When Kingdoms Collide

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“Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”  “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “It was your people and your chief priests who handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.” “You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”  John 18:33-37 NIV

The conversation between Pilate and Jesus is the most personal point of collision between the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of the world.

In the past, I’m afraid we have read this text and seen its drama play out in such a way that is totally disconnected from everything Jesus had been teaching three years prior to his arrest. He has not merely used political language here to speak of heavenly things.

Jesus is not using political rhetoric here to simply ensure his brutal death on a cross for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus doesn’t whisper in Pilate’s ear, “Do me a favor, would you? I have to die for the sins of the world. I would appreciate it if you could crucify me for no reason.”  No, nothing of the sort!

Jesus was proclaiming an end to the power and glory of worldly kingdoms and the rise of a new order. The only way to miss this is to revel in ignorance of first century Palestine.

“And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”  Paul, Colossians 2:15

Unfortunately, the American version of the story is what we have been told. We have removed most (if not all) earthly implications of Christ’s words to his church concerning her relationship to worldly powers.

We have stripped the New Testament of all immediate implications on faith as it pertains to worldly politics. Where we find the Scripture opposes our own personal paradigms we must ignore its instruction, change its meaning, or compartmentalize it to fit our dichotomized faith.

This belief system promotes the idea that our discipleship does not carry over to all aspects of life. And when a person wants to meddle in worldly affairs that Christ himself did not concern himself with, out come the excuses as to why our situations and circumstances are different than those of Jesus.

“Perhaps in our well-intentioned efforts to bring all things under the lordship of Christ, American Christian culture has been guilty of baptizing unrepentant social systems and structures… Has American Christianity too often shelved its discipleship, compartmentalized its faith, and thus been blinded by unredeemed cultural forces that leave us prey to the principalities and powers of this world?”  Lee Camp, Mere Discipleship: Radical Christianity in a Rebellious World, p.18

There is no denying this is indeed what has happened among the church today. The answer to our present dilemma is not to continue down the path of castrating the Gospel of Jesus with insistency upon getting our hands on the mantle of political power. It is to return to the way of the Master.

It is by renewing our Christology in a zealous pursuit of his heart. It can only come by taking another look at Jesus and rethinking the doctrine of the two kingdoms. It will call for a fresh interpretation of Scripture within its historical-grammatical context and a discovery of the indwelling Christ.

And it will come with great sacrifice.

Donald Kraybill writes:

“Kingdom ethics, taught and lived by Jesus, can be transported over the bridge linking the first century with our own… The Gospels don’t offer a full-blown system of formal ethics for every conceivable situation… Jesus, does however, clearly introduce us to basic principles of the right and good for the collective life of the Kingdom.  Making specific applications, of course, is the task of believers guided by the Holy Spirit.” The Upside-Down Kingdom, p.31

It is only the Person and the work of Christ that our entire faith is built upon. No level of human wisdom and ingenuity is relevant to issues that faced us yesterday, face us today, and will be facing us tomorrow.

If we want to understand the heart of Christ who is God, we must be willing to abandon human reasoning that is not first captivated by the words of Jesus. Are we willing to lay aside our preconceived notions and our cultural conditioning in order that we might receive the word of Christ?

Would we be so bold as to allow the Holy Spirit of Christ to invade our space and reveal to us the “foolishness” of the Gospel that Paul wrote about (1 Cor. 1:18-20)?

May the Spirit give us the ability to say, “Yes!” to Christ.

Baptism: Initiation into the Kingdom of God

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  ~ Jesus, Matthew 28:19-20 NIV

Baptism is symbolic for entrance into the Kingdom of God that Christ proclaimed. It is an outward picture of an inward reality. And it stands for much more than the forgiveness of sin.

Other religious groups practiced forms of baptism as sort of an initiation into that community of belief. For the Christian, it meant that a person was now dead to the things of the world. They were forsaking all systems and kingdoms of the world for new life in a Kingdom not of this world.

“The Kingdom of God is at hand!  Repent and be baptized!” was the cry of John the Baptist, cousin of Jesus.

Baptism was a call to enter in to a new order of living. In Jesus’ day, this most certainly would have been calling for a denial of Roman domination and a pledge to another existence in God’s rightful reign upon the earth. This was a proclamation that the Messiah was about to establish his law and politics that opposes those of the world.

The “Way of the Lord” was being prepared by John. And then Jesus steps into the waters of the Jordan. The Spirit anoints him as King, and the rest is history. Or is it that simple?

Is this all that can be gathered from this text? Is this just a neat story of Jesus dipping himself in a river so that people can reenact the ritual in baptistries everywhere? Could there be more?

Maybe history proves this rite of passage into the Kingdom of God is very much alive today. And I submit to you its power and its significance can’t be contained in a nice religious ceremony.

“As new believers confessed their faith and entered the community through baptism, they reconsidered and redefined everything about themselves… Some people left their jobs when their old lives collided with their new ones, when their allegiance to Rome collided with their new allegiance to God’s Kingdom.”  Shane Claiborne, Jesus For President, p.144.

What kind of people does Baptism call us to be? What sort of new living will result in our initiation into the Kingdom of God? I don’t believe that this baptism makes all things in the world sacred. (As many “emerging” theologians suggest.)  It makes only our lives sacred.

Once our entire lives have become consecrated unto the Lord, then we may perceive with heavenly wisdom what is redeemable in the world. All things become new through our own sanctification. Then and only then may we determine what Christ has called us to sprinkle our salt upon.

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.”  Jesus, Matthew 5:13 NIV

Will we allow something in our lives to not pass through the waters of the Kingdom? Will this repentance be complete or only partial? Will we push the Kingdom aside for another passionate agenda?

We must examine all aspects of our lives and ask, “Have all things in my life been eternally effected by the Kingdom of God?”

It is time to recognize that the Kingdom of God takes precedence over all issues facing us today. It was at the forefront of the secret message of Jesus. And Christ coming in his Kingdom ought to be at the core of our own.

“I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.” Jesus, Luke 4:43 NIV

Not of this World

I have to believe that Pilate was a bit confused and curious as to the meaning of Jesus’ words, “my Kingdom is not of this world.” Perhaps, he believed Jesus was a few fries short of a happy meal.

It’s very possible he was only thinking of solving the matter without rousing a riot in the streets of Jerusalem.

This is for certain, Jesus’ words were treasonous. Pilate responds, “You are a king then.” It doesn’t matter what sort of king Jesus claimed to be. Caesar was a god in the flesh. Caesar rules the cosmos, not an unimpressive Jewish carpenter who has a death wish. There is no room in the world for two kings demanding ultimate allegiance.

pilatePilate understood that if he didn’t deal with this enemy of the state, word might get back to Rome. History proves that Pontius Pilate had no qualms with crucifying folks. Critics of the Gospels believe this portrayal of Pilate is not true to history.

No doubt, Pilate is unclear as to what to do with this strange prophet who speaks of “truth” and treason but shows complete serenity in his predicament.

So why the uncertainty? Did his wife’s dream faze him that much (Matt. 27:19)? There is clearly something out of the ordinary taking place here. He faces a major dilemma.

Dealing with the insubordinate Jews was no easy task. He needed to maintain the peace and the crowd was furiously chanting for Jesus’ blood. He knows his duty as procurator. His reason tells him he must kill this Jesus of Nazareth.

“In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever.” Daniel 2:44 NIV

We don’t have a hard time recognizing that most first-century Jews clearly missed the Kingdom that was foretold by the prophet Daniel. They were expecting a political king that would establish a worldly kingdom rule and release them from their Roman captors.

“If you are the Messiah, come down off that cross!” they cried.

No, Jesus of Nazareth didn’t even come close to what they wanted in a ruler. But before we scrutinize the Jews for their rejection of a suffering Messiah (Isaiah 53), we should take a look in the mirror.

For we too have a difficult time choosing a king whose Kingdom calls for power-under people instead of power-over them.

The church has been guilty of rejecting the upside-down Kingdom of God that demands a rejection of the methods of the kingdoms of this world. We have not understood that the nature of the Gospel is to win by dying, not by killing.

We simply can’t imagine the advancement of God’s Kingdom without the aid of the nations and their politics. We refuse to trust in the power of the Gospel that Christ proclaimed.

We would rather trust in “necessary evils” and all manner of ungodliness than in the way of the cross.

We are guilty of resorting to methods that Jesus and the apostles taught against. We would rather address our personal feelings of passivity and “duty” with picking up the sword instead of the cross. This should not be.

“The crucial distinction between the two kingdoms is how they provide antithetical answers to the questions of what power one should trust to change ourselves and others: Do you trust “power over” or “power under”?  Do you trust the power of the sword, the power of external force, or do you trust the influential but noncoercive power of Calvary-like love?… The Kingdom of God consists of all those who choose the latter rather than the former who act accordingly.” Gregory Boyd, The Myth of a Christian Nation, p.33

Jesus responds to the disciples and their request to have a form of leadership like the systems of the world. You can almost hear the same cry that you heard from Israel a thousand years before, “Give us a king to lead us!” (1 Sam. 8:6)  In other words, “We want the same order that we see in the world.”

Christ replies to their confusion and leaves no ambiguity as to how we too should view this matter.

“Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.  Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.  For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  Mark 10:42-45 NIV

Not only does this beg to question our desire to rule with power-over others in the world, but in the church as well. Much of American Christianity has evolved from years of ignoring the teachings of Jesus and pragmatically applying methods and systems of the world upon those things that are supposed to be “not of this world”.

We are guilty of adopting methods of the world to advance the Kingdom of God and have not seen how our efforts are self-defeating. We can’t see how we have mixed the two kingdoms and corrupted our salt by choosing methods Jesus rejected.  We apparently see ourselves in the role of Pilate instead of Jesus. But there is no way of escaping Christ’s words…

“I am not an earthly king… my Kingdom is not of this world.”  Jesus, John 18:36 NLT

What does Jesus mean when he says, “my Kingdom is not of this world”? I’m afraid his words have been reduced to a memory verse with little to no power whatsoever. Judging by our actions, it has nothing to do with this world; as if Jesus is gazing off into the cosmos dreaming of some distant galaxy far removed from the pain and suffering of mankind.

It’s time to rethink all of these passages that have become common Christian clichés and a meaningless regurgitation of words when we have nothing else better to say.

I believe the first place to start in understanding Christ’s Kingdom that is “not of this world” is in a fresh look at the first event following Jesus’ baptism at the Jordan.

The Temptations of Christ: Defining the Kingdom

In Matthew 4:1-11, we immediately see Jesus led by the Spirit into the Judean wilderness to be tempted by the devil. The Lord has wasted no time in beginning his work.

But before he can begin his ministry in his proclamation of the Kingdom of God, Jesus must first undergo a trial and confrontation that will forever define his Kingdom. He must decide in his own heart and for the testimony of his followers what kind of Messiah he will be.

What kind of king and kingdom will Jesus choose? His choices then become our choices if we wish to follow him.

“Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.”  John, 1 John 2:6 NIV

temptationsIn order to understand the temptations, we must see them in conjunction with the previous events. They should not be isolated from Christ’s recent baptism and his inauguration as the King of the Kingdom of God that John was preaching; the Kingdom that Jesus will continue to proclaim throughout his ministry.

The temptations of Christ are not merely examples of Jesus overcoming sin. They were not meant to be read as three accounts of Jesus facing opposition so that you can face opposition with confidence. For we know that Jesus faces opposition and endless temptations throughout his ministry.

No my friends, this isn’t just good sermon material for us to use to condemn others and warm our souls when the days are dark. The true purpose of this record is understood when we accept that there is one story that is building to the conversation with Pilate, and ultimately to the cross.

Will you join me in rejecting this belief that the Bible is a collection of disjointed stories that we can yank from its context to affirm our American Christianity?

“The synoptic writers report that three right-side-up options lured Jesus before he launched the upside-down kingdom… The temptation points to a right-side-up kingdom encompassing the three big social institutions of his day: political, religious, and economic.”  Donald Kraybill, The Upside-Down Kingdom, p.33

After fasting forty days and forty nights, of course Jesus was tired and hungry. This clearly would have made any proposal appealing to the flesh. We all know how much our physical state affects our spiritual focus.

And this was the point of the fasting. Jesus makes himself completely vulnerable to opposition. It would have certainly been a time of closeness with the Father and a time of great challenge in his humanity against Satan.

The devil came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Jesus replies, “It is written, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt.4:3,4).

Hmm… OK, is that it?  Jesus was tempted to eat some bread. Is there more? I have always sensed much more is going on here that meets the eye. What about you? Are you content with this event seemingly being disconnected from the preaching of the Kingdom of God in the previous chapter?

I was taught this temptation communicates the importance of God’s Word. That’s all great and I agree that God’s Word is important. But there is obviously something more going on here that we can connect to Matthew’s account in the previous episode.

To those familiar with Hebrew history and the economic problems of Christ’s day, you should recognize a few details. Forty days? How many times have we seen forty days used as a complete time of trial and tribulation? And what about the “wilderness” and “bread”? Recognize these things?

Jesus embodies Israel and reveals his divine mission as well as the mission for those who wish to follow him. The connection to Israel’s history and Christ’s words of total submission to God is obvious. But what does this have to do with Jesus’ recent baptism and the proclamation of the Kingdom of God?

We see that Christ is speaking to the past through his resistance to the first temptation. But what is he saying to the present and the future of his people? In order to answer that question we first must acknowledge that this account has everything to do with the ministry Christ is about to embark upon.

Secondly, we have to learn about the oppression of the people under Rome’s heavy hand.  There were two classes of people in the Roman Empire: upper and lower class. Evidence suggests that 90% of the citizens were of the lower class.

Bread represents provision. God provided bread for the Israelites. Jesus will later say, “I am the bread of life.” Bread was an essential part of their diet. Therefore, in light of the context, we begin to see the real “temptation” come to the surface. How are you going to provide for the people?

Since he is the Messiah, the devil tempts Jesus to be a welfare king. “Turn these stones to bread” he said. How will Christ deal with the economic problems of the world? This is the question Christ answers. It is a question every king must consider.

Jesus’ response ought to be seen as a rejection of solving the problem as an earthly king would. He doesn’t ignore the physical needs of the world; he simply chooses to address the matter in a way that seems foolish. He relates to the hunger of people all over the world, but he doesn’t choose to alleviate the pain and suffering. He embraces it.

The Kingdom of God is much bigger than a loaf of bread—it is more than food.

Jesus deals with poverty in a different way. This becomes clear as we see Jesus refuse to simply feed the people and ease their temporary suffering. And when he did do these things, he called them into the Kingdom of God. Yes, the Gospel is social, but not in the way some in the “emergent” church would have you believe.

Then the devil took Jesus to the highest point of the Temple in the “holy city” Jerusalem. Satan says, “If (since) you are the Son of God, throw yourself down.” The devil then proceeds to quote Scripture (Psalm 91), twisting it to tempt Jesus to action. Is Jesus going to swoop in and gain the approval of the religious establishment? He very easily could have removed all doubt to who he was.

A grand entrance would certainly gain recognition that he was indeed the Messiah. Yet, he resists the temptation to gain approval of those religious folk. If Christ was going to convince the religious leaders, the “Doctors of the Law,” this was the time to do it. And there would be no better way to convince them of his true identity.

But Jesus chooses not to parachute in and remove all doubt. He will make his presence known in the Temple, but right after he drives out those making a profit off of God. This is quite different than the entrance he was tempted with by the devil.

Jesus storms in to the heart of Jewish religion, and turns it upside-down. The Temple is no longer the place of worship and symbol of God’s presence. For the Spirit of God has come to dwell in men. There is now something greater than the Temple. Immanuel, God with us.

Again, to understand this temptation, we must read it in light of what has already been presented. The devil challenges Jesus, as Messiah, to confront the economic issues of the world in keeping with the expected provision of a savior. And now… he tempts Jesus to embrace institutional religion.

He rejects the secular concept of Messiah in both the way he confronts social injustices and the way he deals with religion.

This was totally unexpected and intolerable.  Jesus does not come in and paint the heroes as villains and get away with it.  No sir. This idea is not only opposed by the religious leaders, they demand its death.

Jesus overcomes this temptation and once again rests on the Word of God, saying, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”

Now Jesus faces his most difficult challenge yet. Jesus is taken to a high mountain. Mountains were seen as places where deities come to earth. From the pagan “high places” to the receiving of the Ten Commandments, God chose to work within this Eastern mindset. And this final temptation should be seen as an offer of divine importance.

Jesus has already rejected two powerful offers to play by the world’s rules and give the people the Messiah that was expected: a Messiah that fixes this present age by methods characteristic of this world.

“Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor.  “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”  Matthew 4:8,9 NIV

This one has always puzzled me in the past. Is the temptation here to worship the devil? Let’s see if you can figure out what is really facing Jesus in this final bout with Satan.

The devil has already tempted Jesus in this way, “So you are the Messiah are you? Well, feed the people!  You are aware of their suffering and their deep need to eat. You feel their hunger even now.  What are you going to do about it?” Jesus answers.

“Only as we see what Jesus rejected, can we know what he has affirmed.”           Donald Kraybill, The Upside-Down Kingdom, 34

Again the devil comes at Christ, saying, “OK, Messiah, what are you going to do about their religion? I have an idea, why don’t you save yourself some trouble and just prove to them you are who you say you are?”

Christ chooses the Messianic secret and opposes them instead.

Jesus is faced with three major social institutions: economic (bread), religious (temple), and now the political (mountain).  Christ is shown all the kingdoms of the world. The devil has power over them, which Jesus does not deny. The Messiah will crush these kingdoms as Daniel prophesied.  But how will he crush them?

Will he take the world by force and use violence? Will he succumb to the way of the present evil age, and the prince of the air, by putting his hand to the plow of political power? Will he be an Alexander, an Augustus, or better yet… a King David?  This would not be the last time he is faced with this temptation (Matt. 16:23; 26:51,52; Jn. 6:15).

Christ redefines power in his rejection of earthly kingship. He rejects the avenue of earthly politics to advance the Kingdom of God. He is not simply choosing power-under because it was the nice thing to do or it was the only way people could see love. By no means, the methods of Christ represent the very character of God.

Jesus embodies God’s will for his people and all those who seek to enter in to the rightful reign and rule of God on earth.  Do not pass by this temptation and miss the foolishness of the Kingdom of God, for therein is power that we have not known in our day.

If we desire to follow Christ, we must embrace the suffering Messiah. Please notice that each time Christ rejects the devil’s ideas of Messiah, he accepts the way of suffering. He knowingly is choosing the way of the cross. And his choosing to resist the temptations are not for the sole purpose of dying a horrible death for the sins of the world.

This is a presentation of the Kingdom of God. For those that want to be baptized into this Kingdom you must count the cost and undergo the same trial of Jesus. If we are not willing to reject what Christ rejects, we are enemies of the cross.

We must be willing to say to the prince of the power of the air and the kingdoms he controls, “Away from me!  For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” (Matt. 4:10)

“To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.  “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.”  When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.  He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.  For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”  Peter, 1 Peter 2:21-25

The Nature of the Kingdom of God

“The Kingdom of God is here; but instead of destroying human sovereignty, it has attacked the sovereignty of Satan.  The Kingdom of God is here; but instead of making changes in the external, political order of things, it is making changes in the spiritual order and in the lives of men and women.”  George Eldon Ladd, The Gospel of the Kingdom, 55.

The doctrine of the two kingdoms reveals to us that they are contrary in nature. Let’s take a brief look at how they oppose one another. I do hope it will become clear as to why the Christian should not think they can use methods of the world to advance Christ’s agenda, especially in matters of the state. Paul has written of this contrast in Romans 12 and 13.

  • The Christian is called to love (12:9,10); the state is called to be “agents of wrath” (13:3).
  • The Christian is not to avenge (12:19); the state is a revenger of evil (13:4).
  • The Christian is to overcome evil with good (12:21); the state suppresses evil with wrath (13:4).
  • The Christian uses the sword of the Spirit (Eph.6:17); the state uses a sword of steel (13:4).

I want to focus in on the contrary nature of the two kingdoms by looking specifically at the worldly kingdoms (i.e. governments). It is from this system that all other power-over systems flow.

The kingdoms of the world represent a mock Kingdom of God. This is why Jesus chose to not utilize the avenues of politics and power to build his Kingdom. These kingdoms of the world, no matter what form of government exists, stand in opposition to the upside-down Kingdom of Christ.

When Jesus surveyed the landscape of the worldly kingdoms from that high mountain, there he saw all worldly kingdoms past, present, and future. And he says to them, “No, my kingdom is not of this world. I have made a spectacle of them by triumphing over them by the way of usurping their methods of power and domination.”

Jesus calls for the demise of the never-ending cycle of violence (Matt. 5:44). He represents a Kingdom that advances by serving people in love without strings attached (23:11). He does not rely upon or even address the social injustices of his day as being the responsibility of the state. This is not his concern. There is another way. This way is in sacrificial living.

It says that in order to win, you must die. If you want to gain, you must lose.

If you want to be successful in this life, you must prepare for the one to come. This way doesn’t call us to rule over men by restraining them with human law. The way of the cross submits itself to human law where it can, but rises above it and surpasses it in peaceful living.

Don’t be fooled into thinking Christ is an idealist. Jesus lived the Kingdom in power and he was fully connected to reality.  We should not think that what appears as silence on certain matters of the state means we have the freedom to pick up the sword. Christ’s Kingdom is subversive. If we look closely, we will see him tearing down the kingdoms of the world and rejecting their methods of restraining evil.

Was Jesus a terrorist? It depends on how you look at it I guess. One thing is very clear, he did not resort to violence or any method of the state to advance the Kingdom of God. In fact, he kept a healthy distance from it.

Recently, I was engaged in a discussion on these matters. I was asked, “Aren’t we supposed to work for peace and justice?  Doesn’t that mean we should use politics to do good in the world?” You would think so, yes. This is partly why the gate is narrow that leads to life. We would rather place our trust in the world’s methods than in the foolish ways of Christ.

If worldly politics are an acceptable way to advance the Kingdom of God, then every believer should be striving for power.  Be done with trying to keep a foot in both kingdoms!

Pragmatism has pervaded the church in more ways than one. It has based a great deal of its decisions on human reasoning that is represented in the question above. Consider for a moment what we communicate when we say these things. We say Christ does not show us how to live and the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7) is not for real life.

We then do what we can to follow Jesus where it does not conflict with our own cultural crusading. We compartmentalize our faith and push Jesus off into the corner. It is no wonder that Ghandi rejected Christ. The Christians he saw made no attempt to live like their Christ. Ghandi learned a few things from Christians alright, how to manipulate the teachings of Jesus in order to change the politics of his day.

I firmly believe that Christians in America are more aware of the Bill of Rights than the New Testament. They are so filled with clichés and heretical doctrines from the demons of nationalism, they can’t hear the pure words of Jesus without mixing them with apple pie, baseball, and images of Sergeant York learning how to chop up his faith. It’s time to wake up and rid ourselves of this corrupted American gospel of greed!

I want to end this final section with a challenge to rethink the two kingdoms.Jesus has spoken. The problem is just that we have a hard time hearing it.

Empire: A Home for Demons

In Luke 8:29-37, we read one account of the demon-possessed man by the seashore. Here is another story that must be read with the Kingdom of God in mind. Do you remember what the demon told Jesus when he asked him for his name? The demon said, “Legion.” Why Legion? You probably know that a “legion” was anywhere from two-thousand to six-thousand Roman soldiers. Now, if you see this from a Kingdom perspective, there is more going on here than meets the eye.

I am left thinking, “Why Legion?  Why not ‘Bob’… or ‘Emily Rose’?  Why ‘Legion’?”

Well, I am not satisfied with the idea that this was just some random name this naked demon-possessed man came up with during his stay in the nearby tombs. I am persuaded to believe that Jesus casting “Legion” out is an indirect attack on Rome. This episode represents what the Kingdom of God is doing now.

It speaks to what we should be doing now. Our concern is the spiritual order of things—bringing life to those who have empty souls—souls so empty the demons come in to set up house and stay a while.

angry-jesusWhat happens after this exorcism? Jesus casts “Legion” into the pigs (unclean animal) that run into the sea. This reminds me of Pharaoh and his legions. They were swallowed up in the sea.

“Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to make war against the rider on the horse and his army.  But the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who had performed the miraculous signs on his behalf. With these signs he had deluded those who had received the mark of the beast and worshiped his image. The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur.  The rest of them were killed with the sword that came out of the mouth of the rider on the horse, and all the birds gorged themselves on their flesh.”  John, Revelation 19:19-21

John was exiled to the island of Patmos due to his radical views. And the only way to write a final word of encouragement to Christians with the vision he received was to write in code. A right view of this text shows the “Beast” or “Babylon” to be Rome. Rome represents the power of the kingdoms of the world in every generation. This “Beast” is cast into a sea of fire along with the rest of those who worship him.

I don’t think I would go to sleep tonight without giving this passage some thought.

“Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great!  She has become a home for demons… for all the nations have drunk the maddening wine of her adulteries… Come out of her, my people, so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues; for her sins are piled up to heaven, and God has remembered her crimes.” John, Revelation 18:2-5

At last, how will we respond? The people in Luke 8 were fearful. Why were they so fearful? Jesus had performed many exorcisms and miracles before, none of them freaked out the people as much as this group of country bumpkins.

Could it be they were “worshippers of the Beast”? Could it be that they understood this action but we have missed it? Who did they fear here? Maybe they connected the dots. The Kingdom of God had come to town.

“But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.”  Jesus, Matthew 12:28

Conclusion

As I have written already, the Kingdom of God is at the forefront of Christ’s message. It is the Gospel message. It can’t be reduced to heaven and hell and having your sins forgiven. The Lord may use this version in a person’s life, but it is most certainly not the full Gospel of Christ.

It is important that we recognize the serious implications of Jesus’ actions. Before he ever chose any of his disciples or set out to preaching and healing people, Jesus defined his Kingdom and settled, at least in his own heart and mind, that the Kingdom of God would come in two stages: the already, but not yet.

“While they were listening to this, he went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once.”  Luke 19:11 NIV

The Kingdom of God is already here in every action of a believer that is participating in  “thy Kingdom come” and joining God where he is overcoming evil with good. This calls for lives marked by estrangement and great patience in the face of social injustices.

The “not yet” aspect reminds us of our hope to stand firm, for our labor is not in vain. Christ will crush all the kingdoms of the world and he will, as N.T. Wright puts it, “set the world to rights”.

In the meantime, we trust in the power of the upside-down Kingdom. We come alongside those who are suffering and we suffer with them. We make sure we are overcoming evil with good and not suppressing evil with more evil.  Our safeguard against this temptation to pick up the sword, is Christ himself.

“Christianity without the living Christ is inevitably Christianity without discipleship, and Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ.”  Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, p.59

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About David D. Flowers

David received a B.A. in Religion from East Texas Baptist University and a M.T.S. in Biblical Studies from Houston Graduate School of Theology. David has over 15 years experience as a pastor and teacher in and outside the church. He currently pastors an Anabaptist congregation in Virginia. View all posts by David D. Flowers

16 responses to “When Kingdoms Collide

  • espion

    I think there is a fundamental incompatibility between the kingdoms of man in this world – which includes all the cultural, political, economics, philosophical manifestations and systems – and the kingdom of God. For example the very notion of success, wealth, career, knowledge, etc. in the world are incompatible in the – as you put it – upside-down kingdom of God. However the church today have become much like the world, eg measuring success in terms of numbers and collections, even if not having political ambitions. And I think, if you are a true citizen of the kingdom of world, the collisions of kingdom will be a very real thing and not just a conceptual one: the clash will be a daily and enduring one, even suffering trials and persecution, certainly in the spirit, by the spirits in the world. But I hardly hear of any “Christian” being persecuted or suffering trials, especially in the Western world, and surely Jesus have not returned. Instead “Christians” boast about blessings, particularly financial blessings, which are really not of the kingdom of God. In the parable of the sower, one of the things that stifled the seed, the message of the kingdom, was the deceitfulness of wealth. Thus to me, a genuine mark of a true citizen of the kingdom of God, is the reality of constantly confronting the spirits of the world in your spirit, being challenged by the world’s ways and wisdom, even as you refuse to conform to the world, and being transformed continuously.

  • David D, Flowers

    This has been my experience as well. I too am “constantly confronting the spirits of the world” in my spirit. I believe this ought to be the journey of every believer.
    Thanks for commenting.

  • ded

    Insightful post and much appreciated. I write regularly to my five children about Kingdom living. You have pointed out much I believe is useful for those wanting to grow in an understanding the two kingdoms. I will share your post with them, for sure.

    Near the end of the post, you wrote The Kingdom of God is not something man can reveal to man. Kingdom living is a journey of discovery.

    I completely concur. So discipleship then becomes working to facilitate others becoming open to learning from Jesus within, no?

    I think the perspective of individual discovery is often resisted by stating something about the danger of “lone-wolf” theology. It strikes me, one must be a wolf anyway to go off alone. Rather the truth of which you speak is a core ingredient of true community. It drives home the point of the need for community. Honest feed-back from ones we love and trust are a tremendous aid in sorting the influence even impact of the spirit of the world within our hearts. The community response helps us develop humility, a key to hearing the Lord.

    I think a more correct view of authority is in recognizing that group-think is not required. The Holy spirit is very able to bring about a shared life. Those in authority need to walk in a deep love of God which focuses on bringing forth authentic being of an individual renewed in Jesus and living through Jesus.

  • David D. Flowers

    Thank you for you comments ded. You clearly put some thought into your words.

    I agree that we should be guiding people to learn from Jesus. It grieves me that the majority of churches have no clue as to what that means. We have a difficult time entrusting people to the care of Jesus. We would much rather disciple them according to our own journey instead of teaching them how to journey with Christ. Great thoughts!

    I have written several blog posts leading up to this one if you are interested. “Rethinking the Two Kingdoms”… “Kingdom Conversations (Faith & Politics)”… and “Jesus: Change We Have a Hard Time Believing In”. I will be sending out an e-book soon on knowing the indwelling Christ, entitled “Knowing Christ in Divine Order”.

    That’s exciting that you are teaching your children the ways of the Kingdom. Awesome! Blessings to you and your family, brother.

  • Adam Duckworth

    I wish I could write something thought provoking and insightful here, but I’m still chewing on your words. This has to be one of the best blog entries I’ve ever read. It’s something I’ll be mulling over for a while, and it might sneak its way into a sermon or two that I preach…

  • David D. Flowers

    Thank you Adam. Its comments like yours that make the journey more enjoyable. Most of all, it is nice to know there are others “chewing” on it instead of skimming over it carelessly. Thanks again!

  • Andrew B

    David I too am still “chewing” but here are some points and questions from my first readings:

    You have left the question of “application” and practical examples open. Some questions in this area:
    * what is our practical relationship with the kingdoms of this world within which we live – see Romans 13 “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. …”
    * what was the implication of “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” (Mat 22:21 NIV)

    Questions
    You wrote “There is no room in the world for two kings demanding ultimate allegiance”
    * BUT, did not Jesus say to Pilate that His kingdom is not of this world
    * is our allegiance to the Kingdom of God not of a different nature to our allegiance to nation states?

    Was Jesus a terrorist?
    * terrorists use violence to create fear, not only among the authorities but also among the people. It is clear Jesus was not a terrorist.
    * Maybe your question is – Was Jesus a subversive? – did he set out to undermine and overthrow the state? I think your answer to that is also, no. For example in Jesus’ reaction to the third temptation of Satan. Also, it seems to me that Jesus accepted the authority of Pilate within it’s context in this world. He accepted the sentence of crucifixion and did not challenge or resist Pilate’s authority to make that judgement.
    * I think maybe the word “terrorist” has been losing its meaning through overuse and misapplication.

    I have the impression from the recent election campaign that “socialism” is a “bad word” in American language. But it does seem to me that social action as part of the announcement of the Kingdom
    * was not relief of suffering and need an inherent part of Jesus announcement of the Kingdom
    o the miracles of healing and feeding (e.g. the 5,000)
    o did not Jesus send his disciples on ‘practice runs’ announcing the Kingdom and bringing miracles of healing?
    o did He not assign his followers the same mission Mat 28:18-20
    o and greater things John 14:11-13

    Finally, I would like to see some more analysis of the “now” and “not yet” aspects of the announcement and coming of the Kingdom.

  • David D. Flowers

    Andrew,

    Thanks for commenting. Here is what I said about application.

    “Originally, I intended to include examples of Kingdom living. What does this look like in real life? This is something I am definitely willing to discuss. But for now… let’s squirm a bit and cry out to Jesus to answer all of those pertinent questions.”

    I have addressed “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s…” in previous blog posts. I have given my perspective on Romans 13 already. We must read Rom. 13 after we understand ch. 12. In the past… we have not read these two chapters in context. Paul is not saying that we should participate in government. He is saying we ought not to rebel against it. Apparently, Christians connected the dots and understood the contrary nature of the two kingdoms… and it would appear that some may have been tempted to have a Zealot’s attitude toward the powers. I believe Paul is helping believers to understand the government’s role in the midst of their suffering. We have butchered this text in our misguided attempts to apply it to nations we have prematurely dubbed “Christian.” Rom. 13:1-7 in no way implies that Christians should be involved civically. The previous chapter does not allow it. In fact, the end of ch. 13 picks back up in the spirit of ch. 12.

    I don’t understand your disagreement with “allegiance”. I have given my best to communicate why we can’t compartmentalize our faith and embrace this idea of dual citizenship.

    I have used “terrorist” on purpose. This is what I meant. I am using it to jar folks into rethinking the radical implications of Jesus’ words and actions. If we understand the subversive nature of the upside-down Kingdom of God… then, I believe, we can see Jesus as a terrorist on the kingdom of hell. Again, I intentionally used this word to evoke a new thought. I am aware many will not be comfortable with it.

    Furthermore, I do not believe that Jesus’ miracles were motivated by a social change that does not have a full view of the world to come. Jesus did not have in his mind a mission to alleviate all human suffering on earth… not in this life anyway. As I said, Jesus’ Gospel was social, but not in the way many suppose. A closer examination of his Gospel will reflect that he was concerned about pain and suffering, but Christ’s ultimate goal was not to fix this world. We need to think about this for more than five minutes.

    The problem(s) that people will encounter with this message… is to rush to make up their mind before they have given significant time to let Jesus speak to their heart and open their eyes to the greatness of his Kingdom. Many Christians are not willing to wrestle with these issues. They would rather have simple and easy answers. They are too familiar with a faith that operates off of “rules” instead of discovering Kingdom living in a patient struggle with the tension of the two kingdoms.

    Our entire journey is about the questions you are asking. I am convinced the Christian journey is not about having all the answers and telling everyone what to believe. I believe the Christian life is all about the fight of faith. It is about being formed into the image of Christ daily. We should steer clear of rules and the unhealthy desire to chisel in stone what the Kingdom looks like in every situation.

    Finally, I have set out to proclaim what we CAN observe and conclude with certainty: the two kingdoms are in complete opposition to one another. We are bound to Jesus’ teachings and his example of living out the Kingdom of God amidst the kingdoms of this world.

  • Andrew B

    Dear David,

    You have invited us into discussion, I think as a means of building fellowship and thereby building the Kingdom of God.

    There were several points in my original comment and in your response. For the time being I have picked out one point in your response that I would like to take further with you.

    You wrote:
    “Furthermore, I do not believe that Jesus’ miracles were motivated by a social change that does not have a full view of the world to come. Jesus did not have in his mind a mission to alleviate all human suffering on earth. As I said, Jesus’ Gospel was social, but not in the way many suppose. I closer examination of his Gospel will reflect that he was concerned about pain and suffering, but Christ’s ultimate goal was not to fix this world. We need to think about this for more than five minutes.”

    I would take issue with your statement that “… Christ’s ultimate goal was not to fix this world.” I agree fixing the world is not God’s ultimate goal, but I believe it is an important phase on the way to his ultimate goal. God has not written off his creation that, at the beginning of Genesis, He found to be good. At the end of Revelation John describes the restoration of the world with the arrival of the New Jerusalem and the definitive coming of the Kingdom. Jesus’ announcement of the now-but-not-yet coming of the Kingdom is a stage that we are living in on the way to that ultimate coming. And it is the mission of believers to be continuing the spread of the Kingdom and one of the features of the spread of the Kingdom is alleviation of suffering, both by sacrificial good works done in the natural by the believers and miracles done through the believers by the power of the Spirit. Which brings us back to the social (sorry again for the bad word) aspects of the Gospel.

    I did not make this up. As one source I would refer to Frank Viola’s “God’s Ultimate Passion” and his summary of the same message in his “Reimagining Church”. And I guess there are other sources e.g. N.T. Wright “Surprised by Hope”

    But maybe I misunderstood the context of your statement.

    (Still chewing …)

    Blessings,
    Andrew

  • David D. Flowers

    Andrew,

    I think we are in agreement more than you think. What I am communicating by saying, “Christ’s ultimate goal was not to fix this world” is not to ignore our call to address social injustices. My concern is that we confront those concerns in the manner of Christ and nothing more or less.

    From my end… I see Jesus working miracles and healing the sick with the nature (already/not yet) of the Kingdom of God in full view. The way Christ communicated this was by choosing to suffer with folks as well as meet their needs when it served the Kingdom. I take issue with those who confront social ills with methods of the world. THIS communicates a confusion about the Gospel. It throws the “not yet” aspect out the door.

    We are to be serving the Kingdom of God in the manner of the cross, not the sword. This means that we refuse to use the world’s methods of eradicating evil. Because in the end, picking up the sword and using government (something Christ never did) only suppresses evil, it does not overcome it as we are called to do in Romans 12. It operates off the idea that there is a real chance we can rid the world of injustice in the here and now. Christians operate off an entirely different mindset. We know that we represent a completely different Kingdom… a Kingdom that is here, but yet to come.

    Therefore, we embrace suffering instead of taking up power-over people. Suffering with those who suffer is the distinctive nature of the Kingdom of God. Paul said, “and we eagerly await a Savior from there.” It distinguishes the Gospel that is social, from the “social gospel” that believes our efforts to stamp out evil is what brings the Kingdom. Christ brings the Kingdom of God. And he brings it through serving and through suffering via our own lives. It is the upside-down nature of the Kingdom of God and the way of the cross.

    I agree with N.T. Wright, mostly. I would only differ where he sees the Christian can operate in avenues that Christ rejected (e.g. worldly government). Kingdoms of the world do not operate off of the Gospel given in the Sermon on the Mount. And according to Romans 13… they are not obligated by the teachings of Jesus. However, Christ’s disciples are bound to his Word. The kingdoms of the world resist evil doers and are agents of wrath, nothing more. They use methods contrary to the Kingdom of God. Furthermore, it ought to be clear that we can’t utilize those kingdoms… when by their very nature… they stand in opposition to victory through the way of suffering in the cross of Christ.

    I hope that helps. I am thankful for this discussion. Thanks!

    David D. Flowers

    P.S. I do believe that this understanding was much plainer to those early Christians than it is to us today. We have clouded the message of the Gospel with our allegiances to the world and we have made it hard for others to enter in to the Kingdom of God. The tragedy is that we thought be reducing the Gospel to “heaven and hell”… that we were making it easier. Far from it.

  • Dan Roberts

    Hi David – I’m writing to comment on your question: “was Jesus a terrorist?” When searching for a definition of the word I find the following in the Wikipedia dictionary: “The word ‘terrorist’ is politically and emotionally charged, and this greatly compounds the difficulty of providing a precise definition.” After looking in several dictionaries I find that “terrorist” is generally defined as, “a freedom fighter,” “a rebel,” “a revolutionary,” and more specifically, “one who uses a weapon in a political power struggle.”

    Well, I think Jesus was/is a fighter for freedom. I believe he was/is a rebel – against the powers of darkness. He did/does advocate a revolution – of the mind and spirit. And, yes, He did/does use a weapon – the weapon of Divine power – for the purpose of overthrowing the power and agenda of Satan himself. “Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations.” (Rev 19:15)

    If Jesus wasn’t such a rebel, if he wasn’t such a threat, if he didn’t put terror into the hearts of the spiritual and political leaders of his day, why would these men spend so much time and energy and money in trying to uncover his motives and his “plot”? If he didn’t have some of them shaking in their boots (or sandals) why would they bring him before such high ranking officials? If they did not see him as a legitimate power to be reckoned with why would he be scourged as he was and finally put to death on the cross? All that yet he never struck anyone… never unsheathed a sword… never spilt a drop of blood.

    The rhetorical question I have is, if Jesus had chosen this present century for his birth would he be seen in the same way as he was in his day, i.e. as a significant threat to the religious and political leaders? Would Jesus’ actions – and those of his followers – be labeled “terrorism” in today’s world? Human rights activist, Ziya Meral, with Guantanamo Bay in mind, recently said, “If Jesus were caught living the vicious subversive Gospel today, he would not be on a wooden cross, since the wooden cross no longer symbolizes what it did then: the dishonoring and dehumanization of the individual in the presence of the entire city as a punishment. No, he would be wearing an orange jumpsuit, living in a cage, dishonored and dehumanized, in the presence of the entire world who behold all this on the TV screen.” How interesting are the words Meral uses to describe the Gospel: vicious and subversive!

    Jesus – vicious and subversive? A terrorist? And we’re called to “be like Jesus? Let me see now… meek… pure… humble. Is that not our example? Are we not to live as children of the Servant King? Are we not to emulate The Lord who was The Lamb? Are we not to live, as Christ did, with insults, hardships, and persecution? To the church at Corinth Paul wrote, “I beg you that when I come I may not have to be as bold as I expect to be toward some people who think that we live by the standards of this world. For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they (the weapons) have divine power to demolish strongholds.” (2 Cor 10:2-4) “Power to demolish”… sounds pretty forceful to me. But what a foolish force! For I am told by Paul that, “when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor 12:10) And Jesus said, “my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor 12:9) The making of a terrorist? Go figure!

  • David D. Flowers

    Excellent post Dan! I believe your words are a great addition to this conversation. You have given a thorough commentary on what I had in mind when I wrote:
    “Christ’s Kingdom is subversive, if we look closely, we will see him tearing down the kingdoms of the world and rejecting their methods of restraining evil. Was Jesus a terrorist? It depends on how you look at it I guess. One thing is very clear… he did not resort to violence or any method of the state to advance the Kingdom of God. In fact, he kept a healthy distance from it.”

    Thank you Dan for sharing this.

  • espion

    I would like to add some thoughts to kingdom living and to emphasize the contrast/difference between the kingdom of the world and the kingdom of God.

    First a glimpse of the kingdom of God, in my view, is available in what the early Christians practiced as recorded from Acts 2 onwards, just after the Pentecost when the Holy Spirit fell on Peter and the other disciples.

    And it is within this context and community were the social needs of the people met. And I do not see how the needs of non believers were not similarly met then too.

    But such a model of kingdom living has its vulnerabilities and challenges, certainly, as long as Satan still has authority on the earth, namely there will such attacks by “infiltrators” like Ananias and his wife Sapphira, and disputes arising from who get fed and who were missed, etc, etc.

    And then there is the issue of money, again as manifested in Ananias.

    Whereas love is the currency for any relationship in the church, it is money in the world, motivated by mutual, if not mere self, benefits. Many will think it is not possible to live in this world without money, but money is the root of all evil, and it is like the leaven that leaven the whole dough. (And we are to eat unleaven bread as we leave Egypt.)

    For example instead of preaching election and predestination, choice is preached from the pulpit, and the gospel marketed and packaged as blessings and meeting needs and “victory over sin”. This is utter heresy to me and the prostitution of the gospel for money, and it is the sin of Balaam in the churches as revealed in Revelation.

    Something similar happened even in the days of Jesus as recorded in John 6.

    The crowd, after being fed, the previous day, by Jesus with five loaves and two fishes, searched and found Jesus on the opposite banks of Lake Galilee.

    Then Jesus told them, “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”

    And Jesus hammered home the point, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you …’ etc, etc

    “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” [John 6:66]

    Jesus didnt come to give bread, but to reveal the true bread which leads to the true life and life eternal.

    But many are seeking Jesus for mere bread, and many will also say that man need such bread too, for how is one to live with just God’s word?

    But for that we have each other, don’t we?

    For some are rich and many are poor. The rich shall give to the poor, to acknowledge that what they have is not theirs but a gift from God, and the poor shall receive, giving thanks and glory to God. And all the world shall see and know the glory of God, and that God is love.

    And lets not meddle ourselves with Caesar’s, for loving your neighbor is a full time job and an career in itself.

    And that is how the kingdom of God is to be, now, in this kingdom of the world, even as a light shines on a hill top on a dark night.

    But I do not see such a light.

    It is all very dark yet.

  • David D. Flowers

    espion,

    Thank you for sharing your heart. Your comments add to this discussion.

  • Patrick

    I’m with you up to the point where you bring in Rome. Do you mean to say that the Catholic Church is the Anti-Christ?

    I would invite you to consider these points:

    http://www.catholic.com/library/Whore_of_Babylon.asp

  • David D. Flowers

    Patrick,

    I’m not following you. Where did you get that the “catholic church is the anti-christ”?

    Thanks for reading.

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