Throughout the gospels, Jesus went to great pains to tell the people about the “kingdom of/from Heaven. Sometimes it was a mustard seed, sometimes a woman mixing yeast and even a pearl merchant. This must have excited the crowds who were looking forward to a Messiah who would eject the Romans. The disciples themselves were not immune from this excitement and each secretly hoped that he would be second in command as they eagerly spread the message that Jesus sent them with… The Kingdom of Heaven is here!
If they hadn’t been so busy nursing their ambitions, they’d have realized that not once did Jesus liken the Kingdom of Heaven to any earthly kingdom. The few kings that were to be found in Jesus’ parables were nothing like any earthly king. If the disciples themselves had honestly examined themselves, they would have seen that Jesus’ kingdom was very different. Jesus had chosen weird folk for his cabinet: unsophisticated fishermen, a tax collector and even a guerilla (James the Zealot). Jesus didn’t choose the cream of the Jewish nation to lead his organization. Instead, he chose a ragtag ruffian bunch from a Podunk backwater place like Galilee.
Ambition usually trounces good sense so the disciples found themselves jostling for the highest post. James and John asked their mom to put in a good word for them (some say she might have been Jesus’ aunt). Once, all of them tried to keep this jostling from Jesus but he gave them a clue to his kingdom’s nature:
“Jesus sat down and called the twelve disciples together. ‘If anyone wants to be first, he has to be the very last, the servant of everyone else, he told them.’”
(Mark 9:35 FBV)
The disciples had been chosen by Jesus because they were willing to listen. Peter and his business partners had immediately left their nets to follow Jesus. To be sure, they took their time in learning their lesson but Jesus knew they would learn it. Even during the last supper before his crucifixion, Jesus took his time to explain to them:
“Jesus told them, ‘Foreign kings lord it over their subjects, and those having power even want people to call them benefactors. But it should not be so with you! Whoever is highest among you should be like the lowest, and the leader should be like a servant. Who is greater-the one who sits at the table, or the one who serves? Isn’t it the one who sits at the table? But I’m among you as the one who serves.’” (Luke 22:25-27 FBV)
Jesus himself had come to demonstrate how the Kingdom of Heaven worked… he could command the storm to end but he never forced anybody to join his movement. In fact, he never called the people to listen to him because he was the messiah; he lived and spoke the truth, attracting confessions of faith from those around him. This is the organogram of his kingdom: the leader serves everybody.
How would the kingdom spread if not by the force of arms? On the road to Emmaus, Jesus prevented the two men from realizing who he was to show that understanding Jesus as he is presented in the scriptures is more important than experiencing him through our senses. That is to say, it is better to trust what the scriptures reveal than sensory experience. That is why what excited the men the most was not the sight of Jesus but the transformation of perception that he had carried out in them:
“The two disciples said to each other, ‘Weren’t our thoughts on fire when he spoke to us, as he explained the Scriptures to us?’”
(Luke 24:32 FBV)
The kingdom is to be spread not by brute force or bedazzling sensory experiences but in simple interactions that allow God to change perceptions and set hearts on fire.
Is your heart filled with ambition or is it ablaze with a transformed understanding?
“In heaven itself this law was broken. Sin originated in self-seeking. Lucifer, the covering cherub, desired to be first in heaven. He sought to gain control of heavenly beings, to draw them away from their Creator, and to win their homage to himself. Therefore he misrepresented God, attributing to Him the desire for self-exaltation. With his own evil characteristics he sought to invest the loving Creator. Thus he deceived angels. Thus he deceived men. He led them to doubt the word of God, and to distrust His goodness. Because God is a God of justice and terrible majesty, Satan caused them to look upon Him as severe and unforgiving. Thus he drew men to join him in rebellion against God, and the night of woe settled down upon the world.
The earth was dark through misapprehension of God. That the gloomy shadows might be lightened, that the world might be brought back to God, Satan’s deceptive power was to be broken. This could not be done by force. The exercise of force is contrary to the principles of God’s government; He desires only the service of love; and love cannot be commanded; it cannot be won by force or authority. Only by love is love awakened. To know God is to love Him; His character must be manifested in contrast to the character of Satan. This work only one Being in all the universe could do. Only He who knew the height and depth of the love of God could make it known. Upon the world’s dark night the Sun of Righteousness must rise, ‘with healing in His wings.’ Malachi 4:2” (Ellen White, The Desire of Ages, page 21-22)