The kingdom of God appears early in the gospels. Matthew 3 reports that:
John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
Remember that the ‘kingdom of heaven’ is Matthew’s favored term for the ‘kingdom of God’, but they are the same thing. According to Mark 1, John preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. This sounds like the language many evangelicals use when they talk about getting ‘saved’, but I don’t think it is. Repentance means changing your mind or direction and aligning with the kingdom of God.
John’s message really excited the Jewish people in the area. They flocked to the Jordan River to hear his message about the kingdom and were baptized by him in the river to show that they were identifying with the kingdom of God.
What was the significance of their identifying with the kingdom? What were the practical consequences? It seemed that those coming to be baptized wondered the same thing. John told them in Luke 3 to produce fruit in keeping with repentance, so they asked:
“What should we do then?”
John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?” “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them. Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?” He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”
So, apparently, the kingdom of God is not based on following religious rules or rituals but on treating people right. Where have we heard this before?
Jesus Tells a Pharisee about the Kingdom of God
Jesus was also baptized by John, and later he took up John’s message. Mark 1 says:
After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
When a leading Pharisee named Nicodemus came privately to Jesus asking about the kingdom, Jesus responded in John 3:
Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again…no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.
Again, many evangelicals have taken ‘born again’ as another word meaning ‘saved’–a supposed transaction one goes through with God to become a ‘Christian’ and change one’s eternal destination from eternal punishment in hell to life in heaven. But I don’t think so. I suggest that entering the kingdom of God involves our changing our own direction and starting fresh as though we are being born all over again.
This sounds very similar to Jesus’ answer to his disciples when they ask who would be greatest in the kingdom. Jesus responded this way in Matthew 18:
He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
What does it mean to become like a child? I think it means being fresh, receptive, and pliable. Entering the kingdom does not obliterate a person’s personality or individuality, but we cannot bring our old agenda into the kingdom. Choosing the kingdom is an ultimate commitment—not something we can simply add to our old paradigms. Becoming like a malleable, receptive child is a perfect metaphor for aligning with the kingdom of God.
Jesus seems to address this in a pair of other short metaphors.
The Parables of the Cloth and the Wineskin
Jesus was asked why his disciples did not fast as did the disciples of the Pharisees and John the Baptist. He replied in Luke 5:
He told them this parable: “No one tears a piece out of a new garment to patch an old one. Otherwise, they will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old.
And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for they say, ‘The old is better.’”
Fasting was a practice of the old religious orientation, but the announcement of the kingdom of God was about something new. We don’t take a piece of the new paradigm of the kingdom of God to patch up the old religious paradigm, nor do we take the new wine of the kingdom of God and put it into old, rigid religious systems.
The kingdom of God is something fresh, new, and dynamic. It is not enough to add aspects of the ‘kingdom’ to the old ways; we must be receptive and flexible rather than set in our ways like a well-worn shirt or a rigid wineskin.
It is similar to becoming like a child—being born all over again. This is the kingdom. It requires a new way of thinking; it can’t be simply an add-on to our old perspective.
More Insight Into the Kingdom of God
These are valuable insights, but Jesus does not leave us here. He explains more about the kingdom in a series of intriguing parables. We will talk about them next time.
Jesus without Baggage exists to assist and support those questioning beliefs they have been taught in fundamentalist, traditional evangelical, and other groups. If you know someone who might find Jesus without Baggage helpful, feel free to send them the introductory page: About Jesus without Baggage.
Articles in this series: The Kingdom of God
What Is Heaven and Where Is It?
Heaven, the Kingdom of Heaven, and the Kingdom of God
How Do We Become Part of the Kingdom of God?
2 Parables of the Kingdom from Planting
The Kingdom of God is Like… (7 Short Kingdom Parables)
The Kingdom of God is Like Attending a Banquet
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