What is your understanding of the Kingdom of God and of eternal life?
To many people the Kingdom of God is simply a way to speak of “heaven” and what they expect in the coming life with God. To me, it is wherever we see God and enact God’s word in our world today, living as God desires us to, as well as being a reference to what is promised to us in eternal life. While the phrase itself was not new to Jesus, but could also be found in the Old Testament, the Kingdom of God is what Jesus was talking and teaching about in the Gospels in reference to the ‘here and now’, since his coming, and the future world where he, and perfection of the Word, would be seen. In other words, the nature of the Kingdom of God/Reign of God is both here now, as the trinity is always with us, yet is certainly in a time to come. We are taught that both now and in the world to come, we should be living a life wherein all are of purpose and all are loved. There are none that the Father, God, would turn away, nor consider so flawed that they could not repent and come back to the fold, as we see in the parable of the Prodigal Son.
The dichotomy between the Kingdom of God as it should be today, and what it will be like tomorrow, may leave those that live by today’s societal norms quite disappointed. This comes to view when one reads such parables as that of Matthew’s chapter 20, where all the vineyard workers are paid the same for the day’s labor, no matter when they came to work. This parable shows me that no matter when one comes to believe in the Lord, repents, and starts their work as a Christian, the Lord’s payment of entrance into the joy of the believers and eternal life under God’s reign, will be the outcome or “payment” for us all. There is no gradation of payment for the many works we did for the Lord in our lifetime, just as there is no sin that cannot be repented of and forgiven.
Another dichotomy or dialectical tension that should be kept in mind when asked about the Kingdom of God, is that while the Holy Spirit works on the inner soul of humankind with the grace that only the Lord can supply, the outward manifestations that prove this and change us, not only in our own minds and hearts, but in the hearts of those we encounter, must be seen today. We cannot just talk about the eternal future. As John Wesley preached often of joy, peace, and a righteousness with the Holy Spirit within us. Wesley also realized that the Kingdom of God was here and now, as well as in the future, such that one could not simply look forward to the spoils of heaven by emptily giving devotional words to God. Everyone needed to aid the poor, the sick, and the widowed of the day. He went on in his sermons to say that correctly being with God is not just doing the right action, believing in correct dogma, or saying creeds of loyalty, but being loving, patient, kind, and acting in the power that God’s grace gives you. Self-knowledge and a true spirit of doing good in God’s name, for God, and in love of God, is the important part, as God’s Kingdom can be seen whenever we are transformed to act and live as Christ did. This goes hand in hand with why Jesus claimed in Matthew 4:17 that the Kingdom of God was at hand, and allows us today to identify those in the Kingdom realm through the fruits that come from true faith. If ever, certainly at Easter these fruits should show through from us! The truth is though, they should shine through every day of our lives as Christians!
The Kingdom of Heaven is one that is communally based, even as it works on people in very individual ways. It is a banquet of many types, for many different people while alive on earth, and comes in different ways and forms. It is a triumphant banquet for all believers at the end of time, when God’s final reign is revealed. It may even be argued that non-believers, when doing or living the way of the Word, are in the midst of the Kingdom, but may not realize it.
Also related in thought, and important in my own view on the Kingdom of God, is the nature of the Kingdom being one where judgment upon a person occurs, as well as love and support. For in Matthew 5:17-19, the Gospel tells that Jesus warned the people to follow the laws of the land, but also taught the laws of God, to follow the commandments, and to teach others to do so, or that they would not be called to the Kingdom of Heaven. We cannot simply say that we believe in our Lord, and then not live as closely to the way our Lord lived, yet expect to be seated at the final banquet table.
This may seem counter cultural to the secular world, but Jesus taught that the nature of the Kingdom is one that lives in harmony with the next world, and not so much by the world one lives in. Repeatedly, Jesus taught that the Kingdom is one of counter cultural occurrences, where the “abnormal” resides or occurs, and this is where I see God’s hand. A mother forgiving the killer of her child and visiting him in jail each month to minister to him comes to mind.
Jesus’ lessons of counter cultural thought were most apparent when he taught the rich young ruler and his disciples, in Matthew 19:20-30, that the more one has the more one may be asked to give us so to follow the Lord. Then again in Matthew 20:23-27, where Jesus taught that to lead, one must serve and be a willing servant first and foremost, and in Luke, when Jesus talked about the mustard seed or the small amount of yeast. With these parables he gave examples of the Kingdom wherein, unlike this world, the one that is seen as the biggest and most important one will not be the biggest, best, or first in the Kingdom of God. It was Jesus’ life itself though that was to be the biggest and most unexpected counter cultural statement. Christ was expected by the Jewish population to be a Davidic King that would come and reign on high, but instead, he was the example of how the Kingdom was to look, by coming as the humble and common servant of a man who truly saved them for all times.
Lastly, I would add that I do not know exactly what eternal life looks like with any specificity, nor what it holds for me, any more than what anyone can expect from the apocalyptic views that John may have given us in Revelation, or that the summations of expectations of salvation that the Gospels infer from the teachings of Jesus. Yet I fully believe that there will be a ‘forever time’ with God, living without pain, suffering, and the tears that this life brings. I believe it shall be a time where peace and love are shown in the purest of forms and we shall understand all that we do not understand today. It will be a time where evil is shown as defeated and gone, though the work and sacrifice for such showing has already been accomplished. Eternal life is the gift of salvation and reconciliation with God, as people of God, given by God, through Christ. Thanks be to God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; but especially during Lent and Easter, we thank Jesus the Christ for his sacrifice that makes our atonement possible. Amen!