Let’s talk about something that you probably want very much, is very close, but you can’t see it or get into it if you have been born in this world. It is something that is all around us but to see it we must look inside us. It is something for this time and for time for come. It is something that is here now but truly only comes in its fullness later on. It is something that is not of this world but that we can have in this word.
It is less a place than a condition of allegiance.
It is the Kingdom of God. Sometimes the Bible might say Kingdom of Heaven. The semantics seldom bring cause for distinction as Jesus talked to us about his Father’s kingdom.
Jesus talked a lot about the Kingdom of God. He spoke directly. He used parables. He told his disciples to proclaim the kingdom.
Consider in the first part of Luke’s account that we call the Acts of the Apostles, the disciples were gathered around the resurrected Jesus and wanted to know, “Is it time yet?”
They wanted to know if Jesus was going to set up his Kingdom now. It was a logical question. Jesus conquered the grave. Surely the next thing on the agenda would be to give these pesky Romans the boot.
Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
But Jesus had other plans for his followers. They were to preach the gospel to the ends of the earth. We still live in an age where we are to take the gospel to the world, and expectations for the Kingdom of God have gone through some interesting gyrations over the centuries.
The Jews of the first century were surely looking for a kingdom without Romans. This vision of a secular kingdom would continue for a millennia—all the way through the crusades. Christians were determined to bring God’s Kingdom about and by force if necessary.
Then there was a period following the dark ages that we call the Renaissance. People saw art and culture once again come to the forefront of civilization. Many thought that the earth would be full of man’s goodness and Christ would come back to a righteous world. Things were just getting better and better. How could Christ not come set up his kingdom?
Then we come to the modern era where modernists who thought civilization would reach self-actualization through knowledge, information, and technology were pitted against Christians calling for the church to be caught up and taken out of this world. Terms like rapture became popular, even though nobody ever used this term for the first 1700 years of Christianity.
In the modern and now post modern world, many see the Kingdom of God as a post rapture civilization.
It’s amazing how so many people through the centuries could read the same divinely inspired words and end up with such diverse perspectives. But there was a common thread among all of this diversity. Every believer of every age responded to this question in the same way.
When is the Kingdom of God coming?
Even the earliest apostles knew it would be soon.
We sing these words: Soon and very soon we are going to see the King. Hallelujah!
We also sing: When we all get to heaven, what a day of rejoicing it will be!
We want to be a part of the Kingdom of Heaven. We want to be citizens of the Kingdom of God. But do we know what that means?
These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.
Jesus sent his disciples out telling them to proclaim that the Kingdom of Heaven has come near. It has come close. It is at hand.
How do you think this brief missionary excursion would have gone if Jesus sent out his disciples to proclaim, “The Kingdom of God is coming to a town near you over the next 2,000 or 3,000 years?”
But Jesus sent his followers with an immediate message. The Kingdom of God is near.
So why couldn’t they see it?
Why can’t we see it?
Or can we?
In the 3rd Chapter of John—possibly the most read chapter in the New Testament, at least the 16th verse—we see a discussion between Jesus and Nicodemus, a Pharisee.
Jesus says that no one can see the Kingdom of God unless they are born again.
Nicodemus asks, “How can this be?”
Jesus says no one can enter the Kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.
Again, Nicodemus doesn’t get it. He is wrapped up asking how and Jesus, in the 16th verse, answers all of this Pharisee’s “how questions” with a why answer.
God loved the world so much that he sent his son to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. So that all we have to do is believe in him and we will live. God didn’t send his son as judge but as redeemer.
Until we see the world around us through new eyes—through God’s eyes—through eyes of Love, we are blind and we can’t see God’s Kingdom. And we can’t enter what we can’t see.
The Kingdom of God is so very close; yet so far away. When Jesus stood before Pilate—a railroad job of justice for sure, but one necessary so that the Lamb of God would die on a cross and take away the sin of the world—Jesus told Pilate that his Kingdom was not of this world.
So the kingdom is close. It is at hand. It is invisible to those only born of the flesh, and now we see it is not even of this world.
But we shouldn’t really be looking into outer space. We should not expect the Mars Curiosity Rover to be strolling along and sending back pictures of rocks, and washes, and places where there might have once been water, then stumble upon a sign that reads, KINGDOM OF GOD.
Just because it’s not of this world doesn’t mean that it’s part of another world. We examine an account from the 17th chapter of Luke’s gospel and find some Pharisees who have asked Jesus when the Kingdom of God would come.
His answer was that the Kingdom of God does not come in such a way as to be seen. No one will say, “Look, here it i!”
No one will say, “There it is!”
The Kingdom of God is within you. Other translations read in your midst.
The human mind sometimes encounters dichotomy at this point. Sometimes it goes as far as cognitive dissonance. The mind just can’t resolve all of the facts presented. Often, our minds just ignore some of the facts.
A Kingdom that is not of this world but is within you and in your midst might be something that’s tough to reconcile.
So let’s add another perspective. As Paul wrote to the church in Corinth in what today we call 2nd Corinthians, he tells those who follow Jesus that they—we—are Ambassador’s for Christ. We are Christ’s ambassadors.
Here’s the thing about being an ambassador. You live in somebody else’s country. You are an American through and through. You bleed red, white, and blue. You can sing all the verses of the Star Spangled Banner, but you live and work and exist day to day in another country. Sometimes, the country is hostile.
When I was assigned to the United Nations to serve in Iraq and Kuwait over 2 decades ago, the only tangible advice I received was this: “Don’t go native.”
What they were saying was that we trust you know what you are doing. Use the same judgment that got you where you are, but realize there is one big landmine out there that sometimes gets people.
They forget where they came from. They go native.
The ambassador is not permitted to “go native.” He or she may be immersed in the culture, know the native language, and be very capable of navigating in this foreign land, but this land will never be home.
And it can be tough to be in foreign, sometimes hostile territory, far from home. But the ambassador has a little piece of home with him in the foreign country. She has a few yards or acres of sovereign U.S. soil somewhere in the foreign country.
It is called an embassy, and the soil it sits on is as sovereign as if it were in Nebraska or Missouri or even California. It is a piece of home far from home, but home none the less.
And so too, we as Christ’s Ambassadors should be able to find a piece of God’s Kingdom in this world.
And so too must we heed the counsel, “Don’t go native.” Don’t adopt the practices of this world as our own.
And so we begin to see this invisible kingdom that is not of this world, but breaking out all around us and even alive within us. We try to grasp a kingdom that has come near but cannot be entered without being born of the Spirit. We try to visualize our Kingdom Embassies in this world.
Then we consider what we pray for frequently: Thy Kingdom come. The Kingdom of God is all around us, within us, in our midst; yet we pray, Thy Kingdom come.
So is there more to come?
Would we pray for something that is already here?
What does Thy Kingdom come mean?
Much as in high school algebra, we turn to the back of the book for this answer, specifically to Revelation 11:15 as John describes the Seventh Trumpet.
The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said:
“The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever.”
There is a kingdom to come that is beyond what we can know now. Perhaps we can feel it, taste it, and experience it in our embassies on this earth. Perhaps we can feel it growing inside us. Perhaps we can both see and enter it now because we have been born of the Spirit.
The question we must ask is how do we know that we are living in God’s Kingdom while we are still in this world?
With a world that seems to remain in turmoil, how do we know that we have not gone native?
How do we know, that the Kingdom of God is really within us?
How do we know?
The answer to these questions lies in the answer to one other question.
Who is your King?
For living in the Kingdom of God is more about allegiance than geography.
Living in the Kingdom of God is more about obedience than time and space.
Living in the Kingdom of God is more about following Jesus than borders and boundaries.
Who is our king?
Do we long for the things that the prince of this world has to offer or is our allegiance, loyalty, and discipleship only to the King of kings and Lord of lords?
If Jesus is our King, then we are living in the Kingdom of God.
It may only be a few feet of sovereign Kingdom territory that follows us around, but we are living in the kingdom because of who our King is not where our feet are planted.
So go into the world as Christ’s Ambassadors, knowing full well that our citizenship is bestowed upon us by our King.
Go into this foreign, sometimes hostile world spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ as one fully empowered by our King to deliver this message of hope.
And don’t go native. This world has nothing for me or for you, for we are citizens of the Kingdom of God.