The people of Jesus’s day had hundreds of specific prophecies pointing to various aspects of his first coming, which we will celebrate next month as Christmas. It’s not too much of a stretch to say that no one put it all together to the extent they were waiting in Bethlehem for Jesus’ arrival. As we study the accounts of Jesus’ birth in Matthew and Luke, we tend to belittle the scholars of that era for their lack of understanding.
Today we find ourselves on the other side of Christmas, watching for what the Bible promises as Jesus’ second coming. Both Old and New Testaments give general and specifics about what to look for and when to be looking, but are we any better at putting it all together than were our spiritual ancestors?
The religious leaders of the first century had not only missed the boat as to God’s promise of a savior, but had reduced their own religious system to virtual irrelevance. They concentrated on the doing rather than understanding and believing. God had called them to be an example to the nations around them, but they became exclusive and ingrown.
The religious leaders of Israel tended to look back to when they were an earthly kingdom established by God and governed by His law.
Many of God’s people today are interested in another kingdom of God, this one to be established and ruled by Jesus Christ at his next coming at some future time.
Are we also missing something?
Throughout the Gospels, Jesus spoke of a kingdom which was now, that is, near in time to his audiences. The message said something about what people should do now; it had immediate relevance and urgency. It aroused interest - and controversy. The message challenged the status quo and called for change in society, religious teachings, and personal behavior. That aspect of the kingdom of God was not a new topic to the listeners, but a call to return to the standards set by God and repeated throughout the Old Testament. To this day, nothing has superseded those standards, nor Jesus’ call to live by and reproduce those standards in whatever time or culture we find ourselves.
Today’s word is a reminder of just one aspect of that kingdom. The kingdom of God is expected to interact with and change the world into which it has been placed. Let’s look to the words of Christ as recorded in the Bible.
[Jesus] told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.” (Matthew 13:33)
Like yeast in a bread mixture, the kingdom of God is expected to touch every part of the society in which it finds itself. Moving from the picture to reality, the kingdom of God does not necessarily turn every earthly kingdom to the true God, but should affect them all, for the good.
And I [Jesus] tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. (Matthew 16:18)
Gates do not move. Gates do not attack. Gates generally were the focus of attacks by invading forces in ancient times. This would have been well understood by Jesus’ audience. The church, which we may take as the personification of the kingdom of God, should be consciously and proactively attacking the spiritual strongholds which stand in opposition to the gospel of Christ. Remember, though, we are talking spiritual battle, not a physical holy war. The focus of our efforts might be geographical areas not yet open to the gospel, religious, political, or social systems which subvert the purpose of God, or cultural mores which hold people captive. Jesus expects the church – us! – to be both attacking and penetrating these spiritual strongholds to carry his message to all peoples.
“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.” (Acts 1:8)
This is the last recorded statement of Jesus Christ on this earth. It is not a variant rendering the Great Commission, which he gave at another time and location, but an independent declaration of what he expects his church to do between his first and second comings. This is done in the power of the Holy Spirit. This contains what turned out to be the historical pattern followed by the early church in taking the message of Jesus Christ from where the church was at that time (Jerusalem) to the entire world.
All of this is reflected in Mandate’s Vision Statement with the words, “Mandate is helping to grow the kingdom of God . . . .“
Today and every day of our lives is the here and now of God’s kingdom. While still looking forward to a physical kingdom to come with the return of Christ, we are working to make the present form of God’s kingdom real in the hearts of people by helping them hear and understand God’s provision of salvation through faith in Christ. Along the way we are doing good to improve the lives of individuals and working to transform whole families and societies through the power of God.
Isn’t this what the entire church should be doing in every generation and every location?
To effectively realize Jesus’ expectations for his church, we who already declare ourselves to be Christ-followers should be consciously living according to the standards established by God for His people. Then we should be looking for or creating opportunities to tell others within our circles about our personal faith in Christ and how this has changed our lives. Growing from this, we should be using every means to ensure that everyone in this world hears the gospel in a way they can understand and intelligently respond.
The religious leaders of Jesus’ day did not quite understand what they were expecting. Unlike them, I know exactly what I am looking forward to.
There is a tremendous picture in chapter five of the book of Revelation. In the scene the apostle John has been carried to heaven in a vision. He sees a scroll which he knows is important, but no one can open it. Suddenly Jesus appears in the form of a lamb to take control. The heavenly beings react with rejoicing . . .
And they sang a new song:
“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased men for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation.”
That last line continually staggers me. By the time this event takes place, there will be representatives from every tribal group, every linguistic group, every people group, and every nation who will have become followers of Jesus Christ.
This is what I’m looking forward to, and this is the goal toward which Mandate and so many other like-minded organizations are working.
Where are you in this?
Get in touch with us if you would like to know more about how you can be involved in expanding God’s kingdom in the here and now.