Focus On The Kingdom
I was burned out like a piece of bread in a jammed toaster. I had been in church for years and even worked as a full-time minister. None-the-less, the fire had gone out for me, and I was still smoking with bitterness and frustration. I was confident that I was saved, but I was having trouble being excited about that. I was crabby when I attended church. I was annoyed at the enthusiasm that other Christians seemed to be experiencing around me. It felt like I was spinning my wheels, but not getting anywhere. I needed something but I wasn’t sure what.
At the time I had a media business. I made videos, graphics, and would take on virtually any project that paid the bills. I was even getting into narrating audiobooks. It seemed like a really sweet gig. Read books aloud, make money, score! So I put out the word that I was looking for some narration work. An interesting book found it’s way into my project cue. It was a book about end-time prophecy with a focus on the coming Kingdom of God. As I read through the book by John Claeys, I felt a spark. It wasn’t a blaze yet, but it was the start of a forest fire in my soul.
Over the next few years, I worked with John Claeys and others on projects concerning the Kingdom of God. I was beginning to feel like the man Jesus described who found treasure in a field, went home and sold everything he had to buy the field. Focusing on the kingdom revived my excitement, my walk with God, and even my desire to talk to others about Jesus. Maybe Jesus knew what he was talking about, after all, when he said, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his Righteousness, and all of these things will be added to you.” The more I dug, the more treasure I uncovered. As I spent time thinking about God’s Kingdom plan, my world seemed to take on more color and vibrant life.
I noticed another thing. As I poured my own thought life into seeking the Kingdom, overcoming sin became a reality. This old 82’ model body is not sin free, mind you, but I found success in areas that I had not experienced before. I started to have victories over sins that had plagued me for years. All because I was focusing on the Kingdom.
So, what’s the kingdom thing all about? The word ‘Kingdom’ is used a little over 160 times in the New Testament. The vast majority of the uses are in the first three gospels. The gospels talk about the Kingdom of God so much that, not understanding the Kingdom is the same as not understanding the gospels.
I had certainly been experiencing this confusion myself. When I was in Bible college, I remember thinking what in the world is the Kingdom of God. I noticed that Jesus was always talking about it, I had read the Bible all my life, and even received a degree in biblical studies, but I didn’t understand what he was getting at when he said “the kingdom of God.”
That’s probably because some theological yo-yo told me, that ‘the kingdom’ was allegorical. Supposedly it wasn’t to be taken literally. I had a problem with that, though. I didn’t see any indication in the Gospels that he meant anything but what he said. Attempts to make the kingdom fade into the fog of allegory were ultimately frustrating to me. I could clearly see that the Old Testament promised a physical and literal King and Kingdom. Jesus claimed to be that King and promised a Kingdom. I realized that this single idea was the cohesive bond that held the Bible together. Things started to make sense. Not only that, but I fell in love with the Kingdom of God. My wife and I have joked that we are kingdom-heads.
When Jesus says ‘Kingdom’ he means Kingdom. Brilliant right? It’s annoying that we would have to explain something so simple, but there it is. Kingdom means kingdom. This is the foundation of understanding the Bible as a whole. When we try to turn Jesus’ words into some esoteric enigma, it frustrates. I know, because it frustrated me. When we take Jesus at his word, the Kingdom appears out of the mist with all the trappings of a magnificent empire built of real and solid stuff.
Those that spent time with Jesus certainly expected there to be a real Kingdom. At one point Mrs. Zebedee, the mother of Apostles John and James, asked Jesus for a favor. She wanted her boys to have the seats of honor at Jesus’ right and left when he started up the Kingdom. (Matthew 20:20) Clearly, she saw it as a literal Kingdom. The first time Nathaniel met Jesus he called him the King of Israel. (John 1:49) What a greeting, right? Certainly, he saw Jesus as a literal king of a future kingdom. The criminal that died next to Jesus said, “Lord remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Luke 23:42) Even after Jesus was resurrected the disciples still understood the Kingdom to be a literal coming government on the Earth. They showed this when they asked Jesus, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the Kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6) I’ve used the word literal more times than I’m comfortable with in this paragraph but I want it to be set in concrete. The people that hung out with Jesus understood that he was promising a literal kingdom.
This handful of examples is only a fraction of the sea of literal kingdom believers that the New Testament puts forward. The Kingdom was understood as a coming government, run by Jesus in his capital at Jerusalem. The Old Testament prophets taught this, Jesus reiterated it, and the Disciples got the message. Not only that, they were eager to see it come to the Earth. Kingdom expectations are woven throughout the fabric of the gospels.
The Kingdom was so important to Jesus that he told us to pray for its Earthly arrival every day. Do you pray for the Kingdom to come to Earth every day? Jesus told you to. What? You didn’t know Jesus told you to pray for the Kingdom to come every day?
Check out the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6. No doubt you’ve heard it recited in movies, sporting events, and at church functions. Jesus didn’t intend us to repeat it word-for-word, but instead, he meant it as a model for daily prayer. That’s why he said, “in this manner, therefore pray.” He didn’t say, “use these exact words.” (Matthew 6:9)
Secondly, we know it’s a model for daily prayer because the word “daily” is right there in the middle of it. Here’s the cool part, though. Don’t miss this. The main fixture of the Lord’s prayer is that it begins with a request for God’s Kingdom to come to Earth, and ends with a reminder that the Kingdom belongs to God. So the steam engine and the caboose of daily prayer is the kingdom. The Lord’s prayer is designed to focus our minds on the coming Kingdom of God. Clearly, he wants us to think about and pray for the Kingdom to come every single day. If you’re not doing that, you should. It’s a life changer.
It’s only a few verses later that Jesus tells us to “seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness.” How do we seek first the Kingdom? As my pastor, Bob Bryant says, “We need to understand what it is.” So, let’s take a look at some of the things that the Bible tells us about this future Era.