There’s a new kingdom coming inside the world as we know it. The earth as we know it can be seen so clearly in GoogleEarth®, an amazing piece of technology.
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There’s a New Kingdom Coming
With a few simple keystrokes and clicks on the mouse we are able to look up anywhere on planet earth and see what the terrain is like, what the location is like, what the vegetation is like, even what the colour of a house is like. And on GoogleEarth® we can see the borders of the different countries of the world and look at their capital cities and places of interest. And countries change names and cities change names. Many of the country names that I knew in school have changed. For example, in 1989 the military government of Burma changed the country’s name to Myanmar. And good old Ceylon is now Sri Lanka. The country once known as Rhodesia is now Zimbabwe. And the city once known as Bombay has now been changed to Mumbai. In our day now, March 2020 there is much emphasis on the COVID-19 virus and how the countries or kingdoms around the world are handling it. I am concerned with all that is happening, and I am interested to see how our own Australian government is handling things in our kingdom, but the thing that interests me more, and should interest all Christians more, is another kingdom, a new kingdom that is partly here but will not fully come until one special event happens.
So, come with me as we look for a while at a new kingdom that Jesus said was coming.
He called it the kingdom of God. Now you won’t find the kingdom of God on GoogleEarth®. You won’t find the kingdom of God on any map; you won’t find the kingdom of God in an atlas, and you certainly won’t find the kingdom of God on your GPS. That’s because the kingdom of God is not a physical kingdom, it’s a spiritual kingdom and that’s why Jesus was so engrossed in preaching and teaching about it – in fact, it was the main theme of his ministry. Everything that Jesus did and said was about God’s kingdom and how to get into it. In many of his parables, he alludes to this kingdom. His parable of the weeds is about the fact that the kingdom of God, grows in amongst the weeds of the world (Matt.13:24-30). In the parable of the mustard seed, he says that the kingdom of God grows from faith as small as a mustard seed but in the end, it becomes the largest plant in the garden (Matt.13:31-32). In the parable of the hidden treasure, he says that it is something that has to be found (Matt.13:44). So with that background please turn with me to Acts chapter one.
In the first part of this chapter, Jesus is preparing the apostles for their task in continuing his work through the power of the Holy Spirit.
He’s done a number of things: In v2 he’s given them Spirit authenticated instructions. In V4 he’s verified his resurrection by appearing to them over a period of forty days. In V3 he’s taught them there’s a new kingdom of God coming, and in V4-5 he’s promised to baptise them with the Holy Spirit. At this point, Luke tells us that the apostles ask him a question – ‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’ (V6). Now remember that Jesus has been teaching them about the coming kingdom of God, so that is the thrust of their question. They knew that the Old Testament promise of the outpouring of God’s Spirit was a promise for the last days when God would establish a new kingdom of his own on the earth and restore his people.
For example, in Ezekiel 39 God says, “I will now bring Jacob back from captivity and will have compassion on all the people of Israel. I will no longer hide my face from them, for I will pour out my Spirit on the house of Israel, declares the Sovereign Lord.” (V. 25,29.) So when Jesus says that the long-awaited outpouring of the Spirit—the baptism with the Holy Spirit—is just a few days away, they would naturally ask for a clarification: “Do you mean the end is that close? Do you mean that the new kingdom, that final kingdom, is about to be established in just a matter of weeks or months?” It’s interesting that Jesus doesn’t rebuke them for their question. He simply tells them that time and dates are not his prerogative to set or their prerogative to know and then he explains to them what he means by the kingdom of God. He tells them that they will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on them, and they will be His witnesses “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (V8). Why were they to be his witnesses? It’s because at that time he, Jesus, was the kingdom of God! In him alone, at that time, had the new kingdom come. So to witness to him was to evidence, in word and action, a new kingdom coming amongst the nations.
How can we define God’s new kingdom that is coming in the earth?
Believe it or not, we can define it the same way as we define any other earthly kingdom. The dictionary definition of a kingdom is ‘a country with a king as head of state’ or ‘the domain ruled by a king or queen.’ So, the kingdom of God is ‘the domain ruled by God as king.’ At that point of time when Jesus was teaching his apostles, the only domain on earth ruled by God as King was Jesus himself. When he began his ministry his first public utterance as recorded in Mark’s gospel were these: ‘The time has come, the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news.’ (Mark 1:15) What’s he saying other than; “I’m here, so the kingdom of God is near to everyone who listens to me”. In another place Jesus told the Pharisees that the kingdom of God is among you, meaning that the kingdom of God is in your midst because I am here. There was no way that the new kingdom of God was come within the Pharisees, but it was within Jesus. (Luke 17:20-21)
However, this new kingdom of God was never meant to be restricted to Jesus himself.
That’s why he told his apostles that when the Holy Spirit came upon them they would be his witnesses. They would be his witnesses because when that event took place they would also be the kingdom of God. They would be ‘in Christ,’ and when they were ‘in Christ’ they would be in the kingdom of God. Listen to what Paul wrote to the church at Corinth. The body is one unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptised by one Spirit into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free – and we were all given one Spirit to drink (1 Cor.12:12-13). Friends, the reality is that the true church is the body of Christ on earth and it follows then that all who are members of the body of Christ are the kingdom of God. They are God’s people under his rule – the new kingdom, and one which was to ever increase. The church is the visible manifestation of the kingdom of God on earth today. Now let’s pose and answer three questions:
- First, how does a person become a citizen of the kingdom of God?
- Second, what is the king like, and hence what is the kingdom like? and
- Third; when will the kingdom of God be fully revealed?
How does a person become a citizen of the new kingdom – God’s kingdom?
Let’s look at this question by comparing it to the way a person becomes a citizen of Australia. When a person applies to become a citizen of Australia they have to do what the Constitution of Australia demands and before witnesses make the following pledge: ‘From this time forward, under God, I pledge my loyalty to Australia and its people, whose democratic beliefs I share, whose rights and liberties I respect, and whose laws I will uphold and obey.’ At the recent Australia Day ceremony in Strathalbyn, four people became citizens of Australia and they each pledged that oath of citizenship. They each gave allegiance to Australia and its laws. And they were welcomed as citizens of Australia.
When a person wants to become a citizen of the kingdom of God there are certain requirements too. For the Jews who heard the apostle Peter preach on the day of Pentecost they were required to do this: repent, which in their case meant that they needed to think differently about Jesus, upon whom they had looked at as an imposter, but whom God has made both Lord and Christ! They had to be baptised in the name of Jesus, which in their case was an act of humility. After doing those two things they received the gift of forgiveness and the gift of the Holy Spirit which would be their entry into Christ, into the kingdom of God.
From that time forward the requirements to enter the new kingdom have been essentially the same for all people, of whatever tribe, class, race or nation. To enter into the new kingdom of God always requires repentance. It requires a person to change their attitude to God and to believe that God raised Jesus from the dead. It requires a public confession that from this time forward Jesus is Lord. This public confession to Jesus is most often shown in being baptised. (Rom.10:9-10).
What is the king of this new kingdom like?
Kings can be good or bad as evidenced by the uprisings against many kings and rulers around the world in these days. We have only to look at Gaddafi in Libya to see what a bad ruler is like. Here was a ruler who believes that his people love him even when he sets his henchmen on them to make them toe his line. A bad ruler doesn’t give people a free choice, they make demands. They tyrannise over their citizens. The Bible tells us that the king who the good ruler in the new kingdom of God is fair and just and righteous. He is one who rules with holy love as the basis for his rule. But as well as all these things, this king is omnipotent. He is able to do all that he says he will do because within himself he has what it takes to do so.
But at the same time, he will never use that great power merely for his selfish pleasure. His power is used for the good of all people, whether they be citizens or not. He gets bad press, by the way, because those who don’t belong to his new kingdom look at him as being a cruel God, who sends people to hell. But that avoids the truth that is truly important for now: there is a new kingdom we can choose to be a part of. Graciously, God is calling all people to choose freely to walk his way, or walk away from him. He has given all people the power of choice – that’s the kind of king he is. And he’s all-knowing. He doesn’t need to look up his emails or look of Facebook or Twitter to find out what is going on. He doesn’t need to have spies reporting back to him. He will never be embarrassed by Wiki-leaks. And he rules his new kingdom in such a positively powerful way, that he frees his citizens from the law of sin and death. He is the ruler who sends the rain on those who love him and also on those who don’t. He is the ruler who rules justly.
When will the new kingdom of God ever be fully revealed?
But is this is all that the new coming kingdom of God will ever be? Is it only going to be a spiritual kingdom where it is only certain people who allow God to rule in their hearts and lives? Is it ever going to be a real, live, visible kingdom like the kingdoms that the world is used to seeing? The answer is yes. God’s new kingdom coming will be a real, live, visible kingdom. But the Bible teaches us that it won’t become that visible entity until Jesus himself comes again as the visible King.
We see this also at the beginning of the book of Acts. After Jesus had taught his apostles for forty days about the new kingdom of God, and after he promised them that they would be imbued with the Holy Spirit, he left them and returned to his Father in heaven. Luke records it like this:
After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. ‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.’ (Acts 2:9-11)
God promises that at some time, unknown to us, Jesus will return in the clouds of God’s glory and power. He has told us that when he returns every eye shall see him arrive. He has told us that every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. And he has told us that at that time Jesus will set up God’s new kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. And he has told us that when he comes again all those who have been part of the invisible kingdom of God will be with him. Finally, God will rule His people in his place. For it, we pray: “Let your kingdom come”.
I want to finish with a modern-day parable.
A friend returns from vacation and tells you about this marvellous new kingdom she has seen, and it sounds absolutely wonderful. You’ve always been more or less satisfied with your fatherland: it is the only reality you have ever imagined. But her stories make you notice things you never noticed before. Compared to the new state your friend has described, your fatherland suffers from stifling air pollution; the scenery is blah; the culture is boring, crude, uncreative, and the economy is stagnant. The more you replay the scenes and stories described by your friend—stories of exciting people, vibrant culture, beautiful scenery, and a robust economy—the more you feel restless. One evening your dinner is interrupted by six successive calls from telemarketers selling gas mask so you can breathe more easily on high pollution days, and something in you snaps. “That’s it! I’ve had it! I’m leaving!” you think, “I’m going to start a new life in this new land my friend has told me about!”
So you gradually begin to imagine life in this new kingdom. Gradually, you can see yourself there—and life is better. Still, you vacillate a little. Do you have enough faith to pack your suitcase and head to the border? Do you really trust your friend enough to make a move like this? You share with her your dreams—and your doubts—and she says, “If you go, I’ll go with you. Ever since I visited, I can’t stop thinking about going back for good.” And that tips the balance. You sell your house and all your possessions, and the two of you set off.
With some apprehension, you approach the border. You present your papers and declare yourself an immigrant. They ask you one simple question: “Do you wish to leave your past behind and start a new life in our kingdom?” When you say yes, they issue you a passport—no questions asked—and then they recommend that you take a bath. They explain that immigrants usually find it wise to wash off the soot and smell of their old country so they can have a clean start in this new homeland. You comply, and you’re glad you did. You step outside and take a deep breath, and your lungs feel as if you’re inhaling pure health, joy and peace. It’s as if the spirit of the new kingdom is entering you. You feel alive as never before.
You find a new home, meet your new neighbours, and settle into a whole new life. You quickly realize that you have a lot to learn. The people speak a new dialect here. It’s not the old familiar accent of pride, judgement, bragging, misleading, insulting, or lying. Rather it’s an accent of gratitude, encouragement, truth-telling, admitting faults, and celebrating joys. You also notice that people here live at a different pace than you’re used to—they’re not lazy, but they’re not frantic workaholics either. They live with a certain rhythm, weaving rest and work and worship and play and fellowship and sacrifice and feasting and fasting. As you settle into your new life, you almost feel that you’ve been born into a new autobiography and a new world.
(synopsis from Brian McLaren, The Secret Message of Jesus.)
We all can enjoy the new kingdom, right here and now
Like the two friends in the parable, we can wash off the filth of the old world, and join a new kingdom – a new citizenship – coming from God If we simply acknowledge we’ve been wrong, accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour, we are born anew into a new kingdom.
Jesus said there was a new kingdom coming: it has arrived in part and one day it will be the one and only visible kingdom – the fully realised kingdom of God. Come, be a citizen of that new kingdom!