The Transformational Gospel of Jesus #3: What did Jesus mean by ‘the kingdom’?
Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. -Matthew 4:23
I love Dr. Seuss. He was so creative with the use of words to make the craziest ideas come to life. He adapts words to describe unusual scenarios and people, which sometimes caused his word use to land in the Oxford dictionary.
Jesus does the same when he emerges into public ministry. He proclaims the gospel of the kingdom. Many of his hearers think they knew what he meant. They had been waiting for this kingdom, this call to arms under the leadership of a political leader in order to cast off both Rome and the Herod dynasty. Except that Jesus was not offering them that kind of kingdom. Nor was he proclaiming some future kingdom in ‘the sweet by and by’. It wasn’t even a place in time. He was using this word in a fresh, different way.
In Luke 19, Jesus taught with the parable about a nobleman giving his servants ten, five or one talent to invest, as he was going on a long trip. Where was this man going? Jesus said, “. . . into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and then return.” This story was better known in his day than ours. He was actually referring to an event in the life of Herod the Great, who went to Rome to ask that the Senate give him a kingdom over the land we call Israel. It was a wide open opportunity, yet when he received the kingdom from Rome, he controlled not one foot of land, neither did one person hail him as king. The ‘kingdom’ Herod received was the right to reign—if he could!
This is exactly what ‘kingdom’ signified in Jesus’ proclamation—the right to reign. Here again we have to backtrack to the story of the Fall. When Adam and Eve decided to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in defiance of God’s command, they effectively rejected His reign over them and replaced it with their poor imitation of personal ‘godhood’. All humans that have descended from them share this same innate view of personal freedom. Except it is an illusion. We are not free. We are bound to the destruction of our own desires. Nor did we really cast off God’s reign. He told us that death would follow eating the fruit. No one in the human race has negated this penalty—even those who deny the existence of God.
This is the face of hope in Jesus’ word picture. The gospel of the kingdom is the good news that we who are the created—having rejected the true reign of God over our lives and affairs—can come home. We no longer have to be enemies with God. To live bound to sin. To fear death. We can be reconciled to His reign over us. We can be restored to the kind of intimacy with God the first couple shared in the garden.
How could Jesus’ hearers know this to be true? Matthew reports that Jesus was healing diseases and sickness among them. This was a sign that his good news was really good news. For what God was about to do through Jesus’ death and resurrection was to open the door for all who put faith in Jesus to live a new life, to experience a reversal of the Fall.