Kingdoms of all kinds dominate the headlines — countries, political parties, social media and financial institutions are the newsmakers. However, the news of a kingdom that raises up the poor, rewards those who are forgiving, liberates captives and feeds the hungry hardly gets a mention, even in the footnotes of a nightly telecast or as a crumb on daily news sites. This kind of kingdom that reverses all the usual assumptions relies on its adherents to spread the message in word and deed, the news of what Jesus called the kingdom of God.
Early in the Gospel accounts, it is John the Baptist who raises the profile of a godly kingdom that is bursting forth right under the nose of the Roman Empire. From the banks of the Jordan River, John proclaims that the “kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2).
While we may think that most at the time expected the restoration of the Davidic monarchy in Israel, there is ample evidence that expectations of a messiah were much broader and multi-faceted. These included anticipating someone who would revive the law of Moses and teach with authority, or become a new high priest, or even upend the domination of Rome.
The kingdom of God that John announces in preparation for Jesus, and that Jesus proclaims and embodies in his own public ministry, reveals that God is indeed active in history, but in ways that both fulfill and upend the usual expectations. Jesus does act and speak with authority (e.g., Matthew 7:24-29; 21:23-27; Mark 1:21-27; Luke 5:17-26); he is a perfect high priest (e.g., Hebrews 5:1-10; 9:11-28); and he does establish a kingdom. It is this kingdom of God that will be the subject of this series as we tease out its meaning through Jesus’ words and deeds.
While many of us may have the impression that the kingdom of God is something beyond our grasp and awaiting us in heaven, the Gospels are clear that in Jesus the kingdom is brought near and is, in fact, in our midst. Just consider these passages: Matthew 3:2; 4:17; 10:7-8; 12:28; Mark 1:15; Luke 10:8-11; 11:20; 17:20-21.
Most biblical scholars agree that the proclamation of the kingdom of God is the core of the Gospel. It is the news that in all ways and in all places God is sovereign. Those who enter into a relationship with Jesus accept this absolute primacy of God, even in the midst of the realities of the world in which we live. When we live in right relationship with God and with neighbor we are embracing this kingdom that Jesus initiates in his coming.
What shall we say, then? Is God’s kingdom among us? Yes. Is God’s kingdom still to come? Yes. The kingdom of God is now and it is not yet. Christians hold within us the reality that both are true. We struggle with the holy tension between what God is doing among us now and what God will complete for us in eternity.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells an ancient audience, and he tells us, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). We seek the kingdom in prayerful silence with God, in conversation with others of faith, and in doing the work that Jesus gives us to bring the kingdom to fullness – loving our enemies, caring for the poor, teaching the truth, calling out injustice and surrendering our sometimes faulty agendas.
Catherine Upchurch is the general editor of the Little Rock Catholic Study Bible and contributes to several biblical publications. She writes from Fort Smith.
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