We sometime miss "the big idea" when we read a piece of literature. This is no less true of our reading of the Bible. It seems to me that the big idea of the Bible, especially of the New Testament, is the kingdom of God. God’s rule and reign is supreme. All things are created by him and thus all is for him. He is Lord.
In the New Testament this theme is clearly related to Christ the Messiah, who is Lord over all. Epiphany, which I commented upon Sunday January 7, is about the manifestation of this one who is Lord, especially to the Gentiles. When the New Testament opens, with Matthew’s Gospel, it reveals a kingdom that is coming through the one whose genealogy is royal. It then shows that this very Jewish King is for the Gentiles as well. Eleven times in Matthew we read, "Now this took place that what was written in the prophets might be fulfilled." All four gospels proclaim the kingdom of God but some fifty times Matthew refers to "the kingdom of heaven." This use, John Stott rightly suggests, is because of Matthew’s Jewish deference to using the sacred name of God. Matthew clearly grasps that this kingdom is both present and future, putting to rest the silly idea that the kingdom in Matthew radically differs from the kingdom in Mark and Luke.
According to Matthew 13:16-17 the Old Testament prophets lived with the anticipation that the kingdom was coming and the New Testament apostles announced its fulfillment. This is what happened to Anna and Simeon as they were "seeing" the kingdom come in their own lifetime. Thus Matthew presents Jesus as the long expected royal son of David who confronts his people with a final summons to repent and enter the kingdom prepared for them and, through them, for all peoples. In the process God is beginning to create a new kingdom through Jesus calling twelve apostles, these men corresponding to the twelve tribes of Israel.
Though Matthew presents a Jesus who comes to reveal the kingdom to Israel he also presents a Jesus, in John Stott’s words, who is clearly "an internationalist." Matthew 8:11 says, "Many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven." The church in America does not understand that Jesus is truly "an internationalist." Our view of his kingdom is often limited by our view of the world as seen through Western eyes. This significantly impacts our view of mission. It also significantly impacts how we live day-to-day without recognizing the Lordship of Christ over all principalities and powers. This has implications far beyond our private spiritual practices. The church struggles, and will continue to struggle, to work this out in practice. We are not likely to agree on how this happens but at least we could begin by agreeing that we ought to realize the centrality of the kingdom if we submit to the gospel of Jesus Christ. If we start here we can hope to proceed with humility in how we work out the implications of Jesus, who is "the internationalist."
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I like the picture of the Kingdom of God as a huge tree birds perch (or build nests) in. I wrote about that on my blog the other day: