Seek First the Kingdom

Have you ever wanted to sit down with Adam and Eve and ask them what in the world they were thinking? They had everything they needed. Their world was blissful and idyllic. There was only one thing they were not allowed to do—and sure enough, they did it.

Their failure led to every problem we experience today, and our world is surely full of problems. From breakups to financial woes, from cancer to child abuse, from environmental disaster to genocide, all these tragedies come from the broken state of the world.

If only we could undo what has been done and go back to the garden of Eden! But we can’t. Our only way is forward, not back. Yet there is a path that leads to the end of suffering. The hope of arriving at the destination is what will give meaning to our suffering along the way.

I’m not talking about the afterlife. Granted, on an individual level, death will bring us face to face with our eternal rewards (terms and conditions apply). But the plan set forth in the Bible is not merely for qualifying participants to gain entry to heaven while the earth sinks deeper and deeper into chaos. God wants to redeem the world—to restore it.

If God wants to do this, then what is stopping him? The entire endeavor of creation is something he does in partnership with humanity. He placed Adam and Eve in the garden not just so they could enjoy it but also so they would tend to it. When they sinned, it became their responsibility—and subsequently ours—to partner with God in rectifying the damage they had caused.

God is ready to partner with us. What holds us back from working with him are the same factors that led to the fall in the first place: humanity’s free will and selfish tendencies. As always, Satan endeavors to use those weaknesses against us.

In the garden of Eden, it was easy for humanity to sense God’s presence. They felt cared for and at ease. But now we feel as though God is hidden from us. We spend a lot of our lives stressed and depressed. God created people in the first place to enjoy relationship with him and bask in his presence. Yet here we are, oblivious to his presence and burdened by life’s hardships. If you feel overwhelmed by the world’s problems—your own problems, for that matter—you are not alone. That’s what life is like right now.

This is the problem Jesus was sent here to deal with. It’s bigger than personal salvation; he came proclaiming the coming of the kingdom of God. His message was a call to action, showing us what we needed to do to prepare for and inaugurate God’s kingdom on earth. His resurrection from the dead was proof that his teachings were not empty words.

We can’t go back to the way things were, but we can go forward to a complete restoration of the world. This is what Jesus meant by “the kingdom,” and it is a foundational concept in the Hebrew Scriptures, in the New Testament, and in Jewish belief.

Your Kingdom Come

From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17)

The kingdom is the central point of Jesus’ teachings. He taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come” (Matthew 6:10). He introduced many parables by saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like …”

“Kingdom of heaven” does not refer to a kingdom that is up in heaven. In this phrase “heaven” is a politely indirect way of referring to God himself. The “kingdom of heaven” and the “kingdom of God” are the same thing. The phrase “kingdom of heaven” is a common Jewish way of referring to the “reign of God.”

Jesus was not the first teacher to introduce the concept of the coming kingdom of God. Moses and all the biblical prophets had previously made the idea clear. It was already a core Jewish belief in the time of Jesus. What was new about the message of Jesus was how near this kingdom was.

Let’s explore this fundamental Jewish concept.

The word “kingdom” might make you think of a place, like a royal realm. That’s not quite the idea behind “kingdom of God.” It would be more accurate to call it the “reign” or “sovereignty of God.” Rather than a place, think of the kingdom of God as a time. Granted, God is already the King of the universe at this moment. The problem is that this fact is not obvious to everyone. There will come a time, however, when the kingdom will be revealed and actualized in this world, and everyone will know it:

The LORD will be king over all the earth. On that day the LORD will be one and his name one. (Zechariah 14:9)

The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever. (Revelation 11:15)

Jewish literature often refers to this period as the “days of Messiah” or the “Messianic Era” because it is when Messiah will occupy the throne of David in Jerusalem. Furthermore, the Messiah is God’s agent who will bring about the era of universal peace that the prophets predicted.

As disciples of Jesus, we believe that the Messiah has already come. When he came, he set some components of this grand plan in motion behind the scenes—but we should not think that this is as good as it will get. It was only the beginning. The culmination of the process will occur at Jesus’ glorious return. According to the prophets, what will that be like? Here are some highlights:

  • The Jewish people will be gathered back to the land of Israel.
  • The hearts of the Jewish people will be collectively transformed to love and obey God.
  • All the enemies of God and the Jewish people will be defeated.
  • There will be abundant prosperity, fertility, and unprecedented joy.
  • Jerusalem will be permanently rebuilt, and God’s presence will inhabit it.
  • People from all nations will make pilgrimage seeking teaching from Jerusalem.
  • There will be universal and lasting peace throughout the world.

The Bible is not cryptic, vague, or sparse regarding these predictions; we can read these prophecies throughout the Bible. But some good places to start are Deuteronomy 30, Isaiah 11, Ezekiel 36-37, Jeremiah 31, and Zechariah 14. These passages form the basis for Jewish expectations about the Messiah.

According to the prophets, the Messiah will restore Israel to redeem the whole world. In a Jewish reading of Scripture, the Messianic Era will begin when the Messiah comes with the blast of a great ram’s horn (shofar) and the righteous are raised from the dead.

When Jesus declared, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand,” he had all the above in mind. He was proclaiming the literal fulfillment of what the biblical prophets had envisioned. When he instructed us to “seek first the kingdom of God,” he meant that we were to seek the restoration of Israel and the Jewish people.


First Fruits of Zion