The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.
Luke 17:20–21 (NKJV).
The Kingdom of God, of which Jesus is the herald, is hidden from the mortal eye. It is not what is commonly known as ‘the church’ and certainly not any movement, denomination or group within it. Nor is it a political ideology. It is neither centre, left or right within the political spectrum and offers its allegiance to none. It stands apart from both politics and religion and is unrecognised and indiscernible by both. But it will still exist long after all these have been forgotten.
To own allegiance to The Kingdom of God is to be misunderstood, vilified and persecuted (both inside and outside the church) – simply by virtue of the fact that The Kingdom is not of this world or its systems. To use a biblical word it is ‘holy’ – set apart. And yet citizens of The Kingdom are to be found even within religious and political systems – for the Kingdom is ‘within you’. It is, according to Jesus, like yeast hidden and unseen within flour which will eventually become a wholesome and nourishing loaf.
All of this has come into very sharp focus for me in the last few weeks when I have seen both religious people and politicians within the nations imply they have exclusive rights to a moral high ground which is only and ever to be found in the Kingdom of God.
Some, as we speak, within the sphere of politics and religion even claim biblical support for the death and destruction of thousands of innocents in their goal for a greater Israel. That politically and religiously inspired governments may do this in their ignorance of the fact that the Prince of Peace has already inaugurated his Kingdom of Peace may, at a stretch, be understandable. But that those who claim to be representatives of the Kingdom and King of Peace should do so is almost inconceivable – yet they clearly do. Millions will pray today – ‘May your Kingdom come soon. May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.’ (Matthew 6:10) and then go out thinking that The Kingdom of which Jesus speaks can be expanded by bullets, bombs, propaganda and lies.
Jesus also said that his Kingdom can only be entered through a ‘narrow gate’ and that the ‘highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way.’ (Matthew 7:13). From my evangelical upbringing with its paintings of the broad and narrow way I also once saw it in terms of the few ‘elect’ would be ‘saved’ from the terrors of future punishment. However, I suspect this was a very simplistic and deceptive presentation.
It was, in truth, to that very ‘elect’ group of fastidious religious leaders that Jesus pointed when he said to those standing around him – ‘Unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven!’ (Matthew 5:20). So the highway to hell is also the highway of religion – a religion where Jesus stands outside the door (Revelation 3:20) while those inside can be heard clapping and dancing their way to hell as the mutilated and dead innocents lie scattered on their ‘broad’ roadside. But pause for a moment – who is it I see weeping in the dust by religions highway? It is Jesus – kneeling over dead and dying babies, children and other innocents – lifting them in his mercy through the narrow gate to everlasting life. He is not lifting or promoting the religious zealots – the ones who have their theology of exclusivity and exceptionalism all worked out. And that includes Christians and Jews who support murder and genocide in the name of their god as well as the terrorists who abduct, maim and murder Jews and Christians. If you don’t believe me read Luke 16:19-31 and also take time to ponder Jesus’ story of the ‘Good Palestinian’ (Luke 10:25-37) (please check the geography for yourself).
I recall hearing, some years ago, the story of a member of a Christian church in Germany during the Holocaust. Nearby was a railway line and in due course the cries and anguish of Jews being transported to the death camps soon began to disturb their Sunday services as the trains passed nearby. The man went on to record –
‘We knew exactly what time the whistle would blow and we decided the only way to keep from being so disturbed by the cries was to start singing our hymns. By the time the train came rumbling by the churchyard, we were singing at the top of our voices. If some of the screams reached our ears, we’d just sing a little louder until we could hear them no more. Years have passed and no one talks about it much anymore, but I still hear that train whistle in my sleep. I can still hear them crying out for help. God forgive all of us who call ourselves Christian, yet did nothing to intervene.’
I wonder how long the cries and tears of the innocents of the Middle East will sound in our ears as the whistle of bombs and bullets kill and maim them. However, it appears things have changed since the Holocaust. No longer are many so-called ‘Christians’ trying to drown out the cries of the innocents (not that I can hear anyway) – but are actively encouraging their tormentors. May God have mercy on us and even shame us, if that is possible in the fear-induced coma in which so many evangelicals seem to exist, into speaking out on behalf of the Kingdom and Prince of Peace!
The last time I attended a Christian Zionist conference on Israel the whole two hours or so was spent on a lecture relating to the positive political and military aspects of the State of Israel. Much of that time was taken up in extolling the virtues of Mr Netanyahu and the leaders of the IDF – even going so far as to explore their heritage in some depth.
However, at the end of the lecture the lady who had presented it was honest enough to talk about the situation regarding Christians she knew who had obtained their lifelong goal of actually living in Jerusalem. ‘Jerusalem’ she said, ‘is a graveyard for Evangelicals.’ She went on to report, and who am I to doubt the truth of this, that many Evangelicals, once settled in Israel, abandoned Christianity all together and fully embraced Judaism and its theology of the land.
Again, Jesus clearly says – ‘My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world.’ (John 18:36).
Why then, might we ask, does so much of the church today promote an earthly kingdom and country in the shape of a literal land and a city of bricks and mortar? In truth the Kingdom of God is about none of these things – it is about King Jesus – the fulfillment of every longing of the ancient Jewish people. Simeon saw that as he cradled the Christ child in his arms and said –
‘Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace,
According to Your word; For my eyes have seen Your salvation
Which You have prepared before the face of all peoples,
A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles,
And the glory of Your people Israel.’
Again I am forced to ask – how and why have so many ‘Christians’ become so blind to this? Indeed, I sometimes wonder could we be living through the great end times deception of which the Bible itself and so many Christians speak – a time when those who should be peacemakers are warmongers – a time when people who should love hate and a time when people who who should show mercy show none?
‘Blessed are the pure in heart,
For they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
For they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’
Matthew 5:8-10 (NKJV)