Listen to Phil Strout, the national director of Vineyard USA, introduce you to Kingdom of God theology!
An Essay on The Kingdom of God
The Kingdom of God, in essence, is the rule and reign of God or when God has His way. Unpacking the phrase involves two truths. As a child, I grew up going to a Vineyard Church. Growing up, praying over people for both emotional, spiritual, and physical healing was a norm. During prayer, people would invite the Holy Spirit and participate by listening to what God wanted to say to people. I saw church members go out into our community and serve the poor and hungry. We expressed our adoration and love for God through music and all different forms of art. People came into the church building and felt loved and valued. The older I got, I grew to appreciate and admire the ways my church interacted with God and with the world around them, but I also wondered where they got the idea to live in such a way. People often mentioned “the Kingdom of God”, but I never quite understood the meaning of the term until I was a bit into my teen years. The Kingdom of God, as explained by Rich Nathan, a Vineyard pastor in Columbus, Ohio, is “the rule and reign of God.” So, even more simply, the Kingdom of God is when God gets His way. This can be broken down by first understanding two truths. Firstly, God has a perfect plan that He desires for each and every person. Secondly, there is an enemy (Satan) in opposition of God’s plan for His creation who does everything He can to hinder God’s plan.
Looking at the first statement, one might wonder what God’s perfect plan for His creation looks like. Genesis 2 gives a perfect picture of what God intends for all of His creation. We see Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, living naked and without shame, and walking in undisturbed community with God. This shows that under God’s rule and reign, all people would live without shame and in full community with Him. We would never be separated from God, and nothing would ever make us want to hide from Him. A lot has happened since then, and humanity obviously no longer lives in a big garden. This brings up the second statement: there is an enemy in opposition to God’s Kingdom. Satan, who takes the form of a serpent in Genesis 3, convinces Adam and Eve that disobeying God will ultimately benefit them, so they sin and lose their perfect relationship with God. Adam and Eve forfeited humanity’s flawless relationship with God because they, like everyone today, were tricked into thinking that God and His plan were unnecessary. But God, in His loving way, makes a promise to Himself in Genesis 3:15 that He will fix what we broke. God sets out to win us back and save us from our own mess so that we could live a life with Him again. Although it was royally screwed up, the Garden of Eden is a special image to hold onto because in the book of Revelation, John describes the vision God shows Him of what will happen when God’s promise to Himself is fulfilled. Revelation 22: 1–5 says this:
“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.”
When God’s rule and reign comes back into full effect, the earth will be transformed into a garden city that is Eden restored, only bigger and more immaculate. God’s rule and reign looks like being in uninhibited relationship with His creation and at the end of time, that’s what will happen. God wants loving relationships with His children, but the relationship wouldn’t be perfect if He forced us into it. So, God needed a plan that would involve us choosing to be with Him and, because He is a God of justice, He would need a plan that would remove the sin nature in us that separated us from Him in the first place.
John Wimber, founder of the Vineyard Movement, gives an extended explanation of the Kingdom of God, “living in the tension”, and why it matters to followers of Jesus.
He did this by sending Jesus, who was both fully man and fully human, to live a perfect life but die a criminal’s death so as to take on the full punishment of our sin. Jesus was an innocent sacrifice so that He could justify all people’s ability to reconnect with God. Now when anyone puts his or her faith in that sacrifice, they get to claim the identity of Jesus- God’s child- and they get to receive His plea- Not guilty. Righteous. Pure and perfect in the sight of God. This covers both bases of giving us a choice to be with God once more, and justifies us being with Him despite the way we fall short and choose our own way.
After He was crucified, God the Father raised Jesus from the dead to glorify Jesus. Jesus’ resurrection from the grave also exemplifies the return of the Kingdom of God, in which there will be “no more death, or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things [will be] passed away.” (Rev. 21: 4) Jesus being given physical life once again is the first sign that God’s plan to get us back is in full swing. Since Jesus’ death and resurrection, those who believe in and want to follow Him have been given the presence of God, the Holy Spirit. On our own, we don’t know very well what it looks like to live close to God or how to bring other people close to Him. We have proven that we fail to strive for God’s Kingdom without Him showing us how it’s done. But because we have been given the Holy Spirit, we now have the privilege to fight against the enemy’s attempt to keep us in darkness and sin and participate in bringing the Kingdom of God back into its fullness. Participating in the Kingdom of God is well put by Isaiah in chapter 58:
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression, 10 with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. 11 The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. 12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.”
Verse twelve carries strong symbolism for the people of God participating in the restoration of Eden by doing the works listed in the first few verses. Being raised in a church where healing the sick, delivering the oppressed, and serving the hungry was viewed as necessary parts of relationship with God, I had so much enthusiasm and so much confusion about participating in the Kingdom of God. Hungry people might get fed on one street in our town, but millions of people in other countries are still starving. I have seen people get prayed over for migraines or anxiety and watched them both be healed entirely and permanently. Other times, someone with a cough or depression get prayer and no change seemed to happen. This was best explained to me as “The Already and Not Yet” of the Kingdom of God. Jesus coming dying and rising from the grave was, as Rich Nathan says, “something of heaven breaking into earth.” Jesus brought the Kingdom’s return into play so the Kingdom is come now. But until God deems the earth ready to be fully restored, we are to engage in the parts of the earth that are “not yet” transformed by the Kingdom. Followers of Jesus are called to go into the broken places of the world and invite the Holy Spirit to come heal and move. Robby Dawkins, in his book, Do What Jesus Did, talks about how disheartening it can be when we don’t see healing or drastic change during prayer. We don’t understand how a lack of quantifiable difference in the world or in a person’s health could possibly be part of God’s perfect will. We ask ourselves, “If I’m trying to participate in bringing the Kingdom, why isn’t it working? How could this be a part of God’s return if I don’t see Him returning?” Robby’s book speaks encouragement: “…Every time we heal, every time we forgive, every time we bring freedom through deliverance, every time we encourage people or speak truth and freedom and God’s love to them, we’re destroying the works and lies of the enemy.” Robby goes onto bless those who don’t see any identifiable change in regards to their obedience to the Lord: “When we step out in Kingdom work [despite lack of healing or change], we’re reclaiming what was stolen from humankind after the Fall and extending the Kingdom of Heaven.”
Bringing the Kingdom of God into our own lives looks like living our life in a way that consistently seeks God’s way over ours, and showing others how to do the same. Whether it’s through prayer, worship, feeding the sick, or just loving the people around us, we are called to invite the Holy Spirit to come into every bit of our lives. We are inviting God into our hearts and knocking on the door of the Garden, ready to come home to the fullness of God’s Kingdom.