9. What is your understanding of: (a.) the Kingdom of God; (b.) the Resurrection; (c.) eternal life?
In explaining my understanding of the kingdom of God in my provisionary questions, I wrote, “In The Evangelistic Love of God and Neighbor, Scott Jones talks about William Abraham’s concept of the “present but still coming” reign of God. I believe the kingdom of God is not strictly an eschatological thing that we need to wait for Christ’s Second Coming to experience, but the kingdom of God is actually the active presence of God in our midst today.” I am keen on the “present but still coming” belief. When I write “the kingdom of God is… the active presence of God in our midst today”, I believe more than ever that we are the means that God chooses to be active and present in the world today, empowered by the Holy Spirit. However, I have evangelical friends who seem primarily concerned about saving souls for eternity neglecting the social activism, and social justice friends who appear primarily concerned about bringing relief in this life neglecting personal salvation. I believe the kingdom of God neglects neither. In the Aug/Sept/Oct issue of Cokesbury’s Circuit Rider magazine, Ginghamsburg pastor Mike Slaughter talks about this very issue and sums it up beautifully when he says, “The gospel is not a gospel of either/or but one of both/and.”
We must understand and believe that no matter what kind of difference we can make in people’s lives – feeding the poor, clothing the naked, visiting those in prison, building water wells in Africa (and we should do all these things), without Jesus people are going to perish anyhow. Whether they die now because of dirty water, or later because we’ve given them clean well water to extend their earthly lives, it’s irrelevant if they die in their sin because we didn’t tell them about Jesus. So what if we make their life here a little better for this blip of time and they spend eternity away from God because we were only concerned about getting them a well or feeding them? Have we really done them a favor if we don’t witness to them about Jesus Christ, the Savior of the World, the only Son of God, and the only way to the Father? If we don’t tell them that God came to earth in the form of Jesus Christ to shed His blood for their sin and make them right with God, then we have done them a disservice. The Kingdom of God is so much more than filling empty stomachs. When people drink the water from wells of the earth, they will thirst again. The Kingdom of God includes offering them the living water through the Gospel of the resurrected Jesus.
On the other hand, it is a hollow witness when we simply tell of Jesus’ love in order to see sinners saved without showing His love. We are not going to convince anyone that what we say about eternal life is real if we are mean-spirited toward the least, the marginalized, and the lost in this life. Who would want to spend eternity with people who hate their sisters and brothers? We must show them love through our words and actions. James 2:15-16 says, “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?”
As followers of Jesus, we currently stand where heaven and earth meet, inviting people into God’s Kingdom by showing them and telling them of Christ’s love. And I believe this is true because of His Resurrection. Christ came once, was crucified, dead and buried, rose from the dead, and ascended to the right hand of God. Jesus rose from the dead. Karl Barth says in The Epistle to the Romans, “The Resurrection is the revelation: the disclosing of Jesus as the Christ, the appearing of God…” The Resurrection is the Resurrection because there was nobody on earth that brought Jesus back from the dead. Jesus rose from the grave on His own independent of any earthly help. And as sure as Jesus arose and ascended, He will return. Today we are privileged to proclaim that He is coming back and we need not fear the grave.
If we believe this, it should be reinforced by how we participate in the Kingdom of God after our decision to be “raised with Christ”. Pastor David Platt tells the story of George Whitfield being asked how many people were saved one time after a sermon he gave. He said, “We’ll know in a few years.” He knew he could not tell by how many people came to the altar. Eternal life is obtained by a faith in, and a life lived for, Christ. For us who believe, I think eternity has already begun and we need to live like it by living whatever life we have left on earth participating in the kingdom of God, as both “proclaimists and activists.”
In the last paragraph of the last book in Narnia series, CS Lewis illustrates what I mean: “And as He spoke, He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and title page: now at last they were beginning Chaper One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”