Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Which Kingdom Is Coming? (Part 4)

(Be sure to read previous posts to get caught up).
So we have established that what Jesus taught was not what most people think.  In fact, the core of His teaching was something radical, shot through with expectations for spiritual people.  "Repent!  The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand (or "here")."  For the people of Jesus’ day, the word “kingdom” was a loaded term.  Hundreds of years before Jesus was born, the Jewish people had been promised a new kingdom.  Their greatest political leader, a man named David, was a powerful warrior king.  He consolidated his rule and expanded the territory of the Jews like never before.  The Jewish people, also called Israelites (see note #2 below), enjoyed freedom and safety.  But that safety and freedom was short-lived.  After David died, Israel began a long, slow cultural decline that ended in their being taken over by a foreign nation.  Thus began a long period of one foreign power after another ruling over Israel.  Like any people, they hated it.  They wanted their own kingdom, ruled by their own people.  For hundreds of years they clung to the promise that someday, a descendant of David would come and save them, a “Messiah.”  Just like David, this new king would defeat the enemies of Israel and restore the glory days of old.  Their “Bible,” which we call the Old Testament, is filled with such promises.  But there was a problem.  These promises pointed away from a traditional, earthly kingdom, to a different kind of kingdom.  This new kingdom would begin on the inside of each person and extend outward.  This new kingdom, which the Messiah would bring about, would be a kingdom unlike any other, a “spiritual” kingdom, that would change hearts.  And the most radical part of this new kingdom?  It would be composed of people from every color, every language, every nation on earth!  It would no longer be a political reality with borders and a capital city, because it would extend throughout the entire world!  This is part of what Jesus meant by the phrase “the Kingdom of Heaven.” Any person could become a citizen of this new kingdom, regardless of where you were born, what color you were, how much money you had or what your social standing was.  Wouldn’t you think that the idea of a “spiritual” kingdom would appeal to people who wanted to be spiritual, but not religious?  No.  At least not in Jesus’ day.[1] In fact, it didn’t sit well with them at all!  They were living under the rule of yet another foreign power, the Roman empire.  And the people of Jesus day felt special, because they were direct descendants of the man who founded the kingdom of Israel, a man named Abraham.[2]  They wanted to relive the victories of king David. Although God had chosen them long ago to be His people, God made it very clear that He was blessing them so that they could in turn bring the message of forgiveness and redemption to every nation in the world.[3]  By the time Jesus arrived, the Jewish people had completely exchanged the original idea of the Kingdom of Heaven with an earthly kingdom, with them at the top.  And they were so hopeful when Jesus came on the scene!  He fit the bill perfectly; he was a direct descendant of the original king David, he was charismatic and had a commanding presence, and he seemed to be able to do miraculous things that would be the envy of any great military leader.[4]  And to top it all off, the very words they had longed to hear for centuries came falling from his lips: “the Kingdom is at hand.”  Finally!  Rome will be defeated, Israel will once again rule the world, and peace and safety and prosperity will return.  But as Jesus began his teaching ministry, he kept saying and doing things that did not fit with their idea of the kingdom.  In fact, the kingdom that Jesus spoke of didn’t look anything like the kingdom they wanted.  The result?  Murder.

[1] Jesus lived in Israel from between 1 A.D. and 35 A. D.
[2] Abram, or Abraham was a member of an ethnic group known as "Hebrews." He was the first person that the God of the Bible called apart to be the father of His special, chosen people.  God promised that he would create a great nation of people from this one man.  The world's 3 greatest religions, Judaism, Islam, and Christianity trace their roots directly to Abraham, who lived around 2500 B.C.  Abraham's grandson, Jacob, had his name changed by God to "Israel" and from then onward, his descendants became known as "Israelites."  
[3] The actual words that God spoke to Abraham (Abram) are recorded in the first book of the Bible, Genesis chapter 12, verses 1-3. In the promise that God made to Abraham, He made it clear that He was blessing Abraham so that "all peoples on earth will be blessed through you."  
[4] Jesus' closest friends and followers recorded many events in which Jesus defied the laws of nature by performing miracles.  From a military standpoint, 2 types of  miracles stand out.  On more than one occasion, Jesus raised people from the dead, and more than once, he fed large groups of people (numbering in the thousands) with only a few pieces of bread and a couple of dried fish.  Can you imagine the military advantage that an army would have if they never needed to resupply their troops with food, and if those killed in battle could be raised from the dead?!  Any army would love to have such a leader.  They would be invincible!

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