The following is the introductory lesson for my fall class series at Levy–The Kingdom Revolution. More to follow.
We may not really think about the kingdom in revolutionary terms, but it is so. It was as Jesus began more fully introducing the kingdom in the Sermon on the Mount and then as he lived it out within the context of his ministry. It was as he died on the cross only to be resurrected three days later. It was when the first Christians changed an empire by faithfully living out the kingdom in taking Good News throughout the world. It remains so today—even if we do not fully understand or embrace it.
At the dawn of the in-breaking of the kingdom—before Jesus gathered a crowd around him on the Sea of Galilee to proclaim blessings and reimagine narrowly interpreted Scripture—God’s message to people had become muted, corrupted and reshaped into a stale repetition of ordinances and rabbinical traditions, which were mostly disconnected to the practical needs of daily life. Yes, there was an expectation of a Messiah and the coming of the kingdom, but no one ever expected the Messiah and kingdom that actually came. The Jews certainly did desire a revolution, but nothing like the one that really happened.
In some ways this mirrors our experiences today. As Christianity has become institutionalized we run similar risks of muting the revolutionary nature of the kingdom lest it upset the institution itself. We welcome the Messiah and the idea of kingdom, but too often attempt to micromanage both. Revolutions are not micromanaged however. They turn worlds upside down and change everything.
One way to measure a revolution is the reaction to it from those whom it threatens the most. In terms of the kingdom of Christ this became obvious as entrenched religious leaders opposed Jesus. They saw him—and rightly so—as a threat to their orthodoxy. They recognized how his revolutionary teaching would change everything. What they failed to recognize was how this was God’s will and always had been.
To paraphrase Jesus, if they had really known the law and the prophets they would have seen the revolution coming. But they were blinded by tradition, self-interests, power and pride. As everything changed around them, they stubbornly opposed it, while ultimately moving to stop it. They failed, of course. After all, who can stand in the way of God?
The revolution was his idea—his plan to send his only Son to change everything. As respected author and theologian N.T. Wright explains:
The New Testament insists in book after book, that when Jesus of Nazareth died on the cross, something happened as a result of which the world is a different place. And the early Christians insisted that when people are caught up in the meaning of the cross, they become part of this difference.” (from The Day the Revolution Began, pg. 39)
How the world is this different place is what we will examine in this study. Hopefully it can encourage us to be or continue to be a part of the difference—kingdom revolutionaries if you will.
In this study we will focus on three primary biblical texts. The first will be Galatians 3:26-28. Here Paul captures how everything changes once we clothe ourselves with Christ in baptism. Our identities undergo a revolution. The old ways of identifying ourselves give way to a kingdom redefinition. In the context of the writing it was revolutionary. It remains so in our context.
The second text is 1 Corinthians 6:1-11. In addressing a context specific problem among some in the Corinthian church, Paul shares some revolutionary kingdom ideas about relationships, personal rights and use of recourses. It is the kingdom teaching of Jesus lived out in the real world, but it is not easy. Revolutions rarely are.
The last text is Romans 12-15:7. This longer context again speaks to the personal transformation process that comes with the kingdom revolution. Here Paul revolutionizes such values as love, zeal, integrity, and other personal behavior. The fact is for the revolution to actually to make a difference it has to start within. Why else would Jesus state that the kingdom is within us (Luke 17:21).
The Revolution Personified
It is no mistake that these three texts were written by the apostle Paul. His story, perhaps, like none other most clearly represents the degree of change that accompanies the kingdom revolution. Here was a man whose life so completely transformed that it barely resembled what it once had been.
Here was a Pharisee of the Pharisees; a man who completely embodied Judaism; passionate to the point of persecuting; until he met Jesus and was totally transformed. Here is how he stated it:
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20).
Stop and read that again. “I no longer live.” Everything changed! He joined the revolution.
He did so because he became aware—as must everyone who joins the revolution—that what the kingdom offers is of far greater value than anything else anywhere else. This awareness would later lead him to say things like this:
But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:7-8).
Is Paul an outlier? Was this just a special dispensation asked of a man who would be an apostle—or are we all called to this? The answer to that reveals much about us. Is it truly a revolution within that changes everything or is it something less? If it is something less then can it really be a revolution? If it is not a revolution then what will really change? It is my guess that Saul of Tarsus had these questions to wrestle with once. Now it is our turn.