Revolution, offensive, breaking out with force, taking over, and battling the forces of evil. These words and phrases are so super-charged that they could be easily taken the wrong way by a variety of people, even those who are good and well-intentioned. As I discussed before, depending on the influences and biases that a person has or the lens through which a person views the world, it is possible for two people to view the same exact situation or scenario in a variety of ways.
One person could very easily read the words and teachings of Jesus and understand correctly that the best and highest way for the Kingdom of God to move forward is through a humble and submissive love that lays its life down for friend and enemy alike. Another could selectively read the words and teachings of Jesus and again, depending on the lens through which that person views the world, may believe that the best way for the Kingdom of God to move forward is through governments, politics, and maybe even force or violence.
Unfortunately we have seen this kind of gross misinterpretation throughout history and the damage it has done for the cause of Christ in the world. Groups of people have mobilized, supposedly in the name of Jesus, ready to take the Kingdom of God to the nations by physical force, or by making it the national religion, or by politicizing it among the populace, while completely missing the point of the Good News of the Kingdom of God. Again, the Kingdom that Jesus preached and lived out through His life was that of humility and a love that lays its life down for friend and enemy alike. The Kingdom of God only moves forward when it looks exactly like Jesus Christ. And, Jesus never lorded over people, but always came up from below people in service and love.
Even the people sitting on a hillside two-thousand years ago listening to Jesus initially thought he was rallying the people for a physical and violent revolution. In fact, they very well may have thought they were joining the greatest military and political revolution in history! One can only imagine what it was like to be in the crowd that day. The pressure and tension had been building up from the bottom and was beginning to break through the surface. Energy and excitement must have been moving and pulsating throughout the crowd. The whispers and anticipation were palpable and flowing from person to person. Everyone wondered if it was really true that Jesus was announcing an overthrow of the Roman government.
Thousands of years of being pushed to the very bottom by kingdom after kingdom, ruler after ruler, and finally the time for upheaval and revolt had come. The One who God promised would deliver the people from the evil, pagan forces had come, and the time was approaching when the people would join Him and prepare to take up arms. If they were to establish their kingdom and overthrow the enemy, they believed it would be bloody. It would be violent. It would be the greatest struggle of which they had ever been a part.
And then Jesus actually began to preach about those who will join Him in His Kingdom struggle and how everything would be turned upside-down. The Kingdom message he delivered sounded like a great role-reversal. Those at the bottom of this world would be lifted up, and those at the top would be brought down. The people at the top who had been hard-hearted and tight-fisted would finally be put in their place. The people who had been crushed by the system and who had been oppressed for so long would be liberated.
The language of Jesus may have initially sounded like fighting words to the crowd that day. Jesus was drawing a line in the sand between the haves and have nots. The order of the world needed to change and Jesus was announcing that change was imminent. In modern political speak, it sounded as if Jesus was giving the crowd some red meat, or a message against the enemy that the crowd would want to hear so as to get them fired up.
Can you imagine sitting in that crowd and hearing these words of Jesus? If the world values accumulating, amassing, and hoarding possessions and great wealth while others are struggling to live a sustainable life, then they have already received their comfortable life and what they have will be taken away. If the world has more food than what it needs and is well-fed and over-indulgent while others are hungry, then their satisfaction and prosperity will be taken away. If the world is laughing, celebrating, and partying without giving any attention to those who are sad and mourning because of their affliction and plight, then their celebrating will turn to mourning for turning a blind eye to the brother and sister in their low position. If the world stands tall to receive the praise of men for their power, wealth, and accomplishment while those who are following the way of Jesus are insulted and rejected, then the world will experience sorrow for valuing those things that don’t last and for rejecting those things that are full of life right now. The words of Jesus smacked at the powerful and wealthy oppressors, while the poor, oppressed, mournful, and beat-down crowd that day could not get enough.
Jesus said that a person is blessed, or has received divine approval, for not imitating the way of the pagan world but by living righteously on earth. The blessed live in a way that does not make sense to the systems of the world. Those in the Kingdom of God are blessed for not having much, living simply, sharing their food and possessions with each other, trusting God for their provision, and celebrating the goodness and faithfulness of God. A Kingdom life looks like following the way of Jesus in every aspect of living.
The crowds must have loved what they were hearing. If there wasn’t shouting and cheering, then at least we can imagine thunderous applause. Jesus was beginning to turn the world upside-down! Those at the bottom of this world would be lifted up, and those at the top would be brought down. He was judging the enslaving and oppressive forces that had crushed and neglected the people for far too long. It was becoming more apparent each moment…the time was right for an uprising. The time was right for a revolt. The time was right for an overthrow of the pagan forces! The time was right to evict the Roman forces from their Promised Land! God’s governmental and political Kingdom would be finally and completely established!
The people believed they were being mobilized and energized to follow behind their Messiah to push back the occupying forces and to finally establish God’s political rule in the world. Isn’t this what the prophets had prophesied about so long ago? God vindicating His chosen people? God crushing and defeating the pagan enemy forces? God re-establishing His Kingdom in Israel? The time was never better to retaliate and fight back against the enemy. And then, Jesus drops a massive bomb on the crowd.
But I say to you who hear:
Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.
If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you. Luke 6: 27-38 ESV
The World Upside-Down
All of a sudden, the message of Jesus did not sound so much like someone leading a violent revolution or overthrowing the occupying forces. It didn’t even sound like the retaliatory eye-for-an-eye, tooth-for-a-tooth message that the crowd may have expected to hear. In fact, it probably sounded like a good way to continue being enslaved and crushed by the enemy. It sounded almost like a good way to stay in the same position they had been in for hundreds and hundreds of years. One wonders if some of the crowd that day would have slowly started making their way to the exits after hearing that. “Wait one second! We aren’t signing up for this mushy, good-for-nothing peacemaker stuff! We want justice! We want blood! We want revenge! We are ready to fight back and we thought you were going to lead the charge on this thing!”
Yet what the crowd heard was that Jesus wasn’t interested in creating another political or violent revolution to overthrow the occupying forces. That sort of thing had been done too many times by the earthly kingdoms and other self-proclaimed “messiahs,” and it never seemed to stop the cycle of violence. In fact, every violent revolution and every act of retaliation had always been met with more violence and more retaliation.
Jesus was calling His followers to adopt a new way of living that did not operate like the way the kingdoms of the world had always operated. He was calling them presently into a new Kingdom of complete transformation from the inside-out that would change the way they see, the way they think, and the way they would live their lives. He was calling them into a Kingdom in which the whole, healing, restorative ways of God would begin to piece back together the broken fragments of their lives and then work through them for the healing and restoration of others. Jesus was subverting and completely undercutting the political, retaliatory, eye-for-an-eye, tit-for-tat system the world had always known in order to establish God’s way of peace, forgiveness, reconciliation, mercy, blessing, submission, and sacrificial love on earth. That is what He was calling His followers into- the Kingdom of God- right here, right now. And that is precisely what He is calling us into today.
But the way of Jesus, the way of the Kingdom of God, is lost and left untried by many of us within the Church. Instead we operate by and give our allegiance to the way of the kingdoms of the world in this matter instead of one King and one Kingdom. The truth is that whenever we do not understand the Kingdom that Jesus preached, the Kingdom that Jesus lived out, and the Kingdom that He continues to call His followers into, we are easily swayed by and give our allegiance to political ideologies, captivating leaders, celebrities, popular icons, and nationalistic kingdoms of the world. And when this happens, we operate and are governed by lesser value systems that compromise and undercut the value system of the Kingdom of God.
We live in a time when the allegiance to any kingdom of the world by the follower of Christ must change, and it is something that is long overdue. We have willingly been sucked into the political, nationalistic, and cultural games of our day without any hesitation. In doing so, we have compromised the very allegiance and identity we are to have only in Jesus Christ and His Kingdom by giving our allegiance to political ideologies and the interests of nation-states, and then assuming their identity, their values, and their character.
We have given our allegiance to man-made ideas and man-made governments that are as sturdy as sand. We fight, argue, defend, and spend enormous amounts of time, energy, and effort investing in those things to which we have given our allegiance. As a result, the profoundly sad and tragic truth is that we are significantly quicker to defend and fight for our life and liberty as citizens of our countries in the kingdoms of the world than we are to stand firm in our allegiance to Jesus Christ without compromising our identity in His Kingdom. Do you see the problem? We are the people sitting in the crowd that day listening to Jesus talk about the way we ought to live in the Kingdom of God, but instead of giving Him our full allegiance and following the way He calls us into, we scratch our heads and make our way to the exits. We believe it is too hard, or that it is good for Jesus but not us. All the while, the Kingdom way continues to be ignored and neglected. And being left untried, our allegiances remain mixed and our lives compromised. It continues to be a lonely pathway of the few, rather than the sacrificial pathway of the many.
The great tragedy of the Christian is that we want to have two lovers in the same bed at the same time, but there is only room for one. We want to chase, pursue, and work hard for one lover while the other lover jealously waits for our full fidelity. We consistently compromise our marriage vows to our faithful spouse while we rampantly pursue and seductively try to charm and tame the untamable whore. She cannot be tamed, and we are mistaken if we believe otherwise.
The Christian ought not to have allegiance to or affinity toward any ideological, political, or governmental system in the kingdoms of the world. The Scriptures state that there is great satanic power that works in the kingdoms of the world to oppress and destroy humanity and has been working to this end from the beginning of time. Any system in the world may fall prey to this destructive power. That does not mean we should not pray for our leaders or our governments to exemplify God’s justice and mercy in the world, but it does mean that we ought to be vigilant and stand guard against giving our allegiance to it. Our allegiance is to Lord Jesus and His Kingdom that extends the love, righteousness, justice, and mercies of God to the world. There is no other kingdom than can do that.
If history teaches us anything, it is that we ought to learn from our past so as to not make the same mistakes again. As such, history ought to give caution and pause to Christians who put their hope, faith, and trust in any ideological, political, or governmental system. The late Art Katz recounted the relationship and affinity German Jews had to the cultural, scientific, and economic development of Germany:
[We] were so deeply ensconced as Germans with a 2000-year tenure in Germany, though we were Jews…the fact of the matter was that we were more German than we were Jewish. And though the dark clouds gathered, we could not believe what they indicated. And we said, in that human way that does not want to recognize painful things, “This too shall pass.” The tragic thing was…it didn’t.
And who could have imagined that the land of Beethoven, Hegel, Nitsche, Schopenhauer, Gerda, and Schiller could be the land of the systematic annihilation of the Jewish people. It was inconceivable. And because the Jews were so taken up with the virtue of German civilization, they became its victim. They themselves had participated in the creation of the monster…and were instrumental in creating the very civilization that destroyed them.[i]
I do not want to insinuate that the situation of the Christian is in any way like the plight or suffering of the Jewish Holocaust victims. But this recounting should be a very appropriate caution and lesson for the Christian who has been instrumental and influential in the development of his or her country. It should further give us pause to the fact that, while we ought to only have one allegiance to Jesus Christ and His Kingdom, any time we give our allegiance to any kingdom of the world it could very well devour us, even if we were an instrumental part in its development. Do we not see that putting our faith in any political movement or governmental entity or any kingdom of the world, rather than the Kingdom of God, is ultimately a dead-end road?
We are told not to put our faith in those things of earth that can be shaken. Rather, we are called to put our complete trust in that which will never be shaken.[ii] So let us only give our allegiance to the King and the Kingdom that will never be shaken, and let us learn the secret of being content in any and all situations while demonstrating the love, justice, and mercies of God to the world.
The Kingdom of God
The Kingdom that Jesus preached and established was one that operated by a new set of values, a new way of thinking, a new way of being human. This Kingdom of God was like nothing the world had ever known or seen before. As such, Jesus was not preoccupied with fighting violently against the kingdoms of the world or the prevailing governmental or political order. Jesus wasn’t even preoccupied with trying to reform them. In fact, maybe to the shock of many in the audience that day, and maybe to you as well, He was not even preoccupied with trying to establish a new or different political or governmental system. He was certainly not trying to build up a bricks and mortar palace where He would rule from the top-down.
The Kingdom that Jesus came to proclaim would be established much differently than the kingdoms of the world, and it would not look like anything the world had ever seen because the people in this Kingdom would do everything opposite from the ways and workings of the world. It would be a grassroots, organic movement that changes the world from the bottom-up and from the inside-out, defying every bit of worldly wisdom in the process.
When the world hits you, do not retaliate but give the other cheek. When the world is weighing you down with heavy requests, don’t just go one mile with the request but go two miles. When the world takes everything you have, even the coat off of your back, don’t just give your coat but go even further by offering your shirt. When the way of the world harbors anger and holds grudges, be one who forgives your friends and your enemies alike. Don’t just forgive once, but forgive and forgive and forgive.
When the world is quick to respond and rip a person to shreds, be one who controls your anger and the words that come from your mouth. When the world devalues relationships and marriages, be one who looks to the interest of others, honors commitments, and always remains selfless. When the world looks out for and protects its own pursuits and interests to the detriment of others, be one who treats others as you would want to be treated yourself. When the world casts the stone of judgment at the sinner, be one who loves and stands beside every single person without judgment. When the world shuns the outcast and pushes him to the edges of society, be one who befriends the outcast and welcomes him back into loving and healing community.
When the world lords over you with power and authority, be one who serves with the utmost humility. When the world takes the seat of honor so it can be seen and noticed by everyone, be one who takes the seat of low-position in the back of the room. When the world puts on a show of being pure and good but is corrupt at the very core, be one who is pure from the inside and let it work out through your life. When the world continues in the ways of injustice and is merciless to the least in society, be one who stands for the least and for those who cannot defend themselves by demanding justice and mercy.
When the world fights and wars among themselves, be one who always stands on the side of peace no matter the situation and no matter the circumstance. When the world insults, ridicules, and curses you, be one who blesses in return. When the evil of the world assaults you, be the one who does not resist the evil. And when the world beats you, spits upon you, and is preparing to crucify you, continue on the way of forgiveness and self-sacrificial love.
That is the Kingdom of God! That is the treasure of great riches that the world so desperately needs. That is the pearl of great value for which we sell everything we have in order to attain it. That is what will spread like an infection, a mustard seed, yeast in the dough if the world would ever hear it and see it put into practice by a transformed people. That is the in-breaking of heaven into the house that has been held hostage for far too long. That is the occupation, proclamation, task, and obsession of the follower of Christ in the vineyard of the world!
The Kingdom of God is the full-on reign of God in the hearts and minds of those who believe in the way, life, and teachings of Jesus. The Kingdom of God is embodied by those who have died to the old, tired, and worn-out ways of the world, and who have been made new by the working and empowering of the Spirit of God in order to bring heaven on earth, while awaiting and anticipating the return of Christ as Lord at the renewal of all things!!!
The Kingdom of God is what a life looks like when God reigns in and through a person here on earth in every single thought, action, attitude, situation, or scenario. It looks like an invasion from heaven into the strongholds of a person’s life, a cleaning out of the house, a light breaking through into the darkness, and a constant and continual in-breaking of heaven through one’s life into the world. It is a Kingdom that reigns in the hearts and minds of people, not through the political, governmental, bureaucratic, religious, institutional brick and mortar systems of the world. The Kingdom of God will never come through those systems because they will all pass away one day.
That is why Jesus said that the Kingdom of God is not something that can be seen or observed. It is not visible with the eye. In fact, people will not be able to say, “Here it is,” or “There it is,” because the Kingdom of God is within the hearts and minds of those who follow the way, life, and teachings of Jesus.[iii] In this way, the Kingdom of God can not be conquered, destroyed, or defeated, but it continues to grow larger and to spread from person to person all throughout the world. There is not a savage, a soldier, a maniac, a terrorist, or a world army on the face of this planet that can pin it down or extinguish it because it is growing, it is spreading and it is all consuming. The Kingdom of God is breaking into our world like an infection to displace the kingdoms of the world and to establish the reign of God, through and through, in the hearts, minds, and lives of people who are like Jesus in everything we do. And, it is this Kingdom to which we are being called right now.
Revolution of Love
The offensive that the follower of Jesus undertakes is one of revolutionary love. It is the kind of love that looks like Jesus Christ in every situation, good and bad, even to the point that it may cost us our lives. Yes, you read that correctly, even to the point of costing your life! Let me be clear again, the Kingdom of God never moves forward violently, but only through selfless, sacrificial love. It is love put on display in such a selfless and radical way that it lays itself down for friends and enemies alike.
If one hundred Christians were asked if they agree with the teaching of Jesus to love their enemies, each one of them would agree with it. Yet when it comes to actually loving their enemies in real life, far fewer agree. I sent a good friend of mine a text message recently that read, “It is only when one has decided he can lay down his life for his enemy that he can be called a Christian. Consequently, there are few Christians in our churches.” In response my friend texted, “Lay down their lives for their enemies? Most ‘Christians’ would not lay down their sandwich.” This kind of poignant truth is disheartening.
I was at a business meeting recently in Chicago. One evening I went to a Mexican restaurant with some of my business colleagues. After a really good dinner and conversation we began our trek back to the hotel. My three colleagues were in deep conversation about guns and firing ranges. Since I didn’t have much to offer to the conversation I spaced out and started thinking about other things. That was until one of the men started talking about how he carries a concealed weapon to church service each week. He went on to say that his church recently implemented security measures for their church services. At any one time there are at least three people…with guns…at their church service! Can you imagine the early Church, during a time in which they suffered the greatest violence, abandoning the way of Christ by picking up arms for fear of their lives at their church service!? The main reason why we as Christian can demonstrate the self-sacrificial love of Christ to the world is because we do not have to fear death! The cross that Christ would have us bear for each person in the world is love. It is a love that lays down its life for both friend and enemy.
But again, according to the so-called wisdom of the world and unfortunately many within our churches, the approach of non-retaliation and sacrificial love is a failed strategy. In the way that the world system operates, it does not work or make sense. Even further, you will not find one book in the world on fighting, modern warfare, or the art of war that would ever suggest such a ridiculous strategy for the defeat of an enemy. In the wisdom of the world, self-sacrificial love will always result in defeat.
The fact of the matter is, however, that this strategy has been tried at least one time, and it worked brilliantly. It is precisely and exactly that strategy and model to which Jesus has called each of us. The follower of Jesus should live such an uncompromising life in the Kingdom of God that not even the threat of death itself will shake this Kingdom. Love will always, always, always prevail in a Kingdom life, even and most especially when it is face to face with death itself. Love always wins. Love is always victorious. Love never fails. Preach it!
So why should it surprise the Christian that self-sacrificial love is exactly in line with the rest of this revolutionary, upside-down Kingdom that Jesus announced? The cross, representing the ugliest, most hateful, and barbaric form of human suffering and punishment was completely turned upside-down through the humble submission and self-sacrificial love of Jesus Christ to become the greatest symbol of humble submission and self-sacrificial love this world has ever witnessed! People do not wear the crucifix around their necks because it represents barbaric torture. They wear it because it has come to represent the greatest sacrifice of love ever demonstrated in a human life! It is the way of Jesus Christ. It is the way of the Kingdom of God. And, it is our way if we follow Jesus Christ and extends His Kingdom.
But the way of Jesus, once again, is left untried because it doesn’t make sense to us. From our limited human perspective, we have been convinced that it is good for Jesus but not for us, His followers. I have news for you: it is the only way that the forces of evil, hatred, and death can be undermined and defeated once and for all; it is through humble and self-sacrificial love demonstrated through our lives for the world to see. The same power that raised this Jesus to life is the same exact power we have been given to extend the Kingdom of God over and against the powers and principalities of evil! So what do we have to fear?
It is only through that kind of power and that kind of love that evil, hatred, violence, and even death will once and for all be completely exhausted. Self-sacrificial love cannot be extinguished, pressed down, crushed, or defeated, and the forces of evil will never find victory precisely because of that. For it was in the greatest moment of sacrificial love the world has ever seen that death prematurely proclaimed the greatest victory, and then met its greatest defeat. Death lost its sting when it was triumphed by resurrection! It is in the resurrection that those who put their faith in Jesus have the assurance that death is only a moment of sleep until we are resurrected to new life, receiving resurrection bodies that will never perish again. The Christian can move forward in confidence that death does not win, only love does. That is the reason we move forth only in love.
It is now that the salvation and power of the Kingdom of God through the authority of Jesus Christ has come! The great treasure of the Kingdom of God has been found, unearthed, and opened for all to see! The adversary who accuses the children of God both day and night, who has been hurled down, and he who has enslaved all of God’s good creation to sin and death has been defeated and is gasping for his final breath. The enemy is overcome by the blood of Jesus Christ and by the very testimony of the followers of Jesus, the new creation people, the Body of Christ! And we do not love our lives so much as to shrink away from death![iv] Praise God!
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[i] Katz, Arthur. The Mystery of Israel and the Church. Used by permission Art Katz Ministries.
[ii] Hebrews 12: 25-29.
[iii] Luke 17: 20-21.
[iv] This passage was influenced by Revelation 12: 10-11.