I am not talking about Houdini. I am referring to how easy it is not to deal with the world’s oppressive and broken systems, violence on every street corner, abuse happening behind closed doors, and our own judgmental and passive attitudes.
How many times have you read these words spoken by Jesus as He stood before Pilate,
“My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36)?
How many times have you heard these words used to justify that the “kingdom of God” is only a spiritual kingdom called heaven where we, if we are believers, will go someday, where at last we will escape the depravity of this world? I know I am treading on dangerous ground here, but please hear me out.
The bottom line is that heaven has often been portrayed as a “way out,” an escape route. “And [Christ] has made us kings and priests to our God; and we shall reign on the earth” (Rev. 5:10) wasn’t in “my” Bible. The likelihood of this earth being transformed hasn’t been on my radar screen. Or if it has, I haven’t taken it seriously.
This week I read John 18:36 with a totally new understanding. Jesus was pointing out that, though He was a king, His kingdom would not come by a worldly revolution (NKJV Study Bible, p.3697). In other words, the kingdom of God would not come about through the world’s systems and ways. In times past, I’ve understood this scripture to mean that Jesus’ reign is only spiritual which has always left me more than a little confused. If the kingdom is only spiritual, then why are some people “physically” healed? Why did Jesus tell us to pray, “on earth as it is in heaven”? Is it just a stop gap measure until we are out of here?
A new understanding of John 18:36 brings me back to the theme of this blog: “Heaven on Earth, where faith meets the rut in the road.” One author says it this way, “The kingdom is not geographical (physical), but it is evident wherever men submit their hearts to the rule of the king. And as this is done, heaven will be released on earth” (Prayers that Release Heaven on Earth, John Eckhardt).
Jesus clearly announced that the kingdom of God was at hand. Either it is or it isn’t. The problem most of us have is that it is a “now, but not yet” kingdom. The tension can be hard to fathom with our finite minds and can only be bridged by faith. N.T. Wright asks some penetrating questions: “What are we waiting for? And what are we going to do about it in the meantime?” (Surprised by Hope).
Where does this leave me? Us? Intentionally focusing on the fact that our God reigns NOW gives me a renewed sense of hope, purpose, and a new determination - if not to change things, at least to pray that God will raise up those who can and to pray for God’s kingdom to manifest in my attitudes and actions and in every situation that comes across my path.
I woke up this morning thinking about Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words, “I had a dream.” God had a dream and still does, and we are part of it. If “escape” is our mode of operation, although our salvation may be secure, we might miss out on its glorious unfolding.