Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy kingdom come, they will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” This raises the question of what is the nature of God’s kingdom on earth.
In thinking about this in the aftermath of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, we can be certain that God’s kingdom isn’t a political domain ruled by an earthly monarch. Jesus made this clear in the wilderness when he rejected the devil’s offer to rule over all the kingdoms of the world (Matthew 4:8-10). For his disciples Jesus contrasted Gentile rulers who exercise authority by ordering people around with a different approach: “Whoever wants to be great among you will be your servant” (Mark 10:42-45).
Rather God’s kingdom on earth is a way of life based upon experiencing God’s presence in daily living, in loving both neighbor and enemy, by practicing forgiveness, offering mercy, seeking justice, and acting as peacemaker.
That is not to say that role of government is inconsequential. In the founding documents of American democracy the Declaration of Independence states that governments are instituted to secure the rights of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The Preamble of the U.S. Constitution specifies the following purposes: “form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty.”
Accordingly we can use our governments as instruments for achieving features of God’s kingdom on earth including freedom of association, equal rights before the law, social and economic justice for all. We can remember that in Jesus’ allegory of the Last Judgment (Matthew 25:31-46), it is nations who gathered before the judgment throne. They are judged by how well they have fed the hungry, given drink to the thirsty, welcomed strangers (read immigrants), clothed the naked, taken care of the sick, and visited prisoners. Given emphasis upon mercy throughout the Bible, we can add restorative justice as another concern. We can also recognize the importance of freedom with a biblical heritage going back to Moses appearance before Pharaoh demanding, “Let my people go!”
Thus, although God’s kingdom on earth isn’t a political domain as such, our governments have relevance in advancing the cause of God’s kingdom.
Howard W. Hallman lives in Gaithersburg, Maryland. He is author of Living in God’s Kingdom: Here and Now, available from Amazon.