Summary: Jesus will come again and establish his kingdom. Great news! But when he does, 'one will be taken and the other left.' It's a sombre warning. For one group, the result is death. We need to understand this message to understand why Jesus had to go the cross.
We’re following Jesus and his disciples on their journey from Galilee to Jerusalem. As Jesus travelled, he taught about ‘the kingdom of God.’ But the Pharisees don’t see much sign of it. So they ask Jesus when it will come. It’s a sensible question! Jesus tells them that the kingdom of God isn’t something that can be observed because it’s ‘in your midst.’
THE KINGDOM WHICH HAS COME
So what is the kingdom of God? As I was preparing for this talk, I came across this little story. It was told by the American theologian and preacher Robert Sproul. He wrote:
‘In 1990, I was invited into Eastern Europe to do a series of lectures in three countries, first in Czechoslovakia, then in Hungary, and finally in Romania. As we were leaving Hungary, we were warned that the border guards in Romania were quite hostile to Americans and that we should be prepared to be hassled and possibly even arrested at the border.
Sure enough, when our rickety train reached the border of Romania, two guards got on. They couldn’t speak English, but they pointed for our passports, then pointed to our luggage. They wanted us to bring our bags down from the luggage rack and open them up, and they were very brusque and rude. Then, suddenly, their boss appeared, a burly officer who spoke some broken English. He noticed that one of the women in our group had a paper bag in her lap, and there was something peeking out of it. The officer said: “What this? What in bag?” Then he opened the bag and pulled out a Bible. I thought, “Uh-oh, now we’re in trouble.” The officer began leafing through the Bible, looking over the pages very rapidly. Then he stopped and looked at me. I was holding my American passport, and he said, “You no American.” And he looked at Vesta and said, “You no American.” He said the same thing to the others in our group. But then he smiled and said, “I am not Romanian.”
By now we were quite confused, but he pointed at the text, gave it to me, and said, “Read what it says.” I looked at it and it said, “Our citizenship is in heaven.”‘
I liked that. On that train were a group of people who were citizens of the kingdom of God. But to the casual eye, it wasn’t observable. Of course, the whole universe is God’s kingdom. But when the New Testament talks about ‘the kingdom of God’ it OFTEN means the sphere which acknowledges Jesus as king.
* The magi who found Jesus as an infant acknowledged him as KING OF THE JEWS.
* Jesus’ disciples acknowledged him as king. Simon Peter told him, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ I think that counts as acknowledging him as king.
* The people who welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem acknowledged him as king. They shouted, ‘Blessed is THE KING who comes in the name of the Lord!’
* Pilate acknowledged Jesus as king. He had a notice prepared which said, ‘THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.’
I don’t know if all these people were sincere in recognizing Jesus as king, but some certainly were. In Jesus’ day, some people acknowledged him as king. There was a sense in which God’s kingdom HAD come. But for the moment, it was partial and it wasn’t yet observable. I can imagine the Pharisees sniffing and thinking, ‘That isn’t very impressive!’
God’s kingdom had come. But it wasn’t – in Jesus’ time – observable.
THE KINGDOM WHICH WILL COME
But there was clearly more to come. Jesus taught his disciples a prayer which we call ‘The Lord’s Prayer.’ It includes ‘May your kingdom come.’ God’s kingdom HAD come but it also WILL come.
Jesus now turned to his disciples and told them about that. Whereas the coming of God’s kingdom was not observable when Jesus was speaking to the Pharisees, on the day when he comes again to take up his kingship there will be no mistaking it! His coming will be like the lightning, which flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other.
For those of us who have put our trust in Jesus, the fact that Jesus is coming again is wonderful news. When a political leader is elected their supporters celebrate. They believe something good has happened. We have much more cause to celebrate. We have a new king to look forward to who will be far, far better than any human president or prime minister has ever been.
In the middle of last week we had our course on the environment. Steve Finamore [principal of Bristol Baptist College] took that lesson. He reminded us that Jesus’ plan isn’t only for the salvation of our souls. His plan is bigger than that: it’s for the redemption of the whole of creation. Many theologians are telling us – with good reason – that Planet Earth will be redeemed, and that we will be here, with resurrection bodies like Jesus’ resurrection body, and Jesus will be king of all creation. It’s a wonderful prospect to look forward to!