Jesus spent the entirety of his ministry years teaching about God’s Kingdom. His focus was showing his followers how to live and thrive within the spiritual realm of the Kingdom while they were still in an earthly body. He taught that it was not practical to apply the laws of God’s Kingdom to the earthly realm, any more than it was advisable to apply the laws of the earthly realm to God’s Kingdom. These are two separate but interwoven jurisdictions, both of which must be dealt with appropriately.
Jesus emphasized that the Kingdom of God cannot be seen with the eyes, as it was “within” us. It’s a spiritual realm, not an earthly one. He also likened it to a speck of yeast hidden in dough that makes it rise, or the tiniest of seeds that grows to become a massive spreading tree. These are things that either cannot be seen or are difficult to see, as they are hidden in dough or in the ground. At no time did Jesus describe God’s Kingdom in worldly political terms or as something that was far off in the distant future. In fact, he stated the opposite, declaring: “My kingdom is not of this world”, and that: “If I, by the finger of God, cast out devils, no doubt the Kingdom of God has come upon you”.
If the Kingdom had not already come, Jesus wouldn’t have spent all his ministry years teaching about it. His lessons were meant to be applied soon after he taught them (that is, within the lifetime of his followers), not in some hazy distant future 2,000 or 3,000 years down the road. Jesus taught about the Kingdom not only because it had already come, but because it required a whole new way of living that in many respects was opposite to the world’s ways and to what had been taught in the Law.
Let’s take, for instance, how to deal with enemies. The Old Testament was clear that you are to exact revenge on an “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” basis, but the Kingdom requires that you let your enemies keep their eyes and teeth, and that you love them instead. You do this by praying for them and blessing them, even while they’re cursing and killing you. This was a hard teaching for many of Jesus’ followers then, and it remains a hard teaching for many today. Nonetheless, like the Commandments, it is a core tenet of the Kingdom, and as such is non-negotiable.
Another controversial teaching is Jesus’ advice to sell everything you have to buy a sword. Many have taken this teaching to mean that you should not only arm yourself, but that you have God’s blessing to harm others in self-defence, in violation of the Commandment. But Jesus didn’t say that we should use weapons to hurt others. In fact, he demonstrated the opposite when he told his followers to put up their swords and then healed the ear of one of the Roman soldiers who had come to arrest him. He also stated at that time (a very teachable moment): “Those who live by the sword, die by the sword”. We are to live by God’s Word and Commandments, not by revenge or self-defence. Jesus’ advice to arm ourselves meant that we should carry weapons as a deterrent only – not to kill or maim, but as a visible deterrent.
Despite Jesus openly stating during his ministry that God’s Kingdom had already come, many Christians today still believe that God’s Kingdom will only be established at Jesus’ second coming, and that in fact the whole purpose of the second coming is for Jesus to establish an earthly kingdom. This belief is a-scriptural: In other words, it ain’t in the Bible. Along with Jesus explicitly stating in the gospels that the Kingdom had already come, Paul mentioned several times that we followers of Jesus are priests and prophets in that Kingdom. He never once said that we should pray for the coming of God’s Kingdom because he, as as born-again believer, was only too aware that it had already come: He was living in it, as are we, if we are born-again.
What Jesus actually advised us to wait for was his coming in glory. This event will occur with great fanfare, the kind that those who rejected Jesus 2,000 years ago had expected the first time around when he revealed himself as the Messiah and established his kingdom. This glorious revelation of Jesus’ messiahship THAT EVERYONE WILL ACKNOWLEDGE will be the open manifestation of the spiritual realm in the earthly realm for all to see. The Kingdom will no longer be invisible or “hidden”, but will blaze from horizon to horizon and be heralded by a blast of trumpets.
And what will Jesus do when he comes in glory? Will he give it all up to establish an earthly kingdom, even though he said time and time again that his kingdom is not of this world? I highly doubt that sitting on an earthly throne in Jerusalem will be at the top of his to-do list at that point. Jesus tells us that he will send his angels to gather together the last of his followers and take them all home. Or as Paul says, they will be caught up in the air, like Jesus was at his ascension, or as Elijah at his. Jesus’ second coming will not mark the establishment of a worldly geo-political kingdom, but rather the end of the world.
As we know from scripture, the long-awaited second coming will only occur after a time of great tribulation of natural and man-made disasters. So while we look forward to Jesus’ return in glory, we should not look forward to the horrors that will precede it. God’s people will be protected spiritually during the tribulation, though not necessarily physically. Christianity will be outlawed and persecution of Christians will become the norm again. And by “persecution”, I don’t just mean that people will be rude to you or force you to bake a cake for them. It will be full-on persecution that includes imprisonment, torture, and execution, as it was in the early years of the Church and throughout the Middle Ages, or as it was during the Russian Revolution, Nazi Germany, or the Chinese Cultural Revolution, or as it is today in the Middle East, some Asian countries, and parts of Africa. The persecution of Christians hasn’t stopped for 2,000 years, which should not surprise us, as Jesus warned it would be like that for his followers. As he was treated, so will his followers be treated.
Finally, we should keep in mind that while we, as born-agains, live and move spiritually within God’s Kingdom, we are not yet citizens of it but rather immigrants and refugees. And like earthly immigrants and refugees in earthly countries, we have certain protections in God’s spiritual realm, though not yet full-status protection. Immigrants and refugees can still be denied citizenship, if they break the laws of their adoptive country or don’t comply with immigration policies. As long as they’re not citizens, they can be kicked out.
The same goes for us in God’s Kingdom while we’re yet in earthly bodies. We’re given great privileges as born-agains, and much is expected of us in return. Paul talks about all the things we once did, pre-rebirth, that we should no longer do. In fact, if God’s Spirit is strong enough within us, we’ll have no desire to do those things any more. That is what we should strive for – to have such a large measure of God’s Spirit that doing those things we used to do doesn’t occur to us anymore. Whatever hold they had over us is now gone. We don’t want to be like the person who was “swept clean” but then backslid until his end was worse than his beginning. We don’t want God to tell us at our judgement that it would have been better for us not to have been born at all.
Living life day-to-day in God’s Kingdom on Earth doesn’t need to involve a long and growing list of do’s and don’ts that we’re either constantly forgetting or failing to abide by. All we need is the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit and the very short list of God’s Commandments. That is the core of what Jesus taught during his ministry years, and therefore the core that we, as his followers, should learn, practice, model, and teach others. In fact, all of Jesus’ teachings can be summarized in one brief sentence: Keep all the Commandments, and let the Holy Spirit guide you in everything you do. If you genuinely do this (and by “genuinely” I mean sincerely and from the heart, not just for show), chances are good that one day, when your time here is up, you’ll be awarded full citizenship in God’s Kingdom in Heaven.