What is the Kingdom of God?

Posted under The Rectory Bulletin | Sundays

After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias. And a large crowd was following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick. Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples. Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number. Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted. And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were frightened. But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Then they were glad to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going.” (John 6:1–21)

There’s a lot going on in this passage! Five thousand are fed, and the Sea of Galilee becomes a pathway upon which Jesus walks. Rather than keep you enrapt for hours with thousands of words, I thought I might focus in on one phrase at the end of the account of the feeding of the five thousand: “they were about to come and take him by force to make him king”.

The crowds who had been fed by Jesus were deeply impressed with him. In fact, they thought he might be “the Prophet”. Which prophet? The one referred to in Deuteronomy 18:15, where Moses says: “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen …”. Here, the crowd thought, was another great prophet like Moses, another leader like the one who led them out of bondage in Egypt. What better man to throw off the Roman yoke, to restore Israel to Jewish rule? So it is that they want to make Jesus king. And so it is that Jesus withdraws to a mountain.

So what is the issue? Simply put, it’s the difference between heaven and earth. The crowd around Jesus were after what we would recognise as a kingdom, something with border, laws and a king. They were thinking in the political realm, but Jesus was talking about something different. The “kingdom of God” is not a geographical area.

Earlier in this Gospel, when speaking with Nicodemus, Jesus says: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). Entry to the kingdom of God is not via passport control, but by something deeper. Much later on, Jesus makes a similar point to Pilate: “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world” (John 18:37).

So what is the Kingdom of God? The answer is in the word: kingdom.

In Greek, the word which is translated ‘kingdom’ does not primarily mean ‘kingdom’! It means ‘reign’. In other words, the kingdom of God is the place where a God reigns, and that is not a geographical concept. It has to do with the individual heart. It is to do with who has the highest authority in someone’s life. This is why Jesus talks about the inhabitants of the Kingdom of God being born again, and the fact that his kingdom is “not of this world”. It is the place where God reigns. Rather than being orientated towards ourselves, or to wider society, we are orientated towards God. We carry heavenly passports.

Extending the Kingdom of God, then, is a matter of spreading the message of God and inviting people to come under his reign. It is something which is done person by person, soul by soul. It is not something which is inherited, or bestowed upon you by virtue of being born in a particular country. It is the result of asking yourself: who am I serving? Who is the king in my life?

Those who wished to take Jesus and crown him were merely looking to an external reality. They hoped for a king like David, who would be a military leader. Who could defeat enemies and defend borders. Jesus was looking for something greater, a king who can change human hearts and transcend borders.

Never be satisfied with a merely external or physical form of faith. Embrace the Kingdom of God! Allow God to reign, and be transformed. Earthly kingdoms come and go, but the Kingdom of God lasts forever.

The Shepherd

The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. (Mark 6:30-31) - So it is that Jesus the good shepherd is in fact the LORD returning to shepherd his people, those sheep without a shepherd. He is, as Isaiah foresees, the “righteous Branch” of King David. He is the one from the line of David who will reign. He is the one who will bring Salvation to Judah. He is the one who is called “The LORD is our righteousness”.

The Bread that Endures

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35) - In a world which asserts that all religions are the same, and that to have no faith is as valid as having faith, these words of Jesus stand as an offence. They put him at the heart of any approach to God, and put belief in him as the “work” which restores us to God. This a claim to exclusivity. All must come through Christ.

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