Kingdom Uprising

Reclaiming Jesus' Hope, Gospel, and Way

Category: Kingdom as Way

Don’t You Know That the Saints Will Judge the World? (1 Corinthians 6.1-11)

My future determines my present. As I write these words I’m in training; I run almost every day. Each week I log over 50 miles on the road, in the woods, or in the park. October is pulling me forward like a magnet, determining my daily activities in June. This is because on October 13th, I intend to run a marathon. Running 26.2 miles is not something I can just go out and do. It requires months of intense and consistent training. Day after day, I put my shoes on and run countless hours so that on that one day, for about three hours, I will achieve my peak performance. Like someone whose signed up for a marathon, the coming kingdom should affect how we live in the present. This is what Paul is getting at when he writes the following.

1 Corinthians 6.1-11
1 When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? 2 Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? 3 Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! 4 So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? 5 I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, 6 but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers?

7 To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? 8 But you yourselves wrong and defraud– even your own brothers! 9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Paul was bewildered that Christians were taking each other to court. He could barely believe that something so absurd could even happen. Of course, from an old covenant perspective, there is nothing wrong with taking one’s neighbor to court if there was a just cause. In fact, extensive provision was made for exactly such a scenario under the Mosaic Law. So, what was so shocking here? Why was Paul beside himself? There were two offenses: (1) they were taking their fellow Christians to court and (2) they were going to court before non-Christians. His core driving thought was expressed by the question: “Do you not know that the saints will judge the world?” Since the Corinthians disciples were destined to rule the world, could they not figure out how to do community without appealing to outsiders to settle matters? Was there not even one wise man among them before whom the two could go? In fact, Paul argues, it would be better to be defrauded than go before unbelievers since that would testify to the opposite of the kingdom message. Besides, the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom. Notice how the people’s future role as kingdom citizens was to affect how they lived. The first question is, “How will it be in the kingdom.” The next is, “How can I embody kingdom living now in this situation?”

Note how many times Paul mentions the future kingdom when he’s reproving the Corinthians. Over and again he brings their focus to their destiny. Look, you are going to rule the world one day, so I’m sure you can figure out this insignificant matter without having to go to unbelievers. The kingdom does not only give us hope for the future. It is not restricted to our gospel message. It also needs to affect what we do now. If we are the kingdom people, then we need to act like it.

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Gordon Fee on Living the Future Now

God effect[ed] ‘salvation in Christ,’ and thus creat[ed] a people for his name, whose present existence is thoroughly eschatological; predicated on the death and resurrection of Christ and the gift of the eschatological Spirit, God’s people are both ‘already’ and ‘not yet’ as they live the life of the future in the present, awaiting God’s final wrapup, the final consummation of ‘salvation in Christ.’

Gordon D. Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1995), 47.

The fact that the future has already begun…means two crucial things for Paul: that the consummation is absolutely guaranteed, and that present existence is therefore altogether determined by this reality. That is, one’s life in the present is not conditioned or determined by present exigencies, but by the singular reality that God’s people belong to the future that has already come present. Marked by Christ’s death and resurrection and identified as God’s people by the gift of the Spirit, they live the life of the future in the present, determined by its values and perspective, no matter what their present circumstances.

Gordon D. Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1995), 51.

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Jesus’ Kingdom Ministry in His Inaugural Sermon (Luke 4.16-21)

What was Jesus up to in his ministry? What did his miracles mean? We don’t have to guess, because he told us what he thought he was doing in his inaugural sermon in his home town of Nazareth.

Luke 4.16-21 [ESV]
16 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. 17 And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20 And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

In order to truly understand what Jesus is saying, we need to familiarize ourselves with the context of the Isaiah prophecy that Jesus quoted. Here is a more extended quotation, which begins before Jesus started and continues beyond where he left off:

Isaiah 60.18-61.7 [ESV]
60.18 Violence shall no more be heard in your land, devastation or destruction within your borders; you shall call your walls Salvation, and your gates Praise. 19 The sun shall be no more your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give you light; but the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory. 20 Your sun shall no more go down, nor your moon withdraw itself; for the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your days of mourning shall be ended. 21 Your people shall all be righteous; they shall possess the land forever, the branch of my planting, the work of my hands, that I might be glorified. 22 The least one shall become a clan, and the smallest one a mighty nation; I am the LORD; in its time I will hasten it.

61.1 The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; 2 to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; 3 to grant to those who mourn in Zion– to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified.

4 They shall build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations. 5 Strangers shall stand and tend your flocks; foreigners shall be your plowmen and vinedressers; 6 but you shall be called the priests of the LORD; they shall speak of you as the ministers of our God; you shall eat the wealth of the nations, and in their glory you shall boast. 7 Instead of your shame there shall be a double portion; instead of dishonor they shall rejoice in their lot; therefore in their land they shall possess a double portion; they shall have everlasting joy.

What I find so interesting about this Isaiah prophecy is that it pertains to the kingdom–a time when God’s people rebuild ancient ruins, when strangers maintain their possessions, when all of them become priests of God, when they will enjoy the wealth of nations, when they will possess the land with joy. God plans on redeeming his people and restoring them to glory in the land. However, if this Isaiah 61 prophecy relates to the kingdom in its original context, why did Jesus quote it and say it was fulfilled?

Before answering this question, consider the various aspects of Jesus’ ministry. He healed people, cast out demons, preached the gospel, invited in the outcasts, taught ethics, and attended dinner parties. Typically, we think of these various avenues of ministry independently or perhaps as ways he loved his neighbor as himself. Nevertheless, we don’t need to guess what Jesus thought about his ministry activities. According to him, he was doing Isaiah 61.

Now, some see here a redefinition of the kingdom, as if Jesus is somehow coming against the notion of God setting up an actual monarchy on earth like the kingdom of old. However, that is impossible since it would make liars out of the prophets. What Jesus is doing here in his inaugural sermon is providing a context or framework for his entire ministry. He is doing kingdom work. He brings about signs of the age to come in the present to testify to the future God will one day bring. Surrounding Jesus, wherever he goes, is a bubble of the kingdom. If he encounters someone with a sickness, he heals him or her. If he runs across an outcast of society, he restores their dignity. If he finds a demon-possessed boy, he casts that demon out. This is because in the kingdom there are no sick, outcasts, or demons. Jesus was a living advertisement proclaiming and demonstrating in a small way what God will one day do globally. Would we expect anything less from the Messiah–the one destined to rule on the kingdom throne?

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The Kingdom of God Has Come upon You (Matthew 12.28; Luke 11.20)

When Jesus was casting out demons, dealing catastrophic blows to Satan’s kingdom, some Pharisees, seeing that they couldn’t refute Jesus’ spectacular authority over unclean spirits, accused him of casting out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons. What Jesus said next may surprise you.

Matthew 12.22-28 [NASB]
22 Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to him, and he healed him, so that the man spoke and saw. 23 And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” 24 But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” 25 Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. 26 And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? 27 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.

Luke 11.14-20 [NASB]
14 And He was casting out a demon, and it was mute; when the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke; and the crowds were amazed. 15 But some of them said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons.” 16 Others, to test Him, were demanding of Him a sign from heaven. 17 But He knew their thoughts and said to them, “Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and a house divided against itself falls. 18 “If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebul. 19 “And if I by Beelzebul cast out demons, by whom do your sons cast them out? So they will be your judges. 20 “But if I cast out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.

When the kingdom comes, God will bring his final judgment upon Satan and the unclean spirits who serve him. As a result, those living in the age to come will enjoy harmony with God, without dealing with the temptations and machinations of the prince of the power of the air. Jesus’ contemporaries would likely have agreed with this description of the future. However, Jesus’ point is that this coming kingdom is already somehow present in his exorcism ministry. For Jesus, casting out demons is not merely an act of compassion or grace; it is linked with his beliefs about the kingdom of God. Jesus interprets his own battle with Satan’s kingdom as the encroachment of God’s kingdom.

Some Christians allege that Jesus redefined the kingdom from a political reality to a spiritual one and use this text to make that point. However, if Jesus changes the kingdom from the time when God reestablishes the throne of David in Jerusalem with his Messiah on it forever, then what are we to do with all of the prophecies in the Hebrew scriptures? Should we call Isaiah and Daniel false prophets? Should we dismiss David’s messianic psalms as irrelevant to what the messiah will actually do? Rather than such a radical reinterpretation, a simpler explanation is that Jesus fully expected a future kingdom to come, but in his own ministry he was already bringing forth fresh signs of the kingdom as a way of validating his own role as messiah as well as giving people a taste of what the kingdom will be like.

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Kingdom Ethics in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7)

The sermon on the mount (Matthew 5-7) is the most comprehensive and well-known teaching about how we should follow Jesus. In it Jesus addresses topics as diverse as anger, lust, divorce, retaliation, prayer, fasting, forgiveness, and handling anxiety. Jesus clearly meant for his disciples to immediately put into practice the instruction he gave them in this sermon. All of this is non-controversial and generally well-known, which leads me to my question. Why does Jesus feel compelled to mention the kingdom eight times in a sermon that has nothing to do with the future? Before moving on, here are the texts:

Matthew 5.3
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5.10
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5.19-20
19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Mattehw 6.10 Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Matthew 6.33
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Matthew 7.21
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

Beyond these explicit 8 usages of God’s coming “kingdom,” we find these 2 additional references to the age to come:

Matthew 5.5
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Matthew 7.13-14
13 Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

Altogether we find 10 references to the kingdom in Jesus’ teaching on ethics. This wouldn’t surprise me if I were examining, say, Jesus’ Olivet Discourse in which he details the events at the end of the age, but to find so much kingdom focus on a sermon on daily living really grabs my attention.

The simple fact is that Jesus cannot separate his present from his future or his ethics from his hope. He sees them together. Because of the coming kingdom we need to live this way now. We should feel the pull of the future in the present such that we already begin conforming our lives to a new standard, beyond what Moses had commanded. We seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness in the present. As we do this we testify to the coming age when God makes everything wrong with the world right.

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