kingdom of God. There has perhaps never been a time when this is more urgently needed than the present. Men have more power than ever, and the power of their weapons is frightening. The relationships of people, races, and nations, are unsolved, and those who have money rule. Jesus says we should become poor (Mt. 19:21). If we obey him and give up worldly privileges and power over people, our hearts will be freed for the kingdom of God. Oh, if we could only glimpse what this kingdom means: repentance, glowing love, and God's rulership above everything!

Nations are building their freedom and security on the most dangerous weapons that have ever existed. Yet we are called to build our security on something else - that which is of God. And we long that something of God might be given to all nations. It is not enough to lead even the most perfect life of peace in church community. Our longing will be satisfied only when the whole earth comes under the rulership of God, not the rulership of force.

When Jesus fed five thousand people with five loaves and two fishes, a remarkable thing happened: the people wanted to force him to become their king (Jn. 6:11). But Jesus said to them, "You come to me because I have fed you," and he rejected them. Then those who wanted to make him king left him. Some of them were even hostile (Jn. 6:26-66). After this Jesus said to the Twelve, "All the others have gone away; do you want to leave me now too?" We must be ready to answer this question: Do we also want to leave?

It is significant that the people wanted to make Jesus king only after he gave them bread. This did not happen even when he raised someone from the dead. There is nothing wrong in itself with expecting God to give us bread, or expecting Jesus to fill our needs. Jesus taught us to ask our Father for our daily bread. But what he so sharply rejects is the building of a kingdom on that mammonistic level. He would rather lose his disciples than build his kingdom on a false foundation.

Jesus offers to give himself to each one of us to the extent that we become one flesh and one blood with him. This is not a philosophy, but real food; it is life. It changes everything in anyone who experiences it, not only for that moment but for all eternity.

Christ promises us eternal life in a kingdom based on faith, not on work and bread. Usually a king demands the blood of his subjects. But Christ gave his blood for his subjects. He gave his life and his body for the lives of others. At the time Christ offered his body to his disciples, he had - as far as we know - the largest following of his lifetime. But after this, many left him. That is why Jesus asked the Twelve, "Do you also want to leave me?" Peter's answer is wonderful: "Lord, to whom shall we go? Your words are words of eternal life (Jn. 6:67-68)."

It is important for us to decide whether we want only a nice church with Jesus as its king, or the way of the cross. This must be very clear to us: Jesus' way is the way of the cross, of complete personal change, of a society on a completely different basis than work and bread and privileges. We must be willing to be surrounded by enemies and to be despised for going his way.

The way society has developed in this century of such tremendous injustice and bloodshed shows us that salvation and redemption cannot come from men; they must come from God. All the more we must call on God to reveal once again his kingdom of righteousness and justice among men.

Jesus is the kingdom of God. When he forgave sins, that was the kingdom of God. When he gathered his friends in unity, that was the kingdom of God. When he drove out demons and impure spirits, that was the kingdom of God. Every deed of his mission among men was the kingdom of God.

I sometimes wonder whether our community has not completely forgotten the kingdom of God, and whether the distinction between personal salvation and the kingdom is clear enough to us. Both are of great importance. Eternal salvation is very important - it is wonderful to experience the nearness of Christ and to be redeemed by him. But the kingdom of God is still greater!

The nearness of the kingdom of God cannot be measured in terms of time. Jesus said "The kingdom of heaven is at hand! (Mt. 4:17)" And paradoxical as it sounds, it was nearer at that time than it is now. It was not nearer in terms of time, but in terms of space.

The kingdom of God must be fought for and wrestled for (Jas. 5:16). The prayers of men and women have tremendous influence in this fight (Mk. 9:29).

If we love Christ and his cause, we will have the interest of his kingdom at heart. Christ came to this earth and suffered in order to bring the kingdom on earth, and his church is entrusted with the very great task of mission for this kingdom.

What a mighty thing it is to live for God's kingdom! Do not shrink back. Live for it; look for it, and you will find that it is so powerful it will completely overwhelm you - it will solve every problem on earth. Everything will be new, and each person will love the other in Christ. All separation brought about by death will be overcome, and love will rule.

The commission we are given by Jesus as a church is to work for his kingdom and his future reign. There is nothing greater on earth than to work for this. Let us live intensely and use our time for the kingdom! Let us love one another!

God needs a place on earth where he can break in. Such a place was there in Mary, whose willingness made it possible for Christ to be born in Bethlehem. If God can enter in even one place, whether in Bethlehem, China, Russia, Vietnam - in a human heart anywhere - it is like the opening of a door. If the door to a room is opened even a little, light can come in. And if God's light enters and moves the hearts of just two or three people on earth, it will affect all the rest. It will even affect presidents, prime ministers, generals, and soldiers. I cannot believe that humans are so isolated from one another that it has no effect.

Just as through Adam the whole of humankind fell, so through Jesus - the "second Adam," the true man, and God himself - the whole of humankind can find freedom, healing, and redemption (Rom. 5:12-19).

Let us call upon God and ask him that we may fight for his kingdom. The more deeply we enter this fight, the more deeply we will experience the cross of Christ, the resurrection, and Pentecost - and the nearer the kingdom will be to us. Live intensively in the expectation of the Lord! He who does not wait for the Lord in every aspect of his life does not wait at all. I ask myself every evening, have I really loved enough, hoped enough, fought enough, worked enough? The expectation of the kingdom must lead to deeds.

The Swiss theologian Karl Barth once said that the kingdom of God must be revealed to us as something completely different from us, something completely independent from us which we cannot mix with our own selves. This is, I think, a very important recognition. Unless we die to ourselves for his sake, we remain in opposition to him and unworthy of him.

God could have closed human history at Golgotha, when Jesus overcame the devil and death. But he did not do that, and evil had a further chance. This is a mystery to us. Many people from all nations are won for the kingdom of God, but many others are misled. I do not dare to guess why this is so, but I know that God is the ruler of the universe and that his judgment must stand. We read that those who are misled, those who "worship the beast and its image," will receive its mark on their forehead or hand and will drink the wine of God's wrath (Rev. 14:9-10). We don't know when this will happen, or when the breaking in of God's kingdom will come, but we must raise our children so that they are ready to stand firm when it does. Our children must be courageous enough to stand for the truth.

How does the kingdom of God relate to the last judgment? How will the kingdom come, and what will it be like? Much is shown us through the sayings of Jesus himself, through the writings of the early church, and through the working of the Spirit in the individual heart. Yet Jesus said that the hour of the coming kingdom was known to the Father alone and that even he, the Son of God, did not know when it would come (Mt. 24:36). We can approach these questions only with greatest awe, reverence, and caution. At the same time, though, we see how very concerned the early Christians were with the coming of the kingdom. All the words of the apostles point to it.

We do not know how near or far we are from the kingdom of God in terms of time. But we know we can be very near or very far from it in spirit, and that is the decisive question. Jesus said that we can expect signs of the coming kingdom, and some of these signs are evident today (Lk. 21:9-11). Yet he also said that the last day would come like a thief in the night; that is, at a moment when no one expects it or is thinking about it (Lk. 12:39-40).

There are many mysteries we cannot solve because God wishes to keep them hidden. But we can rejoice in this: the coming of the kingdom is certain, and it is a kingdom of peace, victory, and justice.

We do not know why God allowed death and evil to enter creation, yet we do know that man let himself be seduced by evil. In the same way, we do not know what struggle God carried on against evil before the creation of man, or the proportion and nature of man's task in this struggle, but we do know that it was a decisive struggle and that it brought the Son of God himself to the cross.

In the Revelation of John we read of a battle that will take place in heaven at the end time (Rev. 19:11-21). The church - as the Body of Christ - has to carry on the same battle here upon earth. Just as God did not spare the suffering of his own Son but delivered him up to suffer the greatest need, so too, at the expense and sacrifice of the church, the kingdom will break in.

The separation of the spiritual from the material, of the soul from the body, is death, but unity is life. Jesus brought the message of a new kingdom where soul and body, spiritual and material, will no longer be separated. In this new kingdom the Creator will be one with his creation.

When we look at the earth as it is now, we see that judgment is inevitable. In fact, the sin of men is already carrying out this judgment. Yet if we deeply consider the words of Christ, we will find that grace, mercy, and compassion will triumph over judgment.

We expect a new heaven and a new earth, but we must not trouble ourselves with exactly how and when the kingdom will come. We know only that it is coming. And since Peter says that the church must expect, help, and hasten on the coming of God, we know it is our task to see that something of his kingdom is revealed and made living among us (2 Pet. 3:12).

In the beginning, even before the creation of the universe, was the endlessly loving Father, God, and with him the Word, which is Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. At the end of time, too, God alone will rule. Groaning creation will be redeemed and the universe will be joyful (Rev. 7:17). There will be pure joy, love, harmony, and justice. God will wipe away every tear, and there will be no death, sorrow, or pain (Rev. 21:4). The longing for this time burns in the heart of every being, spiritual or human.

What a great gift it would be if we could see a little of the great vision of Jesus - if we could see beyond our small lives! Certainly our view is very limited. But we can at least ask him to call us out of our small worlds and our self-centeredness, and we can at least ask to feel the challenge of the great harvest that must be gathered - the harvest of all nations and all people, including the generations of the future.