In the Old Testament, the Kingdom of God was related to Jewish messianic expectation. It was connected with Jewish eschatology, their hope for the future. In historic Judaism, the Kingdom of God was understood in a nationalistic sense. The people carried a military hope—geographic and political—that a nationalistic kingdom might once again be established. It would be a future empire just like the rule of King David. The first century Jews were looking for another king like King David, an anointed Messiah to lead them to political power through military might.
When Jesus spoke of the Kingdom of God, most people thought of a literal kingdom led by the Jewish people. John 6:15 clearly supports this: “Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make Him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by Himself.” This was also the longing of the disciples, even after being with Jesus for years. Acts 1:6 says, “So when they met together, they asked Him, ‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’”
Jesus was not talking about a temporal, nationalistic kingdom, nor was He speaking solely of a futuristic, pie-in-the-sky heavenly kingdom, as the term Kingdom of God came to mean among scholars in the intertestamental period. He was announcing the fact that He was establishing His rule on this earth. No longer would Satan have complete dominion over the earth and its inhabitants—Jesus had come with one main purpose in mind: to destroy the activity of Satan in the world. Two of the ways Jesus did this was to heal the sick and cast out demons. The battle was fought over the ownership of human beings. We find instances of conflict between Jesus and Satan concerning, hunger (see John 6); natural catastrophes (see Mark 4:35); sickness (see Luke 7:21); and death (see Luke 7:11).
In all these battles, Jesus was, and continues to be, the victor. In Matthew 12:22-31, Jesus makes it clear that the struggle in which He is engaged is not a civil war within a kingdom. It is rather a battle between the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of the devil. The strong man, Satan, is bound so that his house (Satan’s kingdom) may be plundered. Satan’s power is curbed, but he was not rendered completely powerless (see Matthew 16:23; Mark 8:33; Luke 22:3).
So what does the Kingdom of God look like for believers?
The word “kingdom” is translated from the New Testament Greek word basileia, which implies an exercise of kingly rule or reign. This is different than simply establishing a geographic realm in which a king rules. The Kingdom of God should not be envisioned in nationalistic terms. It is not the same thing as, say, the United Kingdom, whose realm encompasses Great Britain, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales.
A day is coming (the “day of the Lord”) when all of creation, willingly and unwillingly, will see and acknowledge Jesus’ reign. Then it will be said, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He will reign for ever and ever” (Revelation 11:15).
But until then, during this age, there remains a mixture of good and evil. Christ’s Kingdom is present, but it is present in an evil world (Matthew 13:36-43). Satan still reigns as “prince of this world” and “the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient” (see John 14:30 and Ephesians 2:2).
We’re living in between times, as it were, between the inauguration and the consummation of the Kingdom of God. As George Eldon Ladd said, “We live in the presence of the future.”
Perhaps nothing is more prevalent in the gospels than the concept of the Kingdom of God. For example, in the beginning of the Gospel of Mark we read, after John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” He said. “The Kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:14-15). In Matthew 4:23, prior to the beginning of a long teaching session, Matthew summarized Jesus’ ministry in Galilee as involving three things: “teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.”
In Matthew 10:7, after Jesus gave the disciples authority to cast out demons and to heal the sick, He instructs them to preach “the Kingdom of heaven is near,” then “heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, and drive out demons.” The term Kingdom was always on Jesus’ tongue.
And Jesus makes it clear that the battle is between the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of darkness. It is quite obvious that cosmic war has been declared. Jesus has come to invade Satan’s kingdom and defeat it. Jesus also gave this mission of bringing in the reign of God to the disciples. “When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is set before you. Heal the sick who are there and tell them ‘the kingdom of God is near you’” (Luke 10:8-9).
It was in His disciples’ preaching and miracles that Jesus saw the fall of Satan—that is, Satan’s defeat (Luke 10:18). The enemies of the Kingdom of God are not readily apparent. They’re not the “obvious” enemies; instead they are spiritual forces. Understanding the discernment we need in battle, is very important.
We find how Paul instructs the entire church in Ephesus:
Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:11-12)
When Jesus left the earth, He told the disciples that they would be empowered to carry on the mission that He had begun. This included, healing the sick (spiritually, physically, and emotionally) and expelling demons. All this takes power, and that’s what He promised in Acts 1:8: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
The Church that Jesus Builds
G.K. Chesterton once said, “There is nothing more practical than a good idea.” Ideas have consequences and I want to share a few that God has led us to pursue. These are seeds we have sown, and are sowing, all over the world. Insofar as the seed is true to God’s Word and imbued with the Spirit, I believe the Vineyard will continue to produce the fruit of the Kingdom in the future.
This treatment is not exhaustive and I do not presume these ideas apply universally. They are not even original. When the Vineyard started, we did
not jump on the bandwagon of “God’s new thing.” Instead, we set out to do an ancient thing in a contemporary way: train people to continue the kingdom ministry of Jesus. Tired of my ministry, I was desperate to see His.
Before doing any ministry, Jesus heard the Father say, “You are my Son whom I love; with You I am well pleased.” God unzipped the heavenly dimension and the Spirit arrived on and in Jesus, to empower Him (see Luke 3:22). Jesus was full of the Spirit without measure and empowered for a purpose: to proclaim and demonstrate the kingdom.
What exactly is “kingdom ministry”? Luke gives a glimpse into Jesus’ own self-perception. At Jesus’ coronation address He announced His kingly agenda:
The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4:18-19)
In the gospels we find Jesus’ action plan for Spirit-empowered ministry: Jesus proclaimed the release of the poor and poor in spirit, declared freedom to prisoners both literal and those bound in sin and darkness; He cast out demons, healed the sick, and mentored disciples to do the same.
Jesus proclaimed and demonstrated God’s right to rule creation as He destroyed the works of Satan (1 John 3:8). He equipped followers and promised that they too would do what he did because “everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher” (see Luke 6:40; Matthew 28:16-20; John 14:12-14). I view this process of Kingdom ministry as a continuum.
“What is Jesus’ vision today?” is the question many leaders ask. Sometimes I wonder if we have it right. What I encourage in the Vineyard churches is asking Jesus to build His vision and strategy among us. I am trying to keep up with Him and believe and do what His book says. So what is Jesus’ vision? The Kingdom of God.
Our primary aim in life is to love and glorify God, participating in the expansion of His Kingdom in relevant ways in the time allotted us. As communities of the King, churches should model what the Kingdom looks like when God has His way with a group of people.
Power for a Purpose
In the Vineyard, we place a priority on being empowered by the Holy Spirit. But the Spirit empowers for a purpose—not just an experience. We seek the active presence of the Spirit to continue Jesus’ ministry. At times we almost lose the purpose; at times we seem to lose the power. From the beginning we have attempted, however inadequately, to keep these two together.
For example, after a remarkable outpouring of the Spirit on our young church on Mother’s Day 1979, approximately 1,700 people came to faith in Christ.
Our passion to imitate the ministry of Jesus in the power of the Spirit remains. This requires that we follow Jesus out of baptismal waters, through our personal deserts, and into the harvest. We want to take the ammunition of balanced evangelical theology with the fire power of mainstream Pentecostal practice, loading and readying the best of both of these worlds to hit the biblical target of making and nurturing disciples.
To continue Jesus’ ministry requires that we adopt His lifestyle. Unfortunately, Christians in the West would rather implement programs. We are blind to our mechanistic assumptions when we reduce ministry to reproducible components and try to apply them indiscriminately. There is nothing wrong, for instance, with a tool for witnessing like The Four Spiritual Laws. It helps believers communicate biblical truth. But should we use it every time? No. We must ask what is appropriate in each situation and learn the art of listening, even as Jesus modeled (see John 5:19, 30).
An early slogan we liked in the Vineyard was, “What is the Father doing?” We tried to enter each ministry situation with that question foremost in our minds. Our experiences in spiritual gifts were an attempt to discern what the Father was up to. Whether the situation was evangelism, healing, budgeting for the poor, or sending a couple across country to plant a church, the important thing was to ask the Father what He was doing. To continue to listen is essential because Jesus is still owner-operator of the Church. It is, after all, His ministry and authority, not ours. Our job is to cooperate.
It is the Lord who adds to the church—not men—and He graciously works within our clumsy efforts. Church growth theory and practices, though helpful, only tell us where to prune and what fertilizer to use. In no way do they cause or even explain the miracle of conversion-based growth.
Our job is to keep on track; we don’t forge our own road. Our track is, “What is Father doing?” We know what Father is doing because Jesus speaks to His friends. “My sheep listen to my voice” (John 10:27), therefore whoever belongs to God hears what God says.
We don’t just decide we will go heal everyone in the hospital one day—we don’t decide anything! We only do what the Father shows us to do.
There were times in Jesus’ three-year ministry when the Father wasn’t doing anything. Remember when Jesus couldn’t do any mighty works because
of the people’s unbelief?
The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work (see 1 John 3:8). So we, in doing the Father’s will, are to bring the Kingdom to people. When we take care of the poor, pray for the sick and clothe the naked, we will be sensitive to Father’s leading in the midst of these precious people and in His time we will see sight restored to the blind, the lame walk, and the lepers cleansed.
But remember, these “signs” of the Kingdom are not for the purpose of showing that the Kingdom is here. They point to the fact that our compassionate King is here! Our Lord is the one who heals and delivers out of compassion. It is not a P.R. program to establish Jesus as King. He is King, and our King is full of compassion! He fed the 5,000 not to provide a sign, but because they were hungry. He healed the sick not to provide a sign, but to relieve their suffering. God’s Kingdom comes to the lost and the broken because He is full of mercy and compassion.
A House For All People
Jesus said, “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:18). Peter preached, “God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people” (Acts 2:17). Evidence confirms that Jesus’ prophecies are being fulfilled.
Despite darkness, Jesus is building His church; the Spirit is being poured out all over the world. The percentage of earth’s population claiming Christ is growing.
Paul said the church reveals something of the nature of God (Ephesians 3:10). God reconciles the many from different cultures into the one body. We will be a catalyst for authentic world peace, where “the leaves of the Tree of Life are for the healing of the nations” (Revelation 22:2). Jesus will build His church from “every people group,” to use my friend Donald McGran’s favorite phrase (see Revelation 7:9).
Our purpose is to evangelize the lost, enfold them in new churches, equip them to know and exalt Jesus in every area of life, expanding God’s Kingdom through continuing God’s ministry.
Have you noticed the zeal of converts? They are blind to flaws and see only the beauty of the vision of their leader (whether historic or contemporary) and the truth within the teachings and practices of their group. The natural human tendency is to think that what you commit to is best, and if it nurtures you, then it obviously is the best, right? Groups easily take on a “true church” attitude even if they formally deny it, and begin expending energy defining who is “in and out.”
All too often, groups evolve from a loose, casual association to rigid adherence to insight from a set theory. My hope is that the Vineyard remains a Christ-centered group focused on the main teachings of Scripture as we follow Augustine’s ancient advice: “In essentials unity, in nonessentials diversity, in all things charity.” We are thankful for the ideas God calls us to implement. If they are solid, it is because they are God’s and rooted in the solid rock of Scripture and in tune (at least in part) with some of what the Holy Spirit is doing today. And though the Vineyard is a mere thread in the global tapestry of the church, I believe it is a thread of His weaving. May God always empower us to continue Jesus’ ministry!—END
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