What I described to you in chapter one was a major change in perspective for me. This is sometimes known as a paradigm shift. My favorite example of a paradigm shift is found in the story of Nicolaus Copernicus. Nicolaus Copernicus was a 16th century mathematician and astronomer who proposed a model of the universe which was very different than the one accepted in his day.
For many generations, scientists believed that the earth was the center of the universe, and that the sun, moon, planets and stars revolved around the earth. This system was known as the Ptolemaic system. An interesting point here is that the planets in our solar system had irregular patterns that did not fit in with the rest. We call them “planets,” based on a Greek word for “wanderers” because they were thought to be wandering stars.
Copernicus came up with a system which developed into the one we understand today. The earth is not the center of the universe. In fact it is just one of several planets that revolve around the sun, which is closer to us than all of the other stars. Over one hundred years later this system eventually replaced the Ptolemaic system and would result in a total rethinking of the laws of physics. But what does this have to do with understanding the Kingdom of God? First of all, it shows how dramatic and world changing a paradigm shift can be. When the theory of Copernicus was finally proven to be correct, great and intelligent minds were found to be wrong in their beliefs about the universe. On a practical level, most of the technology we take for granted today would not be possible under the old understanding of reality. The old understanding was holding back scientific progress.
On a personal level, those many years ago I began to see a new reality in the Kingdom of God. No longer would I think of myself as the center of the universe, since my ideas were proven to be very foolish indeed. The closer that I moved in my thinking to be in orbit around God, His will, His purpose and His Kingdom, the clearer my view of reality became! Now I cannot begin to say how difficult that time was for me, and I am finding that this change is equally difficult for many Christians around the world!
Many of us have grown up with mistaken views of the Kingdom of God. These views often become a wall which blocks our minds from hearing or receiving anything more that God would have us hear and receive. In the last book of the bible, the Revelation, Jesus exhorted believers to have “an ear to hear what the Spirit speaks to the church.” How often do we view our church, our theological point of view as the center of everything? Jesus had a much bigger picture in mind. His entire ministry was about the Good News of the Kingdom of God and how to live in it.
Some of the things you find in this writing will in fact challenge the beliefs of many great and intelligent teachers and leaders in the church. Like those before Copernicus they innocently formed their ideas and thinking around long held traditions that seem to work for them. When the time comes to move forward in the purposes of God some traditions have lost their value and in fact stand in the way of greater victories in Christ. All I am asking is that together we look more seriously to the teachings of Jesus to see how He might want to change us! Is our focus on the Kingdom of God? Is His Kingdom our first priority? Or are our own little kingdoms more important to us? Jesus said that we would know the truth, and that the truth would make us free. I want to be free from myself, my limitations, my fears and failures. It is my belief that the truth of God’s word can definitely make us free from any tradition, false belief, doubt, sin, or anything that hinders us from the good, pleasing and perfect will of our great God!
The Time Is At Hand
Some scholars believe that Mark’s Gospel was written before those by Matthew, Luke and John. What I love about Mark’s Gospel is his direct to the point approach. He begins by showing how the Old Testament prophets foretold the coming of a man who would call the people to prepare for the coming of the Lord. Then he shows how a man named John was fulfilling these prophecies. John called the people to repentance and baptized them in the Jordan River. He also told them of the greater one to come who would baptize (immerse) them in the Holy Ghost and fire!
Mark then describes how Jesus came to be baptized by John after which “He saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him: And there came a voice from heaven, saying, You are my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:10-11) Right after that Jesus was led into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil for 40 days. This last event did not appear in Matthew and Luke’s gospels until the fourth chapter, so you get the sense of how compressed events are sometimes in Mark’s gospel.
Now we come to Mark chapter one, verses 14 and 15:
“Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
So according to Mark, this Gospel, or Good News from God is, that the time is fulfilled, that the Kingdom of God is at hand, or near, that people should repent, change their thinking and believe in His Good News. So we might wonder, what is so good about this good news? Why would the people respond to this good news when they heard it, and what was the time that had come to be fulfilled? Sometimes we forget the context into which this news first came. First Century Jews in Israel and many parts of the world had been prepared for this time by the words of their prophets over the centuries.
The heart of their story began with their ancestor Abram and the promise God had made to Him when He called him to leave his home for Canaan. (Genesis 12:1-5) 75 year old Abram and his 65 year old wife Sarai had no children. God promised them that He would bless them and make of them a great nation through which all the families of the earth would be blessed! According to Paul the apostle of Christ, this was an early expression of the Gospel to which he referred in Galatians 3:8. So Abram, whose name means “exalted father,” was changed to Abraham, which means “father of a multitude,” and Sarai would be called Sarah, or “princess” indicating the blessing that was conferred upon them. The source of this blessing and the object of their trust was their God.
As the centuries passed, they did greatly multiply in number, but only as slaves in Egypt. The story of God raising up Moses to perform great miracles and leading them out of Egypt became branded in their collective memory. Moses became the pattern for other deliverers to follow. The descendants of Abraham were prone to forget the great God Who was Himself their Savior, and this too often made them vulnerable to their enemies. When they cried out to the Lord, He would rescue them again and again. But even as far back as Moses, there was a sense that another final deliverer would come to not only save them from their earthly enemies, but from the sin which was always the cause of their downfall.
The priests and kings of Israel were anointed with oil when placed into their offices, indicating that the Holy Spirit of God was upon them to empower them. In the history of Israel, an individual Holy One, an “anointed One” was long anticipated by many. This one would lead them into a golden age by which the promises to Abraham would all be fulfilled. The Hebrew word for anointed one, “messiah” became the title which in English has become synonymous with the idea of a charismatic leader who could inspire hope in his people. When the New Testament was written in First Century Greek, the Greek word for “anointed One” was “Christos.” This might cause some confusion. Jesus was declared to be “The Christ,” but in some English translations it appears that Christ is His last name or His family name. Other more helpful translations identify Him as Jesus, the Christ, and others as Jesus, the Messiah. This time, it would not be physical olive oil poured upon His head to signify His office, but the sign of the living Spirit of God descending upon Him like a gentle dove, and empowering Him to perform mighty miracles! No other one before Him would hear a voice from heaven, saying, “this is my beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased!”
John the Baptist was himself a charismatic figure who had no difficulty in drawing attention to his message. After all, he was filled with the Holy Spirit while still in his mother’s womb! The prophets of old times had placed hope in the hearts of the people for generations and John was able to ignite that hope with the announcement that the kingdom of God was near. Even his call to repentance did not drive them away. The fire of his passion and his forthright speech only affirmed his position as a true prophet of God. Some even speculated that he might be the Messiah. This he emphatically denied. (Luke 3:15-16) John began to arouse the people of this nation to renew their expectation that God would once more free them from their oppressor, this time the Roman Empire. If only they would cry out to God as before and repent of their sins, perhaps He would raise up another Joshua, Gideon or David to deliver them. But John was so clearly and obviously more concerned with their renewed faith, obedience and holiness in their God than in the death of their enemies.
Furthermore, this message had wider implications than just Judea or all of Israel. Abraham was to bless all the families of the earth! The knowledge of the glory of the Lord was to expand outward from this land and to cover the earth as the waters cover the sea! Every tyrant would be brought down and all people would live free under the benevolent God of heaven! Over and over the Spirit of God had revealed through His prophets that His plan was to make this earth a place where righteousness, peace and joy would reign, but first a great crisis must come.
John envisioned an axe being laid to the root of a tree, so there would be no possibility of it returning. To the prophet Daniel it was revealed that the Kingdom of God would be like a single rock that would break into pieces the great ruling powers and become a great mountain that would fill the whole earth! (Daniel 2:34-45) Isaiah foretold of a time when peace would be so pervasive that wolves, leopards, lions and snakes would no longer be feared by little children. (Isaiah 11:6-9) All these images communicate a hope-filled vision for God’s creation that is close to what heaven must be like!
It was difficult then, and it has always been difficult for people to see how the kingdom of God could be already here. That is why we need to look at all that Jesus, His apostles and prophets have said about it. The are many passages of scripture that indicate it is already here, but others indicating that more is yet to come. Too often our inability to see it creates confusion in our minds concerning what Jesus, our Lord and Savior has said. The apostle Paul prayed for the church at Ephesus, and by implication all of us to receive the spirit of wisdom and revelation of the knowledge of Christ, that the eyes of our understanding would be open to all of what He has already accomplished on our behalf. (Ephesians 1:15-23) In this I will be very bold. It is not my words that I am hoping you will receive and believe, but the words of Jesus Himself. I believe that He is as much interested in helping us believe the truth concerning the Kingdom of God as He is in showing us that our sins can be forgiven and that we can become children of God through faith in Him!
In fact, faith in Him leads to our regeneration, or the new birth, which then enables us to see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus, a teacher in Israel struggled with this concept. He too needed a paradigm shift! (John 3:3) Is it possible that even in our modern day enlightened understanding of God and salvation, we too might need to have our minds renewed continually in order to fully comprehend it all? Are we even open to the possibility of a greater vision of God’s plan for us and His creation? While I personally am satisfied to know simply that I am His, and that He will always love me, a hunger still exists within me to learn more of Him as much as I am able. My inadequacies do not defeat me because of His grace, but at the same time they motivate me to continue to press on in Him. Then the more I learn of His purposes for His creation, the more I want to be a part of His plan. The more I learn of how He wants to use me, the more energized I become to participate with Him! This could very well be the same for you! You can make a difference in this world that Christ died to save!