Scot McKnight is Professor of New Testament studies at Northern Seminary in Lombard, Illinois, author or editor of 50 books and well-known speaker and blogger. During New Horizon 2016, he is leading the morning Bible Teaching (10am Monday – Friday). Here, the NH Media Team brings you a summary of what he had to on Monday 8 August.
Reading from Mark 1: 14 – 15. Jesus is saying three things:
- The time has come – The story of Israel was coming to completion/fulfillment in Jesus. All of history is converging on this morning.
- The kingdom of God has drawn near.
- Repent and believe the good news.
Jesus thought in terms of the “kingdom” but what does kingdom mean when Jesus used this term? If Jesus is our Lord we want to learn to think the way He thinks. I’m a seminary professor and we like to ask people questions. I frequently ask people what “kingdom” means and I’m astounded by how few people can define it. It seems to be this mysterious term that Jesus used and we don’t always think clearly.
I was speaking at a conference when a very well known pastor pulled me into a hallway and said something like this, “Everybody is talking about the kingdom but what in the world does ‘kingdom’ mean? All the skinny jeans guys on my staff use this word. It sounds to me that they mean social justice.”
Everybody likes the word kingdom but they don’t always mean the same things.
Skinny Jeans Kingdom Theory
Here’s the basic definition: “When good people do good things in the public sector for the common good, they are doing kingdom work.”
The Bible never uses the word kingdom in this way! The idea is that God wants us to do good things and God is the king so this must be kingdom work. Did Gandi do kingdom work? He did good things and we like what he accomplished but is it really kingdom work?
This theory draws on strong biblical themes of justice and passion but is not a Biblical definition.
Pleated Pants Kingdom Theory
This theory is based around the dynamic of God’s saving work.
Charismatics use this for “healing” ministry – the kingdom of God has broken into someone’s life. Among the less charismatic there is another evangelical definition of kingdom salvation, which connects with the moment of salvation.
There is also an understanding of the redemptive work of God breaking into the world and this also connects with the “skinny jeans” theory.
The Jesus Way
But the question is – what did Jesus mean when He used the word “kingdom”?We want to learn to think like Jesus. We want His vision to fill our vision. This is a definition of kingdom: “A kingdom is when a people are governed by a king.”
- An empire is when a people are governed by an emperor.
- A republic is a people governed by people (with a representative head).
You cannot have a kingdom without these five elements:
1) To have a kingdom you have to have a king – in the bible this is expressed three ways.
- God is king
- Israel has kings
- Jesus is the king
2) To have a kingdom, a king must rule
In the pages of the bible, our God rules.
- By governing
- By redeeming – the fundamental way that Israel’s God becomes the king is by rescuing Israel from Egypt. In the NT, Jesus rules by saving people from their sins in the cross and resurrection.
3) To have a kingdom, there must be a people
In the Bible, the people of the kingdom are Israel and in the NT is expanded to include the Gentiles and is called the church. There is no kingdom outside the church. When people can do kingdom work outside the church, then this is counter to what the Bible says. The people of the kingdom are under the Lordship of Jesus and have been redeemed by Jesus.
4) To have a kingdom, there must be a law
If the people refuse to live by the law, then there cannot be the kingdom
- In the old Testament this is the Torah
- In Jesus, this is expressed in the Sermon on the Mount
- In Paul’s teaching, this is expressed through the life in the Holy Spirit
5) To have a kingdom, there must be a land
In the Old Testament, this was the Promised Land and the Temple. In the NT, the land promise is fulfilled first in Jesus who becomes the temple and then through the church (“you are the temple of God”). The land promise is fulfilled wherever the people of God occupy space in this world.
These five themes are consistently taught throughout the pages of the Bible. Skinny Jeans and Pleated Pants theories have reduced the understanding of “kingdom.”
The God of the Bible is a King of Covenant Love
What does love mean? What is a Biblical definition of Love? Loving others is the biggest challenge of life.
Aping CS Lewis: Love is such a great idea until you have someone to love. Love is fine until we meet someone who seems unlovable.
When you want to find out about Love – don’t look at the dictionary. It is not just “deep affection”. The Bible’s definition is far more radical.
Love is a rugged commitment (a translation of the word “covenant”). Yahweh forms a covenant with Israel. In Hosea, Yahweh has to woo His people back to Himself. Everybody who has a spouse who thinks for themselves will understand that to love someone is sometimes turbulent waters.
Love is the principle of presence. Love means making a rugged commitment to be WITH people. God is with Israel. In Genesis 15, demonstrates His presence and tells Abraham, “You can cut me in half if don’t remain faithful in my covenant to be with you.” Ultimately, this presence is incarnated in “Immanuel”.
It is particularly difficult to be with people we don’t like to be with. This is why Jesus calls us to love our enemies. Make a rugged commitment to spend time with those who you don’t like!
Love is the principle of advocacy. Love means making a rugged commitment to be FOR people. (“I will be your God and you will be my people.”) God has chosen to be our God and to make us His people. You can translate this, “I’ve got your back.”
In life, no one knows that you are FOR them until you are willing to be WITH them. You may tell your children that you are FOR them but if you don’t have time for them, they will not understand the principle of advocacy. Advocacy is learned through the embodied presence of others in our life.
Biblical Love Seeks to Form Us and Transform us into Christlikeness. God has made a rugged commitment to be with us and for us to make us into all that He wants us to be. Only when the first three principles are in place can you hope to see people transformed.
The Pharisees said, “If you are clean you can eat with me.” Jesus said, “Eat with me and I will make you clean.”