There is a new administration, and it is neither Obama/Biden nor Romney/Ryan. Since the first century, Christians have held the conviction that the Kingdom of God is a present reality. The reign and rule of the Risen Christ transcends every president or king, every ideology or politic. I’ve devoted myself to studying Mark’s gospel with particular focus on the theme of the “Kingdom of God.” A few observations:
An Introduction to Mark
Mark’s gospel is believed to have been written somewhere between 45 and 60 AD (some scholars put it as late as 70AD). Mark wrote to a people during a time of persecution for the church. He is credited with penning the eyewitness account of the apostle Peter. Tradition holds that Peter was ruthlessly crucified upside down in Rome. And Rome is likely where the first readers of this gospel were from. These Christians were a seen as a fringe religious group in the most prominent and powerful city in the world. They struggled to defend their belief in a king who was shamefully executed in Jerusalem a couple decades earlier.
Mark’s gospel begins with an explosive first sentence. A sentence that should not be read over tea and scones: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God.” The word gospel comes from the Old Testament word for “declaring victory.” It refers to a messenger who would be the first to return from battle, and upon the reaching the city, he declared the royal announcement of victory. “WE WON! THE KING IS COMING BACK, AND WE WON!”
The first century social and political climate was volatile in Palestine. The Jewish people were under the occupation of the most powerful force in the world, the Roman government. So it is no accident that Mark goes right to the prophet Isaiah for some ammunition, “Behold I send my messenger before your face who will prepare your way, the voice of one crying in the wilderness; Prepare the way of the Lord.” Isaiah 40 is all about how the Creator God will establish his worldwide rule. In Isaiah 40, God is the Chief Executive and Supreme Ruler of the universe.
So Mark chapter one, in the hands of a persecuted group of Roman citizens, could be dangerous. What has gotten Christians killed for centuries is NOT the belief that Jesus was a nice guy, or a great philosopher. It was NOT his teaching on love or compassion that got them killed. No one ever got killed for following Mr. Rodgers. What got Christians killed is that they believed the title above his head on the cross was true: KING. In Jesus, God is King over the entire world.
The Kingdom of God in Mark
The first time Jesus speaks in Mark he says, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand.” “At hand” means that the Kingdom is near and close enough to touch. The Kingdom is here because the King is here. This term has been often been misunderstood and defined inaccurately. Typically, Christians have associated the Kingdom of God with heaven, namely a far-away and distant place in the clouds that we enter upon death. The other extreme is that the Kingdom of God is associated with particular nations, ei. Israel or America. For the record, the Kingdom of God is neither of these.
It helps to have a working definition of the Kingdom. Here’s a brief one: The Kingdom of God is the reign and rule of God. In Mark 1:15, Jesus is claiming that the reign and rule of God has come in a person, namely himself. A few points on the Kingdom of God:
In the frantic activity of this political season, I believe a faithful perspective of the Kingdom of God is transformative. While civic involvement is important, obsession over politics is not helpful. The reign and rule of God allows us the peculiar Christian trait of quiet confidence. We are neither too concerned nor are we unconcerned about the election process. Some will disagree with me on this point, but I believe that our quiet confidence distinguishes us from the rabid political rhetoric (most of which violates the 8th commandment).
During this election season, I am free from fear and from anger. I can see above the rhetoric of party conventions, FOX News, CNN, or MSNBC. Because I happen to believe that at this very moment, Jesus “sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.” He is the Chief Executive and Supreme Head of a “New Administration.”