Most Christians would have no difficulty identifying Jesus’ central message as being about the kingdom of God. Most of his parables have that as their theme, his sermons proclaim the nearness of that kingdom, and his famous prayer includes the phrase “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
Unfortunately most Christians also probably believe that the kingdom of God is the same thing as heaven and that Jesus’ parables, sermons, and prayers have to do with us leaving this earth when we die and joining him in heaven for all eternity. Actually, the kingdom of God has very little to do with that.
The kingdom of God describes the Jewish hope that, one day, God would judge the world, set things right, and reign over this world in justice and peace. The entire Hebrew Bible (what Christians call the Old Testament), particularly the second half of it, looks forward to that day when God’s kingdom would indeed come, and that God’s will would (finally) be done, on this earth, as it is presumably right now, in heaven.
The Jews had always been conflicted about the wisdom of having a king in charge of their common life lest that blur the fact that God was their king, not anyone else. In fact, they had decidedly mixed results with kings at least after the golden days of King David. They had every reason to believe that only the king-ship of God would usher in that state of being which they all longed for. God was king. Not anyone else.
By Jesus’ time, oppressor had followed oppressor of the Jewish people until the most recent manifestation of such oppression – the Roman Empire. While Jesus was likely not a political revolutionary after the fashion of the Zealots, he was very clear that – in his mind – God was king…and Caesar was not! His proclamation of that state of affairs, including the suggestion that he represented the coming kingdom of God, that he was himself a “king” but a very different kind of “king,” is probably what got him crucified. Jewish heretics got stoned by their own people. Crucifixion at the hands of the Romans was reserved for political dissidents.
Christians today must also stand up for the truth that God is king and that Caesar (or any other kind of Empire) is not. As we enter this new phase of a Trump Administration in the U.S. and other expressions of nativist, xenophobic regimes around the world, perhaps it will be easier for us to see the need for such clarity. When political regimes which appear to be advancing kingdom values like justice, peace, equality, and compassion are “on the throne,” it is easy for us to become complacent.
However, today, with a blustering, bullying billionaire about to assume the mantle of the Presidency and with his appointments so far of more billionaires and generals to his innermost circle of advisors, the Cabinet, it may actually be easier for us to heed the Advent warning: “Keep awake!”
Be awake to the fact that God is king…and Caesar (by whatever name) is not!