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Table of Contents
What does it mean for us to be committed to the theology and practice of the Kingdom of God, rooted in the vision of the Hebrew prophets and fulfilled in the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth?
We have been commissioned to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom bearing witness to the already and not yet of the Kingdom in words and deeds.
What would it mean for the Church to be distinctively centered in a renewed understanding of the centrality of the Kingdom of God in biblical thought?
What if we viewed the Kingdom of God as the overarching and integrating theme of the Bible?
AFTER JOHN WAS PUT IN PRISON, JESUS WENT INTO GALILEE, PROCLAIMING THE GOOD NEWS OF GOD. “THE TIME HAS COME,” HE SAID. “THE KINGDOM OF GOD HAS COME NEAR. REPENT AND BELIEVE THE GOOD NEWS!”
MARK 1:14-15 NIV
INTRODUCTION: DOES THEOLOGY MATTER?
For thousands of years Christians have studied the Bible to discover more about the God who is the central figure in its magnificent plot. What we think about God, and what we believe he is doing in the world, affects our everyday lives. In fact, what we understand to be God’s plan for the world, and his plan for each one of us, is a matter of ultimate importance to every human being who has ever lived.
Knowing about God, and his purposes for the world, is what theology is really all about. Theology is the “study of God,” or as one writer said, “Faith seeking understanding.” We want to know who God is, but we also want to know God in a vital relationship.
In the Vineyard, we look to the Scriptures – the Old and New Testaments – to guide our theology, and to teach us about the nature and purposes of God. We believe that God has self-revealed his character in the Scriptures, and nowhere more do we see him self-revealed than in the life and teaching of Jesus (Heb. 1:3).
Learning to know Jesus, and to become like him, is the goal of the Christian life. And if we truly want to be like Jesus, we must understand his most important, overarching, and integrating message about the world – his message of the kingdom of God.
In Mark 1:14-15, we read these powerful words: “… Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. ‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!’”
From the moment Jesus shows up on the scene in Israel, he begins to proclaim the reality of what he called the “kingdom of God.” Through stories and metaphors, miracles and healings, Jesus sends out one important declaration to anyone who will listen:
The kingdom of God is breaking into this world – and it changes everything.
- Why does the theology of your neighbor matter, and how do our views of God shape our lives?
THE KINGDOM JESUS PREACHED
What Is A Kingdom?
To understand what Jesus meant by the phrase, “the kingdom of God,” we must first understand what a kingdom is. When we in the Western world hear the word, we may think of kings and queens ruling in empires like England. A regent over a kingdom is someone who has authority in that kingdom. That kingdom is a place where they actively rule and reign.
So, what did it mean when Jesus said that God has a kingdom, and that it has come near?
What Is The Kingdom Of God?
The kingdom of God, as Jesus spoke about it, was not limited to a physical city, country, or land mass – even to the borders of ancient Israel. Rather, the kingdom of God was the dynamic reign of God over heaven and earth; all things visible and invisible.
For the ancient Jews, the idea of the “kingdom of God” was an accepted theological reality. Taught by prophets like Isaiah, the people of Israel believed that God is the one true King and Creator of the world. As King, he rules the cosmos (Ps. 24:8- 10), and will one day express that rule fully on earth through his selected regent – an anointed one (Is. 61:1).
On that day, God’s people, Israel, will be delivered from their oppressors and brought home from their long exile. The world will be set to rights, brought under God’s shalom (peace) again as it had been in the beginning. God’s anointed, appointed King will rule the people of the world with justice, mercy, and love. This was the day for which they hoped, prayed, and persevered.
Jesus Inaugurates The Kingdom
Jesus, a simple carpenter’s son and a Jew, is born in 1st century Palestine. One day, as a young man, he steps forward in a synagogue to read the Old Testament. He chooses a revered text that speaks of the anointed King to come. It is from the revered prophet Isaiah, chapter 61.
Here is the account:
“He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’”
Jesus was declaring himself to be the anointed King for whom they had been waiting! He would proclaim, in word and deed, that God’s kingdom was truly among them. He would demonstrate that kingdom in signs, wonders, and the transformation of every life he touched. Then, by death on a cross, he would offer himself as a sacrificial lamb, the “suffering servant,” for the sins of humanity (Is. 53). By his resurrection from the dead (Luke 24:1-6), God would verify that Jesus was indeed the true King of the world. Jesus was inaugurating the rule and reign of God on the earth, and God’s purposes for the world from creation would begin to be realized.
- What does it mean that Jesus “inaugurated” the rule and reign of God on earth?
THE NOW OF THE KINGDOM
God’s Rule Breaks Into Our World
Through Jesus’ life and ministry, God’s future world – and its entire value system – was breaking into our human experience. Using a theological phrase, we call this inaugurated eschatology. Put simply, this means that Jesus inaugurated (ushered in) the gifts of God’s future, perfect world (eschatology is about the “end” of the world).
God’s future kingdom, where healing and justice and love will reign supreme for eternity, was being brought into the present through the ministry of Jesus. In Jesus, humanity was experiencing the presence of God’s future (George Ladd).
The kingdom of God, God’s rule and reign, was being established in hearts and lives as Jesus not only proclaimed the good news of God’s plan to crush the works of Satan (1 Jn. 3:8), but he also demonstrated that good news by healing the sick, casting out demons, offering radical forgiveness, extending compassion, and delivering the oppressed. Every act of physical healing, every act of forgiveness, every action addressing poverty, is a foretaste of God’s kingdom that will come one day. God’s kingdom has broken into the world, is breaking into the world, and will break into the world one day.
Two Ways Of Talking About The Kingdom
As Jesus spoke about the kingdom of God that he was demonstrating, he seemed to speak about it in two different ways. The kingdom of God, for Jesus, seemed to be both now and not yet. In other words, the kingdom was something that was invading the earth through his ministry in the present. But then he would talk about the future kingdom, when all wrongs would be made right, and he would reign forever and ever.
In the Vineyard we call this “living between the times.” We as human beings live in the tension between the kingdom touching us now, and the kingdom that will be fully revealed at the end of time.
The Kingdom Now
What does it mean for God’s kingdom to come “now”? Wherever Jesus taught, signs and wonders followed him. Children were raised from the dead. Lepers were cleansed of their diseases. The lame walked. The blind were given sight. Multitudes were miraculously fed with small amounts of food. Prostitutes were shown mercy and kindness. Arrogant religious leaders were rebuked for their lack of compassion. The poor were treated with dignity as fellow image bearers of God (Gen. 1:26-27). Women were afforded equal dignity as men. Compassion was shown to beggars, thieves, and drunkards.
The hand of God was touching the world through Jesus, and God was confirming Christ as his royal regent through signs, wonders, and miracles (Heb. 2:2b-4). He was a living, breathing revolution – and hearts were being changed everywhere
Jesus Starts A Kingdom Apprenticeship
But it didn’t stop there. Jesus then commissioned his disciples to do the same things that he was doing. They were going to proclaim, preach, and demonstrate God’s rule and reign. Working with their obedience, the Holy Spirit then extended the kingdom into people’s lives. Jesus never meant for the miracles to end with him! This rag-tag band of fishermen, tax collectors, and Jewish laymen were participating with Jesus in the revealing of the kingdom.
Every miracle, every act of justice and compassion, was pointing to the future day when God would completely set the world upside right again. The “presence of the future” was truly upon them – God’s kingdom had come near and the disciples were participating in his great restoration project. In the Vineyard we believe that God acts in healing, power, and deliverance today. We also believe that the kingdom apprenticeship Jesus began has never stopped – and is an invitation open to every Christ-follower.
- What are the two ways that Jesus talked about the Kingdom of God?
- How do they affect one another?
THE NOT YET OF THE KINGDOM
The Kingdom Not Yet
While the kingdom of God was breaking into the world through Jesus, all human suffering, pain, and difficulty did not disappear. In fact, it still remains with us to this day. For Jesus, while the kingdom of God was happening in the present, it was also yet to come in all its fullness in the future.
Through Jesus, God had inaugurated the kingdom on earth, but he would consummate it one day in the future. In practical terms, this means that when we pray for the sick (a hallmark of the Vineyard from the beginning), some will be healed and others will not. Yet, with faith, we pray confidently for healing and entrust the results to God.
The Dynamic Tension We Live In
In the Vineyard, we embrace this dynamic tension. While we believe that God’s kingdom can invade any moment of our lives, not everyone will experience God’s love the way we want for them. We rejoice when one person experiences a miracle of healing, while we grieve as another person succumbs to the effects of cancer or poverty.
Some Christians respond to this tension between the now and the not yet of the kingdom by saying that God does not do miracles today. They contend that the gifts given by the Spirit of God were just for Jesus’ time and are not available to us now.
Some Christians respond to this tension by largely ignoring the reality that suffering continues in the world. These groups triumphantly declare that the kingdom should always be experienced demonstrably in the here and now – or something is wrong. If we don’t experience a moment of physical healing or personal transformation, it is probably our fault. For them, unanswered prayer reveals a lack of faith in us – and we had better work up more if want to see God do what he has promised to do.
How We Carry This Tension In The Vineyard Movement
In the Vineyard, we choose to respectfully step away from both of these extremes. John Wimber, the founder of the Vineyard, was well known for encouraging us, “Love the whole church.” But we have certain values and practices as part of our common heritage, and they are what cause us to love being in this kingdom-centered movement together.
We believe that a necessary tension will always exist between the now and the not yet of the kingdom. We pray for the sick, and we have seen many healed. We do the work of compassion, and we have seen the poor restored to hope. But we do not always see the results we want to see this side of heaven. Yet we believe that every faith-filled act of prayer puts a deposit of love in to
the person who is suffering. And we have testimonies from every corner of the earth that, at times, the kingdom of God does break through with power to heal those who are sick.
As we live in this interim time, the kingdom of God to come is our future hope. It is a day when the Scriptures tell us that “all things will be made new” (Rev. 21:5) and every tear will be wiped away from the face of the brokenhearted (Rev. 21:4). It is the day Isaiah prophesied would come (Is. 35:1-10), and John describes in his vision in Revelation 21:1-5. There will be no more innocent girls enslaved in the sex trafficking industry. There will be no more cancer. There will be an end to poverty. God will one day right this world.
Toward that day, we trust, we hope, and we pray in the way Jesus taught us to pray: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10).
- How do we carry the tension between an “already” and “not yet” Kingdom?
- How does this tension influence our way of praying, and our ways of acting, in the world?
HOW DO WE BECOME KINGDOM PEOPLE?
John Wimber had this to say about Jesus’ kingdom activity:
“… ‘Kingdom’ is translated from the New Testament Greek word basileia, which implies an exercise of kingly rule or reign rather than simply establishing a geographic realm over which a king rules. …The kingdom of God is the dynamic reign or rule of God. When Jesus said that the kingdom of God had come in him, he claimed for himself the position of a divine invader, coming to set everything straight: ‘The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s works’ (1 John 3:8)” (Wimber, Kingdom Evangelism, p. 12).
In other words, Jesus not only spoke words about the kingdom – he went around Israel doing the works of the kingdom. He was destroying the works of the evil one that bring physical and spiritual death to human beings. Jesus had a message of Good News (that is what the word “Gospel” means), but he also had a ministry to back it up. As he trained his disciples, they became apprentices to his work, “doing the stuff” of the kingdom of God.
In the Vineyard family of churches, we believe that Christians are commissioned and empowered by the Spirit of God to do the works of the kingdom. With Jesus, we are empowered by the Spirit to bring “the presence of God’s future” to our streets, neighborhoods, towns, and cities – in the hospitals, homes, and hearts to which he sends us.
Will you say “yes” to God – will you become a person who works with Jesus, in word and works, to demonstrate that the kingdom of God is truly near?
- What are ways that God’s sovereign rule has broken into your own life?
- How can the Kingdom break into our daily lives, and what can we do to facilitate that happening?
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All Scriptures taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.TM