Sunday October 4, 2020 | Greg Boyd
Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
In the midst of a divided and polarized world, how does the church respond in a way that reflects God’s kingdom? To answer this question, we must understand the nature of God’s kingdom and how it stands in contrast to the kingdoms of this world.
We are ambassadors in a foreign land as our true citizenship is in heaven, not in the land in which we live on Earth. We are on assignment for the kingdom of God in the midst of the kingdoms of this world. Because of this, we must have our pulse on what is transpiring in the land where we are stationed.
It does not take much effort to understand that we live in a land that is deeply divided. How, then, do we as kingdom ambassadors conduct ourselves during this time in the midst of this division? To answer this question well, we must address the nature of the two kingdoms that exist alongside each other.
God’s kingdom is based in God’s dream for humanity. Humans were to exercise loving dominion over Earth and animals, not over each other. Because humans are made in the image of God, we are all equal and therefore we are not to dominate or control others by playing the power-over game.
However, when Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, they adopted a stance of judgment. To eat from this tree is to put oneself in the place of a king, as if you can decide what is good and what is evil. Instead of loving others, we become accusers of others, thus establishing the kingdom of the world. We see this in Genesis 3 when Adam blames God and then blames Eve, followed by Eve blaming the serpent.
In Genesis 3:16 we read how the woman would seek to “manipulate” her husband and he would seek to “tyrannize” his wife. God is basically saying that because our relationship is damaged, his plan for marriage to be a beautiful “one flesh” relationship among equals will turn into a power struggle, with the man tending to get the upper hand because of physical strength.
This is the impulse that gives rise to governmental systems, or what the Bible often refers to as kingdoms. A kingdom is a domain over which someone is king, where someone somehow managed to gain power to rule over others, and each kingdom is a manifestation of rebellion against God’s dream for the world.
In this world of rebellious kingdoms, Yahweh raised up Israel, his “chosen nation,” to be a sort of missionary nation, a “royal priesthood.” God wanted to use Israel to reach all the kingdoms of the world and reunite them under Yahweh’s lordship. God wanted Israel to model for the other nations what it looks like for a people to have God alone as their king.
During the days of the Old Testament, the little nation of Israel was surrounded by powerful kingdoms who ruled the world by the sword. As a result, the Israelites began to fret and asked God for a king to rule over them so that they could be protected from the rule of other nations. They announced that they wanted a king like other nations so that they could fight like other nations.
When Yahweh heard this, he said to Samuel that by trusting a human king, the Israelites were rejecting God as king. As God’s ambassadors, we have to know that all systems that involve some people having power over others are predicated on rebellion against God’s leadership in our lives. Even more, we learn in the New Testament that kingdoms are under the corrupting influence of the principalities and powers. We read about this in Luke 4:5-7, where the devil tells Jesus that he can give him the kingdoms of the world. God’s ambassador people have to remain aware that there are powerful forces of evil at work in all worldly systems of power, including the land in which we have been stationed.
In the midst of the kingdom of the world, Jesus brings the kingdom of God, where power-under is the way of life, in contrast to power-over. Jesus reintroduces God as direct King. To call Jesus “Lord,” “Savior,” and King” in the first century is to say that Caesar is not these things. This is the reason that Christians were seen as a subversive movement, undermining the power of the state.
Here is a summary of the contrasts between the two kingdoms:
Kingdom of the World Kingdom of God
Mistrust God Trust God
Caesar is Lord Jesus is Lord
Power Over Power Under
Exact Vengeance No Vengeance
In the end, the whole world will become the kingdom of the Lord and his Messiah. All who have aligned their hearts with his dreams for the world will be his bride and will reign with Christ on a renewed and redeemed Earth forever. But that time is not yet here. Right now, God’s ambassadors are called to keep the kingdom holy, set apart from the kingdom of the world. We are to represent the character of the King in all that we do, resisting the power-over structures and offering power-under love.