Thursday, November 29, 2007

Kingdom Crashing

"And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever, just as you saw that a stone was cut from a mountain by no human hand, and that it broke in pieces the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver, and the gold. A great God has made known to the king what shall be after this. The dream is certain, and its interpretation sure."

Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell upon his face and paid homage to Daniel, and commanded that an offering and incense be offered up to him. The king answered and said to Daniel, "Truly, your God is God of gods and Lord of kings, and a revealer of mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this mystery."

-- Daniel 2:44-47

In the context of this particular story from the book of Daiel, the arrival of a new kingdom that shall never be destroyed is an earth-shattering event. The breaking in of God's kingdom will break into pieces all of the world’s other kingdoms and bring them to an end.
This violent imagery carries right on over to the Gospels as Jesus proclaims the arrival of the kingdom in himself. He says and does things that hearken right back to Daniel describing the kingdom like a stone cut from a mountain by an inhuman hand that crushes the opposition.

Jesus said to them, "Have you never read in the Scriptures:

"'The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord's doing,
and it is marvelous in our eyes'?

Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him."

-- Matthew 21:42-44

The rock imagery gets frequent play in Jesus’ teaching, especially when he starts talking about the temple, and when he says things like “if you build your life on me, you are like the wise man who built his home on rock instead of sand.” But, wow, here’s Jesus also saying the kingdom of God is like a stone that, if you stumble over it, will break you, and if it falls on you, will squash you like a bug. Is it any wonder, then, that Jesus elsewhere said: “The kingdom is forcefully advancing, and forceful men take hold of it”? (Some translations read "violently" and "violent men.")

What did Jesus mean by that? What did this decidedly non-violent man who went around saying "turn the other cheek" and "bless those who persecute you" mean with this violent imagery? In a time when some men really were trying to usher in the kingdom of God on earth through military insurrection and violent zealotry, what could Jesus possibly mean?

I think he really meant that the kingdom comes in and smashes up worldviews and systems and tears apart the bondage created by sin and Satan. The kingdom coming into this world in the arrival of the king Jesus Christ wreaks havoc among those opposed to it.

The proclamation of the kingdom’s arrival even begins with a battle in the wilderness as Jesus withstands the temptations of Satan. And at the end he dispatches the devil, banishes him. Later, Jesus will tell a story to his followers outlining that the way to plunder someone’s house is by invading it and binding the strongman. This is Jesus alluding to what he’s doing to the sinful corruption of the prevailing system. He’s come in, whooped up on the devil, hogtied him, and now he’s taking all his stuff. He’s rescuing all the stuff held captive by fallenness.

And if you look at what Jesus goes around doing, it really reflects this invasion-and-rescue idea. He makes sick people well, he makes paralyzed people get up, he makes the dead live, and perhaps most vividly connected to the notion of spiritual invasion, he goes around casting demons out of people. He literally frees them of their spiritual possession. He’s releasing the captives.

It’s a pretty “violent” arrival for this kingdom. And at another point in the gospels, Jesus says to the disciples, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from the sky.” Now, a lot of people believe this is Jesus referring to the fall of the devil way back at the beginning of time when he was an angel ousted from heaven by God for his pride. But in the context of this incident, the disciples are marveling at their ability to cast out demons, and Jesus is basically saying, “No duh. I gave that guy the boot. His power is subject to mine.”

So that’s what the kingdom does. Its arrival is violent, cataclysmic, shaking strongholds, putting the fear of God into rulers and religious leaders. It knocks the enemy out and sets the enemy’s prisoners free. It turns the tables over in the worldly culture. It turns almost everything upside down, which is to say, in God’s view, rightside up.

So Jesus goes around making these kingdom proclamations, announcing and flat-out demonstrating that a new king is in town, but he also makes some declarations. His actions demonstrate the new reality of the kingdom’s presence, but his teachings tell us what life is like in the new kingdom. This is sort of like his first royal declarations. His unfurling of the new constitution. “This is how things used to be,” he says, “but now that there’s a new a king in town, things are gonna be like this . . .”

This is a slightly altered version of a passage from a chapter titled "Jesus the King" from my manuscript-in-revision, The Unvarnished Jesus.

For those who care (and you know who you are), I've had a rare two weeks in a row of not having to work on a message for Element, so I've actually gotten quite a bit done in the book. I hope to have a draft ready to send my trusty reviewers before the end of the year, with the intention of sending a submittable draft to my agent mid-January. Thanks for your continued check-ins, encouragements, and prayers.


Brian in Fresno said...

Jared, Next to the Bible this is the best thing I'm going to read today. Rock on, brother!

Jared said...

Brian, you rock. Thanks so much, man.

salguod said...

In my church family's dark past, that "forceful men" line was used to justify a lot of stupid, insensitive leadership behavior. We're supposed to advance the kingdom forcefully, the argument went, so feathers are going to get ruffled along the way.

Later, I've heard the argument that it was more likely that the 'forceful' or 'violent' men were not leading the kingdom but opposing it.

I'm curious what your take on that is. Was Jesus saying that those leading the kingdom would or should be forceful?

Jared said...

I believe so, but I don't think he meant physical force.
I take it the same way as "I come not to bring peace, but a sword." Not literally.