Making Visible the Invisible Kingdom #BCCSundaySchool2019

PhotobyJimChampionKDA

Karen D. Austin teaches composition courses at University of Evansville and gerontology courses at Southern Indiana University. She’s on staff at Segullah as a writer and social media maven.

 

Come Follow Me. March 11-17:

Matthew 10-12

Mark 2

Luke 7, 11

*Photo by Jim Champion

 

The text for this week focuses on Jesus calling the Twelve to assist him in the preaching of the gospel. Central to this task is an invitation for the Twelve and other followers of Jesus to enter the kingdom of heaven.

The kingdom of heaven can mean a number of things:

  1. A political structure, a theocracy, such as the one that which King David tried to establish, one that can be established prior to the Resurrection. A number of human utopias have sought to do this.
  2. A heavenly state of union with God, the Eternal Father, a place where worthy people dwell after death.
  3. The organization on the earth after the resurrection where the Kingdom of God will supplant the flawed political structures of mortality such as the one described in the book of Revelation.  or
  4. A parallel realm that takes place within the natural world where God has power that the uninitiated cannot perceive.  (See this post for a collection of several New Testament scriptures that support the 4th definition of the kingdom of heaven.)

When I read the New Testament, I see a lot of descriptions of the fourth definition. For about a decade, I’ve called this “The Invisible Kingdom.” Recently, I discovered that John Calvin made reference to this idea in his call to Christians: “We must make the invisible kingdom visible in our midst.”  I believe that Calvin’s wording alludes to Luke 17:21:

This is the KJV: “Neither shall they say, Lo here! Or, lo there!, for behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” However, many other translations use “the kingdom of God is in your midst” in place of “within you.” (See also Tolstoy’s work The Kingdom of God Is Within You, (1894) inspired by this verse. It’s really more about nonviolent resistance, a la Gandhi, but it’s worth mentioning.)

The Joseph Smith Translation offers this for Luke 17:21: “…Behold, the kingdom of God has already come unto you.”

In an effort to describe how Jesus brought people into the kingdom of heaven on earth, contemporary theology uses terms such as “inaugurated eschatology,” (See Oscar Cullman) “realized eschatology” (see C. H. Dodd), and “sapiential eschatology” (See John Dominic Crossan). Instead of telling people to wait until the end times for the kingdom of heaven / kingdom of God, they can step into the kingdom of heaven by rejecting the world, adopting Christlike virtues, and serving others.

At the start of the texts for this week’s reading, Jesus declares: “And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 10:7). But how he describes this kingdom defies the norms for establishing a power base within the world.

Jesus cautions them against trusting traditional sources of security, fame, and power.

In Matthew 10, Jesus calls the twelve and commissions them to go forth preaching, healing, and giving freely to others. They are not to bring provisions with them (no luggage, no money, no extra clothing). They are to be wary of men who will seek to entrap them. And they are not to prepare their remarks before being set before religious or political leaders. They are not even to place their loyalties with their family members. (See Luke 11:27-28 for Jesus declining a blessing on his mother because it misdirects his followers.)

Instead, they are to leave everything behind and follow Jesus: “He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it” (Matthew 10:39).

Jesus spends a lot of time explaining what his followers are not supposed to do. He gestures to the atypical in the text chapter: “He that has ears to hear, let him hear” (Matthew 11:15).

The Kingdom of heaven is so unlike mortal kingdoms that Jesus uses parables as a way to describe the unfamiliar through images from domestic and rural life. Throughout Matthew 13, Jesus repeats the phrase “the kingdom of heaven is like” in an attempt to usher his disciples into the invisible kingdom.  In Luke, Jesus describes the unfamiliar realm as a mystery:

“And he said, Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God; but to others in parables; that seeing they might no see, and hearing they might not understand” (Luke 8:10).

In this week’s reading, Jesus points out (in Matthew 11 and Luke 7) that the multitudes are not sure if John is the Messiah or the forerunner. And because people are looking at John and Jesus with a critical eye, they condemn them whether they drink or abstain for drinking. They cannot see the kingdom of heaven because the learned” aren’t looking correctly. (Mark 2 has the Pharisees criticizing Jesus for not conforming to how they understand religious power.)

This willful misunderstanding of the nature of God’s power appears in the Grand Inquisitor section of Dostoyevsky’s Brothers Karamazov. Christ returns to earth, and the religious leaders jail and kill Him because he’s not participating in the kingdom that they have set up according to worldly rules of wealth and power.

Here in Matthew 11 Jesus makes fun of “the wise and prudent” for being blind:

“At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes” (Matthew 11:25; See also Mark 10:15).

Later in the Book of Matthew, Jesus specifically describes how the scribes and Pharisees create roadblocks for those seeking the kingdom of heaven: “But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in” (Matthew 23:13).

Even though the kingdom of heaven is difficult to see, Jesus wants those who are earnest to find their way to this realm. In Luke 11: 9-10 he issues this promise:

“And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.”

The Kingdom of heaven is not something that we will find far in the future or on another plane of existence. Like most worthwhile things, it is already here, hiding in plain sight. All we have to do is stop paying attention to all of the things that are not the Kingdom of heaven so we can notice it.

 

Comments

  1. Truckers Atlas says:

    I live this photo. What is it and where did you find it?

  2. Something I thought about when reading the lesson, is how we normally don’t think of Christ’s apostles going around preaching. Pretty much every time we envision Christ we envision him being followed by at least 12 men.
    How much time did they spend away from Jesus preaching? Was this just a one off, early on in Jesus’s ministry and then he decided that was enough?
    Compared to someone who grew up in an active family, did Seminary, then the MTC, many are pretty prepared to teach on their missions. How about the apostles, how much did they misunderstand the gospel?

  3. Mary Lou says:

    I have the same question as jader3rd: What were the 12 doing? How far afield did they go while Jesus was alive? Were they with him most of the time?

  4. thegenaboveme says:

    Truckers Atlas: I use Creative Commons for free images. I have a blog about aging (The Generation Above Me) that I’ve maintained for over 7 years. I’ve used almost 300 images from CC for my blog posts and for the posts I write for Segullah. Each one gives the photographer credit. For this BCC post, I used the search phrase “double exposure” and selected for “commercial use allowed.” I scanned over 100 images until I found one that I felt worked. It’s required that I credit the photographer. (I previously tried “through the looking glass” as a search phrase in CC; there were some beautiful images tagged with that, but I shifted to the search phrase “double exposure” instead.)

    jader3rd & Mary Lou: The only textual evidence I can think of about the Twelve in the Four Gospels is the passage in Luke about two disciples on the road to Emmaus. But they are traveling together and not preaching to anyone else. Later, in the Book of Acts shows the Twelve having meetings and going out to preach (Day of Pentecost), and we have narratives about Peter preaching. At the start of one of his letters we have this verse: “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the STRANGERS scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Blthynia” – (I Peter 1:1). The book of Revelation remarks that the twelve were scattered abroad, and Jesus in the NT called the Twelve to preach to the lost sheep. I don’t think there is much more than that for textual evidence of sermons by the biblical Twelve.

    I suppose contemporaries were more concerned about preserving records about Jesus (which were oral traditions for a while; nothing got written down until the participants in the gospels were all dead), and if there were oral traditions about the Twelve preaching sans Jesus, they didn’t get canonize into what we now have in the Bible. But I’m not a biblical scholar, so maybe another reader can weigh in?

  5. Jared Livesey says:

    In the JST, we see that the Sermon on the Mount is the “missionary text,” the gospel, the cross, and the kingdom that Jesus taught and the twelve were sent to preach (JST Matthew 5:21-22, 31; Matthew 7:1-23; see also 3 Nephi 13:25-34). These are his commandments.

    The temple is a reenactment of how the faithful may literally enter into the kingdom of God by faithfulness and diligence in doing the same.

  6. Another Roy says:

    @Jared Livesay. Sometimes when we say “literally” we do not mean it literally. When you say that people literally enter the kingdom of heaven by things learned in the temple, what version of Kingdom of Heaven (of the 4 examples listed above) do you mean? I see the temple as a place of figurative teaching. I am curious what you mean by the literal Kingdom of God.

  7. Jared Livesey says:

    @Another Roy,

    I mean the Kingdom of God – Heaven, the eternal world, where God resides, which is separated from this world by a veil; the place Jesus and the angels ascend to and descend from with respect to this world.