The Intimate Connection Between Kingdom and Spirit (part one)
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We've been talking about how the man, Jesus of Nazareth—in every way and at every phase of his life—was a man of the Spirit. Reconciled to God by his sacrificial death and resurrection power, we now encounter and know the risen Jesus by that same Spirit.
True he is no longer here in the flesh, but it is equally true that he is here doing his same work in and through his people—by the Spirit. "Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom." (2 Cor 3:17)
I don't know about you, but I find that illuminating and inspiring. Yet despite this precious truth, most of us still tend to think of the Spirit as an amorphous, luminous thing around the Father and the Son. But biblically speaking he is very personal and the reality is very clear, this is none other than the Spirit of the risen Jesus of Nazareth.
What follows from this is our need to think clearly and grasp fully the relationship of the kingdom to the Spirit, and the Spirit to the kingdom. After all, the message, method, and mission of the Messiah is the message, method, and mission of his people.
Though the message of the cross holds the whole story of our justification and reconciliation; the mission of the man Jesus was to raise up disciples. The message he modeled and taught his disciples was that of the kingdom.
At the inauguration of his ministry, Yeshua emerges from the wilderness proclaiming, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel." The phrase at hand is a Hebraism, it simply means is here. The important idea is that his kingdom proclamations and demonstrations are made possible by the Spirit out-poured at his baptism.
At the end of his ministry, we read that the risen Jesus continues to teach his disciples. What was the subject of his instruction? "He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God." (Act 1:3)
From the beginning of his ministry, throughout his ministry, and at the end of his earthly ministry, Jesus consistently proclaims, explains, illustrates, and demonstrates the kingdom of God. And he did all this in the power of the Holy Spirit.
This can be very helpful as you study the New Testament. Many people, including scholars, wrestle with Paul because he seemingly doesn't make the kingdom the same priority as Jesus. The solution is to understand the intimate connection between the kingdom and the Spirit.
Look up Paul's references to the kingdom and you will discover that he is also talking about the work of the Spirit. Said another way, the Spirit is the post-resurrection way of talking about the kingdom. Wherever the kingdom of God is, the Spirit of God is actively at work.
Here is my first point related to all of this. The kingdom of God is at work where there are redemptive acts of righteousness occurring. Said another way, where his kingdom is present and advancing, God's saving work is evident.
"But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." (Matthew 6:33)
Why does Jesus link the kingdom and righteousness? It is a Hebraic way of teaching called parallelism. It is very important to understand the Hebrew term righteousness here contextually. Listen to my series, Reassessing Paul and the Protestant Paradigm to go in-depth on this subject.
Yeshua's use of righteousness here does not refer to some vague, standard of absolute morality. Connecting kingdom with righteousness emphasizes his priority for his people; be about your Father's business of covenant faithfulness and he'll take care of the rest.
When we hear righteousness language, we are conditioned to think exclusively in the category of morality. Yes, it can be used like that in Scripture. But did you know it is also used in the covenant category? As such, it refers to the saving acts God performs on Israel's behalf—because of his covenant faithfulness to Abraham.
Here is another example. When Jesus says, "Your righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees," he is not saying you've got to be more punctilious in your observance of every little commandment. Nor is he saying you must receive a different kind of morality from God.
No, he's saying, "You must have the big-picture view of righteousness to understand my kingdom because it is all about the gracious, saving acts of God done in the power of the Holy Spirit."
"That is why I was birthed in the Spirit, that is why I was baptized in the Spirit, that is why I was empowered in the Spirit. And that is why I announce to you—by the Spirit—that the kingdom of God is here. Redemptive acts are breaking loose: the dead are raised, the blind see, the lame walk. The humble are being exalted and the merciful being comforted.
So, point number one, where his kingdom is present and advancing, God's saving work is evident.
Point number two is this, the kingdom of God is present where there are people who receive God as King. He does not impose his kingship on you, you voluntarily receive and are loyal to him as your King.
According to both Scripture and Jewish tradition, it is during Pentecost—at Mt. Sinai—that Israel received God as King. He comes down and draws near to proclaim, "I am the Lord your God." Israel says, "We will do and we will hear all that you say." At that moment, say the sages of Israel, they received the LORD as their King.
This is nothing short of a wedding ceremony. God comes down as the bridegroom attended by fire and the sound of the shofar. Israel, as the bride, has been instructed that for three days she is to cleanse herself, consecrate herself, and clothe herself in preparation. We must never forget God loves Israel for the sake of the patriarchs. He draws near, but the bride must enter into the covenant by saying, "I do, I will."
Do you get the picture? You have to agree, voluntarily, to receive God as King. God, because of his covenant faithfulness, is Israel's deliverer from Egypt (Passover), but he only becomes her king at Mt. Sinai (Pentecost). This vital distinction is the basis of Jesus' teaching on the kingdom.
You are liberated from slavery to Pharaoh in order to voluntarily enslave yourself to the Holy One of Israel. That is the biblical revelation of the kingdom. Only as you serve the lover of your soul will you come into the fullness of your destiny and your joy.
Paul exuberantly and eloquently encapsulates this in the phrase, the obedience of faith.
"Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus the Messiah, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith. To the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus the Messiah! Amen." (Romans 16:25-27)