Click here for part one and two of this series about the our allegiance to the Creator King.
Lest we forget, claiming Jesus as our Lord and King goes
beyond giving him priority over our country, religion, and holy book. There is
a very real, albeit unseen, transfer of allegiance that happens when we bow our
knees to the Risen King and call upon him to rescue us (e.g. Romans 10:9-13,
Colossians 1:12-13). At that precise moment in time we are “delivered from
Satan’s kingdom and catapulted into the kingdom of God.” No longer are we bound by the chains of sin, addictions, pain,
sorrow, death, and evil. We are now children of the Living God, joint heirs
with Jesus the Messiah (e.g. Romans 8:17, Galatians 4:4-7).
unseen, and sometimes even unfelt, this spiritual exchange of sovereignties is
at the core of the good news of Jesus. Throughout the Scriptures there is a
paradox where the Creator God is described as both the current King and the
coming King of the world. This paradox is set against the backdrop of a battle
being raged across the visible and invisible dimensions of creation between the
forces of evil and the Lord Almighty. Though the origin of this war is shrouded
in mystery with the Scriptures being silent on the details that we so
desperately crave, the biblical authors understood that fighting against “such things
as injustice, oppression, greed, and apathy toward the needy was to participate
directly or indirectly in a cosmic war that had engulfed the earth.”
the choice to follow Jesus is also a choice not
to follow the ways of the evil one. Hence
the early followers of Jesus understood that the “one who professed in response
to the gospel, ‘I believe,’ was the one who said simultaneously: ‘I renounce
you Satan, your pomp, your service, your works’ (Chrysostom); ‘I renounce the
devil and his work, this age and its pleasure’ (Ambrose).” Theologian and pastor Don Williams elaborates on this
exchange of sovereignties in declaring that:
To say, ‘Jesus is Lord’ means to renounce all other lords. No ideology, political philosophy, drug or person can have a higher claim on our lives. All our idols must be pulled down, repented of and crushed at Jesus’ feet. The idols of pride, power, control, self-medication, family, friends, illicit sex, internet pornography, legalism, self-righteousness, mind-altering meditation, witchcraft, magic, cults, gambling, work, self-advancement, children, health, and security in old age must go. Anything that takes the place of Jesus in our hearts, in our passions and in our devotion is an idol. As Elijah the prophet said to the nation of Israel, ‘How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him’ (1 Kings 18:21). God has called us and revealed Jesus as Lord to us. Follow Him!
 Don Williams, Start Here: Kingdom Essentials for
Christians (Ventura, California: Regal, 2006), 7.
 Gregory A. Boyd, God At War: The Bible and Spiritual Conflict
(Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1997), 14.
 Paul R. Hinlicky, Beloved Community: Critical Dogmatics after Christendom (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing
Company, 2015), 221.
The four historical narratives of Jesus’ life and ministry
(i.e. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) all agree that Jesus’ primary message was
that the active, dynamic rule and reign of God (i.e. the kingdom of God) had
broken into the world. No longer were the people of God waiting for the promised
day of the Lord when all would be made right. That day had come in and through
Jesus, though he also told them that the kingdom was yet to come in its
fullness. It was a paradox in which the age to come had come, is coming, and
would one day fully break into the present evil age.
Writing a few decades after Jesus, the Apostle
Paul would summarize the message of Jesus in terms of “incarnation and
enthronement.” Jesus was the promised one about whom the prophets had
foretold. Furthermore, he was also the incarnated Creator King of heaven and
earth who entered into the world through “David’s seed in terms of flesh”
(Romans 1:3, TKNT). While this statement itself is powerful, Paul goes to say
that Jesus was resurrected from the dead and enthroned as “the King, our Lord”
(Romans 1:4, TKNT).
The enthronement of Jesus as the King of
heaven and earth can be seen most clearly in the first chapter of Acts. After
giving his followers some last-minute instructions, Jesus is lifted up into the
skies and hidden from sight by a cloud (Acts 1:9). This action harkens back to
Daniel 7:13-14 (NIV) in which “one like a son of man” approaches the Ancient of
Days with “clouds of heaven” and is enthroned with “all nations and peoples of
every language” worshiping him. Jesus,
the Son of Man as he commonly called himself (e.g. Matthew 9:6, Mark 8:38, John
8:28), is now the “true world ruler, with all the warring pagan nations made
subject to him.”
Though we don’t think much about such
language, for Paul to say that Jesus is the “blessed and only Sovereign, the
King of kings and Lord of lords” (1 Timothy 6:15, ESV) is to effectively commit
treason against the Roman Empire and its divine ruler. Starting in the days of
Caesar Augustus (63 BCE – 14 CE), the emperors of the land were seen as divine
gods with temples dedicated to their worship being built across the empire from
Spain to Judea. Accordingly, for Paul to claim that Jesus of Nazareth was
the Creator God and the true King of the earth was to effectively deny the
exclusive rule of the Caesars (e.g. Acts 7:6-8). Later followers of Jesus would
face death at the hands of Roman authorities for upholding these claims as they
refused to renounce their loyalty to Jesus and offer sacrifices to the human
emperor of the land.
Pledging our undivided allegiance to Jesus
doesn’t mean, however, that we can’t be proud of our nation, religion, or holy
book. Paul, for example, was a Roman citizen who obeyed the laws of the land
even though he disagreed with common worship practices of the day (e.g. Acts
16:37-38, 22:25-29, Romans 13:1-7). He also was proud of his Jewish heritage
and Scriptures of his youth even if he now reinterpreted them through the lens
of Jesus the Messiah (e.g. Acts 22:3-21, Philippians 3:2-11). As Paul’s life
shows us, following Jesus means that our first allegiance is to Jesus our King
and Lord. We are first and foremost disciples of Jesus before we are citizens
of a nation, followers of a religion, and/or readers of a holy book. If ever
there is a disagreement or test of loyalty between these things, may we echo
words of Simon Peter and the apostles as they stood before the same Assembly
who tortured and killed Jesus a few weeks previously: “We must obey God, not
human beings!” (Acts 5:29, TKNT)
 Joshua S. Hopping, The Here and Not Yet: What is Kingdom
Theology and Why Does It Matter? (Ladysmith, South Africa: Vineyard
International Publishing, 2017), 23-38
 Matthew W. Bates, Salvation by Allegiance Alone: Rethinking
Faith, Works and the Gospel of Jesus the King (Grand Rapids, Michigan:
Baker Academic, 2017), 30-34.
 N.T. Wright, Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was,
What He Did, And Why He Matters (New York: HaperOne, 2011), 196.
 N.T. Wright, Paul and the Faithfulness of God: Book 1 (Minneapolis:
Fortress Press, 2013), 311-343.
Every morning at 8:30 am during the school year my son
lines up with his classmates to recite three pledges before starting the day.
They start by reciting the Pledge to the American Flag before moving on to the Pledge to the Christian Flag and the Pledge to the Bible. Though these young students may not realize the full
impact of their words, they are declaring their loyalty to the nation they live
in (i.e. United States of America), their religion (i.e. Christianity), and
their holy book (i.e. the Bible).
would wager a guess that there are millions of people around the world reciting
similar pledges. They may even recite
these pledges in the same order – giving allegiance first to their nation (e.g.
USA, India, China, Israel, Russia, Canada, etc.), then to their religion (e.g.
Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hindu, Wicca, Atheism, etc.), and finally to
their holy writings (e.g. Bible, Koran, Tripitaka, Vedas, etc.). I would
further guess that most of these people, Jesus followers include, don’t even
think twice about the pledges they are reciting. After all, it is normal to
love the nation you live in, the religion you follow, and the holy writings you
if I may vocalize a nagging question in the back of my head, should a follower
of Jesus pledge their loyalty and allegiance to a nation, religion, or holy
book? And if so, should we be concerned about the order in which we pledge our
allegiance? Say, instead of pledging our loyalty to our nation first, maybe we
should pledge our allegiance to our religion, our holy writings, and then to
our nation…. or should we just stop saying the pledges all together?
followers throughout history have come to different conclusions concerning
those questions. They are not easy questions to answer as they have wide
ranging implications for how we live our lives and how we interact with the
world around us. For my part, I go back and forth between saying all three
pledges, saying some of them, and not saying them at all. My country, religion,
and holy writings have all impacted my life to a degree that words cannot fully
express. Yet despite of my love for all three, there’s a war deep inside of me
for I know how my love for my nation, religion, and holy writings can, and
does, compete for my love for Jesus. And
that concerns me.
I was first introduced to Jesus by my parents who met him
from their parents who likewise met the King through the influence of their
parents. I remember early morning livestock feedings on the farm with my father
talking about Creator or times under the hood of a vehicle talking about doing
all things unto the King. There were also times of talking with my mother about
the strange and odd verses in the Scriptures that didn’t seem to make
sense. Though some might think that this
genealogy would lead to a lackluster religion more concerned about keeping
tradition than knowing the person of Jesus, that wasn’t the case for me.
Somehow my parents had managed to escape the religiosity and skepticism of the
day, even while feeling the pain and disappointment that often leaks out from
the rotting corpses housed in whitewashed tombs. And in doing so they taught me
to love Jesus and watch for his presence in all areas of life.
These early lessons of seeing past the
trappings of life to find Jesus helped me navigate the “witch’s brew of
politics, cultural conflict, moralism, and religious meanness that seems so
closely connected with those who count themselves the special friends of
Jesus.” Sadly, throughout history there have always been people
who have used Jesus to support their own political and religious agendas. This
is especially true for those in power in the United States of America, to the
point that to “millions of people around the world, Jesus Christ is synonymous
with Western society and America.”
During the 1st century when Jesus walked the
earth, there were multiple views of the kingdom of God and how that kingdom was
manifested in real life. Jesus could have embraced the strict religious rules of
the Pharisees who sought to perfectly follow the Mosaic Law for one day as to usher in the rule and reign of the Heavenly Father.
Or Jesus could have retreated into the desert to study the Scriptures and
worship the Lord like the Essenes. The Sadducees also offered Jesus a way
forward, a way of wealth and riches through their partnership with the Roman
The Romans themselves would have loved it if
Jesus would have endorsed their way of life. After all, they were the greatest
nation in the world at the time with an empire that stretched across three
continents. Or if Jesus didn’t like the pagan worshiping Romans being in the
land of promise, he could have joined the Zealots and fought to take back the
land for God. There were plenty of
people at the time who would have loved to make Jesus king of Israel. All he
needed to do is say the word and the revolution would have begun.
Jesus, however, did not and does not “endorse
any other way, any other moral code except his own. Jesus was [and is]
exclusively the Way.” He is “the way and the truth and the life” as the
Apostle John wrote quoting our Lord (John 14:6, NIV).
Knowing God is a “matter of personal contact” with Jesus rather than doctrine, religious duties, money,
ethics, lifestyle, or any of the other boundaries people have created over the
 Pledge to the American
Flag – “I pledge allegiance to the Flag
of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one
Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
 Pledge to the Christian
Flag – “I pledge allegiance to the
Christian Flag and to the Savior for whose Kingdom it stands. One Savior,
crucified, risen, and coming again with life and liberty to all who believe.”
 Pledge to the Bible – “I pledge allegiance to the Bible, God’s
Holy Word, I will make it a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path and will
hide its words in my heart that I might not sin against God.”
 Ken Wilson, Jesus Brand Spirituality: He Wants His
Religion Back (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, 2008), 1.
 Carl Medearis, Speaking of Jesus: The Art of Not-Evangelism
(Colorado Spring, Colorado: David C. Cook, 2011), 61.
 Additional information on
the different political and religious views of the kingdom of God challenged by
Jesus can be found in chapter seven and nine of my previous book, The Here and Not Yet (Vineyard
International Publishing, 2017).
Elder Paisios the Athonite once said, “The goal of reading is the application, in our lives, of what we read.” No truer words can be spoken about Kingdom Theology and the three themes intertwined within that worldview. Our theology is to be lived out clearly for the world to see. Otherwise we fool ourselves into thinking that we are something we are not. James put it this way in his letter:
“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.” (James 1:22-25)
If we claim to be servants of the King, then we must focus on our lives and set our hearts on the King’s business. Everything we do must be centered around and lead to the promotion of the King’s mission. We are to be intentional and deliberate in declaring that the rule and reign of the Creator King has broken into human history and has provided humanity with a new way to live life. It is this deliberateness that causes one to become missional in everything. Our life no longer belongs to ourselves, but has become pledged to the King of Kings.
I cannot overstate the power of living on mission. All too often we think that following Jesus means praying a short prayer of salvation one day then spending the remaining decades sitting on a church pew each Sunday. During the week, we are free to pursue whatever dreams or desires we want as long as we read our Bible, pray occasionally, pay our tithes and don’t do this or that like all good little Christians. This view of the Christian life does not reflect the reality of what it means to follow Jesus and join with him on his mission. I don’t know about you, but I didn’t sign up for a country club; I signed up to change the world with Jesus and to defeat the forces of evil that destroy and enslave billions of people worldwide!
We, the people of God, need to change the stories that we are telling each other. We need to get rid of the “American Dream”, where we pursue the nice little house with the white picket fence, two cars, a boat, some kids and a steady job. Life is not about shopping, hunting, sports, parties, how many activities you do or how much stuff you own. Life isn’t even about how often you show up at church or what religious activities you perform. Jesus said life was about following him.
In the first century, disciples of a Jewish rabbi would leave their families, homes and communities with the single-minded focus of learning to live life like their rabbi. They didn’t just want to know what information their rabbi knew; they wanted to think, act and be like them. There are even stories of disciples following their rabbi into the bathroom in an effort to know everything about them, so that they could replicate it in their own lives. While slightly humorous, those stories tell us a lot about those disciples. They weren’t fooling around, adding on religious activities or mindless prayers to their daily schedules. They were serious about living life. They had a mission and nothing, not even a bathroom door, was going to stop them from their goal of being like their rabbi.
Shouldn’t we be that way towards our rabbi, the King of Kings? Perhaps, instead of simply going to church and doing all the “right” things, we should be intentional and deliberate in being like him. Jesus told his disciples at the Last Supper that if they loved him, they would keep his commands (John 14:15–21). And what were his commands? To proclaim that the kingdom of God is near, heal the sick, cast out demons, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, love God the Father with their whole heart, body, mind and soul and love their neighbors as themselves. Seven things. That’s it. If we have bowed our knees to King Jesus, we are to daily crucify our own desires and pick up the cross of Jesus, committing to walk out these seven commandments of the King. And though we may fail – or rather, even though we will fail – we are to get back up and try again and again and again and again.
Paul told the church in Corinth that they were to “follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). How awesome would it be if the churches around the world were filled with people so dedicated to the King of Kings that they told their neighbors, co-workers, family members and strangers to follow their example as they followed the example of Jesus? If this happened, it would radically change the world in which we live. Religiosity would stop, people would be quick to ask for, and give, forgiveness, the hungry would be fed and people would know there was another way to live life. Sin, evil and death would lose their power as people embrace the rule and reign of the Creator King.
[box]Excerpt from my book The Here and Not Yet (pages 219-221) published by Vineyard International Publishing. Available in paperback and ebook versions – click here to find out more.[/box]
A look through the Scriptures, especially the New Testament, reveals a lot of passages about the victory that comes through the new life in the kingdom. We become new people with a new family built upon love, grace, mercy and forgiveness. No matter what pain or sorrow we have experienced before, we now have a chance at a new life. The old is gone; behold the new.
Sadly, a lot of people fail to embrace fully the victory of Jesus in their lives. The scars of the past are so deep and numerous that it is hard to trust again. What happens if I open up my heart and Jesus fails me? What if I try to fight the chemical, emotional or spiritual addictions in my life and I fail? Perhaps it is just safer not to dream of victory; instead I will just push on through this life, hanging onto the promise of healing in the next life at the resurrection of the dead. As it has been said, the pain that I know is better than the pain that I don’t know.
Not wanting victory may sound crazy to some people, but there are a lot more of us out there who are afraid of change than those who embrace the change of life that comes with Jesus. I’m reminded of the time when Jesus went to the pool of Bethesda, which was a sort of hospital and healing spa (John 5:1-15). Walking among the sick and hurting, Jesus stopped next to a gentleman who had been sick for 38 years and asked him the most important question of all:“Do you want to get well?” One would think that the gentleman would emphatically say “Yes!” as he was talking to a known miracle worker. Yet, instead of answering in the positive, the man launches into a sad tale of how it was impossible for him to get healed because of this or that problem. The 38-years of pain had sucked his hope, faith and vision of the future to the point that he failed to see the victory right in front of him.
A lot of Jesus followers have been conditioned by our culture, world, church, family, friends, or even ourselves, to accept our addictions, pain and defeat. Perhaps there was a time when we cried out for victory, but, when it didn’t come, we gave up hope. We became like the gentleman sitting next to a pool of healing with no hope of victory. Instead of embracing the new life in Jesus and the destruction of sin that comes with following him, we become content with simply managing our sin. Sin management is where we become comfortable with certain sins, habits and/or addictions. We all excuse certain things in our lives that we know are not healthy and do not glorify God. Instead of trying to fight these actions or thoughts, we just manage them. We keep them under lock and key, perhaps indulge them a bit here and there, not enough to cause any problems, but just enough to take the edge off things.
As a pastor there were times when people would inform me that they were an alcoholic, twenty years dry. While I applaud the fact that they have acknowledged their addiction, I would get concerned about their sense of identity. It was almost as if their past addiction had defined them forever. It didn’t matter that they had not taken a drink of alcohol or gotten drunk in over a decade, they were still an alcoholic. Followers of Jesus fall into this same trap when they constantly define themselves as a sinner. Yes, I know we all sin, but the moment we bow our knees to Jesus and confess him as our Lord and King, we become a new creation. We are no longer sinners but saints! Our old identity has been removed and we are now part of a new family. To stop short of fully embracing the victory of the King is to slap him in the face. It is a huge dishonor to turn down the gift of the King and Creator of the universe.
Does this mean that we will be free from every bad thought, addictions or habit? Perhaps, perhaps not. It is not up to me to know the mind of God. What I do know is that Paul lived with a thorn in his side that was not taken away. Perhaps some of you reading this will have things in your lives that won’t go away. To you I say, fight and fight and never stop fighting! We live deep within enemy territory and have been called to advance the rule and reign of God into every area of this planet. To stop fighting is to give up on God and his mission. He is a trustworthy General who is leading an army in the invasion of this present evil age. We, his daughters and sons, have been trusted with the mission of fighting on the front lines. Let us never forget this: let us always continue to fight for the victory we know we have as daughters and sons of the Creator King.
Remember our gentleman at the pool of Bethesda? Jesus didn’t let him get away with all the excuses as to why he couldn’t get healed. Instead of turning around and walking away to someone else, perhaps someone with a bit more faith, Jesus simply says, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” He knew that God wanted to bring victory in the midst of the pain and he wasn’t going to take no for an answer. Isn’t it wonderful that God doesn’t always listen to our excuses? Jesus wants us embrace the victory that come into the world through his life, death, resurrection and ascension.
Embracing the victory of God is to declare him the King over our circumstances. It is a war cry to the world around us that we will not settle for less than complete restoration of creation itself. We are the people of God who know without a doubt that our King will win, no matter what circumstances we may be in,. It was this mindset that caused the early believers to stand strong in the face of death itself, refusing to deny Jesus despite pain of torture or death by wild animals. And when the plagues came, the followers of Jesus refused to run away, choosing instead to care for the sick and the dying while knowing that staying most likely meant death. These believers understood that the victory belonged to King Jesus and no matter what the circumstances were, he was still the King of Kings.
It is now our turn to walk boldly in the victory of Jesus. We get the privilege of telling people that there is a new way to live and that there is victory from the pain of life. True, some people may push us away as they like living in their pain and darkness. That is okay, as they did that same thing to Jesus. It is the Holy Spirit’s job to draw them to Jesus, not yours! Our job is to proclaim that the kingdom of God is here! Go back and look at the command of Jesus: it was to proclaim that the day of the Lord, the new age of life had broken into human history. That is our message. We are saints who live in the tension of the here and not yet of the kingdom, embracing both the suffering and the victory that comes with pledging our lives to the Creator King.
It may sound crazy to say that we have to embrace the suffering this life throws at us. The thing is that if we ignore the pain or claim that we have victory over every pain, sorrow, or fiery dart from hell, then we have set ourselves up for even more pain. The reality is that there is a lot of pain and sorrow in the world today – rape, sickness, heartache, poverty, death, betrayal, bullying, addictions, and more. If we are going to live in this world, as we do, then we must know how to process the suffering and how to help others walk through it.
When I was in college someone told me that the reason that people got sick was because they had sinned against God. If they fully obeyed God, then they would never get sick. This person then backed up this claim by declaring that their good health was due to their standing before the Lord. As I stood there listening to this bold claim, I couldn’t help but think of Job.
The book of Job is perhaps the oldest book in the Bible and tells the story of Job who lived around the same time as Abraham. The story itself is a bit depressing as it details how Job, a follower of the Creator King, is attacked by the evil one and in a very short amount of time loses his children, wife, house, land, wealth and health. His friends show up and tell Job that all his problems are due to his sinful actions against God. Job refuses to accept this logic and cries out to God in an effort to find out what is happening. At the end of the book, God shows up and destroys the argument of Job’s friends. Then he turns to Job and instead of explaining everything, he asks Job where he was when the earth was formed and the seas were created. In other words, God is telling Job to stop trying to figure out the cause and effects of everything and start trusting Him.
This may sound like a cop-out to us in the modern age. We want everything to be logical and have a reason. We don’t like unsolved mysteries or cryptic statements of trust. Yet, if we think back to the very beginning, the Scriptures are clear that we are to trust the Creator King. This doesn’t mean – and please hear me loud and clear here – that God causes pain and suffering in our lives. Far from it! God is not the author of evil, suffering, pain or heartache. Everything negative and painful in our lives comes from three places: from our own poor decisions, attacks from the evil one or from effects of living in the present evil age. What the Creator King does, is to take all the pain and suffering we experience and transform it through the cross into something else. Something, dare I say, restorative and beautiful albeit scarred and wounded, like the nail scarred hands of Jesus.
Remember how I mentioned that my wife and I had experienced two miscarriages? Those miscarriages caused us considerable pain and heartache. We even started to doubt God and began to lose trust in him. Yet, through all the pain he taught us that people, even unborn babies, are worth loving even if the ending is full of pain. The lessons that my wife and I learned through the pain of the miscarriages helped us open up our hearts to our adopted son and to the child whom we had for only eleven days. Was the miscarriages part of God’s plan? I don’t think so! I think they were the results of frail bodies and fiery darts from the evil one. However, God took the pain of our lives and transformed it into something wholesome.
When I talk about embracing the suffering of living in the tension, this is what I mean: we have to let God take the sorrow of our lives and transform it into good. If we always focus on the victory passages of the Scriptures then we would never know how to live through the tough times. Similarly, if we only focused on the suffering portions, we would become depressed and miss seeing his mighty hand at work. We have to learn to live in the tension between both aspects of the Scriptures, trusting the Creator King who loves us more than we can ever know.
Another aspect of embracing suffering can be found in the life of Jesus. Philippians 2 talks about how Jesus freely emptied himself to become like us in every way. As such, he experienced a lot of pain and suffering that he did not have to. I’m not just talking about the cross and the physical pain that it bought. I’m talking about his stepdad dying, working long hard days to support his mother and young siblings, sweating under the hot sun, walking for miles upon miles across the desert, and sleeping on the ground. His brothers and sisters thought he was crazy, his friend betrayed him unto death and all his other friends abandoned him in his hour of need. On top of all this, Jesus had hundreds, if not thousands, of people trying to get his attention all the time, leaving him with very little time for himself. As a pastor, I can vouch for the emotional, spiritual and physical drain that comes with having people constantly coming up and looking for something from you! Yet Jesus embraced all this suffering as he knew that it was through the suffering that the reign and rule of God would break into human history.
When my wife and I were in our mid-twenties, we were invited to join a team of folks who were planning to start a new church in Sweet, Idaho, an hour’s drive north of Boise. At first we were just going to help out on Sunday evenings for about six months while the church got up and running. God, however, had different plans. One thing led to another and soon we were selling our house and moving to Sweet, to work with the church and love the community. The next nine years were full of joy, happiness, sorrow and heartache. It was hard giving up one lifestyle to embrace another. To go from riding a bicycle to work, to driving an hour each way; to go from a vibrant social life in the big city to embracing a slower pace of life among a predominantly retired community. Then there were the hours of volunteer work with the church, setting things up for the service, tearing it down, week in and week out, planning different events, etc.
I lost count of the times my wife and I sat in our living room, crying. The toil of starting a new church took its toll on us, stretching us to our limits and beyond. We were very low at the time and even discussed looking for pipes online so that we would be able to utilise the mood enhancing properties of cannabis. More than once we wanted to quit and run away. The only reason why we didn’t was because we knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that God had asked us to go to Sweet. And, since he was our King, we had to obey him until he released us from our job. This is suffering. This is the pain of the here and not yet of the kingdom of God. The pain that comes with obeying the Creator King and proclaiming his word to a world that does not want to listen.
Matthew 11:12 is a cryptic verse in which Jesus says, “From the time of John to Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has been forcing its way in – and the men of force are trying to grab it!” (TKNT) We are in a battle between the kingdom of darkness and the kingdom of light. The moment you start proclaiming Jesus to the world, you had better watch out as you have just painted a target on your back. All hell is going to try to stop you from obeying the Creator King because the evil one does not want to let go of his territory. Yet, we have been called to fight the fight, to proclaim the kingdom of God into every nook and cranny of this world, regardless of the cost!
To embrace the suffering of the kingdom is to know that starting a church, loving the unlovable, working with the poor, helping those with addictions, or simply telling your neighbor about Jesus, all come with pain. There will be push back and, at times, negative consequences that come from obeying Jesus. You might experience sleepless nights, long days, emotionally-draining meetings, spiritual attacks, strained relationships, emotional and/or physical isolation, loss of income, and, perhaps even death. I am reminded of the calling of the prophet Jeremiah, who was told by God that the people of Israel would “fight against” him should he obey what God was telling him to do (Jeremiah 1:19). And the apostle Paul, who was shown by God “how many things he is going to have to suffer for the sake of [his] name” at the time he bowed his knees to the King (Acts 9:16).
We have to be willing to embrace the pain that comes with joining God on his mission. We have to be willing to step out and take a risk, to choose to love even though we know that we may be hurt. Too many followers of Jesus have hardened their hearts toward people because they have been hurt too much. They still serve but it is out of duty rather than love. We must keep a soft heart and remember that the pain is worth it. And in order to do that we must embrace the suffering of Jesus as our own.
Growing up on a farm with cows, dogs, chickens and goats, my brother and I were hard on our shoes, forcing my father to take us shoe shopping every few months. And every time he always reminded us of his one rule: no white shoes as they would be quickly destroyed. One day, though, I was able to talk him into allowing me to buy a pair of white tennis shoes. I promised him that I would take good care of them and make sure they stayed white. This was a lofty promise as keeping a pair of white shoes white was like keeping the sun from rising! Yet my dad, most surely out of love as he knew that I would never be able to keep my promise, bought them for me.
Sure enough, it didn’t take very long before the shoes were covered with a layer of manure and mud. Going over to the water hose, I proceeded to spray the shoes down trying to find a patch of white in the midst of the brown dirt. After what seemed like hours, I finally had a pair of white tennis shoes! Rejoicing, I went into the house where in the bright lights I realized that the shoes were still more brown than white. Sighing deeply, I went into the bathroom and grabbed an old toothbrush. Sitting down beside the bathtub, I begin to scrub each of the seams with the toothbrush, trying to recover that original whiteness. There would be times when I thought I was through only to turn the shoe over and see a piece of mud stuck in a seam or a smear of brown gunk. It took forever – or at least it seemed like forever – to clean those shoes!
The Christian walk is like that.
The Creator God made us in his image as living declarations of his rule and reign. Living in the fallen world of evil, we quickly get covered in the mud and manure of life through our own actions, the actions of others or just because we happened to be there. No matter why, Jesus climbs down into the mud with us and picks us up, washing off the mud and restoring our relationship with him. At that point we are no longer the same people we once were.
After a while, we think that we are doing pretty well – I mean, we are no longer covered in mud. Then Jesus takes us inside the house and shows us all the mud and manure stuck to the seams of our lives. These are the heart issues, the things that no one else can see. Yet, the Creator King isn’t content with only cleaning the outside, he wants to clean every area of our lives so that we can truly live. As we allow him to do this, things start getting better. No more big pieces of mud; no more lying, stealing and drunkenness. At the same time, things are also getting harder. The cleaner we get, the more we realize how far we are from perfection. Our hearts break at things that we used to ignore. In the past, it was normal to bark out a harsh comment from time to time, or allow our minds to dwell on the physical appearance of someone of the opposite sex. Now our hearts break when we so much as think about such things.
To be faithful to our King and the Scriptures, we must fully embrace both the suffering and the victory of this life. We must not break this tension no matter how hard one side or the other will pull us. On the days that we are depressed and nothing is going right, we must remind ourselves that we are new joint heirs with Jesus and new creations under the new age of life. On the days when we are tempted to think that we have conquered all of our sins and addictions, let us remind ourselves that we are in process, that the light of Jesus can, and will, reveal to us the hidden faults tucked away in our inner hearts.
When we embrace both the here and the not yet of the kingdom of God, we enter a new place of life. We gain the freedom to confess our current sins and struggles to those around us, instead of hiding behind a façade of victory passages and promises. Neither do we have to wallow in the muck of depression trying to endure the pain of this world. We have the freedom to be real. If we mess up, then we admit it and move on. As a people living between the ages, we must learn to embrace the tension of the victory and suffering, the here and not yet. In doing so, we gain the freedom to be the people of God.
Though I wrote a book about eschatology, I didn’t actually address the end of the end. I did this on purpose as I believe it is more important to focus on how we are to live life rather than speculating about the end of the end. However, with that said, I do realize that the manner in which one feels the end of the end is going to come does affect how one views life right now. Accordingly I have decided to briefly summarize the four major end of the end viewpoints along with how they fit or don’t fit with the enacted inaugurated eschatology of Kingdom Theology.
However before we get into the different views, I would like to underscore the fact that the Scriptures are largely silent about how the end of the end is going to happen. In fact, the four views we will be looking at shortly are largely the result of a debate about one (1) verse in Revelation 20:2!!! That is right, one verse in the most cryptic and obscured book in the Bible – a book that was largely, I must state, ignored in the early church and almost didn’t make it into the canon.
I call these facts out ahead of time as I want everyone to know that they will find God-fearing Jesus loving bible scholars on all sides of this issues holding a sundry of Scriptures to support their view. How one views Revelation 20:2 depends a lot on where you start your journey from. Hence tread lightly and ponder not only the end time view but how you got there and the results of said position.
The Four Major Views in Historical Order
Amillennialism – started in 1st century
Classic Premillennialism – started in 1st century
Postmillennialism – earliest date is in the mid-17th century
Dispensational Premillennialism – created by John Darby in the 1830s
A Brief Summary of Each View
Amillennialism is the belief that Jesus’ rule and reign began with is death, resurrection, and ascension with the strong man (i.e. satan) being bound at that time. As such, there isn’t a separate 1,000 year reign or “kingdom” that is to come sometime in the future.
This view is one of the oldest views of the end of the end along with classic premillennialism (see below). The Second Ecumenical Council in 381 AD declared amillennialism as the official view of the church with the line “whose kingdom shall have no end” being added to the Nicene Creed. Hence to believe in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed is to believe in amillennialism; though a lot of Protestant will say they follow the creed without realizing the history of this line. The Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox Churches all hold to this view. Dr. Sam Storms’ (a Charismatic Calvinist theologian and pastor) book Kingdom Come is a good resource on the topic.
Amillennialism fits perfectly with Kingdom Theology as both agree that good and bad will coexists in the world until Jesus comes back. This view, by the way, doesn’t require a tribulation as premillennialism does in both its forms (classic and dispensational). This allows proponents to work towards fighting injustice right now with the goal of having a better tomorrow.
This view believes that after Jesus comes back he will rule the earth for 1,000 years before having one last knock out fight with satan. The renewal of the heaven and earth will follow this earthly rule. Classic premillennialism also tends to include a period of tribulation before Jesus’ coming with the rapture happening at the same time as Jesus’ return.
This view grew up in the early church with amillennialism before being declared a heresy in 381 AD at the Second Ecumenical Council (see amillennialism above). The Protestant reformation’s deny of the church creeds and councils allowed it to come back in vogue. A lot of the older Protestant churches still hold to this view of the end of the end. George E. Ladd, who influence on Kingdom Theology cannot be understated, was a big proponent of classic premillennialism.
Inaugurated eschatology fits okay with classic premillennialism as long as the proponent allows for God’s rule and reign to break into this current age. If they say that Jesus’ rule and reign is limited to the 1,000 year millennialism, then there’s a breakdown of compatibility. Classic premillennialism can (but not always) lead to a ‘it’s all going to burn’ mindset which can cause problems with folks fighting injustice and sin in the here and now.
Postmillennialism holds that Jesus tasked the church with fighting injustice. As such, it is the church’s job to set things right (sometimes with Jesus help and sometimes without). Once the majority (or all) of the world’s population have decided to follow Jesus, then he will come back and establish his rule and reign on earth. Since the church must complete their task before Jesus can return, proponents are dedicated to spreading the good news of Jesus and fighting injustice.
The first record of this view point can be found in the Savoy Declaration of 1658 in Protestant England (i.e. it is a modification of the Westminster Confession of Faith). The Age of Enlightenment helped spread the viewpoint as people thought that science, technology, and logic would solve all the world’s problems. While the great wars of the 20th century diminished this viewpoint, it is still out there. Dr. Jonathan Welton, for example, is a modern day Pentecostal/Charismatic teacher who promotes the concept through is books about the “ever advancing kingdom.”
Postmillennialism does not fit well with Kingdom Theology as it relies on a realized eschatology foundation that is at odds with the inaugurated eschatology of Kingdom Theology. Realized eschatology, for those who don’t know, is the belief that all the promises of the kingdom of God are available to believers today. All that is needed is for the believer to step out in faith, prayer, or some other action and take domination back from the evil one. Because the church has full access to things of the new age, the church can complete their mission – or so this mindset goes. Kingdom Theology, on the other hand, see the church as working with Jesus on his mission while good and bad coexists together until the end of the end with Jesus sets things right.
Dispensational premillennialism is similar to classic premillennialism with some very important changes. Namely, dispensationalism draws a hard line between the people of Israel (i.e. ethnic Jews) and the primarily non-Jewish church of the modern era. At the end of the end, the Lord will remove the church (sometimes just the non-Jewish followers, sometimes all believes at the time) via the rapture before kicking off a seven year end time period. During this seven years, the Jewish temple will be restored with animal sacrifices, priests, etc. as the fulfillment of various Old Testament promises. Jesus will return after this seven year time period and set up a 1,000 reign on earth with the last judgment happening after this millennial kingdom.
This is the youngest of the four major views with a start date in the 1830’s. John Darby, a Plymouth Brethren pastor in Ireland, is credited with starting dispensational premillennialism though it was made popular in the USA by Cyrus Scofield and Dwight Moody. Dispensationalism is currently the most popular end time view among USA Protestants as seen by the success of Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins’ Left Behind series and the influence of Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Plant Earth.
Kingdom Theology and dispensational premillennialism are at odds with each other on a lot of major theological issues. Kingdom Theology, for example, states that there is only, and has always been, just one people of God who are joined to God through grace and faith and not ethnicity. The various dispensations or ages proposed by dispensational proponent also do not fit well with Kingdom Theology (i.e. historically dispensationalism lent itself to cessationism, though this view has been dropped by more recent progressive dispensationalists).
My Current Understanding
In the absence of clear Scriptural evidence I tend to look backwards to history when considering theological positions. As in, what has the church through the ages thought about the issue at hand? Does that viewpoint draw people to Jesus? Does it promote grace, love, peace, and the other fruits of the spirit? Does it help me make sense of this current world and my experiences therein?
Based upon those questions I have largely adopted amillennialism though there are days when I flirt with classic premillennialism. My adoption of amillennialism represents a huge shift in my thinking as my youth and early adult years was spent learning dispensational premillennialism. However the more I studied the issue the more I released that I could no longer support that position…hence my shift towards amillennialism.
This, like I mentioned at the beginning, does not mean that I’m “correct” and other people are “wrong.” Rather it just means that we approach things differently. At the end of the day I’m a firm believer in the fact that Jesus has followers in many different theological camps. We are to follow the example of Simon the Zealot and Matthew the tax collector in laying down our personal views and support each other in following Jesus.
It is a sad but true reality that many of the followers of Jesus do not take care of the creation the Creator King made. Instead, they quote selected Bible verses, chosen to support their view that what they do to the environment (biological and geological) does not matter. After all, it is all going to burn anyway. Or so goes the standard view of a lot of Christianity today. In stark opposition to this view is the concept of Kingdom Theology which declares that the rule and reign of the King over every area of life and everything, created or uncreated, invisible or visible.
Time itself began with the Creator King declaring that everything was good. The dirt was good; the animals of the land, sea and sky were good; the trees, grass, and plants that covered earth was good. Everything that was made or would be made was good. This declaration of the King of Kings has never been revoked. It is a fact that God made this planet and all other planets across the galaxies of the vast skies, simply because he wanted to. He found joy in creating things that no eye, animal or human, would ever see. And he declared it all good. Things did change when Adam and Eve decided to try to rule things themselves, as we have seen. Despite the entrance of sin, evil and death into the creation, the essence of creation remained good.
Sadly, as the years rolled by, the creation was ground down by sin and evil. Things that were beautiful became deadly; elements that were to bring life, instead brought death. The struggle for survival overtook every plant, animal, and biological cell, as each fought for life. Each day since the entrance of sin and evil into the land, the land has groaned for the arrival of the day of the Lord when everything would be set right (Romans 8:19-25).
Into this messy world came the King himself, taking on the very flesh of his creation. In doing this, as we have seen, the Creator King ushered in the new age of life. Now, when his followers pick up a piece of trash on the side of the road, they are declaring that the kingdom of God has come and brought redemption to that piece of land, no matter how small. The selfless act of a child of the King has come against and defeated the selfish act of sin that caused someone to throw that piece of trash on the ground. It is a spiritual battle being fought in what looks like a simple act of picking up a piece of trash.
If this seems too radical, please consider that one of the reasons why God took the people of Israel out of the Promised Land was because they failed to give the land rest. One of the laws given to the people of Israel while in the desert with Moses was that every seven years they were to let the land rest. No plow was to turn the soil; no garden was to be planted or orchard pruned. This was to be the Sabbath year in which the people would trust the Creator King to provide the daily sustenance for them. Sadly, the people of Israel found this command too hard, so they as a group refused to follow it, leading them to the day when the King removed them from the land so that the land could rest (2 Chronicles 36:21).
The Book of Ezekiel also tells us that the Creator King was upset at the people of Israel for defiling the land through “their conduct and actions” (Ezekiel 36:17). Specifically, God was telling the people that their worship of idols and misconduct (i.e. the spilling of blood in the land through murder, human sacrifice, injustice and war), was harming the environment around them. The land itself had become defiled and, therefore, God was going to have them removed for a period of time. Later on, after the land had rested and the people have repented, the Creator King would bring the people of Israel back into the Promised Land and make it plentiful again with an abundance of grain, crops, and fruit (Ezekiel 36:24–36).
I tell you this because I want you to know how much the Creator King cares for his creation. He doesn’t just care for humanity, though humanity is his prime creation within whom he breathed his very soul. No, the heart of the King is for all his creation, no matter how small or seemingly unimportant. We, the followers of Jesus alive today, should be warned bythe example of the people of Israel, and start taking care of the land and animals around us. We should be the people on the forefront of the environmental movements across the globe, planting trees, picking up trash, and finding sustainable ways of building things.
Sadly, people have bought into the lie that to take care of the environment is not to care for humanity. They think it is a zero sum game in which one side has to win no matter what. However, if we take a step back and look at the amount of resources we use in a given day or year, we will find that we typically consume way too much. This is especial true for us in the United States, where our very economy is built upon hyper consumptionwithout a thought of waste or where those resources come from. This needs to change; it has to change as the Creator will protect his creation one way or another.
[box] An excerpt from my book, The Here and Not Yet (Vineyard International Publishing, 2017), pages 195-197.
Additional information on the topic of Environmental Stewardship can be found in the following three books:
It is interesting to me to see the actions of God shortly after Adam and Eve left the garden. In Genesis 4, the Bible records the first murder, that of Abel by the hands of his brother Cain. Murder in and of itself is not that interesting as it is actually kind of common in this crazy, messed-up world. What is interesting is how Cain was treated. Three things could have happened after the murder. First, the people in the area (Cain’s family – Adam, Eve, siblings, or their descendants) could have gathered together and punished Cain for his deeds. In modern terms, this would be a type of democratic society in which the people decide what is right and wrong according to popular vote or what is best for society. In other words, society as a whole becomes the king who determines what is right and wrong.
Second, they could have ignored the killing and continued living out their lives as if nothing happened. This would be a similar concept to the first choice – namely promoting society to the role of king. Granted, there may have been some folks who would disagree with society and try to enact judgment on Cain themselves. But, then again, this would still be humanity deciding what is right and wrong – and if we learned anything from the Genesis 1–3, it is that God alone determines what is right and wrong. This brings us to the third choice people had after Cain killed Abel: they could let the Creator King judge the deeds of Cain. This may sound self-evident, considering that this story is recorded in a religious book, but in reality it isn’t that simple. Just below the surface of this story is a great deal of information about the rule and reign of God.
If you recall, Genesis was written to teach the Israelites who was the rightful ruler of heaven and earth. The Israelites had just been delivered from slavery under the kings of Egypt who had absolute power of their lives. The pharaoh could do anything he wanted without judgment or question as he was the supreme ruler of the land. In recording the story of Cain and Abel, Moses is telling the Israelites that the only person who has the right to judge the deeds of another is God himself. Only he can make the decision of what is right and what is wrong. He is also the only one who can decide what the punishment will be, as that too was the prerogative of the King.
The cool thing about this story – if I’m allowed to use the word “cool” in connection with a story about murder – is what God decides to do. Instead of killing Cain, which he had the authority and power to do, not to mention the political pressure of Adam, Eve and everyone else, God grants him grace. He allows Cain to continue to live. Granted, Cain had some consequences to remind him of his error, but in simple terms, God gave Cain grace when he could have killed him (Genesis 4:10–16).
This same grace was given to Cain’s parents, Adam and Eve, when they decided to be rulers of their lives. Genesis 2:17 tells us that if they ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil they would “surely die.” It does not say that they would die spiritually – it said that they would die. Period. Therefore when Adam and Eve ate of the tree, they deserved death. However, God did not kill them right then and there. Instead, he covered their nakedness and granted them the grace to continue to live (though they eventually die and return to the dust, as does all their offspring). He even leaves the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve and chooses to live within them as their God and King. While the relationship between the Creator King and humanity was different after this event (i.e. Adam and Eve no longer physically walked next to God like they did in the garden), it does shows the love and grace of God as he did not stay behind in the perfect garden and allow his people to struggle alone. Rather, he gave them the promise that one day he will destroy the serpent and the evil, sin, and death it represented.