The Kingdom Is Winning

By Jonathan Buck

The piano player gave a brief introduction and we were off: “This is my Father’s world,” we sang—but that’s as far as we got because someone yelled out, “Stop! I’m sorry,” he said, “but how can this be the Father’s world when there’s so much evil and suffering still?”

Maybe the hymn writer had an answer. Ah, verse 3: “This is my Father’s world; O let me ne’er forget, that though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.” But, someone else asked, “If God is ruling, how can the wrong be oft so strong still? If Jesus is Lord, Romans 10:9, surely the wrong should be a lot less strong, shouldn’t it?”

Perhaps the last part of the verse had an answer: “This is my Father’s world, the battle is not done; Jesus, who died, shall be satisfied, and earth and heaven be one.” But, a third person asked, “If Jesus has already triumphed over every power that exists, Colossians 2:15, how can there be a battle that’s not done yet? What battle still needs winning?”

Well, for a start, it’s obviously a battle for belief, because the questions themselves show how hard it is to believe this is the Father’s world when wrong remains so strong. The Jews had great trouble believing Jesus for the same reason. He came announcing, “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news” (Mark 1:15), but three years later they were still stuck with the Romans, cheating tax collectors, greedy priests and the temple being treated like a market, so how could they believe in good news when their world was still such a mess?

Jesus’ answer to that was blunt: “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart that you do not believe all that the prophets have spoken” (Luke 24:25). Of course they should believe in good news, he said, because every prophecy about the Messiah they’d prayed about, sung about and taught their children about for centuries had been fulfilled in him. Every little hint and clue in the Old Testament that he was the Anointed One, the Christ who would clear up the mess and start a New Creation, could be seen and heard in him, so why weren’t they thrilled instead of being so “downcast” (verse 17)?

And two thousand years later we could ask the same question, because if Jesus appeared today and announced: “Repent and believe the good news, that through me the Father began the New Creation and for the last two thousand years the Kingdom of God has been ruling on the earth putting things to rights,” what would be the reaction? Hang on, Jesus, didn’t you watch the News last night?

“Ah, but,” he could say in reply, “I have witnesses, evidence to prove it’s true: Remember those two fellows in Luke 24 whose hearts burned within them when it dawned on them what the Father had done through me?” (verse 32).

Point taken, because those two men switched from negative to total positive in the space of a few hours as Jesus explained from Scripture why God created the universe and one tiny planet with humans on it, why God called Abraham and rescued his family from slavery through the lamb’s blood and the Exodus, why he dwelt with them in a tabernacle and set up the sacrifices and Sabbaths, why he created a nation, a temple and a line of kings, why he spoke through all those prophets about the Messiah establishing God’s kingdom in Israel, and what the Messiah’s suffering and death would accomplish for the whole world.

It was then that Cleopas and his friend repented of their despondency and believed the good news that the whole world had been redeemed and rescued from the power of evil and pagan empires, and things would be put to rights at last.

Ah, so once the gospel was explained from the Old Testament the battle for their belief, at least, was over. But the battle was not done yet, they discovered, because a short while later Jesus told his disciples they would be “witnesses of these things” (verse 48). He was now handing the reins over to them to convince people in a world of evil and suffering still, that a new world had opened up when Jesus rose from the dead.

So now it was their job to switch people from negative to positive— but how? “I am going to send you what my Father promised,” Jesus told them (verse 49)—the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8)—and the Spirit would enable them to be bold and effective witnesses to the good news that this world is God’s world with Jesus in charge of it (Acts 28:31).

The Spirit began that witness in Jesus himself. In his first public appearance, at age 12, Jesus was in the temple, the one spot where the Father’s world was already on the earth. What drew Jesus there was a deep desire to be “about his Father’s business” (Luke 2:49). He explained what that meant in the Lord’s Prayer, that the Father’s kingdom and will “be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10)—or, as the hymn writer phrased it, that “heaven and earth be one.”

That was the driving desire the Spirit gave Jesus, so that wherever Jesus went and through whatever he said, did and prayed about, heaven and earth came together. That was supposed to be what the temple was for, but it had failed miserably, so Jesus dropped the hint very early on that he was the temple instead (John 2:19, 21).

It was the best news possible, because it guaranteed from then on that the Father’s world and the human world would be fused together into one. This world, therefore, would truly be the Father’s world. And eventually Jesus’ disciples repented and believed that too (verse 22), which set the stage beautifully for the next step— that they themselves would be the proof of it.

How? By the Holy Spirit making them into temples too (1 Corinthians 3:16-17, 6:19), so that they would have the same burning desire Jesus had to see the Father’s world and the human world come together as one.

It created some serious repenting, or rethinking, on their part, though—just as it does today—because if people believe the Kingdom of God only comes in the future, or the world’s so bad we have to be raptured off it into the safety of heaven, or there’s no point in trying to improve the world because it’s all going be destroyed, that’s hardly in tune with the earth now being the Father’s world and Jesus providing witnesses to prove it, is it?

Jesus would rather we believe the good news, that he’s making this world into the Father’s world right under people’s noses right now, and he’s giving the Holy Spirit to those who believe it to help make it happen (Acts 5:32). The Spirit then provides the necessary power, love and character (2 Timothy 1:7) to enable us to prove to people that the Kingdom of Heaven is in operation on this planet, making earth and heaven into one.

Believing that may still be a battle, though, because it looks like the world is falling apart. The media would certainly have us believe that, but the media doesn’t focus on the millions of little temples of the Holy Spirit pouring out a steady stream of life and love as it’s lived and loved in heaven. Nor does it notice the radical way of being human that Jesus lived and taught in the Sermon on the Mount, that’s being lived and taught by his followers. Nor has it wished for close contact with a temple of the Holy Spirit where God’s presence can be seen and felt.

So it looks like the wrong still rules, but what changed that in people’s heads in Jesus’ day, enabling them to repent and believe the good news and switch to living positively in their negative world, was a clear explanation from the Old Testament of the Messiah rescuing the world from the power of evil by his death to begin a New Creation in the here and now.

When they grasped that, as those first disciples eventually did, they saw the world through different glasses, as the place where all those prophecies of the Old Testament about the New Covenant, the New Creation and the Kingdom of God taking over from the kingdoms of the world were actually happening. They saw themselves through different glasses too, as the agents through whom Jesus was making it happen, so that into the world they could go to “open people’s eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God” (Acts 26:18).

But they themselves had to repent and believe the good news first, that because of Jesus’ death the darkness of this world really was being turned to light, the power on this planet really was God’s and no longer the Devil’s, and God’s kingdom and will really were being done on earth as it is in heaven. That was just the first battle too, because they also had to come to terms with themselves now being the witnesses to prove all this was true.

But now that they were temples too they could be that proof, just as we are now, because wherever we go or through whatever we say, do and pray about, we can bring earth and heaven together, just as Jesus did. Like him, we can bring the needs of earth to heaven in our prayers, and bring heaven to earth in our actions, so that in our little sphere of influence wrong is not oft so strong, and the Father’s world can be easily seen and felt.

And that, as the hymn writer wrote, is what satisfies Jesus: “Jesus who died shall be satisfied, and earth and heaven be one.” Jesus died so that this world and the Father’s world become one, made possible by the Holy Spirit enabling people to react the same way those two disciples did in Luke 24. Their hearts turned from negative to positive when they understood the gospel from the Old Testament, and from that point on they entered their world of evil and suffering to spread the news that heaven and earth were becoming one, the proof of which was heaven and earth becoming one where they were.

And that’s what enables me to live positively in a negative world; it’s knowing that Jesus is being satisfied right now by the little things we say, do and pray about that make heaven and earth be one where we are—because that’s what we’re temples of the Spirit for.