The Reign of God

From 2015 to 2018 I preached a series of messages on the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective. This messaged was preached in 2018. Article 24: The Reign Of God.

Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped.

Revelation 5:13-14 NIV

Article 24 is the final article in the Mennonite Confession of Faith and it describes how Mennonites interpret the “End Times”. The article doesn’t talk about how or when life as we know it will end. There are a couple of popular theories about Revelation and End Times that people like to talk about, but our confession chooses none of these ideas and cautions believers from believing the end has to happen in a certain way. Instead our confession focuses on what we are promised and how we are told to live in light of that promise.

From the first paragraph from article 24 of our confession of faith: We place our hope in the reign of God and in its fulfillment in the day when Christ our ascended Lord will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead. He will gather his church, already living under the reign of God according to the pattern of God’s future. We believe in God’s final victory, in the end of this present age of struggle between good and evil, in the resurrection of the dead, and in the appearance of a new heaven and a new earth. There the people of God will reign with Christ in justice, righteousness, and peace.

For Christians, the central foundation of our faith is that Jesus was raised from the dead and that we will also one day, after we die, be raised from death and given a new body. We will live again in a new earth where life is good.

For Mennonites, it’s this firm belief in a good future that causes us to live faithfully now in an unjust world suffering injustices for doing good because we know that God will bring about justice and healing. Without this central foundation of our faith of Jesus’ resurrection and the promise for new life after death, everything we stand for would crumble. Paul says this in his letter to the Corinthian church:

If corpses can’t be raised, then Christ wasn’t, because he was indeed dead. And if Christ weren’t raised, then all you’re doing is wandering about in the dark, as lost as ever. It’s even worse for those who died hoping in Christ and resurrection, because they’re already in their graves. If all we get out of Christ is a little inspiration for a few short years, we’re a pretty sorry lot.

1st Corinthians 15:16-19 The Message

On the other hand, for those who don’t believe in Jesus: if Jesus is the Son of God and if the church is showing the way then for those who reject Jesus the day of judgment will be a terrible time, worse than all the injustices that have ever been suffered by the church. The church lives now in the hope given by Jesus, but in the day of judgment, there is no hope for those who have rejected Jesus and his way.

Kingdom come

Rome attacked and destroyed Jerusalem almost 40 years after Jesus’ resurrection. During Jesus’ life, Jerusalem, Judea and Galilee would have been ruled by different people. King Herod, who lived when Jesus was born, was among the most well known, but king Herod was subject to Rome’s rule and so were Herod’s children who were rulers after him. The Jews had rebelled against Rome’s rulers and setup their own nation. Rome sent their general with his army and, while it took a couple of years, eventually everyone in Jerusalem was slaughtered and the city and all it’s buildings, including the temple, were demolished.

“The time has come,” [Jesus] said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

Mark 1:15 NIV

A question you might ask is: If God created the universe including the earth and if God is in control of everything, then isn’t God reigning on earth already? So, isn’t it ridiculous to say that God’s reign is coming in the future? Shouldn’t his reign have begun at the beginning?

The answer is Yes and No. When God created humanity in his image, he did so because he made humans to rule the earth on his behalf, to fill the earth and subdue it. This of course also depended on humanity being obedient to God’s rule. In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve rebelled against God’s authority and humanity, in general, has been in a state of rebellion against God’s authority since. Our confession states it this way.

Confession: We believe that God, who created the universe, continues to rule over it in wisdom, patience, and justice, though sinful creation has not yet recognized God’s rule. Faithful Israel acclaimed God as king and looked forward to the fullness of God’s kingdom. We affirm that, in Jesus’ ministry, death, and resurrection, the time of fulfillment has begun. Jesus proclaimed both the nearness of God’s reign and its future realization, its healing and its judgment. In his life and teaching, he showed that God’s reign included the poor, outcasts, the persecuted, those who were like children, and those with faith like a mustard seed. For this kingdom, God has appointed Jesus Christ as king and Lord.

When governing a large Kingdom, a King will appoint rulers to rule large areas of the Kingdom on the King’s behalf. This is what earth is like. Humanity rules on behalf of God’s Kingdom. When a ruler rebels against the King of kings, the King of kings normally sends his commander with his armies, he sets up battle lines outside the rebel ruler’s land, and the commander with his army will kill all those who rebelled and the King of kings will designate a new ruler.

When Jesus came, in Mark 1, and announces the nearness of God’s Kingdom, what he is announcing is an end to the rebellion. God has sent his own son in place of his commander and the armies are surrounding earth ready to wipe out the rebellion and sweep away humanity. This does not sound like Good News.

There is a twist. Instead of bringing death and destruction, Jesus is bringing life and healing. All the people who felt like they were doomed to destruction were being invited into a renewed Kingdom on earth. It is Good News. On the Mount of Olives on the day when Jesus is betrayed, when Jesus says he could call on 12 legions of angels, what he is saying is that God’s armies are ready to sweep away humanity, but then how will God’s promises of salvation be fulfilled? The King has sent his son not to destroy humanity, but save us from our true enemy.

The world is still in a state of rebellion. Since the fall in Genesis Chapter 3, humans have had control, but we are subject to Satan’s power and the world is caught up in sin and it’s effects. When Jesus died and rose again we were given a choice to be unbound from Satan’s control and become children of the Kingdom through Jesus.

The in-between time

In the 1500’s the Catholic church in many cities in Switzerland and Germany would punish, imprison and sentence to death people who had joined the Anabaptist movement, including Mennonites. Mennonites refused to fight back against their Catholic brothers and sisters even though they were treated as enemies.

If Jesus died and rose again, then why didn’t the world end right away? It’s because God wants humanity to choose Jesus instead of Satan, the ruler of this world, and he is giving us time to decide. We are living in the in-between time, before Jesus’ second coming.

What is the purpose of the church in this in-between time? Here is where Mennonites differ from other church traditions: We believe that we are to follow Jesus’ teachings and example as if we are already living in God’s Kingdom. When Jesus said “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”, we take it literally and that loving our enemies means that we do not kill them. And we follow these teachings now, not only after Jesus comes again.

Confession: We believe that the church is called to live now according to the model of the future reign of God. Thus, we are given a foretaste of the kingdom that God will one day establish in full. The church is to be a spiritual, social, and economic reality, demonstrating now the justice, righteousness, love, and peace of the age to come. The church does this in obedience to its Lord and in anticipation that the kingdom of this world will become the kingdom of our Lord.

Some people think that the purpose of the church is to change the world, but that is missing the truth of our calling. The church’s calling is to change people, specifically making disciples. As the church does it’s work calling disciples and living like we are already in God’s Kingdom, the world will see us living right and this will expose the evil in the world for what it is. So the world will be condemned for it’s evil because it won’t be able say that it didn’t know. This is what Jesus says in John’s gospel:

So let me say it again, this truth: It’s better for you that I leave. If I don’t leave, the Friend won’t come. But if I go, I’ll send him to you. When he comes, he’ll expose the error of the godless world’s view of sin, righteousness, and judgment: He’ll show them that their refusal to believe in me is their basic sin; that righteousness comes from above, where I am with the Father, out of their sight and control; that judgment takes place as the ruler of this godless world is brought to trial and convicted.

John 16:7-13 The Message

Part of the purpose of the church is to be a witness against the ruler of this world. This is done as the Holy Spirit transforms us and speaks truth through the church and we live faithfully following the way of Jesus.

Judgment at the second coming

If you do your banking at Wells Fargo, then I feel sorry for you. Wells Fargo, if you follow the news, has had multiple charges of fraud against it. To translate that to English: the wealthy people of Wells Fargo stole money from poorer people that trusted them so that they could be a little richer. The story first came out in 2013. The bank promised to reform it’s ways, but in April 2018 they were again caught committing fraud. Banks are supposed to be places we trust, otherwise we wouldn’t put most of our money there. What could cause so many bank employees to be so treacherous and betray the trust given to them? A culture of greed. Most people don’t associate Wells Fargo with evil, but there are parts of Wells Fargo that are evil, namely their culture of greed. It’s this culture of greed that will face judgment when Jesus comes again. Any who don’t repent of it, will face a penalty worse than an overdraft fee.

There are some Christians who believe there is only a heaven and no hell, even among Mennonites there are those that find it hard to understand that if God loves humanity that he would send any person to a terrible place of eternal suffering. Yet scripture is clear that there is such a time and place as hell. Matthew 25 sheds some light on who hell was intended for.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world… 41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

Matthew 25:34,41 NIV

Humanity’s destiny was supposed to be God’s Kingdom. The eternal fire was intended for the devil and his angels.

Confession: We believe that, just as God raised Jesus from the dead, we also will be raised from the dead. At Christ’s glorious coming again for judgment, the dead will come out of their graves”–those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.” The righteous will rise to eternal life with God, and the unrighteous to hell and separation from God. Thus, God will bring justice to the persecuted and will confirm the victory over sin, evil, and death itself.

God does love us. Even at the last breath, God will forgive when we confess and call Jesus Lord.

One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at [Jesus]: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Luke 23:39-43 NIV

The Church is not God’s Kingdom

But the Church is a part of God’s Kingdom. Is that a shocking statement? There are those that belong to God’s Kingdom that are not part of the church. It becomes obvious when you think about all the people in the Old Testament who belong to God’s Kingdom but lived long before the church existed, like Melchizedek for example. Abraham would be blessed by him.

Is it possible for someone in our present day to belong to God’s Kingdom without belonging to the church? I suppose it’s possible. It is up to God to decide. What I do know is that the church was given a task by Jesus on behalf of his Kingdom and all who belong to the church and do it’s work have already crossed over into God’s Kingdom. When people belong to the church, they get a foretaste of the day that we all look forward to.

Confession: We look forward to the coming of a new heaven and a new earth, and a new Jerusalem, where the people of God will no longer hunger, thirst, or cry, but will sing praises: “To the One seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever! Amen!”

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