Dividing the world into good and evil is a seductive temptation. Christians are tempted to create a false “us/them” worldview and then commence to work ruthlessly toward eliminating “them” and building a utopian “Christian” world with just “us.” It begs the questions: What kind of Kingdom did Jesus come to build?
Jesus’ Greatest Temptation
Jesus’ greatest temptation was to become an earthly king.
For instance, Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness was a temptation to use his identity to build an earthly kingdom. “If you are the Son of God …” was a challenge to do something – take action! “Turn these stones into bread.” Why go hungry? You’re a king! (See Matt. 4:1-11).
The temptation to throw himself from the pinnacle of the temple was a challenge to take control of the sacrificial system – show them who you are!
Ultimately, it was the temptation to become an earthly king. “I will give you all the kingdoms of the earth if you will bow down and worship me.”
If Satan could get Jesus to become an earthly king then all he would have to do is “wait him out.” Because earthly kings come and go. Earthly empires rust and turn to dust. All of them.
Nowhere is the greatest temptation clearer than after Jesus fed five thousand with two fish and five loaves of bread. The people, seeing Jesus power to feed an army, start a movement to make him their king.
John reports Jesus’ reaction – “Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself” (John 6:15).
This temptation was with him to the very end.
At his trial, Pontius Pilate grilled him about his aspirations to be a king. The charge worthy of crucifixion was sedition against Rome. So, Pilate labeled Jesus, “King of the Jews” (see John 18:27-38 for the trial before Pilate).
He asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
Jesus responded, “Who told you that? Did you come up with that on your own?”
Pilate said, “Your people are the ones who handed you over to me. Am I a Jew? What do I know about these things?”
Jesus explained: “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were my disciples would have fought against my arrest.”
In fact, when the posse came to arrest Jesus, Peter did try to fight them. He pulled out his sword and started swinging. He was ready for the revolution to begin. He was ready to fight and die in the battle for the kingdom (see John 18:1-11).
Jesus told him to put the sword away. Jesus healed the man who Peter had injured. Jesus told Peter – “The sword is not the way my Kingdom will come.”
That’s when Peter ran away from Jesus. Jesus was going a direction that Peter didn’t understand. He was building a Kingdom that Peter couldn’t see.
Jesus was making it clear to everyone that he did not come to be an earthly king. He came to be an Eternal King – his Kingdom – his Rule was to be in the heart of every person.
What does that mean for us? What does that mean for the Christian who wants to build up the Kingdom of God on earth?
Suggestion: Perhaps it means that instead of trying to fight the people in the world – instead of trying to force people to live like Christians through the power of the sword – instead of trying to build up some kind of Christian kingdom on earth – instead of trying to beat people into being more like Christ – perhaps we should focus on the real Kingdom – the Kingdom that is NOT made of the stuff of this earth.
Four Characteristics of Jesus’ Kingdom
Here’s what Jesus would ask: What kind of Kingdom are you trying to build? Here are four characteristics of the Kingdom Jesus came to build.
1. Our battleground is the human heart
If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved” (Rom. 10:9-10, emphasis mine).
Our number one concern must be the human heart. We care about the human heart because God cares. God made a promise in the Old Testament about the work he would do through Jesus.
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezek. 26:36).
What kind of Kingdom are you trying to build?
The problem is that when we try to build a kingdom based on biblical principles, it is built from the stuff of this earth – congresses, senates, and laws, kings, prime ministers, and presidents.
And because we build with earthly materials it always ends up being a warped and perverted version of what God really wants to build.
Jesus said – the materials that I will use to build my Kingdom are not of this earth.
This is why Jesus never told us to go and make Christian governments – he told us to go and make Christian people — “Go … and make disciples” (Matt. 28:19).
2. Our enemies are the spiritual forces of evil in this dark world.
Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:11-12).
I’m just going to say it once, but I want you to say it multiple times every day:
Other people are never the real enemy. Never.
3. Our weapon is the truth.
Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).
Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’” (John 14:6).
Jesus shared the secret to his power – the only offensive weapon in the Christian arsenal — when he said to Pontius Pilate: “In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me” (John 18:37b).
As Christians, we are on a relentless quest for the truth. We always thirst for truth. We are on a never-ending journey toward the truth.
We can never use a lie to further our agenda. Satan is the Father of Lies (John 8:44). We despise lies. We live in the light of the truth.
4. Our strategy is to listen to Jesus and obey him.
My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27).
Following the way of Jesus is our only aim.
We cannot claim to love and worship the God whose defining characteristic is love (1 John 4:8) and at the same time spew anger and hatred and violence at the world.
We are not called to win earthly battles. We are not called to defeat a human enemy.
We are called only to love Jesus and to listen to his voice and to obey his command – and his command is this: “Love each other” (John 15:17).
The State has no power to change lives.
The Law has never transformed anyone.
Only the love and grace of God can do that.
Only to the degree we inhabit that love and grace will we change the world.