An Alternate Kingdom
We often think of Jesus as Savior, Healer, and Teacher–all absolutely true and key to the identity of Jesus. However, we forget that Jesus is also Prophet. We see in places like in Luke 4:24, that Jesus says that prophets are not accepted in their hometowns, and then just a couple of verses later, the whole synagogue runs him out of town. In John 7:16, Jesus says that the message he shares is not his own, but that of him who sent him (referring to God the Father). And in Matthew 24:1-14, Jesus prophesies the fate of the Temple.
Take a moment to read Matthew 24:1-14 (click here to read), and then return to the remainder of this blog.
Not exactly Jesus’ most encouraging message. Wars and rumors of wars. Famine. Earthquakes. Suffering for followers of Jesus. The Temple destroyed.
So, why does Jesus preach this? (The most obvious reason is the same as already quoted from John 7:14–this is the message the God shared with Jesus to preach. However, I think we can go a little deeper, a little further.)
At this point in Jesus’ ministry, he has entered Jerusalem for the last time during his earthly ministry prior to his crucifixion. He will spend these final days in conversation with the religious leaders where, at every turn, they are attempting to test Jesus and to get him to turn his back on the Law or to say something they consider blasphemous. In just a few short days, Jesus will be crucified and laid in a tomb. And Jesus knows it. He has been trying to prepare his followers for this moment (Matthew 16:21-23). And just as then, the disciples don’t quite understand.
But Jesus, ever patient with them (and us) it seems, begins to describe what will happen in the aftermath of the cross. When it seems like Jesus has failed, has let down the people, been killed and thus proven a fake, there will be others who try to rise up and claim that they are the one sent by God. And throughout all of it, there will be those who try to take advantage of the situation. They will try to seize power and influence. They will deceive. And they will lead people astray.
So, again, I ask, why does Jesus preach this?
I believe that Jesus preaches this message because Jesus is attempting to show an alternative to the mindset of Empire. At the end of Matthew 25 (and the end of this same section of text), Jesus tells the followers that if they serve, feed, clothe, welcome, and visit the least of these–they are truly doing that for him. In other words, Jesus contrasts the way of seizing opportunities and influence with the way of serving the least of these.
Jesus contrasts the kingdoms of this world with the Kingdom of Heaven. And even something as drastic as the destruction of the Temple cannot stop the inauguration of the Kingdom of Heaven. In fact, the cross (the very instrument that the Romans and Jewish religious leaders thought would put an end to this kingdom) is the very one that confirms it.
And so, when Jesus concludes the section that we read in Matthew 24:13-14, Jesus does offer encouragement to us as followers. He tells us that those who endure will ultimately be delivered. Even the suffering that the followers may face cannot keep them from the deliverance that comes through Jesus and the Kingdom of Heaven.
Not only that, but too, Jesus says that the good news of this kingdom must be proclaimed to the world. Jesus says that we must proclaim that in a world where war and rumors of war, famine, earthquakes, distress and suffering, and the destruction of places of worship such as the Temple dominate, there is a different way of being in the world. There is a different kingdom. One that isn’t based on power. It cannot be bought or owned. Instead, it is found; it is discovered. Those who practice compassion, charity, gentleness, and humility are citizens of this kingdom.
And that is good news. It is good news that the way of violence does not have the final word. That, in the Kingdom of Heaven, we are not dependent on our status in the world’s eyes, but instead are best defined by the love, grace, and forgiveness of Jesus that was confirmed at the cross.
So, this week, may we be bearers of this alternate kingdom–the Kingdom of Heaven. May we not be controlled by the kingdoms of this world, but may we bear compassion, charity, gentleness, and humility to all.